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Archive for the ‘New Coffee’ Category

Starbucks is the company that coffee people love to hate.  They’re an easy target, after all, our favorite whipping boy.

That’s why it surprises people when I tell them I don’t hate Starbucks; in fact, I owe them a debt of gratitude for doing the market development that enables our business.  They’re not my favorite, either.  But when I’m away from home, with no other alternative, I’ll drink an SBUX beverage.  Sometimes I actually enjoy them, like when I can get the Pike Place Blend at the flagship store in Seattle.  Other times, it’s good enough in a pinch.  Not their espresso, that’s never good enough, but their brewed coffee.  And I will even acknowledge the elephant in the room – while I am a strong supporter of independent coffee shops, they are all too frequently not nearly good enough and deserve to lose to the big green mermaid.

I hope I come across as I see myself – not a Starbucks hater, not a Starbucks lover, but someone who respects what they’ve done and the reality the operate under, and someone who acknowledges that for what they are (a big, multi-national corporation), they do a reasonably good job, frequently better than the independents who should be much, much better.

Single serving packet of Via.  Its a plastic pouch tube about 3 inches long with a perforated tear near the top.

Single serving packet of Via. It's a plastic pouch "tube" about 3 inches long with a perforated tear near the top.

But instant coffee?

I was surprised when Via, their new instant coffee, was announced.  Seems like a strange strategy for a “premium” coffee company.  But the reality is that Starbucks is a mass market company, trying to be at the high end of the mass market.  And after thinking about how much our own customers value convenience, I realized that if they have a decent product, it’s a brilliant strategy.  So I’ve been wanting to try Via, and this turned out to be my lucky week when somebody gave me a serving.

My first reaction was a kind of pleasant surprise about the package itself.  Overall, the form factor is quite attractive: a 2-3 inch long plastic tube, kind of like a sugar stick.  Easy to carry with you (my road coffee strategy may be forever altered).  I’m no fan of plastic, but I have to admit it makes sense in this application.  The other thing about the package is that it specifies two details I never thought I’d see on instant coffee: an origin (Colombia, in the case of my sample), and an expiration date.  An expiration date!  All in all, this package gives the impression they actually care about the quality of the coffee.  I did find a little irony in the expiration dating, however.  While SBUX does not stamp their bean coffee with a roast on date, they do put an expiration date on it, and the conventional wisdom is that the product has one year dating (which, of course, is at least 10 months too much, but that’s another topic).  Well, my tube of Via had an expiration date of 25 July 2010, so it’s not a stretch to think it was made in July 2009 and has the same dating as their bean coffee.

Each tube carries an expiration date.  Pardon the poor image quality from my cell phone camera.

Each tube carries an expiration date. Pardon the poor image quality from my cell phone camera.

I think we’ve established that the package itself is reasonably well done.  The proof, of course, is in the beverage.  Here’s where I made a couple tactical errors.  The first involved the powder pour.  The Via powder has a strange consistency (relative to other instant coffees) – it doesn’t have good flow properties.  Instead, it’s almost “moist” though I find that hard to imagine.  It tend to flow in clumps, and is subject to static.  The net result of all that is that it wound up sticking to the side of my cup in a rather unsightly way.

Here's the rather unsightly stain left on the side of my cup as result of poor flow properties of the powder. The little boy in me cannot stop chuckling at the scatalogical parallels.

The second error was a failure to follow instructions.  I fully admit I did this on purpose, when I should have listened to the package.  The painfully simple diagram showing how to prepare clearly says to add 8 ounces hot water to one tube of Via.  My rather limited experience with instant coffee, however, is that the instructions result in weak coffee, so I always use slightly less water than instructed – in this case, about six ounces instead of the recommended eight.  The result was, well, strong coffee.  Overly strong.  I suspect that 8 ounces was the right number, but at that point I was already 200 feet from the hot water source and not looking back.  I like strong coffee, but my advice is RTFM and follow the instructions.

All of which leads us to the ultimate question – how did it taste?

My honest answer: not bad.  Recognize that not bad is a different thing than good.  But better than most of the swill prepared from beans in this country.

The flavor profile itself is rather flat.  Somehow this makes sense, as I would expect acidity, along with other nuances, to be a casualty of the drying process.  I would have been hard pressed to identify this coffee as a Colombian, but I’d like to think I would have correctly identified it as being from the Americas, as it did retain enough of its identity to distinguish it from, say, Africa or Indonesia.   I also have to admit that I probably would not have identified it as instant coffee. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it to be a mediocre but not terrible brewed coffee.  And who knows, if I adulterated my coffee with cream and sugar it may have completely fooled me into thinking it was good.

