Brew – Part 2 – The Coffee
So, we met Cynthia and enjoyed her delicious baked goods. While I was there, I was able to speak with AJ as well. He was kind enough to share not only the secrets of how to make a delicious cup of coffee but his personal theories about serving the community with pride.
Piper: I love the vibe in here with the baked goods, the coffee and later in the day you serve beer and sandwiches. Oh, I see you have Fortnight beer right now.
AJ: Yeah, we feature a local brewer each month. October was Raleigh Brewing Company, September was Crank Arm and November was Fortnight.
We have January and February figured out and Lonerider Brewning Co. will be on tap in December.
Piper: And this cold brew – The nitro cold brew – it is amazing! You have it on tap right here with the beers. Had you tried it before or was it something you kind of came up with?
Cynthia: He follows all the coffee blogs and stuff, he had heard about it from some people on the west coast. We were asking our beer guy if it could be done and he said yeah!
Piper: It’s so creamy and delicious. I just love it. Where do you get the coffee from?
Cynthia: Almost all of the beans come from Raleigh Coffee Company, but we have a guest roaster each month and in November we had Carrboro Coffee Company. We make the cold brew right here. Our guest roaster in December will be Oak City Coffee Roasters
Piper: How did you learn how to do the pour over coffee?
AJ: Out of wanting to drink better coffee. Well, the first good coffee experience I had, I have been drinking coffee since I was a kid but you know, it was as white as I am. Mostly milk with a little sugar and coffee and dad would give it to me for breakfast and it tasted like a sugary dessert. You know, you’re 10 years old and it’s like yeah, I love coffee! I get jacked up and it’s sweet and it’s good…you know…so that for a long time was what coffee was to me. But about 4 years ago, I had a friend come to my house and he worked for a coffee roaster in Cary. He brewed it up and I started fixing it up with sugar and creamer and he was like…no, give it a try. He wasn’t a jerk or anything, but he just wanted me to try it. I said that I’d had coffee before, but I tried it and was like wow! There is something there. It was so different. I just wanted to experience that again. I started going to different shops to see what they were doing. I stared with a French Press in my house then realized that I loved how the pour over method brought out the flavor of the coffee. Cynthia got me some pour over stuff for Christmas one year and I slowly stared adding to my collection. I got a better grinder at the house, which is now here.
Piper: I make pour over coffee at home too, it’s really in my opinion the only way to brew coffee especially for just one person, but I don’t have this fancy electric tea kettle. I just have one that you put on the stove or put your heated water in.
AJ: I just have the stove top kettle at home too. Really the fancy stuff is just here.
Piper: Will you show us how to make a cup of coffee using the pour over method?
AJ: Yeah! Of course.
Piper: First off, that looks like an amazing grinder! Is that the same kind you use at home?
AJ: No, I wish. The one I had at my house is now here at the shop. That’s an Encore grinder by Baratza. These are much nicer. I’ve actually brought my home grinder here – it’s over there on the counter – so I can’t even make coffee at home anymore. The best type are the burr grinders, but they aren’t cheep. A couple of companies have made cheeper versions, like Mr. Coffee – which is the first grinder I got. It works great! It wakes everyone up in the house, but it works great. We were grinding so much coffee at the time. Not just at home, but my business partner and I had started something called the Raleigh Coffee Club – it was a local coffee subscription service. We would go to roasters and buy local coffee and everyone would spend about $4 which would get you enough coffee to get you through the week. We would go to different roasters and buy different coffee each week, so that was a lot of fun but we were grinding coffee for four other people as well. That grinder didn’t make it more than 6 months, cause it wasn’t made for that. THIS one, on the other hand is a horse. Baratza is the brand and this, the Forte, is their commercial grinder. It’s all touch screen.
The Hopper sits on a scale, you just set how much you want to weigh, or do it by time, and it will stop grinding right there for you.
Piper: So, how much coffee do you grind for a pour over? What do you serve – 16 oz? 12 oz?
