Saturday, 10 December 2011

Keeping a manual brewing log

A few days ago Cyclone Friedhelm (or Hurricane Bawbag as the Scots have named it) left around 2000 folks in our area with no electricity, floods, ice, snow, and in one case a burnt down house!  So in true Scottish fashion we headed over to the home of some friends, got drunk and stayed up late talking bollocks.  The electricity came back on at our place today so I'm lying on the sofa with a hangover and just thought I'd write a nice easy post that doesn't require brainwork or standing up.

I've been meaning to write this post for ages.  For a few months now I've been logging some of my manual brews. The purpose was originally to provide data to answer a question that came to me a few months back... whether it is possible to match the predicted characteristics of beans to particular brew methods. Beans have many characteristics but I chose to focus on boldness and acidity on the assumption that coffees are either bold or acidic but rarely both. (Actually the experiment soon proved to me that this was a flawed assumption.)

So for example, is a bold, earthy sumatran best suited to a French Press to retain as much of the body as possible? Or conversely, would it be best suited to a pourover, to bring out some of the beans' intrinsic acidity and therefore use the brew method to counterbalance the bold, earthy qualities.  Each brew would theoretically fall into one of the following four boxes, and if a particular box gets more 'hits' then that would indicate a brew method fitting well a bean's characterstics.

Once I thought about it, I realised that it was pointless to use coffees that were not brewed correctly as that would skew the results. I needed as way to control the brew, so I could accept or reject each brew.  Fortunately the Brewing Control Chart created by Ted Lingle of the SCAA exists precisely for that purpose. I bought a TDS meter to allow me to establish TDS and Extraction Yield (although I've already blogged about the device having limitations).

So, a few months ago I began logging the details of each brew ... the beans, the brew method, the temperature, TDS, Extraction Yield, my tasting notes etc. It didn't take long for me to start learning many things, including:

1. It is not as easy as I had previously thought to brew a coffee that falls into the 'Ideal' range on the brewing control chart. What I had thought was correct was wrong.  This is one of the pitfalls of over-reliance on websites like www.brewmethods.com to learn correct manual brewing. Those videos don't help you learn to adjust your technique to the current condition of the beans.

2. The current condition of the beans is constantly changing. I knew that, but I didn't fully appreciate just how much it can affect extraction during manual brewing.  For example, the bloom of very fresh coffee would increase extraction, so I would need to agitate the brew slurry less or more depending on freshness and bean gas.

3. Matching brew method to beans based upon boldness/acidity doesn't work. Every day the beans work best in a different brew method, because they are constantly changing.  You simply can't say "this bean should always be brewed in a French Press".  I had been told that it would probably be the case... but as always I prefer to learn through my own experiments rather than simply being told. There is a lot of opinion (rather than fact) out there and who are we to believe?


Anyway, this post is getting long and I'm getting more hungover so I'll bring it to a close.  The main point I want to make is how valuable my brewing log has been in learning how to perform manual brewing. I soon ditched the original purpose of the log, and just used it to record the details of each brew to help me move forward. I added new brew methods.  I inserted new columns, deleted others, tweaked the format of my comments so I could refer back to them in future brews, etc etc. It takes moments to fill in, which I do whilst waiting for the TDS meter to take the reading and drinking the coffee.

Here's a jpeg of part of my log.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Coffee Cupping and Wine Tasting

I was directed (through twitter) to an interesting blog post today.
Click here to read it.

The wine connection is something I have spoken about in the past, so I started writing a reply in the comments. I got a bit carried away though, so decided to post it here and link to it instead. Here it is!


I do think coffee is following in the footsteps of wine, for sure. Twenty years ago the average wine consumer might have known little more about their preference than "Red or White", but now they are able to not only express a preference for, say, Sauvignon Blanc, and not also a particular region such as Marlborough, but even identify specific Marlborough estates such as Stoneleigh or Brancott... even across the other side of the world in the UK.

Coffee-wise, we're moving to the average punter (rather than coffeegeeks) being able to go beyond saying they like either black or milky, Americano or Latte, and now saying they like Rwandan or El Salvador. In time a larger part of the population will extend that to saying things like "Musasa Cooperative is my favourite", or "Do you have Finca la Fany?"

But I think there's a big challenge with going a step further and getting the general public to try and pick out aromas, to make a mental connection between their mouth and mind and be able to express what they are tasting. It hasn't happened with wine. Wine tasting events remains the domain of the 'buff'. Why? I think maybe because 'nornal' people just want to drink it.  It's 'just wine'. Analysing it can seem like spoiling the fun, and also has negative connotations such as Jilly Goolden's flamboyant, wildly descriptive and very posh assessments of various wines, which joe public can't associate with.

So how can we avoid a similar fate for coffee... avoid cupping becoming something to be derided by the very people we want to attract? This is a critical time in coffee's evolution, certainly here in the UK anyway, and if we get this bit wrong then coffee will remain 'just coffee' for most people. The simple answer, in my view, is to ditch the words snob, geek, connoiseur, and anything that suggests that you need to be elite to take part. One of the most common responses I've had from the public is "oh, I don't think my taste buds would be able to appreciate it". What a huge shame that we have conditioned them to think they aren't good enough. It's a lose-lose situation.

Let's turn it on its head. Let's make it accessible and fun. Make it a win-win. Hell, let's dumb it down if that's what it takes... give it the X Factor treatment. Coffee and cupping need to be fun. If they are fun then there's a greater chance that some of those taking part will see beyond the cupping 'party' and take a real interest in speciality coffee.  The challenge is to find creative ways to make it fun.

So is coffee cupping currently more fun than wine tasting? For coffee snobs, geeks and connoiseurs such as ourselves I'd say yes... but let's not forget who pays our bills. It would be good to take the focus off ourselves, stop showing off our own skills, and instead shine a light on the public and what they want, because at the moment I think most of them would say No, coffee cupping is not more fun. It's just coffee.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Romanes eunt domus?

"People called Romanes they go the house??"  - Life of Brian

I've been to Italy about ten times. My first ever foreign holiday back in my late teens was near Venice. I've been to Verona and Lake Garda on weekend jaunts when I lived in Germany.  Been skiing at Cervinia. My wife and I passed through Lake Maggiore on our honeymoon. Etc etc.

I've always hated it. It has always been, to me, a caricature of itself.  This picture pretty much sums up the people I've encountered.


I have kept going back though, partly because I wanted to find whatever it is that other people seem to love about the country, and partly because I was disapppointed with myself that I had failed on multiple occasions. Failed to make the most of my surroundings. Failed to adhere to my own belief that you cannot generalise about an entire country and its inhabitants.  I desperately wanted to like Italy.

Now I do!

