Wednesday, June 22, 2011


coffee ratio

Folks often ask me how much coffee to use when brewing. I used to give answers like “approximately 2 tablespoons per 6 oz. cup.” Then the inevitable follow-up question would be about how much to use when making a pot. I finally got tired of the confusion that would then ensue when trying to figure out what size coffee maker someone had and how that translated into actual, discreet measurements.

After reading what food writer Michael Ruhlman had to say on measurements, I began to think in terms of ratios, not quantities. After some experimentation with different brewing methods and proportions, I think that I finally hit the magic ratio… 1:15.

1 part coffee to 15 parts water by weight.

Now, this means that you’ll need a scale to weigh your coffee. But the good news is that an accurate digital scale can be had for $20 - $30 and it’s a very valuable tool in the kitchen for things other than weighing coffee. Recipes (particularly baked goods) come out more consistently when the ingredients are weighed versus portioned out volumetrically. Ever try to scale up a recipe? It can be a nightmare when you’re dealing in teaspoons or pints or cups. Also, bonus points for never having to sift flour ever again.

Now, back to coffee… if you know how much brewed coffee you want, you can either weigh that amount of water, or just take the measurement in milliliters (mL) and divide it by 15 and you know how many grams of coffee are required. One beautiful thing about the metric system is that 1 mL weighs exactly 1 gram. It’s much more logical than the imperial system.

I’ve tried the 1:15 ratio with various methods of brewing and it consistently delivers, whether you’re making coffee for yourself, or twenty of your closest friends.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Damn. It's been way too long.

There are going to be some changes coming down the pike. You may have noticed that the look of the blog has changed. That's just the start. I've got a new logo and soon, the new website is gonna be up.

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Coffee Storage

Jerry Baldwin, former owner of Peet's Coffee and co-founder of Starbucks writes a spot-on article that speaks about how to store your coffee once you get it home.

And for the record, I do not water quench my coffee.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Silas' First 7 Weeks

The First 7 Weeks from Jeff Givens on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Café Justo

Our newest customer is a shop that I feel compelled to tell everyone about. Café Justo is a small kiosk located in a building that hosts a quite eclectic, very Baltimorean, assortment of establishments. Aside from getting a great cup of coffee, you can do your laundry, get legal advice, buy a lottery ticket, or send money to Mexico.

Amanda, the owner, saw potential in an underserved market and brought her passion for coffee where others might fear to tread. Other roasters had turned her down due to the tiny size of her operation. Maybe I'm a terrible businessman, but I could care less how big or small a shop is... I just want to know how serious the owner is about making great coffee.

Besides, I think there's something very cool about being able to get a properly made latte (complete with latte art) in a laundromat!

Café Justo
501 S. Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21231

Friday, January 09, 2009

Silas Andrew Givens

He was born almost 3 weeks ago, yet every time I hold him in my arms, I'm still in awe.

So tiny.

So perfect.

Another reason to try to be the best father, the best husband, I can be.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Blend

For the season, I've put together something new for Southern Skies - Holiday Blend. When I created this blend, I envisioned a coffee with earthy, chocolate tones that would contrast harmoniously with the more delicate top notes… something to warm the soul. With the economy in the shape that it’s in, we need as much soul-warming as we can stand!

Speaking of the economy, lots of folks are throttling back on their spending this Christmas, with good reason. Now that the pie is smaller and the pieces are slimmer, where you spend your dollars has a greater impact. Something you might want to think about is patronizing small businesses in your community. If they aren’t already, they are probably going to have a tough go at it this coming year. Your purchase may mean the difference between the continuance of a family business or seeing another Mega-Lo-Mart popping up down the road.

Have a wonderful holiday season and remember, coffee makes a great gift!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holiday Express

December's Java Passport shipments are loaded up to go to the post office. It's amazing how much a Mini Cooper is capable of holding. I've even hauled sacks of green coffee in that little thing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday

I'll take it black, please.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yma Sumac

September 13, 1922 - November 1, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Shenanigans & Tomfoolery

I just read that Hershey’s quietly replaced the cocoa butter in some of their products with vegetable oil. They petitioned the FDA last year to modify the standards that define milk chocolate and after failing to accomplish that, changed their packaging from “milk chocolate” to “chocolate candy.” By the way, that faint humming sound you’re hearing is that of Milton Hershey as he spins like a wood lathe.

