Friday, April 12, 2013

Latte Artist: Taylor Higgins

If you like art, and you like coffee, then you're gonna love this guy. His name is Taylor Higgins. He's an artist/barista in Colorado whose already mastered the usual media--painting, pencil, ink, etc. His latest challenge has been combining his two passions--coffee and art. Just to give you a little taste, I posted a few of my favorites below:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Etsy It Up This Mother's Day

          Alright, fellow Bloggers, Mother's Day is nearly upon us, and I don't know about, you but I've got two Mamas to take care of, so I thought I'd start shopping early this year. If you're at a total loss what to get your mom, you're not alone. Let me help you.
          Now, I'm not saying every mother's taste is the same by any means, but there is a gift that will win almost any Mama's heart, as long as she likes coffee. Maybe your mom is a little behind the times in terms of making coffee, maybe not. Maybe she uses instant coffee, or a vintage stovetop espresso maker. Maybe Mr. Coffee is the only man currently in her life. Or maybe she uses the latest most state of the art coffee maker... Either way, I'm sure she can appreciate a handmade ceramic single drip. I found the following on Etsy, just to give you guys a taste:

The last one, the one with the whale fin, was done by Mackenzie Terzian, and she'll whip up a custom dripper starting at only twenty bucks, so hit her up now before it's too late and see if you still have time to place a custom order. A truly one of a kind coffee drip for a mother who's unlike any other!
          Plus, they're easy to use. All you need is a filter, some ground coffee and a pot of hot water. They're also ceramic, so dishwasher safe. (Also oven and microwave safe, but no one's gonna nuke the thing anyway.)
          But the best part is, every time Mama sits down to drip & sip a delicious cup of coffee, she'll  be thinking of you. Your gift will remind her how much you love her every morning for the rest of her life, so you're set... until next year at least.
          If your mom's not a huge fan of coffee, no worries. Maybe tea is a little bit more to her taste. In that case, why not a hand-made tea pot, or single tea infuser, like this three-piece teacup-strainer-saucer set, by Jackie Matelski for only $40. That way, you can set yourself up for next year and every year after that, so that every mother's day you can just hook her up with some nice loose leaf tea to go with her awesome new tea infuser.
If your mom doesn't like to drink coffee or tea, be creative. You know your mom better than I do. There's all kinds of artists on Etsy that are more than happy to do custom orders, so take advantage. Say your mom's a huge fan of snowmen and sake, get her a snowman sake set, like this one by Misun Rie.

Revolutionary Roaster: Goshen Coffee Co

          Seventy or so years ago, the original Rosie the Riveter rocked the workforce off its sexist anti-feminist axis, spurring national reform. Well I think a little reform is in order, particularly in the coffee exchange. Goshen Coffee Co's Rosie represents a generation of consumers who will demand a market that does right by the world, and appreciates its growers' efforts as much as the roaster or barista. It's one thing to chuck a bunch of beans into an oven or pull a perfect shot, but to cower in a field over a basket that's chock full of coffee cherries for hours on end, or tend to the drying beans under a blazing sun is honestly piece of cake.
          I don't know what Goshen had in mind when they chose this spunky new Rosie to represent their roasting company, but they do ethically source all their coffee, 100% organic, the works. Anyway, my point is the revolution is upon us. Goshen's stepping up their game, going totally Fair Trade organic, and other's oughta do the same, because consumers have something called STANDARDS, not to mention a conscious, and if coffee companies can't keep up, they're gonna be taken off the roster.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Syphon, Step By Step

          In my previous post, I discovered a whole 'nother world of barista-ing. It was like walking into the lion, the witch and the wardrobe or something, except instead of stumbling into wardrobe, I walked into some sketchy insane scientist's basement, except really it was just some over-caffeinated coffee nerd, experimenting different methods of extraction, starting with the Syphon. (Stay tuned and I'll catch you later with a post on the aero-press!)
          The earliest vacuum pots appear to be first used in Germany in the 1830's. England and France followed suit soon after, and the siphon quickly swept across European aristocracy. The syphon functioned to serve coffee, but doubled as entertainment for guests, and "bestowed prestige upon the hostess," according to Brian Harris's account of coffee history.
Step By Step Instructions How to Use a Vacuum Brewer
Made Easy by Mark Prince:

          To start, you'll need water, a grinder, some whole coffee beans, a burner, a stirring device, a filter, and finally the actual upper and lower glass chambers.
          Fill the bottom vessel with hot water, then place the filter at the bottom of the upper chamber. You can use cold water if you want, but be warned it will take considerably longer, and water will seep into the siphon before reaching the optimal temperature for extraction.
          Wait to grind your coffee until right before you pour it into the upper chamber, ideally slightly finer than drip.
          After this, you insert the upper chamber into the bottom one, carefully so as not to chip the siphon. Most sets come with some sort of rubber gasket or something to seal the center, ensuring no air will escape where it isn't supposed to, allowing suction into the upper chamber.
          Now all you need is your heat source, whatever it may be. A stovetop will do, or any burner as long as it has an adjustable flame. Crank the heat up to high to start. As the water evaporates it expands, causing pressure to build in the lower chamber, pushing water up into the top.
          As moisture begins to seep upwards through the filter, be ready with your stirring stick, because you want the grounds completely saturated. At this point you can lower your flame a little.
          Continue to stir, and be sure to keep a constant eye on the flame. The idea is to maintain just enough heat to keep the water in the upper chamber, but it should never be boiling, just brewing.
          The steep time depends on the size of your siphon. Generally speaking, the steep time for a single serving should be no longer than a minute and a half. Like I said, try to maintain the minimum amount of heat necessary to keep the coffee at in the upper chamber for the duration of the steep time.
          Once your coffee's done steeping, remove your heat source (if possible, obviously not if it's fixed to the siphon) just in case of any residual heat after turning it off. This part is called the kick down. As the bottom vessel begins to cool down, the vapor condenses back into a liquid, causing the coffee in the upper chamber to drain, passing back down through the filter and filling the lower vessel.
          Finally, you just dissemble the siphon and enjoy your coffee.

          Surprisingly, you can vacuum-brew your own coffee, for instance with this one from Sur La Table. It takes only five to ten or so minutes to whip up a spectacular batch of coffee so good it defies the laws of physics. Plus, who doesn't like showing off their awesome new anti-gravity coffee brewer to guests? It's entertaining and lets you feel like a scientist for a minute, so what's not to like?

Bon' boasts the ValBeMar butane burner below an ideal heat source for the syphon, complete with an instant electronic ignition and adjustable flame.

Ascension: Dallas's First Wine & Coffee Bar

          Alright, in keeping with Tom Standage's "A History of the World in Six Glasses" discussing how humans define their drinks, and likewise drinks define their drinkers, I thought I'd report on a certain beverage-related revolution going down in Dallas: the emergence of a hybrid Wine and Coffee Bar. The first of its kind, in Texas, at least. Honestly, how has this never been done before? Why are humans so desperate to segregate their beverages--designate them separate sections on the menu, different aisles in the grocery store...
           Because, the truth is wine and coffee appeal to similar people, for the most part. Both are considered socially acceptable addictions--caffeine and alcohol, who gives. Both are classy, and attract snooty pretentious douche bags and wasted, recently laid-off, (but by no means recently laid) alcoholics alike, so why not combine them? Although this particular place will most likely appeal to the snootier end of the wine-and-coffee-enthusiast spectrum.
          The owner, Russell Hayward discusses the marriage between wine and coffee with Pegasus News, stating that "Anyone who appreciates coffee can appreciate wine... They belong together." Perhaps this sparked  John Gaberino, the owner of Topeca Coffee roastery, to open a coffee, wine and cocktail bar in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. Seems like the South is taking off on this whole "convertible spaces" idea, breaking that invisible beverage barrier. Tom Standage would be proud.
          Although, as you can see, coffee seems to dominate Ascension's counter space. It will also be the focus of my post, since I'm no wine connoisseur. I'm twenty... I'm just a Barista.

