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“Welcome to Episode 5 of there is a Reason for Everything which makes this the Empire Strikes Back of coffee blogs.” – Clinard
Lets start this week by going back in time for a second, please keep your hands and arms inside the DeLorean at all times.
In the 1850’s the coffee industry had two problems, they couldn’t control the temperature of water well enough to brew coffee properly and they couldn’t filter the grounds from the brew mixture properly so most coffee had the consistency of mud.
Enter the siphon, or vacuum pot (“vac pot” for short) – an 1850’s German designed coffee brewer that is the most entertaining to watch of all the brew methods in our shop. We have a blog that goes into more detail about this machine’s history. But lets get back to the future, and address the question at hand:
Why have I never seen this thing before? And why use it, just for the coolness factor?
The coolness factor is only a peripheral benefit that is secondary to the quality in the cup. Just like with everything we have talked about, it is what ends up in the cup that is the most important.
As to why you might not have seen one, the siphon has reemerged in America after being trumped by countertop auto-drip machines, stovetop brewers, and instant coffee. Because (much like Walmart, fast food, and sweat pants) these methods have dominated this country purely out of convenience.
Now that we are experiencing a coffee quality renaissance here in America, the siphon is making a comeback. In Japan, where specialty coffee is taken very seriously (and they don’t like Walmart), the siphon is as widely used as espresso machines here in America.
All coffee brew methods fall along a spectrum with what we call “Body” on one side and “Flavor Clarity” on the other. The Hario V-60 falls in the middle, the Trifecta between the middle and body side and the siphon is at the extreme side of flavor clarity. The siphon is special because it presents some of the most delicate flavors in the coffee. It effectively draws some flavor oil but few coffee solids so while the coffee’s viscosity is lighter, the ability to detect even the most subtle flavor notes is amplified. It’s like when you remove the white noise so you can hear the notes of song more clearly. The peach in my Guatemala La Soledad and the key lime in my Kenya pop when brewed on the siphon. It’s beautiful! I absolutely love the siphon. Even at 160 this old guy is keeping up with all the young guys on our bar. Like the Slayer.
The Slayer was designed and built by the fine folks from Slayer Espresso in Seattle, Washington in the good ol’ US of A. It is refreshing to see a company venture off and experiment with the age-old and ever-so complicated process of brewing espresso.
What did the Slayer do that was so different? And why did you pick this machine when there are so many machines out there that are cheaper, and make good espresso?
Slayer bucked the norm and created a machine that allows the trained barista to affect brew pressure at various points in the brew process – commonly referred to as “pressure profiling.” What this means is we can custom design a shot profile to highlight what is best about a particular espresso and mute what is offensive or undesirable. Because even with amazing coffee, if prepared improperly, then it can taste less than good. With the Slayer, we have the ability to alter the shot in ways that simply aren’t possible with traditional espresso machines. That is why I can put some pretty amazing single-origin shots on the menu that would generally not be obtainable on standard espresso machines – at least without some sacrifice. We can also make many adjustments at the machine to hone in the extractions on our Show No Mercy espresso blend. We have a great blog on the Slayer if you want to read more about this killer machine: It’s Called Slayer.
You might wonder why we chose this machine when there are other machines out there that utilize pressure profiling in some way or that can pull single-origin Espresso just fine without being a Slayer. I would love to get into detail about that, just comment on this blog with your questions, or hit us up on twitter or facebook.
I would talk about our Japanese cold water drip iced coffee brewer, dubbed the “Kyoto” or the Hario Fretta iced coffee system, but again we previously created a blog that does this wonderfully. If you have more questions about those methods, please just comment on the blogs and we will happily answer them.
All of this “stuff” is meant for nothing other than creating the freshest brewed coffee and is part of the equation as to why our coffee is as good as it is – the other part of the equation is the ingredients.
Support Good Coffee
So lets review the basics.
When you order any hot coffee at Portola Coffee Lab,
We grab a tin with a pre-weighed dose of coffee (to a tenth of a gram) and place it into our Marco Uber grinder.
We grind the coffee and immediately place it into the brewing apparatus – be it the V-60, Trifecta, or siphon.
We then proceed to brew that individual cup of coffee just for you – which is anywhere from a 3 to 8 minute process – the Trifecta being the shortest and the siphon being the longest overall. Your mind is then blown by the freshness and flavor quality of the coffee!
