The Daily Spud

...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

Waking Up To Coffee

Time was when coffee in Dublin meant a mug of milky white coffee at Bewley’s, with nothing either grande or latte about it. Even so, it seemed like a big step up from drinking tea, if only because that’s what you did at home, morning, noon and night.

Then we got all fancy with our imported coffee culture: American styles, Italian names, and the spawning of a whole generation of grande skinny decaf drinkers. (And before I go any further, I should point out that I count myself in this – I have spent years with a takeaway latte cup welded to my hand).

Yes, we fancied, in our Celtic Tiger way, that we now knew about coffee. Who among us was willing to admit that, more often than not, we were drinking what amounted to the emperor’s new decaf?

Black coffee

But it's only coffee, right?

Still, when my daily commute intersected with a Coffee Angel van, that was generally a good coffee day. Coffee Angel founder Karl Purdy will tell you bluntly that, in coffee terms, “we’re still drinking Blue Nun“, the wine we drank in the 80’s when we didn’t know any better. However, both himself and his former operations manager, Colin Harmon, who recently opened 3rd Floor Espresso on Abbey St. in Dublin, aim to change our coffee-drinking ways.

Third Floor Espresso

Coffee, and nothing but the coffee, at Third Floor Espresso

For my part, my own understanding and appreciation of all things coffee took a giant leap forward last week thanks to a tasting session and tutorial with Karl at the Coffee Angel Training Lab.

It’s somewhat of an understatement to say that I was buzzing after almost 3 hours, during which we tasted 4 different beans each brewed in 3 different ways. I came away with the knowledge that (a) I should really leave espresso to the experts and (b) there is no reason why I shouldn’t just concentrate on getting a good home brew with simpler methods.

The selection of coffee beans for tasting

Meet the beans: San Julian Cup of Excellence (Guatemala), Tekangu (Kenya), Cafe Ole - Best of Panama #7, Indonesian Sidikalang

These are just a few of the things I learned which may help me on my path to better coffee:

(1) Beans

Where and when a bean is grown can have a profound affect on its character – the idea of terroir is as applicable to coffee as to wine, it seems – but I really hadn’t appreciated just how wildly different coffee beans could be. To me, the Tekangu smelled somewhat of fresh broad beans, while the Indonesian Sidikalang, a naturally processed bean, was pungent and almost meaty in aroma – it challenged all my notions of what a coffee should be.

(2) Roasting

Karl would like to see more coffee being sold with harvesting and roasting dates marked, and with notes on what to expect from the beans, taste-wise. All too often beans are roasted to the point where the intrinsic flavours are overwhelmed by the flavour of roasting, and if your beans have been sitting around for a long time, that won’t do them any favours, either. Coffee Angel won’t use beans that are more than 4 weeks past their roasting date – Karl reckons that around 1 week to 10 days after roasting is ideal.

(3) Grinding

If you’re going to invest money, Karl suggests that you invest, not in a fancy espresso machine, but in a grinder. Freshly ground beans from a good grinder plus a cafetière or filter drip is an easier path to successful home brewing than any kind of espresso machinery. Oh, and a good grinder does not equal a bladed coffee grinder, which won’t necessarily give you an even grind.

(4) Precision

It pays to be precise. A ratio of 60g of coffee to 1 litre of water for cafetière or filter is recommended plus, for cafetière, a 4 minute brewing time.

Precision Coffee Brewing

(5) Cafetière

Cafetiere Instructions

Warm your cafetière before use and don’t let the coffee to sit too long in the pot even after plunging, as it will continue to brew. It will yield more body than a filter brew and can be a little muddier.

(6) Filter Drip

Drip Filter Instructions

The filter drip makes for a cleaner brew and for more opening up of aromas – I was amazed at how different the same coffees were when brewed this way as compared to the cafetière. I will be digging out long-neglected filter wherewithal and giving this a whirl at home.

(7) Temperature

Temperature will make a difference to how your coffee tastes – I could clearly taste more flavours in some of the coffees as they cooled. However, the notion that tepid is the best temperature at which to taste coffee will be a hard one for me to adjust to.

(8) Espresso

Espresso is the hardest thing to get right – its concentrated nature means that even slight changes in brewing are amplified in the end result. So when I persist in using my well-worn little espresso machine at home, I will at least be under no illusions as to what to expect.

25 Comments

  1. Great Post I love all the info– coffee what a wonderful gift to us humans!!

    sweetlife

  2. These are great to know when brewing a fresh cup. Just the smell alone is intoxicating enough. hehehe…

  3. I love a well made cup of coffee, which is why I don’t make it myself! Here in Australia two of the most common orders you hear in a cafe are; Flat White – a strong coffee with a little frothed milk on top and Long Black – self explanatory.

