What I’ve Been Up To

So there has been a long gap between this post and the previous. It’s not that I don’t have content to post, because I write my blogs in advance, and post what is relevant to me. Life has been busy. A lot of things have changed in my life…for the better. My life is coffee.

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The coffee popup that I lead, Serve Coffee (ya…it’s the same name), became a catering business for weddings and other formal events. We still popup at my church and serve those delicious cappuccinos for free on Sunday…yup…it’s free. During the month of May we served at our first wedding, and it was an experience. It was an outdoor wedding, and we walked into the venue without knowing much about the accommodations. Because we don’t have to share power for our equipment when we popup at my church, I was never aware of the fact that the grinder needed to be on it’s own line. My wife and I got to the venue two hours before we had to serve, and got everything set up, so I could get dialed in not knowing that we were sharing power with the lighting guy. I hit the button to dose espresso, and the grinder shuts off. Long story short: coffee equipment requires a lot of power, and coffee equipment is selfish like a little child. It broke my heart, but we had to pre-grind a whole 5lb bag of coffee to dose our espresso. Lesson learned though. We need to research the venues that we cater at, and have to request to be on our own line of power. This entire pursuit of coffee has become an everyday obsession for me.

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I get the opportunity to work at an amazing coffee shop. I always thought I would enjoy working in the coffee industry, but I never thought I would get the chance to work at Copa Vida. It’s incredible. It’s fast paced. It forces you to work hard, and to work at a high standard. I get to work with friends. It really is a dream come true. I think customers assume I am friendly, because I’m paid to provide that type of service. But I am always happy, because I love what I do, and I know that God has placed me here for a reason. If you’re in Pasadena, then come on by, and say “hi,” because most likely I will be there.

 

 

 

Serve Coffee

To this date, some time in March, I have been a little out of the loop working in the coffee industry. But I’ve been blessed to be able to serve this amazing beverage still on Sundays at my Church. Currently, I am the Director of Coffee for Serve Coffee which is a coffee popup that runs Sunday mornings. Yes, that title was self-imposed. Yes, we run, and use specialty coffee standards, and techniques. Yes, the coffee we serve is free. We are fortunate enough to feature Copa Vida’s coffee at our pop-up, and everyone is loving it.

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We run our espresso bar off of a single grouphead Giotto espresso machine. It’s a single boiler, meaning there is one main water boiler that provides hot water to both the grouphead and steam wand, but it has been running well for our fast-paced service. Honestly, I don’t know how the machine is keeping up with our queues, but it hasn’t blown up yet, fingers crossed. We grind using a Compak K10 for our espresso. It provides beautiful grounds that allow us to get sweet, even extractions. To keep our bar flow clean, and routine, we dose our grounds in a metal tumbler, and use a dosing funnel, similar to how G&B and Go Get em Tiger prep their espresso shots.

On an average Sunday, we serve around 45 guests from just our espresso bar. Our service runs a little over an hour, starting around 11am. We also have batch brewed coffee from our fetco. Just to make our service a little more streamlined, and practical, we use the same coffee for both our espresso bar, and batch brew. I didn’t see that it was financially prudent to buy one coffee for espresso, and a separate coffee for our batch brew. This has taught me a lot about dialing in, and extracting the best flavor from one coffee in the two different formats.

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I serve with an awesome team that embodies genuine service and care. I believe that it’s harder to serve when there is no financial reciprocation for what we do, and it’s a constant reminder that we are not doing this for our own glory, and praise. Because the coffee we serve is free, and my team and I do not get paid, the people we serve know that we have a passion for what we do, and it’s for a greater cause. Our church members often take trips down to Tijuana, Mexico to partner with an organization called Spectrum. We have partnered with them for over 7 years now, and they provide services for the less fortunate in their community. We’ve had the opportunity to build houses for those that need homes, pass out food, visit orphanages, and feed, and distribute water to the individuals that live in the Rosarito trash dump. We take donations when we serve coffee on Sundays to help Spectrum with the heavy costs of these endeavors.

