Author Archives: colinharmon

Coffee in restaurants and what Colin did next.

Eating and drinking is my hobby. I’ve had the pleasure of eating in some incredible restaurants in the last year. Some really exceptional places that do amazing things in every facet of the operation from the salt, to the oysters, to the beef to the wine and everywhere in between. Everywhere that is, except the coffee.

I do this strange thing where I insist on ordering coffee after an amazing meal because I know its going to be terrible and 99.99999999% of the time it is. I really don’t know why I do order it. Am I trying to make myself feel clever? Is it a curiosity thing? Do I secretly want to be proved wrong?

I’ve worked in a few restaurants and understand that everything needs to be weighted in terms of margin and speed but at €4 a pop I think some restaurants are well placed to actually serve a quality product.

The most frustrating thing for me personally is that when, inevitably, the coffee is awful, I say nothing. I don’t complain, i don’t send it back. I just sit there and keep my frustration to myself.

Its annoying because if the wine, cheese, fish, beef or any other offering isn’t right I’ll be the first to say so. When it comes to coffee though I don’t expect the same level of quality, even though I’m charged for it and often times a lot more.

Part of me thinks that as a barista it is my role to point this out to restaurants (who I see as the ultimate podium for all things culinary) and encourage them to improve their offerings. However, the other part of me feels that me having a pop at someones coffee because I can do better is just being, well, dickish.

So, I’m posing a question to restaurateurs across the country and I vow to abide by the majority results. This could get ugly, be nice….

Col

Compiling a list; “Tasting in Dublin”

The tasting bar at 3fe has always been a place for us to give customers a little extra in terms of tasting. They often get thrown samples, asked to taste things side by side and generally used as guinea pigs for us to try new things out with.

Lately, some of our more frequent customers have gotten to the stage where they don’t even ask for a coffee, because they trust us enough to decide for them and over the last 18 months we know exactly what sort coffees they enjoy. They just sit down at the bar and we let them know whats coming and make sure its good.

Asking for recommendations is not a new thing, but I’m constantly surprised at how badly its done in this city. What tends to happen is that you ask for a recommendation and the person serving you will simply list the choices to you. This frustrates me because whenever I’m asking for a recommendation, its usually because I haven’t a clue what I’m buying so listing the options is of no real benefit to me.

Once this has been done they’ll unfortunately suggest something that is so run-of-the-mill and inoffensive that you possibly couldn’t dislike it, but its not going to satisfy the sort of person who asks for a recommendation in the first place.

I no longer drink, but when I did I really enjoyed going to L Mulligan Grocer in Stoneybatter and just asking them to pick for me. The choice was usually good and even when I wasn’t mad about it I never felt short-changed. Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with Colin et al were about drinks I hated. I’d pay the money for the taste experience rather than the drink itself.

Sheridan’s cheese mongers on South Anne Street is another place where they’re happy to lead you down a path with a recommendation. Fallon and Byrne’s wine cellar, Murphy’s Ice Cream, Hollands of Bray and Drink Store are other rare examples of places in Dublin that will take control of your tasting if you ask them to. I’ve also been assured that Lilliput Stores will do the same but to my shame I have yet to visit. I know.

There’s something very reassuring about someone who’s so passionate about their trade that they can have the ability and confidence to select something for you. Lately I’ve given up on asking for recommendations and started asking them for “something you’re not entirely sure that I’ll like”. The results have always been interesting, usually been tasty and I’ve consistently come away with an experience.

So, where else am I missing? Is there other places in the city where this sort of thing happens? I’m compiling a list of places for tourists to visit entitled “Tasting in Dublin” so all suggestions will be tested and tasted. I will also happily post the list once its compiled so pop your suggestions in the comments box!

Col

The Bloom

So. Lately I’ve been doing something wrong, and I haven’t really told anybody but its about time I fessed up because I’d like to hear what you all think. It’s about the bloom, or indeed, the lack thereof.

Recently I decided to prioritise temperature stability and do away with the blooming stage of my filter brewing. The reason was that I felt I could de-gas the coffee sufficiently by stirring a few times at the start and avoid the inevitable temperature loss associated with leaving the coffee to a 30second bloom.

