Coffee Express

Providing great service to coffee houses and other specialty retailers in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana


Profile Roasting

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I bought my first espresso machine in 1971. Once the mechanics of pulling shots became second nature, it was time to pay more attention to the coffee itself. That’s why, in 1982 I decided to start roasting. In 1985, I hired Scott and taught him what I knew about it. Around 1987 Scott took over production roasting, and Walt came aboard and learned from both Scott and me. Today, in late 2015 going on 2016, Scott and Walt are still the roasters at Coffee Express – two of the best in the business.

Before actually roasting you have to obtain raw coffee. So, in 1981, after I had ordered our first machine (a Jabez Burns ½ bag) I set about learning how to evaluate and purchase green coffee. I’ve never relinquished that role; I still man our ancient sample roaster, a Gothot from 1946, and keep up our supplies of green coffee with the finest qualities available.

The Roasters Guild is part of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, and was formed in 2000. The SCAA began in 1984, but was so successful it came to encompass many facets of specialty coffee. A group of roasters decided there needed to be a separate Guild. I finally joined a few years ago, and have since participated in their annual retreats. It’s been thrilling to interact with roasters from around the country and the world, sharing skills, theories and knowledge.

In particular, it’s nice to be able to try all sorts of roasters at the Retreat. As a result, I recently bought a two pound Giesen. It has the very latest touch screen controller, with an infinite variable speed motor – allowing the most precise roasting imaginable. Slight adjustments in air speed, along with temperature controls, can enhance or detract from taste characteristics inherent in unroasted beans.

I’ve always tried to keep Coffee Express ahead of the specialty coffee revolution. Learning to be even more exacting in the craft of roasting coffee is exciting!

I plan to write about what the Giesen is telling us. Much of this we already know, but some of the pleasure of a craft is in the pursuit of further understanding.

A Few Things Learned At the Roasters Guild Retreat 2014

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Roasters Guild is part of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCAA). They have an annual three day gathering for classes, workshops, and camaraderie. The roasting tent houses over twenty small roast machines of various makes.

I think the biggest take-away for me is that a single coffee ends up cupping differently depending on who roasted it and in which roaster. If there are twenty people roasting the exact same coffee, it has twenty different taste characteristics. And that’s even if the roasters and their machines try to maintain an established “profile” – the same start temperature, rate of temperature rise, time of first crack, and end point.

We know coffee tastes differently determined by where it’s from, how it’s roasted, freshness, method of brewing, etc. But the variations within just the roasting are endless. For example, adjusting certain time and temperature markers can accentuate the sugars and dampen acidity.

I’m also trying to get SCAA certification classes to continue to be part of the May coffee conference we hold at the University of Michigan every two years. I did as much lobbying as I possibly could while at the retreat.

As for camaraderie, a fellow roaster, Jacob, from Thanksgiving Coffee in California, had me try a Nicaragua hybrid Caturra/Maragogype he had with him. Out-cupped a fantastic Ethiopian Yrgacheffe. Go figure.

A Life and a Legacy in Tea

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By all accounts, John Harney’s last day was a good one… featuring strawberries.

John was an early and energetic riser, frequently preparing a hearty breakfast for the latest in the endless stream of visitors to his 200 year old house near the center of Sharon, CT at the edge of the Berkshires. He would then walk briskly through the town, greeting neighbors, and patronizing merchants. John always walked briskly, attacking flights of stairs as if there was a prize at the top.

On this day, John encountered a crop of exceptional strawberries at a roadside stand and bought the lot. The afternoon was spent distributing those strawberries to the 160 plus employees at the Harney and Sons Tea factory in Millerton, NY. This was a personal task, from the office staff in the front, to the shipping line in the back. He would look at the labels on the boxes and share stories about the customers.

Mr. Harney died that night, Tuesday, June 17. He did not linger. That would not have been his style. He was 83 years old.

John’s young life was not one of privilege, but he distinguished himself in The Marines, in Cornell University’s School of Hospitality, as an innkeeper, in his community, his church, and ultimately as a champion of the American tea industry.

John loved family and friends above all things. His beloved wife, Elyse, five children, and many grandchildren will carry on John’s legacy of generosity, charity, good humor, hospitality, and fine tea.

His wake was attended by thousands from the local community, every corner of the country, and beyond. After the burial there was a Bar-BQ with a Jazz band in the Harney’s beautiful back yard. Strawberry shortcake was served.



