Who doesn’t love a woodsy, shade-grown cuppa in the morning? Certainly no one we’d consort with. What’s better than heart-shaped crema atop a single-origin, five-and-a-half ounce cappuccino? Um, nothing. You see, it’s simple. Our hearts flutter at the sound of a grinding bean in the early a.m., the birthing of an earthy brew to follow, because hitting the pavements of our modern jungles is exhausting, energy-sucking, even lacking in taste. Which is why, for some of us, coffee is the best part of our day’s start, a sedative for the chupacabra that lives within; on the other end, it’s that magical digestive chasing an evening of gluttony. What’s more, as an addictive stimulant, we physically jones for the stuff.
There are low acid and high acid coffees, floral coffees, fruity coffees, caramel coffees, or coffees with chocolate characteristics—the result of something weighed with precision, a lucid luxury. Hell, the stuff can even act as biodiesel. And with so much on offer, our palates have gained swagger, even gotten a little cocky. We’re often asked “The usual?” by the chic, no-bullshit, designer-rim wearing lad behind the counter, or the loving waitress at our favorite vinyl-clad neo-diner. We advise the tatted and barbed moonlighting poet pulling our pleasure to “go long, leave a little room for the sweet tooth, and split ‘er down the middle.” Yet, between the different pours and preferences and milky alternatives, there is oft something overlooked in the art we quaff: process. And what’s going on with the mysterious artisans crafting such process between the time these bizarre plants are sown and that moment someone hands you a 160° piping hot mood swing? There is a touching, oft-hermetic narrative here, from seedling to esophagus, as is the case with any coming-of-age story.
Our tale begins with the farm in which our coffee is grown. A beautiful coffee requires a peaceful balance between the farmer and their crop—a common respect for the earthen condition—as well as an extreme passion for quality: hours upon hours of soil testing, seed-planting, studying. Being a coffee farmer is akin to having a horticulturalist’s Ph.D. in brain surgery, and it takes more than a little luck to turn the earth into an ideal coffee habitat.
Santa Ana, in El Salvador, happens to have a perfect microclimate for coffee growth. Its farm cycle is governed by both a wet and a dry season, and its soils are rich with the nutrients provided by volcanic ash and tephra. Tucked into the sloping pastures under the Santa Ana Volcano, Aida Batlle owns four coffee farms, all certified organic. Batlle’s farms’ cupping labs host every brewing contraption on the market. This, coupled with her ethical practices, make this sweet, warm-spirited lady a coffee revolutionary, butting heads against the organic oligarchy and the patriarchs of eco-horticulture, all in the name of the impeccable bean.
Batlle was born in El Salvador, but grew up in Miami. After 24 years in the States, a yearning brought her back to Santa Ana, whereupon she took over her family’s now fifth generation coffee farms. Proud parents and romanticism aside, she toiled to make these farms certified organic, pioneering an idea almost unheard of in the industry at the time. To Batlle, this was absolutely essential, but it wasn’t easy. She describes the early days: “They would see a pest, or a deficiency and it was like ‘Oh no! You need a formula,’ or, ‘You need a pesticide.’ I had to say, ‘We’re going to do things a little different.’”
During those first years, finding a company to obtain such organic-enabling results was a challenge, and expensive to boot. “Now, there’s a lot more product out there,” she reflects. “If I’m looking for Boron, I now know it’s, say, seven percent. You can use it for coffee, for strawberries—anything.” These ideals are starting to carry over into the entire industry. “What I’m seeing is that more and more even conventional farms are starting to use more eco-friendly products and some of the ones are even certified organic. Everybody’s using cleaner product.”
Aside from the challenge of organic politics, Batlle faced a different type of discrimination. “A lot of workers weren’t used to having a woman be in charge,” she allows, “so that was hard in the beginning.” Nevertheless, her team started to understand the uniqueness of the fruits of their labors. Batlle’s customers have come to know her and her coffee, and she offers them an extensive menu. They can choose the varietal, how the seeds are washed, fermented, and dried. “Basically, my idea is to offer people a menu and say, ‘Okay, which varietals do you want from which farm? What fermentation method do you want? Do you want “Traditional,” which would be a 12-hour dry fermentation, washed, and then placed on the patio or drying beds, or would you want the “Kenya” fermentation process which would be 48 hours dry, washed, 24 hours soaked? And then “Ethiopian” which is 48 hours under water, washed, soaked for 24 and then once again, patio or drying beds? All these processes enhance the different characteristics of the coffee.” Fact is, it all comes out in the wash. Batlle’s coffee is served in some of the most discerning cafés in the world, including Square Mile Coffee in London, Stumptown Coffee in Portland, Ogawa Coffee in Tokyo, and Solberg & Hansen in Norway.