Last weekend Jan and I went to visit some friends who have an apartment in the centre of Rome, near the Circus Maximus. I had mixed feelings about the trip, what with it being to Italy, but was keen to see our friends and also to give the place another pop.  All the areas I have visited previously are in the North of the country, whereas Rome is more central. I wondered if there would be differences that might make me like it.  After all, back home there's a big difference between, say, Manchester and Norwich.


There were indeed differences. Massively so.  I expected a big, dirty city with too many cars, rude waiters, gaggles of fashionistas blocking the pavements, corporate tower blocks all over the place, and all food & drinks costing a small fortune.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.


Rome is a wonderful city, at least in the tourity central parts I visited. In a way, it didn't really feel like a city to me. Walking around the place was more like ambling through the streets of Bruges (Belgium), or the shambles in York (UK).  Cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages, beautiful old buildings, and a genuinely friendly vibe from everyone in the shops and streets.  We were there three days and I'd go back tomorrow if I could.


We weren't there specifically for the coffee, but I was keen to try several espresso bars since I understood there to be some difference between Italian espresso and the 'third wave' style of espresso we might find in a good coffee shop elsewhere. 


Just around the corner from the apartment was our first bar.  Lesson #1... there is no such thing as a coffee shop. Look for the word 'bar'.  Our friends had recommended it, not so much because of the coffee but more for the environment.  It was beautifully adorned in smooth wood all over the place... walnut I think.  I asked for an espresso macchiato. Actually I'm not quite sure what I got! It may have just been an espresso, or the 'mark' of foam may have been so small it got lost in the crema.  Crema! There was actually some sort of crema. That surprised me a little, as I had expected Italian espresso to be a little flat. My understanding was that they don't put so much emphasis on bean freshness over there. As with all the espresso I was to receive over the weekend, it was a single and was pretty much knocked back whilst standing at the bar.  Result? Quite good. Nothing to write home about, but better than I had anticipated.  Not bitter. It seemed high in Brazilian flavours and little else, if my palate is anything to go by.  I looked towards the grinder to see an opened bag of Segafredo. Interesting. All the Segafredo I've tasted in the UK were nasty, and this espresso certainly wasn't.  The cost... about 1 Euro... 86 pence in Stirling. Cheap!


It was a fleeting visit, and we set off walking the streets of Rome fairly aimlessly.  We were right next to the Palatine Hill, and decided to skirt up the West of it, following the main road past the sites of various archaeological digs. These sites abound in Rome. Tony Robinson would be wetting himself with glee!


Soon we came to a big, old, round building, conveniently next to a bar/caffè called Antico Caffè del Teatro di Marcello, revealing that the circular building is an ancient theatre (and not in any way, shape or form The Colosseum, although as a Rome newby it did briefly cross my mind!).  The espresso here had less crema, was black and bitter... exactly like I've had from many cafes back in the UK except shorter (thankfully). Brazil came through strongly once again - or at least a very monotone flavour that I have previously found in 100% Brazilian espresso.  It was mid-late November yet it was lovely to sit outside in the 18C sun.



Heading off the main road and into the cobbled lanes towards The Pantheon.  I'm not massively into architecture but this place is fairly spectacular inside.  Anyway, just off from here is a little old bar that was recommended to us, called Antico Caffe della Pace.  Seriously impressive decor and atmosphere here, and equally beautiful espresso equipment, including a 3 group Faema E61 and a lovely looking rippled grinder (I couldn't quite make out the brand but think it was 'Mador').  Despite having lived in Italy previously, Jan had a lapse in concentration and ordered a latte... promptly receiving a glass of warm milk.  I ordered a caffe corretto... an espresso with a shot of grappa, although I was surprised when the barista's first suggestion was Sambuca.  Needless to say, with a shot of grappa in it the espresso wasn't something I could comment on! But the place was amazing and I'd love to go back.

 Over the next two days we hit a bunch of touristy things... Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps... all of which were actually really lovely and not noticably spoiled by their status as tourist hotspots.  The Colosseum in particular is quite awe-inspiring for many reasons, not least being the sheer scale of the place.  After spending some time walking around it and hovering on the edge of guided tours getting a free insight into what really happened in the time of The Gladiators, we hopped in a taxi up to Tazza d'Oro, a coffee bar that is reputed to be one of the best in Rome.  Again, it is right next to The Pantheon, and from the outside it doesn't look much. Inside, however, it is a bit of a baristas dream.  There's an old-looking roaster on site, which I'd estimate to be perhaps 15kg although I could be wrong.  Two Wega espresso machines, both four group, sat on the bar... one at either end.  Several grinders were filled with many different types of beans/blends.  Those beans also filled large glass cabinets under the service area, and also in the back room where an elderly gentleman filled up 250g bags on demand, and a long queue of customers lined up awaiting their fix of whole beans (yes, I bought some!).  It was unlike any of the other bars.  In some ways it felt more modern than the other espresso bars, more 'third wave', in the way it seemed to be promoting freshly roasted speciality coffee. But on the other hand it actually felt older, more traditional, than any of the other places, in the sense that this is perhaps how things used to be in Italy before the advent of mass commercial roasting.  It was spectacular, in my humble opinion.  

 







Jan's cappuccino had a heart on the top, which was once again different from the other bars. What wasn't different however was my espresso, which was once again a very drinkable but fairly bland affair. No bitterness thankfully, despite the beans in the hopper being quite a dark roast, and despite the grinder's dosing chamber being full, but not much complexity or acidity in the cup.  I thought I wasn't a big fan of acidity in espresso, but you don't know what you're missing until it's gone! Still, I enjoyed it anyway, and was also enjoying single espressos because it meant I could have another!! One thing I noticed here and in every other bar was that they don't use a tamper, preferring instead to apply a light press of the portafilter against the tamping attachment on the grinder.  It makes me wonder if they grind finer to make up for the softer tamp, because the extractions were invariably good visually.  They also don't seem to be too bothered by mess and old grinds, either on the portafilter basket or on the grouphead... or about wiping down the steam wand after steaming milk.  I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed at that.   
Cost: Espresso = 0.90 Euros.  Cappuccino = 1.10 Euros. What a bargain.









Next morning we went to a small farmers market near Circus Maximus, where there was a small shop selling coffee and cakes called Cristalli di Zucherro. It was a lovely modern little place, kind of like a French pattisserie.  Standing room only, which was fine as many customers were happy to stand outside in the sun. I liked the place.  They had a La Marzocco espresso machine, so I got my hopes up. The espresso, however, was fairly grim unfortunately.  I looked up and saw a shelf containing 19 one kilogram bags of beans - quite a lot for this small place, unlikely to be used up in a hurry, and probably part of the reason for the less-than-average espresso.




