Singapore National Barista Championship 2010

I’ve been busy at work and I almost forgot about SNBC this week that I didn’t even have time to plan leave. Hope to see all of you there. Although SCA’s website didn’t specify the time, I’ve gotten word from one of the competitors that the final day on Saturday, 27 February will start at 11 am, and will end approximately at 4 pm. As Ben Ruane has pointed out in the comments below, SCA has updated their page with the schedule. As with all SNBC’s since 2007, the competition keeps getting tougher each year, thus raising the bar and hopefully, we will see more of a coffee culture in Singapore. Good luck to all the competitors, and we hope this year’s finalist will improve Singapore’s global standing to under #20.

And a shout-out to all the readers attending, free free to comment on this blog (not the facebook post) about the results or any other tidbits. Thanks in advance.

[googleMap name=”Suntec City Convention Centre” description=”Room 303 and 304″]1 Raffles Boulevard Suntec City, Singapore 039593[/googleMap]

Meetup at Kai Seng’s

CGSG Gang of Four (L to R): Colin, Melvin, Kai Seng, Steve

Today’s gathering, January 17 2010, was called up at the last minute, and the attendees were the usual Gang of Four: me, Melvin and Steve at Kai Seng’s pad. Peter was away in Geneva while Adrian was selling bakkwa (roasted pork slices.)  As you can remember from the previous meetup, I, on behalf of the group expressed our enthusiasm and reminded Steve to, most of all, show up with the salsa. He did and thanks to Adhe who is wonderfully consistent, we finished the salsa in one sitting. Kai Seng also prepared ice lemon tea and had cream puffs.  Adrian, though absent, gave us a sampling of his bakkwa. As this gathering was called up last minute and that Steve had just returned from a business trip, most of us were caught without roasted coffee so much so Kai Seng and Dawn had to miss their daily americanoes to allocate for the group. I had a roast muckup the day before too on my Idido Misty Valley.

Wow! While Steve was the undisputed champion of machine mods, Kai Seng has practically every latest gadget known to Man and was the envy of us all. Steve mentioned KS definitely had all his priorities right, marvelling at all his worldly goods. It’s techie geek pad EXXTREME, sporting a Dell Zino with BlueRay connected to his HDTV, a handheld wireless trackpad-keyboard all-in-one, a WDTV media player, a Nexstar HDD dock with eSATA, a Canon Vixia HF200 camcorder, and a nice roaster, of course. A La Marzocco GS3 or a Kees Van Der Westen Speedster would have completed this picture with a sweet note. I remarked about how we coffeegeeks are techie geeks at heart, and Steve followed up by saying that the research process leading right up to our purchase was meticulous and tbat anything that was lacking thereafter would immediately be corrected by some modifications. Did I get that part right?

Kai Seng, Melvin and I made a few espressos while I took turns with Melvin to try out the Vixia. Coffees drank today were Kai Seng’s Ethiopian Kuza, Melvin’s Kenyan AA, and my re-roasted Idido Misty Valley. The day before, I had overloaded my roaster with beans and after a 15 minute roast, was dissatisfied with the results and decided to re-roast half of the batch. Fortunately, the re-roasted batch tasted good, albeit a bit fresh and lacking body.

We adjourned to the rooftop where the roaster was situated. Kai Seng uses a professional gas fired drum roaster. We each had brought our own greens and Kai Seng was at the helm roasting them. We were blessed with a good wind and despite the heat, it was comfortable enough to lounge around in the shade. The 1st and 2nd cracks could be heard clearly over the drum rotation of the beans, and a sample of the beans could be easily taken out at any point during the roast to be examined for colour and consistency. Sight and sound are the 2 senses we use to determine when to end the roast, including all other methods we have employed in our coffee roasting, be it a popcorn popper, a DIY over-the-stove drum roaster, an i-Roast or a GeneCafe. The drum roaster also had the knack of rapidly cooling the beans upon exiting the drum, which is a major plus as you would want the roast to end instantaneously. It is akin to photography and its decisive moment. Our decisive moment makes or breaks the roast.