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There are many new opportunities opening up for the popup, but I want to end this post with what I’ve learned. This coffee popup has demonstrated the generosity of the coffee community, and that by serving a cup of coffee, lives can be changed, and whole communities can be encouraged. We can’t wait to serve you.

The Brew: Cold Brew

Cold brew holds a special place in my heart. It’s like your first crush. You don’t always know how you fell head-over-heels for that person, but you did, and you will never forget that you did. There are so many cold brew methods, brewers, and opinions regarding this single beverage. I want to talk about a few ways that I make cold brew, and how you can make it at home.

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What is cold brew? Generally, cold brew is coffee that is brewed without using hot water, and it typically takes time for the extraction to happen, like a long time. There are different techniques, methods, and brewers to make cold brew where it can become a little overwhelming to make at home, and frankly, just easier to just get at a coffee shop. But cold brew is not a cheap cup of coffee. It takes time, and coffee shops take that into account when they price out their menu. I just want to say, cold brew is easy to make if you have the appropriate equipment, time, and know-how.

I won’t get into the technical aspects of what is going on while the coffee is brewing, that will be another post. I want to share my extremely complicated go-to method of making cold brew. It starts with a clear, food safe, plastic bin, and a cotton bag. Yup, that is what I use, and many coffee shops that make the cold brew that you love follow a similar procedure.

At home, the grinder that I use is a Baratza Preciso. It’s an affordable, electric grinder with conical burrs, and performs well for my home brewing. I set the grind to the coarses setting. On the Preciso, there is a micro, and macro adjustment, and I make sure that those adjusters are at their max. My coffee to water ratio is pretty standard, 1:9, but one thing that you have to know is that the initial brew is making a concentrate. So, for every gram of coffee that I use, I’m using 9 grams of water. I fill my cotton bag with the grounds, let’s say I dosed out 300 grams of coffee, tie the bag up, so the grounds cannot escape, put the bag in my container, and pour over 2,700 grams of room temperature, filtered water, preferably reverse osmosis filtered. I like to brew my coffee for 48 hours. The first 24 are done at room temperature, and the final 24 hours are in the fridge. After the concentrate is made, I have to dilute the coffee. A lot of caffeine, and flavor has been extracted, and diluting the base is necessary to achieve delicious coffee. I always taste my concentrate first just so I know how far I have to dilute the coffee. I typically have to use a 1:2-1:1 ratio of water to concentrate for the final product. This is my go-to method of cold brew, but it’s not necessarily the most delicious in my opinion.

This second method that I do in home is a little more complex, takes more attention, and can be a little inconsistent. It is a cheaper version of the Hario cold brew tower. The process takes ice water that is dripped drop-by-drop over a bed of coffee grounds to achieve a cold brew concentrate. From my experience, this method creates a sweeter cold brew, and sweetness is delicious. I don’t have $300 to drop on a Hario or Yama cold brew tower, so I opted to piece mine together with things that I have at home. A few years ago, I purchased a lemonade dispenser with a release valve from Target. It allows me to control the flow rate of the liquid that is in the container. The second piece of equipment I use is my Chemex. I wash the filter with hot water to get rid of the paper taste that can sometimes be extracted when brewing coffee. I just fill the dispenser with iced water, and allow single drips, about 1 drip per second, to fall on my bed of coffee grounds in my Chemex. The Chemex should be sitting on a digital scale, so that the final extraction can be weighed. Again, I use a 1:9 ratio of coffee to water. This method can be a headache, because the dispenser isn’t very accurate, and can release more or less water as time goes on. I pretty much have to babysit this thing for a few hours to make sure flooding doesn’t occur.

Those are my home cold brew methods. Try it out. Let me know what you think, or if you have a different brew, let me know, so that I can try it out.

