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Why we don’t sell pre-ground coffee

When I launched Cape Coffee Beans, there were a few important decisions that I had to make about what type of coffee we would and would not sell. Not selling capsules was an easy one (perhaps a topic for a future post) but I did mull over the question of whether we would sell pre-ground or not, ultimately deciding not to.

Coffee beans & ground coffee

Recently I’ve had a few customers ask about the availability of pre-ground coffee, admittedly a question that comes up from time to time, so I thought it might be helpful to put the rationale for not making this option available in writing (other than the fact that Cape Coffee Grounds doesn’t sound nearly as good as Cape Coffee Beans).

Freshness

First and foremost, we don’t sell pre-ground coffee at Cape Coffee Beans because of freshness. Once coffee has been ground and has contact with the air, it goes stale within a matter of days. While you shouldn’t believe anyone who gives you too specific of a prediction (it definitely varies by coffee), whole bean coffee can last several weeks. I’ve rarely been disappointed with a coffee that was up to 4 weeks old, and I’ve sometimes been pleasantly surprised by a coffee that was as old as 8 weeks from roast.

If you don’t believe me about this, visit someone with a grinder (if you don’t yet have one) and perform an experiment: grind a coffee and let it sit for an hour; once the time has elapsed, freshly grind some more of the same coffee; finally, compare the smell of the hour-old and the freshly ground coffee. You’d have to be seriously olfactorily-impaired not to notice a difference. Now, just think about what that means for the coffee that was ground a week ago.

If we were to sell pre-ground coffee, it would be next to impossible to have it consumed at its best once the time from roaster to us, and from us to our customers was taken into consideration, let alone the time from when the bag was first opened to the time it was finished.

The ability to adjust your grind

Another important reason that we don’t believe in pre-ground coffee is that it removes the possibility of adjusting your grind setting. Coffee beans come in all kinds of different sizes, densities and degrees of solubility. For those (and other) reasons, you may find one coffee’s optimal grind setting for a given brew method may vary from the optimal grind setting for another coffee. For espresso, this is always true, but it’s true more often than you might think for manual brewing applications as well. If you’re buying pre-ground, you’ve committed to a setting, and you can’t even test for tastier results!

It’s worth noting that there’s an element of personal preference here as well. Your version of the optimal French Press extraction may be slightly different from what the roaster, or whoever else did the grinding, enjoys the most. You forego a lot of control over your coffee if you let someone else pick the grind setting for you.

Incidentally, if you have a grinder and you don’t ever adjust your grind setting, it’s time to start experimenting!

A grinder is a small but very worthwhile investment

“But a coffee grinder is expensive!” I hear some of you protesting. No, it isn’t. At the time of writing this post, our most affordable coffee grinder is the Hario Mini Mill which comes in at R499. Inflation may eventually raise this price point, but when factoring in freshness and adjustability considerations mentioned above, I can’t help but firmly hold onto my very biased opinion that anything near this is a small sum to pay for better tasting coffee.

The technology for keeping pre-ground fresh isn’t available in SA yet

Some of the more internet-inclined readers of this may object to some of the assertions here in this post based on things they’ve read about pre-ground coffee being sold in larger coffee markets. It is true that some companies, particularly in the US, have started using some very fancy technology to grind coffee in oxygen-poor environments and hermetically seal just the right portion sizes into pre-packaged doses. While this doesn’t address the issue of grind adjustment, it does obviate the freshness concerns as the coffee only has contact with the air once, just before the individual package is opened for brewing.

If this technology were readily available here in South Africa, it might change the considerations slightly, but as of right now, none of the good coffee roasters we’re aware of have access to or are using this technology. I personally think that’s absolutely fine, for reasons I’ll elaborate on below.

It shouldn’t be all about convenience

While some may consider this the least important point, I actually think it may be one of the most important. So many things in life these days maximise for convenience. I personally don’t want coffee to be one of them. There is more to the enjoyment of coffee than just the drinking thereof. There is a craft to making coffee, one that I think everyone should partake in, but at the very least I think everyone should appreciate. Whether you’re making the coffee yourself, or someone is making it for you, I think there’s value in that coffee being made by hand, from grind to brew. Call me a romantic, an idealist or just plain biased, but I’d love for coffee to be one of the things in our lives that we protect from the seductive powers of modern-day convenience.

