What we do

How we brew

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!

posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 4:30pm by Michael Harwood

You've seen them buzzing around, roasting & packaging delicious coffee. You know their helpful voices from when you call in with a question or an order. They've crafted you exceptional drinks time and again. Starting here and with each subsequent interview, you'll get to better know one of our team members through what we call the Ceremony Spotlight.

Today's spotlight shines on one of our amazing roastery production staff.

Name Maria Cervasio
Job at Ceremony Roaster's Assistant
Hometown Annapolis, Maryland

Maria at the San Fran sample roaster.

How did you get started with coffee and Ceremony?
After getting out of high school, I was eagerly looking for a fast paced job after being a front desk coordinator at an aesthetician office. I wanted to be on my feet working for a small business and serving something I could sink my teeth into. I literally flipped through a phone book and saw Cafe Pronto's number (our satellite retail location at Riva Festival Shopping Center) and promptly called to see if they were hiring!

What do you enjoy about working in coffee?
I love the intimacy of such a collectively valued commodity. It is a product that improves functionality while offering a bountiful resource to satisfy the senses. While being incredibly personally meaningful, it fuels a group of shared passion, loyalty, and sense of community.

What are your preferred brewing methods? Do you have any tips?
I initially fell in love with Beehouse. I loved the idea that I could brew a single cup of filter coffee that allows me to control all of the variables. When we got the Bonavita Immersion Drippers I quickly converted. I enjoy the combination of filter coffee with the French press concept where all of the coffee is brewing with all of the water at at once. It still provides that filtered cup that I love along with a more consistent brew.
As far as tips go, preheat all of your equipment before brewing and make sure you have a good grinder. If you're using the immersion dripper, make sure the latch on the bottom is closed when your getting ready to brew! That unfortunately took me a few failed attempts to get used to.

Maria loading the green coffee.

What is your go-to coffee right now?
Our Kenya Gondo and Ecuador Perla Chiquita have consistently been my go to. I love how those two entirely different terroirs offer two beautiful flavor forward unique cups.

What is one thing you'd like to change in coffee?
I would like to see more focus on the flavor that those little "beans" have to offer! Often in the coffee industry I see so much focus on sourcing coffee and brewing coffee, but I really want to see more attention and care go into the actual coffee itself. If we source these amazing coffees and we don't allow them to reach their full potential, then we're missing out. I would love for some more solid research in the chemical process that occurs while coffee is roasted. Coffee roasters have their job cut out for them. There's so much that goes on each minute during a roast that we don't really understand. We've come so far at Ceremony and I feel like we've made great strides together in understanding as many of the variables as possible. There is so much we still don't know!

When you're not consuming or being consumed by coffee, what else do you love to do?
I love reading, enjoying even more flavors in good food and libations, and I also really love music. Going to a really good show is always my best recharge. You'll also often find me jamming out at work listening to whatever new music I've discovered.

Maria learning with the best.

That's our Maria! She's a great presence around the roastery and is a wise, compassionate soul. Give her a wave the next time you're by the roastery!

Until next time, happy brewing!

posted on Sunday, August 24, 2014 - 6:00pm by Michael Harwood

Color Chips

In coffee retailing, it's important to remember that we eat and drink first with our eyes. Imagine a beautifully poured cappuccino featuring a glossy sheen, tight microfoam, and high color contrast between the espresso and milk. Now match that against a bubbly, whited out, haphazardly poured cappuccino. It's clear which beverage wins in terms of visual appeal. Of course, this doesn't necessarily match up with the best taste, but you have to lead a horse to water to even get it to start thinking about taking a drink!

Nuova Point

There are many sensory indicators that alert us to our potential enjoyment or dismay with a food or drink. From the size, shape, and texture to the smells, tastes, and even the sound of the chew, our brains are constantly interpreting myriad stimuli. One of the leading attributes in flavor perception is color. How do we know which colors are appetizing? It largely depends on the context. We might expect a bright red tomato to taste delicious either because we understand fruit maturation or we've learned an association from a past experience. One might also argue that a bright red tomato intuitively looks tasty and inviting. In the case of coffee, we mostly expect our beverages to look brown or brown and white. Despite the apparent simplicity of color palette, there are gradations of red, brown, and black in brews, while the skillful mix of brown and white in a milk drink undoubtedly has the potential to enhance our experience.

Additionally, the color of the vessel seems to alter flavor perception. Attributable to the link below, brown cups are purported to heighten the perception of strength and aroma in coffee, while red cups reduce its perceived strength. Yellow or blue cups are observed to raise the perception of a smoother taste. It's not a stretch to imagine that these color perception-altering sensory inputs also extend to brand identity, labeling, and shop color motifs. If this is true, it is wise to consider the color palette your cafe is utilizing. Read more here: http://www.atyourpalate.com/blog/2013/01/eating-with-your-eyes-changes-w...

