August 2016 Subscription Letter
There may be no more polarizing term in specialty coffee than the word “automation.” The mere thought of a person taking high quality coffee beans and brewing them in whatever “push button, get coffee” type of machine they use can send chills up the spines of baristas, roasters, and enthusiasts the world over…. But I’m here today to tell you that we shouldn’t fear automation in specialty coffee, we should embrace it.
Let’s get a few clarifications out of the way. When we talk about automation we’re not talking about machines that take a pre-packaged, plastic pod and fire 1000F degree water through it to brew a cup in a matter of seconds. We’re also not talking about espresso. In my opinion, espresso will always benefit the most from human interaction; there are simply too many variables to consider and observe when brewing espresso that automation will have a very difficult time producing consistently excellent results like a trained barista can.
So if we’re not talking about pods and we’re not talking about espresso, what are we talking about? In our opinion, automation in coffee brewing at the single-cup and batch levels can be hugely beneficial from a workflow perspective and produce incredible cups of coffee time after time and do it incredibly efficiently. We were recently dialing in a brew recipe for our brand new Kenya Kiruga PB (included in this shipment!) on Chemex and ran into some interesting and frustrating results. Even though we kept our grind size exactly the same on our EK43 and used the exact same water temperature and added our water carefully at the same measured intervals, the end result was vastly different. Due to changes in how the grinds settled in the filter, our brew times were minutes apart, and this settling had a dramatic effect on the taste of the cup. For the average home brewer, variations in cup quality like this are commonplace. Shouldn’t we do everything we can to make our cups of coffee taste consistently excellent if we’re going to be spending good money on specialty beans?
Enter automation. There are several home brewing systems that can produce incredibly consistent and delicious cups of coffee, most notably the Technivorm Moccamaster and Bonavita BV1900. Here at our shop we’ve been playing around with a Curtis Gold Cup brewer that allows us to program water flow rates to mimic a manual pourover, and the results have been fantastic. The next time you’re in your favorite coffee shop, ask the barista about their batch brewing system. With advances in coffee brewing technology at scale, there’s no reason why drip coffee shouldn’t taste as great as a manual pour-over.
On to the coffees! We’ve included two BRAND NEW lots in this month’s shipment: Kenya Kiruga PB and Ethiopia Gelana Abaya. These two coffees were both purchased and imported through our new relationship with Atlas Coffee of Seattle, and we’ve been incredibly impressed with the quality of their lots. The Kiruga (named after the wet mill where the coffee was processed) is a peaberry lot with notes of Concord grape and buttercream. Gelana Abaya is also the name of the wet mill in Yirgacheffe where this exceptional lot was processed, and the coffee showcases delicate floral notes of honeysuckle and lilac with a sweetness reminiscent of mango and sweet tea. Both coffees are truly exceptional, and we hope you enjoy brewing them (manually or automated) at home.