More thoughts on coffee as an affordable luxury.
I tweeted today something that seemed to become a popular retweet:
A lot of people don’t see coffee this way. Old folks (like my Dad’s age) still think of coffee as something for $0.25 a cup. With bottomless refills. People my age think of coffee as something for a buck retail by the 12oz cup or $9.95 a pound at the grocery store “for the good stuff”.
Truth is, everything’s costing more these days, and the last time I bought a can of (diet) coke at the corner store, it was $1.50. The bigger 500ml plastic bottles were $2.25. But in my home, with coffee costing $20 a lb, a nice full cup (8oz, 240ml) costs me $1.06 in coffee bean cost.
Here’s the math, but let’s switch to metric here. a pound of coffee is 454g. My own usual ratio of coffee is using 8g per 100ml of water, but considering grinder waste, let’s call it 10g per 100ml. At that ratio, you can brew 4.54 litres of coffee per “pound” using non-espresso methods.
In the world of coffee, a “cup” is 4 or 5oz of coffee brewed (or 120-150ml). Don’t ask me why. But lets go with the standard US cup of 8fl.oz (240ml) as the standard here. A pound of coffee will give you almost 19 cups of 240ml brews of coffee. 18.75 “cups” to be exact.
So if a pound of coffee is $10, each cup costs $0.53. At $15 a lb, coffee costs $0.80. At $20/lb, it is $1.06. And at $25/lb, each cup is $1.33. Affordable luxury.
Now a side note. Coffee is an affordable luxury, but I think it stops becoming “affordable” as soon as it costs more than a premium soda does.
I’ve seen a lot of rockstar baristas and coffee evangelists talk about how cheap coffee is compared to artisan cocktails or great wines. To me these comparisons are not only unfair, but really are a cheat. The reason is simple: taxes. Alcohol has many layers of taxation involved in their cost that coffee does not have.
When I see roaster / retailers comparing their $8 or $9 siphon brewed cup of coffee to a $10 or $12 super premium crafted cocktail and claim coffee is cheap, I cringe. A $12 cocktail at Vancouver’s top bars are the result of a) a well trained, well paid bartender, b) lots of product waste from the bartenders chucking less than perfect drinks and from training, c) the cost of running said bar (which is a LOT higher than the cost of running a cafe) d) the cost of all the taxes involved e) the cost of the ingredients. Coffee via siphon is labour intensive, but it does not have the same operation costs or taxation costs (or waste costs) that cocktails do.
I think this comparison is much more fair: Premium sodas. Compare the price of a cup of coffee in a cafe to a bottle of Boylans soda or Q Tonic Water, To my mind, this is a much more fair comparison and one consumers can agree with eventually and accept. This is why I think $4 to $5 is the maximum price you can charge for a cup of coffee (espresso based or not) before you lose any kind of cache regarding “affordable luxury”. And don’t forget, that $5 coffee drink becomes $7 or more once you factor in sales taxes and tip. People tend to tip a bit more on labour intensive drinks vs opening the cap on a soda bottle. Regardless, $7 is a lot of money to many people.
In the home, I think the comparison should be the same - coffee still can remain an affordable luxury at least until it approaches the price of a premium soda. I can buy a four pack of Boylans or Fentimans’ sodas for around $7, making it about $1.33 per bottle - the same price as an 8oz cup of coffee from a $25/lb bag of coffee. Once coffee gets over $25, it ceases to be an affordable luxury, IMO of course, and becomes a luxury.
Another thing on my mind: many roasters and retailers have been migrating from 16oz (1lb) bags to 12oz bags in recent years. While many have also dropped the price by as much as 15% or more with the weight shift (though I have yet to see any drop it the full 25% the weight change suggests), it is an unfortunate fact that some have kept the prices similar to their previous 16oz variants.