My Life in Coffee Pt.1

After my baptism into specialty coffee, I bought a Clever Dripper. My close friend gave me a Hario hand grinder, and I started buying amazing coffee to brew. Once I started brewing my own coffee, I gained the courage to explore coffee menus, and brew methods more. Then I had my first pour over.

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It was perplexing to see scales being used, and a timer to monitor the brew. It seemed more like a science experiment, than a cup of coffee being brewed. I was still so naive. So, I bought my first pour over set up. I got myself a Hario V60, a Bonavita temperature variable kettle, and a scale. This led me on my journey in learning brewing techniques, and what is happening to the coffee during the brew process. My coffee knowledge was still in the infancy stage, but I kept falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Everything would change when my friend started a coffee popup.

I won’t get too much into the coffee popup, that will be a different post. Brewing coffee, and pulling espresso are two different beasts. Though they share many principles, the procedures are different, and pulling espresso requires a certain precision that can be difficult to grasp. Being on bar was exhilarating, confusing, overwhelming, and at times frustrating. I really didn’t know what I was doing. My friend is a home barista by hobby, and never received formal training, but his knowledge of coffee is like an encyclopedia, or I guess now it’s just wikipedia. There were times where it seemed like we had to learn things together. The camaraderie was amazing, and I loved it, but it was frustrating to not really have a strong sense of how my actions produced specific consequences.

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I started to frequent a coffee shop near my house, and decided that I would make it my mission for it to be MY spot. I went religiously, getting to know the baristas, and owner, and trying to understand the craft from their perspective. After many months, I finally felt like a regular. There were moments where the baristas, who I now consider friends, would let me pour my own cappuccinos, only to fail in their presence. My comfort level was to the point where I was washing my own dishes, and helping around the shop. It felt like home.

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I would constantly take the espresso machine that we would use for the popup home, so I could gain the Consistency in pulling espresso, and steaming milk. Finally, after pounds and pounds of beans, and numerous gallons of milk, I could pull shots and pour hearts. The owner was interested in my progress, and asked me to go behind bar one day. This was huge. This was like being called into the principal’s office, and going to Disneyland at the same time. I tamped. Unevenly. I pulled my shot. Espresso sprayed from the portafilter. I steamed my milk. Stretched too much. Instead of being sent back to my seat, because I failed, the owner walked me through his routine, and demonstrated proper technique. I worked at it daily, and after a few more months, I started working at a specialty coffee shop. But as always, the journey doesn’t end there.

Coffee Spots: Dinosaur Coffee

One of my favorite coffee spots in 2015 has to be Dinosaur Coffee. Sadly, there are no actual dinosaurs, and actually not a lot of dinosaur decor in the shop. There is a giant T-Rex mural in the restroom, so that makes up for the lack of dinosaurs roaming around the shop. It is co-owned by one of the co-creators of Cards Against Humanity, and it has a minimalistic vibe, but still packs a lot of attitude. Whenever I go to a shop, I always order my go to, a cortado.

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Their cortados start with some raw sugar in the gibraltar, and the espresso is pulled into the glass. The first time I ordered a cortado from Dinosaur all I could think about was, “wow! they dialed in their espresso to be super sweet.” Then I realized that they add sugar, but it didn’t really bother me even though I am sort of a purist when it comes to coffee. Their baristas are on point when it comes to milk steaming. They have their textures down.

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Their brewed coffees are done with a french press, and put into an air pot dispenser. They also have their cold brew in air pots for easy service. I think their efficiency is amazing and well thought out, and it is fortified by the layout of their bar, and clean lines all around the shop. Their coffee selections come from a variety of roasters. The first time I visited, I was served a cortado featuring De La Paz, and during another visit it was Four Barrel. I enjoy this aspect of having multi-roasters, because it allows patrons to try new coffees, and be exposed to the diversity in flavors, and roasting profiles.

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I love the ample seating inside, and outside, which allows me to bring my puppies with me as we can just enjoy the LA sunshine, and the people in Silverlake are typically dog lovers. GIve this spot a visit, and let me know if it met your expectations.