We never go to a dispenser to fill your cup.
You simply cannot have the ultimate in quickness/convenience AND absolute quality.
We do not want you in and out in 60 seconds. Gone in 60 is a phrase for car chases and Nicolas Cage, not our coffee.
So after emphasizing that we brew coffee fresh, it raises the question:
Why did you choose to use the brew methods that you currently use?
I love that question, and I am actually going to take 2 posts to answer it so we don’t feel rushed.
First up, the Hario V-60 cone dripper. This is not your grandfather’s Melitta. As a matter of fact, I never liked single-cup dripped coffee until I experienced the Hario. The Hario did what others failed to do – brew a flavor-intense, fully extracted, non-bitter cup of coffee.
How does it do this? The Hario’s pointed cone design slowed the passing of water over the grounds (without having to grind excessively fine or double-filter), which increased the amount and quality of extraction. You end up with lots of “origin flavors” (resulting from where the coffee was grown) along with great body in the cup. It is a method that really utilizes the idea of “movement” while brewing. It is a paper filtered drip method so you do not get any sediment in the cup. Pour-over bars seem common when talking about 3rd wave coffee, but not all cones are created equal and we think this cone definitely stands above the rest.
Next up is the Bunn Trifecta.
This is a single-cup, “profile” brewed machine. It is commonly compared to the now debunked, Clover machine. Some think that this was Bunn’s answer to the Clover but the fact of matter is the Trifecta and Clover went into development at the same time. The Clover was rushed to market quicker while the Trifecta underwent a lengthier R&D period. Which paid off.
What I love about the Trifecta is the ability to tweak the brew profile to the “Nth” degree for each individual coffee. My baristas and I have the ability to affect 10 variables in the brew process to enhance the flavors coming off each coffee we offer.
We create a custom profile for our Brazil, which is different from our Guatemala, which is different from our El Salvador, and so on and so forth.
With the Trifecta, there is no such thing as a “broad brush” approach to brewing coffee. No one size fits all. No government issue brew profile. Each coffee takes work and skill to make it taste amazing in this machine. We typically spend hours dialing in the Trifecta whenever we add a new coffee to our lineup.
Do these 10 variables matter? Without question!
I was astonished by how much the brew variables changed the resulting cup flavor. It creates both a nuanced and full-bodied cup, creating a flavor quality superior to other full immersion brew methods such as the French Press – (in my opinion). At the end of the brew cycle, the Trifecta applies 12 pounds of air pressure to the brew liquid and presses it through an extremely fine metal mesh filter. Some coffee solids make their way into the cup, which gives it a heavier mouthfeel, but not enough to interfere with the cups flavor clarity. What happens with some brew methods that allow a higher degree of coffee solids in the cup is those coffee solids combine with the flavor oils to form what are called “Brew Colloids” – which essentially hinder the detection of the most delicate and subtle flavors in the coffee. The design of the Trifecta avoids this shortcoming.
With all of the calibration at our fingertips, and the ability to repeat the processes countless times with just a push of a button… This machine has become the clearest example of our brewing standards. And it looks like it is from the future.
It uses technology to put us more in touch with coffee rather than neuter it and make it into a new version of a vending machine.
I will take time in the next blog post to go through more of the methods we have here and give my personal opinion as to why we chose them, but in the mean time feel free to look around this blog to learn more about each method. Even before we opened, we were writing this blog as a resource to help people understand a bit more as to why we are doing what we are doing and why we chose the equipment we chose.
Till then, support good coffee.
Portola Coffee Lab is different and I can assure you that everything you see in our shop, minus Clinard and Truman’s bow ties, is done for a reason.
If you walk into 99% of all coffee serving locations (Starbucks, Peet’s, Duncan Donuts, etc) you will see some form of coffee storage. Like a coffee urn, thermal dispenser, or coffee pot.
“Is it easier to brew large amounts of coffee and then serve it over time?”
“So why not brew, store, and serve like everyone else?”
Because freshness matters. It matters a lot.
Unlike wine, coffee is best drunk fresh…period!
I have visited a number of shops in existence that work hard to roast coffee on site in small batches so that they can have the freshest beans possible, but then don’t take that freshness ideal into the brewing of the coffee. While we also go to great lengths to roast in small batches on site to offer the freshest beans possible, when it comes to selling brewed cups of coffee, the job does not stop there.
