Barefoot Coffee

An existential question — are you simple syrup, or half & half?   Or are you feeling        used today?    Barefoot Coffee gives you food for thought in a literal way.

In my quest for good coffee, I have been exploring cafes featuring artisan roasters in California and Oregon.   Barefoot Coffee was on my list, and I had the chance to visit their Santa Clara, CA location recently.   What I learned, is that the roastery is in San Jose, CA and all of the Barefoot Coffee retail locations are franchises.

Their Vision…

“Barefoot Coffee was born from the idea of treating coffee as a culinary art. Just like great produce at your local farmers market, our coffees are offered in season, fresh from the farm, when they are at their most delicious. Throughout the year we travel to origin, to hand select and purchase directly from artisan farmers whom we have established a personal and truly sustainable long-term relationship. From conscientious cultivation to beautifully developed roasts, we hand craft each exceptional coffee to speak for itself.”

So…the coffee does speak for itself.  I bought Barefoot’s Red Cab decaf for a friend, and while I am not usually a decaf drinker, I did try it, and thought the Red Cab was pretty good.

I always sip coffee black before adding milk, cream or sugar, just to get the essence of it and to see if I can discern what flavors are there.   While I give it my very best effort, I can rarely finish drinking an espresso straight, with no sugar, and no milk.   I can handle a macchiato.   My drinks of choice are usually flat whites and cappucinos.   I am sure, that one day I will find an espresso smooth enough that I will be able to handle the intensity.   I’ve also noticed that when I order an espresso shot, I sometimes get a nod of respect from the barista…which I assume has to do with drinking straight espresso for it’s character and nuances, and for being a purist.

The way I look at tasting coffee black, with no sugar and no cream, and espresso black, with nothing else, is to evaluate it as a baseline.    I would love to be able to say, “I detected notes of dried apricot and citrus followed by a nutty chocolate finish.”   Realistically…I may need more practice tasting and cupping coffees, and an aroma kit would probably help.

What I do know, is that from  espresso, or black drip coffee, all of the other coffee drinks will be based upon it.   The coffee itself must be good to start with, so that you know you have a good base drink upon which to build your lattes, flat whites, pour overs, and so on.

I still enjoy reading the flowery descriptions and tasting notes for coffee written on the package, such as “vanilla chiffon” and “honey crisp apple” used to describe the Palo Blanc reserva at Barefoot Coffee.

I believe that there is likely a crossover in consumer tastes between beer and wine drinkers in profiling preferences in coffee.

People who prefer sweeter drinks will probably not like lager or certain types of beer that are hoppy and bitter.  Those same people will probably like coffee that has sweeter, lighter notes to it, and a rich, but mellow flavor.  My preference is for coffee that is full bodied with nutty and chocolatey characteristics.

There is a line (that is probably somewhat fine) between masking the flavor of the coffee, and accentuating the coffee’s natural flavors with additional ingredients.

Signature drinks in a Barista Competition would likely be an example of complementing the flavors existing in the coffee.  Coffee purists and  snobs will sometimes say that certain coffee drinks, such as Starbucks Caramel Macchiato, or the the Cinnamon Dolce Latte, cover up and overpower the true flavor of the coffee with syrups and whipped cream.   I have to agree.  The syrups they use have alot of sugar and artificial flavors, not to mention the portions they use like Venti or Grande are enormous and watered down compared to what you would get in a cafe in Italy, for example.  I have also heard people say that coffee roasters can cover up defects in the coffee bean, that would affect flavor,  by over-roasting them.

Jim Seven has something to say about roasting too dark in his blog.

Home Barista has a beautiful pictorial on roasting defects here:

While at Barefoot Coffee, I had a drink called the Voodoo …and wow was that good.               It was really tasty. I drank it so fast I didn’t manage to get a photo for this posting.            It is a “sweet concoction of espresso, dark chocolate, coconut milk and muscavado sugar”.

A few of the other interesting drinks on the menu included:

The Orange and Ginger Cubano – a Cubano (a cappucino with muscavado sugar carmelized into the shot) with orange and ginger steamed into the milk.

Cafe brulee – A perfectly balanced cappucino with a crust of carmelized muscovado sugar.

Vanitte – A latte with Madagascar vanilla extract steamed into the milk.

The Whim (heated) is as follows:  “Put your hands in the fate of the creator.  Our skilled baristas will choose from their wide knowledge of flavors to create you something out of this world concoction.”   The Shakerado is the iced or cold version of the Whim.   They also had a nice selection of teas, such as Keemun Premium, Yellow Mountain Mao Feng, and an aromatic, refreshing Lavender Mint.

Barefoot Coffee is also offering classes on brewing methods for coffee, tea  and espresso and latte art.