4334 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029

How it all Started for Me

Starbucks. Isn’t that where it almost always starts? While I was in grad school, I would frequent the local Starbucks, trying to kill two birds with one stone. I needed a place to study, but I also wanted to earn my coveted Starbucks Gold Card. Not wanting to have third degree burns in my mouth on a daily basis, I would always order an iced coffee. This is when my palate started to change.

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That smokey, roasty, charcoal, and medicinal flavor would stain my mouth whenever I would drink my iced coffee, and with free refills, I would knock back at least 8 a week. This evolved my pallet as years before I would gag drinking whiskey, then all of a sudden I had a craving for those smokey, tannin filled flavors. I thought that Starbucks was the epitome of coffee, because of its properties to change my taste. Then a good friend of mine took me to my first specialty coffee shop: Handsome Coffee.

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Handsome Coffee was located in the Arts District of Los Angeles, which is now housing Blue Bottle LA. It was beautifully simple, and it still had the magnitude to change my life. Since all I knew was iced coffee, I ordered just that, but the baristas called it cold brew. I didn’t know any different. Through my palate training at Starbucks, I was expecting the flavor of liquid smoke, but what I tasted was completely different. I had that same euphoric experience that the rat in “Ratatouille” went through when he had his first taste of amazing food. My world was changed. The cold brew was mildly acidic, with chocolatey, and nutty notes. It was refreshing, and lacked that horrible bitter aftertaste. Handsome became the Mecca of coffee for me. Handsome was my rabbit-hole experience that I am still falling, and tumbling through.

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R.I.P Handsome Coffee Roasters.

A Little Science: Temperature

Coffee is one of those amazing beverages that can exhibit different characteristics and flavors at different temperatures. I am just going to be focusing on hot coffee for now. There aren’t many things that are as satisfying and invigorating as a cup of hot coffee. Hot coffee is comforting, aromatic, complex, and damn delicious. But how else does temperature play a role in coffee? Can it be too hot? What happens when it becomes lukewarm?

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Heat has some interesting effects on coffee. I want to focus on how it breaks down, and extracts acidic and basic flavor compounds. When hot water is introduced to coffee grounds, acidic flavor compounds are extracted first. This is where we experience fruity notes in our cups of coffee. As time goes on, and hot water is still being introduced to the coffee grounds, more bitter flavor compounds are extracted. I don’t want to focus too much on brewing, and brew methods, because that will be a different, extensive post. Just understand that in the context of flavor compounds, hot water increases the rate in which acidic and bitter flavor compounds are extracted. The longer the hot water stays in contact with the coffee grounds, the more bitter the end product will be.

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I think most people are familiar with the lawsuit regarding the extremely hot coffee that burned a McDonald’s customer. Coffee can be too hot for reasons other than giving us third degree burns. Our brains process heat at different levels. Warmth makes us feel comfortable, and happy. As heat increases, our brains start to send warning signals telling our body that danger is a sip away. These signals are intense, and take top priority. This hinders our brain’s ability to process the complex flavors a coffee may offer when consuming a cup that is 200-212 F. This plays no role in brewing coffee. We will discuss temperature and brewing a different day.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that lukewarm coffee will exhibit the complex flavors of the coffee. Oxidation plays a large role in the flavor of coffee, and oxidation occurs a lot faster in hot coffee. To avoid getting “sciencey,” oxidation causes coffee to taste stale, bitter, and for lack of better term, like “coffee.” As the temperature of a finished brewed coffee decreases, a chemical change begins to happen, and acidic compounds become basic. If I were to recommend how fast a cup of coffee should be consumed, I would say avoid letting it sit for more than 15 minutes.

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Delicious coffee is fleeting. Have it too hot, and you will only experience pain. Let it cool too much, and you will miss the beauty in the cup. Good people won’t let good, hot coffee get cold.