It’s pretty obvious that this move to 12oz is as much to disguise the increasing price in true specialty coffee as it is to give consumers a cheaper option for smaller amounts of coffee to take home. The problem is, once you calculate by the cup, there is no savings - there are price increases. Coffee that costs $1.03 in a $20lb of coffee will cost the consumer $1.26 in a 12oz bag sold for $18.
Also, roasters, retailers and coffee evangelists often fail to take into account the investment in time and equipment the consumer has to make to finish off the process of turning that bean into a drink. In reality, for some that $1.33/cup, $25/lb coffee actually costs the consumer maybe another $1 in labour, electricity, and equipment costs to make the beverage. Buying a bottle of Fentimans’ soda doesn’t incur those additional costs.
I still think a $25lb of coffee is in fact an affordable luxury, but it also at the limit of that term. $20 is a lot more affordable, and of course, $15/lb is downright cheap. But be wary of coffees costing $20 or $22 per 12oz. Those aren’t “affordable luxuries” any longer. They are just “luxuries”.
Double Dipping on Ice Brew Coffee
So Iced Coffee (and Cold Brew, and Toddy Coffee) have been getting a lot of traction these past few weeks; all started with that great instigator Peter Giuliano who hopefully will be writing a followup soon.
I’ve been experimenting off and on with cold brewing coffee since about 1998, when I bought my first toddy brewer. But I have to be brutally honest here: cold coffee (or espresso) is not about super culinary delights in taste exploration for me like espresso is, or siphon brewing is, or press pot or even drip brewing is. Cold coffee (or espresso) is purely about a pleasing taste and something cold and refreshing. So I have had no qualms about adding both a sweetener and milk to the beverage. Sugar especially, since the well known scientific fact that sweets are perceived less the colder a beverage is.
Back in 2009, I did some heavy experimenting with an aeropress for cold brewing. My reason for testing wasn’t so much about the aeropress as a cold brewing device, but to test something I knew to be true (as my tastebuds told me) regarding cold espresso methods: when brewing espresso for using in a cold drink, I found the resulting beverage much more pleasing and rounded (and soft, even) if I chilled the espresso in stages instead of shocking it to cold by brewing it directly onto ice. To this day, espresso tastes a bit metallic and sharp if I brew it directly onto ice.
I didn’t find the same thing in brewed coffee (ie, brewing onto ice), but never really tested it. So I did a series of experiments with an aeropress to produce a cold cup of coffee: I’d brew it directly onto ice; brew it into cold water then add ice; and brew it traditionally, then add it to a second chilled vessel, then add some cold water, then finally some ice.
I didn’t find much discernible taste difference once I figured out the water ratios on these experiments (that took a bit of time). Well, that’s not entirely true: I actually thought one cup I brewed doing a two stage chill (brew into cold water, add ice) tasted slightly better than the other methods, then I found out that I had screwed up my water/ice/coffee brew / grounds used ratios (I know…). I adjusted the other ratios for the other brew methods and found all the cups produced tasted better, and pretty much even.
Looking back on it now, I realised I may have been able to preserve more of that particular coffee’s best taste notes with the adjustment, but I didn’t realise that at the time. So a few days ago I decided to try a new experiment, and this one was purely based on stuff I read from Giuliano. I worked on both my grind fineness and dosing parameters for doing a Chemex brew with a Kone filter, right onto ice. I also worked on two other things - one very controversial, one not so much.
I found that by going to a much finer grind, and by using a bit more coffee (8g/100g water/ice) and fooling around with my pouring method quite a bit, I was able to coax some real individual flavours out of the coffee I as using for this experiment - a Colombia from PT’s Coffee. That’s the not-so-controversial part.
I also tried something else - something that is probably real heresy in the world of coffee and espresso (and it is, since I’ve done my part to make it heresy). I would pour brewed coffee back through the coffee grounds, essentially double-dipping my brew. Gasp.