After the roasting, we went back downstairs where Kai Seng wrapped things up by showing us how he kept the greens, which would warrant a separate post. All in all, it was an enjoyable get-together as usual and a great stress reliever. I am so looking forward to our next gathering. We thank Kai Sneg and Dawn for graciously hosting this fantastic meeting of the like-mindeds.

Stay tuned to this blog for upcoming videos of the event and a sure-fire way to preserve your green coffee ala Kai Seng.

Share Your Cupping Notes

One of the chief purposes of this blog was to write down my cupping notes for the coffees I’ve roasted (however somewhat limited they are to my lackluster ability and tastebuds to define the nuances of the tastes.)

And looking at my own notes, I’m always roasting the few same coffees, Ethiopian Sidamo, Yrgacheffe, Panama Gesha, and of course, who can forget the evergreen Brazil Formosa, and my favourite Sweet Maria’s Italian Espresso Blend and Espresso Vivace’s Dolce.

I hope you readers (however few – sorry about the inferiority complex, it’s a growing trend) can help me out by listing in the comments below about the coffees you’ve had the pleasure of tasting, good and bad (listing here means on this blog, not on Facebook, not on Twitter.)  No holds barred. It could be the Nespresso Ristretto you just had in the office a few hours ago, or the godshot made from your Silvia, or the great cup you’ve just had in Blue Bottle or Intelligentsia or Ritual or even at a corner of a flower market in London. Or 15th Ave Coffee & Tea. Whatever. Please state where you had it. This could be seen as a survey of what my readers drink. To help you out on your tasting notes, I’ve included a taste wheel below. Please push your senses.

Meetup At The Cairns Episode II – The Dark Side of Convenience

I thought about letting this one go. But Melvin happened. And I just have to borrow his tagline for this post.

It was an ominous feeling to have heard Steve say those words. You just had to be there.

We talked about the Aeropress. About how good a cup of coffee it makes. But it just was not espresso, the way Aeropress had marketed it as.

And then, Steve introduced the N word into our lives and we never looked at him the same again.

Steve talked about how good Nespresso really was at its price point. And then he mentioned the Nespresso ristretto as a must-try. And of course, the convenience of it all. I started going over Steve’s history of machines in my head. A whole series of Braun-Krups-Krap before the transition to the Rancilio Silvia/Rocky combo, and then, now the Expobar Brewtus. And this same guy who’s speaking to us now about the wonders of Nespresso also did tell me in a phone conversation a few months earlier of his next fictional if any, upgrade-itis which was to be the La Marzocco GS3, instead of the Kees Van Der Westen Speedster, mainly because of support issues. This seems to be the upgrade path most home baristi take after the E-61’s I believe.

And then, we called it a day, and we left. And no, Melvin, my journey towards the Dark Side did not end outside Steve’s gates. After you dropped me off, I eventually ended up at ION ORCHARD. Well, it was the path I took to get home anyway. Waitaminute, doesn’t ION ORCHARD also have a Nespresso Boutique?

THE NESPRESSO EXPERIENCE

I walked into the Nespresso Boutique. Wow! It’s a beautiful sight. If you’ve ever walked into a Nespresso Boutique, you’ll know what I mean. Wall to wall packed with Nespresso bricks of different Pantone colours. A whole line of Nespresso coffee pods in different colour shades. Right smack in the centre of the store is an island, where they have demo machines, and all the flavours of Nespresso with it.

Wait, the journey to the Dark Side cannot be complete until I’ve had a taste of, what did Steve recommend. . . “oh! Ristretto please?”

A saleslady made me one by dropping in a pod, and pushing the button. It was served in a clear plastic demitasse. I took a sip, and . . . .

TCBE

This Can’t Be Espresso. This Will Never Be Espresso. BUT, it wasn’t really swill either. I can detect very very slight hints of spice. . . tobacco maybe. It was under the temperature though, slightly warmer than room temperature. It was thin coffee.

The saleslady told me of the convenience factor, about how you could just plug in a Nespresso unit and just churn out coffee without having to wait for a warm-up period. Even my old Gaggia thermoblock required at least a 15 minute start up time. But that did make a different class of espresso as well.

