Coincidentally, this post ties in well to last week’s. Today I had a special treat of spontaneously visiting a cafe I had never heard of or been to, with a friend who had recently discovered it. They serve specialty coffee in handmade ceramics. For me, it’s a delight to drink coffee out of a handmade cup that I visually appreciate and enjoy holding. There are those “I need coffee!!” times, and then there are the moments you really sink in and enjoy coffee.

What is it for you?

By yourself in the quiet of the early morning, before the rest of the household is stirring?

With others?

When you visit a favorite relative in the afternoon (grandparents come to mind), and she/he serves coffee and a special baked goodie?

As the final flourish at the end of a satisfying multi-course dinner out? (for those with low sensitivity to caffeine …)

When you’re out for breakfast?

When you go to your weekly meetup with your peeps?

When you’re on vacation?

After the rest of the family heads off for the day, and you finally have time for yourself?

When it’s cold, grey, and dreary outside?

It’s a snow day?

An easy-to-blow-by experience like a cup of coffee is an opportunity to delight in a brief moment of pleasure and indulgence in your day.

Don’t you want it to also be a good cup of coffee?

Shame On You For Your Expensive Coffee!

How and when I spend money depends on the mind games I play. There’s the British expression, “Penny wise, pound foolish.” (In this context, the pound is money, currency, not weight.) We might shop for sale items, scrimp and save our pennies, only to not apply that same frugality to large purchases, or we make an expensive purchase on a whim. The idea behind the saying is to be careful of the large numbers — be penny wise AND pound wise.

But for me, it backfires a bit. I reflect on the occasional costly mistakes I’ve made, or money I’ve spent that in hindsight was totally wasted. Think a moment … what are two occasions that immediately come to mind when you were “pound foolish?” If I am inevitably pound foolish at times, why not let up and be a little penny foolish, too? I’m not going to spend energy trying to save pennies or a few dollars, or linger with bad feelings if I spent $2 more than I should have. When I want a good coffee — a bag to make at home, or a cup at the cafe, I’m just going to get what I want (within reason).

This recent article from The Atlantic is called The Rise of Coffee Shaming, with the subtitle “Personal-finance gurus really hate coffee.” Suze Orman “has spent years turning the habit of buying coffee into a shorthand for Americans’ profligacy, especially that of young Americans.” Who hasn’t heard some form of financial advice about skipping the daily lattes at the cafe? This quote from the article gets at the gist of the piece,

“coffee endures as a personal-finance flash point because it provides such a tidy intersection of generational tensions.”

“You spent how much?!!” This Huffington Post article talks about why specialty coffee is so expensive. Doing a little math … If you use 1/2 oz of coffee per 8 oz pour-over, an 8 oz bag of coffee would yield 16 x 8 oz cups = 128 oz.  A Starbucks tall cup is 12 oz.  Ten Starbucks tall cups, where a tall costs $2, say, would mean $20. Keep in mind they usually sell their brewed coffee according to a roast profile of coffee that’s a blend from a general geographic area, e.g., Latin America. Another way we sometimes don’t consider expense is when we buy into the brew method & technology that’s expensive (e.g., Keurig cups, K-cups), and the coffee itself might not be all that special.

You get up, you get ready for work. How can you start your day with a little treat or indulgence, bait to get you out there? Don’t we all do similar self talk like this at times? I deserve a good coffee (chocolate, cocktail, massage, doo dad, insert your little vice). I’ve earned this coffee (pastry, etc.). I need this coffee …. Just give me this little moment before I start my day. I just want to enjoy my delicious cup of coffee, free of shame or guilt.

Almost Sold Out!

I knew we were close to selling out of coffee, but it’s rapidly going now. It’s like the car’s fuel gauge … it shows 1/4 tank, then rapidly approaches empty. There’s only less than 20 pounds left! This season’s harvest won’t be available until probably late September at the earliest. Last year it was Halloween.

We do still have a very limited amount of peaberry. Use the contact form to indicate whether you’re interested in some. One pound is $45; 8 oz is $25; 4 oz is $14.

Coffee’s Health Claims

Over the years there have been claims that coffee’s bad for us, then it has been stated that coffee, in moderation, is good for us. Sharpen your mental acuity, lose weight, increase your athletic performance, etc. Years ago Bea’s doctor recommended drinking two cups of coffee a day for mental alertness.

I had blogged a little about making cold brew. I never thought of it as healthier than hot coffee, but I did pass on the claim of supposed lower acidity than hot brew. However, this article debunks that point, as well as other cold brew health claims that are floating around out there.

The latest news that the media grabbed on to a couple of weeks ago had to do with coffee and brown fat. The suggestion was that coffee might be helpful in managing body weight and regulating blood sugar. I’m not going to summarize it since it is done nicely in this article from the University of Nottingham, and that article also links to the publication in Scientific Reports. Note, the study was done on only nine individuals — that fact wasn’t mentioned in many of the lighter online articles.

Brown fat has been an interesting topic for me for a while. It came up on my radar when I was interested in cold water swimming. I have swum most of my life, and the challenge of open water, ocean, and cold water swims kept the sport interesting for me after years of soaking up chlorine, going back and forth in a pool. When you look at the long distance cold water swimmers, they usually have some fat on them. They don’t usually look like a lean triathlete or endurance runner.

