KONA, SAFEWAY AND THE MYTH OF COFFEE BLENDS

Safeway Kona BlendWhen you pick up a bag of Kona blend coffee how much Kona coffee do you think is inside? I would guess most folks would guess around 80%. How about 50%? 10%? It may interest you to know at Safeway for years it has been an honest 5%. I say “honest” because apparently there is no real coffee blend percentage regulation.

Kona coffee farmers complained. They feel that the product bearing their origin name on it should be labeled with a percentage breakdown. Last year, Safeway voluntarily agreed to a Hawaiian Department of Agriculture request and pledged to increase the Kona percentage in their Kona Blend to 10% and reflect it on the package. Kona farmers weren’t thrilled with the change, but at least it was in the right direction. Their latest complaint is that nothing appears to have changed at Safeway. The farmers claim Safeway is not keeping their word and that consumers are still buying coffee that’s only 5% Kona and 95% commodity blender quality coffee in the old unmarked bags.

Kona Farmer protest

Safeway’s answer? Safeway vice president of public affairs Brian Dowling says, “Given the product shelf life, packaging used before the (changes) may still exist on store shelves or elsewhere in our distribution chain,” then added that that the company doesn’t plan to destroy or dispose of those products. I am surprised to hear anyone at a food supplier say their company doesn’t plan to destroy or dispose of old perishable products. I guess my followup question to Mr Dowling would be, “Ever?” So, the 5% Kona blend is still on their shelves because it’s still well within the freshness range they accord the product. To me their defense is more alarming than the original charge. They agreed last year. Does this means that all these bags on the shelves were packed and labeled before 2012? That seems like a long time, even by a supermarket’s standards.

What kind of coffee flavor can there be in a product this old? Just to give reference, coffee is best consumed within 2 weeks of being roasted. Assuming it is packaged in an oxygen-free environment in proper packaging, some large-scale roasters in the industry claim it can preserve its flavors for up to six months, although there’s dissention even within their ranks. I would argue after twenty years of personal tasting that coffee is good for me for about a month after roasting, regardless of packaging. Only freezing significantly slows the staling of coffee beans and this is still controversial.

So Safeway is saying, relax we’ve still got plenty of coffee so old it predates our year-old pledge right there on our shelves. Nice.

None of this is about safety, so I’m not pushing new laws. This is about taste, a company’s in-house freshness standards and their word. I don’t blame the farmers for asking for more, but I’m going to offer a quick guide to getting your money’s worth when you shop for coffee.

Kona: The Good Stuff being dried. (more…)

CoffeeCON 2012 Video Highlights

During the extreme heat of summer I took the time to gather some video highlights of CoffeeCON 2012. I’m already thinking about Coffee 2013 with more classes, more speakers, more roasters, more free prizes and more music. I want to triple the size of the February 25th event and offer it to you, the coffee loving consumer for free, just like before. I have a long and hard road ahead to convince the coffee industry to financially support CoffeeCON, the world first coffee university and conference just for consumers, once again.

The bottom line is that big and small business alike want to know if you’re interested??? If I can get enough views, likes and comments I’ll be able to get the funding the event needs. I’m are looking for 10,000 people to view this video and like it. Let me know if you were there in the comments area. All of this will help the coffee industry understand you want this event again. Please watch and vote today.

The New Bodum Bistro Pourover

Bodum has always been known to produce the very best in manual drip methods especially the French Press. This year they’ve decide to take everything they’ve learned about manual drip brewing to create their own version of the automatic drip coffeemaker. While I haven’t tested this new coffeemaker yet I got a first hand demonstration at the 2012 International Housewares Show in Chicago. I can already tell you that I like the idea of the see through design that shows off the quality electronics inside.

So take a look at the video presentation I created until I can review this new coffeemaker in my own kitchen.