  4. Nice piece, lovely pix and a pretty accurate summation of an excellent and instructive morning. Good advice from Karl, he’s a star.

  5. Your photos as always are fabulous – and I love that quote “We’re still drinking Blue Nun”! What a great analogy.

    Damn, I’ve just finished my morning coffee and now after reading this, I need another one! STAT!

  6. Most interesting stuff! I will make better use of the plunger in the future!Any thoughts on stove-top coffee? And does this chap sell his beans to the general public??

  7. I do hope there’s some helpful info above that your readers can avail of.

    As an industry, I feel we’ve done a fairly bad job at communicating to the consumer – something i know myself and Colin are trying to remedy – so thanks Aoife for taking the time to listen.

    There is plenty of online info on brewing coffee out there(some good & plenty bad). I found the following recently launched site to be fantastic resource for brewing guides – http://www.brewmethods.com/

    If there are questions, please feel free to drop me an email at [email protected] or through the contact page on coffeeangel.com

  8. Ah a subject near and dear to my own heart. Well not mine but Himself loves his coffee … or as I will now call it ‘his Blue Nun’.

    Any more info on the Training Lab? I am sure a sending Himself on a session there would earn me some sorely needed brownie points!!!

  9. sweetlife: thank goodness for coffee indeed, I hope to be able to do it more justice from now on!

    jenn: good tips, alright – I will be attempting to apply them myself

    Lynda: ah, those words bring back memories of Australia (and good coffee had too!)

    forkncork: thanks Ernie – and there was so much more to the morning too – if I have absorbed even half of what was said, I’ll be doing well

    aoife mc: it is a great quote, isn’t it – absolutely nails it

    Yvette: I went back to my coffee guru Karl and asked about the stove-top coffee – he sent on a link to a great video tutorial here

    Karl: very happen to listen anytime and thanks for the additional pointers – as you’ve said, there’s no going back now!

    Gillian: Karl would be the best person to talk to about the Training Lab – contact info in his comment above

  10. Good coffee and espresso sure takes a skill to make :) My dad’s got all this special equipment and he makes a great espresso. I will have to visit the 3rd Floor Espresso when we’re in Dublin. We don’t have all the plans set yet but it looks like we’re definitely coming to stay for a few weeks in July. I’m excited because we may be getting an apartment with a kitchen I can cook in!

  11. Only two things: I love the little cards that illustrate your point and some of the best coffee only takes hot water, good beans and in expensive French press.

  12. Oh my stars … a Blue Nun reference?! I’m old enough to remember drinking Blue Nun! LOL

    Fascinating to read about the evolution of coffee on your side of the pond, Spud. Great post! I have to admit, I’ve never made the jump from tea to coffee. Love the smell, but can’t really get into the taste. I’m sipping some lovely Barry’s Irish as I type this, in fact! :)

    p.s. – your Captcha just called me a “floozie”! LOL

  13. Love my Coffee and love this post!! Well done, very informative without being boring. My family are mostly tea drinking, coffee phobic unbelievers who think my ordering an americano after a meal is just “Therese being awkward. it’s just a fecking cup of coffee after all”. They just don’t get it :) Congrats on the Blog Award Nomination (again)

  14. What kind of grinder would Karl recommend? I’d love to know his thoughts on stovetop coffee makers as well!

  15. 5 Star Foodie: oh gosh, that is exciting – you will have to visit Third Floor Espresso for sure when you are here – perhaps we could meet there for coffee? :)

    Hawaii Grow Coffee: Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and I agree, I thought that Karl’s little cards were very instructive, so I wanted to include them. As to your second point, I think that you’ve captured in a nutshell exactly what Karl was trying to get across – simple methods, basic equipment and good beans are all you need for a good home-brewed coffee result.

    Diva (or is that Floozie? :D): though I like my coffee (clearly) it was a taste that took me a while to acquire and, while the day usually starts with coffee, it is generally fuelled thereafter by tea :)

    Therese: Welcome and thanks! In some respects, we’re still in nappies when it comes to our coffee culture, so your family are probably not that unusual in their attitudes…

    Caroline: a ‘burr’ grinder is recommended – you can get very fancy about it, of course, but a hand grinder like the one coffee angel sells is probably a good place to start – more info here; on the stovetop front, Karl says that he doesn’t have that much experience with that method (though I’d say he still probably has a lot more experience than I do!), but referred me to the video tutorial I mentioned to Yvette above, which you can see here;

  16. Coffee, coffee, how do I love thee? Every morning, a cup or two for me!

    It’s getting so that coffee is one of the first things we look to bring back from our travels. I missed a recent tasting event from a local fair-trade coffee company but hope they’ll have it again. I’d love to learn more about the complexity of its flavors, from its origins and harvest, to roasting and brewing. As always, so appreciate that you share your experiences and newfound knowledge with us!

