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posted on Friday, May 29, 2015 - 10:15am by Michael Harwood

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

When you taste coffee for a living, occasionally you like to see how your palate stacks up; so you invite 30 friends over and have at it! Thus was the motivation for our second-ever Cup Tasters event - to host a friendly challenge that brings our community together over something we all love.

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

The game is simple - there are four sets of three cups of coffee on a table in front of you. In each set, two coffees are the same, one is different. It is up to you to pick out the different cup in each of the four sets in the shortest time possible, using only a spoon and your senses of smell and taste. The coffees we used were Brazil Santa Lucia & Brazil Esmeralda, Peru CENFROCAFE & Thesis House Blend (which has Peru in it!), DRC Muungano & Ethiopia Wazzala, and finally Colombia Gaitana & Colombia Aguacate. As you can see, many of these sets challenged the taster to differentiate between coffees grown less than 1000 miles and in some cases, less than 250 miles apart.

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

The night played out nicely, with baristas congregating from around Annapolis, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and as far away as North Carolina. We enjoyed complementary beer from Oliver Brewing Co. and Union Craft Brewing, though many competitors chose to wait for libations until after they had competed. Gotta keep that palate fresh! In the end, only a few got all four right, but there were many three out of fours, which was very impressive! A couple of baristas asked how they might get better at tasting, so here are a few suggestions: taste coffees blind and articulate what you are experiencing, talk with trained coffee professionals about what they taste, be interested in the world of flavor and aroma at large, taste a wide range of coffees from your shop and others, but most importantly, just be present when you're enjoying a cup of coffee (it's amazing what you notice when you stop to pay attention).

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

Thanks for hanging out! We had a blast and hope you'll join us for the next one!

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 10:30am by Michael Harwood

Two weeks ago, hundreds of U.S. coffee professionals constellated around the Long Beach Convention Center to illuminate and be illuminated at the SCAA United States Coffee Championships. With a grinder, delicate glassware, and bags on bags of coffee in tow, Ronnie, Vince, and I made our way out west to California to represent Ceremony alongside some of the sharpest minds and palates in Specialty coffee. A coffee professional should consider competing for many reasons, but being around incredibly dedicated and forward-thinking peers is amongst the tops. These connections grow our consciousness of how to better brew and serve our favorite beverage. Further, we see competition as a crucible for the cafe and roastery, through which we melt down and reshape our daily craft so that you might enjoy an even better experience.

Ronnie leading his judges through brewing at the United States Brewers Cup

Never one to be content with the status quo, our Director of Wholesale Ronnie Haas built on his first place finish at the Northeast Regional Brewers Cup by bringing the fresh crop Sulawesi Minanga and an important question to the United States level. Ronnie posed to the judges that they might consider the concept of an ideal coffee. We work tirelessly at Ceremony to bring in delicious coffees at prices that are reasonable for all parties involved, from the producer to you. However, the coffees that score and place well at the U.S. and World Brewers Cup levels are often rare, expensive, and more often than not of the Geisha variety. This is not inherently bad, but does represent a trend that is not necessarily reflective of your day-to-day experience with us or most roasters. We're not saying we dislike Geishas or that we think trying to score well to win a competition is wrong. Quite the opposite! What we do believe though, and what Ronnie got us thinking about is how we present an affordable, everyday, incredibly delicious coffee that connects with you.

Ronnie used our Sulawesi Minanga as his ideal coffee, which you can find here - http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/pedamaran.html
With a medium body, full mouthfeel, complex acidity, good sweetness, and clean cup, this coffee is really hard not to like. Whereas some coffees are super delicate and enzymatic, and other coffees are mostly about sugar browning and that classic "coffee" taste, our Minanga strikes a balance that makes it highly satisfying. It took a bit of courage on Ronnie's part to bring a C. arabica-C. liberica hybrid cultivar called S795 to a Geisha party, but we're glad he did. Several industry professionals came up to Ronnie after his performance and seconded his objective. Though Ceremony did not make it through to the U.S. Brewers Cup Finals this time around, we felt like Ronnie had pushed forward a conversation that will keep us thinking and moving towards a better experience for our guests.

United States Coffee Championship Arena

Having come in third at the Northeast Regional Barista Competition, I was invited to compete in the first round of the U.S. Barista Competition, which was taking place just across the room from where Ronnie competed. The arena itself was set in the round, surrounded by beautifully lit scrims and blue lighting globes. The giant space elicited feelings of great responsibility in me. I knew that on such a heightened stage, I had to give it my all. It is challenging to recount the exact number of hours I put into practicing for this event since it was always on my mind, but it was certainly over one hundred. All that hard work can go wrong in just one moment and it almost did before I even got started.