Of course, we’ve all heard of the melamine scandal by now, where Chinese milk powder was adulterated with industrial chemicals in order to fool quality inspectors.

Amidst the current economic turmoil, I only expect to see more of these types of shenanigans as companies attempt to protect their bottom line.

Coffee roasters aren’t immune to this either. I’ve heard of a couple of tricks, like spraying the coffee with water to increase the weight, and mislabeling cheaper coffees with a more expensive variety.

When I started Southern Skies, I made a pledge to myself that I’d keep it simple and do the best job I could possibly do. That’s why we keep our focus on coffee. We don’t sell cocoa mix or tea or syrups not because we don’t like them (except maybe syrups), but because they would distract from our goal of roasting the best coffee we can.

Here’s my promise to you: What the label says on the bag is exactly what’s in the bag. And we don’t monkey around with the weight – no weighing the coffee down with water, no thumb on the scale, none of that. What you see is exactly what you get.

The way that I see it, there are lots of easier ways of making money than roasting coffee, so if I can’t do an honest job of it, what would be the point?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Grinder Lust

I picked up this little puppy a few days ago on Ebay. It's a coffee grinder made by Mahlkönig in Germany and is nothing less than a beast. Weighing in at almost 100 pounds, I had to put in an additional 220 volt circuit to accommodate it. But does it ever grind… it chewed its way through a pound in 10 seconds flat. My other shop grinder takes at least 45 seconds to accomplish the same thing.

Don’t expect to see it at the market though; this beauty is strictly for in-house use.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bobolink Dairy

Smack dab on the New Jersey-New York border lies Bobolink Dairy, run by Jonathan and Nina White. Ever since I heard about the great things that they are doing there, I've wanted to visit. Last month, on our way back from the roaster’s retreat in Connecticut, I finally had my chance since it wasn’t too far out of the way. After turning off the NY State Thruway, we drove down progressively narrower roads until we found ourselves in front of a non-assuming farmhouse. There were a few other cars already there and the small cheese shop was quite busy; remarkable considering how out-of-the-way it is. After everyone else made their purchases, I asked for a sample of the "funkiest cheese they had." I was rewarded with a slice of "Drumm," a cheese made from the milk of the very cows standing in a pasture not 50 feet away from me. Now, how's about that for local? Drumm is a firm cheese with a natural, rustic rind and a very complex, bold flavor. It's a testament to their cheesemaking talents that they were the first American dairy in over 100 years to export cheese to Europe. All of their cheese is made with raw, unpasteurized milk and the cows are allowed to be cows. That means they graze on grass, as they should, and they aren't given hormones to increase milk production. As a result, the Bobolink cows only need to be milked once daily, as opposed to twice, which is the norm for industrial, confinement-based dairy cows. What they sacrifice in quantity though, they gain back in quality. Because the cows graze on seasonal grasses and because cheese is only produced from April to November, the flavor of the grass comes through. That doesn't happen with feedlot cows, which eat silage (semi-fermented, chopped cornstalks) and a lot of grain. You know the TV ad about happy cows? Well, I don't know if it's possible for a cow to be happy, but if it is, Jonathan's are.

After the cheese shop closed for the day, we had a chance to chat with Nina for a few minutes and she showed us the wood-fired brick oven where they bake bread for the market. It's a massive thing, made with over 10 tons of masonry, and so well insulated that the thermometer still read 577 degrees even though it hadn't been fired up since the morning, over 12 hours before. It's too bad that we weren't there earlier in the day. I would've liked to learn about baking. Maybe I can do it some other time, since they routinely hold workshops and seminars for aspiring breadmakers at their farm.

Their dedication to traditional methods hasn't gone unnoticed. They've been featured in Gourmet magazine and last May, more than 50 delegates to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development visited Bobolink Dairy as well as other farms in the New York City region that exemplify successful examples of urban-rural partnerships in sustainable agriculture. Tony Bourdain also shot a segment of his food and travel show, "No Reservations" there, where they made a yummy-looking cheese and egg pizza for breakfast.

