Issue no.5

Roast dates and the right time to brew

November 12, 2018

Back in the 1980s, and even 1990’s, the answer to “when is the right time to brew?” seemed simple: immediately after roast!  Indeed, my Coffee Connection was the first in the US to post roast dates on our barrels (we were scooping back then!) and on our bags.  Many of our customers wanted to buy our coffee roasted the previous day and no later.  Then the one-way valve bag arrived, becoming common practice in the 1990s. It allowed us to preserve complete freshness longer, although many of our very well-trained customers had lingering doubts….

The new millennium brought us to new levels of understanding, as Third Wave lighter roast, single farm coffees entered the market.  In just a few years there were farmer quality competitions in many countries of origin. Refining the craft of brewing the best cups of coffee became a passion wherever third wave cafes opened, giving rise to regional, national and world title barista and brewer competitions. Precision instruments were developed to measure proper extraction ratios and strength, giving rise to superior results at cafes and at home; we are NOT talking about the k-cup!

These days, the international barista consensus for brewing the “best-a-coffee-can-be” is for that coffee to have rested for about a week, when sealed in one-way valve bags. Otherwise the intense release of carbon dioxide from freshly ground beans interferes with proper flavor-extraction.  Coffee stays at peak in one-way sealed bags for about three weeks after roasting, with gradual degradation after that. At three months degassing is complete and quality falls off a cliff.

Once you open a bag of fresh beans, reseal and freeze the remaining beans immediately! For more on this see Issue No. 2!

– George Howell



Issue no.4

Mamuto Returns!

August 24, 2018

Kenya SL28 varietals are one of the great coffees of the world; there are no other varietals or origins, in my opinion, that can claim to be superior.  No other coffee in the world swells so amply with deep, clean, velvety dark fruit flavor, filling one’s mouth like a fine full-bodied red wine. There is no better Kenya representative, year after year, than Mamuto, which we are proud to have been offering since 2006. It must be taken black, to be appreciated to its fullest.

This year’s Mamuto harvest is a masterpiece. It arrived very late, however, and has a patina of age (cedar wood note).  As always there are three offerings of Mamuto: AA, AB and Peaberry, representing different sizes and shapes, for even, controlled roasts. The AA is the largest bean; it is most carefully sorted for removal of defects, and tends to be the most uniformly ripe. In a great year, as this one is, the AB’s can be nearly equal in quality, and are a great value. Peaberries are formed at the tips of a coffee tree’s branches, where some fruits produce only one seed (bean); these beans take on round shapes. They are sorted by specially shaped sieves and represent a tiny percentage of the crop.  Some people prefer them for their typically brighter acidity.

Great harvests are often a result of smaller yields. There are half the Mamuto AA’s of the previous year and only a few hundred pounds of peaberry. We will be spreading these out as Limited Roasts until April 2019, when we expect the new crop to arrive. We have far more AB’s, which will be roasting every week, and they are delicious!

– George Howell


Issue no.3

Discover genuine iced coffee for the first time. You’ve
probably never had a good one!

August 3, 2018

The window for enjoying a properly brewed great coffee is fleeting.  A great cup has a life span of 20 to 30 minutes  (Sprudge video) before its complex chemistry begins to disassemble into murkier realms.  To make a great Iced Coffee, that magic moment must be captured on the spot.
Brewed coffee that has been cooled in the refrigerator is dead on arrival. Making a coffee extract to compensate for the dilution when ice cubes are added requires less water and too much coffee, resulting in under-extracted, thin and astringent flavors. And cold brew, being made with cold water, is flat, muddy and sour in comparison to a genuine iced coffee. A really good iced black coffee is, above all, surprisingly sweet and thirst-quenching.

You can now make genuine perfect iced coffee at home. For several years we have sold stainless steel “ice” cubes, to be kept in the freezer, ready to chill hot coffee. But now the ColdWave has arrived. It has ninety water-filled rods that, once immersed in just-brewed hot coffee, will cool 16 oz to 41˚ F in one minute flat. This is a perfect temperature for iced. The ice cubes will melt very slowly resulting in a surprisingly sweet thirst-quenching beverage.  For an excellent review of this product see the video by 2007 World Champion Barista James Hoffman, one of the best independent spokespersons for quality coffee I know. The ColdWave is available at our cafés and on our website.

As James Hoffman points out, the ColdWave is for home use and cannot be used in cafes. Now, however, comes the ColdWave for commercial use, and George Howell Coffee is proud to premier this product at our café at the Godfrey Hotel in Downtown Crossing and at Boston Public Market.  It takes one extra minute to give you a new experience. Please come by and try it!

– George Howell

Issue no.2

Freezing Roasted Coffee

June 28th 2018

It is striking how many specialty coffee companies recommend NOT freezing your roasted coffee. They are wrong.

I have found that just one day after I have opened a bag of coffee, thereby exposing it to oxygen, it has lost much of its dimensionality; it is a shadow of that first glorious day – assuming it was a great coffee, perfectly roasted to begin with!

You cannot simply put it in a container and remove the oxygen as if it were a wine: carbon dioxide pours out of fresh coffee, eliminating any sealed vacuum you may have started with. Keeping it cool and dry does nothing to stop the already oxygen-contaminated coffee from becoming zombified. But take a thick zip-lock bag, place the beans in it, squeeze most of the air out, and freeze it on the spot and you stop all transactions cold.  Our coffee bags already have a  zip lock; there is no need to transfer.

Next day: grind the coffee right away, the colder the better! The colder the beans are, the more brittle they are, and the more evenly they grind. That’s what the 2017 USA Barista Champion did with his espresso beans! His professional jurors were more than convinced.

Brew immediately after; no need to wait. All our single-pour coffees are kept frozen at our café in Downtown Crossing. If you want some of your roasted coffee to be around for over a couple of weeks, vacuum the coffee in a pouch and freeze it. Enjoy!

– George Howell

Issue no.1

The Northern Hemisphere Harvest Arriving Now

June 11, 2018

New crop coffees are beginning to pour in from all the Northern Hemisphere producing countries. These harvests have taken place over the months of November to March. The higher the elevation the later the harvest.

Expect the new Kenya Mamuto to be in at the end of the month – and available in early July. The good news: the AA are extraordinary – intense and very sweet. However, the amount of AA (slightly larger beans than ABs and more perfectly mature) will be even less than last year. We will also have some other Kenyas that struck us as exceptional.

Another highlight is the batch of Ethiopian coffees arriving.  We have already started the new harvest with Yukro from Jimma, a sweet, syrupy Ethiopian coffee that features a delicate anise accent.  We also have the great Duromina from the same region, which we will offer later this year.  They are exceptional.  After Borboya’s no-show last year (political disruption and quality issues) we will have a very big lot of it back: very floral, sweet complex coffee!  Also, another Yirgachaffe – Sakaro will debut next month; it is equally exquisite. Overall a great quality harvest for Ethiopia and particularly this renowned Ethiopian region.

And finally, we have bought a micro lot of naturally processed Gesha Village from Ethiopia. This is an extraordinary lot; the fruity notes from natural processing (drying the cherries over week), so often overwhelming, are subdued enough to meld perfectly with the more delicate varietal-terroir notes.  This produces what we consider to be a really complex unique coffee. Such a perfect balance may be due to the unique ideal weather conditions during harvest this year.

– George Howell