My routine now consists of; Wet grounds slowly, stir after 80g of water has been added, leave the Uber to drip at the same slow rate over 2mins 30 seconds, stir once more towards the end and serve (30g/500g/3min/1.3%/19%)

The (brewing) temperature would therefore be more stable and I could also deliver the drink in a more timely manner. The results have been staggering insofar as they are exactly the same.

All my brews are as consistent (if slightly more so) than they were before and the taste results have always been good enough to serve. I can’t say for sure that its any better than when I did bloom but it definitely isn’t any worse and it certainly is less faffy.

I’m well aware that there is more than one way to brew a tasty cup and you probably need a new method like a hole in the head, but I would like to know if there is any reason why I should start to bloom again?

Col

Spoons at Noon! Open Cupping, This Sunday

Usually we like to keep our choice to a maximum of three coffees so you (and we!) can really get to know the coffees. This week however we’ve changed tack slightly and decided to get a mixed bag in, just cause its fun to really. In total we probably have about 15 or so coffees ranging from bright and fruity to more dark and chewy coffees but all are tasty and really interesting.

So this Sunday bring along a soup spoon and join in the free tasting session from noon at 3FE. This is not an exam, not a test, not a class even. Just a gathering of people who like coffee and wanna taste and chat. We’ll set ‘em up for noon and all you gotta do is turn up.

Col

Enter Dave stage left…

Tomorrow is a very important day for the coffee industry as we welcome one of our greatest contributors to our odd little microcosm. David Walsh of the otherblackstuff.ie starts work tomorrow at Marco and I know a lot of people in the industry are delighted that we finally have him on board. Dave’s been a huge influence on my career and I thought there’d be no better way to welcome him in than by compiling my “Best of Dave” moments from the last few years.

Welcome to the cabaret Dave, delighted you could make it!

Boards.ie Group buy; The Boards.ie group buy is a simple concept whereby “boardsies” share the cost of shipping to enable themselves to sample coffees from far away roasteries with excellent reputations. I’m not sure this was Dave’s idea but I am sure he’s been the driving force behind getting coffee treats from Intelligentsia, Supreme, Coffee Collective, 49th parallel, Terroir and many others to our shores. The fun part is always post-pick up when the forum thread becomes a week-long cupping. Dave has always been there to advise and guide coffee lovers throught the joys of the worlds best roasteries and helped the group-buy grow to the extent that it is now nearly too popular to organise. Nearly.

Cupping championships; Dave’s blog had always been admired by industry folk but always with the caveat that he had never really put his reputation on the line in any reputable public arena. When he then decided to enter the 2009 Cup Tasting Championships there was a sense of “now we’ll see what he’s made of”. It turns out that Dave was made of “eight correct cups in less than 4 minutes” and “second in the World Cup Tasting Finals”. That clears that up then.

Coach Dave; When I first met Dave it was clear that he could taste coffee, or at least do a really good job at bluffing his way through it. So when it came to entering the IBC I enlisted his help and he agreed to come by and pick holes in what I was doing. I joked that if I managed to win the IBC I’d take him to Atlanta with me and he nodded in reluctant agreement. Unfortunately we managed to win and that left him with the task of asking his wife to let him disappear off to the other side of the world with a new born whilst I was left to explain to my better half that my “plus one” was a scientist from Waterford who liked coffee in his spare time and she’d be paying her own way to Atlanta. The highlights of my time with coach Dave are too many to mention but the definite lowlight was screaming at eachother about cup positions when we had no coffee to use 2 weeks before we left for the States. Heady days.

IBC2010: I don’t think Dave’s ever gotten full credit for his performance at IBC, to this day it is my favourite performance from any barista that I’ve seen, and he wasn’t even a barista. He spoke about all the important things, had a risky but exciting sig drink, ticked boxes but in a fresh and innovative way and even managed to use freshly “squeezed” raw milk from his Uncles farm. On another day Dave would have won. In another more accurate way, he did.

