Monthly Archives: September 2013

It’s a matter of taste…

It’s heart warming and amazing how much confidence people have in our insight in their taste. Frequently we get people that would like to order some coffee from us, but don’t really know what kind of coffee to order.  A possibility would of course be to just order small amounts of several coffees (a trial package or so) and just see what one likes, but regularly they just tell us “to send us whatever we think they like”. Wow! So they actually think we know them good enough to know what they like?

Let’s start with some basic decision-making aspects here:

  • How do you prepare your coffee?
  • How do you drink your coffee?
  • What do you generally like in the taste of coffee?

How do you prepare your coffee? As espresso, as filter coffee, as french press, with a mocca ?? That makes quite a difference…we know coffees that taste great as filter coffee but have no body whatsoever as espresso, for instance.  Body? Coffee? Ok, this may need some additional explanation. Well, in short, the body is like the mouth-filling experience that you get from a sip of coffee. A sip of water has no body:  you take it in your mouth but apart from making your mouth wet there is no further sensation, so you swallow it.  A good body really fills your mouth so that you taste flavour everywhere, and also the flavour stays as long as you have the coffee in your mouth. So we do know (and actually sell) coffee that as espresso has the sip-of-water effect, though it makes a great filter coffee. Therefore it’s important to know how one makes the coffee before advising.

How do you drink your coffee? Just black, black with a bit of sugar, a lot of sugar? Or with milk? When I say “sugar” people immediately think about “sweet”. Now, I won’t deny that sugar is sweet, but sugar is also a taste enhancer. A small amount of sugar actually brings forward a lot of acidity in coffee that one wouldn’t taste without the sugar. Of course I’m talking about a small amount of sugar, let’s say the amount that fits on the tip of a stirring stick for an espresso. If one uses more sugar the sweet taste will overpower the taste enhancing effect and your coffee will just be sweet. So if somebody drinks coffee pure black it’s better to have a coffee that is not too bitter and has some acidity, but someone that always puts a small amount of sugar in the coffee can have a more bitter coffee as the sugar will bring forward the acidity anyway. And somebody that uses a lot of sugar …. well, they just like sweet. The same counts for milk, more or less. Milk also enhances acidity, but at the same time also dilutes the coffee. So for coffee with milk it’s better to use a more bitter coffee with a strong body.

What do you generally like in the taste of coffee? Some people like bitter, some people like acid. Very important to take into account. We once had a coffee from Java (Indonesia) that was considered very high quality, but also very acid. It almost felt like drinking warm apple cider. So quality or not, it’s just not my taste and I would personally not buy it to drink at home. But I’m not into just-super-bitter coffee either, though I know people that are.

And then there are numerous other factors that we can’t even control: the temperature of the water you use (hotter water tends to give more bitter coffee) and how fine you grind your coffee are just two of them.

How do we know? Well, we just try by making coffee in different ways. We have an espresso machine, a filter coffee machine, a french press, a vacuum brewer and even a cezve or ibrik for making turkish coffee – with a real artisanal hand grinder to make the very fine turkish grind. And we just try…how it tasts.We’re still missing some things though; we don’t have a mocca right now and are also missing a chemex. But who knows, some day…

So every time we’re being flattered with the confidence people have in our skills to pick them a coffee, a question-and-answer sessions starts based on what’s mentioned above. And usually we can work it out and send a coffee that they like.  And that then probably adds to our good name that we are so good in sending exactly the coffee they like.
But now you know: we’re not telepathic, we just tried!



Growing and brewing good coffee – it’s not the same

During the year my husband (who is equally infected with the coffee virus) and I travel quite a bit to different countries, and what strikes us the most is that in some of the countries where they grow the coffee the coffee served in restaurants and hotels is often really bad.

Last week my husband was in Brazil and several people he met were proud to tell him that the best coffee in the world is Brazilian coffee. “Well”, as my husband responded, “that may be, but why is it wasted by over-roasting it?” And as he explained to me, in the hotel and in restaurants he consistently got coffee that had lost its typical coffee taste due to over roasting, therefore reducing it to dark and bitter water. Or at least, that was the case in Rio de Janeiro.