AJ: We do about 12 -13 oz. The cups are just under 12 oz, which allows us to have an ounce or two left over so that my employees and I can taste throughout the day what we are pouring to make sure the coffee is good and that the quality doesn’t change as the day goes on. We can make sure there was no weird batch and hold ourselves to higher standards.
Piper: And that! Wow, that’s an electric fancy kettle – it tells you the temperature and everything.
AJ: Yeah, these kettles by Bonavita – it’s called a PID Kettle and it’s a temperature controlled kettle. It allows me to choose what temperature I want to set it at. It brings the water up to that temperature and holds it there for about 5 minutes. It shuts it off after 5 minutes as a safety feature.
Piper: Wow, ok. Thats so different from my little stick thermometer I have in my kettle at home. Awesome. So you want it to heat to 200?
AJ: I set it to 200 because our coffee I have found tastes a little better at a lower temperature. The standard temperature, according to most people, is between 195 and 205. Usually places will brew at 205, but we tried brewing at 198 and it just tasted so much better. Also, most of the time when you get coffee it’s so hot that you have to wait and let it cool. We want to give it to you when you can jump right in. We use the kettles for our tea too, so some are set to tea temperature too.
Piper: How long does the coffee stay good?
AJ: Well, keeping it in the hopper doesn’t extend the life, just makes it easier to weigh out and store in the same place. When you are making a pour over, you can’t control everything. It’s going to take 4 minutes to brew it, that you can’t change. But having this in here, we don’t have to take time to weigh it out. Makes it easier to adjust the things you can control and do those things faster. It keeps it fresher to store it as beans and to not have it ground just yet.
Piper: Probably helps too that the air isn’t constantly hitting it…
AJ: Right! Humidity and air flow has a lot of effect on coffee – that’s why we taste to make sure it tastes good.
Piper: That’s partially why I stopped brewing coffee at home. I was making pour over coffee at home, but I get free coffee at work – no it’s not great, but it’s free – so I was only making coffee on the weekends. What do you recommend for that? Just buy less coffee?
AJ: Yep, buy less coffee more often. Like when we go to Costco, and I see people leaving with huge bags of pre-ground coffee, I mean…
Piper: Do you have a hard time not going up and apologizing to the coffee?
AJ: yeah, I mean it’s all relative really. It’s about what you enjoy. I’ve always said that there isn’t any point to drinking something you don’t enjoy. So, coffee has a life span of, ideally, 14 days before it’s ground. That’s when it tastes the best. Some coffees might taste ok 30 days out but the majority the prime time is within 14 days of roasting. Some people say you can freeze it, but only before you open the bag. Once it’s open, there’s no point. I have some friends that work in the coffee industry and they make so much coffee that they have to put it in the freezer. BUT all our coffee is fresh roasted, we get it within a day of roasting from our roaster and we use it right away.
Piper: And you get your coffee from Raleigh Coffee Company and a guest roaster every month.
AJ: Yep! We have this delicious earthy, molassesy Sumatra from our guest roaster. It’s really good.
Piper: And do you usually use a medium dark for your pour over?
AJ: We try to run the gamut. I try not to let my personal bias come into play. This Ethiopian Yigarcheffe coffee is light roasted and it’s naturally processed, so it has this great berry notes to it. I like the big flavors to my coffee. My palate tends towards that. But, people buy the sumatra because they like a darker roast.
Piper: Is it true that the lighter roasted coffee has more caffeine than the dark roasts?
AJ: Yeah, I mean it’s not like if you had a cup of light and I had a cup of dark that you’d be bouncing off the walls, but we think about it like…you are essentially cooking coffee when you roast it so the longer you cook it, the more the caffeine dries out and goes away. But we are talking about a difference of 10 minutes for a light and 12 minutes for a dark. It’s not like you are in there for an extra 30 minutes. But, I have had some coffees where I’ve tasted it and thought…something is wrong here. I talked to the roaster and he said it was in there for like 30 seconds too long. Its such a small amount of time that can make a huge difference.
Piper: Have you ever gotten to roast coffee yourself?
AJ: Yeah, I got to roast for about a year with Raleigh Coffee Company. I got to be a part of the roasting process and be a part of customer service at the same time – it was a really cool experience.