Before I get to the results, there is some method to my madness. Passing 200+F water through a bed of coffee once is enough to take a lot of the good stuff (and some of the bad stuff) out of that ground coffee and put it into your brew. Passing super-hot coffee brew through a partially (or mostly) spent bed of coffee will only really extract crappy bitter stuff you don’t want in your cup. This is why percolator coffee tastes so horrible.
But reducing the temperature of the water used to brew, during the brew cycle, has some interesting effects. You can try this yourself and pretty easily: boil your brewing water in a kettle; wait until that water measures around 202F (use a meat thermometer, you don’t need anything fancy or have to be exact), and start doing a slow pourover brew. As you pour, your water is cooling - cooling inside the kettle, and cooling as it passes through air to the bed of coffee. But to kick things up a bit, keep pouring higher and higher (while remaining safe) as you do the pourover - the longer passage through the air will reduce the water temperature even more. Pour slowly and a thin stream. Try tasting this brew next to a brew you poured close to the bed of coffee, but everything else is equal.
When I did my “double down” experiments, I had to have some starting blocks, so I set up this ideal:
- 400g of ice in the chemex
- 100g of water to be absorbed by the bed of coffee (my initial bloom steep - first water I poured into the bed of coffee)
- 400g of water to be poured through the bed of coffee
- roughly 800g of liquid resulting (once ice melts - bed of coffee will retain at least 100g of water)
- Then take half that volume of brew, and re-pour it (cold) through the bed of nearly-spent grounds
My logic behind this was multifold:
- According to all research I’ve read, the lower the “brewing water” (or brewed coffee, in this case) temperature, the less perceived bitters will be extracted. Others can give you the exact scientific names for this chemical and that fat and this lipid and that element that is particularly affected, I’ll just state: colder the water, less bitters (and acid) extracted.
- Using 80g of coffee but only pouring 400g (500g) of hot water through it means there’s still a lot of solubles and non solubles to extract
- The brew I poured through would not reheat the bed of coffee, but would in fact cool it down more.
Why only pour half the coffee through the bed again? I don’t have any scientific reasons other than my goal was to ultimately pour 600g (700g) of liquid through the bed. I could pour more or less, but this is where I started.
So what were the results? Surprising, promising, but not definitive. I need to experiment with this more. Would encourage you to do the same. Here’s what I got, and I had two friends and my spouse Beata be taste test bunnies as well.
I poured about 100g of the “brewed once” coffee into a cup, and poured about 100g of the “brewed twice” liquor into another cup. Then I added all the remaining 600g of coffee (300g double brewed, 300g single brewed) into a separate vessel and served 100g of that.
The Brewed Once liquor was had the best perceived sweetness, but no distinguishable flavours other than “coffee” flavours for my tasters and me. I could taste some acidity but it was soft and mellow. No one else tasted that.
The Brewed Twice liquor had less perceived sweetness, but still wasn’t unpleasant for any of the tasters. That said, one taster and Beata both noticed what they called “a soft fruit taste”. This Colombian we used from PT’s Coffee has good stone fruit tastes when brewed hot - particularly apricot and peach. I’d call this a serious win for the brewed twice method for this particular coffee. In my case, I couldn’t taste any real fruit I’d notice, but since I was aware of the stone fruit tastes from the hot brewed coffee, I kind of perceived it - not definite though. I did not the sweetness was mellowed out, but not at any perception of excessive bitters. The coffee just seemed more complex to me.
The Mixed Brew liquor really did have a balance of both prior examples - a bit more sweetness than the brewed twice on its own, and one taster felt she could notice a bit of fruit character. All four of us liked the mixed brew the best out of the three samples.
This was not very scientific and I certainly didn’t follow any real rules of taste sampling, like blind tasting or double blind. I was using a 2g accurate scale, and not entirely getting every number accurate - call it pretty informal. But the results were enough for me to really look a bit more into double-brewing for cold coffee brewing - first time around the ice coffee brew method (or as Peter Giuliano calls it, Japanese method), second time around pouring cold brew coffee back through the bed again. Try it yourself and see what happens!