In all fairness, the Nespresso is simple to use, doesn’t make a mess. It makes ok coffee for its price point and for the amount of effort put in. But just like our discussion on the Aeropress, I feel you cannot call this espresso. It’s just convenience coffee.

Home Barista Steve Cairns

Home Barista Steve Cairns shows you how he goes about his espresso routine. Equipment used are an Expobar Brewtus espresso machine, a Macap M5D grinder & a Reg Barber tamper. This was filmed at his home on Sunday, 8th November 2009 during one of our get-togethers.

I’ve just spent an hour uploading this video on Youtube, only to realise Youtube needs another 6 hours’ crunchtime processing the video before it can be properly viewed. So, I’ve included a smaller 16:9 video (suitable for viewing on an iPhone) on this post instead while we await the higher res one on Youtube to finish its due course.

I’ve got much better experience with Vimeo, so here it is.

This video was taken with a Fuji F50fd digital cam, so please pardon the poor quality.

HQ version on Youtube:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zi-k-K4xaI

P.S.  Comparing the 2 online video servers, Vimeo and Youtube:

I spent an hour uploading the video on each of the 2 servers, but Vimeo didn’t require the 6 hours’ processing time. However, Vimeo is not as iPhone-friendly as Youtube which launches the Youtube app as soon as you tap on the play icon on your mobile Safari.

Meetup at the Cairns

This coffee get-together was organised at a last moment’s notice on Sunday, 8th November 2009 at Steve Cairns’ new place. The ones to turn up this day were me, KaiSeng, and Melvin. Peter couldn’t make it and Adrian was in Malacca. (UNLUCKY)

I regret that I didn’t take any pictures of the HIGHLIGHT AND MAIN EVENT of the day:

The . . . . .

. . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . .

S A L S A ! ! !

which was prepared by Steve’s wife, Adhe. Actually, I don’t really regret as I was too busy stuffing my face with the corn chips and the springrolls dipped in the salsa. I’m hungry now just thinking of it. I think I’ll start off by petitioning that no future coffee meetup shall ever start without Adhe’s salsa. It just would not be complete.

After the fabulous salsa, we retreated inside for drinks. Steve has gotten a really nice work table from IKEA for his coffee equipment as you can see in the accompanying photos below. His line of equipment include the Expobar Brewtus, a Macap M5D grinder with a digital display and worm driven stepless grind adjuster, a Rancilio Rocky grinder (from his Silvia days), a new Reg Barber tamper with a made-to-order 58.2mm convex base, a new clicker tamping base, topped off with the familiar “Espresso Open” backlit sign on his wall. Steve went on to explain about how he and Kelvin (another CGSGer) felt that the 58.2mm base was a much nicer fit than the usual 58mm. We all took turns trying it out and I think that 58.2mm just might be my next purchase.

KaiSeng, Melvin and I brought our own home-roasted coffee, while Steve had Spinelli. My Brazil Formosa was just roasted the day before and I felt it wasn’t rested enough, so I declined to even take it out of the bag.  KaiSeng brought Bolivian AA. Melvin brought a blend of Bolivian AA and Ethiopian Limu. We all took turns as baristi, including Steve’s daughter, Samantha who made an exceptional americano for her mom. I should’ve taken a video or photos because her pour using the naked portafilter was excellent – the basket being equally saturated, the first few drips and then smoothly coming together at the centre of the basket, a slow and steady pour. WOW!!

Without further ado, here is the awards ceremony. The votes are counted (award winners’ votes are discarded) and the winners are . . . .

ishot-2

Best Newcomer:  Samantha Cairns

Best Barista:  Samantha Cairns

Best Roaster:  KaiSeng (that’s saying something as Spinelli was also in the running)

Best Entree which every future meetup can’t do without:   Adhe’s SALSA (which just became the best incentive for us to increase the frequency of our meetups.)

Best Salsa Stuffer: 3 way tie between Colin, KaiSeng and Melvin. (Even though Melvin came late, he caught up real fast.)

