Roasting up a storm in Bogotá

Just because a gringo has long hair and a neck tattoo, it doesn’t mean they’re right”
— Alvaro Pelaez, roast master

Or put another way, drinking some of the ultra-light roasts currently in vogue may make you feel ill, no matter how trendy they are. Which is not to say that here at ZipaCoffee we’re endorsing burnt coffee. Obviously it’s a question of balance.

And so, keen to hit the right notes as we continue to roast coffee on a Huky roaster in our Bogotá apartment, we enrolled in a three-day course offered by Educafés in collaboration with local café Varietale.

It turned out to be both a mad dash and solid introduction to what probably takes a lifetime to master: how to turn green coffee beans into something delicious in the cup, courtesy of heat applied in the right quantities at the right moments.

If it sounds easy, it isn’t.

Batches of beans roasted to the same ‘degree’ or end colour do not necessarily taste the same. How quickly their temperatures rise in the machine and how long they remain there will determine sugar and acid concentrations in the finished product.

As if that weren't enough, bean variety and density, batch size and altitude all need to be factored in to the calculations.

Alvaro showed us how to plot a roast's progress using Artisan software. Another software option is CropsterIn simplistic terms one could say typical roast curves look like a soup ladle or tick, with temperature on the y axis and time on the x axis.

But as Buhler engineer Oskar Rutishauser explained in an interesting presentation, studies show consumers frequently prefer coffees roasted in completely different ways.

In any case, the course provided us with several new techniques to try out back home. Our thanks to organizer Parmenio Angarita and instructor Alvaro Pelaez for the insightful comments and good humour over the three days. 

A coffee in Naples

“With coffee you make peace”, says Antonio Cirillo as he leans against a bar in central Naples, an area that’s seen its fair share of strife.

He gestures in the air, explaining the importance of coffee to the people of Naples, among the most architecturally impressive and vibrant cities in the world.

During a recent visit we decided to dip into its coffee culture, a far cry from the light-roasted and filter preparation methods that are currently in vogue across parts of Europe and the U.S. 

There were no hipsters in General Coffee on the day we visited. Despite it’s name, no one speak English. Clients like Antonio come for espresso, or to buy dark-roasted whole beans for their home and businesses.

Pietro Maione runs this small, family-owned company. He started in 1988 and knows nothing else, he says while inspecting a batch. Satisfied with its colour, he opens the door of his Italian-made roaster, releasing the coffee into the cooling tray below while a wonderful aroma fills the room. 

Oils are visible on the surface of the beans, a clear indicator that they’ve been roasted beyond the point of mere sugar caramelisation.

It’s the way Pietro’s clients like it. “They want a flavour that persists in the mouth,” he says. “Complete, intense rather than strong.”

He buys beans from all over the world before mixing them into his house blends with names like Brazil, Congo and Guatemala, administered from cylinders suspended from the ceiling, an increasingly rare sight due to the growing popularity of coffee capsules. We thank him for his time and step out into the heat.

In the coming days we down dozens of espressos in the name of research. For those hunting subtle hints of jasmine or apricot from their coffee, Naples is not the place.

However coffee is everywhere here, and it’s hard to resist the pleasure of having a quick cup while standing at the bar with the morning buzz of workers all around you. Or sitting down in one of the city’s many historical cafes including Gambrinus and Scaturchio to enjoy their amazing pastries like Rhum baba, sfogliatelle and cannoli.

Coffee remains a very traditional matter in Naples. The industry operates much like it did 50 years ago, while for Neapolitans the ritual of drinking coffee like their grandparents did is a key part of daily life.

Cafés are places to meet and chat about what's happening in the neighbourhood. Who’s alive, who’s dead. Where the coffee comes from and whether it’s a blend or single origin are of secondary importance. Coffee in Naples is like that, intense and strong. A bedrock that helps to keep this vibrant city moving.

ZIPA coffee becomes a Q Grader!

One of us recently took a week off work to sit the rigorous Q Grader course… and amazingly passed!

Designed by the Coffee Quality Institute, the programme trains coffee professionals to grade green coffee and cup in a standardized way, helping to make comparisons and identify ‘specialty’ coffee.   

Over six days we slurped a range of different coffees -- washed, African, naturally-processed and Indonesian -- and conducted a number of different exercises to hone the palate, including one to identify salt, sugar and acidity levels in a brewed cup. 

Triangulation of Indonesian coffees

Our small group included a grower from Colombia's Nariño region, employees from two of the country's largest coffee mills and a green coffee exporter. By day three we were all nervous as hell, ahead of the imminent exams (20 in total!). By day six, total exhaustion had set in.

In fact the best word to describe the whole experience is 'intense'. But it was also great fun and hugely informative, thanks to our excellent teacher Jorge Martinez, as well as Jaime Duque, owner of Bogota's Catación Publica café where the course was held.

And we do feel more qualified to talk about aromas, acidity levels and other key coffee descriptors at length...

Hopefully that's good news for you!