Songwa Estates, Tanzania, Africa

10 12 2010

Several years ago, La Marzocco, Probat, and Mahlkonig came together to work with an estate farm in Tanzania for the purpose of exposing the quality, challenges, hard work, and respect that are involved in growing quality coffee to those in consuming countries. The result is Songwa Estates in Tanzania. While the more well-known coffee producing African countries is just to its neighboring north, Tanzania does produce respectable, though underrated, coffees and promises vast growth/development potential, especially in the Great Rift Valley.

Other than producing quality coffee, Songwa Estates offers the In-Depth Coffee Program in which visitors are educated and invited to partake in process of coffee cultivation. It is designed to be pre-packaged, all inclusive trip so you have fewer things to worry about. For more information, click on the image below.





Uber Grinder: What It Is & What It Isn’t

27 10 2010

Continuing on in our Pulitzer-qualifying “What It Is & What It Isn’t” series, covering some of our newer, lesser known products, we continue on with the Marco Uber Grinder.

Grinding hotness

What is the Uber Grinder?

With the delicious madness that is manual brewing sweeping the land of specialty coffee, there hasn’t been quite a performance driven grinder to match the level of thought and input that manual brewing requires. This is quite worrisome, as you spend 3-5 minutes (or more!) on a preparing a single cup of brewed coffee to only result in maddening quality variance, over/underextraction, and, above all, a sub par cup of coffee.

As part of Marco’s UBER PROJECT (a continuous endeavor to pursue the very best in coffee equipment), the Uber Grinder is designed to achieve what’s technologically and practically possible in grinding for manual brewing. Marco’s main focus is the burr set, which provides the key to an incredibly narrow grind particle distribution curve that results in maximized clarity in the cup. The Uber Grinder burrs feature:

  • Magnets to hold it in place (instead of screws, which their screw holes would trap coffee grinds)
  • Custom profile optimized for 750-800 microns
  • Optimized glass pearl blasting
  • Titanium plating

How the Uber Grinder works

Properly BREWED coffee is a function of an appropriate amount of coffee surface area exposed to hot water and time. Done correctly and you get 18-22% extraction (percent of coffee mass removed from coffee grounds) with 1.15-1.55% brew strength (concentration of coffee solubles in brewed coffee), depending on your preference. Grinding is a critical link in this equation in that it determines the total surface area of the coffee being exposed to the hot water. The finer the grind, the more the surface area, and the more the extraction. The coarser the grind, the less the surface area, and the less the extraction. From here on, it gets a bit more complicated.

Different burr designs – blade, flat, conical, roller – result in different shape of the grind. Unless you have an electron microscope, the shape is probably not as big of a concern for most practical applications. What is of greater concern is the uniformity of the grinds – that is, the consistency of the grind sizes. This is translated into particle size distribution, expressed in sieve sizes, microns, or, most pragmatically, particle size distribution graph.

Uber Grinder's particle size distribution chart (in RED).

There are two predominant methods in coffee to analyze particle size distribution. One is with lasers and obviously more restricted to a dedicated lab setting. You get a nice graph seen above. The other is with sieves. There’s Ro-Tap but, due to its exorbitantly high cost, very few are frequently used in the coffee industry. Then there’s the mini grind sizer from coffeechemistry.com, a hand-shaken portable sieve set great for everyday use. Not only can it help you to brew a better cup of coffee, you can also shake and dance around in the process of doing so.

Coffee grind sizer

Coffee grind sizer

The key to proper extraction in BREWED coffee is grind uniformity. For manual brew, the optimal grind size is around 800 microns. If you have a less uniform batch of grinds, the smaller grind size portion of it will be overextracted (resulting in bitterness) while the larger grind size portion will be underextracted (resulting in peanutty, grassy tastes). All else being equal, a more uniform grind will produce a cup with more clarity and more representative of the coffee being used. The ideal shape of a particle size distribution graph for brewed coffee would be one that’s very tall and narrow.

(The exception here if grinding for ESPRESSO. The ideal espresso grind needs the tiny grind fragments (fines) in addition to larger grinds in order to produce the necessary pressure and solubles. The resulting particle size distribution graph would exhibit either a slant towards the finer side, or multiple peaks.)

    Uber Grinder burr (in BLUE) vs. a typical cast burr (in RED)

    Compared to common drip coffee grinders, the result is something you can literally taste. The difference in particle size distribution can be clearly seen in the contrasting lines in the above graph.

    Pros

    • Incredibly uniform and consistent grind particles
    • Fast grinding
    • Near zero residual grinds in housing
    • Easy chute cleaning tapper
    • 110V

    Cons

    • No programmable timer
    • 1.6lb hopper (good if you use different coffees cup to cup but not so if you just want one)

    Conclusion

    First of all, stop using Robur or Kony E’s for drip brewing! They are designed for espresso! Second, Uber Grinder is excellent for drip coffee grinding, particularly for single cup brewing applications. If you focus so much on sourcing the best and the latest coffees to feature at your bar, why let something as simple as grinding mess it up?