Retail bags at Ceremony

So there's how colors affect our flavor perception, but what about identifying flavors as colors? I used to love red Kool-Aid, blue Icy Pops, and orange M&Ms. I was so fascinated with color-flavors that I entered the 8th grade Science Fair with an experiment on M&M color favoritism and subliminal messaging. Being that the test subjects were my 8th grade peers, they all tried to guess what I was doing and purposely attempted to throw off my results. Adolescent behavior aside, I do seem to remember the brighter colors being more popular. These days, I still think about colored flavors, especially during contextual tastings like cuppings. This association behavior creates an echo when I find myself detailing a coffee to a customer in terms of its color(s). This habit could also be attributed to spending a good deal of time staring at the SCAA's Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel. Take a look and you'll quickly notice a pattern between the colors and aromas/tastes.

To note, making associations is not quite the same as the neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia. If you involuntarily experience a crossing of sensory information, you might be a synesthete. This condition is not considered to be harmful and may actually help affected folks memorize information (or they may simply get a kick out of it). For example, Synesthetes might perceive specific letters as specific colors or certain smells might bring on certain emotional states. We all experience a hint of synesthesia from time-to-time! It might even be possible to learn a specific synesthesia through repeated associative conditioning.

Cupping at Ceremony

For us, talking about coffees as colors is simply an evocative way to associate with what you might experience. At our last public cupping, we wanted to find out what colors our customers associated with or even tasted in our coffees, so we put them to a test. We lined up 16 different coffees - 13 peak/filter roasts and 3 espresso roasts. Our friends smelled the dry ground fragrance, the wet aroma at various points, and proceeded to sip and slurp. While they were smelling and tasting, we provided 8 different colors (via paint chips) to vote with (red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and brown). We noted that you could vote with one or many colors for a given coffee, then we watched. At the end, we tallied up the votes and announced our results, which you may find below!

Taste by Color results

As you see, about half of our offerings are super vibrant! These coffees are mostly red, orange, yellow, and even green, displaying fruit, floral, and herbaceous aromas and flavors. The textures here feel quite electric, exciting, and so alive! As we move down the chart, we notice more and more brown. In juxtaposition to the brighter, livelier coffees, these browner brews showed more heat-applied/cooked flavors like toasted almonds, toffee, and baked granola. Though these browner coffees mostly are what they are, you'll note that there are splashes of brighter colors with each of them. Even Mass Appeal, which is designed to be as brown as they come, has a hint.

After seeing this, we'd be hard-pressed to label a coffee as one color. They are rather, collections of colors, each being uniquely observed at a different recipe, grind, time, temperature, or palate. This is what's so beautiful about coffee. It's not one color - it's many colors. If you don't like orange, try purple and red. If brown is more your thing, that's great too! The question with any coffee is, what color palette am I starting with and how am I going to mix these hues through extraction to create the most inspired work of art I can?

Until next time, happy brewing!

posted on Saturday, August 9, 2014 - 3:45pm by Michael Harwood

Coffee is full of mythologies, pseudo-science, and half-baked hypotheses. Correlations are observed and are presumed to be causation. Quite a bit of food science follows this pattern (see the recent gluten reversal as an example). In the case of coffee storage, customers are told to put their seeds in the fridge or freezer to extend its shelf-life. Between a mixed truth and how popular this idea has become, we often have folks asking if these chilling appliances are appropriate for their storage needs. Let's put that answer aside for just a moment and explore what happens to coffee as it ages.

Chiapas Drying Patio

When sacks of green coffee arrive at the roastery, their life-clocks have already been ticking two to four months. It might be helpful to know that well-processed coffee isn't simply picked and sent post-haste to our roastery. There is a beneficial stage called processing that may involve depulping, enzymatic breakdown, and quite importantly - steady drying until the green seeds fall to roughly 11% moisture content. These unroasted seeds are constantly exchanging moisture with the air and whatever else surrounds it. For green coffee to be stable during its long journey to our roastery, it must be dried in an intentional, even, Goldilocks style way (not too hot & fast, not too cool & slow). Thoughtful, dedicated farmer-producers and their teams are crucial to these steps! That said, the aging of the green coffee might be seen as trivial compared to the staling spell roasting puts the beans under.

When a coffee order is placed, our roasting team gets to work, utilizing years of knowledge, skill, and experience to guide that coffee's journey from green to brown. As this happens though, they are setting into motion thousands of chemical and physical changes that propel the coffee down a path to its imminent stale demise. Now, this is absolutely a necessary evil! Without roasting, your cup of coffee wouldn't taste very good at all (it might even make you nauseated). That's because roasting involves taking many compounds through a conversion process, giving us great sweetness, liveliness, aroma, and body in our brews. Due to these conversions, many compounds prone to oxidation and other forms of breakdown are created. It calls to mind Tennyson's writing -

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all

We are definitely going to lose our coffee sooner once roasted, but oh is it worth it!

It is generally thought that a roasted coffee tastes good for two to four weeks. That's not a bad guideline to brew by, but as with most rules, it is a huge generality. So what are the factors that might skew this timeline? To find out, we dug deep into the internet and we put the same coffee (Kenya Gondo) through many different storage processes to see which preserved flavor and which ruined it.

