Some ideas/questions about promoting better home brewing

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Postby ChrisSchooley » Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:28 pm

THis is from a post that I just put up on the shrub blog, but would for sure love to hear some comments from this peanut gallery on this subject.

link to the original post:

http://www.coffeeshrub.com/shrub/blog/p ... ttractions

the gist/actually pretty much all of it.

With all the collaborations that I've been doing with beer folks lately I've been thinking a lot about our two craft industries and how they match up. There are definitely regions where craft coffee is doing gang-busters and there's a lot of community awareness and support for it among the audience for craft beer . There's other regions though where we're still struggling to get folks to look for a roast date on their whole bean coffee, but where craft brews are doing really well.

In my opinion, craft beer and craft coffee share a good deal of the same audience; people who care about skilled craftsmanship and carefully chosen and cared for ingredients. Where the biggest difference between the two craft products lies is that with craft beer, outside of a few storage and temperature issues or stemware issues if you really want to split hairs, the product is delivered to the end user in a fully realized form. With craft coffee, there are still a couple steps that the end user must take and do properly in order for the end result to come out as intended.

This is not a bad thing. I believe that the act of preparing the coffee at home, a craft in and of itself, engages our audience in a way that a bottle of beer can't. It gives the end user a stake in the outcome. That being said, it is still a challenge that we face, the final preparation being out of our hands. So the question is, how do we ensure that our intentions for the experience of that coffee are met? Brewing directions on packaging is very common, and I think it's a sound practice, same with a brewing pamphlet. The only issue with these is that it's still up to the user to read them. I don't want it to seem like I don't trust the end user, it's just that I want us to think of some more proactive ways in which we can promote better brewing practices.

The other day on the social networking network, I had a thought that I shared. What if when we sold a bag of whole bean roasted coffee to someone we asked them what kind of brewer they used and then ground them a sample of what the grind should look like for that brew method? I think that this is a really easy and proactive way in which we can better address one of the biggest issues with home brewing. Yes, there are differences in grinders and their output, but even in regard to a blade grinder, if the person has a reference sample then they are more likely to get a closer approximation. So that's something, what else? What are our other big hurdles with home brewing?

Dosing is another area where the brew can go wrong, but I think that we might be able to do something proactive there as well, in the same step even. A ton of people, certainly most people, dose their brew volumetrically. I'm cool with this. I mostly weigh both my coffee and my water when I brew at home, but I also like to eye-ball brews sometimes, especially with certain brew methods. Realizing that most folks are going to eye-ball their brew at home, how easy would it be if when we dosed out the coffee to grind for their grind sample, we asked how much coffee they brewed at a time in that brewing device that they've already described to us, then weighed out the grind sample in a go cup and leveled out the beans as best as possible and then marked the go cup where that dosage of that particular coffee came to? Now, yes, their brew weight might be a larger amount than what is necessary for the grind sample, but in this case you could still weigh out the batch, make the mark, pour most of it back, and then grind what you need for the grind sample.

So, in 2 easy steps we've created a proactive way in which we can aid in making a better approximation and thusly a better cup of coffee. Now we come to the biggie, and honestly I have a lot more questions here than ideas (pretty much all questions, really). Water is definitely one of the biggest issues, here we have both the issues of quality and temperature. This is where we generally give some parameters and/or instructions and/or advice, but is there a proactive way in which we can really get the water issues resolved without just saying you should use this kind of water and it should be at this temperature for the brewing? One big problem is that if they're using an auto-drip machine, there's little that they can do as far as affecting the temperature other than brewing a full pot at a time (though heat retention is still an issue here). This is a real question I'm asking here, and I hope that a few of you feel compelled to share some thoughts. Perhaps by showing our invested interest in their brewing at home by providing both a grind and a dose approximation, they may be more receptive to any advice we might have regarding the water and we've won a bit of the battle simply by taking those steps. What do you all think?
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Postby timd » Mon Sep 19, 2011 1:08 pm

Chris, I agree we have a lot in common with craft brewers. I've been lucky enough to be around quite a few and there is a lot we can learn from their successes and missteps. In a lot of ways our industries have evolved along a parallel path for the past 25 years or so. The issue I hear most brewers lament is serving temperature. Many believe consumers drink their beers far too cold and miss out on the best aspects. Pulling a porter out of the ice chest at a BBQ and drinking it without letting it come up to temp raises the hackles of many brewers.

Water is the factor that is the easiest to change for most people who make coffee at home and it alone can make a huge impact on cup quality. It is also very simple to get the point across, most people can detect the additives in city water and most people with wells can tell you about hardness, composition and off-flavors. Even a simple Brita filter can remove the chlorine and many of the off flavors and I believe incremental change is better than none at all. Your suggestion about sending grind samples home is quite good. I would add that it helps roasters to see what a blade grinder does to their coffee and brewing coffees produced with these methods are insightful for us as we move into the discussion with our customers. I guess it can be summed up by saying: put yourself in your customer's shoes.

There have been some great advances in home grinders and related equipment but aside from a few well-off and/or prosumer level enthusiasts, it scares people when you start adding up the costs associated with grinders, advanced brewers, scales and various hand-crafted wooden/bamboo stirring tools from the heights of Hokkaido.

Ultimately, coffee consumers tend to brew in a ritualistic style that suits their tastes and time constraints. If they open the door to by saying something like: "I can never get this coffee to taste like you make it here" then we can start to have a discussion. Otherwise it is a sticky wicket to start telling someone that what they like and cherish is incorrect.

Pressure on the manufacturers of brewing equipment has to come from us. In this day and age the notion that brewers can't be made to fit into the window of acceptable temperatures is absurd. Add to it the poor dispersion of most home brewers and it is no surprise that it is very hard to make a good cup of coffee with a brewer from Target or K-Mart.

Cleanliness of equipment is another issue we can tackle with relative ease. Dirty carafes, caked up grinders and sludgy brew baskets are easily fixed with a "field kit" for cleaning and a little consumer education. I had to take a field kit to my parents house after last Thanksgiving where the coffee was embarrassingly bad because the equipment was downright dirty.
Tim Dominick
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