There was so much more that we wanted to see, but since it was getting late and we had a lot of road ahead yet, we had to get going, but not before loading up the cooler with cheese, bread, and ground beef from the farm store. If you're interested in traditional farming and are ever in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop by for a visit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


A friend who was passing through Dubai was kind enough to buy me this little coffee set. The brass thing with the handle is called an "Ibrik" and it's used in the traditional preparation of coffee in that corner of the world. Basically, the coffee is ground extremely fine (to dust, more or less), mixed with water, and slowly allowed to come to a boil three times before being served in the small cups. Many times, cardamom seeds are ground up with the coffee. Well-prepared coffee has a thick foam on the top and does not contain noticeable particles in the foam or the liquid.

I haven't tried this method at home but when I do, I'll post the results.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Northeast Regional Roaster's Retreat

A lot of what roasters do is done alone. Aside from our time at the farmer's market, everything else… roasting, cupping, packaging… is a solitary affair. That's why we take advantage of every opportunity to see what the rest of the specialty coffee roasting world is up to. To that end, we traveled up to Lyme, CT to attend the annual Northeast Regional Roaster's Retreat. Held on the grounds of the beautiful Ashlawn Farm, we had the pleasure of sharing company with some of the most passionate coffee people we've ever met.

In attendance were wide-eyed people just starting out and experienced veterans, eager to share their knowledge (and learn a few new tricks). Terry Davis, owner of Ambex Roasters, a roasting equipment manufacturer, demonstrated how different batches of the same coffee can taste dramatically different just by altering the time/temperature profile of the roast.

As you might imagine, tasting, or as we say, "cupping" coffee is a large part of what we do as roasters. Taste is a very subjective thing, and the more elements that can be standardized, the more consistent the end result will be. We participated in an sensory exercise with a special kit of scents called "Le Nez du Café." The kit serves as a reference standard of the significant aromas that are found in coffee and consists of 36 vials of scents commonly associated with coffee such as tobacco and chocolate as well as less common scents (basmati rice anyone?). Sometimes when cupping coffee, I'm at a loss for words to describe a taste. Exercises like this give me an aromatic glossary to refer back to.

Saturday night, Ashlawn Farm held a cookout that featured organic beef raised literally yards from where we stood. It may have been a result of the sensory exercise earlier in the day or maybe just my imagination, but I swore that I could taste the grass in the beef. Whatever the case, it was the perfect meal to end the day.

Apart from honing our technical skills, the shared camaraderie is what makes these types of events really special. Swapping tips and trading "war stories" over a beer helps create a synergy that just isn't possible on internet bulletin boards.

All in all, a weekend well spent.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Washington Post Review

Michaele Weissman, author of "God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee" has written an article for the Washington Post in which we were reviewed. A handful of cafe owners and artisan coffee roasters, including Southern Skies Coffee, were invited to participate in an informal cupping. I was thrilled to be included in a review with other well-respected roasters and even happier to find that our coffee more than held its own alongside such specialty coffee vanguards as Counter Culture and Intelligentsia.

Link to Review

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My first TV Appearance

Back in February, I was fortunate enough to be able to appear on WUSA9, the Washington, DC affiliate and demonstrate that brewing great coffee doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment, provided that some fundamental techniques are observed.

(I'm a novice at video editing, so please excuse the admittedly poor quality.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Olney Farmers Market

The birds have started nesting and the bees have begun buzzing. It’s that time of year when a young man’s thoughts turn to produce. We’re excited about the first full year of the Olney Farmers Market where we’ll be offering not only whole-bean coffee, but brewed coffee also.

The market this year looks to be more vibrant than ever, with almost 30 different producers, food vendors, and artists participating. The Washington, DC area is a vast resource for fans of good food and in addition to the regular participants, look for special guests who will be giving cooking demonstrations using our local bounty.

We look forward to seeing you this year. Make sure and stop by our booth and introduce yourself!

Olney Farmers Market

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Grind Your Own

Burrs = Good

Blades = Bad

One of the easiest ways to improve your cuppa is by grinding your coffee right before you brew it. Once coffee is ground, the volatile oils and aromas in the bean begin to evaporate at an extremely accelerated rate, leaving you with flat, stale coffee. The best type of grinder uses burrs to slice the beans into consistently-sized particles, as opposed to blade-type grinders that leave you with everything from pebble-sized clods to dust. Why is this important? Because coffee dust makes your brew bitter, and oversize chunks don't allow the water to extract all of the flavor.