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The Southwest Barista Competition 2012

I recently attended the Southwest Regional barista competition in Santa Cruz, California, which was held at the top of the Rittenhouse Building.  This was the first competition I had ever been to.

 I was in the check out line at Trader Joe’s when a cashier asked what my weekend plans were. When I said would be going to a barista competition his response was “what’s a barista?” Some other responses I got in response to  “going to a barista competition” were: “A what?” “What is that?” I wonder if I had said “bartender competition” how people might have responded differently.
In some respects it is only recently, in my opinion, that coffee has had it’s turn to shine in the limelight of the culinary world.
We’re in the age of celebrity chefs and celebrity bartenders pushing and driving innovation, so why not Baristas?

It is also interesting to note how different coffee subcultures are emerging, and how there is a sort of polarization happening, at different levels.  Here is is a link to a video  made about “coffee snob” cafe workers looking down their nose at customers who order drinks that don’t meet their standards :  Coffee Snobs

There is also the  “Coffee Wars of San Francisco” :

Just to keep it real, Nick Cho, of Wrecking Ball Coffee, posted a great video of people talking about where they get their coffee, and what they look for in coffee and cafes:

I overheard comments at the Competition such as “These kids think they invented the “pour over”.   They don’t realize we grew up with Melitta cone drip filters in the 70’s.”
So how much does a barista really have to know, in order to make a good espresso drink or brewed coffee?   Verve Coffee, who hosted the Barista Competition, puts their baristas through three days of training and a four hour test before hiring them.

Any barista can enter the competition, but it takes alot of preparation in advance.   The baristas in the Southwest Regional 2012 Competition started training in December, and the competition was held in March.  They are given an espresso machine and a table, and they provide everything else.  They have 15 minutes to unload, and prepare before the judges arrive.  Once the judges arrive, they have 15 minutes to serve a single espresso, a cappucino and a “freestyle” or signature drink, while explaining what they’re making and why.   The technical judges evaluate categories like technical skill, cleanliness, efficiency while the sensory judges evaluate the drinks served on balance, flavor, color of crema, consistency and presentation.

While the Barista Competition was happening, the Brewers Competition was also happening across the room.  Manual methods of brewing such as French Press or pour over are used and scores are given for flavor, aroma, body, acidity and balance.

Here was my view from the back of the room:   The judges were seated at the espresso bar while the Barista gave their presentation and served drinks.

One of the impressions I took away from watching throngs of people buzzing about, excited about coffee, was the passion for an artisan craft, of roasting, and also the art and skill involved in preparation.   Barista Competitions give recognition to the professionals in the industry and fuel creativity.   The crowd cheered on their favorite contestants and there was plenty of excitement in the in the air.

I believe the signature drinks will, and probably already have, inspired new coffee drinks at local cafes. I was intrigued by the signature drinks – artisan concoctions crafted with blending and pairing in mind.

What I mean by pairing, is similar to that of pairing wine with food.   The signature drink can highlight and complement the the existing flavors in the coffee they have chosen to prepare.   In a 2009 Western Regional Competition, Nick Griffith of Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, showcased a coffee called Maravilla at a from Guatemala.  He described it as a sweet coffee, with initial notes of Clementine and citrus, followed by cocoa butter.  His signature drink was created by blending a shot espresso with a puree of Medjool dates and pouring that into a mixture of whipped cream, vanilla bean, a little sugar and a dash of orange blossom water.   More drink recipes from the 2009 Western Regional Barista Competition can be found on Food GPS at:

It will be interesting to see what new drink recipes surface at the upcoming U.S. Barista Championship which will be held in Portland Oregon:

 The author, and a parrot whose owner brought it to the barista competition.

It was nice to spend the weekend meeting coffee professionals, and watching the competition.   I also enjoyed seeing a little more of Santa Cruz, CA which is full of colorful characters.

This dog was sitting next to it’s owner at a bistro in downtown Santa Cruz.            Apparently the dog’s name is Louis Vuitton.

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Getting the best flavor out of your coffee

There is one ingredient in coffee that is often overlooked in making coffee — water!   Coffee is 99 percent water, so it’s important to use the right water for brewing.

It is actually more important for brewed coffee to have the right mineral content than it is for espresso.   In expresso extraction, the water is at a hotter temperature and it moves  under pressure through the espresso in a fraction of a second.  The espresso is not in contact with the minerals in the water long enough to have a role in the extraction.

However, in filter or brewed coffee, the minerals in the water definitely affect the flavor of the coffee.  The flavor of coffee is mostly contained within the oils, and when we pour hot water over coffee grounds, the heat and the minerals in the water combine to bring out that flavor.