Whilst Jan and our friends got stuck back into the farmers market I did a quick runner around the corner and lo-and-behold there was another bar, just as I'd hoped! It was a nameless little place selling Lavazza through a nice looking 3 group Faema Emblema.  Tasted ok... a bit 'meh', as I'd come to expect by this point. What is great is that in Rome it seems you can find these places within 100 metres of wherever you are.











So in summary, I loved Rome, I enjoyed the espresso bars, and liked the actual espresso.  I wanted to find out whether it is somehow better than the espresso we love in the UK.  In my view it absolutely isn't better.  But that isn't to say Italian espresso is worse.  There are pros and cons in comparison with UK espresso.
I think the things we do better in the UK are:
- The freshness of the beans we use (in speciality coffeeshops at least... or indeed in our homes!)
- The frequent equipment cleaning that some of us here adopt
- The wider and more creative use of beans from around the world in our espresso compared with the predominent use of Brazilian beans in Italy (or at least in the places I visited)

However, there are some very clear things that they do better in Rome:
- I think the baristas over there are possibly more skilled than the average UK coffee-puller, since I did not experience a single bad extraction.  Despite an careless approach on the baristas' part, they consistently seemed to pull a good looking shot, of a lovely brown colour, in a good extraction time, of an appropriate volume.
- The Italian people actually drink espresso! It's great to see so many demitasse cups being wielded by customers.
- It is much cheaper.  I mean come on... a quid for a cappuccino. Granted it's only a 6 or 7oz cup, but the lower price makes it much easier to drink coffee more often. No wonder it's a big part of Italian culture.  (But I suppose part of the reason it is cheaper is that the beans used are not as good as the UK ones.)


If I had to choose between the two, I'd prefer a UK espresso... BUT only if it was prepared by a good barista in a good coffee shop using good beans, and there are simply not enough of those in the UK yet.  If it was a choice between an espresso from a random cafe in the UK, versus a random cafe in Rome, I'd choose Rome every time because I know it would at least be drinkable, unlike the horrible bitter crap that most UK cafes serve.

One question that I have not answered in my own mind is whether the darker roast adopted in Rome is better or worst than what we have in the UK.  My inclination is to think that it is worse, since the espresso is more bland due to the lack of varietal distinction and acidity, which is not replaced by anything as it becomes darker.  There was no increase in sweetness, for example, so I question the benefit of roasting darker. But as I say, I am happy to leave that door open. It gives me another reason to return to Italy. Perhaps I'll go further South next time!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

COM-100 TDS Meter (2)

Response received from HM Digital.

The COM-100 does have automatic temperature compensation (ATC), but with very hot temperatures off the baseline of 25C, it will take some time for it to adjust.  You will either need to let the coffee cool, or allow the meter some time to stabilize.  There's no way around this.  The TDS level will be the same at any temperature - it's just a matter of giving the meter some time to adjust for temperature discrepancies...  It does not need to be 25 degrees, but the closer it is, the faster you can obtain the reading.
Good to get a response, but unfortunately it doesn't ease my mind about how useful the device is to me.  I've already unsuccessfully attempted leaving it for five minutes to reach a stable reading,  and if I need to let it cool to something like 50C (as a maximum) to get a credible reading then the coffee is no longer good for drinking.

The best I can envisage is that I adopt the following method:
1. Brew
2. Taste and assess
3. Leave to cool and take a reading at 25C
4. Discard the coffee
5. Try to replicate the parameters on future brews.

In theory that should be fine, since of course I don't want to measure every brew, but it also means that there's a slight disconnect between assessing the coffee's taste characteristics and obtaining a meter reading.  I wonder if this limitation is typical of all TDS meters, including refractometers.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Brief Interlude: The COM-100 TDS Meter

I've suspended my AeroPress testing for a short while because I've hit a snag in my brewing tests.  I use the COM-100 TDS meter, since it is a relatively inexpensive way to obtain figures for TDS and Extraction Yield in manually brewed coffee. I use it in addition to tasting, to establish whether I have found the correct brew parameters to create a great tasting coffee.

I already know from reading other blogs etc that there are accuracy issues with TDS meters. For example, the aren't actually measuring TDS. They are measuring Electrical Conductivity, as a proxy for TDS, and then using conversion factors to derive a PPM (parts per million) reading.  But anything is better than nothing... perhaps!

The problem I'm having is that Electrical Conductivity changes depending upon temperature. The COM-100 is supposed to be set to compensate for that, but I'm finding that I get completely different TDS/EC readings depending upon the coffee's temperature.  For example, at 68C the TDS might be 0.90%, whereas at 45C it might be 1.65%.  In coffee terms, that is a vast difference and renders the reading unusable.

I've emailed the manufacturer, HM Digital, to see if they have any suggestions.  In the meantime, I immediately feel like someone has stolen my security blanket! I haven't been using the TDS Meter very long, but it's amazing how quickly I seem to have become psychologically dependent upon it, not trusting my own palate.  Perhaps it's a good thing to have a break from the technology and rely purely on tasting for a while.

[See follow-on post here]

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Messing with the AeroPress (4)

Quick post... I tried Jeff Verellen's AeroPress technique, or at least as best as I could understand it from the description on the WAC website, and my significantly lower skillset than Jeff.
17g grounds
270g water
Threw away the last approx 50g of brew slurry rather than pressing it into the cup - and also lost some in absorbtion.
I suppose I didn't quite follow the recipe, as my brew water began at around 95C rather than 80C.

Result
TDS 1.24%
Extraction Yield: 15.0% (based upon ending up with 205g of coffee in the cup.  But I'm not exactly sure whether I should be using 205g or 270g in the formula, for reasons stated in my previous blog post.

I enjoyed it. It wasn't stunning, but I enjoyed tasting the higher TDS than I've been achieving over the past few days.  A while back there was a brief discussion regarding whether it is possible to taste the level of extraction. I think you can, because there was something lacking from this brew... despite the TDS being 'in the zone'.  It tasted of good coffee, wasn't bitter, had a decent body and mouthfeel, but was just... erm...  'simple'. Not complex. I couldn't pick out much. It didn't linger on the lips - vanishing quickly and leaving nothing to remember I had ever tasted it.