If you don't own a coffee grinder right now, I'd like to give you an incentive to to make the plunge a little easier. The good people at 1st-Line Equipment are offering a 10% discount on the Infinity line of grinders. Built by Capresso, the Infinity has sharp conical burrs that rotate slowly, thereby reducing heat buildup that can burn your coffee. If you'd like to take advantage of this offer (which, by the way, I'm making absolutely NO money on), click here and when you check out, enter the code "southernskies" in lower-case letters.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Java Passport

We sample a lot of coffee. Most of it is good, but every once in a while, we find one that just jumps up off the cupping table and makes itself known. Those are the coffees that I add to our portfolio. If you're the adventurous type and not too shy to try something new, we think that you'll find the Java Passport to be your cup of tea, so to speak.

The Java Passport is simple and it works like this: you tell us how much and how often you want your coffee, we make a selection from our exceptional coffees, custom-roast it, and ship it out to you.

I realize that in this day of choice, the idea of letting someone else choose is anathema, but you gotta trust me on this one. We won't send you crap. If you're game, click here for the order form.

Each selection will come with tasting notes and information about the farm or region from where the coffee comes. So pack your bags, grab your travel mug, and join us as we explore the world through the little brown bean.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Saturday Night's Alright for Roasting

Cooling it down
20lbs of Papua New Guinea in the cooling tray

As I walked out to the roastery, the crisp night air reminded me that winter had finally arrived. I lit the roaster to warm it up while I weighed out the coffee… 20 pounds of Papua New Guinea and 20 pounds of Bugle Blend. With its 75,000 BTUs of heating power, the roaster broke the chill in the room as it came up to temperature. I loaded up the hopper and let the green coffee drop into the drum with a whoosh. The coffee began its rhythmic shoosh-shoosh as it was tossed about inside the drum. I plotted the time/temperature profile, adjusting the flame as the roast progressed. Every few seconds, I could see a little finger of flame peek out from the fire box. Soft pops, not unlike the sound of popcorn, signaled that the coffee was entering first crack, when the remaining moisture in the bean bursts out in a puff of steam. The scent of grass changed to bread as the coffee darkened and neared the final stage of roasting. I pulled a sample of beans, looked... smelled… close, but not yet ready. I pulled a few more samples with the tryer, a small scoop that inserts into the roaster, and could see that finally, it was ready to drop into the cooling tray. Moving quickly, I turned on the spinning arms of the agitator, cut the flame back, and lifted up the drum door, releasing the chocolate-colored beans from the roasting chamber. The beans cooled quickly as the agitator stirred and the last bit of smoke wafted upward.

I love my job.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Simon's Coffee

Simon's Coffee

I found myself in Cambridge, Massachusetts last week and since I'd heard good things about Simon's Coffee from Jay Caragay, I hiked over to check it out. When I say "hiked," I mean it literally, since I know nothing about the Boston/Cambridge area and walked approximately 3 miles from the MIT subway stop to Simon's. Little did I know, a convenient stop was only a few hundred yards from my destination, but I could afford to lose some weight anyway and isn't it supposed to be all about the journey?

Simon's uses coffee from George Howell's company, Terroir. George is one of the good guys in the coffee business and true to his company's name, wants you to know the land from where his coffee comes. I ordered a single espresso and the staff informed me that they didn't do espresso "to-go" (not that I would ever think of doing such a thing). The barista did his thing and passed me the warm demitasse over the bar. The mottled mahogany crema released a wonderful aroma that covered my palate with tastes of leather and tobacco, ending in a slightly floral finish. The body was slightly thinner than I prefer, but overall, it was a very good espresso.

The next time I'm in Boston, I know where I'm getting my coffee!

Simon's Coffee Shop
1736 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Olney Farmer's Market

Although it started late in the season, the Olney Farmer's Market has been very successful, due in no small part to the efforts of Janet Terry, the market master. Janet and her small army of volunteers have made a seemingly-impossible task into reality and the Olney community is a better place because of it.

