Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Panama Carmen Estate - 1900 Meters Microlot

John just roasted SO Panama Carmen Estate - 1900 Meters Microlot. Carmen Estate is located on a hillside high above the well-known Finca La Florentina. it has been passed down through several generations and is now owned by Carlos Franceschi Aguilera (Carmen was his grandmother.)

This coffee has been in the top 10 of the Best of Panama competition too may times to count, from #2 to #5 spot every year in fact. This farm stars at 1750 meters and goes up from there. This particular microlot is courtesy of Thompson Owen, who has a special arrangement which allows him to buy coffee from a particular microlot located at 1900 meters.

In the cup it's lemon, tangerine and a bit of orange zest with a wonderful honey sweetness. As always, it's a remarkable coffee.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Quarter After espresso

Yiching says--

Looks like the last day (morning?) for "A Quarter After" espresso at the shop! This 3-bean blend is a combination of Brazil Cerrado, and small farm coffees from Guatemala and Costa Rica.

This espresso has sweet berry fruit notes, with hazelnut highlights and a smooth bitter-sweet cocoa finish.

Come on down and have a shot before it's gone!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Good Methodology = Good Espresso

John says...

Testing SO Ethiopia Suke Quto espresso.

I love testing new espresso. I also love testing whether or not something will work as a Single Origin espresso or as a component for espresso. Today I had some extra Guji Suke Quto from last night's tasting class. Now I've used this as a component of an espresso, but I haven't really tried it as a Single Origin. Golden opportunity. This allowed me the opportunity to test without roasting an entire new batch, and if the roast level I used for the coffee will work or not.

So the question I am asking is, "Does it work?"

I'm pretty systematic about my testing. I know what range of grind to target, so I pick a midpoint and start from there. I keep the Synesso at the temperature set for the current espresso (199 F). No need to change until after I taste... but that's still a bit away.

One step at a time.

I tare the portafilter and grind. How much? I guess and see where I'm at. 17g. Ok. Tamp. And as Captain Picard says, "Engage!"

First I'm just watching for flow. It's too fast.

I adjust the grind a little finer. I dose the same weight. Looks a little better...
I'll give it a taste. Sip. Mild citrus, hint of nut. ... good, but it seems like it's lacking something. It's not a one dimensional coffee. I know there's more there. I just have to find it.

Let's approach 18 g.

Puck looks pretty good.

I always pull a second one so I know if it was a fluke or not, and it looks the same.



First sip - Candied ginger, sweet citrus and jasmine. Second sip - warm spice, a touch of bergamot, honey sweetness. Finish - dark honey to maple sweetness, restrained citrus, hint of spice.

Does it work?

I'd say, "Yes." But it's not that simple.

All coffees aren't this easy. Even when they work. Sometimes I go through ten or twelve shots and I'm about to give up, then everything comes together. And then it fades. The real question isn't "Does it work?" The real question is, "Can I do that again?"

Well, can I?

Grind. Dose. Distribute. Tamp.


And the answer is



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to name an espresso: a study in serious amusement

John says...

We roast a different espresso every seven to ten days. About twenty-five percent are Single Origin, and the others are blends of three or less various coffees. I do in the neighborhood of thirty-five to forty various blends per year, and aside from the challenge of finding things that work well, there is the challenge of naming my blends.

I used to have only one espresso blend, "Mountain Mambo", and I did experimental blends now and again when I couldn't source what I wanted. I numbered those blends up until fifty-three, and then I decided that having new espresso was not only more challenging, but more rewarding to our customers. Over the past several years, I've named everything. Sometimes there is a rhyme or reason, and usually that reason is to amuse myself.

Here is a random sampling of some of our espresso over the past year and the rationale for naming them. Tasting notes are included so you know what you've been missing.

A Shot for Rita - Java Kopi Sunda and El Salvador Santa Rita. A cup of coffee or coffee being simply known as "java" led to this extrapolation of a shot of espresso, and hey, since Rita is here, it should be for her.

In the cup: Orange peel, plum, caramel sweetness w/ bittersweet chocolate finish.

