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7 Things I Learned Interning At Cape Coffee Beans

Courtney MalloyAs an intern at Cape Coffee Beans from the beginning of June to August, I learned more about coffee than I ever expected. As your stereotypical college student who is always on the go, I never got to spend time brewing speciality coffee. I always just grabbed a cafe latte or americano to go, thinking that was all I would ever need. After spending hours on hours working with different types of coffees and brewing styles, I realized I was doing it all wrong! I decided to create a little blog post about my experience working at Cape Coffee Beans and share a couple of the things I’ve learned about the world of coffee.

1) Brewing method makes a difference

When Phaedon first told me that certain coffees could taste different depending on the brew method, I must admit that I didn’t entirely believe him. I thought to myself, “how could a style of brewing affect a coffee’s flavor?”. I figured if a coffee was roasted a certain way, it would have the same flavor no matter which method you chose to brew it with. Through a bit of experimentation, I found that certain coffees that were less to my liking in a pour-over would taste great in a French press and vice-versa. The method of extraction seems to accentuate certain characteristics more than the others, creating two different cup profiles. I’m now taking note of which coffees I enjoy in which brew method.

2) You can brew a cappuccino at home with a simple machine

Whenever I thought of brewing a homemade latte or cappuccino, the first image that popped into my mind were those fancy espresso machines you see at cafes or restaurants. I knew those were out of my budget, so I’ve always opted for take-away lattes from my local cafe. Then I discovered the Bialetti Mukka. It’s an all-in-one cappuccino maker that is small, portable and brews coffee and froths milk on a stovetop. It may not be quite the same thing as a barista-made cappuccino, but I still think it’s a game changer as it hits the spot without the big investment. For cappuccino lovers who just want a single milky coffee drink in the morning, it may be just the ticket.

3) Don’t buy pre-ground coffee

Quality obviously trumps quantity when it comes to coffee. After settling for pre-ground coffee at home for most of my life, I had become used to the taste of stale coffee and I didn’t even know it. I always bought pre-ground because it seemed more convenient. I figured since pre-ground coffee is usually sealed tight, the coffee would stay just as fresh as coffee straight from a grinder. I came to realize within my first day of work at Cape Coffee Beans that I was wrong. Brewing coffee with freshly ground beans creates a flavor that is impossible to get with pre-ground coffee. I even started to drink my coffee black (which is something I usually never do). I’m really glad to be heading back to The States with my going-away-present Hario hand grinder, as I don’t think I’d be able to go back to pre-ground coffee after tasting it fresh!

4) It’s a lot of fun to try different coffees

My home town is a little area in The United States, located in the state of New Hampshire and is the complete opposite of a city. There a few different coffee shops but I had tasted all of their coffees and picked my favourite years ago. Instead of expanding my search in coffee, I would visit this same coffee shop weekly and buy the same thing over and over. I never knew I was missing out on so many unique coffee flavors. Working at Cape Coffee Beans and trying dozens of different coffees, from numerous different origins, opened me up to a new spectrum of flavour to enjoy. Each coffee has something unique to offer which adds a little bit of excitement to the usual morning coffee routine.

5) There are real coffee geeks out there

Before I started interning at Cape Coffee Beans, I would have almost considered myself a coffee geek. By knowing the different types of roast, all the different brew methods (or what I thought was all of them) and having knowledge of the different styles of coffee drinks, I thought I was the ultimate coffee lover. Having worked here opened my eyes to an entire world of coffee I didn’t even know existed. Talking to many different customers, I learned that South Africans are serious about their coffee. Cape Coffee Beans has a group of customers and clients who go above and beyond for a good cup of coffee. Some even go to the different brew competitions on the hunt for the perfect coffee and I aspire to reach that level of coffee fanaticism. I must admit that when I moved here, I didn’t even realize that people were weighing their beans to get a consistent brew ratio. Having lived with coffee-loving Capetonians for two months, I’ve learned I have a long way to go to become a real coffee geek.

6) Espresso doesn’t have more caffeine than a cup of coffee

Somewhere along the way of my coffee journey through life, I had gotten the idea that espresso has more caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. In reality, a double shot of espresso only has 80mg of caffeine whereas filter-style coffees can have a lot more. Whenever I thought of a latte or americano, I would associate it with a higher caffeine content. Little did I know that a regular cup of coffee would have done the trick even better than my espresso drink of choice. After switching to pour-overs, I could already see a slight improvement in my Monday morning work speed.