If the water is distilled, or too softened, your coffee will be almost flavorless.  The minimum mineral content should be around 150-200 parts per million.   Filtered or bottled water should work fine.

The temperature of the water for drip coffee or filtered coffee should be around 203-208F (95-98C)

Another important factor to having great tasting coffee is freshness.  When you buy a bag of coffee, check to see if there is a date of when it was roasted.   If there is no date, don’t buy it.  Whole bean roasted coffee remains fresh somewhere between two to three weeks.

An ideal scenario is the have a grinder, so that when you are ready to drink coffee, you can grind it immediately beforehand.   Once coffee is ground, the freshness and aroma diminishes rapidly – usually within a few minutes.   Think of opening a soda, or a beer, and leaving it sitting on the counter for a couple of hours, and then drinking it.

It would taste flat.   The same principle goes for coffee.   Once the coffee is ground, the beans and their oils are exposed to air, and will go stale quickly, regardless of how it is stored.

Speaking of storing coffee, here are some tips:

Store coffee in an air-tight container in a dry, cool, dark place.  Avoid exposure to sunlight or sources of heat.

Coffee is porous, therefore it is not a good idea to keep it in the refrigerator, where it can absorb food odors.  The freezer should also be avoided, because of the moisture.

Intelligentsia Coffee has a very stylish Brew Guide here:

Stumptown Roasters have a Brewing Guide on their website for several methods of making coffee here:

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Arabica vs. Robusta

We have all seen whole bean coffee advertised as being “100 percent Arabica”.   What does this really mean?   And why is Arabica the bean of choice?

Let me provide some background.   There are essentially two varieties of the coffee plant that are grown as a crop for consumption – Robusta and Arabica.

Robusta (coffea Canephora) has origins in central and western sub-saharan Africa, and it is is generally grown at lower altitudes, in places like Vietnam, Africa and Brazil.  When I think of Robusta, I think “Folgers” or “Maxwell House” coffees that you find in the supermarket.  Robusta is much cheaper than Arabica.  It has nearly twice as much caffiene as Arabica has, and is more resistant to disease and pests than Arabica.   It usually produces a larger crop than Arabica, and is characterized as a strong, full bodied but bitter coffee.

Arabica, is prized for it’s flavor and complexity.  Seventy percent of all coffee beans grown are Arabica, which grows best at higher elevations in tropical or sub-tropical climates.  Arabica is harder  to grow.  It is more susceptible to climate, pests and disease. and therefore, more expensive to produce.

If an arabica coffee growing country experiences too much (or too little) rain or an unexpected freeze, all the coffee plants could be ruined and a season’s worth of crops lost. Since arabica is such a delicate plant, when these events take place, it can have a big impact on coffee prices due to underproduction.   Keep in mind this does not mean all Arabica coffee is “high quality”.   This is why roasters travel the world to source the best beans they can find, and develop relationships with their farmers.

Many great espresso blends use some Robusta in the blend for it’s strength and crema, and to add a strength and “finish”.   Interestingly enough, Robusta was not even recognized as a species of coffee until the 19th century, nearly a hundred years after Arabica.

Sweet Maria’s in Oakland, California has a great article on blending for espresso which touches upon Robusta and Arabica.

On another note…here is an interesting blog post about corporate coffee, and a reason to support sustainable coffee.

and a very cool interactive roaster map!

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Coffee down under

I’m convinced that the Australians are doing something right with coffee.  I’m originally from California, but for the past 10 months, I lived in Sydney, Australia.

I have always been proud of the food culture and wine that we produce in California.

I enjoyed my local Peet’s coffee, and in the last few years, some of the specialty coffee houses and roasters in Los Angeles, such as Intelligentsia, Urth Café, Cafe Luxxe and a little gem called The Alcove.    In San Francisco, I would buy Graffeo coffee or visit cafes in North Beach.  I’ve been hearing the buzz about Blue Bottle coffee but have yet to try it. We have no shortage of specialty roasters, boutique coffee shops in Los Angeles and San Francisco

      But I was blown away by the coffee in Sydney, and Melbourne.  

It’s one of the things that left a lasting impression upon me.   The coffee there is smooth, not bitter, and consistently good in most cafes and coffee houses.

I tried to work out what is different about it..what is better…and I am not entirely sure what their secret is.   What I do know is that Sydney is teeming with micro roasteries, espresso stands, and cafes featuring espresso based drinks with latte art, and brewed coffee.   There is only a handful of Starbucks there….they failed in their expansion to Australia.   Here’s an article about that:

I think part of the reason they failed in Sydney is because their coffee is sub-standard compared to an average coffee in Sydney.    The Australians joke that they can even get good coffee at a gas station.   I am not surprised.   Sydneysiders don’t like to mask the flavor of the coffee with all of the syrups and whipped cream.