KRUPS Coffeemaker Report at the 2012 International Housewares Show

Brewing Beauties

In what seems to me a blink of an eye, I went from the nonstop energy of CoffeeCON 2012, my event for coffee consumers everywhere, to the 2012 International Housewares Show, the world market for new coffee appliances. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be sharing video’s, pictures and thoughts on CoffeeCON but first you’ll want to see and hear what manufacturers are doing to brew the world’s best beverage. After years of coffeemakers playing second fiddle to beans, coffeemakers are getting more attention and Housewares is my number one trade event to find the new and improved. I’ll be focusing on different manufacturers’ latest and greatest during the coming weeks at this blog.

My first video report from Housewares 2012 comes from Krups. This manufacture outdid themselves this year by bringing out an impressive array of coffee machines. The first one I looked at was Krups on Request. Bucking the trend for single serve coffeemakers this machine allows you to brew as little or as much coffee as you would like, up to 12 cups.

What’s different about this machine is that it automatically pours the coffee through a spout, a bit like a water dispenser, rather than into a coffee carafe. It has an internal removable steel carafe with a special heating system to keep coffee hot.

Next I looked at the Krups KT600 Silver Art Coffee Machine. Beautiful to look, what I call coffee jewelry. I don’t know how it brews yet but it will certainly draw guests attention in your kitchen.

Of course being Krups there was an extensive line of grinders of all types. I was impressed that most of them were conical burr grinders.

Speaking of conical burr grinders there is one built into the KRUPS Barista EA9000 One-Touch Cappuccino Machine. This fully automatic machine was one of 60 finalists in the first annual IHA Innovations Awards. It seems to have everything a machine of this quality should have for making the perfect Cappuccino.

Take a look at the video report posted below. While the machines make a statement and I enjoyed my conversations with the great people at Krups, until I test them I can’t give you a review of any of these products. I can however at least give you an introduction. There are lots of machines so let me know which ones you want to know more about so I can plan my in-depth review calendar.

During the coming weeks you will see more from different manufacturers from the International Housewares Show 2012.

Bunn Trifecta Home Review

Bunn Trifecta Home
As one of the earliest manufacturers of an autodrip coffeemaker, Bunn is not known for change. The Trifecta Home is going to wake up Bunn’s critics. It is not an extension or variation of any previous design of theirs or anyone’s. It is a totally new concept. It is bold.

The Trifecta Home takes the best from several coffee brewing methods, elevating the art of control during brewing. It steeps coffee like a French press. It agitates the brewing chamber during contact and forces finished brew through the exit hole upon completion, emulating the best of vacuum coffee brewing. In fact, the Trifecta Home appears to be everything except what Bunn is most known for, that is a drip coffeemaker.

Let’s get this out of the way early: The Trifecta Home is not Bunn’s new home espresso machine, and to me that’s a good thing. What is the Trifecta Home? It is a new coffee high-extraction brewer that wrenches every precious bit of acidity from coffee, allowing some very focused user control over some physical variables for the first time in an automatic coffeemaker. Why am I happy that it is not an espresso machine? Acidity = the high notes, the most expensive flavor ingredient of the best coffee beans. Light roasted single origin coffees fired out as espresso shots give you acrid, overlit flavors. These same coffees in the Trifecta and will give you beautifully extracted balanced coffee with the full spectrum of tastes.

Perhaps the Trifecta Home will be compared mostly to the commercial Clover machine. I’ve tried both side by side and the Clover accentuates a low bitter note in almost every coffee I’ve tried in it, and the Trifecta does not. I limited my comparisons, but it may be naught anyway since Clover, after being bought outright by Starbucks, appears to be all but gone. Certainly, no one has suggested a Clover Home is forthcoming.

Meanwhile, apparently Bunn’s years of underextracting grounds using shorter-than-average contact times has paid off. The Trifecta Home’s contact time is short, a minute or so. The two longer settings are for tea. I did try doing coffee at the tea setting, but preferred the three coffee settings overall.

The brewing contact temperature is smack dab at 200°F, as usual for a Bunn machine. An ‘instant on’ steady temperature is especially important given its brief grounds/water contact time. Bunn is known for good, consistent water temperature, and the Trifecta Home is no exception. Unlike most earlier Bunn drip machines, the Trifecta Home has no onboard heated tank. I found even if I unplugged the Trifecta Home and plugged it in a minute before brewing, the temperature and startup time remained roughly the same. If it is not instant-on, it is very, very close to it.