Piper: I’ve always thought it would be cool to roast my own coffee and make my own wine. Is it something you could do at home or does it take an insane amount of equipment?
AJ: There are ways you can do it at home. You can do it in your oven, in a cast iron skillet. The key is you have to keep the coffee moving so that it will be evenly roasted. The cheapest way to do it at home would be in a popcorn maker – because it would be constantly moving and blowing heat on the coffee beans.
Piper: Got it! Ok, so making the pour over – I see you have paper and mesh filters. What would be the difference and which do you prefer?
AJ: Well, the paper ones you have to keep buying – where as the mesh ones are about $75 and you can just wash and reuse. The only thing I don’t like, as you can see the difference in these where you can see through the holes in the mesh one. It lets through a lot more sediment, like a French press would. You get more sediment in the bottom, the taste would be more similar – more syrupy, heavy bodied, more smooth. The paper ones have finer holes so it’s super clean. The ones I use are pretty thick, so they hold on to all the oils. And if you get small pieces in your grind, it will go right through the mesh one.
Piper: What grind setting do you use for this method?
AJ: It depends on the coffee. All of these are set a little different. This coffee is being ground on the coarsest setting. For some reason, the brew time was a little too long, so we adjusted the grind setting and the courser it was the better it tasted.
Piper: Do you wet down the filter first?
AJ: Yes, the first thing we do is wet down the filter. This accomplishes two goals for us. One, pre-wets the filter and gets all the papery taste off it. Two, it warms the chemex for us. We do the same thing with the cups. We pour a little hot water in them and let it sit so they hold temperature a little better. Pour the water over the filter, give the chemex a little swirl, then just pour the water out. We weigh everything. The scales have time and weight built in, so we don’t have to have a timer or anything. We have this set on 25 grams, the right amount for this coffee. Hit start, it’s going to grind it for us.
Piper: It smells so good.
AJ: Yeah, that’s my favorite. Big smell, lots of berry. Level out the coffee in the filter so it’s nice and flat, then zero out your scale. First thing you do is what’s called the bloom – we are going to brew up to about equal or double the amount of weight of coffee in water, then let it sit for about 40 seconds.
So, we start the timer and start pouring. Use a light stream and make sure all the coffee is saturated.
Piper: You want the whole thing wet?
AJ: Yeah, really you are looking for it to soak in the water and release the gas that’s in there.
Piper: And the coffee should make a bubble. If it doesn’t bubble up?
AJ: The coffee is probably not fresh. This coffee is super fresh, so it looks like a cupcake. You can let that sit for anywhere from 30-40 seconds. It blooms up a little bit and looks like a brownie.
Piper: That’s the hardest part for me.
AJ: That’s what these (points to kettle) are beautiful for! So, now we are ready to start pouring. You want a super thin stream, and you just go in concentric circles.
Never pour on the filter, go just to the edge then back into the center. Pour up to about 200 grams, then let it settle for a little bit. You don’t want it to get to the point where the coffee dries out completely, and you want to finish pouring by 2 minutes and 14 seconds.
It will take about a minute for it to fully drain, so you see the bed start to go down a little and you start your next pour.
Circles back and fourth, this time I’ll pour up to about 300 grams and let it settle back down. Essentially, you are adding the water slowly over the brew time. Now we do our next pour, up to 400, and let it finish up.
Piper: And the total brew time?
AJ: We shoot for around 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, but no more than 4. Sometimes, depending on age of the coffee it’ll soak it up more. This is where it’s important to taste, you get to the end and its a little bitter, it probably took too long. Change the coarseness, change the grind size, try it again. See how the water is all leaving the coffee at the same time? That’s what you are looking for. This one is great, took about 3 minutes and 45 seconds.
Give it a swirl, make sure everything incorporates, you can see how clean it is compared to a French press. This is a fairly light roast, so you can see it’s got a great color.
Piper: It’s beautiful. Looks like carmel. Oh, it’s so good. Things have changed quite a bit since I was a barista back in college. I was 17, so you know…however many years ago that was…but none of this was a part of my job. This all just popped up here pretty recently.