NB: Even in an environment where the focus on convenience is unavoidable, like a large office, there are still plenty of solutions that don't necessitate buying coffee pre-ground.

Operational considerations

In the spirit of full transparency, I do need to acknowledge that there is also an operational advantage to avoiding pre-ground. We have a constantly changing selection of dozens of different types of beans, and getting them into the hands of our customers quickly and efficiently while ensuring maximum freshness is already quite a challenge. Throw three or four different grind settings into the mix and the logistical complexity would reach levels that may tempt me with early retirement. It’s a challenge we’d tackle if it weren’t for the reasons mentioned above, but given all these considerations together, it’s a bit of complexity I’m happy to avoid!

A word on our roasters and pre-ground

It is worth acknowledging, as a final thought, that all of our roasters make pre-ground coffee available in some, way, shape or form. This piece is in no way a criticism of that decision, and I do feel compelled to address the apparent contradiction.

I think the reality is that all of our roasters would prefer to only sell whole bean coffee for the reasons mentioned above, as well as a number of logistical and practical considerations. Nevertheless, when you’re dealing with walk-in trade, a big proportion of people just expect pre-ground, and I think it’s understandable that our roasters would not want to turn away that business. Being based on the internet, Cape Coffee Beans has the luxury of being able to find and focus on the people who are passionate enough about coffee to buy a burr grinder.

Equally, when you’re buying pre-ground direct from a roaster, they will often grind it for you just before handing it over. This difference of a couple of days between grind and brew is significant, and it’s not one that we can surmount when delivering by courier.

Back to the grind

So there you have it. These are the reasons that you can’t currently (or for the foreseeable future) buy pre-ground coffee from Cape Coffee Beans. If you have any thoughts or reactions to this rationale, I’d love to hear your feedback. Please use the comment section below.

Phaedon
Founder of Cape Coffee Beans

2017 South African Aeropress Championship

We're excited to be one of the sponsors of this year's South African Aeropress Championship where local Aeropress aficianados will compete to see who has the best brewing recipe and technique. The winner will go to the World Aeropress Championship competition!

South African Aeropress Championship 2017 Poster

You can find all the details of the competition, which will take place on July 2nd 2017, and register on the host, Espresso Lab's site: https://espressolabmicroroasters.com/products/2017-south-african-aeropress-championship

9 things I learned about coffee in 2016

2016 was a big year for Cape Coffee Beans - as a business, and also from a coffee education perspective. After 3 years of running this online store for coffee lovers, quite a few cups have been consumed. I feel privileged to be able to say that most of them were delicious, many of them were eye-opening, and the variety was incredible.

2016 in coffee beans

New years are a great time to spend a moment reflecting, and so I thought I would take the time to look back at what I've learned about coffee in the last year and do my best to summarise it for those who are interested. In some instances, these learnings are a change of mind from previous perspectives, and it goes without saying that none of this is set in stone - I may change my mind about it again (coffee's complicated). Nevertheless, these are some of the ideas about coffee that I'm taking from 2016 to help get 2017 off to a great start.

1) Coffee freshness is a more obscure topic than we sometimes admit

When asked how long the beans we sell will stay fresh, my standard answer is "4-6 weeks from roast date, as long as they're stored in a cool, dark place in an airtight container". While that is still my best answer, I've now consumed enough coffee to realise that there is a huge amount of variance. Sadly, it's not actually that simple. I've had coffees that tasted great at 8 weeks old. I've had a couple of coffees that seemed to lose what made them delicious after 2 weeks. The truth is that it depends a lot on the specific coffee, and also its freshness pre-roast.

To make things even more complicated, I now also feel fairly confident that most coffees don't taste their best until ~7 days after roast, and that almost none taste their best till at least 3 days after roast. I've adopted a new habit of waiting till at least day 3 before sampling something new. This does mean that for some coffees, you may have a fairly narrow drinking window. For people who drink less coffee than I do, the good news is that slowly working your way through a bag or two a month may well be optimal for most beans.