The Trifecta Home injects air to agitate the brew. The number of times it does this during brewing is one of two user adjustments. Bunn claims varied agitation tilts the body versus acidity of the coffee. More agitation reduces acidity; Less agitation reduces body. My tastings confirm this. Turbulence in coffee is just like it is on an airplane flight… air bubbles that shake things up. Bunn’s promoted its use of turbulence in brewing for a while now. The Trifecta has finally convinced me they know how to use it to make better coffee.

Turbulence!
At the brew cycle’s conclusion the coffee is forced from the brewing chamber down into the supplied beaker/carafe with such vigor the spent coffee grounds are almost completely dry. I suspect they are using air pressure to force the liquid out so thoroughly. Regardless of how, the combined turbulence and efficient separation of the grounds and brewed coffee do the best job of extracting and leaving no liquid behind in the grounds of any brewer I’ve yet tested, matching vacuum brewers and espresso machines.

Interesting: Bunn recommends using coarse ground coffee. I’ve suggested this for years. Maybe we’ve both learned something from each other. Interestingly, after a month or so I found I backed off from the recommended 22 grams of coarse grounds per 12 ounces water brewing formula. I got my best results using 18 grams fine grounds per 12 ounces water. This is my preferred Trifecta Home recipe with almost any coffee I’ve yet tried as of this writing.

The cups are so good, so rich and full-flavored, nothing is missing. The amount of coffee produced, between one and two six-ounce cups, is just about perfect for two. Considering how many people have one or two cups, it’s, from a ‘mileage’ point of view, economical, and doesn’t fill trash heaps like the Keurigs do. It’s worth noting that the Bunn Home Trifecta also does a single 6 ounce cup with equal aplomb. Few machines so equally match taste when you change batch size.

Oren’s Daily Roast’s Ethiopian Longberry Harrar had all the flower you could ask of it and, believe me, this is one beautiful floral bomb! Stumptown’s Guatemala Antigua Buenavista did itself proud with the unique black cherry and milk chocolate notes I so enjoyed in this bean. I Have A Bean’s Uganda Bugisu Kapchorwa, which I’d brewed recently in a manual pourover, just burst forth with cinnamon and malt flavors and a powerful complexity that justified this machine’s ability to carefully agitate the water while in contact with the grounds in controlled doses. I could literally dial in this complexity to alter the balance. Consider that once I adjusted the settings just so, I could repeat these perfect cups in succession reliably, almost casually. This is a significant benefit. Before the Trifecta Home, I felt I could have perfection or consistency, but typically not both. And that’s the Trifecta Home’s true greatness.

Some folks will ask me, “Kevin, do you really expect me to put $500 into a coffeemaker during these economic times?” Hey, I’m not a 1%’er. Yes, $500 is a lot of money, even to me (ha!). I believe you can probably match the cup quality, although I’m honestly not certain, using your best vacuum, Chemex, Hario, Aeropress technique. But, every time? The Trifecta Home is for the coffee aficionado who wants the best, wants it consistently, and wants ease in achieving this perfection. And, I do mean perfection.

The cost of entry is high, but to someone who spent $500 on a DSLR camera, a plasma TV, or other top consumer gear it’s in line. How about a decent prosumer home espresso maker? If you like coffee, single-origin coffee as much as I do, you’ll just accept it as the cost of entry to a big step up in our hobby. Let’s put it this way. If you own one of these, I’ll never again worry about giving you coffee for your birthday and wonder if you will begin to taste what I can taste when I brew it. Let’s see: a state-of-the-art, made in America machine that brews coffee like a top café barista. What more do you want?

It’s the machine I’ve waited for since I started drinking coffee. If you can afford one, it’s a no-brainer. Bunn knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. The Bunn Trifecta Home almost deserves to rename a cup of coffee a Trifecta, it’s that outstanding. It defines the state-of-brewing-art according to me and The Coffee Companion.

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