Coffee Express

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

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How We Choose Our Coffees

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Folks who make coffee their profession understand – there are many steps to a great cup. It starts with green beans, and involves roasting, brewing and serving. The green beans alone require a certain depth of knowledge, including genetics, growing regions, processing techniques, sorting, and shipping. Let’s take a look at how we choose our coffees.

Some of the criteria we use to purchase green coffees are cup quality, seasonal growing cycle, price, and availability. Since we began roasting in 1982, we’ve looked the world over for the best beans each producing country offers. We’ve always maintained a large variety of types from the majority of coffee growers.

It’s important to represent many specialty coffees. When you are asked what the best coffee is, the answer is not set in stone, but comes when you’re able to choose from among the many terrific growths available at any given time.

Each roaster uses various, personalized criteria to buy and evaluate their green purchases. At Coffee Express, we use a number of trusted importers, based on both the east and west coast. We look for a combination of coffees we need, and those that are available for a limited time.

Cup quality is never always 10, on a scale of 1 – 10. After all, if everything were a 10, you wouldn’t need a scale! So, you try to shoot for that elusive 10 at all times, but you choose from what’s available. I believe everyone has a slightly different bar, and we’ve kept ours very high for going on thirty years. We reject coffee below that bar, no matter how much it’s needed.

Today, our process for choosing coffees has led to nearly three decades of – we hope – some of the best tasting coffee you can find.
We hope you enjoy drinking our coffee as much as we enjoy roasting it for you!

Two important influences on coffee’s taste

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Two important influences on coffee’s taste are geography and price. I’d like to take just a moment to discuss each of these a bit.

The wine industry has used the term terrior to describe the effects of soil, sun, rain, and elevation on grapes and the resulting wine. While the attempts to link aspects of coffee and wine often go too far, this similarity has merit. In large part terrior is what makes bright the notes of a Costa Rican differ from earthy Indonesian coffees, half a world away.

Two Costa Ricans can taste much different as well, the distance here measured in a few miles. Weather and soil vary even at close range. Of course other factors influence taste, and will provide future topics of conversation for us.

The old adage says that price and quality go hand-in-hand. Coffee is no exception. For starters, let’s break the bean into two categories “commercial” and “specialty”. While the line between these two general types can blur, fancy – or specialty – brings with it the understanding that the additional care goes into the cultivar, elevation, the position on a hillside; the picking, processing, roasting, and ultimately, the brewing. Understandably, this extra attention costs more.

A price variance that is harder to nail down is what can be made of the difference between, for example, an $8.00 a pound Panama and one that is $16.00. You may even see ratings on coffees: numbers on a scale given for taste qualities – nose, brightness, body, balance, etc. Because taste is subjective, the more “cuppers” participating will generally give a more accurate assessment. So, two Panamanians can have vastly different scores.

Packaging and marketing also influence the $16.00 coffee. Consumers appreciate a story that personalizes where the coffee comes from. If the name of a town or farm or family can be linked to the coffee, all the better. Possibly the farm uses methods that are more kind to the environment, or is circumspect in how it makes economic decisions. The promotion of these features is another factor that helps drive up the price.

Taste, which should be what the coffee drinker really enjoys, sometimes gets lost in the promotion. Coffee Express Co. works to procure the highest grades and the best-tasting lots from all over every country whose coffees we carry, including organics, Fair Trade, and decafs. We’ve kept our eye on the ball for quality over the years, fashioning our production, packaging, and delivery methods to ensure that we supply our retailers with the best coffee available, delivered fresh from the roaster, at affordable prices. You don’t have to overpay for taste.

Choosing the right drip coffee brewer

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There are several common choices for making drip coffee. Restaurants with staff carrying coffee to tables to serve generally choose to brew directly into 1⁄2 gal., 64 oz – or 1.9 liter glass or stainless carafes. These will have a short holding time: well under 30 minutes for glass pots on burners, and somewhat longer hold times for stainless, insulated carafes.