However, the most shocking experience we once had was in Mexico were we visited a distributor of green coffee to see if we could convince them to export some of it. They were not unwilling and invited us to come and taste some coffee in their office. So we went, and we got served an extremely watery coffee (the colour of green tea!) in a disposable foam cup. We told them that in order to be able to taste the coffee we would at least need to have something resembling coffee and asked them to make it as strong as they could. They claimed they way they made is is how Mexicans like it but they made it stronger and so we ended up having something more or less the strength we drink at home, but still in a foam cup.  Now two remarks here: first of all, though Mexicans are generally not into strong coffee, they for sure don’t drink it thát watery. Secondly, the cup! If one receives potential buyers of your coffee it should be served in either a ceramic or glass cup. I can live with a plastic cup or even a cardboard disposable one, but not thick foam! That kind of cup kills any mouth-feeling and therefore any joy in drinking coffee.  Fortunately, later that trip to Mexico we got a lot better coffees…

Fortunately we also see positive developments. A while ago we received a message from an association of coffee growers in Ecuador who had learned that we import their coffee. They explained that over the many years they had lost the knowledge of roasting their own coffee and wanted to know from us how we do it. So we explained…. That’s something that we support: people that not only know how to grow coffee, but also know how to roast it and preferably can also prepare it…

Now you may wonder in what countries we like the coffee that we get served. Well, I first have to mention that we’re mostly espresso drinkers and not so much filter coffee drinkers. But with that we like the espresso in most mainland Europe countries with Spain and Italy being our favourites.  Outside Europe, well, of course Argentina. We were also not disappointed with the espressos we got in Peru.  Maybe we’re just picky, we shouldn’t rule out that possibility either.  But don’t get me wrong, almost any country where one enters an espresso bar one can get a descent to very good espresso. I’m now just talking on what one gets in a normal restaurant or hotel…

Fortunately there are still lots of both coffee growing and non-coffee growing countries where I haven’t been yet. So there is still plenty of possibility that I have to change my mind that the best espresso is generally made in countries where they don’t grow coffee. Who knows?


The beginning….

Well, what can I say? “Welcome” ??  It sounds a bit odd, but anyway, you’ve found my first message in this blog and maybe even have the same question that I while typing this: “what is this all about” ??  Let me try to explain…

Since a couple of years I run my one-woman coffee roasting company called Engrano and it is really just a small one-person company. No big multinational or so, but merely a hobby run out of hand. The results of starting a coffee roasting business is that friends and family immediately see you as an authority on coffee related matters, which is flattering, but exaggerated as I just started to scratch the surface of the coffee world myself. But nevertheless, sometimes they dó ask me question that I wonder, “home comes t they know?”.  Sometimes such information can be easily found on the internet, but sometimes apparently everybody finds it so obvious that nobody bothered to write it down and one can in fact nót find it on the internet. Or at least not that easy. Well, ok, then I will write it down. Of course I can’t every time bother the world with facts, so I will put on paper whatever comes up related to coffee.

That gives room to address the first issue here. As you can read from my “About me” page I have a full time job at Delft University in The Netherlands and as with any organization or company personnel has coffee machine at their disposal for their daily caffeine need. Well, it may fulfill the caffeine need, but apart from that the coffee tastes pretty awful. This raises a couple of questions of completely different kinds:

  • How did they manage to roast coffee beans such that coffee tastes so bad?
  • Does bad coffee at work reduce work efficiency or on the other hand actually increase team spirit?

First question is really a puzzle to me. I’ve tasted quite some coffee over the last years varying from great Arabicas to some pretty pungent Robustas but all of them had some little thing that at least gave me the idea I was drinking coffee, however cheap and funny it tasted. However, machine coffee as served in many companies really doesn’t taste like coffee at all. How do they do that? How do they roast and process coffee to achieve this?  And then of course comes the most important part of the question: why? Do they really think we like it like that?

Second question that I have given considerable thought is the effect of bad coffee on personnel. I can imagine that having bad coffee and knowing there is nothing else to drink (except water) has a discouraging and demotivating influence on personnel and thus reduce efficiency.  On the other hand, it gives personnel a common aspect to complain about and trust me, complaining about coffee and the weather is a Dutch national sport. Hence, maybe it increases the teams spirit: “united coffee complainers against the bureaucrats that buy the coffee”, or something like that. And due to good team spirit, people are happier and work harder…  So what’s the most significant effect: demotivation  when sipping your coffee alone behind the computer, or the joyful team spirit against bad coffee?  If you know….let me know as well. It’s one of those unimportant questions in life that keeps hanging in the back of my head.