Failures; Dave has  had many successes in his coffee life but I’ll always fondly remember his utter failures, if only to make him seem more human. The infamous meat jug created for the Absurd Latte Art Challenge was a lowlight (apparently beef is reluctant to form a spout), and his insistance that I (i) insult the judges (ii) draw place mats on a paper table cloth and (iii) create the worlds first oyster-espresso sig drink will be forever seared in my mind. The mother of all suggestions has to be last Mays launch of electrolosis espresso which had all the characteristics of  molten lead and battery acid.

Tastings at 3FE; We do a lot of events at 3FE and having Dave on hand to lead our first foray into public cupping was a huge help to us in our early days. Watching a non-industry person take to leading an event like this was really inspiring for us all and our customers were always impressed by his knowledge and ability to explain each cup in detail to even the most novice of coffee drinkers. Let it be also known that Dave was also our very first guest barista and once ushered the imortal lines “for fuck’s sake, of course your doing filter…”

Dave showing them the light…

Passing it on; This was a great idea. It took an outsider to pull all corners of the coffee industry together. A swap agreement that had coffee wizzing around the world not only had a wonderful feel-good-factor but also led to one of the few adult conversations I’ve seen on roast profile and coffee preferences. I hope it goes again, I regret being unable to join in.

Stats of Excellence; Dave took an analytical researchers mind to the Cup of Excellence and for a few moments had us all petrified that we were all as predictable as πr². The post outlined past results and predicted the upcoming Brazilian COE. Forget that he got it wrong and remember that he was bold enough to have a stab.

London trip; This was WAY back in the beginning and we took a trip to London town to meet the coffee heroes at Square Mile.  Looking back at that day now I remember meeting a load of really cool coffee folk that went on to become Gwilym WBC Champion, James Dose Espresso, Peter Kaffeine, Ross Browns of Brockley Undisputed Heavyweight MC of the World, Dale Hasbean Barista Hero and no doubt many other soon-to-be high achievers in the coffee game. Dave that day took over the tasting board and elbowed his way to the front to proclaim “Roast Beef” in large letters. He also nearly killed me by filling me full of espresso (I’d never seen anyone drink so much) and insist on pints and an overnight stay in Stansted Airport. As sharp a learning curve as anyones ever had.

The Little Shop that Could; 1st Birthday Celebrations this Saturday!

I might get a little teary on this one, but this week we turned one. Its been an amazing year.

We’ve had some great times like WBC, installing (and using) out Uber, weekend brewing classes, some amazing reviews and starting to work with some really great cafes in the city. We’ve also seen a few lows but always banded together and got through them unscathed.

What started out as a stop-gap while I waited for competitions to roll around has turned into a thriving coffee oriented “venue” run by a team of enthusiastic baristas who are constantly upping the ante. There are a five of us now (we also have an intern from a local cafe) and the sense of excitement and eagerness to really plough into this project is quite astounding to me.

In truth, there are six of us. Away from the shop, at the far side of the Irish Sea is Steve Leighton of Hasbean coffee who has come on board and really enabled us to serve the best quality coffees in store and supply cafes with products that excite us, them and more importantly their customers.

This Saturday to celebrate our 1st Birthday we’re going to have all our baristas in store and set up a brew bar for free demonstrations all day long. We’ll be focusing on filter brewing but if you have any questions at all about anything coffee (or milk!) related we’d be delighted to help out. We have lots of ideas too for christmas gifts as well as having plenty of samples to hand out so we’d love to see you pop by.

Steve Leighton is also flying in for the day to answer any questions you may have and give you an insight into how he gets the best from his coffees. He’s kindly agreed to make coffee, answer questions and give everyone a few hints on how to get the best from their coffee at home.

Finally, I (and all the staff at 3FE) would like to thank you all for the amazing support you’ve shown us in the past year. This time last year the concept of somebody selling coffee in a nightclub was nothing short of ridiculous. In the coming year we have plans afoot to again smash people perceptions of what 3FE is and create a coffee-oriented destination that really delivers on quality accross the board. We could not have achieved anything without all your support and we hope to pay it back in spades in the coming year.

