Last night I was reminded how far I've come and how much further there is to go on my speciality coffee journey. The cool folk at Clifton Coffee in Bristol hosted an info evening entitled "Tailor Your Coffee - Meet, Learn and Grow" with Morten Wennersgaard the founder of Nordic Approach, Giovanni Fucili from Victoria Arduino, Peter Garcia from Square Mile Coffee and a host of other very smart and passionate coffee folk.
I remember visiting Clifton a few years ago and the transformation in that time has been incredible. The presentation area was an Espresso geeks playground with an abundance of high-end machines and grinders, amazing graffiti-art adorning the walls, an enormous meeting table hand-made by James the owner of Clifton engraved with the Clifton logo. Centre stage last night was the Victoria Arduino VA388 Black Eagle, alongside it's sibling White Eagle and a couple of Mythos One grinders. This was set and ready for part two of the evening's coffee adventures dealing with Espresso under the instruction of Giovanni and two of Clifton's top barista trainers and competition baristas Jimmy and Josh.
First up, Morten shared with us the NA philosophy and the project they are working on in Costa Rica. Working closely with farmers and helping them tailor their practices to consistently achieve higher quality fruit with an overriding focus on transparency in the supply chain and sustainability for the farmers.
The region of Tarrazu is the focus of their first significant efforts in Costa Rica and Morten described the small family farms and micro-mills that operate in this area and the relationships they've established and results they are seeing on the cupping table. Then it was our turn. Two farms, two processes, one set with Nordic's own sample cupping roast, the other a production espresso roast by well respected Oslo roaster Supreme Roastworks. Interesting differences as you'd expect. Brighter and softer sample roasts, bigger, juicier and sweeter from the production roast. Better or Worse ? Neither of course. Different, for different purposes.
Then some palate cleansing with Pizza and Wild Beer Co beers before moving onto the very special Black Eagle Gravimetric machine. Individual boilers for each group, temperature control and the ability to program the desired yield independently. Each group was set for 2 yields and the different groups were set to 93C and 90C to highlight the differences in brew temp but also yield. Using the same Supreme Roastworks coffee as we'd just cupped the tests were set to 18g dose and 34g and 38g yield for the two temp settings. Remarkable differences in the shots. The short 90C was under, thin and lacked sweetness and body. Pulling it longer at that lower temp brought out the sweetness and gave the shot balance. The short 93C shot was super syrupy and sweet whilst drawing that extra 4g lost the balance and it became flat. This type of testing and adjustment just can't be done 'easily' on other machines which is what makes the Black Eagle so special.
More pizza and beer cleansers before the main event. Two Nordic Approach cupping tables, one with some of their current offerings, the other with their Colombian project coffees from the Antioquia region. They've got a full-time member of NA staff on the ground forming relationships with farmers, cupping with them, advising and working with them. Mainly Eco-pulped coffees from small micro-mills experimenting with fermentation and drying processes as well as different varietals. Morten gave us a little primer on the farms and the process differences and got very excited when he mentioned one particular farmer who was experimenting with mechanical (silo) drying using a fruit dryer rather than the more traditional mechanical dryers used for coffee. The main difference being the ability to mix cold and hot air to achieve precise control over drying temps and drying rates ie. a drying profile.
All good coffees as we'd all expect from one of the leaders in greens sourcing. But some remarkable differences from the same farm, same varietals, same fermentation but different drying methods from these Colombian experimental micro-lots. Likewise with a different varietals, or different fermentation.
One of the main things that makes this type of event so interesting and educational is sharing the experience with other coffee folk. Discussing taste and flavour perceptions is the best way to learn. Jimmy from Clifton and I had an interesting discussion about a well respected top European roaster that cups and grades his coffees by himself, applies an SCAA score (he is a Q grader) and publishes how good his coffees are. All fabulous but not particularly 'independent'.
For me one of the highlights was spending some time with Tim, one of the production roasters at Clifton. We discussed Air Flow, Rate of Rise, Charge temps, First Crack Development Times and drop temps. As a roaster it's our common language even though we're roasting on different machines. I learnt some interesting stuff.
The drive home was easy, sleep was not. I'd tasted way too much coffee and I was buzzing not only because of the caffeine but also the knowledge gained and energy present amongst this group of friendly and inspirational coffee professionals.
I had a couple of takeaways from the night. Leftover pizza and a couple of beers of course but also these beauties:
Victoria Arduino VA388 Barista Apron
A little sample of something special, roaster to roaster ;-)