Best Coffee Roaster: Best of Omaha Winners Circle 2015

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7 BEST OF OMAHA MOB

Our marketing team, Basik Studios, asked me to write a blog on Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee being voted Best of Omaha 2015 second place in the category of Best Coffee Roaster. Before I go any further I want acknowledge that they have done a tremendous job helping us build our brand and market share.

This has been one of the more difficult blogs to write. Do I give the first place people props for winning? Do I say “Thank you for your vote”, even if I’m not sure the blog readers have voted? Do I try and sound humble?… “Ah shucks, it is just an honor to be nominated let alone win something.”

After giving much thought to these and other questions the answer is NO! Maxine and I are absolutely bursting with pride. To us it is the equivalent of parents watching their teenager win a silver medal at the Olympics. We were the 60-1 horse placing in one of the Triple Crown races. When voting got started this past July we were just over two years old and competing with several other coffee roasters who have been in business for decades. Just like the lyrics in the song “High Hopes”:

 

Just what makes that little old ant

Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

 

We knew our business model of importing the world’s finest coffee, roasting to order each week and then delivering this fresh roasted coffee to your front door at no extra charge, would take time to catch on in Omaha.  Being in the winner’s circle of Best of Omaha so early in our business life is a true confirmation that we are going in the right direction. We are so happy to share this recognition with each of you and look forward to becoming better and better at what we do each year. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.

Winter Coffee Line Up

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As I have said in the past, the only constant is change.  But in our case, we embrace the changes because although it may mean saying good-bye to a coffee we have loved, we get to introduce new coffees that we love.

All of the coffees I import are from small farms and co-ops that are committed to growing specialty grade coffees.  In the coffee industry, the coffee produced from these small farms and co-ops are call micro-lots.  Last spring, we bought all of Kenya Gathinja’s coffee crop, which was our largest single purchase.  At the time, we projected it would last us until next spring but our sales exceeded our expectations and we sold out of the coffee 2 weeks ago.  Although we will miss Kenya Gathinja, we have found a new Kenyan coffee that we are excited about….Kenya Kiambara. The new Kenyan, while slightly different, has the same flavor profile as the Gathinja so there will not be too much of an adjustment for our Kenyan Gathinja lovers.

We are also introducing our new Honduras Raos Royal Decaf.  The mountain water decaffeination process is the best process to decaffeinate a coffee and to make sure the flavor is retained.

Lastly, we also have our new Guatemala blend readily available. We have taken our new Guatemala Blend out to test market at the pass few events and it has been very well received.

Here is our new and familiar coffee line-up that we will have available throughout this winter:

KENYA KIAMBARA MEDIUM

Kenya Kiambara medium roast: Bright and tangy, sparkling citric grapefruit acidity, with a pronounced herbal character in a stout and vibrant cup, without a bitter aftertaste. This is our strongest coffee.

KENYA KIAMBARA DARK

Kenya Kiambara dark roast: Earthy, smoky flavor that hits the sides of your tongue with hints of mocha. A very creamy, smooth and balanced coffee with a warm aftertaste. A true dessert coffee when milk and sugar are added and is perfect for making iced coffee.

HONDURAS RAOS ROYAL

Honduras Raos Royal Decaf: This is a medium body coffee with lovely sweet cocoa notes finishes with a pleasant clean aftertaste. Certified fair trade and organic. Decaffeination done by Royal Select Water process, which is recognized as the finest process available.

GUATEMALA BLEND

Guatemala Blend: By using three special roast profiles we have created this delightfully yummy blend. Carmelly sweet chocolate with notes of crisp citrus and a hint of nuttiness.

GUATEMALA ANDRINA

Guatemala Andrina: Medium body coffee with notes of milk chocolate. This delightful coffee has a touch of sweetness and finishes with a pleasant lingering after taste.

GUATEMALA BEATRIZ

Guatemala Beatriz: Medium body coffee starts with a crisp lemony tartness and is followed by a mellow peach undernotes. Finishes very refreshing.

ETHIOPIA QUEEEN CITY

Ethiopia Queen City: A very complex sun dried medium body coffee with notes of apricots and mangoes and exotic spices of cloves and cinnamon.

ESPRESSO BLEND

Espresso Blend:  We found the right combination that blends the boldness of our Kenya Gathinja Medium with the sweetness of the Guatemala Beatriz and combined them with our rich chocolate Guatemala Adrina for complexity.

Oh Wata Dara, say it ain’t so!

