Goin' to Seattle, Francis! Francis! and Etching
Posted May 23, 2003 9:20pm
It's been another "coffee week" for me this week, with all sorts of coffee related things going on.
First up was a trip to Seattle I made yesterday, a day trip with my buddy Aaron De Lazzer. Going on a road trip with Aaron and I would probably frustrate most folks - for almost the entire 3 hours in the car down, and a lot of the 3 hours back, we debated the finer points of espresso, coffee, and the business. We would spend 20 minutes picking apart the most minutiae of detail on the most insignificant things to most coffee fans, like a long discussion on the relative merits of a dual charging heat exchanger system used not to deliver brewing water, but used to heat the brewing boiler and hot water tap on a espresso machine. And the car trip is predictable - on the way down we'd discuss primarily positive things about coffee and espresso, and on the way back, we'd bemoan the fact that Vancouver has a bloody long way to go when compared to the top tier coffee scene in Seattle.
As soon as we got into town, we headed to Hines Public Market Coffee, home of John Sanders (who was roasting today), John Hornall (who is away on a family emergency - best wishes go with you John!), and my fave Barista of all time, Bronwen Serna. We were there to pick Sanders' ear on being barista judges, but also to experiment a bit with their five group machine and talk coffee and espresso theory.
Sanders was away when we arrived, so Bronwen treated Aaron and I to her USBC signature drink, Citron Sweetness. It's a double ristretto macchiato made with a citron honey. Man, I still remember the taste. Then she invited us to get behind the counter and go to town on their customized 5 group La Marzocco machine and the amazing Mazzer Robur grinder. Aaron was shell shocked - he couldn't bring himself to get behind the machine, but I was in there, are you kidding!?!
Took me two tries on their machine to get up to the ristrettos I like, then it was all good. I like Hines' espresso blend, it's a good balance of heady fruits, caramel/chocolate, and deep body. It pours an awesome ristretto, but cuts through a traditional cappa just nicely.
Sanders came back so we spent some time chatting, then Aaron and I went over to La Marzocco where we managed to get Bill Crossland (plant manager) away from an off-site meeting, and back to the shop. I got some most excellent news from Bill on the new machine project that La Marzocco is considering, and I think 2003 and beyond may see some absolutely amazing things from La Marzocco. I can hardly wait!
We went back to Hines after 2 hours at the LM plant (where we saw lots of their goodies - one good news item - they've finally gone to production on the welded groupheads - it looks like leaking LM grouphead problems are a thing of the past), and hooked up again with John Sanders and Bronwen Serna. Much more discussion on all things coffee, from the shift from the USBC judging form and style (4 judges) to the WBC judging forms and style (7 judges) for the upcoming Canadian Barista Championship. I'm psyched. Sanders even let me run a batch through his Probat roaster, so if you're drinking some Ethiopian Harar at the shop in the next few days, that's from me to you :)
The evening was going to be dinner with Chris D. and Adam from Zoka Coffee (with Bronwen, Aaron and I), but we ran late and missed out. We rounded out our trip to Seattle with a visit to Vivace (the place was dead in the evening, and while my cappa was good, the Barista was quite interested in maintain a convo with a friend during my order time :)), then a drive over to Zoka coffee to spend an hour or so relaxing before heading back.
I got something pretty cool from Susan Dennis at Francis! Francis! USA today in the mail - a new promotional brochure they have for their X line. There's a heap of educational stuff in there, a lot more than I expected - and for the most part, it jived with my own personal philosophies on what quality espresso and cappuccinos should be.
So many companies in the espresso world don't have the money or resources to do something like this, and it's sad to say, some that do get it all wrong. I saw one promotional literature piece out there for a pod-like company's product (I'm not naming names) that claimed that normal espresso machines "damage and bruise" coffee with their
"excessive brewing pressures". This is why I really like the Xproject guide. It details what goes into a quality espresso, ristretto, and lungo. It shows the proper preparation of a cappuccino, complete with poured latte art (an apple, which seems to be the rage these days).
It does push pods quite heavily (the FF!! machines started out life as being mainly for pod use), and their version of a "ristretto" is what we on the west coast call a normal single, but by and large, it's all good. They also take the time to feature the latest design changes in the FF! lineup, and especially the X1, going from the old metal and aluminum boilers to brass, and the new, better grouphead and portafilters, and the importance of such.
There is marketing fluff - after all, it is a marketing publication. But there's also a lot of common sense stuff in the booklet and some solid advice and tips and tricks. Quite the good read - I'd love to see more companies in the biz take this kind of promotional leap and give customers, both existing and new, a good guide to getting started with coffee.
Update I've been given permission to post the PDF of this manual. Here it is.
Latte Art Variations
I've been experimenting with latte art and etching as of late. Where I'm going these days is doing latte art on things that don't use a lot of milk, and those that do use a lot: americanos and hot chocolate.
With americanos, it's tricky - you don't have a lot of milk to use, and the stuff you do use should be used efficiently. Especially tough is doing the "thin" latte art, the bare wisps of the leaves and patterns. It's coming along okay.
Doing etching is also a challenge. Etching works best with super dense, settled foam on a cappuccino or latte - If you pour the chocolate circles too soon, they expand and sink into the foam too soon. That's with a cappuccino - with an americano, there isn't a heckuva lot of foam to begin with, so the chocolate can settle out.
The example I have to the right is actually the same americano from the picture above it - I just stirred it a bit to get a circular pattern of the white foam. I let it settle a bit, then poured the two chocolate circles, and etched. It looked pretty good as a final product, but the struggle for artistry continues - especially since I drank the artwork pretty fast.