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Also referred to as coffee varieties or varietals, most sub-species of coffee are cultivars, which means cultivated, or selectively bred – “single origin” simply indicates that the coffee is from one specific geographic location. Some species are native, some are intentional hybrids, and some are mutations that occurred naturally (but those differences are for a more extensive discussion than I have time for here). Types of cultivars available today include Typica, Catuai, Bourbon, Caturra, Pacamara, Geisha, Mundo Novo, and Maragogype, among others. These cultivars are from the Arabica, not Robusta, plant.

[Even though right here is not the logical spot to throw this in, I want to challenge the constantly repeated “coffee is second only to oil as a traded commodity.” It’s not second – on one list, it comes in around 25th. OK. . . got that off my chest.. – TI]

It is of utmost importance for growers to match a cultivar with geography. Soil composition, elevation, rainfall, sun, and shade all play a part. Cup quality, yield and resistance to disease – such as leaf rust – also inform the decision as to which varieties will work best.

Most Arabica coffees encountered are Caturra and Catuai. Mundo Novo is prevalent, but only because Brazil is by far the largest grower of coffee. Colombia has Caturra, Typica, Bourbon, and Maragogype. Pacamara is from El Salvador and came from a cross between a Bourbon mutation called Pacas and the huge “elephant bean” Maragogype.

Lately Typica and Geisha, both of which can be grown pretty much anywhere in the “Bean Belt”, hold the most panache. Geisha especially has been winning awards and is pricey, but not offered with any regularity. I was in Jamaica in 1983 with a brand new video camera, and still have my VHS tape of an official from the country’s Coffee Industry Board explaining the difference between Typica and Geisha. I’ll get it posted here very soon!

Cultivar, elevation and processing descriptions come with our Microlot coffees. If you want information on some of our other offerings, ask Genevieve, Sue, or Joyce, and they will try to get an answer for you.

The Current State Of Specialty Coffee

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We are now roasting new crop Central American coffees, and they taste fantastic. Some of these are used in our House and House Full City blends, which translates to a lot of of fabulous flavors for you to try. Scott is partial to the milder coffees, so new crop Costa Rican or House Blend is what he’d brew if given a choice. Walt is enjoying the fresh crop Centrals, and organic French Roast (for his espressos) – which also has new crop in it.

We always brew the coffees right after roasting and again the next day, but the flavors continue to develop three or four more days. Roasting changes the chemical makeup of the beans. The heat burns the sugars that are inside, and brings the oils that carry much of the flavor to the surface. On close inspection of a roasted bean, you will notice – especially in a dark roast – a speck of oil emerging. That speck will continue to spread, covering the whole bean, and subtly changing the flavor as it goes.

How do cantaloup, hibiscus, or soy sauce grab you as tasting notes in coffee? There is an updated coffee tasting flavor wheel that has some interesting descriptive terms. Though some of the identifiers are a bit outside the pale, we at Coffee Express have picked up and recognized many of these taste notes. See what you think for yourself at

We hope you enjoy these excellent new crop coffees, and that you’ll have some fun picking up some of the flavors from the wheel!

13th Roaster’s Guild Retreat

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Michigan Contingent

The Michigan Contingent

13th Roaster’s Guild Retreat

The Roaster’s Guild, a group within the Specialty Coffee Association (SCAA), held their annual retreat in West Virginia for the second time this year. This is the closest it comes to Michigan, and a nice contingent of our state’s roasters made the trek. The Guild is a large group, and about 150 people attended. Three full days of roasting, cupping and classroom workshops make up the bulk of the retreat, during which, twelve teams of ten compete to see who can roast, blend and brew a winning cup.





Roasting with the “Arabicats”

A remarkably humble group, roasters of all stripes worked together, listening to each other, and deferring to whoever seemed to have the best plan for roasting, cupping, and brewing. Roasting coffee is an accomplished craft, and the community continues to probe and learn. Gauges to measure temperature and time are a must, helping the roaster’s senses of smell and sight. Experience in interpreting the various inputs finishes the job.

What my attendance at these retreats enables us to do here, at Coffee Express, is learn even more about the coffees we purchase, and processes we use to roast them. Each coffee has different attributes that need to be understood in advance of the final roast, in order to bring out the best of what that bean type has to offer. There were probably 30 workshops, classes, and other skill-building events – too many to list. But here are some of the ones I took part in:


More fun

More fun with roasting

Profile Roasting Practices: We went over coffee bean characteristics, then set out roasting. We chose a Giesen, and tried to learn to control the variable airflow. This particular roaster allows for more control than most. Hard machine to tame.

Calibration Cupping of Challenge Cup Coffees: We divided into our pre-arranged groups (we named ourselves the Arabicats), and spent Friday morning roasting four five-pound bags of coffee, in order to find what might work best.