But this was just one attempt, and one attempt isn't enough to judge - it's only enough to record my findings so I have something to compare with upon the next attempt.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Messing with the AeroPress (3)

Before I continue with these AeroPress brews, just a quick comment on the World AeroPress Championships.  I just read the technique devised by this year's winner, Jeff Verellen, here. I love reading the details of how other people conduct manual brewing.  There's a lot of creativity involved in taking something as simple as the AeroPress, or the V60, or the French Press, and making coffee in a way that is somehow different from how others have done it in the past... whilst not tipping over into obviously using a technique for the sheer novelty value.  What I especially like is when the 'rules' are bent or even thrown out completely to produce something that tastes good without disrespecting the work that has gone into bringing the beans to the brewer's possession.  Don't get me wrong... the Brewing Control Chart has vastly improved my understanding of manual brewing and hopefully helped me make better coffee.  However, I've never liked the idea of rules that restrict innovation and experimentation... so I like to think of the charts and established brew targets as guidelines rather than rules.  (But perhaps I can only get away with saying this because I'm not experienced enough to know otherwise!)

So... as the above link shows, Jeff used 17g with 270g of water... a 1 to 15.8 ratio. However, he apparently ditched the last 50g during the downpress... the link refers to that 50g as water, but I presume it is actually the brew slurry.  So that would leave 220g of coffee... perhaps actually more like 205g when you take into account water that is absorbed by the grinds and therefore doesn't pass through to the cup.

I'm intrigued by this.  It reminds me of the way some people describe a ristretto as simply stopping the shot early (which I don't agree with). When you do that with espresso I believe you're going to get a rich shot with a high TDS, but a low extraction yield (I could be wrong... that's just my current understanding). Once again it's the "over-dosed and under-extracted" scenario that annoys Mr Hoffman so much. 

I wonder... does this apply this to Jeff's AeroPress technique?  There is a difference. In an espresso basket I'd imagine the pressure throughout the puck, and the extraction of the grounds, is relatively even (granted the pressure at the top will differ from the pressure at the bottom).  Whereas in the AeroPress the grounds are floating around in the slurry, and only the grounds that are hitting the filter paper are achieving full extraction. The rest of the grinds/solids are still floating around during the downpress.  So if you don't press all the way down, then actually not only are you using only some of the water, but you're also using only some of the grounds.  The brewing ratio isn't actually 1 to 15.8.  It is a completely variable brewing ratio depending how many grounds happened to be floating and how many happened to be up against the paper filter at any moment during the downpress.  OK, I realise there is also a 'full immersion' element of the brew, not just what is going on at the point of contact with the filter, but since 50g of the slurry is being discarded (along with the extracted solids sitting in that slurry) then the effect of full immesion is reduced, and the brewing ratio is still very difficult to quantify. It is also, arguably, impossible to repeat with any level of consistency.

I'm not being critical of this brewing technique at all, by the way.  I'm just trying to understand it more by putting my thoughts down on this blog.

So whilst writing this blog post I've been finding and reading a few forum and blog posts... notable the following:
1. A thread on coffeegeeks, with some useful links.
2. One of those links was to the ever-useful blog of Marco's David Walsh, and this post (good comments below it too).
From the above reading I found that it's quite common for AeroPress brews to be updosed and underextracted (rightly or wrongly).
"So does this suggest a kind of mass hysteria among speciality coffee folks, a laziness in technique due to increasing bean quality, or perhaps that the 50+ year old standards are inadequate?
The answer is probably not 100% any of the above"  - David Walsh
Anyway, I'll keep reading but I'm now at the point where I want to at least try, as I said in my last blog, updosing my AeroPress brews.  I'll start at 1:15 and get increasingly stronger.

After that I'm thinking of going back to 1:16 and varying other parameters... grind, maybe even the grinder itself, perhaps using two filter papers rather than one to increase TDS (as suggested by Roland Glew), etc etc.  

Must remind myself where I'm going with this!  I'm initially aiming to get inside the 'ideal' brewing zone. Using that as a foundation, I'll then adjust parameters until I find out what my palate likes in terms of TDS and Extraction %.

Now, since this post has ended up longer than I expected, I'll hang on until tomorrow to post actual brewing results! 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Dialing in the AeroPress (2)

Since my last AeroPress brews I've been having a think about how else I can tweak the brew parameters to reach my target extraction.  I've tightened the grind, I've tried different press speeds, I've allowed the steep time to encroach upon 1min 30 secs, which I think is more than reasonable for this brew method and I wouldn't want it to take any longer. So two questions remain:
  1. Why isn't the TDS higher?
  2. How else can I increase it? 

Why isn't the TDS higher
I need to continue thinking about this more, but I think I'm not getting a good enough diffusion process to pull out the solids from the grinds. Possible reasons (ignoring the parameters already mentioned) include:

  • Water temperature too low... I doubt it. I'm being very careful here (remember the übercosy?)  although there's a balance to be found between the longer steep time and temperature loss.
  • Dose too low.
  • Problems with the grind ... perhaps particle distribution rather than size setting. The Ggggia MDF isn't a bad domestic grinder at all... underrated in my opinion... but perhaps there are issues that I hadn't considered.
I shall continue to muse, but in the meantime I'm going to increase the dose as it is the easiest one to vary.  It may reduce some of the sourness I'm getting too... which I'm sure isn't coming from low brew temperature.

I typically work to a 1:16 ratio but I'm going to go richer, first trying 1:15 and seeing how it goes.

(As an aside, at this point in time I prefer working to brewing ratios in the format of 1:15 - i.e. weighing the grinds AND the water - rather than, say, 60g/litre. My preference stems from my espresso approach to brew methods... there is now (finally and thankfully) a trend towards using weight to measure and control espresso shots. For example, Square Mile have the following sugggested brew parameters for an espresso on their website:



18g in  ... 27-29g out.
Using a consistent unit of measure just seems more appropriate to achieving consistency.)

Brew (I've decided to stop numbering them!)

To be updated later today...
Nope... had to take Lulu the cat to the vets. Updated another day :)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Dialing in the AeroPress

French Press... tick
Hario V60... tick
Time to get a better grip on the AeroPress.

The first thing I wondered was 'should AeroPress coffee be brewed according to the Brewing Control Chart?'
It's arguably a different beast... not immersion, not pourover, and definitely not (as it claims to be) espresso . People tend to talk in terms water volumes with the A/P (e.g. "fill it up to the number 4 marker") rather than weight... and the variety of approaches to brewing with it don't all seem to follow the typical 1:15, 1:16, 1:17 type of ratio.

But ultimately, after running a few preliminary cups and reminding myself how it tastes, I've decided that it's still brewed coffee and simply a hybrid of French Press and Filter, despite the pressurised element. (I'm thinking that perhaps the main benefit of the pressure plunge is to increase agitation to provide a faster extraction of solids.)  I therefore do need to work by the charts.  I'm also, at least initially, using scales rather than markers - although I expect that will change once it becomes clear whether the marker can consistently represent a certain weight of water.