7) Entrepreneurship is worth the long-term efforts

My entire life I have wanted to open up my own business which is why I was so excited about coming to South Africa to work for Cape Coffee Beans. I needed the experience of working for a start-up company and being able to watch them grow. I had taken many entrepreneurship classes but I knew it would be more informative to experience a small business first-hand. I had the opportunity to work with two great entrepreneurs, Phaedon and Dianne, who own Cape Coffee Beans and Studio2Pilates, two successful small businesses that I was lucky enough to immerse myself in, while observing what makes them operate efficiently on a day to day basis. Although it involves hard work (and very few days off) I can see the efforts pay off when you are doing something you enjoy. Even just interning for two months, I started feeling a sense of satisfaction when CCB had a big day of orders or I saw more people at a pilates class. This has given me a little taste of what it would be like to open up a business and I feel grateful to have learned many tips that I will use in the future when it comes time to open my own.

About Courtney Malloy

Courtney Malloy

Courtney is originally from the state of New Hampshire, in the US, currently attending Plymouth State University. She interned with CCB for two months and is continuing studies in business management and economics with a background in finance. She's a lover of surfing, snowboarding, hiking and coffee!!

You can follow Courtney on LinkedIn

What is the point of coffee?

When I started Cape Coffee Beans, I didn’t really think about this question. Coffee was just fun, interesting, and at that time very new to me. I thought I saw a business opportunity in something which stirred a bit of passion and enjoyment, so I jumped in. I now look at coffee through a very different lens; a few years running a business is bound to change one’s perspective. Experience has given birth to more questions than answers though, and I suppose it’s inevitable to start asking fundamental questions about the things you spend every day thinking about.

Recently I’ve found myself wondering about what might be the most fundamental question: what is the point of this whole coffee thing? Why do I and so many people devote ourselves to this beverage? What is the appeal? What is the reason that it matters so much to even mere consumers of it?

One can’t deny the importance of coffee - it pervades our rituals, our cultures and our olfactory senses, at least in most urban centres. So many people enjoy it, many people even rely on it, and a small group of people have devoted themselves to pursuing it at its very best. So why all the fuss?

Is it merely a pleasant stimulant?

One might be tempted to give a simple answer to this question; it’s all about the kick. Coffee seems to be one of the few perceived vices that scientific research is condoning from a health perspective. It wakes you up and gets you going, at no significant cost to your health (apparently even with some health benefits).

For many people this may well seem to be the answer. In fact, much to my chagrin, I’ve witnessed plenty of participants in the industry turn the dialogue about coffee to the strength of its stimulant effect. The unfortunate reality is that for a large part of the coffee-consuming public, you may well be able to reduce coffee’s raison d’etre to the caffeine.

Yet there does seem to be much more going on here when one reflects a little bit on this reductive idea. In this day and age, stimulants come in much more potent and much more convenient packages, flavoured with sugar and all the tasty chemicals you could possibly dream of. One can’t deny that energy drinks have taken off in a big way, and yet coffee persists. It shows no sign of being replaced by easier to purchase and consume stimulants, which require no preparation at all. Plenty of people will still take the time out of their morning to either brew, or trudge to their nearest cafe for their coffee fix, even those people who might say that they only drink coffee for the kick.

Perhaps subconsciously, even those who drink coffee for its stimulant effect share a little bit of the perspective of the group of coffee drinkers I consider myself part of. There are those among us for whom the caffeine in the cup is very much a secondary consideration. We know we love coffee for the flavour, the ritual, the intrigue, the ongoing pursuit of the never quite attainable perfect cup. Don’t get me wrong, we also love our morning jolt, and it’s probably not a good idea to speak to us before our first cup, but that’s not what gets us excited, and that’s not what motivates us to spend hours of our week brewing coffee by hand. There are easier ways to get that fix.

Is it simply another food product?

One idea that shows some merit is that coffee is simply part of our broader love of food. There are very few people who don’t understand the appeal of a delicious meal, and food plays an even bigger role in our cultures and daily routines. We all love flavour, and human beings are hard-wired to get a lot of enjoyment through eating, so perhaps coffee’s underlying appeal is simply that it taps into this primordial pleasure center that is triggered by consumption.

The connection with food almost definitely plays some part in coffee’s following, but I think that this falls short of providing an adequate explanation, if for no other reason than the fact that coffee provides almost no nutritional value. There are virtually no calories in a cup of black coffee; it’s not a source of sustenance. Sure, it’s often accompanied by calorie-laden milk, cream, sugar and sometimes even more elaborate concoctions, but there are plenty of other dairy & glucose delivery systems out there.

In anticipation of the protests, it is true that coffee is actually quite a good source of antioxidants, but so are many other foods. I really don’t think many people are drinking coffee simply to add more antioxidants to their diet, though many do like to use the antioxidant factoid to justify the coffee drinking that they would do anyway.