Further reading: James Hoffmann's piece on green and roasted freshness

2) Think about topography before letting your kettle settle

Another recommendation that I've made more times than I can count, is to let your kettle settle before pouring water onto freshly ground coffee. The premise for this recommendation is sound. I do find that water at 100ºC will ruin most coffees. That's why, for those not using a thermometer, I've always said to wait ~2 mins after the water comes to a boil.

The problem is, that water doesn't always boil at 100ºC. I was actually reminded of this 6th grade physics class lesson by a customer who challenged me on the kettle-settle recommendation. "Why," he asked, "are you recommending to let the kettle settle for 2 minutes, but also saying 93ºC is the temperature you recommend for brewing?" It turns out that this particular customer lives in Johannesburg (as a large number of our customers do), which is at 1,753 metres above sea level. At that altitude, water boils at 93.9ºC according to The Engineering Toolbox. In other words, coffee lovers in Joburg had better get pouring quickly once they hear that kettle click.

To those up-country customers who I've steered wrong in the past, I do apologise. I still recommend using a thermometer as the ideal for everyone, but if you can't, make sure to adjust your time from boil to pour based on your altitude!

3) Temperature is important but so hard to control

Altitude isn't the only complicating factor when it comes to temperature. Kettle material, ambient temperature and time all play their part. I recently started using a Hario Drip Thermometer at the office, and it reminded me just how much of a moving target temperature is.

I've always recommended 93ºC as a good general brewing temperature. I still think that's a great place to start, but I now realise that it's impossible to do an entire brew at this temperature - certainly not a pour-over. I've found that if my first pour (bloom) is at 93ºC, then my last pour, 1m15s later (see below regarding my technique) may be as low as 90ºC, when I use a Hario Kettle. This is inevitable of course - temperature will always drop and radiate, but it was a bit of an eye-opening discovery for me.

The reality is, that temperature is constantly on the move, and so any attempts to control it will (in manual brewing) be approximate at best. My current solution is to fill the kettle as much as possible to create more thermal inertia, and then start above 94ºC, so that the last pour isn't much below 92ºC. I reckon that some day, someone's going to have to design a kettle that really keeps that temperature constant.

4) I now use more bloom water (for pour-overs)

At some point during the year, I watched a Matt Perger video brew guide (I can't quite remember which one) and noticed that he was doing his bloom (pre-wetting of the coffee grounds) with three times as much water as coffee (in terms of weight ratio). "Madness!" I thought to myself, "everyone knows that 2 to 1 is the optimal blooming ratio." As is often he case with dogma however, a bit of self-reflection and a few experiments made me challenge my beliefs.

The aim of blooming, particularly in the world of pour-overs, is to pre-wet all of the coffee grounds, to avoid an uneven extraction through channeling or degassing during the main brew. Now, you can always choose to stir like Scott Rao, but if you're not going to, I think that completely ensuring all grounds are wet with such a small amount of water is difficult. It may not be impossible (and if you're doing dozens of pour-overs a day in a café, you may have mastered it), but for the rest of us, I don't think there's any harm in using a bit more water, just to be certain. Dry patches are significantly more detrimental (uneven extraction) than a bit more early extraction. You can also adjust for the latter with grind-size, pouring speed etc., in a more consistent way.

5) We try to control most brewing variables - pouring should be one of them

On the topic of pouring, any third wave coffee aficionado will tell you, there are a lot of different perspectives on methods. Interestingly though, it doesn't seem like there's a huge amount of focus on it in the brew guides that are out there. Some like a continuous pour, some like a pulse pour, but generally, the recommendations centre around when you should start pouring and when you should stop.

If you think about it though, your pouring technique & timing influences a myriad of other variables: the temperature of the water hitting the coffee, the temperature of the coffee bed, and the degree of agitation to name a few. Given all of that, I now try to follow a very specific formula for all my pour-overs. I divide the coffee weight by 5, and do 5 consistent pours at every 15 second mark (except the first where I allow 30 seconds for the bloom).