Coffee houses will choose to brew into larger air-pots, or 1 to 1.5 gallon stainless insulated servers. These containers will have hold times up to 2 hours or so. Coffee in a thermal container will keep its temperature longer if you preheat the container by warming it with hot water before brewing. Hold times will decrease as you pour cups of coffee from it. A container that is nearly empty will lose temperature rapidly; a full container will stay hot longer.

Machines from all the major manufacturers are available in any of the popular formats. Brewers can be either analog, with simple pushbuttons and only a simple volume control, or digital, with computer programmed recipes. Most equipment we sell is digital, and we will typically configure your coffee house brewers with extra deep brew baskets to insure you can use as much coffee as needed without having grounds overflow the filter.

Whatever brewer you use, consider filtering your water with a cartridge system to remove bad tastes from your tap water and reduce scale build up.

The final steps to a great drip coffee come in choosing your coffee variety and brew strength. And of course remember to keep your servers and brew baskets clean. If you use flavored coffee, keep separate brew baskets, air-pots and grinders. If you’d like to know more about new brewers give us a call. You can arrange to stop by and try out our favorite machine in the demo room, and we’ll help you choose the brewer and coffee that best suits your needs.

Origins, Classifications, Estates

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The names given to specialty coffees do not follow a universal format. There are no international standards available when we see something like “Colombian Supremo” or “Sumatra Mandheling”, so common usage prevails.

“Single Origin” generally means coffee the coffee was grown in a particular country. Breakfast Blend and French Roast wouldn’t be Single Origin because in the one case (as the name states) it’s a blend, and in the other, the name simply denotes the color of the roast – not the type of bean used.

Within each country, either a region or grade comes next. Kenya AA is a grade, while Costa Rican Tarrazu is a region. Costa Rican SHB –Strictly Hard Bean- is a grade, but in this case, because Tarrazu is a top growing region, the highest classification of SHB is understood. The same could be said of a Kenya Kirinyaga: the AA is implied. Sometimes, the coffee industry will also use the term “Estate” or give the name of the city where the farm is located to help further distinguish the growing area. Jamaican Blue Mountain Wallenford Estate means coffee processed within the Wallenford network of pulpuries and finishing works. Costa Rican Dota is a town in the Central Valley region, and signifies a coffee with a better defined area than simply Tarrazu.

Next, let’s decipher Hawaiian Kona. In some cases, sellers simply use the name and reputation of Kona to describe a blend that is mellow. The State of Hawaii has a law on its books that prescribes a minimum of 10% Kona in a “Kona blend”. However this only applies to coffee sold in Hawaii, not elsewhere. Names on coffee can therefore be misleading.

A true Hawaiian Kona is (of course) 100% Kona – grown in a strictly defined area on the Big Island’s west coast. It can also then carry the name of an estate, such as Pomaika’i Farm. And don’t forget the grade: Extra Fancy, Fancy, and #1, in that order. Other countries have their own particular methods of names, regions and grades.

Coffee Express has procured a few Cup of Excellence® coffees in the past couple of years. This U.S-based, international program sets the highest bar for quality. In this case, not only is the country, grade, and farm known, but also the type of coffee plant (typica, catura, etc.), altitude grown, and other qualifiers that can determine taste. We are happy to direct you to one of our customers, should you have an interest in trying any of these distinct and wonderful coffees.

Required Reading

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It was a couple of years ago, on a visit to Harney and Sons Tea headquarters in Millerton, N.Y. A good part of the floor in the middle of a fairly large room was covered with cloth and bamboo mats. Spread out and stacked up on the coverings were hundreds of objects. There were tea chests, boxes, tins, tea pots and kettles, preparation and serving wares, related implements, books, documents, photographs, and miscellaneous artifacts of Asian origin. Anticipating the question, Paul Harney answered,“That’s Michael’s book.”

A couple of years later, we have The Harney & Sons Guide To Tea, by Michael Harney, Master Tea Blender. The stated purpose of the 272 page, hardcover volume is “…to transform tea drinkers into tea experts.” It is, in fact, a clearly written, well-organized presentation of Michael’s own expertise developed over years of tasting, travel and trade in the world of tea. If it doesn’t make you an expert, it will provide a solid foundation toward that goal, and be a valued reference for years to come.