          Ascension offers customers choice of five different brewing methods, made to order (and listed below). This place means serious business. I mean, this is no hour-and-a-half-old Mr. Coffee crap--"Free Refills... if you dare..." Except I highly doubt Ascension does free refills.

  • French Press:
Classy. Elegant. Simple. Ironically there is some debate as to whether this contraption is actually French, or if in fact the press pot, a.k.a. cafetiere was first conceived in Italy. But Italy already gets the credit for espresso, so we'll just give this one to the French, I guess. It's only fair.
  • Siphon:
It's okay, if you haven't heard of this one, don't worry, you're not alone. It's some insane chemistry-set-looking coffee extraction method involving an actual Bunson burner and some fancy flask and everything. I'll get back to you on the specifics in my next post, cause I'm curious to know myself...
  • Chemex:
This one's easier, you just stick a filter in the top, then add some freshly ground coffee and pour hot water over. When its finished dripping, you simply remove the filter and you've got a perfect carafe of coffee.

  • V60 Pour Over:
Essentially the same idea as the Chemex, except the top is not attached, making this one ideal for baristas brewing multiple cups all at once. Drippers come individually or in couples, or sometimes in a stand of up to six.
  • Espresso:
via the Synesso Hydra machine, complete with a manual pedal press, goes for over $20,000.

          The place sports a sort of rustic, modern elegance. It incorporates the scientific nuances of coffee-making, mastered by their head barista, this guy--Mike Mettendorf, the city's seemingly most experienced coffee nerd--slinging smiles and "hand-crafted caffeine" across Dallas.
          According to his interview with, Mettendorf started drinking "coffee" when he was fifteen, except he'd get it from this nasty gas station cappuccino machine--you know, the kind that dispenses some scalding hot milk into a styrofoam cup, to which he proceeded to add seven or eight French Vanilla crรจme packets to. For a long time, "that's what [he] thought coffee was," and to many Americans, it still is.
          Except, since his first job at Caribou Coffee sparked an un-extinguishable passion for the stuff, Mettendorf considers making coffee an art, but equally a science. There are hundreds of variables to consider--from temperature, moisture, pressure and speed to consistency of ground coffee particles (which I'll elaborate on in a later post). But the beauty of it is no two cups will ever come out exactly the same.
          To be honest, this guy's understanding of coffee puts me to shame. He goes on to explain about different extraction methods, which he categorizes into three types:
  • Decoction:
A.k.a. "Cowboy Coffee," also true of Turkish coffee, decoction equates to over-extraction. Cowboys used to boil down and reduce vats of black coffee into a bitter, intensely strong extract. (Although that's over-extraction at its extremest.)
  • Percolation:
Percolation refers to passing hot water through coffee grounds, and applies to the Chemex and V60 pour over. The only difference between the two methods is the thickness of the filters. The thicker density of the Chemex filter makes for a crisper cup of coffee, while the V60 filter is thinner, resulting in a richer, more robust body.
  • Emulsion:
Unlike percolation, emulsion means fully submersing your coffee grounds in hot water for an extended amount of time, as opposed to simply passing through. This extraction method is used in the Siphon and French Press, in which coffee grounds spend more time in contact with the water, allowing an ultimately richer and more robust cup of coffee. Plus, the drinker can let the coffee get as strong as he or she pleases.

           Ironically, despite his extensive coffee-extracting expertise, Mettendorf only drinks one cup a day. Although, to be fair, he has to taste every cup he makes to make sure it's correct--Can you imagine? Damn. And I thought I was over-caffeinated. All I took were a few mistake/test shots throughout the day, and I'd be shaking so bad I could barely hand customers their drinks. They oughta make a barista-proof anti-perspirant, because that much caffeine-intake is atrocious.
          Mettendorf understands not everyone has the time to learn all "the science behind how to brew their coffee well, so that's why we're here." Hell yeah, we're heroes. Where would this world be without its baristas? Seriously. We're here to keep our communities happy and caffeinated. And tipsy, now, thanks to Ascension! So be sure to check it out if you're ever in Dallas...