First Brew
I brewed directly into the cup, which holds about 250g of water, so that's the amount I used to brew with... and therefore using approximately a 1:16 ratio I measured just over 15.5g of bean, grinding and then ensuring that was the weight I ended up with in grinds.
Setting 10 on the Gaggia MDF grinder.
Honduras, Finca Santa Marta Lot 232, Pacamara, roasted by Paul Travis at Hands-On Coffee in Wadebridge, Cornwall.
- Approx 40-50g pre-wet, with a little bit of blooming then seven or eight stir... all in about 30 seconds.
- Fill to 250g, which is around the number 4 marker
- Place the plunger on to create a vacuum, preventing dripping into the cup (I'm not inverting the A/P).
- Leave for 30 seconds... hence an element of full immersion

- Plunge, taking 30 seconds to reach the bottom... stopping at the first sign of a hiss of air.

It tasted good.  More acidic than the V60.  It was heading a little into the sour range though.
Taking a reading helped explain why. Although the temperature in the cup was fine at 67C, the TDS was a little low at 1.12% (bearing in mind I tend to aim for between 1.15% and 1.45%, as a combination of SCAA, SCAE and Nordic controls). Extraction Yield was 18.1%, which is fine.

Second Brew
OK, so I thought maybe this time I needed to stir more just before plunging, which I did.
However, the TDS this time was only 1.05%, and Extraction Yield 16.9%... and it was more sour.  Why? Well I did plunge slower ... around 35 seconds. Maybe there was less agitation because of that, and I need to plunge quicker to get the TDS higher and extract more solids. Alternatively I know I could simply grind finer, but where's the fun in that? :)

Third Brew
I had a change of heart and tightened the grind from 10 to 9. I also plunged faster... around 22 seconds.
Result: TDS of 1.17%, Temperature 66C.
Tasted great and left a fantastic buzz on my lips and the roof of my mouth.
Although the TDS is within target, it's still at the low end of the range. Let's try again and aim for around 1.35%.  Perhaps this will need a grind setting of 7...

Fouth Brew
Grinder on 7, a 20 second plunge. Doh! I forgot to stir a second time just before the plunge. That stir is critical, since the TDS ended up being only 1.10%. Taste... sour.

Onwards and upwards/downwards...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A Giant Leap Forward In Pourover Coffee

Maybe I'm gettting old, I dunno, but for some time now I've been veering towards old ways of doing things. Not just in coffee, but in my whole life. I want my own raised beds to grow vegetables. I'm baking bread rather than buying it.  Jan and I have started foraging, since all this lovely wild food is right on our doorstep.

And so it is that when experimenting with pourovers recently, and finding that I'm losing valuable degrees of water temperature during the brewing process (making the coffee slightly sour) I went straight to an Old School solution rather than look at investing in fancy, expensive boiler systems incorporating digitally controlled temperature stability.

And here it is.  I give you... the Übercosy (TM).


Features
- Unlike previous cosies, the Übercosy (TM) provides direct access to filling the pouring kettle with boiling water without removing the cosy, via it's unique 'cosy inversion' technology ... a revolutionary approach involving placing a hole at the top of the cosy rather than the bottom. Until now filling your kettle involved removing the cosy altogether, thereby losing at least two degrees celcius in water temperature.
- The secondary benefit of the 'cosy inversion' technology is that heat is retained at the base of the pouring kettle, whereas previous cosy designs had a large area of exposed metal at the kettles underside, allowing further heat loss.
- A drawstring with hand-made toggles enables the user to gain RCC (Rapid Cosy Closure).
- It looks spiffing.

Concept and Production

Its creation involved a crack team of little old ladies working as a thinktank to meet my exacting specifications.  Think of it as me being James Hoffman in this video and the grannies being the R&D department at Marco.  First, my mother-in-law conducted the all important requirements-capture stage. The requirements were then sent to Auntie Kate in the production department. She was able to recruit specialist consulting from an outside contractor, an independent granny, who completed manufacture of the prototype.  Whilst the product at this stage met many of the requirements, it did not yet incorporate 'cosy inversion' technology.  My mother, using a patented 'wool-unravelling' concept, successfully sealed up the offending hole at the wrong end, added the drawstring at the other end, thereby accidentally inventing 'cosy inversion'!


Your Mother's Always Right

When asked how she felt about having created such a world-changing invention, paralleling the works of bygone luminaries such as Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, she said "I just turned it upside down, yer silly sod". Wise words indeed.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Espresso Brewing Control

I'm throwing this up here quickly as I'm in a bit of a rush to catch a flight to London for the Lunch! trade show, so apologies if it's not well thought out... but then, when is it ever? :)
I've decided it is time to start using the TDS meter on espresso, to hopefully gain better a better understanding and more control over my extractions using more than purely my senses. My first few measurements have caused confusion. Afraid I can't apologise for the geeky number-crunching - that's what this is all about. Maybe some readers will be interested though.

Andy Schecter produced the following brewing control chart a few years back. If you're familiar with the SCAA/SCAE brewing control charts for non-espresso coffee then this chart should be clear enough.


 So I made two shots just to dip my toe in the water and see where I ended up on the chart.

Shot 1 came in at around 5.2% TDS, shot 2 around 6.5%. Both 18g dry weight.
I let shot 1 run longer, so the beverage weight was 36g (a normale, at 50% brewing ratio). Shot 2 was a shorter 25g (ristretto at 73% brewing ratio).

Quandries:
1. My TDS readings are at the low end of Schecter's scale. I'm struggling a little to see how to achieve something like 20% TDS, to be honest, and wondering if my TDS meter is more inaccurate than I realised. I'll run more shots over the coming days to see what my max/min TDS range is with the beans I have and a few constants.
2. My extraction yields are also on the low side, at around 10.5% and 9% respectively for the two shots. If I raise the TDS, of course, the yield will also increase. Or if the beverage weight were greater (i.e. lower brewing ratio) that would also deliver a higher extraction yield, in theory. But that suggests that to produce a shot that would appear on this chart it would have to be a Lungo, and that can't be right. It must be possible to produce a ristretto that has a sufficiently high TDS and extraction % to marry up with the numbers Schecter used to produce this chart.

Of course, the chart could be bollocks, but Schecter has never let me down yet so I'll discount that option.

I'll keep experimenting.  My aim isn't to produce something that would tick Schecter's boxes though - I just need to understand why my figures are so low.

**EDIT** I've been informed that my TDS meter, which uses conductivity to calculate TDS, is indeed likely to be unable to give an accurate reading in espresso. If only coffee refractometers were not so expensive.  Time to shop around.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Kalita Kantan video

I knocked this up for a thread on www.coffeeforums.co.uk
I still need to grind finer, but it's almost where I want it.