At Coffee Express Co., when we instruct in coffee or tea basics we seek to provide foundational knowledge that can be built on over a lifetime. As with coffee, tea is a vast subject with a long history and many varied regional traditions and styles.

The Harney & Sons Guide is a first-person exploration of tea history, geography, cultivation, processing, and culture. It classifies the diversity of tea styles, and offers practices for proper brewing and serving. A unique and useful aspect of the book is Michael’s refined method for evaluating tea by aspects of aroma, flavor, and appearance.

Lively, informative, entertaining, and unpretentious, this book is highly recommended. Available from Border’s, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Harney & Sons

Tea

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Tea is hot . . . or cold. Your choice. Either way, this first cousin to coffee is one of the fastest growing and most important categories in the beverage industry. Coffee house operators, restaurateurs, and food retailers better pay attention. Update your selection, educate your staff, and inform your customers to establish your position and boost your sales.

Until recently, tea sales in the U.S. were incidental, lagging behind the specialty coffee boom. But it’s been a couple of centuries since we threw tea into the Boston Harbor, and tea is back with a vengeance.

To some degree, this surge of interest is driven by significant – and attendant publicity of – health benefits, which include cancer prevention, weight loss, and more. Lower caffeine content per ounce is said to be another contributing factor, given the aging population. Additionally, of course, the growing interest in all things culinary, sensory, and gustatory is the perfect driver for the fabulous array of flavors and aromas in the tea world.

As with coffee, there is a lot of information to absorb from thousands of years of Eastern tradition, and hundreds in the West. Categories include a stunning number of varieties: true leaf teas include greens, oolongs, blacks, and more; straight teas from China, Japan, India, Africa, and Indonesia as well as blends, flavors, and decafs. Dozens of herbal infusion, also known as tisanes, have their own history, lore, traditional uses, and methods of brewing.

In the future, I’ll talk about understanding and classifying different tea types & styles within this framework, as well as topics on brewing, marketing and merchandising in your establishment.

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Degrees of Roast

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A word on degrees of roasting. The popularity of coffee houses brought with it a taste toward dark roasts. Prior to the 1990s, the preference for dark roast was limited. Espresso brewing changed that, and the Starbucks Phenomenon has popularized even darker roasts.

The success of coffee houses, with their espresso-based drinks, is widespread today. Every city and town sports double and triple the number of shops than even a few years ago. There is a trend, dubbed “third wave”, that is elevating the making and serving of espressos, macchiatos, cappuccinos, and lattes. Whether it involves exacting specs for the coffee blend and roast, having a barista trained in latte art, or the perfectly pulled shot, the strive for excellence at coffee houses is on the rise.

We are seeing a move, however small, to lighter espresso roasts – often called “Northern Italian Style”. Probably our best selling coffee is our French Roast, which has always been a “medium dark roast”. There is also a renewed interest in the variety of medium roast coffees used for drip brewing.

We at Coffee Express encourage coffee operations of all types to experiment, educate, and continue in your mission to become THE spot known all around for serving the finest beverages and food items. Use Coffee Express Co. as an important tool as you continue to gather information about trends and techniques that can help you create a better shop. We are at your service.

A History of Coffee, Part II – Coffee in Europe

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Coffee In Europe

Coffee first came to Europe through the port of Venice. Because of their vibrant trade with North Africa, it was through these Venetian merchants that coffee was introduced to the rest of Europe.  In 1600, Pope Clement VIII, baptized the drink – making it more acceptable to European markets.