I do believe this has given my pour-overs more consistency, and I can't think that following a specific recipe can have any harmful effects. We try to control every other variable, so I think we should control that one as much as we can as well.

Reading Scott Rao's post on hand pours planted the seed for this particular perspective on pour-overs. You'll note that Scott's not even a big fan of pour-overs. While I still am, I hear his points about consistency loud and clear.

Credit to Warren from Quaffee whose infections enthusiasm about pouring techniques motivated my interest in this topic.

6) Maybe there's something to freezing your coffee beans

Freezing coffee beans is a hot topic in the world of coffee at the moment (forgive the pun). Even The New York Times took a break from Trump coverage to publish an article about this once again recommended practice. For more in depth analysis, check out this post but the short version is that it seems freezing your coffee beans leads to greater particle-size consistency which leads to more consistent extraction which leads to tastier coffee of course!

Now before you race for the kitchen to move your stash, there are a couple of provisos worth mentioning:

  • This only will be helpful if you go straight from frozen to ground. If you let the beans thaw and attract moisture, you may well ruin them.
  • The analysis I've seen has been around espresso extraction with eye-wateringly pricey coffee grinders. I do wonder how much effect freezing will have in manual brewing, with a more typical consumer grinder.

Our friends at Rosetta did let me in on a little test with pour-overs of the same coffee frozen and unfrozen, and I do think the frozen one tasted better. While espresso wasn't involved, the grinder they use would definitely set you back more than an iPhone 7. Still - much appreciated food for thought!

While I'm aiming to experiment with this a bit during this year, I think the summary conclusion for me at the moment is that there's definitely no harm to freezing and there may potentially be benefits for home baristas including better flavour and a bigger, less perishable stash! Now I'm just going to have to get a bigger freezer...

7) Blooming may be unnecessary for immersion brews

It seems that blooming has come under a lot of scrutiny this year, but whereas I now bloom my pour-overs more, I now bloom my immersion blooms less... in fact, not at all. Once again, the great Scott Rao challenged my beliefs with a blog post (scroll down to Prewetting and Immersion Brewing if you don't want to read the whole thing). His arguments appeared compelling to me when I read them, and I've brewed some very tasty Aeropresses & French Presses without blooming since. Given some of the above-mentioned considerations on the moving target of temperature, I find even more reasons to skip the bloom in favour of a full-pour-and-stir technique on immersion brews.

I think many of the coffee professionals I work with would disagree on this topic. For a completely different, and wonderfully geeky look at pre-infusion in immersion brews, check out this awesome blog post from Truth Coffee Roasting. In their experiment, they actually find blooming with luke-warm water to be the best option. This may be one you have to try for yourself!

8) Processing has a huge impact on coffee flavour

Back in 2015, I published a post called 7 Factors That Influence Coffee Flavour as a way to open new specialty coffee drinkers' eyes to the many things that create the flavour in their cups, beyond the obvious roasting and brewing. While I still think that these 7 factors are the most important to consider when buying and tasting coffee, my perspective on #4 has evolved. It's dangerous to make such blanket statements, but, assuming that a coffee has been reasonably well brewed and roasted, I almost wonder if it isn't the biggest influence on flavour.

Some of the amazing artisans we work with including LegadoOrigin, Quaffee, and Rosetta Roastery, have provided many opportunities to try coffees from similar, or even the same origins a few times this year. Sometimes we've even been able to isolate for coffee variety variable. In these instances, I've been bowled over by the huge effect that washed vs. honey vs. natural processing can have on a coffee.

Suffice it to say, I think all coffee drinkers should be paying attention to processing method, just as much as origin, and I think we're going to see more focus on that in years to come. Most of the artisan roasters we work with, who know a lot more than I do, seem to agree.

I must give credit to Mike from Origin Coffee Roasters for always having interesting things to teach me and take note of when it comes to processing. When we start a cupping session, he always draws my attention to the specific processing methods used for each coffee, down to the fine details like fermentation parameters.