Here are some scenes from Sunday, October 28:


Lisa from Atwater's Bakery


Anna from Southern Skies Coffee Roasters

A basket of goodness

I love those crazy fall squash and gourds

Monday, September 24, 2007


I’m very pleased to announce that Southern Skies has been selected to provide coffee to Oyamel, one of acclaimed-chef José Andrés’ Washington, DC restaurants. Oyamel serves antojitos, Spanish for “little whims,” which are a staple of street food in Mexico. But don’t think heavy, cheesy, gastric-distress-inducing gut-bombs. This isn’t Tex-Mex, but food from the Distrito Federal, Mexico City. The menu reflects the wide diversity of foods eaten in Mexico, from the familiar (guacamole, skirt steak) to the more obscure (black corn truffle, known as huitlacoche).

For Oyamel, I’ve found a wonderful coffee from a single estate in Chiapas, Mexico.   The 150 hectare farm, owned by brothers Delmar and Fernando Moreno Guillen, is located in the mountains at an altitude above 1500 meters. The mountain forests surrounding the farm provide home for indigenous wildlife and shade for the delicate coffee trees, which allows the coffee to mature slowly and develop its deep, complex flavor. Grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, this coffee has a silky mouthfeel that reinforces the round, chocolate notes that end in a clean, slightly spicy finish.

José Andrés is at the forefront of culinary innovation and is credited with introducing the small-plates concept to the U.S. It’s a pleasure to be able to work with someone who brings so much passion to the table.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Trippin' Billies

Back in April, I wrote about Artifact Coffee. I remember frankly being blown away by the space, the quality of their coffee, and the friendly service. Alas, it is no more. Spike Gjerde, the owner, explained in an email posted on the door that (and I’m paraphrasing) since Woodberry Kitchen, his new farm-to-table restaurant, is going to require all of his attention, he had to close shop, rather than let his standards fall. Even though I’m disappointed, you’ve got to respect the man’s principles. Those values were what made Artifact such a wonderful place, and I’m sure that Woodberry Kitchen will reflect Spike’s dedication to quality.

I can’t wait to dine there.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Simple Isn't Always

The simpler things are, the harder they are to get right. The cappuccino is one of those things. One part espresso, two parts milk… sounds easy enough. But for the same reason that it consists of only two ingredients, if either one of them is the least bit off, what otherwise would be a symphony of flavors and textures ends up being crap.

First, the espresso -
The coffee needs to have been grown, harvested, processed, transported, roasted, blended, ground, and brewed properly for it to realize its full potential. Because espresso has such a concentrated flavor, any flaws are greatly magnified. The other side of the coin is that when things come together in the right way, it can be transcendental. Properly prepared espresso should exit the portafilter looking like warm honey and be topped with a brown-flecked layer of crema the color of mahogany.

The milk –
If you’ve been in very many coffee shops, I’m sure you’ve heard the high-pitched squeal of milk being steamed. That, my friends, is a sure sign that you should leave the shop. When you find a good shop, watch the attention that the baristas give when steaming milk. Notice that they don't shove the pitcher under the steam wand and walk away to perform other tasks. Properly steamed milk has a velvety texture and natural sweetness that is the perfect complement to espresso, not something to cover up the bitterness. A cappuccino should never have a layer of dry milk froth on top, but the milk should be fully integrated into the drink, giving it a rich creamy mouthfeel.

Just as food can be plated in a way to enhance its appearance, experienced baristas know how to manipulate the milk pitcher while pouring to create "latte art." Different shapes include, rosettas, hearts, apples, and more.

Prepared properly, the cappuccino is a joy for the eyes and the palate.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


I collect all kinds of coffee-related things. This, from Korea, is one of the stranger things that I’ve come across in my travels. Carbonated soda and coffee isn’t a flavor combination that I would’ve come up with on my own. I’d like to report to you that the combination works, in spite of it being quite unorthodox. I’d like to, but I can’t. It’s horrid. There’s nothing good about it, except for the wackiness of the packaging. Korea, like Japan, has an infatuation with the English language. And much like a pre-pubescent boy who is infatuated with an older woman, what seems right in theory, doesn’t apply itself very well in reality.

The packaging is attractive enough, a stark metallic or black can with bold graphics. Upon closer inspection though, the illusion falls apart. The text reads, “First impression is sensational taste of soda. Second impression is deep yet smooth taste of coffee. If such taste has to be described numerically it would be 1052(LOVE)!”

Math not being my strong suit, I’m not exactly sure of the correlation between the number 1052 and love, but according to the soda manufacturer, it’s preferred by the new generation. There are two different cans: the black one has the “male” symbol, and the silver can has the “female” symbol. I thought that maybe the two different types tasted different, but not a chance. Both are equally bad.