Friends of the shop (Lunchblock!) tweeted earlier this week congratulating the growth of the “little shop that could”. I may have had a little moment right there. See you all Saturday!

Col

Barista Classes

This Christmas we at 3FE have decided to offer a limited number of classes with our award winning baristas to pass on the hints and tricks that will help you get the best from your coffee.

The classes can be any weekday from 8am-10am in January or February and they cost EUR150 per session for one or two people, you decide!

Here’s the choice of classes that we’ve put together;

 

i) Latte Art; How to get the most from your milk and how to pour hearts, tulips and rosettas

ii) Espresso; The mechanics of extraction and a guide to tasting

iii) Filter coffee; Understanding the variables to get the most from your dripper, french press and other filter brewers

iv) Coffee tasting; we lay out a table of coffees from around the world and talk you through the flavours and characteristics of each origin

 

You can sign up for the classes here,  we’ll send you out a voucher to confirm the place and then once you or your loved one has decided which course they’d like to do just drop us a line and we’ll fix a date.

If you have any queries please drop us a line at hello@thirdfloorespresso.com

Weighing it all up Part II; Going with the flow

Bear with me on this one.

I recently visited an Olive oil factory in Italy and stumbled upon a happy coincidence. The factory owner took olives in from all the local farmers, washed them and sorted them and lumped them all into a massive mulcher which fed them into a giant press. You can probably see where I’m going with this, but try and act surprised.

So, via my translator (thank you Giovanni, kind Sir) I asked him how much he took from the olives. He replied that it depended on how many olives were in the vat. “Ok, so in terms of percentages, how much Olive Oil would you yield from a batch” I asked. (this actually happened). He paused, thought for a moment and replied. “On average, depending on the farm, olives, time of year and other variables we would usually look to yield maybe 18-20% of the overall weight.

I shit you not.

This astounding revelation led to incredulous looks from my host once I revealed why I was so excited by this common target. I felt we had somehow been united as brothers in the battle for great taste. He just thought I was a mental foreigner and carried on working away. Some battles aren’t worth fighting I suppose.

Anyway, once I had regained his attention I questioned him a bit more on this process and he outlined how the olives are actually re-pressed afterwards to make a cheaper commodity grade oil but the really astonishing stuff, the peppery apple-like green oil is found at this 18-20% mark. Anything after that just isn’t as tasty.

Now, what was really interesting is that he emphasised how important it is to ensure that all olives are pressed equally because in (say) a 100kg batch if some are pressed dry and some are left untouched it is still possible to yield 19kg of oil but that oil wont taste as good as 19kg of oil yielded from olives that were pressed equally and consistently.

So, by this stage you should realise where I am going with this simile but as always it isn’t as simple as that. Anyone who has ever played with sieves will realise that espresso does not work with a uniform grind, it either gushes or chokes depending on where your peak lies. Sometimes it does both as the initial resistance is eventually eroded.

A two peak grind (where the vast majority of the coffee grounds are two sizes, one much larger than the other) is best suited to espresso as this facilitates extraction using the design of the machines that we use (e.g. 9 bars, 58mm, 93c etc.). Whether this is by error or design is another argument. It is what it is.

I often liken this to a brick wall in rural Ireland, made mostly from certain size rocks but backed up with many other sizes with sturdy and solid results for all.

The resistance this packing creates allows sufficient resistance to slow the water flow through the puck to allow the necessary extraction. Thats all espresso is really.

Here’s where it gets complicate though. The smaller pieces will not only extract more than the big ones, but they will also force their way to the bottom of the puck and clog the flow.

Resistance builds and eventually the water finds a way out and then you get nasty, acrid, watery streams from your espresso. The danger in all this is not only that it tastes bad, but also that it adds weight to your espresso (should you be weighing it!)

Still with me on this? Ok.

So, this long meandering point is that just weighing out you 1:1.55 ratio does not guarantee you a great shot because that weight could be made up of a lot of things. The nature of espresso grinds is such that we can’t guarantee an even extraction across all particle sizes but a degree of relative consistency is definitely achievable until the single peak espresso machine/grinder combo comes along.