  17. Great post. Thankfully the world of coffee isn’t quite so stuck up and pretentious as that of wine. Mind you, if you look at some of the high end coffee machines available it might be going that way.

  18. Hello Daily Spud!

    Brussels calling!! What a superb & very informative & interesting post!

    I am learning something new!!

  19. Wow! Dizzying! Can’t a girl just get a good cup of coffee? No, seriously, I’d love to try different coffees to see the difference. I personally prefer a perfect cappuccino in an Italian bar….

  20. To me the day just does not get off to a good start without my coffee. I love th new found information you shared. To the pointer on getting a burr grinder, I definitely agree it makes a difference.

    How’s the packing coming for the big adventure?

  21. Great info. We’ve tried just about all methods for brewing at home. Luckily we have a local guy that roasts his own beans regularly, so freshly roasted – super easy to find (very unusual in rural Ohio). Good grinder – check – invested for a Christmas present several years ago. We’re of the espresso camp, Mr Chiots worked and worked to find the right tamping weight, the perfect grind and the perfect length of time. He’s got it to a fine art and his espresso rivals any good espresso I’ve ever had, and is way better than most coffee houses. It does take time and effort to learn, but once you do, look out – ruins coffee just about everywhere!!!

    I would love to do a taste test of different kinds brewed in different ways and at different temps – what a GREAT idea. Perhaps a Sunday afternoon brunch party???

  22. If I could drink coffee like you write…! wonderful wonderful – was this very morning allowing Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink and my penchant for coffee to converge in my imagination, wondering if I could embody a two-second snap judgment on how to change my coffee consumption (along the hotter/cooler, stronger/weaker axes) to improve the whole ‘experience’ (whatever that means!).
    Genius, a famous dead physicist I believe once said, is thinking of the answer before you think of the question (I’m cynically paraphrasing to my advantage), so apparently I’ve outsourced my genius to you; in which case I raise a cup of the good stuff to your health! You’ve answered several pressing coffee questions and made me envious of your kitchen (I Presume!!) in one posting!

    One question though is how you feel about fairtrade coffees in general?! I await your thoughts with bated (caffeinated) breath..(euw!)…

  23. Daily Spud

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Tangled Noodle: The more I learn about such things, the more I find there is to know! Karl is a great source of knowledge on the subject, though, so he’s a good teacher to have.

    Sophie: Thank you Brussels :)

    Jamie: I know, when everything thing else around is so complicated, it feels like a good coffee should be something simple, right? – and it can be, if you know the right places to go :)

    Oyster Culture: My day always starts with coffee too :) Re: the packing, as you now know, those plans have gone awry, so will be consoling myself with a (good) coffee here instead (or perhaps something a little stronger)!

    Chiot’s Run: Sounds like I should visit and sample Mr. Chiot’s coffee :) And trying out different beans with different brewing methods is definitely an interesting and informative experience – I can highly recommend it.

    Keith: You’re waxing fairly lyrical there yourself! Interesting you should ask the fairtrade question, because that is one of the things that came up during the tasting session. Karl’s opinion on same is that fairtrade is a well-intentioned but flawed system – the chief flaw being that it is not necessarily quality-based. He would have more time for the cup of excellence program, which is run in several different countries and which allows both big producers and small to compete annually to be selected as their country’s best coffee for that year. Those who are selected then have the opportunity to achieve premium prices for their beans – they get good prices, we get good coffee.

  24. Howya Spud,

    sorry to hear about the trip. Hopefully a postponement rather than a cancellation.

    I had a similar dénouement when it comes to coffee chez-Colin at 3fe. Always liked my coffee but never thought about it as much as my wine, but it’s essentially the same thing, terroir, processing, drinkin’ – albeit with different effects

  25. Daily Spud

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Indeed sorry about the trip Lar but, given the circumstances, happy not to be travelling just at the moment. Hopefully it will just be a postponement (and, who knows, depending on if/when they rearrange it, maybe you’ll be able to take up the invitation to travel yourself). Meanwhile, I’ll continue my coffee education in the capable hands of Karl and Colin.

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