Any of you math wizards out there want to clue me in on the 1052 code?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Market Season

Winter is finally over. The flowers have bloomed and

I’ve started my yard work in earnest. My tomato plants that I started from seed aren’t doing as well as I’d like so I’ll probably give in and just buy some plants.

Spring also means that farmer’s markets are opening. I totally dig farmer’s markets. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to shake the very hands that planted and harvested your food. What’s in season is fresh and when it’s gone, it’s gone. It tends to make you appreciate things more when they aren’t always available (never mind that once you’ve had a ripe heirloom tomato, there’s no going back).

On Saturdays from 9:00a.m. until noon, we’ll be at the Howard County Farmer’s Market in Glenwood. Come out and get some fresh air, produce grown in your own area code, and some fresh-roasted coffee.

If you don’t live near us, you can find your own local market at

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Artifact Coffee

To me, there’s something fascinating about old buildings. I don’t know why, but I find cast iron and weathered brick very romantic. When I was a kid, I used to spend afternoons exploring an abandoned WWII army base on the edge of town. Sneaking into the vacant barracks, I tried to imagine how it must’ve been back when the base was in operation and soldiers trained before shipping out overseas.

Artifact Coffee is located in Clipper Mill, an urban village built on the site of an abandoned mill that was founded in 1853 and manufactured sails for clipper ships. The wonderful thing about Clipper Mill is that instead of leveling the old buildings, the developers kept the historic facades intact and incorporated them into the design of the modern community.

Inside the coffee shop, a state of the art Synesso Cyncra sits juxtaposed against the unvarnished wood counter. Weighing in at almost 175 pounds, the Cyncra is an electronically temperature-controlled, stainless steel work of art. As advanced as is it is though, it is still just a tool (albeit a very nice one) and anything less than a capable hand will produce poor results. Much to their credit, the baristas here have very capable hands.

Looking up at the sparse menu, I noticed that I only saw one size of each drink - and no frozen drinks! It’s good to see more owners bucking the “bigger-is-better” venti trend. Single origin french press coffee also figures prominently.

I ordered a macchiato and was pleased to see the barista heat up a properly-sized cup with water. Her hands moved confidently and smoothly through the routine undoubtedly polished by thousands of drinks before mine. A minute later, a lovely looking macchiato sat before me on the bar. My tongue wasn’t betrayed by the expectations that my eyes had created. The espresso had the color of mahogany and was buttery, complex, and balanced. It paired perfectly with the subtle sweetness of the microfoamed milk.

Great coffee, great service, and a beautiful location – what more can one ask for?

I really like this place; I just wish that it were closer to my house.

Artifact Coffee
2010 Clipper Park Road
Baltimore, MD

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ventana de Café

Photo courtesy of Julie Hicks

Depending upon one’s perspective, the word "Miami" conjures up different images. Many people think of South Beach and its Art Deco architecture and the “beautiful people.” For others, cigars are the main attraction.

My thing though, is the coffee window. For the uninitiated, a coffee window is an espresso bar open to the sidewalk. Most Cuban restaurants have them, and they are a local institution. Owing at least in part to the year-round pleasant weather and the fact that Cubans love a good, spirited conversation, at almost any hour you can find a few people socializing outside while enjoying a cafecito.

Coffee in Miami is a little (ok, a lot) different than what you may be used to. First of all, there is no brewed coffee. All of it comes from the espresso machine, and it isn’t served up in 20 oz. portions either. The basic drinks are the cafecito, colada, cortadito, and café con leche.

Cafecito – espresso with lots of sugar added. Cuban coffee tends to be quite overextracted and the sugar helps offset the bitterness.

Colada – a large portion, perhaps 4 oz., served in a small styrofoam cup and accompanied by several small plastic cups. The cups are for you to share your coffee with your friends or workmates.

Cortadito – a cafecito with anywhere from a tablespoon of milk to half milk/half coffee.

Café con leche – the Cuban equivalent of a latte; usually drunk in the morning.

Although I don’t get into Miami as often as I like, I pass through Miami International a few times a year and get to indulge my cafecito jones at La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant located at the entrance to concourse D. There’s no better way to shake out the cobwebs of an 8-hour overnighter than with a cafecito and a couple of ham croquettes!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tostada y Café

I've been experimenting with a technique that gels liquids instantaneously and at room temperature to create espresso "caviar."  The espresso is encapsulated inside itself and it bursts in the mouth, much like real caviar.