I’ve learned alot about coffee living in Sydney.  I visited Bean Drinking, a cafe in North Sydney, where they roast their own beans and offer a “coffee flight”.   They serve a single origin coffee in three preparations: Japanese Siphon,  Cold Drip and pour over or an espresso shot from the Slayer machine.

Single origin coffee refers to the fact that the coffee has come from one plot, from one farm and is not a blend, so you can taste all of the characteristics unique to that particular plot.   Apparently the flavor can vary quite a bit from plot to plot, just like wine can vary from vineyard to vineyard.   We had a Brazilian variety that day.

The siphon looks like a science experiment, but is really just a way of using vacuum pressure to brew the coffee, resulting in a clean, low sediment cup that allows the flavor of the coffee to come through.

Cold Drip is another method of brewing coffee, that results in a different flavor experience.   The baristas will describe it as having a more “liqueur” sort of flavor to it, but I actually found it kind of salty.   The coffee has been cold brewed and dripping through a glass filter for nearly five hours by the time it is served.  It is served cold in a shot glass, and usually offered with a glass of sparkling water, which you can then drop your shot into the glass of sparkling water if you want to try it that way.

We finished our flight with a shot of espresso from the Slayer espresso machine.   The Slayer is limited in production, from Seattle, and there are more of them in Australia than in the U.S. right now.   The main feature that coffee geeks and baristas love about this machine is the ability to modulate the pressure of the water as the espresso shot is being pulled.  This affects the flavor profile of the shot, and gives them alot more control.  The shot of espresso I had from the Slayer was intense…almost too much for me, and I had to add a dollop of foam and some sugar.

Part of the experience of the flight was listening  to Keith, the owner of Bean Drinking, talk about coffee.  His knowledge was encyclopedic, and was an education in itself.

He encouraged us to use the flavor wheel to help describe the coffee notes.   What was coming through in aroma and flavor? Was it nutty, chocolate or fruit..?  The Brazilian coffee had a nice mellow flavor.  It was nutty, toasty and light.

A few weeks after the coffee flight, I went to Campos Coffee for a cupping session where I learned about sourcing beans, dry processing, wet processing and the differences in how coffee is grown and selected.

Will Young, the founder and owner of Campos, gave the session.   He shared photos of the coffee farms he has been to.   Apparently cupping sessions are a ritual that are the same everywhere in the world.  The coffee that is being tasted that day is ground, put into ceramic cups and measured to be exactly the same amount in each cup.

The first thing to do in a cupping session, is to inhale the scent of each cup of grounds, and take note of what aromas come to mind.   Immediately, I was able to discern the difference between the “dry” processed coffee and the “wet” processed coffee.   Coffee is  a fruit, a “coffee cherry” or “coffee berry” and we dry and roast the seed of it to make coffee.

Will explained that dry processing, which is the oldest method.  It involves picking the coffee cherries, and laying them out in the sun to dry.  Dry processing tends to result in a earthier flavor, but is more uneven.  In dry processing, defective coffee cherries have to be removed by hand.  Dry processed coffees generally have more body and lower acidity than wet processed coffees.

In wet processing, or washed coffee, the coffee beans are floated in water to remove the defective beans, and washed to remove the mucilage, or outer fruit from the bean.  It often produces a brighter, lighter and cleaner flavor profile.

Will began pouring hot water over each of our cups, and allowing a crust to form.   The coffee grinds rise to the top, and each person then takes a spoon and breaks the crust, to release the aromatics and inhale the scent of the coffee.  More tasting notes are written down at this point.

Finally, the crust is scooped with two spoons off the top of the ceramic cup, and the coffee tasting can begin.   Each taster sips each coffee cup in turn, but keeps silent so as not to impose their own initial impressions on anyone else.   Once everyone has had a chance to sip each coffee and take notes, then discussions can begin.

In California, we have the latte, the cappuccino, the Americano, macchiato, espresso. In Sydney the flat white, which is similar to a latte, is very popular.  It’s silky, smooth and velvety in texture.  It’s prepared like a latte, using microfoam and espresso.  The milk is steamed at a lower temperature which retains some of the fats and proteins in the milk giving a a sweeter flavor than if the milk were scalded.

Another Australian coffee drink is the “long black” and the “Americano”.   Different preparations produce different results.   To me, the “long black” looked very much like a large cup of coffee we would serve in the U.S.   The difference is this:

Long Black – hot water is poured in the cup, double shot of espresso poured second.

Americano – double shot of espresso first, with hot water poured over it.

The Long Black method retains the crema, and the Americano method destroys it.

In my next post, I’ll write about the differences between the Arabica and Robusta coffee beans and Operation Cherry Red.

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