Coffee Review: Coffea Roasterie’s Ethiopia Tchembe
Well, in early November 2011, I got to taste just such a coffee. It is the Ethiopia Tchembe from Coffea Roasterie.
(ed.note: I wrote this review in November, but left it in my drafts folder by mistake. I’ve updated it a bit to reflect the next roast date the Coffea Roasterie has for this coffee).
My first impression when taking a sip of the Ethiopia Tchembe? Sweet prunes. My second impression? Subtle chocolate. My third? The aromas hit me quite a bit out of the cup and were reminiscent of the flowers I had on my lemon tree this summer. I loved the low-medium acidity (just enough to make the cup interesting) and loved the sweetness level.
I had 12oz of this coffee, and it went extremely quick; I shared it with my neighbours and for at least one of them it was an epiphany coffee - she was amazed at the flavour reach. The sweet prune is so readily noticeable that she called out the flavour after a few sips and she is self described as “a complete non expert on tastes”.
I also found the coffee to be versatile: it brewed excellently on my first siphon attempt, and even became a highlight coffee for me on the manual pourover station (I’m not a big pourover fan). I did try some as espresso and, well, save it for brewing as coffee. ;)
This is a fantastic coffee, roasted in very small batches. It is sourced from one of the top importers in the US: Ninety Plus. It is not cheap - 12oz is around $25. But take my word for it, this is a boutique, “extra fancy” coffee and is a definite treat. Click the link above or the photo to order some. The next roast date is mid January for this small batch coffee.
Brewing Style: Pourover, 32g coffee ground to medium grind; brewed in a Coava Cone V2, 425g water used. Siphon: 28g coffee ground to slightly-finer than medium grind, brewed in 3cup Hario, metal mesh filter used; 340g water used, steep time of 80 seconds.
I’m trying to come up with “every-consumer” ratings for these coffees. It is still a work in progress, but for now, I’m giving three ratings: approachability for newbies who normally take milk and sugar in their coffee; black coffee afficiandos who don’t care about cupping scores, and a basic cupping + pricing score where my scale is as follows: 80pts is a basic value, good tasting coffee; 85pts is an above average, good value coffee; 90pts and above is an exceptional coffee. My points rating also reflects on the coffee’s price - the better the price + better the taste = higher points.
Newbie Approachability Rating: A-. Newbies who normally put milk and sugar in their coffee must be convinced to try this coffee without either additive. It is naturally sweet, has low acid, and the fruit notes shine. If that fails, get them to try it only with milk: with milk, it becomes like a warm fruit milkshake and is fantastically sweet.
Overall Rating: A. Just a fantastic coffee. The only way I didn’t enjoy this was as espresso, where the powerful brewed-as-coffee flavours got harshed out. I liked it as a manual brew, loved it as a press pot, and loved it to death as a siphon. My first and last brews were as siphons, and I miss this coffee!
Cupping Score: 90.5. This coffee would be even a few points higher, but the price, at $25 for 12oz, factors a bit. Trust me though, it is worth every penny. I very rarely score any coffee over 90 points, either privately or publicly; this is only the 5th coffee of 2011 I’ve scored over 90 points. Taste notes: purple fleshy fruit, sweet, chocolate, floral on fragrance and aroma; low acidity, yet still clean and somewhat crisp. Rocks as a siphon.
Costa Rica Genesis Coffee from Transcend Coffee
This honey processed coffee is one that the guys from Transcend Coffee are particularly proud of. Described as “akin to a biodynamic wine”, this Costa Rican coffee grown by Oscar and Olga Mendez in the Lourdes de Naranjo region is meticulously grown, picked and processed. Chemical free, grown essentially “wild”, it is harvested at 1700m above sea level, which is quite high up, even by coffee standards. So how does it taste?