How do you train for an event with a climate or conditions unlike where you live? We know of a triathlete in northern California who would run in a wetsuit in the middle of the afternoon to simulate the Kona heat he’d encounter in the run leg of the Ironman World Championship at Kona.

Years ago I was on a 6-person swim relay team for the famed Maui Channel Swim. It was a horrible year for the event. Unbelievably, our boat sank on the way to the start of the race in Lanai. Luckily, a generous, very warm-hearted team from Oahu with a large enough boat volunteered to let us swim with them.

We fantasized how it’d be fun to later invite them to swim the Nevada-California Trans Tahoe Relay, a similar relay swim, but across Lake Tahoe, where water temps are 55-60, versus 77-79 of the Maui Channel Swim. How would Hawaii swimmers train for cold, open water swims and increase their brown fat? There aren’t even cold water lakes. We only thought of frequent cold showers. Here’s a poetic article that’s on the National Geographic website about cold water swimming. This is not the experience you have in Hawaiian waters. Are we now supposed to conclude we can ditch the cold showers and just drink a lot of coffee to help access those brown fat functions?

Intro to Cupping

It’s fun to learn! Last week we took an introduction to cupping workshop at the young business Pacific Coffee Research (PCR). According to Ted Lingle, “Coffee cupping is a method used to systematically evaluate the aroma and taste quality characteristics of a sample of coffee beans.” We learned what’s involved with the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) cupping protocol.

I asked beforehand if it were possible to include our coffee in the workshop, and co-owner/instructor Brittany was very accommodating. I was to provide 200 grams of green coffee. When you cup coffees, you want to control as much as you can in order to be able to compare the beans, not the roasting. So they do the roasting. I had also forgotten that cupped coffee is roasted to a lighter degree than most people drink coffee.

Alas, PCR’s sample roaster was having technical difficulties. So instead I was asked to bring 100 g of our freshest, lightest roast. Because of our roaster and the amounts required, I provided our medium roast that we sell, and it was roasted the day before the workshop. Medium roast was considered dark compared to the other four coffees’ cupping roast.

We got a few sheets of paper on a clipboard, including the SCA scoring sheet, the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel, and some notes about the cupping process. Brittany explained various details, letting us appreciate to what degree they try to make a subjective process as objective, untainted, and unbiased as possible. It’s not my goal to repeat the content of the workshop or protocol here.

For each coffee, identified just by a number, there were five cups. And we had five coffees to taste. The slideshow describes some of the process. PCR boils the cupping process down to: dry fragrance → wet aroma → break → skim → slurp.

The total workshop was just two hours, and Brittany emphasized that what we were doing was NOT real cupping, because we’d have things explained to us and we’d be talking at various points. As soon as we started with the first sensory experience — smelling the five samples of the five coffees, I was already overwhelmed. I had thoughts of, “This is too hard! I can’t do it!” How do you take notes and capture what you’re smelling?! We had to smell the coffee, ground and dry, and then also once the water was added. And we had to taste (slurp off a spoon & spit) and evaluate the coffees for a number of different parameters, including flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, etc. There is much more! I was giving it 100% of my attention and I felt defeated, like the task was so hard I just couldn’t do it. I gave up writing down notes.

I could definitely tell differences between the coffees, but how do you capture and describe those differences? And remember a particular coffee later when you aren’t tasting it? That’s what this protocol can allow you to do, if you’re trained. I am humbled, and the task seems so hard, I’m not sure I want to try.

This anecdote came to mind. If you have musical perfect pitch you can identify or re-create a musical note without having a reference tone. Somewhere, sometime I heard how a person with perfect pitch tried to explain to others who don’t have perfect pitch by using an analogy. Say you saw two colors (e.g., blue and green) but you couldn’t name or describe them until you saw red and were told it’s red. Then you’d say, “Aha! Then that’s blue and that’s green.”

For taste, how do we name aromas and flavors? Is there such a thing as “absolute taste?” At our workshop we learned there’s a free, downloadable document, World Coffee Research’s Sensory Lexicon, that defines 110 different flavors. Take a look at a few flavors. It’s a fascinating document! More so, I’m intimidated. I did my usual quick internet poking around and stumbled upon and skimmed an interesting scholarly paper, “Not All Flavor Expertise Is Equal.”

The workshop was a fun experience. I had just read an article a day or two prior, “The World’s Best Hotel Coffee is at Four Seasons Resort Hualālai” that was in Forbes magazine. In it they mention how fortunate they were to have a licensed Q grader on staff. I didn’t realize that that same Q grader, a local coffee rockstar, was helping out in our workshop, Madeleine Longoria Garcia. I only now put it altogether. Turns out she is no longer at Four Seasons but is now a Q grader, barista trainer, and machine technician for PCR.

What’s a Q grader? I knew of the concept, but it was dramatized more for me when I read Dave Egger’s book, The Monk of Mokha, about Mokhtar Alkhanshali and his family’s and Yemen’s connection to coffee. There are analogies like “coffee sommelier” or “certification is like the coffee bar exam” (referencing the difficulty of law students passing the bar exam in the US).

I’ll close with a quote I liked in that Forbes article. Coffee isn’t meant merely to be consumed, it also …

“acts as a medium, connecting us to the people we love, and inviting us to love others. Coffee connects us to the land (the ‘aina). We serve our guests coffee from Hawai’i Island. It is grown on our mountains by our people. It doesn’t get lost in a never-ending supply chain.”

Nate Musson