Certainly this product is good enough for the mass market in the United States. Which is a sad commentary on the mass market in the US, but true nonetheless.  All in all, I suspect Starbucks may have a winner with this product.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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This is a coffee that I’ve been offering for a while, and just had a local customer point out that I never put it on the web site.  Bottom line on this one is that it’s one of those classic crowd-pleaser coffees, smooth and balanced, but with enough body, flavor and nuance to be interesting.  It’s all organic and half Fair Trade Certified inputs.

The full details can be found HERE.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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I’ve been so caught up in minutiae lately that I realized I forgot blog about this new arrival: El Salvador San Emilio Pulped Natural.

A pulped natural is the love child of wet process and dry process.  In wet process (aka washed), the cherry is fermented for a good, long time, depupled, then the (now clean) parchment is dried.  A dry process (aka natural) is simply picked, then dried in the sun like a raisin.  The dried cherry is stored that way until time of sale, at point it is depulped, cleaned, sorted, etc.

Wet process coffees are typically a “cleaner” cup – lighter mouthfeel, crisp.  Rounded.  Dry process is more “rustic” – bigger mouthfeel, earthy, and in most cases, fruiter.  Sometimes to excess.  Crazy fruit.

Pulped natural is the best of both worlds.  Washed, but not as long, depulped, but not as clean, then sun-dried.  In the cup, it’s clean, yet full.  Rounded and fruity, but not excessively so.  Outstanding.  Makes a great SO espresso, too.  Maybe a little light on the body, but oh, the taste!

Get it here.  While it lasts.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Our relationship Yirgacheffe is now available!  This seems like a good time/place to update you on this coffee, as well as a few other items I’ve been thinking about.

First, about this coffee… it will rock your world.  It’s that good.  I usually don’t name drop competitors here, but this is the same coffee sold by both Intelligentsia (all genuflect) and Barefoot.  If you didn’t trust my cupping before, you should now.  Second, I feel better about selling this coffee than just about any I’ve ever sold.  Knowing the people involved is really tremendous.  Dante, the GM of the washing station and exporting company, is a native Ethiopian, and he directs much of the profit back to the producers.  It’s not just about the people, it’s about the planet, too.  Last year, they installed an eco-pulper that cuts their water use by more than 80%, which is huge.

So for all these great reasons, we’ve decided to call this coffee “Buna Dante”.  Buna means coffee in Ahmaric, the language of Ethiopia. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Craig (left) and Dante, the guys responsible for bringing this magnificent coffee to market.  It was a thrill to spend a couple weeks in WEthiopia with these guys.  Check out my photos on smugmug (mudydogcoffee.smugmug.com) to see Dante feeding the hyenas in Harar!

Craig (left) and Dante, the guys responsible for bringing this magnificent coffee to market. It was a thrill to spend a couple weeks in Ethiopia with these guys. Check out my photos on smugmug (mudydogcoffee.smugmug.com) to see Dante feeding the hyenas in Harar!

Anyway, regarding another topic…  Since returning, I’ve struggled with the “proper” spelling of Yirgacheffe.  This place name is actually pronounced, and usually spelled (in-country) as two words: Yerga Cheffe, meaning “calm marsh” in Ahmaric.  My preference would be to spell it this way on our web site, and we thought about doing that.  At the end of the day, however, we decided it was to important to be findable as most Americans would search it.  So we’re sticking with the American interpretation.  This all is not to say that’s wrong, I did see it as Yirgacheffe there, too, on occasion.

We hope you will try and enjoy this wonderful Relationship Coffee.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Many years ago, I spent a lot of time traveling in Japan on business. During that time, I came to fall in love with all things Japanese – especially the food and beverages. Probably not surprisingly, one of my favorites is a beverage called Hojicha, which is fired, or roasted, bancha (green tea).

When we decided to start selling tea, I knew that while much of what we offered would be essentially resale, I wanted to make my own attempt to replicate the hojicha I came to love in Japan. So I practiced, practiced, practiced. And the result is, I must say, outstanding.

I call my fired bancha “hojicha yasashii”. Japanese is a complex language that I did formally study, but was never fluent. As I understand the word yasashii, it generally means “soft”, as in not harsh. I’ve also understood it to mean “sweet”, as well as “slow and gentle”. I thought this was a good description of my particular style of hoji, since I start with an especially good bancha, and I fire it with a process that is a little more gentle than the traditional charcoal process.