Jin at the Loring

Roast is a big factor in freshness. The more a green coffee is developed through roasting, either for a longer amount of time and/or through higher temperatures, the more prone it becomes to staling. This is due to both physical and chemical changes. One of the main physical changes is the increasing volume and porosity of the seed. Increasing roast development opens up the seed's pores to a greater degree. The result is that volatile aromatics, lipids, and carbon dioxide all diffuse at an accelerated rate. A more developed roast has also produced more free radicals within itself, meaning that it will naturally oxidize more quickly. The bottom line is that a lighter (read: denser) roast is going to stay fresh longer. That is not to say that lighter roasts are better, period. Utilizing this knowledge with an application towards different roast profiles is the key - understanding that darker roasts will taste better earlier off-roast (typically 1-2 weeks), while lighter roasts may stay tasting pretty good for several weeks (1-4 weeks). This same porosity difference is why more developed roasts often smell more pungent in their "wholeseed" form than do less developed roasts.

Brew method matters! We find that the espresso machine (with its high pressure brewing) allows us to get more out of our coffees later in their age (after three weeks) than handbrewed methods do. This principle affects the first week off-roast as well. Due the high amount of carbon dioxide being released from the grounds, which is created by Strecker degradation during roasting, espresso shots that are pulled earlier than a week off often taste sour and exhibit a boatload of crema. You might see all of this crema and think, "That looks great!" Unfortunately, this rampant crema creates that sour taste we mentioned through carbonic acid and misleading us visually into underextraction (which is why scales are the jam; they don't lie!). Handbrewed methods seem to get along better with super fresh roasts (1-4 days off), which probably has a lot to do with the carbon dioxide having somewhere to go (namely, the air).

Speaking of air, oxygen may be coffee's number one threat in terms of medium to long-term staling. From the moment the roaster catalyzes new compounds, oxygen gets busy breaking them down. Shortly after roasting, the seeds are putting off enough carbon dioxide to blunt the intake of the invading oxygen. As this carbon dioxide dissipation wanes, oxygen creeps in. As if staling weren't bad enough, oxygen also has the gall to turn coffee oil rancid. Remember that the more open a coffee's pores are, the faster the lipids will diffuse to the surface, becoming oxidized and turning rancid much more quickly. The bottom line is that keeping oxygen away from your coffee is an imperative to maintaining freshness. An airtight bag with a one-way air valve helps tremendously! Airtight canisters where the lid can be compressed do a great job too.

Moisture takes its own toll on a coffee's flavor. Coffee is hygroscopic, meaning it exchanges water freely with its environment. Put your coffee in the fridge or even leave the bag open for a while on a super humid day, and you'll notice a loss of volatile aromatics due to increased water exchange. In layman's terms, your coffee won't have as much of a distinctive aroma, which is the biggest contributor to flavor. For this reason, we do not recommend the refrigerator for storage. The pantry seems to do the trick. In our cupping, the fridge sample wasn't terrible, but wasn't good either.

Heat also breaks your coffee down by speeding up chemical processes. We do use high heat to roast the coffee, but just as too much roasting can ruin a batch, so can leaving your roasted seeds exposed to heat thereafter. The two biggest culprits here are direct sunlight and leaving a bag in the car on a hot day. We can tell you from experience that these issues cause more immediate harm to flavor than just about anything else, as the worst tasting sample in our experiment was the bag left in my car. The remedy is simple - don't leave your seeds exposed to sunlight or trapped in a hot car! Again, a cool, dry pantry is probably your best bet.

Ceremony bag in the freezer

Now we come to freezing. The devil is in the details here. We cannot recommend that you put your bag into the freezer if you're going to take them out and put them back in several times. However, if you have a nice, airtight bag of coffee that you won't be able to drink for a while (maybe you're going on vacation or you just have too much coffee around), putting it into the freezer and thawing it once will preserve it quite well (although it does seem to fade rather quickly thereafter)! When we tasted these results, we were a little shocked, but the proof was in the cup! A clever trick for freezing might be to break a single bag down into ziplock baggies of individual portions. Freeze all of the little baggies, then remove only the baggie you need for that day. This will keep all the others nice and frozen until you are ready to use them. Even with this advantage, most of our guests in the cupping agreed that fresh, unfrozen was still the best.

The packaging also seems to have an effect. Our previously unopened and opened white Ceremony tie down bags showed quite well in the cupping. This is probably due to their well-sealed lining and its one-way air valve, which lets gas out, but not in. For occasional in-house use, we also have some thin metal composite bags. These do not have an air-valve, seemed to leak from various points, and did not show as well in the cupping. It's good to know that our elegant white retail bags are doing a good job! If you and we wanted to take our storage to the next level, we could do an inert gas flush (like nitrogen or argon) to the bag. We'll keep you all posted if this becomes a reality for us! I've heard that a gas flush into a freshly roasted coffee can easily extend shelf life of that unopened bag to five weeks. Here's to progress against staling!

Ceremony coffee bags

In the end, the best storage practices are to look for a recent roast date, buy enough fresh coffee to get you through a week or two, place that coffee into a cool, dry pantry or cupboard, don't open the bag until the first day you're actually going to drink it, reseal it well/push the air out, and keep an eye on that roast date!

If you have any useful tips or tricks for storing your coffee, please let us know at michael@ceremonycoffee.com.

Until next time, happy brewing!


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