So, we’ve sourced our beans from Batlle’s progressive plots, but the cherries have arrived looking pale green and unusable. What of the transformation from green to brown? In an attempt to talk to the best roasters on the planet, a hermetic quality exposes itself. A number of big-hitting roasters ask to be left alone with their wonderful smells and their data. Monmouth Coffee in London, for example, sent their regrets, preferring to “stay out of the media spotlight, and focus on buying, roasting, and selling great coffee with great customer service.” Square Mile Coffee in London suggested we limit our conversation to email as their schedule is “a bit erratic, and while roasting, [we] can’t really sustain a phone conversation.”
Still, our tale kicks forward, and we find ourselves connecting with a small office in Oslo, Norway. Tim Wendelboe is an award-winning, cult coffee roaster and, put plainly, a coffee genius—and he’s let down his guard. Wendelboe was the World Barista Champion in 2004, World Tasting Champion in 2005, and most recently, author of the roasting guide, Coffee with Tim Wendelboe. He spends his days running a successful micro-roastery, coffee training center, and espresso bar in Oslo.
The nine-hour time difference finds Wendelboe at the tail end of a long day. Maybe he’s sampling a bit of his product—he seems to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “Roasting seems to be very easy,” Wendelboe states, “because everyone can just buy a roaster, turn it on, put coffee inside, and it will turn brown. But you can never not make a green coffee taste better. That’s impossible. You can, however, very easily ruin it by doing something wrong in the roasting process.”
Wendelboe’s coffee is known to be roasted very lightly. His philosophy: to harness the natural flavors of the coffee. He does this by turning his roastery into a chemistry lab. “When roasters talk about roasting,” he says, “they seem to talk about it as if it’s a craft or an art, but for us, we’re much more pragmatic. Every minute, we manually log everything—temperature, how much gas we’re burning, and so on—we don’t theorize that much. We just try everything we can.” Balance is Wendelboe’s greatest adversary: “You shouldn’t taste any roasted flavors, just the coffee flavors. When you roast it too dark the natural flavors disappear and you only taste malty and charred flavors—[it tastes] caramelized. In general, great coffee has a lot of acidity. That’s the backbone of any coffee. A coffee that doesn’t have a lot of acidity is not very interesting to a lot of people.”
Wendelboe explains the roasting process like an excited child in front of the microwave who’s just learned how popcorn pops. “Of course, when you roast coffee, the first thing that happens is the moisture inside the beans heats, it evaporates, and we have what we call ‘the first crack.’ The beans get a steam pressure inside and they explode. After that, they become bigger and you can then start smelling the Maillard reactions, which is the browning of the coffee beans.”
Now we’re beginning to recognize our beans. They’re dark brown, slightly glossy, and most importantly, you tear the bag open and it fills the room with the toasty scent. It is finally time to start brewing.
With such passion and devotion from our farmers and roasters, we want the best for our beans. We are going to need a brew method that accentuates all the wonderful characteristics Batlle and Wendelboe have left for us, so we’ve hunted in both local and international cafés for the perfect piece of equipment. We wanted to find a different brewing apparatus for each flavor profile. In the end, we decided on three drastically different brewing methods.
Our first method, the “pour over,” is about patience and precision. A ceramic cone sits atop the cup, gilded by a presoaked paper filter. The grounds are carefully measured and pre-infused, or lightly soaked, and they are to sit for half a minute. Then, a healthy decanting of hot water is added, creating the “bloom,” a turbulent yet disciplined rising cloud of water and coffee grounds. The bloom is painted with the long, thin spout of a special water kettle. Incredible accuracy and control is essential in utilizing the pour over method, and each element is diligently weighed to the gram. It results in a cup of coffee with flavor characteristics similar to that of the original fruit—a light, saccharine cherry. For this reason, it’s available at any café that gives a spec of a damn, such as Spring For Coffee in Los Angeles, Coava in Portland, or Analog Coffee in Seattle.
While the pour over is the method of the patient coffee drinker, the Aeropress is known for its speed, agility, and efficiency. Made by Aerobie, the company that makes those world-record holding, and incredibly easy to lose, flying discs—the company, needless to say, is known for its ingenuity within the plastics industry.
Analog Coffee in Seattle, Washington trumpets the Aeropress. Owners Tim Hayden and Danny Hanlon explain that it acts like a filtered and pressurized French press. A thick paper filter removes the silt a French press would normally leave behind, and the pressure affects the flavor characteristics extracted from the acids and oils otherwise left untouched. It can take less than 30 seconds to plunge, and it results in a cup of coffee that is rich without the bitterness.
But perhaps the most wildly backwards approach to coffee is the OJI. Standing at eye level, the OJI Kyoto drip-style cold brew toddy maker is statuesque and unflinching. It is a masterpiece of hand-blown glass and costs a pretty penny, but delivers a well-earned demitasse of low-acid coffee reduction. It takes more than eight hours to seduce a liter-and-a-half of highly concentrated, extremely light-bodied brunette, but you can drink the extract as is, or you can dilute it with cold, refreshing water. This is the Kama Sutra of coffee. Only two places in America have the OJI: Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco and Caffé Vita in Seattle.