AJ: Yeah, it’s an exciting time for coffee. I mean, admittedly the West Coast has been doing this for years and are way ahead of us, but for the East Coast, it’s really all happening. We got the inspiration for this shop from looking at stuff out west.
Piper: Can you show us how to do some Latte art?
Piper: You have a different grinder for your espresso beans, of course.
AJ: Yeah, we use Raleigh Coffee Company beans for our espresso. It’s a medium to dark roast that is great by itself, but also pairs well with milk so we also use this bean for our drip coffee. Any drip coffee should pair well with milk, this one does. Any coffee can be espresso. There isn’t really an espresso roast, but people will often label the darker roasts as espresso roasts. Espresso is really just the beverage you get. It’s the drink, the brewing method, but the beans are just coffee. Some roasts will taste better as espresso. I personally like light roasted coffee as espresso, but it doesn’t pair as well with milk, so it’s not great for a latte.
Piper: I had no idea.
AJ: This is a very high powered expensive version of the pour over method (talking about the espresso maker). It uses a metal screen as the filter, the water comes through and comes out very hot and quickly.
The grind for espresso is much finer than it is for other methods. This grinder is an amazing grinder from Germany, all I have to do is push this button and it gives me the right amount of coffee.
Piper: So, it weighs it out for you in there too?
AJ: No, this one grinds based on time. It’s about a 4 second grind. You can see the consistency is nice and fine, very fluffy which is what you are looking for. Once it’s ground, you just tamp it, so the water can find a path and go straight down.
Ian: Why does it always go down two different paths?
AJ: So that you can split the shot – you are pulling a double shot, so you can get one shot out of each. Having great espresso is of course the first thing to any latte. Now what we will do is pour in our milk.
Piper: Why metal for your pitcher?
AJ: So it doesn’t heat too fast. Some people are using different materials, but this keeps it cold and also, once it’s hot it keeps the temperature hot. You will see as I’m steaming the milk I’ll keep touching it and use my hand to gauge when it’s done. All I’m doing is introducing air in through the steam into the milk. The hissing sound is the sound of the air. You create a vortex and just heat it until the pitcher is too hot to touch.
Make a few passes
and then you have what’s called a tulip – it’s basically just a bunch of hearts stacked on top of each other.
I didn’t use as much espresso for this one, because I wanted to make two but the more espresso you have the darker the browns will be.
Piper: Why do you tap the pitcher of steamed milk on the counter before you pour it?
AJ: Gets rid of any bubbles so they don’t show up when I pour the milk. We are looking for the consistency of wet paint or thick glue, without being super foamy. We don’t want foam and milk, we want micro foam – we want it to be the same consistency throughout. We do that for all of our drinks.
Piper: Very pretty.
AJ: Well, yeah but the number one thing to remember with latte art is that you can’t taste it. It doesn’t taste like anything. You can’t order latte art, it changes nothing about the taste. It changes your experience. It’s a promise that I’ve done everything I can at my professional level to make you the best drink I can. Now, if you are really good at latte art, and it’s a really bad drink then you are just a liar. You’re saying – here’s a really pretty drink but it doesn’t taste good, so that doesn’t do anybody any good. So, at the end of the day, we aren’t latte artists, we are baristas and we are just learning how to hone our craft. Presentation is a huge part of the food service industry. That’s what this is, this is us saying that we can serve something that is really delicious, and that looks really really good. We are in the most documented age, everyone is a reporter, everyone is a blogger, everyone is a photographer. The camera on my phone is better than the first camera I used to take wedding photos with. It’s kind of sad. But because of that, we are forced to remember that every drink we send out will probably end up on instagram. That’s going to end up on somebody’s blog, or social media…are you happy with that? If not, don’t serve it.
This is what makes Brew special. They take ownership of everything they serve. It isn’t just a job, it’s more than that. It’s their way of building up the community they live in, and it shows in every latte, every cookie, every cup of coffee and tea. Go in and see for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.