We really really have to start planning for the next meetup. How’s everyone for December or January?

Factors to Look Out For When Buying Freshly Roasted Coffee

I’ve wanted to broach on this subject for a long time now, ever since some friends and I have experienced disappointments from roasters in Singapore. What typically happens is that we’re assured by the MBTC (Men Behind The Counter) that the beans we’ve bought are freshly roasted the week before or so, and then we get home only to find out the beans are stale beyond consumption. Before I go any further, I would like to thank the following for their time, effort and photos:

Matt Riddle and Shari Bagwell from Intelligentsia Coffee, USA;

Tim Wendelboe and Tim Varney from Tim Wendelboe, Norway.

The following few points are some factors to look out for when buying freshly roasted coffee.

1)     Whole beans
When whole roasted coffee beans are ground and broken down into tiny fines, it results in a significant increase in surface area from which a rapid deterioration of the coffee occurs. And if you are buying freshly roasted coffee, you would want to buy whole beans instead of ground coffee.

2)     Roast Date
I am quite particular about the freshness of my coffee and I tend to discard beans which are older than 14 days. In Singapore, most roasted coffee packaging I’ve come across do not have roast dates. Instead, they list expiry dates which should be ONE YEAR from the roast date. Next time you pick up a bag of locally roasted coffee, just subtract a year from the date of expiry to determine how fresh the coffee is. I asked both Intelligentsia Coffee and Tim Wendelboe on the window of consumption on an opened bag before discarding the coffee and their replies were:

Matt Riddle, Intelligentsia: “2 – 3 weeks would be the top end of optimal storage time.”

Tim Wendelboe: “3 – 4 weeks, when coffee is packed in a one way valve bag flushed with nitrogen or CO2 then vacuum sealed. In an open paper bag maximum 4-5 days. We operate with 3 weeks on our bags that are vac sealed and flushed with nitrogen.”

3)     Proper Treatment and Packaging
Coffee is highly volatile and prone to staling upon roasting. The roasted coffee beans begin to degas carbon dioxide and deteriorate the moment they are being roasted. Proper packaging and treatment of the coffee as they leave the roastery are very important to prolong the freshness of the beans. The following are some features roasteries use on their packaging of coffee:

a)     Opaque one way valve Bags

b)     Resealable or Zip-loc

c)     Nitrogen flushed before sealing bags
Tim Varney mentioned that “When the bag is flushed, then sealed, the bag is sucked tight – but is designed to be able to stand up. Also, there is a one way valve on the rear of the bag to release the CO2 over time.”

d)     Immediate packaging of the beans upon cooling after the roast

The following are prime examples of coffee bags from the 2 aforementioned roasters.

FYI, the roast date for Tim Wendelboe Espresso is found on the lower right corner of the label.

Last but not least, I asked both roasters the following:

“I’ve come across a few roasters in Singapore who fib on the actual roast day. A good way to tell is the smell and the oil on the beans. Am I correct? What are other ways to tell you’ve been had?”

Matt Riddle stated “Really, just by looking at coffee it’s hard to tell when it was roasted. So much would depend on the level of roast, age of the (green) coffee and other factors. The best way to tell if the coffee is fresh is to grind some,  and pour a little water over it. if it blooms, it’s fresh. If not, it’s probably getting up on the window if not past it. You can most certainly smell old coffee…it’s hard to describe, but you know it when you smell it.”

Tim Wendelboe’s answer was “It depends on the roast and the cooling technique. If you cool the coffee with water quenching the shelf life is max 5 days and the beans will get oily the day after roast if they are dark roasted. Lighter roasted beans have longer shelf life and air cooled coffee has longer shelf life. However a good indication whether the coffee is stale or not is by looking, smelling and tasting. Oils is a good indicator of stale coffee as oils oxidize and turn bitter when in contact with oxygen.”