For these reasons, I don’t think coffee can really be lumped into the food category. We don’t seek out coffee for sustenance - we consume it for something else.

Is it just another commercial product?

Of course plenty of products exist for no other reason than the fact that someone has spotted a commercial opportunity. In this day and age, a product doesn’t necessarily need to have much intrinsic value to capture the public consciousness; it just needs to have good marketing.

One could look at coffee through this lens. It is after all big business, and no writing about coffee would be complete without a hackneyed reference to it being the second most traded commodity on the planet. The reality is that commercial considerations have played a large part in elevating coffee to the cultural status it now occupies, but I would argue that this isn’t what keeps it there.

If you look at the coffee industry, it starts to become clear that the companies that are making big money are really just consumer goods companies - consumer experience companies even. They could be selling anything, and while that might actually seem like an argument in favour of the commercial hypothesis, I think it’s undermined by a look at the other parts of the industry.

Where real quality is pursued in coffee, I believe that much less profit made. As many people know, many of the growers of quality coffee (and commodity coffee for that matter) are poorly rewarded for their efforts, but I’ve also come to believe that the artisans, merchants and craftsmen further down the supply chain who have devoted themselves to high quality coffee aren’t setting themselves up for maximum commercial gain.

The most interesting part of the coffee industry, commonly referred to as speciality coffee, is definitely not the most lucrative. Almost by definition, costs are high, production scales are small and so the revenue and profit opportunities are limited. Yet this is the part of the industry that is doing the most interesting things, pushing the envelope and stirring the greatest passion in the consumers of coffee. It doesn’t seem that coffee is all about the money.

So what is the point of coffee?

All of the ideas mentioned so far in this essay do of course contribute to its prominence in our culture. Coffee would not be what it is if it weren’t tapping into our love of flavour, our desire for stimulation or our pursuit of profit to some extent, but I really don’t believe that any or all of these can account for its importance in our world. So what is all the fuss about?

I would argue that coffee taps into a desire we have to be more closely connected to the natural world, as clichéd as that might sound.

It’s worth reflecting on the fact that, in a world abundant with technology, almost all coffee brewing still amounts to little more than grinding up beans and adding hot water. Sure, a new coffee gizmo is released every day, and the top end of coffee machinery gets ever more elaborate and expensive every year, but this simply isn’t how most cups of coffee are made. Most coffee is still just made by adding hot water to ground beans, in some kind of simple receptacle. It’s quite a straightforward process, one that requires little more in the way of technology than something to crush the coffee and heat for the water.

I think this simplicity in preparation, and its inherent manual nature has a lot to do with the appeal, whether you’re executing the brewing process yourself or not. It makes you realise that it’s not about the brewing as such, it’s about the coffee itself. The process of brewing is releasing the flavour, comfort and enjoyment that already exists in this agricultural product.

The fact that coffee is an agricultural product is the second aspect of its appeal. We live in a world where the agricultural products that make up our food are ever more elaborately disguised. Thankfully, there are movements away from this trend, but they reveal another reality about modern agricultural that is potentially even more stark: that variety is sorely lacking.

Real food advocates like Dan Barber and Michael Pollan often talk about the incredible diversity that our ancestors had in their diets - dozens of varieties of carrots, hundreds of apples (if my memory serves me correctly) - but on today’s grocery store shelves we have just a few types of apples, and only one type of carrot. The situation in coffee is entirely different.

In the world of coffee, there are already dozens of varieties of Arabica that are standard fare in any speciality coffee shop, and what’s particularly exciting is that these numbers are growing. I’ve had the experience several times of late, of turning over a bag and spotting a variety name that I hadn’t even heard of before. Things are getting more diverse rather than less so.

It’s this diversity in coffee that ultimately drives a lot of its excitement as well. We drink coffee for the flavour, and what determines that flavour is in large part the variety of the coffee that is grown. Throw terroir, farming practices and postharvest processing into the mix, and you’ve got endless flavour possibilities, all determined by the simple ancient acts of planting, growing, harvesting and preparing seeds.

When we drink coffee, it’s the fruit of these labours that we’re enjoying. We look for the surprises in the cup that are the results of this very natural toil. The endless possibilities and variations, both subtle and significant are what keeps us coming back. I think they’re ultimately the reason that even the most stimulant-reliant coffee drinker is reaching for a cup rather than a brightly coloured can. Coffee is a unique opportunity to enjoy the fruits of nature and agriculture in all their glorious, unadulterated diversity. And of course, it tastes pretty good and gives you a kick in the morning too...

- Phaedon | Founder of Cape Coffee Beans

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