Our own Hojicha Yasashii, or Hoji for short. We start with an awesome Bancha, and use a gentle firing process to reduce the astringency and caffeine, while bringing out flavors of nuts and grains

Our own Hojicha Yasashii, or Hoji for short. We start with an awesome Bancha, and use a gentle firing process to reduce the astringency and caffeine, while bringing out flavors of nuts and grains

This tea has a nutty aroma, and results in a brown colored tea that, to me, is reminiscent of grains. If you know other Japanese teas, think soba tea. In any case, it is a lovely and very different tea than most Americans have experienced. For a really interesting comparison, buy our bancha and compare the two.

You can buy some HERE.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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I’m talking about my parents, of course, and how they make coffee.  No method is too labor intense, no device too archaic.  And, not suprisingly, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

We visited the folks at the Pennsylvania farmstead in between Christmas and New Year’s, as those of you who

Heres the Muddy Dog herself, down on the farm.  Who said a dog cant smile?  That is literally a sh_t-eating grin - I saw what she was eating right before the photo.

Here's the Muddy Dog herself, down on the farm. Who said a dog can't smile? That is literally a sh_t-eating grin - I saw what she was eating right before the photo.

placed orders that week now fully realize; of course, I needed to bring coffee.  So as I was getting ready to turn out the lights in the roastery Christmas eve, I assembled a couple boxes and gathered up every roasted bean I could find in the shop to give away to my family.  All the Friends & Family trimmings that the walk-in customers have come to love (walk in and buy a couple pounds, and I throw in a bag of trimmings for free!).  All the unsold bulk coffees.  All the retail finished goods.  Everything.  All told, I boxed up about 35 pounds of coffee (mind you, I had been concentrating on depleting the inventory for about a week at that point).  I was determined to start 2009 with absolutely no inventory – a gesture that my accountant loves.

Upon arrival, my brothers descended on the boxes like a pack of ravenous wolves.  Still, my parents were left with a pretty amazing array of coffees.  And we drank a lot of them over the week.  And as interesting as all those coffees were, it’s how they were brewed that was more interesting.  All those who think you need fancy new technology to make great coffee, prepare to be amazed.

Those who know me know that I have a hard time starting the day without a simple, straight espresso.  Mom and Dad have no fancy espresso machine.  Nor do they want one – no space in their kitchen.  So we went old school: moka pot.  For the uninitiated, a moka is how most Italians in Italy make their coffee at home (at least the ones I know).  The device is simple, just three pieces.  A bottom vessel to contain the water, a filter basket shaped like a funnel, and a pot to catch the finished coffee.  The principal of operation is simple, too.  Fill the bottom vessel up to the pressure relief valve.  Fill the basket with finely ground coffee, in this case our Classic Italian Espresso, strike it level, do not tamp.  Assemble the pot.  Place onto a heat source.  As the water heats, the air above it heats.  As the air heats, it expands, pushing on the water.  The only place for the water to go (path of least resistance) is up the funnel, through the coffee, into the pot.  It makes a really good, stiff coffee.  You don’t get the same oil emulsification (crema) that happens at 9 bars of pressure, but it’s still damn good.  And cheap, and simple, and easy to store in the cabinet.

Moka pot, and espresso blend.  That stove was new sometime in the 70s.

Moka pot, and espresso blend. That stove was new sometime in the 70's.

Heres what it looks like apart.  This is a plain, old, aluminum Bialetti brand moka.  We sell a fancy stainless steel version, as well as the aluminum classic.

Here's what it looks like apart. This is a plain, old, aluminum Bialetti brand moka. We sell a fancy stainless steel version, as well as the aluminum classic.

Basket filled, struck level, no tamp, ready to assemble.

Basket filled, struck level, no tamp, ready to assemble.

Elixer of love...

Pure Magic...

Still, a little tedious if you have a crowd, which we did at times.  In that case, we drag out the old vacuum pot.  Yeah, we could have used the percolator, but as I established in a post last summer, that one actually takes some skill to use well.

Vac pots date back to the mid 1800’s, purportedly invented by a guy named Napier, a maritime engineer.  Principle of operation is the same as the moka – bottom vessel for water, top vessel shaped like a funnel, with funnel rod extending to bottom of water vessel.  In between there is a filter of some sort.  Water heats, air heats, air pushes on water, water follows path of least resistance up funnel and mixes with ground coffee in that vessel.  Only difference in this case is that you keep it on the heat as long as you want the coffee to steep.  Then remove it from the heat.  As the bottom vessel cools, it creates a vacuum (this is, basically, how a canning jar works, too).  The vacuum sucks the brewed coffee through the filter and into the pot.  Done.