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Kalita Kantan again

Tried again today with a bag of Monsoon Malabar that was roasted a week ago and is still seriously gassy. Stupidly I decided to go with the Kalita Kantan dripper... stupidly because with such a small filter basket there isn't really much room for error, and then when the bloom steals all of your remaining space it becomes quite difficult to pour water in!

Attempt One.
I used 15g of grinds and 225g of water for a 15:1 brewing ratio.

Results:

(a) I should have used a smaller dose, perhaps 10g, and increased the brewing ratio to something like 18:1, for approx 180ml in the cup. That would have given me more basket space for expansion.

(b) I should have ground coarser. I used 19 on the MDF grinder, same as I use for the Hario V60.  I seem to recall now that I had the same problem the first time I used a kantan, but I'd forgotten.  Contact time ended up being about 4mins 30secs.  Next time I'll try setting 24.

(c) Stats:
TDS 1.61%
Extraction Yield 24.2%
It sure tasted strong, but not overpowering.  I tried a few mouthfuls and then, horror of horrors, decided to finish it with a spoonful of sugar. After all, I didn't brew it correctly so I can't expect it to be sweet enough.

Attempt two.
I've worked out that with 10g and 180g water, I have a fairly small window to hit if I want to brew within the ideal standards.  With such a low dosage the extraction % ramps up easily, and to achieve an extraction % of, say, 20.7% I'll need to keep the TDS at the very bottom of the ideal range, 1.15%.  This is going to be a challenge. Maybe I'll set the grinder to something like 28 instead! 

OK - done. 10g with 200g if water. 20:1 ratio.  Results...
TDS 0.61% !
Extraction 12.8% !
Extraction time about 1min 20secs.
Taste - like water, as you'd expect with those stats.
OK, the grinder setting was clearly way to coarse.
BUT the pour was much easier to control with 10g in the basket. Just the right amount of room.


Attempt three
10g with 180g water.
Grinder setting 23
TDS 0.84%
Extraction 15.1%
Extraction time 1min 30secs
Closer but nowhere near a cigar yet. Still like water. 
I've boobed in making the grind so much coarser.  I forgot that by reducing the dosage from 15g to 10g there will already be a quicker extraction and lower TDS.

Attempt four (sigh!)
10g with 180g water.
Grind setting back to 19, same as Hario V60
TDS 1.02%

Extraction 18.4%
Extraction time 2mins 10secs. 
Performed quite a bit of stirring with a chopstick, since it was drawing down too quickly and I wanted to get the TDS up.
Taste: Now we're getting there. 67C in the cup, which is a temperature I'm happy with, and I then like to let it cool a little, to about 63C, before drinking because I find that's when I can start to taste the coffee better rather than wincing at the heat. It's less bitter at 63C too.
Actually, this is a good cup of coffee.  I didn't think I'd be saying that about this bag of Monsoon Malabar, because it's certainly very different from the other coffees I've been drinking. I know the stats are outside the ideal zone, and next time I'll grind on setting 17, but I'd be happy to drink this cup and maybe MM doesn't need such a high TDS because of it's intensely rich, deep flavours.  Just a thought.

Ta-ta!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Pourover 3: Grind, Pour and Agitation

Getting there.  I'm managing to brew into the "Ideal" zone of the Brewing Control Chart more frequently now.  Key findings include:

1. Grinding coarser than before.  Since I'm now making several pours instead of one or two (to maintain a higher average temperature in the slurry), the grinds aren't rising as high in the filter and aren't sticking to the sides.  This means that there is more water resistance because the depth of the grinds in the base of the filter is thicker.  This slows down the extraction. To compensate I've had to grind several notches coarser.

2. As mentioned above, temperature is staying higher. By the time it reaches the cup it has dropped from boiling (the water, just before filling the pouring kettle) to an average of 60C.  I believe most of the temperature is lost through the V60 cone, which is the transparent plastic one.  Anyway, I need to find ways to maintain a higher temperature for longer, since the resulting coffees are heading towards sourville.  (My French Press coffees are averaging 65C in the cup and are free from the sourness.)  A metal filter cone perhaps? Also maybe a better pourover kettle, since this one is cheap & thin and therefore may lose heat.

3. The pour itself is much more skill-based than I had thought.  It's not purely the aim, nor the speed, nor technique, nor adhering to a video tutorial that someone else has recommended.  The skill comes from reading the bean, and adjusting the pour accordingly to ensure the correct extraction.  How much is it blooming? What were the TDS/Extraction Yields in earlier pours using the same beans, so that you can now pour higher/lower readings without using a meter (i.e. in a busy shop environment).  Simply pouring the same way every time is definitely NOT the way to consistency in the cup.  The beans are changing, so the pour must compensate.  The barista must 'dial in' his pour to the beans each morning, and throughout the day.  Thinking about it now, changes to the grind might be a better way to compensate, in the same way as an espresso grind must be constantly re-dialed.  More experiments necessary there.

Anyway, here's a recent video showing two different V60 pouring methods and results...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Wine Aroma Wheel

Created by UC Davis, this may prove useful in conjunction with the Ted Lingle's Coffee Flavour Wheel.


Friday, 9 September 2011

Pourover 2: Beans too fresh?

For a while now I've been wrestling with the concept of degassing and its impact upon brewed coffee (rather than espresso). Opinions are mixed concerning whether in general you should or shouldn't still give them a few days to degas, or just use them asap ... just allowing maybe a day or two post-roast to develop.

Today I've been continuing an experiment I'm conducting over the coming weeks, using a large selection of beans from different regions and with different characteristics, and seeing if there is an optimal brew method to use. It follows on from this thread on www.coffeeforums.co.uk.

Anyway, I'm adhering to the Brewing Control Chart, and discarding any coffees I make that don't meet an acceptable range for TDS and Extraction %. It's a new approach for me, but I'm loving the insight it's providing. Today (the 9th) I opened a bag of Monsoon Malabar that was roasted by Has Bean on the 6th. I brewed 16.5g in 265g of water (16:1 ratio), through a French Press and also a Hario V60. The bloom on both was HUGE... beautiful to watch!

I gently dunked the crust on the Press.
I carefully swirled the slurry in the pourover to get a dome-shape at the end of the drawdown.

I then poured them both into cups and took measurements with my TDS meter.

French Press:
TDS 1.61%
Extraction 25.9%

Pourover:
TDS 1.81%
Extraction 29.1%

Significantly outside my target... right at the top right corner of the chart (off the chart, actually). The colour was very dark, and both tasted like treacle, which despite Monsoon Malabar's unique flavour characteristics, was not acceptable.