9) More coffee isn't always better

I've probably consumed well over 1,000 litres of coffee since launching Cape Coffee Beans, and while I've thoroughly enjoyed it, I think I'm growing to believe that more isn't always better. I'm a filter coffee kind of guy. I enjoy my espresso, but I like it made by a professional barista (or a National Champion) on a machine that cost more than my car. When I brew for myself (which I do 3-5 times per day), it's always some kind of manual brew method, and very often it's a pour-over.

The trouble with pour-overs (and plungers for that matter) is that they don't really restrict your brewing volume, so I've often succumbed to the temptation to drink 300ml, and sometimes even more, in one brew quite often. But I've started to come around to the idea that any more than 250ml at a time may be unnecessary, superfluous, or even detrimental. Coffee is both a luxury and a stimulant, so it's something we should savour. Perhaps more importantly for me, I want to drink the greatest variety of coffee possible, so more, small coffees is probably better than a few large ones, no matter how much I think I need half a litre of coffee in my face at any particular moment.

I've also come to realise, that in pour-overs, more volume often compromises the quality of the extraction, so I'd rather make a smaller, better coffee for myself, and a friend, than a bigger one with less of the delicious nuance and subtlety.

Credit to Rob from Rosetta Roastery for getting me thinking about this topic after a quick chat about pour-over sizes in cafés.

2017 in coffee beans

Here's to many, exquisite, modestly-sized coffees in 2017
Happy Brewing!

- Phaedon

7 Factors That Influence Coffee Flavour

As coffee lovers, we know that there is a really broad range of characteristics that you can find in coffee. From earthy tones to sweet fruit flavours, to floral and tea-like aromatics, there's an incredible spectrum of taste experiences to be had through our beloved beverage. But what is it that determines which of these characteristics will be found in your cup?

Counter Culture Flavour Wheel

Unfortunately, there isn't a simple answer to that question. The science behind coffee flavour is still in its early stages and we're only just beginning to understand what is happening at the chemical level. There may be factors we're not yet aware of, and nobody is yet certain of exactly how much each step in the coffee supply chain influences the final product. Nevertheless, we do now know what some of the most important factors are.

Most coffee lovers can probably name a few of these flavour-influencing factors off the top of their heads. Everyone knows that roast profile matters, and most of our customers tend to think about origin as well, but in this blog post, we'd like to go back to the very beginning of the coffee production process and highlight some of the important steps along the way that determine what you'll taste in your carefully brewed cup of coffee.

1) Variety

Even before the plant that bears the coffee fruit has begun to grow, there's a very important factor that will influence the crop - the variety. It's not as simple as Arabica vs. Robusta (we'd generally recommend staying away from the latter). Within the species Arabica, there are dozens of known varieties and more being discovered and created with time.

Wine lovers will tell you that variety has a big impact on the flavour of what's in the glass. A Cabernet Sauvignon has very different characteristics from a Cinsault, or a Riesling. Similarly in coffee, which variety (or combination thereof) is in your coffee will have a big influence on your experience as the drinker.

As Jono from Rosetta Roastery pointed out in the recent Coffee Brewmance podcast episode, many coffee lovers probably don't think about and talk about this important factor quite enough.

Additional resources

If you want to learn more about variety, here are some great online resources:

2) Terroir

Whether you're talking about wine or coffee, terroir is one of those lofty terms that can alienate some people, but really, terroir is just influence of where the coffee is grown. We all know that coffees from Kenya generally taste pretty different to coffees from Brazil. We also know that coffees from nearby areas can have similarities. These are the results of the influences of terroir.

Of course the specific elements of a terroir that are responsible for the impact on coffee flavour are numerous and complex, but here are some of the important ones:

  • Altitude
  • Climate
  • Soil type
  • Soil micro-biome
  • Topography

We're certainly not suggesting that you need to understand every element of the terroir of every coffee you drink, but paying attention to where your coffee comes from, and what some of the defining characteristics of that terroir are, is helpful if you want to understand your coffee better.

3) Farming Practices

Perhaps one of the most important and probably one of the most difficult factors to grasp as the final consumer, the practices of the farm where the coffee is grown will have a huge impact on the taste of the coffee you drink. Everything from the use of chemicals to planting patterns & pruning regimen are ultimately going to affect the nature of the crop.