Vac pots were hugely popular before WWII.  Restaurants had huge gangs of them.  They were in every household, in numerous brands – Cory, Nicro, Sunbeam, and more.  All types of filter mechanisms.  At one time I had a collection of them, but I try not to pack rat and sold them all except one or two.  Even today, they are available if not popular.  Bodum makes the most mainstream of them, the Santos.  The device in the movie The Bucket List was a vacuum pot (the Royal), a different configuration but same principle.

Here's Mom's Vac Pot. She's clumsy, so stainless is how she rolls. I think this one is a Nicro, but not sure. It uses a Cory glass filter rod, probably not original.

Put the filter rod in, then add the coffee.  A bit of technique - heat the water a little with the pot unassembled, then put them together.  Its more viscerally satisfying to seethe thing work as soome as you assemble it, and you can start timing your agitation, otherwise youre waiting for the water to heat, in which case I get distracted then the next thing you know its been gurgling for who knows how long.

Put the filter rod in, then add the coffee. A bit of technique - heat the water a little with the pot unassembled, then put them together. It's more viscerally satisfying to seethe thing work as soome as you assemble it, and you can start timing your agitation, otherwise you're waiting for the water to heat, in which case I get distracted then the next thing you know it's been gurgling for who knows how long.

Assmebled, water starting to move into upper chamber.  Stir a little as the water rises to get all the coffee wetted.

Assmebled, water starting to move into upper chamber. Stir a little as the water rises to get all the coffee wetted.

Let it steep, on the heat, for about three minutes

Let it steep, on the heat, for about three minutes, then remove from heat and watch the vacuum work almost immediately

Its done when the grinds are sucked dry.  remove the upper vessel and serve.

It's done when the grinds are sucked dry. remove the upper vessel and serve.

My favorite coffee of the week was the Mexico Organic Dry-Process Nayarit.  I’m a sucker for a good natural.

Even if you don’t use these methods every day, it’s fun to experiment with them and inexpensive to buy the equipment – look on eBay to get what you need.  They work great, they give you infinite control, and you’ll feel good about mastering a new technique.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?): I’m working on a couple new blends for a potential new coffee shop customer.  The dark house blend is a variation on the Christmas Blend theme.  I’ll keep you posted.

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This is the part that I love about this job – adding new coffees to the menu.  Especially naturals, a particular favorite of mine.

For those wondering, a “natural” is also known as a dry-process coffee because the fruit is dried in the sun instead of dunked in water (which results in a “washed” coffee), which is not exactly “unnatural”.  The net result of natural processing is an earthier, fruiter cup, frequently “winey”.

Once again I was smitten with an Ethiopian Sidamo.  It’s hard for me to say I have an absolute favorite origin, but certainly within regions I do have faves.  In Africa, it’s Ethiopia for me.  And within Ethiopia, it’s southern Ethiopia.  And within southern Ethiopia, give me the naturals.

And so, from the Shanta Golba Cooperative  comes this lovely elixir.  Baby A (aka Veggie Girl) and I spent about ten minutes this morning just sniffing it and trying to describe the dry aromas.  She said “bananas”, and then I could smell them, too, in addition to nearly overwhelming sweet fruits like cherry.  In the cup, the fruits absolutely assault you before retreating to allow the dusky leather to reveal itself in the finish.  If this coffee were wine, it would be a cuvee of savignon blanc (for the sharpness), merlot (for the fruit) and sangiovese (for the finish).  I know it sounds weird, but it works, I promise.

To add to the appeal, it’s Organic, Fair Trade Certified.  You gotta try this one, with the caveat that, like other naturals, they are not for everyone.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?):  The Golba inspired me, and might be the one coffee worthy of blending with the Guji (though the question “why?” may still be valid).  So I whipped up an experimental espresso, code named Blonde, not for its IQ but rather for its finish – ultra light (I just realized in addition to the color, the analogy works with the stereotype, too), like interupt first crack light, which for those of you who blend know is always risky, but especially so for espresso.  I’m sipping it now, thinking it needs another day to rest.  Or it may need another 10 degrees of finish temperature.  It’s so far from the norm of how I blend I’m not sure what to say about it.  The quality is excellent, for what it is – a sharp, bright, fruity espresso reminiscent of Cafe Fiorre – it’s the best one I’ve ever had.  The question is whether espresso should taste like this, and to answer that I will need other opinions.  So to all my espresso homies – come over and get some, then give me you opinions.

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