Saturday, December 11, 2010

Intelligent v60???

Head-to-Head brewing: Intelli on the left, Spro on the right.

From what I've been told, the Fabulous LaTourell was in the house last Sunday while I was in Italy. He came by for a visit and brought along some lovely coffees from Intelligentsia and Coffee Collective for us to sample, and he offered a tutorial in v60 brewing: Intelli Style.

I've been a little critical lately of the way the v60 drip brewer has been implemented industry wide and I'm sure there's a little bit of a challenge to that position with David's visit. It's all good.

Spro Method grinds.

I'm not the sort of chap who really believes too much in his own dogma, so I'm willing to try other methodologies to see what kind of improvements to our product line we can deliver to our customers. Jeremy was working that day and was the beneficiary of the Intelligentsia tutorial.

With that in mind, we set off to do side-by-side brews with the v60 and see if one method was indeed "better" than the other. For this brew test, we used Stumptown's Colombia El Jordan, roasted on November 30, 2010 in New York City.

According to Stumptown's card: "Warm aromatics of nutmeg and cinnamon segue into mouth-watering flavors of satsuma orange and ripe blackberry which finish with notes of honey and brown sugar."

For this brew test, the coffee was ground using a Compak R80 grinder at the "30" grind setting and we used 24 grams of coffee to make a 12z cup.

According to Jeremy, the method prescribed by Intelligentsia is a finer grind with a 2z initial pour of water for a one minute bloom before adding an additional 12z of water and allowing it to flow naturally through the brewer. Total brew time for our test: two minutes and thirty seconds. Jeremy used a scale to measure the water volume.

On my side of the bar, I used the TruBru brewing stand and free poured the water. Starting off with roughly two ounces of water and a bloom time of 45 seconds, I then slow poured the water into the v60 brewer to control the flow rate with a target time betweem 3:30 and 4:00. Actual brew flow time for this test: 4:53 - I ended up pouring a bit slower than my target.

Intelli Method grinds.

In a side-by-side comparison, the Intelli Method produced a cup that was brighter and highlighted with bitter notes. The Spro Method demonstrated a cup with strong cocoa notes and no bitter/bright tones. For these variations, we preferred the Spro Method over the Intelli Method.

But David had told Jeremy that their method performed best at grinds finer than the typical drip setting, so we readjusted the grind to "25" and used up the last of the El Jordan to make an 8z cup, using the same Intelli Methodology and a finish brew time of two minutes.

Where the "30" cup of Intelli was bitter and acidic, the "25" setting dropped the bitters and really punched through with a nice acidity that was very reminiscent of citrus fruits. A nice cup but also a drastically different cup than the Spro Method.

The Three Finished Brews: Intelli "25", Intelli "30" and Spro "30".

Being someone who prefers chocolate and fruit toned coffees, I would prefer the Spro Method cup of the El Jordan, but this in no way dismisses the Intelli "25" brew. The Intelli "30" was definitely the least liked of the three, the remaining two were both good but quite different.

Here I think it is the difference that introduces the conundrum. So many of us in the business are hell-bent on demonstrating who/which is "right" and that others are "wrong." These two methods produced dramatically different results from exactly the same coffee. Both were tasty cups of coffee, so can either of them be truly "wrong"? I don't think so.

For me, this highlights something I've been thinking more about with the latest push in the industry for conformity and adherence to "acceptably right" brewing methods and refractometer readings - and that is, I want to find differences when I go to different coffee places. The fact that the Intelli Method and Spro Method produce dramatically different results in the cup from the same coffee is a desirable condition.

Both coffees were good and tasty, but were very different. This is to be celebrated because I would hope that our interpretation of the coffee is different than Intelligentsia's interpretation. I would find it a sad condition to travel all the way to Chicago or Los Angeles just to have a cup of the same old, same old coffee I can have at home. That would mean there is little to no difference between shops and that we have homogenous products. That would suck.

There's still more testing that can be done before anyone can draw any sort of conclusion but I'm enjoying drinking my rethinking on v60 brewing methods.