But WHY were the readings so high? I'm quite sure the grind was ok. The water temperature certainly wasn't too high. The contact time... 4 mins 30 seconds for the French Press, around 2 mins 50 seconds for the pourover... both are usually fine. Turbulence? Aaah...!

I could be wrong, but I think the degassing/blooming was so violent that on it's own it would have provided more than sufficient turbulence. By further agitating the slurry, even though it was only very mildly, the extraction has been pushed too far.

I'll try two things: 1. Give the beans another day to outgas before using them. 2. Avoid and manual agitation of the slurry for a few days.

If I'm right, then this potentially highlights how critical it is for baristas to use all means at their disposal to evaluate the current state of the beans and adjust their brewing technique appropriately. The TDS meter is only the start for me, as I'm aware that it is knows to have accuracy problems. An ExtractMojo is expensive, but not in comparison with the cost of good beans, which would be wasted if the barista is unable to get the best from them because they are just guessing how they will respond to extraction.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Pourover: I've been doing it wrong...

After finally having a proper read of Scott Rao's 'Everything but espresso' book I've changed a few things and had another revelation.

I had been aiming for a cone shape in the spent grinds of my Hario V60 pourover filter, after watching a multitude of youtubes/vimeos and also attending a local coffee club.




But Rao explains how that's all wrong, and doesn't evenly extract. Amongst other factors, I need to be aiming for a slight doming, and avoid grinds being left "high and dry".
Here's today's filter.




This demanded a complete change to the grind, the pour, and also a more careful attitude to water temperature.

I've combined this with starting to measure TDS and Extraction Yield, to try and fit into the SCAA/SCAE Brewing Control Chart's 'ideal' range.

Result: the same amount of time, slightly more effort, and a hugely delicious cup of Sidamo which I'd previously been unable to describe as anything more than 'hmmm... tolerable'. It is now a very stable cup with clearly distinguishable features of boldness and also bright, sweet fruitiness.

I love finding out I've been doing it wrong. True progress.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Home-Roasted Coffee - My First Attempt

There have been some interesting discussions regarding roasting on www.coffeeforums.co.uk recently.  Plenty of us are not roasting yet, but we are definitely roast-curious.

So I thought I'd give it a bash.  I have:
- beans (natural processed arabica... possibly typica) from near Munduk, Bali
- a pan
- a colander
- a hob

Here goes.



UPDATE:
The beans have had 5 days since roasting to degas and develop in a sealable coffee bag, and today I made some coffee. French Press. The bloom was actually huge... I was very surprised.  So I was careful not to agitate the slurry too much.  Actually I should have, because the TDS came out at 0.99%, so the extraction yield was only 15.9%. But it still tasted strong, so who knows!

The body and mouthfeel are actually quite light considering the beans were dry-processed.  Perhaps something to do with my relatively light roast.  No tackiness in the mouth, but there is a mild lingering aftertaste.  There's no bitterness, but the coffee isn't sweet either.  I think it's the first coffee I've tasted that is salty! Can that be good? I suspect not :) But it's not one for the spittoon just yet.  Not much acidity at all, if any.
Actually, as it cools it's improving a little... or maybe it's just that I'm getting used to it. 

Rubber... I think maybe I scorched a few in the pan.
Yeah, the Grassy taste is coming through now.

Whilst it's clearly not a top notch cup of coffee, I think that considering it has come from an unknown farm and been subjected to a terrible roasting process, it's actually ok.  It might perhaps make a decent espresso base, come to think of it. Well... maybe not this batch, but perhaps a future one, once I get the hang of it.  But a little milk might go very well, I think... and I don't even like cappuccinos.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Tamping. How hard is 30lb?

I thought I'd throw together a short video to show what 30lb of tamping force looks like.  The Espro tamper has an inbuilt mechanism that is calibrated to 30lb so you know when to stop pressing down.


I was tamping much harder before I got this tamper.  It has been a really useful little tool, and has helped prevent spritzing when using the bottomless portafilter. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A first look at the 18g VST Basket

There's been a lot of talk about VST baskets, a lot of people buying them, but I haven't seen a lot by way of review or 'first look'.  So when I recently discovered that Square Mile are selling 18g VST baskets online I decided to go for one.

It arrived today nicely boxed up, and inside were two pieces of paper which seem to be the results of quality assurance tests. They include a chart showing the normal distribution of hole sizes, presumably to make sure they conform with manufacturing tolerances.  That's a really nice touch, and although I'm a little confused by the fact that there are two different results sheets (and hence I wonder if the sheets actually relate to my basket or whether they're just thrown in from a pile in the despatch room) but it certainly makes me feel better about spending £22 on the basket!

Here are a few pictures, alongside my bog-standard gaggia classic basket from Happy Donkey.


18g VST Basket
Left: VST.  Right: Standard Double.


Significantly Larger Bottom
(I like big bottoms and I cannot lie!)
Straighter walls leading to the
larger base


Standard Double Basket
VST

























It clearly has a larger base with more holes than the standard basket.  I'd like to go into the dynamics of how this should, in theory, affect extraction, fines migration etc... but to be honest I don't fully know at this point in time. Something to add to my learning goals.

It is actually not too dissimilar in appearance to the triple basket I received with my bottomless portafilter, although as the side view shows the triple has a larger basket volume.










Let's make some shots.
I thought that first I'd use my Gaggia Classic standard double basket, to provide a basis for comparison.

** I must point out here that the beans I'm using were roasted about 6-7 weeks ago and are therefore quite lacking in crema, so both shots on the videos below actually look a bit flat.  I'm not particularly happy with the appearance and extraction of either shot.  But the beans still taste great, and I'm mainly using them because I want to give the Square Mile Summer Espresso (that arrived with the VST basket) a few days to degass. At that point I'll post another blog specifically concerning taste.  In this post I'll focus on visible differences in making a shot of espresso ***

I've taken photos at various points... measure, dose, distribute, tamp... to see if there is a visible difference between the two baskets during these stages.

STANDARD DOUBLE BASKET:
Just over 18g of beans.  I'm aiming for around 27 seconds for approx 2oz and an espresso weight of about 30g, which is a 60% brew ratio (or 1.67 if you prefer using a multiplier to refer to brew ratios).  This is approximately what I always aim for and obtain, once all factors are dialed in correctly.
18.18g of beans
 
Grinds pre-distribution

Modified WDT
After Stockfleth Move


After tamping with Espro tamper

Video of extraction:




18g VST BASKET:
Same parameters as above, same targets.

Same measure of beans
After grinding,
no visual difference














WDT again. I don't
notice a difference in
the basket.
Stockfleths.
There's a very minor
difference. VST slightly
larger than standard.

















The main difference with the tamp
is that the basket is slightly larger
so the 58mm Espro tamper
is not such a perfect fit.