Before a competition round, each competitor receives one hour to practice on an espresso machine before they perform at staggered times throughout the day. I set up for my practice time and immediately noticed something wrong with how my grinder was sounding. I had packed it in my luggage (D'oh!) and something was clearly not right after all that jostling. My friend Travis from Mahlkoenig stepped in and attempted a couple of fixes, but something greater was definitely wrong. My hour of practice ended without having dialed-in any of the three coffees I brought. The urge to panic was palpable, but I reminded myself that I had been in similar situations in busy cafes before and gotten through those. In the end, it is just a barista competition! At the last moment before I went out on stage, Travis handed me a brand new EK-43 grinder (burrs not seasoned!) and the gracious SCAA staff (Thank you Hugo, Holly, Adam, Carlee, Lara, and whomever else helped out!) gave me about twenty minutes to dial-in before prep time began. Without those twenty minutes, I would've been toast because it might be near impossible to dial-in three unique coffees on a strange, new grinder in the five to seven minutes I had left after setting up during prep time (in which you have fifteen minutes to set up and dial-in right before you compete). I jumped straight from practice time into prep time, and then right into my performance. My head was swirling like a tornado, but Ronnie, Vince, and my partner Rosalind all made sure I had everything I needed and helped me keep it together. I couldn't have done it without them. The ensuing performance was a bit of a blur for me, but I tried to stay in the moment and deliver a delicious and hospitable experience for my sensory judges. To my surprise, spectators mentioned how calm I seemed (the film Melancholia comes to mind. lol). Even with the words of encouragement, I didn't feel very confident about making it out of the first round; but I had the rest of the day to wait before finding out, so I set myself to cleaning up and resetting optimistically for the next round, should it come. When the time for announcements came, somehow, my name was called to advance! I later found out that I came in second place out of the twenty-four competitors in the first round. I was astounded by my advancement after that morning's stress, but I was incredibly delighted. All of a sudden, I was playing with house money. Tomorrow was a new day!

Michael kicking off the United States Barista Championship

The six of us who made it through the first round were now competing in the Semi-Finals against the top two winners from each of the U.S.'s six regions (Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central, Northwest, Southwest). That made eighteen semi-finalists in total, with only six advancing to the final round. We're talking about eighteen of the best baristas in the entire country (though many great baristas also choose not to compete, or don't feel comfortable competing, which I want to help change!). This is tough company, but I felt great about being there. I had a working grinder and a little momentum to go with it! We switched my burr set (which was still functional) into the new grinder's shell and to my relief, everything went smoothly during practice time. When it came time for my performance, I don't believe I've ever had so much fun on a competition stage - it's funny how perspective works. When it came time for announcements, I was cautiously optimistic. Though I had competed at USBC thrice before, I had yet to advance to the final round. That all changed as I heard my name called to step forward. I looked down the line at my fellow finalists and had to blink to believe I was standing there, being photographed over and over. It is truly an amazing feeling.

By the morning of Finals, it dawned on me that I had not slept in three nights. It is amazing how adrenaline and doing what you love can stoke your energy! I felt pretty great, but I worried that my tired brain would sabotage me during that day's performance. Still, that morning's walk to the convention center was lovely and I felt remarkably calm for it being one of the biggest days of my professional career. I had a great time dialing-in that morning with Ronnie, Rosalind, and Kyle from Mahlkoenig. When it came time for my performance, some nerves crept in, but I left the stage feeling like I had given it my best shot. I ended up coming in sixth place, which isn't winning, but I have to say, I didn't feel like I had lost either.

Michael portioning out signature beverage at United States Barista Championship

I am proud of the concepts set forth and of the coffees Ceremony sourced, roasted, and I brewed. For the last half year, I have focused on re-imagining our cafes' espresso program through the medium of the Mahlkoenig EK-43 grinder. Its potential to offer more choices for your espresso experience is truly exciting. My goal at USBC was to design a Specialty coffee experience by matching three different hybrid coffees to the course that creates the best experience for the guest. In practical bar terms, this means pre-dosing and grinding fresh for decaf shots, offering a non-house espresso or two (likely single origins), and reducing waste and poor-tasting shots. This effectively creates an opportunity for us to match your palate with the perfect coffee and course. For instance, a delicate coffee may not show up in a milk drink. I can use my experience to help guide you to a coffee that will be much more enjoyable in that cappuccino. I decided that in my USBC paradigm, a stand-alone espresso ought to be sweet and balanced, a cappuccino should be distinctive, yet familiar, and an espresso-based signature beverage is best when it expresses creativity and complexity. To get each of these, I tend to be of the opinion that you want the following type of coffee for each course:

Espresso - sweet & balanced flavor, washed process for clarity, light espresso roast, pulled longer in mass for sweetness and clarity, plus more to enjoy!
Cappuccino - big bodied, mid-tone flavor-dominant, positive intrinsic bitterness for weight, blend of light/med. espresso roast, pulled short in mass for strength to match milk
Signature Beverage - complex coffee, big acidity, positive bitterness, complete mouthfeel, stands up to ingredients, light espresso roast for flavor clarity

The coffees from our current line-up that best fit these descriptions and I took to USBC are:
Espresso - Colombia Bella Vista - Sold out!
Cappuccino - Sulawesi Minanga - http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/pedamaran.html
Signature Beverage - Kenya Gondo - Sold out!

We are sad to see the Bella Vista and Gondo go, but do check out the Sulawesi and let us know what you think!

A note about why I spoke to coffee genetics at USBC - I am optimistic about the role hybridization will play as a partial solution in mitigating coffee diseases and climate issues in the years to come. We've seen what hybrids can do in the cases of cultivars like Castillo (Bella Vista) and S795 (Minanga) combining the good flavors of C. arabica with the adaptability, disease resistance, and overall hardiness of C. canephora and C. liberica. Or in the case of SL-28 (Gondo), where two C. arabica varieties were hybridized for drought resistance. In all cases, cup potential was taken into account, which is making these coffees not only physically viable, but gives them a lasting foothold in a Specialty market that more and more seeks a high quality experience.

My takeaways from this past weekend are that it takes a team to achieve a high level of success, that Ceremony roasts some of the most delicious coffees in the country, and that it is possible to grow our espresso program in a dynamic way that we think you're going to love. Stay tuned and thank you for reading.

Until next time, happy brewing!

Michael, Ronnie, and Ros preparing for United States Barista Championship

posted on Monday, January 12, 2015 - 11:45am by Michael Harwood

Erin pouring

You may have noticed a new face around the roastery cafe as of late.

We are proud to welcome Erin R. as Ceremony's new coffeehouse manager! Erin has already won us over with her desire to lead, drive to be a student of coffee, and ability to make us laugh. Originally from Maryland, Erin spent her recent past in Portland, Oregon, managing a non-profit coffeehouse that offers a welcoming space for children, caregivers, and the surrounding community. We feel lucky to have her and look forward to you meeting her!

So that you can get to know her a little better, we asked her a few questions:

MH What got you into coffee?

ER I wish I could say that there was a particular moment or a cup of coffee that got me hooked, but that's not the case. I fell into coffee. I had no experience when I started my first barista job, but I quickly realized how well-suited I was for the industry. I've always been both left-brained and right-brained, and a good coffee experience combines art, science, human interaction and everything in between.

MH What is something that people might not know about you?

ER I grew up in Maryland. I've been referred to a lot recently as the girl from Portland, but until six years ago I was living on the eastern shore enjoying hot crab/cold beer summers. I miss Portland, but not as much as I missed Maryland while I was away. Another fun fact: my sister is a baker at Baker's & Co. We're planning to take over Annapolis.

MH What is your favorite coffee and brewing method combination right now?

ER You'll usually find me drinking a cappuccino or a long black made with whatever espresso we have on bar, but that's because I'm so busy. Haha. If I had time to kill, I'd probably make myself a pourover of our Kenya Gondo. The new Sumatra Sabri is great, too!

MH With the New Year upon us, what is one resolution you'd like to make for the cafe?

ER While living in Portland I worked for a nonprofit coffeehouse. Our goal was to provide resources to families in the community, so hospitality was of utmost importance. You can always improve on customer service! I'm excited to continue educating our customers about our products and what we are trying to achieve at Ceremony because it is truly fascinating. I'd like the level of hospitality in the cafe to match the quality of the product that the rest of the team works so hard to produce. In a phrase - that fourth wave coffee experience!

MH If we theoretically hybridized the SL-28, Yellow Bourbon, and Pacamara cultivars together, what would you call the new variety?

ER Winter Vaca (28 days in February, Bourbon...self-explanatory, and the Pacamara was actually referred to in one article as an "exotic superstar," a combination of two other varietals - sounds like a party to me)

MH Thanks, Erin!