If you brew coffee and let it sit, it will not taste as good.
Just let brewed coffee sit for a period of time and you will understand what I mean. There are chemical changes occurring in brewed coffee that are detrimental to coffee flavor when not consumed fresh.
Why? Why does coffee start to taste bad when left to sit?
(WARNING…I am going to offer more science than most people deal with on a day-to-day basis, pace yourself.)
After coffee is brewed, hydrolysis of chlorogenic quinic lactone occurs. This results in the formation of quinic acid in the brew – which is a major contributor to perceived bitterness in coffee. This occurs whenever coffee is maintained at a high temperature of 75 Centigrade or higher – like with any coffee dispenser.
To say that storing coffee in a dispenser of any type does not matter is scientifically and factually incorrect.
I often refrain from taking rigid stances on many subjects
(i.e. mac versus windows, if bigfoot exists, if bigfoot uses mac or windows)
But this is one I cannot avoid.
Freshness absolutely matters and from an objective and professional perspective, I cannot be convinced otherwise.
There is a degradation in taste quality whenever coffee is pre-brewed, stored in dispensers and subsequently dispensed over time – even relatively short periods.
So back to the question:
“Is it easier to brew large amounts of coffee and then serve it over time?”
Yes, it is easier to funnel coffee into cups from a storage dispenser.
But we didn’t open Portola Coffee Lab to make easy coffee, we opened it to make great coffee at uncompromising standards.
A Brief History of Portola Coffee Lab (Provided By Clinard):
- 245,000,000 BCE – The Dinosaurs walked the earth
- 44 BCE – Roman empire: democracy, aqueducts, sandals
- 1903 – Henry Ford makes the model-t that runs on oil made from dead dinosaurs.
- 1969 – Man lands on the moon.
- 1972- Jeff Duggan is Born.
- 1998 – Duggan roasts his first “batch” of coffee – done on a cast iron skillet – is declared an “utter disaster.” -Jeff Duggan & everyone that saw it happen.
- 1999-2007 – Duggan uses his background in Chemistry to understand the chemical reactions occurring during the roasting process. Over these years he tweaks, reforms, abandons, and tests many roast styles before settling on his own.
- 2007 – iPhone is introduced, the world rejoices.
- 2008 – the next iPhone is introduced, and the world begrudgingly upgrades.
- 2009 – Duggan opens Portola Handcrafted Coffee Roasters inside the Layer Cake Bakery in Irvine .
“Thanks Liz and Ehriline!! It was here that I was able to introduce my coffee to Orange County and the positive reaction I got was the major factor leading to my decision to open a retail coffeehouse and roastery in Costa Mesa.” – Jeff Duggan
- 2010 – another iPhone is introduced, this time with HD video, the world begrudgingly upgrades and videotapes nonsense.
- 2011- Portola Coffee Lab opens in Costa Mesa California. The coffee world rejoices.
There is a Reason for Everything // Part 2
by Jeff Duggan
When we opened, we knew this location would be different in every way. And the main thing that we get asked about is our multitude of amazing brew methods.
I didn’t open Portola Coffee Lab until 2011, so it is obvious to say that I am not the first person to ever create a manual brew, single-cup coffeehouse. (Even though we are the first of our kind in Orange County.)
The retail coffee industry has been in a process of evolution for at least the past five years – although many would argue longer. And in this evolution we have seen this manual-brew focus pop up all over the US.
I have traveled the country visiting some of the most reputable and respected single-cup coffee companies in existence such as
and Intelligentsia in LA.
There are many more of course but this is a good sample to give you an idea of my coffee quest.
What I saw in these amazing shops was freshly-roasted coffee brewed manually through a couple different brew methods per coffeehouse. Most locations didn’t provide more than one or two different ways to have you coffee brewed.
It was my decision to take things a step further by designing a coffeehouse with a variety of single-cup methods rather than just focusing on one or two.
So now back to the focus of these posts, WHY? Why offer so many brew methods?
Because, in my opinion, there is no such thing as a “perfect” brew method. No matter how quantifiable you want coffee brewing to be (like when we use our refractometer to measure extraction rates while brewing) it is impossible to measure something subjective like people’s tastes.