One particularly important farming practice is picking. Much as with other agricultural crops, coffee is best when it is picked at optimal ripeness, but of course, coffee cherries don't ripen at a uniform rate. This means that for the best results, cherries must be picked by hand, by labourers who are trained to pay attention to the ripeness of the fruit they are harvesting.

Commercial-grade coffee is often strip-picked (i.e. whole clusters of fruit are picked at once) or machine-picked, which means that the final product is a combination of ripe and unripe fruit. While this is less expensive, it does not yield top quality coffee!

Additional resources:

    4) Processing

    Once a coffee cherry is picked, the coffee seed has to be dried before being transported and eventually roasted by your local artisan roaster. The ways that this is done can vary widely and can have a huge influence on what the coffee finally tastes like. While this is a complicated topic in and of itself, here are a couple of categories to look out for:

    Coffee Cherries

    Natural or dry-processed coffees

    Natural/dry is the traditional African method of processing coffees. In this method, the coffee is actually dried while still in its fruit. This has the benefit of not requiring large amounts of running water and also allows more of the natural sugars of the coffee cherry to wind up in the bean that gets roasted. Natural processed coffees tend to have fruity flavours, and low acidity though sometimes they're also found to have lower clarity.

    While this method of processing can be more economical in its execution, it runs a higher risk of crop spoilage and the cherries must be manually turned frequently to minimise this risk.

    Washed or wet-processed coffees

    This more modern style of processing involves briefly fermenting the coffee cherries and then removing the seeds from the fruit or pulp - 'washing'. This method has an advantage in that with the outer, fruity layer, some of the risk of spoilage is removed.

    Washed coffees tend to have higher acidity and more clarity, characteristics that have made them very popular in coffee's third wave.

    Honey processing and everything in between

    Recognising that both wet & dry processing have their benefits, a third way, or collection of ways, of processing coffee have emerged that are meant to balance the benefits of both methods. In very simple terms, honey-processed coffees are dried with some but not all of the outer layer of the coffee cherry removed.

    There are many different styles of coffee processing, often referred to by the colour of the final dried crop (yellow, red, black) and for the most part, they just entail removal of different amounts of the outer mucilage.

    Note, not all processing methods fall neatly into these categories - see the additional resources below

    Additional resources

    Processing is a factor that is getting a lot of attention in the world of coffee these days. What you'll read above is the most simplistic explanation of the types of processing possible. We'd highly recommend you dive deeper on this topic if it's of any interest. Have a look at:

    Let's Pause & Reflect

    This is a good moment to pause and reflect on the myriad of influences on the coffee in your cup. One important thing to point out is that we've gone through more than half of the list, and we haven't even come to the point where a roaster has had any contact with the coffee.

    That isn't to say that what the roasters do isn't important. On the contrary, the point that is worth reflecting on is that, beyond the literal implication of their titles, your coffee roasters are also undertaking the challenging task of understanding all these influences on coffee flavour for you when they source the green.

    It's also worth noting that each of the steps we've covered so far will have a significant impact on the cost of the coffee. This translates into the price that the coffee roaster pays for the green beans. So when you wonder why one coffee may cost much more than another, you probably need to look to these pre-roasting steps in the process. 

    5) Roast Profile

    We may be getting into more familiar territory here, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't reflect carefully on the impact of roast profile on flavour. Not even the most talented roaster can take poor quality green and make it taste delicious, but an un-skilled roaster can certainly ruin a great lot.

    After sourcing and selection, the roaster helps to realise the full potential of the coffee by carefully crafting a roast profile that will suit that set of beans. This isn't as simple as light or dark - on the contrary, roast colour can be pretty misleading. The roaster has to fine tune variables like roast time, charge temperature, rate of rise, drum speed, air flow & cooling speed, while responding to data like temperature logs, first and second crack timing, and most importantly sensory experience.

    Jorge from Origin Coffee Roasting

    This process takes time and is costly, particularly since several batches have to be roasted before the coffee can be sold. But, once this process has been completed, a well roasted coffee isn't just pleasant to drink, it's also distinctive. It helps us to experience the influences of all the steps that came before that roast.