 Videos of extraction:
The first shot ran a little too quickly, so I tightened up the grind two notches.  But that was too tight, as the second shot was a little slow.  Here are both, for the sake of completeness.

VST Video 1, starring Biggins our birman cat.


VST Video 2.




Here is a photo of two spent pucks. 
VST on left, standard double basket on right.
With the pucks knocked out of the portafilter and bottom-side up, it's easy to see that a significantly larger surface area at the base of the puck is used for extraction.  As the VST puck is more cylindrical than the slightly conical standard double basket, the grinds seem to be spread over a wider area and hence the puck seems softer.


CONCLUSIONS (visual inspection, not taste):
I can find no material differences in the volume of the VST basket compared to the standard gaggia classic double basket, so making the transition to VST seems an easy switch from that viewpoint.

Dosing and distribution seem to work very well using the Weiss Distribution Technique combined with the Stockfleth Move to ensure an even distribution in the basket.  As I always use those anyway, once again the transition doesn't seem to require any adjustment on my part.

There is no notable difference in the height of the tamped grinds in the basket, so no fear of the grinds being any closer to/further from the shower screen than previously.

With my first extraction using the VST I thought perhaps that it produced a higher TDS due to the increased weight in the glass compared to the standard double basket shot (42g versus 30g), but then surmised that the weight increase must partly be due to the additional volume in the glass in that VST extraction, so the weight could not be used to conclude anything.  Indeed, in the second VST shot the weight went down to 25.5g... coupled with the volume falling to an estimated 1.75oz, due to the grind being too fine that time. Again, it is therefore difficult to conclude anything.

In advance of tasting the espresso, which I shall leave for another post, the main visual difference is that the espresso flow did not blonde at all during extraction, whereas with the standard basket blonding did begin to occur around 22-25 seconds. I'd expect this to lead to a sweeter shot, which would marry up with many user's comments. 

As a prelude to a taste test, I gave my wife the first VST shot in a latte without any indication that it was different from what I usually give her.  I asked for her opinion and she said it was "Great".
"Compared to yesterday's?"
"Yes... better."
"Why?" I asked.
"It has no hint of bitterness at all.  It's very smooth"

I can't wait to try it with fresh beans!

Monday, 22 August 2011

How To Taste Coffee

A few months back I started experimenting with brewing ratios, partially to help me find out how I preferred espresso to taste.  As part of that experiment I found that I needed to improve my ability to recognise and articulate what is going on when tasting espresso, but the same applies to brewed coffee.  I came across the Coffee Flavour Wheel, which is an excellent tool to help pick out flavours/aromas. I also found several "Coffee Terminology" webpages (easily googled), which helped.  However, it all feels a little disparate... disconnected.  I've been feeling that I need to link things together in a process.  Tools work best when they are put into their correct place in a process.

So I found myself drawing on a whiteboard, trying to put some of these pieces of information relating to tasting coffee into some sort of order.  I ended up with a kind of flowchart (harking back to my days working in business consulting) which I've been actively using daily to help me make more of a connection between my brain and what I'm tasting.  It comes back to a rather crass line I wrote once... "Don't Just Drink It... Think It!" (That still makes me wince!!)

I've knocked the following simple diagram up to share my thoughts on one possibe way for people such as myself, relatively new to tasting coffee, to improve their tasting abilities and make that tongue-to-brain connection.  I could have made it more complex, more professional etc, but I think simple is good.
Please note - this isn't based upon any recognised methods for cupping coffee etc. and I suspect that many experienced coffee cuppers would find it laughable, but it's purpose is merely to provide a foot in the door.  A method for learners where no method previously existed (or at least no method readily presented itself).  It's a work in progress, so feel free to comment.


The idea is to start on the left and work your way right, sipping, swilling, gulping etc, at all times thinking about the coffee in your mouth.  Actually, one think that is missing is smelling it! I'll have to add that. But from an oral perspective, consider Body, Taste, Flavour and Aroma in turn, and for each one try to pick out characteristics.  For example, is the Body heavy? If so, does the mouthfeel remind you of perhaps a rich, heavy wine such as a zinfandel? If it's light, perhaps it could be described as a Beaujolais... or it may even be light enough to become a Rose wine.
If wine isn't your thing then use something else.... maybe cheese. If it was a cheese would it be a light swiss cheese like an Edam? Or perhaps more of a Mature Cheddar that feels like a lump in your mouth?  This is a great way to find your own method of articulating the coffee.

Move onto Taste, refer to the diagram, and continue.  Umami is the 5th taste, and as yet I haven't been able to find a good definition, but if what you're getting doesn't seem to fit into the four other Tastes then perhaps it's savoury Umami.

Flavour... at first you may not be able to pick out individual aromas and only be able to pick out 'coffee'! That's fine. In that case, everything will taste Balanced. Very soon you will pick aromas out, and realise that some coffees are Complex rather than Balanced.

Aromas... I won't recreate the Coffee Flavour Wheel (it's all over google), but HERE is a similar thing produced by Kaladi Coffee of Denver USA.
Also here's a list of Desirable and Undesirable aromas, taken from http://www.2basnob.com/coffee-tasting.html

DESIRABLE:
Bright or dry – highly acidic leaving a dry aftertaste
Caramelly – caramel like or syrupy
Chocolaty – aftertaste similar to unsweetened chocolate or vanilla
Earthy – a soily-like quality (sometimes unfavorable)
Fragrant – an aroma ranging from floral to nutty to spicy, etc.
Fruity – having a citrus or berry scent
Mellow – a smooth taste lacking acidity but not flat
Nutty – similar to roasted nuts
Spicy – an exotic aroma of various spices
Sweet – a lack of harshness
Wild – a gamey flavor rarely, but sometimes considered favorable
Winy – aftertaste resembling a mature wine

UNDESIRABLE:
Bitter – aftertaste perceived on the back of the tongue
Bland – neutral in flavor
Carbony – burnt charcoal flavors
Earthy – a musty, soily-like quality
Flat – lacking aroma, acidity, and aftertaste
Grassy – aroma and taste of grass
Harsh – a caustic, raspy quality
Muddy – thick and flat
Musty – slightly stuffy smell (sometimes desirable in aged coffees)
Rubbery – a smell of burnt rubber
Sour – a tart flavor such as unripe fruit
Turpeny – a flavor resembling turpentine
Watery – a lack of body
Wild – a gamey flavor

The coffee will be cooling, and as it cools the taste and characteristics change.  Often the Taste may move from Sweet towards Sour, perhaps being more tangy towards the end. What else do you notice?

Rightly or wrongly, this has certainly helped me and I hope that someone else finds it useful.