Archive for the 'The Lab' Category

The Lab: Acessibility Vs. Technology

Preparing for an in house siphon brewing competition, I had a difficult decision to make: should I use the halogen beam heater, or should I use the butane burner? The halogen beam heater is a heat source that functions as a steady, consistent temperature with a control dial which allows the user to easily set it high to push the water into the top chamber and then turn it down to a brew temperature that maintains the water pressure in the top chamber. This requires a bit more fuss with the butane burner, which has no preset settings and can be slight inconsistent in its heating.

"And I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll cool the lower chamber creating a thermo-dynamic interchange which causes the brewed coffee to travel back into the lower chamber." Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

"And I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll cool the lower chamber creating a thermo-dynamic interchange which causes the brewed coffee to travel back into the lower chamber." Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

The easy choice would be to fully embrace the halogen beam heater, as it is a fantastic piece of technology. But then I started thinking about accessibility; the beam heater is a good $500, while the butane burner comes included with the price of our siphon pot if you buy one from Intelligentsia. If I was a customer, I’d feel like a good siphon brew would be unattainable without the halogen heater.

Mad science. Photo by Danielle Baumann

Mad science. Photo by Danielle Baumann

So where’s the line between technology and accessibility? At Millennium Park, as I previously mentioned, we switched to a pour over brew method for our pick of the day coffee because the accessibility of it trumped the technology of the Clover as far as being our featured coffee option of the day. Choosing the halogen beam heater seemed almost wrong.

Gaze into the swirling coffee: the top chamber has been stirred. Photo by Danielle Bauman

Gaze into the swirling coffee: the top chamber has been stirred. Photo by Danielle Bauman

That was, until, I heard a joke from comedian Patton Oswalt. He talks about friends of his who keep suggesting to him that he and his wife choose to do a home-birth instead of having the birth take place at a hospital. After a few riffs on having a home-birth, like out on the frontier prairie, Oswalt quips “Do you know what those women giving birth in shacks on the prairies were dreaming about? Hospitals!”

Sure, some technological advances can be expensive, but accessibility has a few different aspects to it: cost and function. The halogen beam heater might be out of most consumer’s league when it comes to price, but does the more difficult to use butane burner make customer’s apt to purchase the device? Either way, the siphon pot requires money or skill and practice, and becomes a harder sell to customers.

Spent cartridge. Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

Spent cartridge. Upper siphon chamber after brew next to a Hario beam heater. Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

But that doesn’t mean all technology is more costly and requires an electrical engineering degree to maintain. At some point in time, the sharpened stick was destroyed by the copper blade. And that brings me back to the Hario drip cones we use on our brew bar at Millennium Park. When customers ask me what the difference between the Chemex and the Hario drippers are, one of the many answers I could give them is airflow. The Chemex, a beautiful brew device which is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, tends to be a bit more finicky as there’s only the single pour spout which allows for air flow, which can choke up if the filter collapses into it. As the brewed coffee drips down into the bottom chamber, the air that perviously resided there is displaced and needs to travel outwards. The Hario drip cones, on the other hand, are open bottomed and have a series of circular ridges that allow for greater air flow and an easier even extraction. What that means, in the end, is that the technology of airflow has

Giving my spiel at the Cookie Competition, which is pretty much word for word what I've written here. Also, I did end up winning.  Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

Giving my spiel at the Cookie Competition, which is pretty much word for word what I've written here. Also, I did end up winning. Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

allowed us to set up a cup by cup pour over brew system that is consistent and easy to demonstrate for customers. That doesn’t mean it’s better than the Chemex, just more accessible for the average coffee fan who’s ready to take the next step beyond standard drip coffee pots.

As for me, I’m dreaming of hospitals. I’ve chosen to use the halogen beam heater in the siphon competition. The consistent heat and preset heat settings are much too attractive. It is a competition, after all, and if I have the technology available to me I might as well use it.

My choice does reveal an issue though — I need to work on my butane burner siphon skills. It just takes a bit more practice, and a solid base of knowledge, but if I’m able to master the butane burner, anyone should be able to. And as a big advocate of accessibility, it’s high time that I’m able to demonstrate a butane siphon well enough for a customer to make the siphon brew as accessible as a Hario drip cone.

The coffee I’m using, by the way, will be the Kenya Thiriku. Not only does it make a sparkling cup full of great tropical fruit and floral notes, but Kenya coffees are dried resting on elevated screens which allow for a much more even drying as there’s more airflow compared to the cement patios typically used in Central and South America. I’m sensing a theme here.

The Lab: Syphoning the Finca Matalapa

Best fwends!

Best fwends!

One of the things I love about working here is the constant experimentation. When I first started, Charles ran Juliet and Curtis and I through a quick training of all the different brewing methods we had.  He said two things about the syphon pot that I consistently remember: the first being that syphon coffee has a distinct rhythm to it, and that it tends to bring out a lot of sweetness in washed Central or South American coffees in which it isn’t immediately apparent.

The rhythm was very apparent. On the first sip, after the coffee cooled a bit, you could feel it rolling on your tongue. The body almost pulsed in perfect time with the acidity. But as to whether or not Charles was blowing smoke up my behind about the sweetness, well, I wasn’t sure.

When we first got the Los Inmortales, El Salvador Finca Matalapa in, the first time I tried it was as a single origin espresso macchiato. Rachel, who was on bar, warned me that to her it was very savory and almost tasted like marinara sauce. As a macchiato, it was a bit like a spaghetti dinner. On the cupping table, the Matalapa had tones of fresh hay, herbs, and a bit of an earthy, full body.

So when Goodrich wanted to try the Matalapa five different ways (Cafe Solo, syphon pot, Chemex, cupped, and, uh, Aeropress) in our “lab” (see: Pedway storefront), we were knocked on our bottoms (the same bottoms up which Charles had apparently not blown smoke). On the syphon, the Matalapa was like drinking a dark, rich cup of honey. The syphon pot had brought out the sweetness in a washed Central or South American coffee that wasn’t before apparent.

It was quite the revelation, and since then, it’s given me a flavor profile to shoot for when dialing in the Matalapa on the Clover.

As for the Aeropress, well, neither Goodrich nor I really knew how to use it. But in our defense, it’s made by a frisbee company and we lost the directions a long time ago.