I brewed the coffee using four methods: press pot, siphon, pour-over and via the aeropress. Across the four styles of brewing, I got the most out of the cup with the press and siphon methods, but the coffee was fine using all methods.
The coffee is what I’d consider light bodied, but this is not a detriment by any stretch. There was still good mouthfeel and texture, but it was very delicate.
Transcend says there are notes of melon, apple, pear but also milk chocolate. I found the milk chocolate hard to find, but there was a definite bittersweet cocoa note to this coffee.
As far as the fruits go, pear was another stretch for me, but I’ll be honest - I’ve read and heard pear used as a descriptor for coffees in the past but I’ve never actually tasted it myself. Maybe I’m unable to taste the delicate pear hints some coffees have - I like the taste of pear quite a bit, but have certain expectations of it too.
Melon and apple? Definitely there - especially the apple hints. The acidity in this coffee is also tied to that apple taste, which I find a lot more pleasing than citrus-like acidity.
What I especially liked about this coffee was a carry over of the cocoa flavours and a subtle spiciness (which I can’t identify) into the apple flavours.
Roast quality was superb, along with the sorting and sizing of the beans. The bag aroma was almost heavenly - as soon as I opened the bag, I wanted to taste the coffee something fierce.
In the siphon, the coffee exhibited the most body (which surprised me a bit, since press pot tends to do that), and was my favoured way of brewing. I brewed the siphon this way: 350g water, 28g coffee ground normal drip grind fineness, raised 3/4 of the water in the siphon, added the ground coffee, stirred when all the water had raised. Stirred briefly halfway through the brew. Turned off siphon heat 85 seconds after the water had all raised. Stirred once more as heat was turned off.
This coffee isn’t cheap, but isn’t terribly expensive either - $17 for 12oz (CAD).
Highly recommended. This is a nice coffee experience, and I found the acidity quite unique amongst most of the coffees I’ve been tasting over the past few months.
Quite awesome: how to develop black and white film with (instant) coffee (and a few other things)
You know, in the last few years a lot of people have given up on saving the world, trying to be a successful business person, or being a good parent, and instead are concentrating on making a half-decent cup of coffee.
- Red Green.
LOL - more truth than fiction! :D
Historically drip coffee (brewed in 1/2 gallon to 3 gallon batches) was a dumbed-down, convenience-oriented substitute for vacuum pot coffee, which was and is, in my opinion, the holy grail of this particular cup style: optimal for nuanced, aromatic, city to full city roasted complex single origin coffees.
The ChristChurch Cafe - Helping the Coffee Community in ChristChurch
As many of you know, the city of Christchurch, NZ, and its surroundings were hit horribly hard by an earthquake a few weeks back, and along with all the death and destruction, many, many people in the coffee community were hard hit by losing their businesses, their homes, their work places. Some have lost all three - their business, their home, and their means of income.
Because of this, we’ve set up a website - the ChristChurch Cafe - a virtual coffee house.
Here, you can buy a flat white, or an espresso, or a kg of coffee, or even an espresso machine - all virtually and 100% of the money will go to a fund Carl Sara (4 time NZ Barista Champion) has set up to administer a $200 monthly grant to anyone in the coffee community in ChristChurch who applies for it.
The idea is, visit the cafe every few days and buy a virtual espresso or flat white for your mates. Come back often. If you’re used to buying a coffee 3 times a week at cafes, do it here for a few weeks with the same frequency.
If you’re feeling a bit more peckish, buy a kilo of virtual coffee.
If you’re feeling even more generous, drop the $300 (NZ dollars) on a virtual espresso machine purchase. You won’t get a real espresso machine, but you’ll feel mightily good regardless, because you’re helping out the community there.
Drop by often - this is a rolling fund so its counting on people coming back every so often and buying a virtual coffee.
Let’s help these folks as much as we can. Buy a virtual coffee today for the coffee community in ChristChurch.