Best Pancakes Ever! - Sun-dried Brazil Bahia and a micro-lot Colombia peaberry from Tolima. This tasted like an awesome syrup that would rock on pancakes. 'Nuff said.

In the cup: Dark berry syrup, warm fruit, caramel sweetness and a touch of cinnamon.

Luigi's Obsession - Brazil Yellow Catui and Uganda Bugisu. Luigi loves his plums!

In the cup: Italian plum and lemon with dense chocolate and caramel sauce background.

Baskerville - Regional Brazil from Minas Gerais and Kenya Kirinyaga Peaberry. Release the hounds! The huckleberry hounds.

In the cup: Raisin, peach, macadamia, with huckleberry highlights throughout.

The Odd Couple - Sumatra Takengon and Kenya Kirinyaga Peaberry. The size difference in these beans prompted the name.

In the cup: Fig, tropical fruit sweetness, and warm spice.

Braz in Pocket - Brazil Fazenda Aurea, PNG Kimel, PNG Baroida. BRAZil and PApua New Guinea. PA sound like in "pocket".

In the cup: Cocoa, clove, ginger, citrus finish.

The Hammer - Brazil Fazenda Colina, PNG Baroida Plantation. This was an intense espresso. A lot coming at you. When I think of intensity I think of strength, and a lot of strength from steroids. BaROIDa reminds me of steroids. So who historically was almost superhuman and could have possibly been on steroids, but we just don't know. John Henry, the steel drivin' man, he died with a hammer in his hand.

In the cup: Intense pecan and hazelnut with candied orange peel. Fruit and chocolate highlights.

Dodgy Jam - El Salvador Finca Matalapa Puerta Zapa, Costa Rica Finca La Ponderosa. When I tasted this espresso it was a funky Euro Pop beat with a twist. Imagine Rowan Atkinson and John Cleese dancing with a club full of fiery German and British youth.

In the cup: Mango, dried peach, blackberry, hazelnut background.

We've just finished pulling shots of E-squared, a blend of two regional Ethiopian coffees - Yirgacheffe and Guji Suke Quto. lots of sweet bergamot and floral notes, with a dark honey and malt sweetness.

When it comes down to it, the flavor is what drives what beans can join in harmony. The naming, that's just self amusement.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Costa Rica Helsar de Zarcero - Macho Arce

Whole Bean Coffee new on the shelf today: Costa Rica Helsar Zarcero - Macho Arce.

This is a lot from the farm of Manuel "Macho" Arce in the West Valley area of Zarcero, close to Naranjo town. It's mostly Caturra cultivar, and has the zesty brightness and citrus accents that exemplify this varietal at it's best. It is processed at the Helsar de Zarcero mill, which is consistently turning out some of the best coffees from this area of Costa Rica.

In the cup it's an up tempo coffee. Vanilla, orange, and lemon, with light hints of hazelnut and a wonderful citrus tang. Yeah!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

El Salvador Santa Ana Naranjo

Today we have a Single Origin El Salvador Santa Ana Naranjo available. This is a lot from the El Naranjo area of Santa Ana, El Salvador. This coffee is brought as fresh=picked cherry from Naranjo to the CuatroM Mill near Las Cruces for processing. They use both modern and traditional techniques to ensure quality fruit selection and clean, economical, and ecologically sound processing.

In the cup it's hints of red and green apple, hazelnut, and milk chocolate. A wonderfully balanced and nuanced cup.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Guatemala Antigua - Hacienda Carmona Pulcal

One of the coffees we currently have available is the Guatemala Antigua - Hacienda Carmona Pulcal.

Hacienda Carmona is a third generation family farm located in Antigua at 5200-6100 feet. It has been run by Maria Zelaya Aguirre since 1959. Her family acquired the farm in the 1800s. The hillside exposure and well-draining soils give Carmona a unique micro-climate. They call the single farm coffee "Cafe Pulcal," which is the name of their mill as well.

In the cup it's classic and clean. Grape and blackberry fruits with hints of raisin, chocolate, and silky smooth caramel.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

someone's gotta be blogging

Yiching says...