Incidentally, both coffees in the photos are legendary and you can order them online below:

Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso

Tim Wendelboe Espresso

Latte Art Showdown II at Oriole Cafe

oriole

Oriole Cafe will be organising a latte art competition on 2nd November 2009. For those who don’t check or have Facebook accounts, the details are below, as excerpted from their Facebook updates:

Get your milk jugs ready and steady your nerves,
Back after 8 months (sorry we’ve been busy…)!
New exciting and audience friendly knockout system
Many prizes galore (alcohol guaranteed)!
$5.50(nett!) beer all night long
cut price shooters
$5 entry, winner takes all
Plus…BRAGGING RIGHTS!
register early to secure your limited slots! Or just come and join in the mayhem!

This event is planned to start at 7:30 pm on Nov 2, 2009 at Oriole Cafe & Bar, #01-01 Pan Pacific Suites, 96 Somerset Rd.

Article on Coffee Brewing Methods [Gizmodo]

First, I have to apologize for the long hiatus from blogging as I was quite held up working at a bistro. I’ve since left that job and am continuing in my search for the barista position that chooses to escape me. While I am currently awaiting several emails to help me in my next post (yes, I’ll be researching this next one and not just post my many naked portafilter shots), I’ve found this comprehensive article on Gizmodo (don’t they do gadgets?) that details the many methods of brewing coffee, most of which can be found on (my) Amazon.com store.

Gizmodo article on Coffee Brewing Methods

DSCF3699 DSCF3700

Sorry, I couldn’t help it. :)

Americano Sans Crema Test

While I used to dismiss the americano as a watered down drink, I’ve grown to appreciate it much more after talking to fellow coffeegeek KS. It is much easier to discern the taste profile of the coffee if one is not used to the intenseness of an espresso. Of course, this intense taste profile comes only with freshness of the bean and quality of the barista and the machine preparing it. After watching James Hoffmann’s video blog and this morning’s taste test, I’ve embarked on another taste test now involving watered down espresso. I used a Bodum Pavina for the espresso, so that the crema could be clearly delineated. Here are the details:

Brazil Moreninha Formosa
Roasted to Full City +
4 days old
Dose: 18 grams

For this 1st shot, after separating the crema, I tasted both cups before adding water. Both taste tests were the same as previous post.

1st shot:

Eric’s Thermocouple:  Start at 200, end at 204 Fahrenheit.

Espresso only:  Slight bitterness.

Crema only:  Good fragrance. Taste spreads thru entire tongue.

Water-espresso 2:1 ratio:  Tastes like…. coffee. Smooth, even cup, no bitterness.

Water-crema 2:1 ratio:  Tastes wonderful. Pronounced fragrance.

Water-crema-espresso:  Good body, very smooth with good fragrance.

The first thing that hit my mind after drinking the 2 different cups was that if the Aldo Coffee taste test was repeated here, the ones who chose Maxwell House will go with the water-espresso cup, while the ones who were able to distinguish the CoE Fazenda Kaquend will go for the water-crema cup. Drinking the water-crema cup brings me the same sensation as my Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda. It doesn’t taste like conventional coffee. It brings the best to the table. To get a taste profile like this, I feel I have to roast the beans to almost Full City, without ever hitting 2nd crack.

2nd shot:

Eric’s Thermocouple:  Start at 198, end at 202 Fahrenheit.

Espresso only:  A bit bright, lemony feel.

Crema only:  Strong fragrance, berry-like.

Water-espresso 1:1 ratio: Citrusy lemony hints. A bright and smooth cup.

Water-crema 1:1 ratio:  Aromatic, perfumed cup. Hint of blueberries. Esmeralda-like. Not like coffee.

Water-crema-espresso:  Coffee with a good aroma. Smooth. A bit lemony. Pleasant aftertaste.

After this 2nd shot, it is safe to say that crema is not rubbish. Au contraire, watered down crema is IMHO a good way for beginners to distinguish the fragrances of the particular coffee. I would reiterate as I have stated in the previous Espresso sans crema taste test, espresso is not complete without crema. If this does work across the board for all coffees, I wonder if this process of separating the crema out will redefine espresso tasting/cupping sessions.

Singaporean coffee geek’s notes and reviews on espresso and coffee roasting. Formatted for iPhone / iPod Touch.