Now that you know her a little better, don't be shy, say hi the next time you're in!

Until next time, happy brewing!

posted on Monday, November 17, 2014 - 10:00am

So! Friday Nov 7th was our Aussie Cupping – we tasted 17 coffees from 10 of the Best Aussie Roasters. Nearly 90 people crammed into the Roastery café to sniff and slurp some delicious coffees from Central America, Kenya and Ethiopia. I was able to briefly share about the Specialty Coffee Industry in Australia and the similarities and differences between AU and the US. The place was buzzing with chit chat about the coffee, our delicious collab beer from our friends at Union Brewing and Jailbreak, and the ever growing Ceremony Coffee community. We were super stoked to share this experience with some of our wholesale partners, industry folk, friends and family.

Tap Selection
The Roasters
Cupping in Full Swing
Outside Looking In
Our Aussies

posted on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - 4:45pm by Michael Harwood

Decaf Colombia green bag

I won't lie. I am not typically a fan of decaf. Most of the decafs I've tried taste more like tennis balls and musty sacks than specialty coffees. There have been a few exceptions along the way and thankfully, quality seems to be trending up; but why are so many decafs flavor duds?

Let's face it - decaffeination removes some of a coffee's essence. Look at how the green seeds are processed - getting soaked with water, hit with chemicals, or gas-blasted. This isn't to be critical of those who decaffeinate or those who enjoy it - the custody chain is doing its best with the technology and processes we have (and many of us don't want/need the caffeine all the time!). At the end of the day though, decaffeination seems to subtract some inherent goodness from the coffee.

Before last month, I hadn't tried a brew that tasted as if the decaffeination process actually added something positive; but when we cupped a Colombian coffee that had undergone the Sugar Cane E.A. process, I was happily taken aback. The profile of the coffee tasted intact - there were distinct flavors, a lively acidity, and full body. On top of that, the coffee was quite sweet, if a touch savory. I quickly researched what this coffee and process are all about.

Decaf House Colombia Tasting Board

It turns out that Sugar Cane E.A. processing (aka "The Natural Decaffeination Method") starts by fermenting molasses derived from sugar cane to create ethanol (which you'd find in adult beverages). This alcohol is then mixed with acetic acid, which you'd find in vinegar, to create the compound ethyl acetate. In Colombia, where a lot of sugar cane is grown, it makes sense to use this naturally occurring solvent to complement their thriving coffee growing/processing industry. E.A. may sound scary, but you find it in wine, beer, fruit, vegetables, and other food and beverage.

First, the coffee is steamed to open up its pores. Next, the E.A. is applied via water, which dissolves the caffeine in the green seeds. Then, the caffeine is separated and filtered from the tank. Finally, the now-decaffeinated seeds are steamed again to remove any residual E.A. before being dried and shipped. This method avoids excessive heat or pressure, which can radically disrupt a green seed's cellular structure. One downside of this process is that since the pores of the seed are opened up through steaming (think of the pores on your skin in a sauna), the coffee does tend to age more quickly (both as roasted and green) than our regular offerings. You may notice this via the "sweaty", darker appearance of the roasted seeds. Don't worry, it doesn't taste roasty and though sweaty, is still delicious!

Decaf Espresso Colombia Tasting Board

The coffee itself is a washed varietal blend sourced by our friends at Cafe Imports from high-quality farms across southern Colombia. Coffees from this area often display lovely balance and full bodies. This selection is no different. As a filter coffee, it gives us root beer aromatics with candied bacon and pear in a sweet, full-bodied cup. The slightly-more-developed espresso roast gives us root beer aromatics and hickory-smoked (pear balsamic) shrub syrup with a creamy caramel sweetness and body. You can find both here: http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/ If you don't know what a shrub syrup is, look it up - http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/06/cocktail-101-how-to-make-shrub-syr... . You don't know what you're missing!

We're really excited about this change and hope you are too! No longer is decaf an exclusive refuge for those of us who would prefer to sleep! Bring us your refined palate and we'll show you an amazing coffee.

Until next time, happy brewing!


Upcoming Public Events

Weekly Coffee Break: Cancelled - WASHINGTON, DC

Our Washington, DC coffee break has been cancelled, please join us for our Baltimore coffee break Saturdays at 12PM!

Upcoming Wholesale Labs

*FULL!* - Intro Barista: Essential Espresso Bar - WASHINGTON, DC

This session of Intro Barista is full, check back soon for our May schedule!