I've just recently realized how limited either John or I post on this caffe d'bolla blog. I must do more. It's just that when twitter and facebook are both so easily available, I sometimes forget how important it is to really write longer (or complete) sentences, and allow my thoughts to flow.

So I'm going to try to write more often, lengthy or short, to keep my thoughts flowing. I shall ask John to do the same.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Taming the Roast

John says...

A recent visit to a couple of well-known coffeeshops out of town got my mind thinking about a few things.

Coffeeshop A hit the scene first. They roast their own coffee. And they do a fantastic job. Coffeeshop B came about a few years later. They also roast their own coffee. But the word on the street, and from what I tasted from both shops, Coffeeshop B has the edge. (As coffeeshops, I would rate both very highly... in fact, I like the vibe at Coffeeshop A better.. but this post is not about that)

Why? It's the roast.

I've been roasting coffee for our caffe for a little over five years now, and although constant improvement is necessary in this business, I'd like to think I'm pretty good at what I do. One thing that catches my attention is when I taste something in an espresso that I know is difficult to do.

Many of the progressive shops, for good or bad, have a "me too" thing going on. The current "me too" is bright and sweet espresso. Both of these shops do it. One is just better at it. In this case, I'll call it "taming the roast". And the reason this is important is that it carries through to all of their coffees. I don't have to taste them all to know they will be good. The display of skill in the espresso says everything I need to know.

When roasting bright and sweet coffee or espresso, there seem to be three tiers of roasters.

The Third Tier roaster will make the mistake of roasting too fast and too short of time. This will leave the coffee underdeveloped and often have a sweet grass essence, or a best a tangy lemon acidity that manages to shroud everything else in the cup. I've tasted many of these. I've been there myself. It's a great step to get past.

The Second Tier roaster has a better grasp on things and manages to concoct a very respectable citrus sweet espresso...that's often one dimensional. And I have been there too. There are some coffee that aren't kind to me if I try to roast them too light. So I don't. I believe many coffees have multiple sweet spots. But not all coffees have multiple sweet spots. Trying to force a coffee to taste how you want it isn't always the best idea. Taste it. It will tell you what it wants from you. Sweet and bright is often dull and boring. It's like a Reisling that hasn't matured. You're sure there's something magical, you can almost taste it. Almost.

The First Tier roaster understands how to coax the nuances out of the bean. They take the brightness just to the edge, and just when you think it's too much, another subtle layer of flavor steps in and takes over. It's an mesmerizing dance of roasting magic, and it transforms a single note offering into a symphony of flavors.

In my mind, the current roaster at Coffeeshop A has passed the Second Tier, but has not yet figured out how to consistently cross the threshold into the abode of the First Tier roaster. And this is actually the third time I've had their espresso. It's always been good, but right now, there are subtleties that Coffeeshop B understands how to capture better.

The roaster at Coffeeshop B is several paces down the hall of the First Tier abode and is walking slowly but surely to the game room where play time is about to happen. Sometimes I stumble into this realm, and other times I stride with confidence. Like all roasters, it's a matter of perfect practice. There's plenty of room inside the First Tier Abode. But it takes consistency to stay there. To those who have mastered the taming of the roast, I enjoy and appreciate your craft.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Customer Growth - common mistakes and solutions

Author's Note: Many new shops come and just as quickly as they come, they are gone. I'd rather see people be successful than fail. Nearly all failures can be attributed to poor planning, but improper strategies can be almost as fatal. This short piece is for all new and prospective owners. Dismiss this at your own peril.

You have navigated through all the hoops, attended trade shows and seminars, traveled here and there to gain perspective, and now you've opened your doors. The one issue that sends many new owners in the beginning months into a panic, and a panic that often leads to poor decisions; is "How do I get more customers RIGHT NOW?"

There are several responses to this state of panic. I will talk about the most common, when they can be good, and when they are likely a road to failure. There are a few major metropolitan areas in the country that are also coffee-centric, so it is possible to blindly stumble through a successful run just based on pure numbers. For most of the country, it's a much more precarious balancing act.