Jay Egami is the premier sales rep for OJI’s U.S. sales. Through some endearing emails, Egami illumined the properties of the OJI, and even offered some non-descript sexual advice, at our prodding.
Thank you for your interest.
I remember that before 1970 Union invented, then Oji took over.
Then lots of copy cats emerged.
I get back to you more information shortly.
A week later, more information was offered, without prompt.
I did not know but every 6 minutes water bubble comes up with wd-300. Water drip started in Indonesia.
Then around 1970 some equipment company made Oji style water drip machine in Japan.
Then it get popular, then Oji took over the current style.
A few company make the kind of machine in Japan.
Again since we do not use hot water, you can keep the coffee longer than hot coffee.
Finally, we managed a little Q&A on the mysterious Japanese marvel.
Thanks again for the information! Can you help me find some pictures of someone blowing glass at OJI? Very curious about the hand-blown aspects of OJI.
Jay Egami: I try
Many cafés use different recipes for making coffee with the OJI. Does OJI have a recipe they suggest? I’ve heard 44 drips per minute, I’ve heard 47, and I’ve also heard 88.
Jay Egami: It is up to operator, but I used to say 43 drip per m. I never heard 88.
Does this change the flavor of the coffee or does it just lower/raise acidity?
Jay Egami: fast means acidity, slow you go, you have body. But too slow you get unnecessary taste, too.
Would you suggest any food to eat with cold brew/Kyoto coffee?
Jay Egami: If it is sweet, southern food. But light like iced tea, you guess. Thick, you go for dessert.
Would it be good before or after a meal?
Jay Egami: no idea
Are there any OJI fanatics?
Jay Egami: people are used to see the machine. Not big deal.
My last questions may sound weird, but since this is the Men’s Issue of Flaunt Magazine, I have to ask something about masculinity. How does coffee shape someone’s sexuality? Maybe instead, how does gender play into coffee? This can be in your words or the words of the OJI company. This question is just for fun :o)
Jay Egami: you should google for caffeine or coffee
Tickled, sure, but somewhat confused, we enlisted James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, the first café to feature OJI in the U.S., to calmly explain the step-by-step brew process in detail: “I’m looking for beautiful silky texture, heaviness, and aromatics. I like a brewing ratio of approximately 10 to 1. We put 3000 milliliters of water in the bulb, about 160 grams of coffee in the silo, and then we moisten the coffee with about 100 to 150 grams of water. We pour it on slowly, and then set the dripper for about 88 drips per minute. We use a medium coarse grind and shoot for a nice, neat mound on top. We just try to keep everything very clean in between batches.”
So okay, we get it. You can get as specific as you want and there is a different cup of coffee for everyone, but none of this will matter unless your coffee is prepared correctly. Pete Licata is the 2011 US National Barista Champion and took Silver in the World Barista Championships in June. Not only did he make bangin’ coffee for the judges, Licata farmed, washed, dried, fermented, and roasted the coffee he served in the competition. He is an all-around coffee master and it seems he isn’t slowing down in the slightest. On top of everything, Licata is currently experimenting with the “honey method,” a type of very light, fruity coffee-tea made from cherry seeds that have been dried with the sugary layer of pulp still intact. This method hasn’t surfaced everywhere, but with gurus like Licata perfecting this drink, you can expect it to go public soon.
We interviewed Licata shortly after he’d returned from a long trip to Brazil, sponsored by Café Imports, after the WBC. Licata is preternaturally familiar with coffee’s place in the world. He explains the different generalized pallets of the world: Europe and Asia’s concern with balance; Latin America’s expectancy of clean, washed coffees; and America’s infatuation with polarized flavor notes, such as strong, acidic, and fermented flavors. He caps this with a comment about the consumers newfound need to connect with our coffee farmers even though they are worlds away: “One of the big things everyone is focusing on right now is the connection to the farmer and understanding more about the ground level of coffee. Getting back to the beginning of the process is a big part of cutting-edge things.”
Licata is right. We’re increasingly interested in where our beans come from, in how they’re manipulated. We want to have confidence in our pours, knowledge in the lore. And unless you live in the “bean belt,” coffee is grown on the moon for all we know. Kellie Henwood, organic farmer and Washington Tilth board member—and proud sister to your humble narrator—put it nicely: “It’s the same thing as our landfills: out of site, out of mind. It’s like that with people drinking coffee. It’s not a domestic product, it’s totally international, but it’s starting to come to light. Somebody is growing your coffee bean. Farmers are finally getting the attention they deserve. It’s this total awakening for mass amounts of people.”
In the end, we notice that the life cycle of coffee is like nothing else on our planet. The road is insufferably long and arduous and unpredictable, but thanks to these coffee messiahs who bleed, perspire, and weep coffee at all hours of the day, we no longer have to settle on instant coffee like WWII soldiers, or sludgy cups of tar like the cowboys. No. We’re ready to be enlightened.