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In the previous 2 seasons (2012 and 2013) we had a coffee that was good enough to repeat. In fact it was such a good selling coffee, I was looking forward to adding it to our offerings again this year. For those of you who could not guess, I am talking about no other than the Ethiopian Wata Dara.  This amazing coffee really helped us launch and establish Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee as a purveyor of fine fresh roasted coffee and had a signature chocolaty finish that people came to love.

Two weeks ago I finally got the email from my coffee broker that the coffee had arrived in port and cleared customs.   He quickly sent me a sample of this season’s crop. Once the sample came in I eagerly got ready to go through our process of cupping coffee. The first step is to visually inspect the beans and give them a quality score.  I noticed the big variances in the size of the beans which was not the case in previous years. A roaster wants the beans to be the same size, otherwise, the smaller beans will be over roasted and the bigger beans will end up under roasted.

Upon further inspection, I started to notice more bug bites than usual. I justified this to myself because this coffee is grown organically but again, this was not the case in previous years. Then more issues arose with a lot of broken beans appearing. It got to the point to where normally, I would have already failed the bean on the inspection alone and not bothered to even roast them. But this was Wata Dara! Surely I can make an exception for this great coffee so I went ahead a did a sample roast.

Continue reading Oh Wata Dara, say it ain’t so!

A Roast is NOT Just a Roast!

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What does it mean when people ask for a certain type of roast?  Do they even know what it means or are they looking for a certain flavor?  Being a specialty grade coffee roaster, we do not often refer to roast types alone since our goal is to bring out all the natural and wonderful flavors of the bean itself.  Specialty grade beans are grown on purpose and are organic, fair-trade, low in acidity and not inherently bitter so it is easy to concentrate and talk solely about flavor.

For most other grades of beans (commercial, premium, gourmet), talking about the roast is way more important since there is high acidity and inherent bitterness to deal with.

Let’s start with how the bean looks BEFORE the roast.  Pictured below is the “green bean” which is how the bean looks when we receive it at our dock.

1 green-beans

22 °C (72 °F) Green Beans

Can be stored for one to two years.

 

Next, we will look at the stages and temperatures that the beans go through while in the roaster.  This initial phase is the “drying phase” when they lose water and increase in size:

2 drying-phase

165 °C (329 °F) Drying Phase

As the coffee bean stays in the roaster, the beans will eventually crack from the heat.  Unlike popcorn, it does not change its shape too much but there is an audible sound.  Kept in the heat longer, you will hear it crack again.  These two “cracks” are applicably called “the first crack” and “the second crack”.  Each roast level below is described with basic temperatures and cracks.  What it does not tell you are the amazing artisanship it takes on behalf of the roast master to actually bring it to that temperature, the monitoring of air flow, timing and great instinct needed to produce an outstanding roasted bean.  Dark roasts are not synonymous with strong or bold flavors.  The better the bean, the more you will taste and understand how flavors are brought out by a particular roast.

 

The Cinnamon Roast is the very lightest roast level and is completed BEFORE the first crack.  It is almost tea-like in its character.  It is light brown in color with toasted grain flavors and sharp acidic tones.

3 cinanmon

196 °C (385 °F) Cinnamon Roast

 

The New England Roast is preferred by some specialty roasters because it highlights the coffee’s origin characteristics and acidic complexity.  It is moderate light brown but still varicolored in appearance.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, we occasionally use this roast when we roast some of our more exotic beans.

4 new-england

205 °C (401 °F) New England Roast

 

The American Roast is completed during the first crack which enables it to preserve the bean’s original character.  It is medium light brown.

5 american

210 °C (410 °F) American Roast

 

The City Roast is the most common roast for specialty grade coffee roaster.  It is finished after the first crack and is a medium brown color.   The multiple varieties of the character of the bean are very apparent while tasting (cupping).  With this roast, we are able to detect most of the beans flavors and can then decide whether to roast darker or lighter to bring out a distinct flavor.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, we currently use this roast for our Guatemalan Pena Blanca.

6 city

219 °C (426 °F) City Roast

 

The Full City Roast is completed at the beginning of the second crack.  It is a medium dark brown and depending on the bean, may have a very light oil sheen.  You will begin to taste more of the lower notes in the coffee.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, we currently use this roast for our Kenya Kamviu Dark.