Two long sessions followed. The first – on microlots, quality, and sustainability – was led by the coffee buyer at Counter Culture. The second was a detailed look at how the physical makeup of the beans affects the manner in which you roast. Lots of science in this one.

Organic Acids and the Chemistry of Coffee, and Introduction to Roasting Concepts were on my agenda for Saturday. The concepts course took us, once again, back to the roasters. We did three roasts on the same coffee, stretching development times, and logging the effects made to the cup. In the chemistry course, we learned that if growers and roasters better understand the various acids – formic, acetic, glycolic and lactic, for example- we can better adjust roast profiles to bring out some and mute others.

How’s The Weather?

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Anyone who’s pulled a shot of espresso knows temperature and humidity can affect the pour.  Many baristas adjust the grind and dose to compensate.

Similar factors influence the way we roast. You’ve probably noticed how light our dark roast coffees look the first day of 15-degree temperatures. We get at least one call per year wondering if we sent the right coffee! Rest assured we tell them, it will darken in a day or two at room temperature.

Warm summer temps age roasted coffee very quickly, while cold, dry winter weather slows the curing process

Our roasters Walt and Scott have to continually make adjustments depending on the conditions each day, and the age and moisture level of the green coffee they’re using. This is in addition to adapting to the variety of bean Brazil, Costa Rica, Sumatra, etc.

All three of our roast machines have read-outs. We typically set an ending temperature only as an emergency stopping point, monitoring each and every roast by hand. The first few batches can be an indicator of how things will be going that day.

I don’t want to leave out the importance of the age of green beans. Generally, green coffee – once processed – has a three to five month period when it is at its best. It will tend to dry some over time, which affects roasting.

Softer coffees, such as Brazil, Sumatra, some Mexicans, and others, develop more quickly. Harder beans, including Costa Rica and Kenya, more time. Coffees like Yemen Mocha are a devil to control. Scott and Walt use hundreds of signals, honed from their many years of roasting, to arrive at the result they are looking for.

Home Brewing

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The other night I watched a movie called Black Narcissus, made in 1947. In one scene the co-star, David Farrar, is brewing his coffee near Darjeeling high in the Himalayas, using a siphon the very same type used in some coffeehouses today.

If you give it thought, the way coffee drinkers like their brew has a lot to do with the Home brewing method popular at the time. In the 1950′s, percolators – perhaps because of the “robustness” their brews – replaced the stove-top drip brewers and stylish vacuum pots of the 20′s and 30′s; Mr. Coffee then led the way for everyone to switch to auto-drip, bringing the relatively cleaner taste (and disposability) of the paper filter into our homes. While auto-drip brewers still dominate at home today, French Press, Melitta, Chemex, and of course, the K-Cup method, continue to elbow their way in.

Individual taste preferences, along with ease of preparation and convenience, go a long way in answering the question of which method makes the best coffee.

Were you to ask a Third Wave barista or roaster, their consensus for the ultimate taste would be a light roasted, bright-tasting coffee variety, hand brewed through a Chemex, Hario V60, or variation thereof. A carefully selected single-origin or blend, including dark roasts, through a French Press, certainly has its adherents. The popularity of K-Cup begins with the ease of grabbing a capsule from a wide variety, popping into your Keurig brewer and pressing the button. However the system wouldn’t garner this popularity on convenience alone. K-Cup drinkers obviously enjoy their coffee. Most of us at Coffee Express test, or drink for enjoyment, through a paper filter, sacrificing a slight paper taste for the clarity of the brew.

In the end, carefully selected, freshly-roasted top-notch coffee; fresh water (of a quality you would drink straight); a scrupulously clean brewer; proper grind and bed-depth of the ground coffee; and water temp; all work harmoniously to give you a great tasting cup.

When to replace your old machine

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Anytime you want to stop in and buy a new machine is a good time for me! Seriously though, there comes a time when repairing a well-used machine is going to cost more than it’s worth.

Our records show that most commercial espresso machines will be replaced after six to eight years, although a few will last for well over a decade with proper care. Heavy use can wear moving parts and perishable gaskets more quickly. Poor maintenance procedures can also shorten the life of your equipment.

As with any restaurant equipment that uses water, softening the water will give your machine the opportunity to last as long as it should. Hard, untreated, water will plug up the boiler and pipes. This will cause brew head temperature to drop below 190 Fahrenheit, and will prevent your machine from pouring a good tasting shot.

Cleaning out the boiler and pipes can easily cost $1,000 or more. A computer replacement can also cost over $1,000. These high dollar repairs can exceed the resale value of a 6 year old machine, and may tip the scales in favor of new equipment.

If you’ve been wondering if your espresso machine is ready to be retired, give us a call and we can help you make an informed decision.