Imagine a scenario where our initial flow is high TDS but fine migration leads to a “clog and spit” which then adds watery streams to our cup coming via channels through the same area of grounds. In theory, and often in practice, this can yield us the “perfect” 19%/11% shot. We’ve over-squeezed some olives and left others untouched.

We recently took out the pre-infusion chamber plug in our Aurelia, thus increasing pre-infusion by 3 seconds (?) and which has visibly and tastily improved our shots. Essentially it wets the puck through before we reach 9 bars of pressure.

It seems like a massive u-turn in the context of the last post but just watching the flow and its ease of passage has really aligned the tastiness with the flow. Admittedly this has been done with a scale under the cup but my understanding of flow and pressure and its effect on extraction has really escalated in the last 2 weeks.

Facilitating this flow and guiding your water through your puck is the most crucial job of the barista and undoubtedly the real driver behind pressure profiling, levers, paddles et al.

A lot of this post is purely a brain dump for me to get my head around this idea. I often come up with ideas when I’m half way through explaining them, it just happens that way sometimes. I also wanted to dissuade people from using the 1.55 ratio as a one-stop-shop for perfect espresso.

I stand by the 1.55 but only in the correct context. I can’t speak for my esteemed colleague in the olive factory but I’m sure he would agree in his own peculiar way.

Weighing it all up

There has recently been some arguments on twitter and coffeed about the validity, relevance, importance and execution of weighing espresso shots. This arguing about accuracy and information has me wondering why there is so much resistance to measurement and why we as an industry are playing unnecessarily with variables?

There is an obvious reluctance to stray from the “craft” tag in favour of the “science” but I really believe the two are more intertwined than we realise.

Cheese making is undoubtadly recognised as a craft but question them on acidity levels, temperatures, yield weights, water contents and bacterial content and they’ll bore you to tears. Craft beers embrace a lot of the same refractometre technologies that the coffee industry is battling with today. So why the resistance?

The world showcase for baristas (The WBC) fror example presents us with a scenario where baristas have to use their “skill” to time their own shots.

We are led to believe that bad baristas can’t accurately time their own shots and great baristas have an inner clock that will help them nail each one. By this logic should a great barista know what a 20g dose feels like? Should we take timers from dosers? Perhaps great baristas should stick their fingers under the groups until they feel that unmistakeable 93.5c that all great baristas know.

The truth is that timers, scales, thermometres and any other piece of diagnostic equipment you can get your hands on will help you make great coffee. I know plenty of baristas who can count to 25 in their head but still make awful coffee.

Back in my banking days I used to joke that my job was to become so efficient that my job would become redundant. I said this firmly tongue in cheek because I knew that whenever my daily tasks became automated through progress, I would move onto another more valued task with greater impact on my chosen profession.

Worst case scenario; all this mojoing and weighing, this tds reading and timing, this temperature stability and pressure profiling, this absolute brew recipe emailing collective will end us up in a place where the craft of the barista is forgotten.

The barista would have so many definitives in place that he would have no personal input into how the coffee tastes. He (or she!) would become nothing more than a conduit that would apply the necessary science to make the final cup as perfect as it could possibly be.

In this hellish future, someone will come into my shop and ask me to recommend a coffee. I’ll talk them through my personal favourite that day and tell them a little bit about the terroir, processing and all the other realms of information I have to hand.

 I’ll grind this coffee to its optimum grind specifically chosen for the brewer it will pass through. The brewing process will be specifically tailored for this coffees varietals, density, roast profile and process. It will take all these factors into account and combine it with the requisite brewing time, temperature, yield, extraction, tds and water recipe. The final cup will be an amazingly pleasurable beverage that is a perfect representation of that individual coffee.

In this hellish future I will have researched my coffee and applied the best technologies and accuracy to my delivering the coffee. I won’t have made any guesses in the making of it and there will be enough definitives in place to write a hefty essay on that one cup.

In this hellish future I will be more of a professional than I am today and the customers and my peers will recognise that.

In this hellish future, I won’t be the star, the coffee will be. Is that such a scary thought?

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