The first European coffee houses started opening, circa 1645, in Italy. In 1652, Pasqua Rosee (the proprietor) and Daniel Edwards (a trader in Turkish goods) opened the first reported coffee shop at St Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, England. Coffee became so popular, that within 100 years, at least 3,000 coffee houses were operating in England. In France, coffee became a popular drink for the Parisians by 1670, after being introduced by an ambassador of Mehmed IV. Vienna had its first coffee shop open in 1683. In a short time coffee and coffee houses spread throughout Europe. Coffee had arrived as a popular drink, and a traded commodity.
Coffee Around The World

Coffee’s popularity coincided with the age of exploration. Hence, the rapid spread of the coffee plant throughout the world. The Dutch played a major role in bringing the plant to its trading partners, especially in India and Asia.  The French are given credit for first introducing the plant to the Americas, but all of the colonial powers were influential in the spread of the coffee plant.
Today, coffee is grown throughout the world in mountainous regions between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.  The largest producer is Brazil, though there are many other medium to small regional growers around the world.
Coffee has had a long journey since Kaldi the goat herder first experienced coffee’s wonderful and magical nuances.

Better Espresso

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Fresh ground coffee, clean water, and a clean running espresso machine are key for a good tasting espresso-based drink.  A few simple steps will ensure you are getting the most out of your coffee, and your equipment.

Keep espresso beans in stock for no more than 3-4 weeks and try to keep them away from heat generating appliances. Heat destroys flavor. Grind just enough beans to last a shift. Once ground, coffee quickly loses flavor. A proper grind is important.  Rub the grounds between your thumb and forefinger.  It should be ground fine with a slight grit.  If it is powder with no grit it is ground too fine. Your shots should pour slowly, thick and syrupy.  If you are not sure, ask one of our delivery or service people.

Proper machine maintenance ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ will enhance both your coffee’s flavor and your pocket book.

DO:
–After each drink empty and rinse the brew basket and clean the steam tip.  During a lull
clean the loose grounds under the group head with a head cleaning brush.
–At the end of the day back flush and rinse the group heads and soak the baskets in
Cafiza, flush the drain tray, and clean the machine with a mild soap or a water-vinegar
mix.
–Weekly: Take the steam tips off, clean holes with a pin or paper clip, and soak
overnight in Cafiza.   If you are not using tea water regularly drain and refill the water
tank—you might want to  ask a service tech about this.  Soak the diffuser screens
overnight in Cafiza.
–Monthly: Very important—Charge the Softener.
–Yearly: Change the brewhead gaskets.
–Whenever you notice bad tasting coffee and cannot figure out why: Call a service tech.

DON’T:
–Leave the steam arm sitting in milk.  The milk could back up into the system and create
rancidity.
–Leave the basket with used grounds in the group head.  The spent grounds tend to
contaminate the brew head, resulting in a stale taste.  You should leave an empty rinsed
basket in the head.  This will help the taste of the next drink because the espresso is
being brewed through a warm basket which results in better flavor extraction.

A History of Coffee, Part I – The Legend

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The Legend
There are several legends concerning the origins of coffee, but they all seem to include Kaffa, an Ethiopian goat herder who was seen in a meadow dancing with his goats by an imam from a nearby monastery. Finding that both Kaffa and the goats had eaten red berries from a small tree, he gathered some of the berries and took them back to the monastery. After some experimentation, parching, and boiling, the imams came up with a palatable drink.

The Early Spread of Coffee
The first recorded mention of coffee comes in the tenth century, from a Persian physician, Razi. Very little more was recorded until the 14th Century when a Kurdish poet, Malaye Jaziri, wrote a book on the history and legal controversies of coffee.

By the fifteen hundreds coffee had spread across the Muslim world.  Yemen merchants brought coffee from Ethiopia, grew it themselves, and began exporting their new product northward through the Saudi Peninsula. The first coffee house on record is Istanbul’s Keva Han, in 1471. The spread of this product, however, was not without problems: while it seems the Sufis of earlier times took to this new drink because of its ability to ward off sleep and help in meditation, many imams were concerned about its stimulating effects. Though its acceptance was slow in the Middle East, coffee was to become an important social and economic factor.

Coffee is still widely used in the Middle East, and today there are many different ways to roast and prepare it. Some of the fun of being a roaster is knowing that the coffees we roast come with such a rich and fascinating history, spanning many centuries, and many of the world’s great cultures.

In Part II we will cover the introduction of coffee to Western Europe.

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