    6) Blending

    Most of the coffee that the world drank a few decades ago was blended. While that's still probably true across the coffee industry as a whole, in the speciality segment, single origins are becoming increasingly popular. That is most probably because they allow the drinker to experience the fruits of the coffee farmer's labour (quite literally).

    Nevertheless, blending can be a masterful craft in its own right. In its basic forms, it can ensure a more consistent flavour experience throughout the year as the inputs to that blend change with the season. At its best, a blend can be a unique taste experience, whose flavour is more than just a sum of those of its component parts.

    Additional thoughts on blending

    After receiving some consistent feedback from a few coffee professionals that we really respect on this particular point, we felt compelled to add a couple of thoughts to this section on blending.

    1. It's worth acknowledging that one of the primary reasons that some roasters blend is not necessarily to create a better flavour experience but to create a decent one at a lower cost. By combining high quality and lower quality components, you can produce something very drinkable at a much lower cost per kg.
    2. One probably needs be careful about overstating the consistency that can be achieved through blending. After all, if you're changing components of a coffee, and we understand that all the steps prior to blending alter the flavours of those components, you can't create a truly consistent flavour experience over a significant time span and with different ingredients. This might be why we see more and more seasonal blends, that fully embrace the reality that consistency year round is impossible and rather seek to create a series of unique flavour experiences depending on the components available at that time.

    7) Brewing

    Last but certainly not least, brewing is the final stage in the process from soil to palate, which can also have an important influence on coffee flavour. One mistake that new coffee lovers make is assuming that the exact same brewing parameters will bring out the best in every coffee. "What's your Aeropress recipe?" is certainly a common question among new aficionados.

    Any barista will tell you, your brewing variables need to match the coffee your brewing as well as the brew method. In the case of espresso, they may even need to be tweaked to respond to ambient conditions like heat, humidity and altitude. Even in a simple manual brew method, changes in brewing variables can be the difference between a decent and a delicious cup.

    Some important variables are:

    • Brew ratio (water to coffee)
    • Grind size (and uniformity)
    • Extraction time
    • Water temperature

    This is where you can take part in the coffee flavour's journey, so if you're brewing for yourself (which you should be at least some of the time), we'd encourage you to challenge yourself to bring the best out of every bag of beans you buy. If you're not experimenting and tweaking, you may be missing out on the best your coffee can be.

    Other factors

    These aren't the only factors that affect coffee flavour. In truth, we probably don't even know them all. While we felt the 7 above were the most important to talk about, here are a few others that at least deserve a mention:

    • Age of harvest (crop freshness)
    • Packaging (how did the green get from origin to roaster)
    • Age of roast (roasted bean freshness)
    • Storage (both pre and post roasting)

    Final thoughts

    Much of the content of this blog post necessarily involves drastic simplification (despite its length). The reality is that you could devote a good chunk of a lifetime to understanding any one of the 7 factors mentioned above in its greatest detail. Nevertheless, pursuing some understanding of each of these variables is an important part of the appreciation of coffee.

    Beyond reading everything you can, the best way to get a better understanding of all of these influences on coffee flavour is by talking to the people who work in coffee. Most of the information in this post has been gleaned through conversations with the roasters and other coffee professionals we work with. A special mention needs to go to our friends at Rosetta Roastery & Quaffee, who inspired this post with their talks at their recent coffee events.

    Many thanks also to Counter Culture Coffee who designed the flavour wheel at the top of this post and have made it publicly available! Get your copy here.

    5 Reasons To Love Manual Coffee Brewing

    Manual Coffee Makers

    There are a lot of different ways to make coffee. For hundreds of years, people have been brewing it simply by crushing beans with a mortar & pestle and combining them with water over a fire. While this is still common in some parts of the world, in many others, coffee brewing is inextricably linked with machinery now. From espresso machines in cafés to filter machines on kitchen counters, appliances play a big role in the coffee industry today.

