Drink it like a customer!

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We’ve recently revamped a number of beverages on our menu. The re-think was prompted by the realization that we need to systematically try each beverage on our menu the way our customers typically drink it. This seems so obvious in hindsight, and I’m sure that plenty of others have said this (and done this!)

One of the dangers in this business (and perhaps life in general) is assuming other people share your priorities and preferences. I’m a coffee roaster and thus very focused on our filter/batch (hot and iced coffee) and espresso as these drinks are the most transparent to the quality of our coffee and roasts. But of course I also follow the sales numbers and thus pay a lot of attention to the core milk drinks: Lattes, Caps, Cortados etc. If we aren’t super careful with the biggest sellers, we’ll alienate our core customers. And similarly, lots of customers take their coffee with milk and sugar, so we’re careful that our batch hot and iced coffees go well with these too.

But with the attention on the core drinks (and the ones that staff tend to order,) several drinks on the menu didn’t get the attention they deserved. Iced black tea and iced chai for instance. We use a phenomenal Golden Needle oolong from Song Tea as our house black tea; it has remarkably low astringency for a black tea. We made the mistake of assuming that because it is great hot, it’ll be great cold, and confirmed this only by tasting it straight. And of course we already have this tea in-house, so using the same was the path of least resistance. However, loaded with melting ice cubes and milk, the tea was unmemorable. Similarly, our chai spices were lovely and delicate and worked reasonably well as a hot chai. But chilled, when our ability to taste spice and sweetness is lower (try room temperature melted ice cream,) the chai was outright weak and watery. And so on. So we’ve completely redone some of our recipes and approaches, covered up our bare spots so to speak. If it’s on the menu, it should be great – the way customers want to enjoy it.

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EK43 Burr Alignment – Experience with the Titus Tool and the Perger Method

As the burrs on our EK grinder started to break in with use, it became apparent that their alignment was pretty far off. EK espressos were flowing too quickly and extraction was far less than optimal; under-extraction was exacerbated by updosing to stretch contact time. We had tried the Perger technique (dry erase marker on the flat portion of the burr, aluminum shims, attempting to align both the fixed and the moving burrs sequentially) without as much success as hoped. So, on the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a Titus EK alignment kit, which has helped immensely – our EK shots are ground well off the “zero” point, have slowed down substantially and extraction is now running at about 22%. And they are tasting great.

Some quick tips from my experience (and a caveat, I’m far from an expert here! I’m just hoping to help you save a bit of time when you go for it!):

  • I have the V1 kit, without the thumbscrew in the mounting bracket (the additional thumbscrew helps adjust both mounting bracket height and ease of removal). With the v1 kit, you need a rubber mallet to basically hammer the mounting bracket onto the shaft.  Be sure not to hammer it all the way down as it’ll be realllly hard to remove!
  • The real trick to using the Titus kit is getting the deflection gauge probe in the right position, at the edge of the flat portion of the burr, just brushing the top surface of the ridges.
  • If you zero the gauge properly at the top of one of the ridges, you’ll quickly find the high point on the burrs as your carefully rotate it 360.
  • The technique that worked for me was marking the high point, then bringing two other points, around 120 degrees apart, to the same level via the shims (you might need different thickness shims in these spots to get to the high point).  Ie, basically building a tripod so that the burr is brought to the highest level of distortion in the frame.  The Titus kit comes with shims in 0.01mm increments, which takes a lot of the guess work out of the levelling process.
  • Matt Perger’s Barista Hustle video on EK alignment is a must-see before attempting to align the EK burrs, even with the Titus kit!  He points out so many crucial aspects of alignment, such as ensuring you are shimming the outer rim of the burrs (the only part that makes contact with frame.)
  • You also need to review the Barista Hustle video because the Titus tool only helps with the fixed burr (I’m sure there is some super clever person out there who has figured out how to mount it onto the rotating burr…I’m clueless).  So once you’ve levelled the fixed burr, you need to use the Perger dry erase marker technique to find the high points on the rotating outer burr.  Again, I used the tripod shim technique (ie shims in two places around what I thought to be the high point) and that seemed to work well.

Best of luck – and if you can finish this project in less than two hours, my proverbial hat is off to you!

– Aaron

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DIY Graduated Pitchers/Tumblers/Shakers

The graduated frothing pitchers out there are great and a big step forward in reducing milk waste.  But sometimes you just want to pour with a lucky pitcher, want an etched tumbler (for iced lattes etc), or just want an excuse to do a fun little project.  So in an effort to assuage the baristas while still keeping an eye on milk waste, I tried a couple of methods of etching lines on the interior some stainless steel vessels.

  • Dremel and various bits (cutting, grinding etc.)  I think in theory this could work extremely well if you properly clamp the Dremel in place, and ideally the pitcher too.  In practice, this was well beyond my weak Dremel skills and I ended up with a lot of messy scratches and a poorly defined score line.
  • Etching with electricity.  Eureka!

I can’t claim any credit for the this idea, there are plenty of great videos on the internet showing how it is done.  But I can say I tried it, it works, it is super cheap (you probably have almost everything you need in your shop already), and it’s quite satisfying.  Here’s the quick version of what worked for me (try at your own risk…this is an educational post only!):

Materials:

  • Four alligator clips
  • Wire
  • 9v battery
  • a bit of salt water
  • a bunch of Q-tips
  • a flashlight
  • electrician’s tape
  • an exacto knife/box cutter
  • and of course the metal vessels you wish to etch.

Steps:

  1. Clean and dry the interior of the vessel.  Mark the line you’d like to etch with a Sharpie.
  2. Cut a thin bar into the electrician’s tape with a precise cutting instrument (I used blue tape, but in hindsight electrician’s tape would have been better, probably would have helped create crisper borders). Stick the cut-out tape in place over the Sharpie mark.  In practice, this is the most difficult part of the whole project given that you need to try to get it level pretty deep inside the pitcher.  Sticking the tape to the end of a straight edge (aligning it such that the center of the cut-out is at the corner edge of the straight edge), then running the straight edge down the middle of the spout, helped to get the tape as level as possible.  A flashlight also helps when trying to position the cut-out over the sharpie mark.
  3. After you’ve attached alligator clips to both ends of two wires, attach one clip to the positive end of the 9v battery.  The other end gets clipped to the pitcher.
  4. Soak the end of a Q-tip in a bit of saltwater (to better conduct the electricity) and clip the Q-tip (closer to the tip works better) with one alligator clip on the second wire.  The clip needs to be biting down on wet cotton.  The other end of the wire gets clipped to the negative end of the battery.
  5. Hold the Q-tip by the shaft and “paint” the cut-out, going back and forth.  You’ll probably need to do this for about 5 minutes if you are using a 9v battery, and will probably need to replace your Q-tip (swapping ends as they blacken) several times in order to get a good etch.  You’ll see a bit of very tiny bubbling, maybe a wisp of vapor, and hear a slight hum.

The etch marks aren’t quite laser crisp, but they are visible and work!

-Aaron

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