March 9, 2010

Tasting water at Barrington Coffee Roasters


This is the beginning of another coffee journey. Or rather the end. Rolando and I just got back from a big research trip that included food trucks, fast food, juice shops, some fine dining, and lots and lots of coffee. We’ve known for a while that coffee is really important to breakfast. We want our coffee to be:

– Your absolute favorite cup
– Cheap
– Simple and approachable
– Robust

There is a ton happening in the coffee world right now and Rolando and I, neither of us coffee insiders, are trying to sort it all out. We are starting to understand how Clover’s philosophy of food applies to the coffee world.

Yesterday Rolando, Brian, and I went to Barrington to taste water. And coffee. After our tour out West I put together a list of all of the methods used by all of the top shops/ roasters in the country who are doing drip to order. There are dozens of little techniques that are used for brewing. From crimping the filter cone edges to making a divot in the middle of the grounds, to the pour speed, etc. This stuff is really crazy. Take a few minutes to google “hario method” or “pour over technique,” watch some of the videos, and you’ll know what I mean. The stuff is fetish-status for a bunch of coffee nerds.

The engineer in me screamed for testing. For coffee shops this stuff is fun, like a show for the customers. And it makes the coffee experience feel more special and unique. For us these finicky details are terrible unless they contribute meaningfully to taste. We want you to look at our coffee service and say, “that’s no big deal, I could do that at home.” We want to impress you with taste, not technique. If we spend an extra 20 seconds on every single cup we make to “bloom” the grounds, it better make a difference to the taste of the cup.

The thing that drew us to single cup drip in the first place were:
– Simplicity
– Cheap equipment
– Robust technique
– Fresh grounds
– No waste
– It’s fun! We all loved playing with water and dirt as kids, no?

So here we are, tasting a zillion cups, all with water in them. This experiment was a double-blind test of whether it matters to wash a filter. The answer: not really unless you’re rinsing with more than 2 L of water. I’m serious, the filters taste slightly papery, we have to live with that. And if you’re using paper cups they taste, well, papery on their own. And hey, that’s what we’re using!

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