7 full-city

225 °C (437 °F) Full City Roast

 

The Vienna Roast is completed right in the middle of the second crack.  Most of the bean’s original characteristics are overshadowed and a more bitter-sweet, deeper caramel-y flavor will surface.  The color is moderate dark brown which may have a light oil sheen.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, this is the absolute furthest we will go on the roast. We are currently using this roast for our Ethiopian Wata Dara.

8 vienna

230 °C (446 °F) Vienna Roast

 

The next 3 roasts are used by many roasters or coffee shops that do not sell specialty grade beans or blends with lower grade beans.  They are roasts that use various stages of burning the bean.  Many lower grades of beans are inherently very acidic and bitter so by roasting them darker, they can sometimes take out the bitterness and most of the acidity.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee our business’ vision is to bring out inherent flavors of the original bean so we have chosen not do the following roast profiles.  We are not snobs however in understanding the fact that there are many people around the world who have acquired a taste for these roasts and when these roast lovers do not find what they are looking for with us, we do not mind letting them know that we respect their taste and even refer them to other roasters that we know can fulfill the taste they are looking for.

 

The French Roast is completed at the end of the second crack.  Very little of the inherent flavors of the original bean remain and the taste of the bean now has burnt undertones and diminished acidity.  The beans are dark brown and have a shiny oily appearance.

 

9 french

240 °C (464 °F) French Roast

 

The Italian Roast which is completed at least 20 seconds after the second crack.  It is very dark brown and very shiny with very distinct burnt tones, a thin body and almost no hints of acidity.

10 itialian

245 °C (473 °F) Italian Roast

 

The Spanish Roast is completed long after the second crack is finished.  Its color is almost black (extremely dark brown) and the beans are very shiny and oily.  Charcoal and tar tones dominate the taste with a flat, thin body and no hints of acidity.

11 spanish

250 °C (482 °F) Spanish Roast

How to brew it better at home?

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I found this article on New Haven News http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20140125/a-quest-for-the-perfect-home-brewed-coffee  written By Tim Carman, The Washington Post

Sometimes obsession sneaks up on you slowly. One day you’re satisfied with 7-Eleven coffee poured into a used Big Gulp cup. A few years later, you refuse to choke down anything not prepared on a pour-over bar at the nearest specialty coffee shop.

Other times, obsession strikes you in a flash.

I can, for example, tell you the exact moment my home-coffee-brewing addiction kicked in: It was 10:58 a.m. on Dec. 12. I was sampling cups prepared by Alex and Chad McCracken, the brothers behind the Wydown, a forthcoming specialty coffee shop here. At their former pop-up in D.C., the siblings had brewed five different preparations of the same Finca Kilimanjaro, a Salvadoran bean roasted by PT’s Coffee Roasting in Topeka, Kan. Among the devices they employed was a siphon, a twin-chambered glass tower powered by a glowing halogen lamp.

The siphon’s charms were immediate: evil-scientist-grade equipment that can make you feel like a 10-year-old with a chemistry set. But that childhood reverie vanished with one sip of coffee. Compared with the other devices (two pour-over cones, an AeroPress and a Clever dripper), the siphon-produced cup was more complex, balancing sweetness and acidity. If the other devices had emphasized the Finca Kilimanjaro’s bracingly sour brightness, the siphon had transformed it into candied lemon. I was hooked.

I was sold on the siphon, sure, but more than that, I was fascinated by the different flavors that each device unlocked in the same coffee. I wanted to experiment more.

Within a month, I had secured not only a Yama three-cup siphon but also other tools for my morning caffeine ritual: a Bee House dripper, an AeroPress coffee and espresso maker and a digital scale to weigh my coffee and water down to the nearest gram. Then came the more expensive stuff: a high-end electric drip maker often touted as the best on the market, and a single-cup device capable of brewing any freshly ground beans. That latter piece of equipment, I thought, would serve as a litmus test to see whether, when it comes to coffee brewing, convenience and quality are mutually exclusive.

But the paradox about trying to improve your home coffee experience is that none of those fancy instruments and machines will guarantee you a perfect cup every time. As any veteran roaster or barista will tell you, coffee is not a fixed commodity, its quality the same day in and day out. It’s an agricultural product that degrades like any other fresh ingredient you buy at the grocery store. Freshness is paramount.

Home brewing is “a moving target, because the coffee itself is a moving target,” says Joel Finkelstein, the owner and roaster behind Qualia Coffee here. He says only one kind of coffee will give you the same cup each time: “If it’s old and stale, you can get total consistency,” Finkelstein cracks.

