Tag Archives: intelligentsia

Coffee Meetup During Grand Prix

The latest CGSG (Coffee Greens Singapore) gathering was held in my humble abode during the time Grand Prix was in town. As usual, the gathering was called up at the last minute. And as usual, the CGSG Gang of Four showed up.

CGSG Gang Of Four
CGSG G4: Steve, Kai Seng, Melvin, Colin (L to R)

The gathering was called up as I’ve procured a bag of quite-fresh roasted beans from Intelligentsia@Venice, CA courtesy of Sean Bonner. I met Sean on the chat session moderated by Nick Cho during this year’s WBC. We happened to be the only 2 in Singapore awake at an ungodly hour trying to catch glimpses from  a laggy stream of our favourite baristas in action. One thing led to another, and Sean, who’s a regular at Intelli Venice, bought me a bag of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Adado on his trip back to Singapore. On a side note, Sean also introduced me Intelli Venice’s Chris & M’lissa Owens (both of them renowned coffee greats) when they were in town for F1.

Kai Seng was the first to arrive as he had tickets to F1 finals that very day, and was in a rush to drink his fill and leave. I assured him that was not going to happen. Sure enough, the other 2 arrived late. We were all dying to try Intelli’s Yirgacheffe, which I’ve decided to save for this gathering. Steve brought his roast of Metropolis Coffee’s Green Line, which is an unroasted version of their popular Red Line. It was roasted to Full City +. Given that it’s home turf, I was the designated barista of the day and proceeded to pull shots for us all.

This CGSG gathering was unlike the previous ones we’ve been having. While CGSG was formed out of our love for coffee, we found that each of us had a common love for steaks, grills, wine, prosciutto, home baked breads, gourmet french butter, blue cheese and all these could be had at Kai Seng’s. (Un)fortunately, this Sunday gathering had none of these distractions and our discussion went back to our first love, coffee. We shared views on über coffeegeek, Mark Prince’s articles on the state of coffee and his call out to bring back spro downs instead of latte art throwdowns. Steve and I both remarked that we’ve become less anal retentive in our home barista routines. I’ve switched from using the Espro clicker tamper to a Reg Barber (which John Ting helped me get from WBC 2010 in London). Both Steve and I have stopped weighing the beans and have replaced the bottomless portafilters with La Marzocco portafilters, I’ve stopped taking infinte photos of the naked portafilter pours as well.

Specially for this Sunday gathering, I went back to using the Espro tamper as I wanted to minimise the variables in our taste tests for Steve’s Green Line and Intelligentsia’s Yirgacheffe. Since all of us were familiar with Yirgacheffe, we decided to prolong Kai Seng’s agonizing wait and pulled the Green Line first. Fortunately, the grind setting on my Compak K-6 was suitable for both coffees. The pull was started at 197.5°F on Eric’s Thermometer. The scent for Green Line espresso was tobacco, and the finish was caramel. Enjoyable indeed. The following picture has the taste notes from Metropolis Coffee.

Then came the Intelligentsia Organic Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Adado. The pull was also at 197.5°F. And wow! The scent was floral, and upon sipping the espresso, we all felt the lemony notes. While 99% of the time on most espresso with this type of taste profile, lemony notes go into overdrive and the taste gives way to brightness and acidity. This time, it was different. Very different. It was a first for all of us. The lemony notes pulled back. We couldn’t quite put our finger on what it reminded us of. Steve mentioned lemon cheesecake. I said lemon meringue or lemon cream. It was the defining moment of a Godshot for all of us. On the bag’s taste notes, it describes the Yirgacheffe as “Jasmine atop lime candy, lemongrass and bergamot.” The 2nd shot was quite consistent with the first. Same lemony notes that never had a chance to go beyond.

While our steakouts (what I call our wining and dining at Kai Seng’s for now) are both satisfying and sinful, I do miss our home barista jam sessions. I hope we get to do one more before the end of this year as soon as Steve can get his new place in order.

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