The three most common (and misused) responses to "How do I get more customers right now?" are: Punch cards, coupons, and changing the menu.

Let's look at these.

Punch Cards:

This is perhaps the worst thing you can do in terms of a long term strategy. Can they do some good? Yes. IF you have a strategey in place ahead of time. The strategy is data collection. The end result of a long-term punch card program is not customer retention... it doesn't work that way. They are not loyal to you, they are loyal to the discount.

If Punch cards are brought into play, a better strategy is to use them as a one time thing. One new customer, one punch card. And the card can only be redeemed by having X purchases, and filling out name and email legibly on the back. Now the drink should be "one on us" not FREE.

Words matter. FREE says, "This drink has no value" but if it's "on us", it has a value, and you are gifting it to them. So, you're not exchanging the drink for the purchase of nine drinks. You are exchanging the drink for their information. The other drinks just get them to form a habit. But no second card! Just enough to "thank" the newcomers, and to collect their data. Now you can direct market to each of them. No, don't send them coupons. Interact. Include them on inside information about what you are doing, what coffees you have coming, and pass along a little education. Let them know that you are their Jeeves when it comes to questions about coffee and espresso.


The most often used is the infamous BOGO. Again, not good as a long term strategy, and should never be used outside of your opening months, if at all. This can sometimes be used when you first open to get people in the door, but once again, it's of utmost importance to never use the word FREE in your advertising. Now a number of marketing tomes, most useless, will say that FREE is one of the words that grabs attention. Yes. It grabs the attention of people looking for a discount. "Buy a latte have a second of equal or lesser value on us." would be fine. Have a "One coupon per customer" and to all that is holy, put a freakin' expiration date on it. No more than two to four weeks out.

As a long term strategy, neither punch cards nor coupons are good. And here's why.

Punch cards and coupons are the number one contributors to "The leaky bucket syndrome" -- you keep trying to plug the hole with a discount, but you keep leaking customers because they are NOT customers, they are bargain shoppers. So if you use them at all, use them only as short term strategies. Get their attention, sure, but if you need to offer a discount a second time, then you have to face the reality -- you have a lousy product.

Changing the Menu:

"You should add blended drinks", "How about adding breakfast items", "Maybe you need soup." OR "Your prices are too high".

Changes like this are never good. Does it gain you customers? NO. But it will give you plenty of opportunities to test the merits of Excedrin.

The moment you take these kinds of suggestions from customers seriously is the moment you've signed on for a downward spiral of doom. Those people who want you to change what you are doing are not your core customers, and probably will not be long term supporters of your business.

Have a core philosophy. Know what you are doing as a business and stick to it. It is as simple as that. You're an owner now, act like one.

Raise prices, yes. Lower prices, never. A wise man once said, "I never saw someone go out of business by charging too much" It's about value, and value isn't a number, it's about getting more than they expected. It's about the customer saying, "$4.50? That was fantastic! I would have paid $5"

So the question was, "How do I get customers?"

Have a plan in place.

To expect hundreds through the door on the day you open is not grounded in reality. You should expect to have enough capital to cover all of your expenses for several months out. Didn't do it? The honest answer would be, "Good luck." That kind of situation is why 7-10 businesses fail. It can all be directly related to poor planning. So avoid failure by planning well.

Building a customer base takes time, but panicking never solves anything. With Twitter, Yelp, Google, Facebook, and all the other social media forums, it's much easier to get the word out now than it was five or ten years ago. Take advantage of the mediums available. They can connect you with potential customers in a way that wasn't possible before. Word of Mouth is always the fastest way to grow as a small business, and Word of Mouth via social media is a whole new ballgame today.

Have a great product.

This goes without saying, but this is where most fail. Don't do the "old and busted" do the "new hotness".

Offer something unique.

Be the first in your area to roast on site, to offer coffee by the cup, to offer espresso only, to offer house made syrups, to teach classes, etc...

Building a customer base is something you are constantly doing. It begins day one, and it never ends. It's a testamant to your business savvy, the quality of your product, and your willingness to be daring.

It all starts with your first cup.