    The Uber Grinder may command a price premium over typical retail coffee grinders but considering the consistency and additional quality in the cup you can achieve, it may be well worth your consideration.





    UBER BOILER: What It Is & What It Isn’t

    21 10 2010

    The Uber Boiler is part of Marco’s “UBER PROJECT“, a continuous endeavor to pursue the very best in coffee equipment. Whereas typical products go through the standard product development cycle – research, concept, develop, test, and launch – the Uber Project inherently loops itself indefinitely. As we speak, Marco has the next generation in development.

    Marco is a small Irish company specializing in the design, manufacture, and sale of hot water beverage systems, primarily for filter coffee brewing and tea infusion. It is heavily focused on R&D and involved with SCAE and its Gold Cup program. The Uber Project currently has two products – the Uber Boiler and the Uber Grinder.

    What is the Uber Boiler?

    The Uber Boiler is a precise hot water delivery system designed to deliver exact volumes of water at exact temperatures to meet the needs of cup by cup tea infusion and coffee brewing. To brew coffee correctly, there are essential guides; in particular, the barista must have the right water to coffee ratio and the right brewing temperature. The Uber Boiler gives the barista control to manage these important parameters. It is designed for single cup manual brewing, cupping, and other small quantity precision hot water needs.

    The Uber Boiler was born out of a collaboration between Marco and WBC champions James Hoffman and Stephen Morrissey. It was prominently featured as the only coffee equipment at Square Mile’s brewed coffee-only cafe, Penny University.

    Courtesy of Penny University, via yourstudio.wordpress.com

    Stumptown's new brew bar in Brooklyn (photo via shotzombies.com)

    The Uber Boiler has attracted some attention in the USA and several units are now in use across the country, including at Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, and Stumptown. At Stumptown’s new brew bar at their Red Hook roastery in Brooklyn, they’re following a similar format as Penny University – no espresso, brewed coffee only. Quite fitting, as the idea is to showcase the variety and origins of coffees they offer.

    How the Uber Boiler works:

    The Uber Boiler has four main components: the font (the gooseneck) & nozzle, scale & drain, user/programming interface, and a 6 liter, 2800W boiler.


    1. Set the desired water temperature. The Uber Boiler is accurate to 0.1 degrees Celcius.
    2. Place the brewing device with coffee on the scale and tare it.
    3. Press the “boost” button. This circulates boiler temperature water throughout the font, in order to ensure zero heat loss along the line of travel out of the boiler. Under the boost mode, the system locks out any cold, fresh water from entering the boiler. This is important to preserve the temperature integrity of the entire system to eliminate any deviation from the set point.
    4. Dispense with the side mounted dial for variable flow rate. Use nozzle handle to direct water direction. During usage, the scale automatically tracks amount of water dispensed by weight in grams. Stop when the desired portion is dispensed.
    5. Once the coffee is brewed, any waste water can be poured directly onto the scale/drain. Press “prime” button to turn off boost mode and allow the boiler to “prime” by refilling and reheating with incoming cold water.

    Pros:

    • Incredible temperature accuracy
    • Unparalleled temperature stability
    • Undercounter design; minimal obstruction between barista and customer
    • Comprehensive barista interface for everything needed for manual brew
    • No kettles needed!
    • Accommodates all types of manual brew methods
    • Great for coffee cuppings

    Cons:

    • Temperature stability only lasts up to the boiler capacity (6 liters), after which you must turn off the boost mode and allow the boiler to refill with cold water. During this filling and heating cycle, the system will lock the user out from dispensing any hot water.
    • If the barista has used all 6 liters of hot water in one use, the refilling/reheating cycle and lock out may last up to 14 minutes (with a 2800W heating element)
    • Designed for single cup brewing; not t for filling up 4 one liter press pots at time

    Conclusion:

    The Uber Boiler is a precise instrument, build around a specific set of usage parameters, and doesn’t deviate much from that. The Uber Boiler may be right for you if you:

    • Want to focus on and prominently showcase quality, single cup brewing
    • Have small quantity, precision hot water needs
    • Have an alternate hot water dispenser if you have large volume hot water applications e.g. multiple press pots, rinsing, etc.
    • Have the undercounter space

    Should your brewing needs fall outside of this, definitely check out Marco’s other hot water dispensers – the Ecoboiler and Ecosmart. They are more temperature stable, precise, and energy efficient than the typical hot water towers.

    As a company that strongly values R&D and market feedback, Marco continues to work on new products based on technologies and lessons learned from the Uber Boiler. Stay tuned for new developments on the Uber Boiler or other new products Marco may introduce.