When it comes to our brew methods, like with one’s own kids, I don’t have one favorite. We love each one of our methods (“kids”) equally. I cannot tell you that one manual brew method is superior to any of the others we offer – that is not what it’s about. What I can say is each brew method creates its own unique flavor experience.
So now why is that important?
Another great question!
Not everyone likes coffee prepared the same way. Just like not everyone likes food prepared the same way. Let’s take chicken for example. We can grill it, broil it, or fry it. Which one is the best? I would venture to say that an equal number of people would select each one based on nothing more than personal preference. Similarly, I want to give my customers the ability to drink my Kenya, Brazil, Tanzania or any other coffee I offer in a way that best suits their individual palate.
Options are wonderful! Things just aren’t as enjoyable if you don’t have some choice in the matter (e.g., Communist Russia, known for horrible coffee.)
Some come into Portola Coffee lab who are dedicated Trifecta drinkers and others love the Siphon or Hario drippers. It makes me happy to see that all of our different brew stations are being enjoyed. For me, it is validating.
There is no other place around that gives you so many expert choices when it comes to brewing freshly-roasted coffee.
So you ask::
“Why do we offer so many brew methods?”
And the answer in my opinion is:
Because more than ever, we want it to be YOUR choice. And we look forward to giving you the best options available to make that choice. Above all, it is our fanatic commitment to freshness not only in the beans, but also in the cup that motivates us to go to such great effort to brew each cup of coffee just for you. It is your cup of coffee, and it should match your palate.
Everyone is welcome, come find your favorite.
We are not fast coffee.
We brew to order.
We roast to flavor.
Our raw coffee is not cheap, and it is even hard to get.
We don’t have flavored syrups.
Our espresso is made with the Slayer Espresso machine that utilizes pressure profiling.
We do everything thing in our power to get the most enjoyment and natural flavor out of the coffee we serve no matter what it takes.
Our coffee shop may not be for everyone – that’s ok.
Although this style of coffee shop is popular and highly sought out in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and increasingly in LA, there was no way to know how my incarnation of “slow food”, brewed-on-demand coffee would fair here in beloved Orange County. Would Orange County be ready to treat coffee with the same respect they do wine? We didn’t know.
Obviously I had confidence that my fellow Orange County citizens would love Portola Coffee Lab since I made that leap of faith and opened shop in May 2011. It has been four months and It still makes me feel thankful, warm and fuzzy inside to see such a positive response to our efforts daily and I go home happy when people go out of their way to tell me and my wife just how much they love Portola. In so many ways Orange County WAS ready for this, and we see that playing out in our shop.
Now that we have been open for a few months, I have had many opportunities to interact with our customers on many levels. Whether it is a casual conversation at the register or table, or during the many tasting and cupping events we have hosted at our shop free of charge. And there has been one question that has permeated most of these conversations in one way or another. “Why?”
When I first decided to commit 100% to this business model, I knew we must provide our customers with the knowledge to answer the question of “why?”
- Why do we offer the brew methods that we do?
- Why is it important to brew-to-order rather than brew into thermal dispensers?
- What is pressure profiling for espresso and what does that do to the flavor quality of the espresso?
And the list goes on.
These questions come from the fact that our customers are truly interested in all aspects of coffee – and I absolutely love it! We are the first coffee shop of our kind that Orange County has ever seen… and being the first in anything is both exciting and scary. And most of that excitement and fright comes from the daunting and fulfilling task of education and owning up to why we do things the way we do. Challenging?…sure. Fun?….you betcha!
It has been falsely inferred by some that because of one reason or another that we view ourselves as “the end of all coffee in OC.”
That isn’t true at all, and would be silly.
People who say that are silly.
Portola Coffee Lab is a different style of coffeehouse. We do things our way for a reason. Yet I want nothing more than to co-exist with my coffee competitors in Orange County.
From a purely logistical perspective, we can’t be “the end of all coffee in OC.” It would be impossible to service every single coffee drinker in O.C. everyday, however rewarding that would be.
So rather than argue for people to drink only our coffee while disregarding all other coffee shops in Orange County…I simply want to explain why we are doing coffee the way we are. Or as I like to put it “the meaning behind our madness.”
I want to answer “why?” and leave the rest up to the customer.
There is a reason for every aspect of our shop and I look forward to explaining in the next couple blog posts what is different about our shop and how we do things.
Portola Coffee Lab is not a traditional coffee shop and may not be for everyone, but … everyone is welcome.