Monday, March 30, 2009

Sweet, Sweet Maria's

I'm ashamed of how long it's been since I've visited Sweet Maria's to buy my green beans for roasting. I've gotten lazy and have been buying my green coffee (of relatively unknown origin) from The Roasting Plant around the corner from my apartment for months.

Given all my talk about origin on this blog lately, I figured it was a bit hypocritical of me to keep buying and roasting "Ethiopian Yirgacheffe" that I knew nothing about -- despite repeated requests for additional information on origin.

So I visited the standard source for any serious home coffee roaster, Sweet Maria's. Not only is their selection amazing, but their site is packed full of information (although even they admit it's a little hard to navigate).

Here are the three coffees I purchased. The link for each brings you to a page with everything you would ever want to know about the coffee including the farm, processing method and cupping score.

El Salvador Pulp Natural Finca Mauritania

Brazil Moreninha Formosa Raisin Coffee MicroLot

Ethiopia Organic Dry-Process Birbissa

While I'm eager to try all of these, I'm particularly interested in the Brazil since it is tree dried, a process which is new to me.

I'll post more on each once I've roasted and tasted them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

You Say Tomato, I Say: Are They in Season?

I admit I've become a bit obsessed with fresh produce in the last couple of years. There is no doubt that the wonders of modern technology have enabled us to have fresh produce all year round, no matter what the season, but if you think seasonality no longer matters for produce you're kidding yourself. Tomatoes are the perfect example. This time of year, anyone in NYC would be hard pressed to find a really fresh tomato. Of course, you can find them in your supermarket and of course they look fresh but the taste can't even compare to the mid-summer tomatoes you can pick up at the farmers market.

Since coffee is a produce, it also has seasons. Getting fresh coffee in season is definitely not as easy as getting a tomato in season but depending on your roaster, you can certainly get fresh roasted coffee that's in season.

The seasons for coffee differ based on its origin and the seasons shift based on the growing conditions in a given year. I found a great little post on coffee seasonality on the Counter Culture website. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Be Patient with Your Drip -- Please!

Dear bakery shop attendant:

When pouring my cup of coffee, please be patient and wait for the full pot of coffee you are preparing to finish brewing. You may be surprised to know that putting my cup directly underneath the drip as soon as the coffee starts to brew, means you are filling my cup with coffee brewed from all the grounds that are in your filter. In other words, you are pouring me super-concentrated coffee! If your pot holds 20 cups of coffee, you have just handed me a cup brewed from the same amount of grounds meant to brew all 20 cups.

Yes, that's right, when the coffee first starts to pour from the machine, it's stronger than at the end of the brew. That's because all the grounds are typically soaked before the coffee begins to pour through the filter. So the coffee in the beginning will be much stronger than the coffee at the end of the brew. When it all ends up in the same pot, these different strengths will even each other out. But that does not work when you stick my cup directly under the drip in the beginning of the brew.

In addition, please don't be surprised when you do this and I then refuse to pay $2.00 for your crappy French Roast Sumatra which I should have known better than to order anyway.

Thank you for your attention.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Exploring the Coffee Trade

I finally got around to seeing Black Gold, a fabulous documentary from 2006 about the coffee trade. This is a movie that I should have seen a long time ago and I'm ashamed to say it took me two years to get around to seeing it.

If you drink coffee, you must see this movie. The link to the trailer is below. There are links to view the full movie on the web site. It's also available on YouTube. And if you want to go the DVD route you can check it out on Netflix.

For more discussion on the topics covered in the film, such as fair trade certifications, coffee cooperatives and the view of coffee industry leaders on the movie, be sure to check out the forum on the movie web site.

In the spirit of the movie, I also began reading God in a Cup by Michaele Weissman. For some reason, I have heard nothing about this book. I found it hidden in the cookbook isle at Barnes & Noble. This book explores direct trade with Counter Culture's Peter Guiliano, Intelligentsia's Geoff Watts and Stumptown's Duane Sorenson. I've just gotten started and am really looking forward to this book. Check out the author's site for more information on the book and her blog.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Coffee Family Tree, Part II: Oma's Coffee Pot

Following the popularity of my last My Coffee Family Tree post, I asked my mom about an old pewter coffee pot that belonged to my grandmother. For me it was one of those old antiques that have always been present in my family, sitting next to the telephone in my grandmother's living room for as long as I can remember. I had always assumed it was for tea, but it is actually a coffee pot dating back to the 19th century.

It turns out, Mom knew very little about the pot but this did not deter her. In her second guest blog post, Mom details the history of the pot both within our family and within the tradition of coffee drinking in Holland. Enjoy!

"This lacquered and hand painted pewter coffee pot, known in Holland as a kraantjeskan, has been in the family for as long as I can remember. When André asked me about it, I turned to relatives in a quest for more information. They, however, could only confirm that this family heirloom had belonged to our grandmother (Oma). No one knows when or how Oma obtained it, or more importantly, how she made coffee in it. With the help of the internet, I found some answers.

History: In the late 17th century the popularity of coffee spread throughout Europe. The drink quickly became known as a “sociable drink” because it was only served in public coffeehouses, a place where gentlemen gathered to drink coffee and talk politics. At about that same time, the Dutch invented a coffee pot with a spigot, aptly named kraantjeskan (spigot pot). For centuries this coffee pot, which was used almost exclusively in Holland, was the country’s most important coffee brewing device. Later, as coffee moved into the home, nicer and more decorative spigot pots were made. Of those, the lacquered and hand painted kraantjeskan from the northern province of Groningen, was especially well known. In the middle of the 19th century, the traditional kraantjeskan started to disappear as newer coffee brewing techniques like the “drip” and “filtration” methods gained in popularity. In rural areas, however, farmers continued using the kraantjeskan until the beginning of the 20th century. Today, replicas of the kraantjeskan are used in specialty restaurants in Holland to serve coffee.

Brewing: Coffee was brewed in a kraantjeskan by placing the grounds, usually in some sort of linen holder, in the coffee pot and pouring boiling water over the grounds. Hot coals were placed in the cup underneath the pot. The gentle heat let the grounds steep and kept the coffee at temperature. When the desired strength was reached, the coffee was served. Cream and sugar were added to taste. Traditionally, this cup of coffee was served with koek, a gingerbread-like cake.

Age: The age of this particular spigot pot is difficult to determine because there is no trademark. However, this lacquered and hand painted kraantjeskan can be traced to the 19th century. In estimating the age of this piece, we must also keep the following points in mind. First, the paint has completely worn off the handle and spigot, a sign of a lot of use. This could not have all come from Oma’s use because, according to my mother, Oma only used her coffee pot on special occasions. Second, this coffee pot has a coal cup as a heat source instead of the small fuel burning units usually seen on later models. Third, Oma was born at the end of the 19th century. By the time she became an adult and was married, these coffee pots were no longer being made. Therefore, I feel this coffee pot was passed down to Oma, possibly by her parents or maybe even her grandparents, making this kraantjeskan between 110 and 160 years old.

Mom’s Memories of Oma’s “Kraantjeskan:” To Oma her kraantjeskan was special, something to be prized and used with great care. In 1939 when my mother met her future parents-in-law for the first time, Oma made coffee in this pot. My mother was so touched by this gesture that she instantly formed a special bond with both Oma and the kraantjeskan. And so Oma passed the coffee pot on to my mother. In 1969 this kraantjeskan made its way from Holland to California. Since then, it has proudly graced numerous rooms as a symbol of our Dutch heritage and a loving tribute to the generations who came before us."