    Given the ubiquity of electric coffee makers, it's probably understandable that we sometimes are asked why Cape Coffee Beans is so focused on manual coffee brewing. If you have a look at the coffee makers we sell, they're all manual in nature. Even in our collection of coffee grinders, there is only one electric model.

    The focus on manual coffee equipment is quite intentional. We have nothing against electric coffee makers. Some of them can produce truly exceptional coffee and, at some point in the future, we may add some to our range. However, we  have decided to concentrate on manual gear for now. In this blog post, we've outlined some of the most important reasons that we think manual coffee brewing is such a great choice for coffee lovers.

    1) Bang For Your Buck

    It's unfortunate but it's true. A good coffee machine, particularly a good espresso machine, is very expensive. While there is a constant supply of cheap new machines available every year, we've yet to see a cheap one that makes great coffee. At the end of the day, good machines are expensive to build, so if the price tag on an espresso machine is too good to be true, it probably is.

    Manual brewers on the other hand are inexpensive to make and so are much less expensive to purchase as well. More importantly, the quality of the coffee they can produce for the price tends to be leaps and bounds ahead of electric machines of any sort at a similar price point. So it's not just that manual brewers are more affordable - they also can produce a great cup of coffee without breaking the bank.

    2) Ease Of Use

    It's as important to the home barista as cost. If you're going to making coffee for yourself and your loved ones every day, your coffee maker needs to be relatively easy to use. People who really care about coffee aren't overly concerned about convenience (we know some of the dark paths that can lead down) but at the end of the day, an espresso machine is a complicated piece of machinery.

    You need many days of formal training and even more practical experience to master the espresso machine. While you do need to take some time to learn how to brew with an Aeropress or a pour-over well, you can still produce something pretty good with only a couple of hours of experience.

    3) Room For Creativity, Experimentation & Improvement

    Even though ease of use is important, you still don't want to completely remove skill from the process of brewing coffee. There are those machines that can grind your beans and make decent coffee with the the push of a button. The good ones also tend to be expensive but equally, they completely remove you - the coffee lover - from the process.

    Part of the fun of coffee is experimenting and seeing how minor tweaks in brewing can lead to changes in the flavour of your cup. Even though most manual coffee brewers are easy to use, they give you direct control of many of your brewing variables such as temperature, extraction time & brewing ratio. This means that you can get creative, experiment and constantly improve your coffee brewing skills.

    4) Portability

    Chances are that you enjoy coffee in lots of different places. You may drink coffee at home and at the office, on either end of your daily commute. You may even be a road warrior who doesn't know where the next cup of coffee is coming from. Either way, you may not want to leave the quality of your coffee to chance (or the purchasing manager) and you certainly aren't going to be lugging an espresso machine around with you.

    Manual coffee brewers have the massive advantage of being highly portable. They're light, compact and some, like the Aeropress, are pretty hard to break. That means that you can throw them in your bag or your car boot and take them with you. We know lots of customers who take their Aeropress & grinder to work with them, or even on a business trip. It's a much better option than drinking your typical office or hotel room coffee!

    5) Long Cups of Coffee

    This last point might not make sense right away but please, bear with us. It's a quirk of the contemporary coffee industry that most cafés and restaurants use an espresso machine to brew their coffee, but how many people actually drink espresso?

    Now, don't get us wrong, espresso is a WONDERFUL thing when it's made well but, like it or not, it's just not what most people drink. A huge chunk of the coffee-drinking population dilutes their espresso either with milk or with water. Some of this may be due to an aversion to the intense and concentrated flavours of espresso but we reckon that a lot of it may be due to the simple desire for a long coffee drink.

    It's that preference for long drinks that brings us back to manual brewing. Most manual coffee makers only make long drinks and that's ok, because that's what most people drink! If you prefer espresso, then maybe you do need to invest in a proper espresso machine, build a relationship with your local barista or perhaps try to make something similar with your Aeropress. But if you like drinking long cups of coffee anyway, why brew a short one and then dilute. Instead, why not use a coffee maker that is designed to brew long cups?

     

    For those reasons (and a few others), we really do think manual coffee brewing is a great choice for most people, especially when you're just starting out. Whether you agree or disagree, we'd love to hear what you think!