So a high-quality cup begins with freshly roasted beans, but it doesn’t end there. Home brewing has evolved beyond the one-button convenience of Mr. Coffee and the disposable pods of Nespresso. You need education. For starters, you need to understand the benefits of a burr grinder, which pulverizes those fresh beans more evenly than your typical cheapo blade grinder. A burr grinder also allows you to adjust the grind size of your beans, an important feature when you start using the more labor-intensive tools to brew coffee.

One grind size does not fit all of these contraptions. Immersion brewers — devices such as the siphon and French press, in which the full complement of water remains in contact with the grounds for the entire steeping process — typically require a coarser grind to prevent bitter, over-extracted coffee. Pour-over devices — whether a Hario v60 dripper, a Chemex coffeemaker or some other contraption in which water passes over the grounds more quickly — generally take a medium or fine grind.

“The longer the extraction time, the coarser the grind,” the Wydown’s Chad McCracken notes.

From there, things can get really geeky really fast. Any barista worth her weight in Geisha beans will determine the perfect coffee-to-water ratio for every available bag, looking for a calculation that brings out a bean’s best characteristics. Baristas may start with a general ratio — say, one ounce of coffee to 16 ounces of water — but will quickly adjust the percentages to arrive at the perfect cup. Or at least the perfect cup according to their taste, which is important to remember.

“At the end of the day, it’s good to who’s making it,” says Judith Mandel, a former barista with Peregrine Espresso who finished ninth out of 40-plus competitors in the U.S. Brewers Cup last year in Boston. Mandel now works as a barista for Blue Bottle Coffee in the Bay Area.

Then again, those tattooed coffee-bar baristas probably know a lot more about their drinks than most of us. They know the proper water temperature for extraction (195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit), the proper technique for pouring water into a dripper cone (concentric circles from the middle, careful not to overfill the device) and the proper amount of time for “blooming” ground beans with hot water (variable, often dependent on how fresh the beans are as the wet grounds release carbon dioxide). They probably even use a timer and digital scale to make sure the weights and brewing times are airtight.

And that’s just for a pour-over device. At shops such as Chinatown Coffee, baristas must also know how to use even more tools, such as the Clever dripper and that high-tech siphon. If you talk to enough baristas, you begin to hear a pattern: They all have their own approaches, their own ratios, their own ideas about brewing the ideal cup. It begins to make you feel like it’s a Wild West out there, with no set standards for baristas and home-brewers to follow.

“There’s a lot of opinionated baristas who don’t have a lot of science behind them,” says Alex McCracken of the Wydown.

Yet there are standards. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has set them down in its “Coffee Brewing Handbook,” which is based on the scientific research conducted by the Coffee Brewing Institute (later the Coffee Brewing Center) in the mid-20th century. Of course, to make sense of the science, a barista has to become familiar with a refractometer and how to measure things such as the “extraction percentage.”

At this point, my own personal obsession stops just short of refractometers. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the level of Mandel, whose OCD-like labors have led her to employ screens (to sift grounds for precisely uniform particles) and a rubber restrictor in her kettle (to slow the flow of water). But she’s striving for Brewers Cup championships. I’m merely looking for a great cup of home-brewed coffee.

This is where the bad news comes in: There is no ideal brewing system, perfect for every bean and every taste bud. I’ve been absorbing that hard lesson through a lot of trial and error, testing and retesting, and yet some part of me still wants to pronounce that one of these devices outperforms the others. Some days I think it’s the siphon (which generally produces a balanced, full-bodied cup). Other days I think it’s the Bee House dripper (which always seems to extract a bean’s best flavors). But one morning the Clever might surprise me with an exquisite cup, and I want to hold it forever close.

Then the Moccamaster KBG-741 AO arrives via delivery. It’s a handmade automatic drip machine, the top model produced by Technivorm in the Netherlands, engineered to heat water to the proper temperatures and steep grounds the proper length of time. It’s one of only four home brewers certified by the SCAA. I don’t want to believe this contraption can brew something as complex as my (increasingly sophisticated) efforts, but it does. Or it can, I should say.

The Moccamaster’s performance reminds me of something Ryan Jensen, owner of Peregrine Espresso, told me recently: Large-batch brewers may one day reclaim specialty coffee shops. Think of it as the rise of the machines, again.

“The next wave is actually not doing manual brewing,” Jensen says. It’s sort of an admission, he adds, that “machines are better at this than humans.”