This is my interpretation of the traditional Spanish breakfast of coffee and toast.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Necessary Inconvenience

I like public radio. I like it a lot. But there’s one thing that I can’t stand about public radio: fund raising week. I know, without advertising, they don’t have much choice except to open up the phone lines and prod us into feeling guilty for listening without paying. The management at the radio station probably hates fund raising week as much as the public does, but it’s the nature of the game.

The radio station also fills up with volunteers to man the phones. To help make everyone’s week a little more pleasant, Southern Skies is donating coffee to WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington, DC. It might not make the fund drive pass any faster for me, but it might for them.

Sunday, December 31, 2006


We made a trip earlier this year to Spain.  And while Spain isn’t exactly famous for coffee, I tried to visit as many coffee shops as I could.

Coffee in Spain means one thing: espresso.  A straight shot is known simply as “café solo.”  If you want them to add a little milk, you should ask for a “cortado.”  However, even with the addition of milk, almost everything that I tried was extremely bitter and overextracted.  Maybe it's because coffee in Spain is roasted dark traditionally, even darker than a French roast.  Another method of roasting is "torrefación."  In torrefación, sugar is added during the roast cycle, which caramelizes and coats the beans with a shiny glaze.  Originally, the sugar was added in order to lengthen the shelf life of the coffee.  Coffee drinkers became accustomed to the smoky flavor and now, it is done for the taste.

In Valladolid, we visited "Plantaciones del Origen," a coffee shop in the old city center.  A contemporary shop, they specialize in single-origin coffees, and will make a shot from from any of the coffees that they have available.  They also sell teas that they prepare in press pots.  Not willing to risk another espresso, I requested that my coffee be prepared in a press pot, to no avail.  Faced with only one option, I took the risk and was rewarded with a decent cup.  It wasn't great, but it was passable.  At least the shop was nice, with rustic wood floors, brick walls and a beautiful mahogany bar.

Another coffee shop we visited was in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.  All stainless steel and frosted glass, it's a stunning space.  The ceiling is made of a backlit fabric and combined with the natural light from the large windows, the resulting ambience is very pleasant.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Brooklyn Coffee Tour

For my birthday, I went up to NYC with some friends. I wanted to stop in at Gimme! Coffee in Brooklyn to say hi to Chris Owens, so I called him to let him know that we would be in town. I let him know that we were going to visit some of the other shops in the borough and much to my surprise, he generously offered to give us the VIP treatment and be our guide (on his day off!).

The next day, we met at Gimme! and jump-started the morning with an exquisite espresso pulled from their new GB5. Smooth and buttery, with loads of body, it is one of my favorite espresso blends. Newly energized and ready to tackle the Brooklyn traffic, we set off for our first stop – Café Grumpy.

Café Grumpy is located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in an industrial-looking area. Without our expert navigators, Chris and his girlfriend M'lissa, we would probably never have found it. We were introduced to the owners, husband and wife Chris Timbrell and Caroline Bell, who showed us around their pride and joy. And it is a very nice shop with exposed brick walls, antique wood floors, and local art. Of course, the true measure of a shop (in my opinion) is the coffee, and in that department, they don’t disappoint. They have a Synesso Cyncra, and the shot that I had was smooth and sweet. It was the first time that I’d tried Counter Culture’s Espresso Aficionado and I preferred it over the Toscano blend, though it’s no slouch by any means. Chris showed us some plans that he had for a shop over in Manhattan, in Chelsea. If it’s anything like his current shop, it’ll be a success (and when it comes to espresso, Manhattan needs all the help it can get!) Next stop… Gorilla Coffee.

As we drove up 5th Avenue, I could see the throng of people waiting to get inside. We assumed our place in line and waited as it slowly snaked its way through the door and into the shop, affording us the opportunity to view the display of Gorillawear t-shirts and mugs. Front and center on the counter sat a retro-style Faema E61 Jubilee. Decked out in chrome, brass, and red neon, it’s a stunning piece of gear.

This shop really seems to be at the heart of the neighborhood, a true “third place.” If only all shops could bring an area together like this.