Caffentures Shows Coffee Is The New Wine
I was invited to go on a coffee tour recently, courtesy of Jen Chen, owner of new startup, Caffentures. When I took this tour, I knew I could use the mid-day pick me up, but my taste buds, nose and mind were equally stimulated.
Caffentures started when Jen did what more and more Americans are doing; she turned her passion into her career. She has chosen to help people discover there is much more to coffee than its use as the stimulant. Coffee beans are fruit, sensitive to as many factors as wine grapes in how the coffee tastes, feels in the mouth and in the aftertaste.
Her process is to take the coffee curious on tours aimed at showing and telling about the many aspects of this relatively under-appreciated beverage. Sure, a large number of Americans drink coffee, but most still don't make much distinction in the flavors and textures. Typically coffee's natural flavor is masked with dairy products, granulated sugar, flavored syrups and cinnamon. BUT there are more people like Jen that have developed a real taste for coffee and want to take us with them. I usually drink my coffee with what I thought was a conservative amount of cream and enough sugar to counter bitterness. This tour has shown I don't need to do that; I was just drinking the wrong coffee or it was made the wrong way for my tastes.
Inteligentsia - The Acid Trip (organic acids)
The tour started when I met the group at Intelligentsia Broadway. This leg of the tour was to teach us about one of the major aspects that influence a coffee's flavor: Organic Acids. When talking about the acidic quality, it's called a coffee's "brightness" or how much zing is in the flavor. The tour group was presented with glasses each containing a clear mixture of water and different dilluted organic acids.
Convincing folks that acidity is a positive characteristic and that we're not talking about the kind of acidity that makes a stomach sour is one of the core dilemas of the purveyor of fine coffees. Acidity, the good kind, is responsible for a number of characteristics in coffee, including many of those fruit notes. Knowing a little bit about which specific acids are responsible for certain fruit-like flavors can prove to be really helpful for learning how to identify these flavors, help you identify the coffees that you're going to be the most happy with, and how to roast and store a coffee in order to promote or diminish specific characteristics. So here's a quick little primer in just a few of the acids found in coffee and what flavors they lead to:
Citric Acid is found in high grown arabica coffees. These acids lead to citrus flavors like orange and lemon or sometimes grapefruit in a coffee. Some research shows that citric acid is responsible for most of the acid flavors in coffee. Tartaric Acids, common in grapes can lead to some wine or grape-like notes in a coffee, but can also be sour in higher levels. Acetic Acid is the main component of vinegar, so this can be an off flavor at higher levels. At lower levels it can have a pleasant sharpness or lime-like flavors. Malic Acid can provide more of an apple or pear-like flavor to a coffee, sweet and crisp, but can also have stone fruit properties.
After slurping the acids with spoons (and spitting them out) we tasted coffees with those acids present and I was able to identify them much better knowing what to look for! Also, I enjoyed one of the cups I had even without cream of sugar....I found one of my coffee preferences! We tasted Kango Jo, a Kenyan coffee which was 'brighter', tasting noticeably of citrus (what I preferred) and DeBello, a creamier Ethiopian coffee that was less bright and the flavor was a bit more sour.
Ch'ava Cafe - Brewing: From Bean to Cup
The second leg of of the 'Red Line' tour (not actually involving the train due to construction work) took us to Ch'ava Cafe in Uptown. There we were taught about different brewing methods and their influence on flavor and body. The owner, Richard Park, is more interested in quality of the product than merely selling it. He wants people to have a great experience with what they're drinking and will discourage bad choices, like taking esspresso to go in a paper cup (this has bothered him for hours the few times he let his patrons do so).
The focus here was on the brewing and extraction process involving heat, water quality, pressure, filtration and time in the preparing of each cup of coffee. We learned about the Clover, a high pressure machine with an extremely fine built-in permanent filter and ChemEx , a far simpler process using a unique paper that creates great clarity (makes flavors you can taste more distinct). We were given a new Kenyan supplied coffee prepared by these two brewing methods and the experience and appearance of each cup was very different.
Metropolis Cafe - Seeing the Magic Happen
The third leg brought us to Metropolis Cafe a VERY local supplier of freshly roasted beans and it is there we learned how they are made. First the fresh beans (green in color) are poured into the roaster and are turned in a drum which is heated to 440 degrees by gas burners. The drum rotates to evenly roast the entire batch and this process is monitored during it's 6-12 minute roast to monitor color. When they are done, the hot beans are emptied onto a rotating grate that helps cool them and then they are filtered through a machine that separates non-coffee solids (like stones) from the final product.
Finally the batch is placed in air tight drums, ready for production to bag and be shipped. They roast and bag coffee to order, as coffee is a perishable and it's age does influence the final taste (and diminishes) over time. I was also surprised to learn that fresh roasted coffee is best when allowed to sit several hours after a roast to let gasses escape.
Metropolis staff taste their product often to ensure quality control (and frankly because they just love the variety of tastes). But instead of drinking gallons of liquid, they do a tasting similar to what is done in the wine community. The coffee is brewed and poured in cups side by side, glasses with sipping spoons and water to rinse are nearby. Before, we smelled the dry odor of the ground batch of beans, and again after the coffee was brewed. There is a layer of 'skin' that rests on the top that you use your spoon to stir in during which stronger scents are released. Then you will notice bubbles on the surface, which are gases being released. You then use the spoon to remove those bubbles. Then you are ready to slurp and repeat with each different sample and make notes on flavor. Stuck on words to describe what you've just tried? Metropolis gave us a taste wheel to help us out, but we were also told to start describing simply: was it sweet, bitter, sour or salty (the basic taste zones found on your tongue. Then start to specify in additional tastes. This very much reminded me of wine tastings and this is where the industry has been heading in sophistication and diversity of what's available to drink.
Caffentures' tours helped lead me to broaden and deepen my tastes in coffee; I look forward to developing my coffee tastes.