Coffee Questions: What is Coffee? by Caleb Savage


Let’s talk about coffee. Not coffee the plant, nor coffee the seed; coffee the drink. When we talk about “just a cup of coffee,” what are we referring to? Is espresso a coffee? Is a Chemex a coffee? Confused? So are the professionals. Today, we’ll explore coffee the drink in the context of the shop.

Brewing Culture

Coffee’s desirability as a stimulant as well as its widespread cultivation and consumption by way of the age of exploration and colonialism has produced a variety of cultural styles of coffee brewing. Various methods of brewing have been designed and refined over the years to match the demands in price, style, and culture of the people who demand it. Old methods like Turkish coffee remain culturally popular; Italian espresso revolutionized coffee consumption; English consumption led to a long string of improvements in home coffee brewing.

Strength, Body, & Brewing

What makes a strong cup of coffee?

For some, it’s a dark and robust drink that is both bitter and sweet like a dark wine. For others, it’s about being able to feel your heartbeat after the first sip. If we’re talking about caffeine, our pourovers have generally the same amount of caffeine as standard brewing recommendations for home coffee pots. Two “scoops” or tablespoons is around twenty grams; our dose for a single pourover on the Stagg XF Dripper.

When we talk about the taste or body of the coffee, factors like origin, roast, brew method, extraction come into play. Just like apples grown in different regions or different varieties, coffee can vary in flavor depending on country of origin, coffee cherry variety, or processing method.

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Just like a specific coffee on pourover might taste a little different than what it tastes like on espresso, there can also be a difference in flavor between your usual brewing method at home or work versus a cup from the shop.

A lighter bodied cup doesn’t necessarily mean less caffeine or a weaker cup. Further, home brewing options like a French Press, Aeropress, or Moka Pot, might give you the style of coffee you’re looking for at home!

Coffee, extracted

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As a drink in any form, coffee is a solution in which certain soluble particles are dissolved from the roasted coffee bean by water. Extraction, the process of pulling out those water-soluble coffee particles from the ground coffee bean, is the chemical process of making coffee. The goal of coffee-making, whether espresso, coffee pot, or pourover, is to extract as much of the good tasting coffee particles while also not extracting as little of the not so good tasting coffee particles as possible. We use variables like water temperature, grind size, and time to manage the extraction process.

While there are a variety of different brewing methods and desires for flavor in coffee; coffee made well or evenly extracted, should also be the goal. In our desire to serve really good coffee, we make each coffee by the cup to ensure freshness, quality, and consistency. Our friends over at Modbar & Fellow help us provide these standards.

Modbar by Caleb Savage

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We love the way a cup of coffee tastes when made using a Chemex. We also love serving our friends coffee as consistently and efficiently as possible. For us, the solution came in the form of Modbar’s Pour Over system. Using Modbar allows us to spend more time with customers while also allowing us to serve more customers quality brewed coffee alongside our espresso offerings on the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle. Here’s a little more info about Modbar and their systems from Modbar team members Will and Lena:

“Modbar was created by two bandmates in Fort Wayne, Indiana: Corey Waldron and Aric Forbing. The idea started percolating in Corey's mind in the early 2000s while he was working as a barista and roaster -- he wondered why he had to have a big bulky machine on the counter getting in the way of his conversations with customers. He imagined there must be a way to move most of the machine under the counter and leave only the coffee service above. Corey turned to his friend Aric, an industrial designer, to bring the concept to life. Early on, the pair found support from La Marzocco and brought the first modular, undercounter espresso machine to the market in 2013.”

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Modbar debuted their Pour Over system alongside their Espresso and Steam systems at the SCAA Expo in Boston in 2013. “Originally, Aric & Corey wanted to offer a hot water tap to complement the espresso and steam systems but found that there were already some good options available for that. Their thinking then began to incorporate a by-the-cup drip coffee option, and they found that there weren't any options that allowed for both manual and programmed/automatic use, so they got to working on what eventually became the Pour Over System we know and love today.”

Modbar Espresso

By moving all of the boiler’s and technology under the counter, Modbar’s Espresso system eliminates the need for a mini coffee-creating wall between barista and customer, leaving only the group heads and steam wands on bar. This sometimes confuses coffee consumers who take the absence of a big machine on the bar to mean the shop doesn’t serve espresso.  

Photo courtesy of The Boxcar

Photo courtesy of The Boxcar

“It's kind of a two-edged sword: we want the 'gear' to disappear in order to highlight the process, the barista's hands and their crafting of the beverage. But then I'm also like, 'Hey! Our machines are really good looking. Notice them!' We can't have it both ways, but I still want to. Our system is great for that reason - the guest can see their drink being constructed. Most latte fans have never seen an espresso shot pouring. It also makes the barista have to up their cleanliness game, which I love, as everything is on display. No more hiding the mess behind or under the espresso machine.”

Next time you grab a pourover, check out the system just behind the Black Eagle and let us know what you think. Also, to see Modbar’s Espresso and Steam Systems in use, head south and see our friends over at The Boxcar of Moore!

Chemex Coffeemaker by Caleb Savage

When it comes to hand-brewed coffee, everyone’s an expert. With their preferred brew method, ratio, and recipe, coffee enthusiasts are quick to tell you the “best” way to make a pour over. Here’s what we think: the best way to make coffee is the way that yields coffee you love.  At the shop we work to manage the brewing variables to deliver a consistent and delicious cup of coffee. For Clarity, we use a Chemex. Here are some reasons why:

MOMA Approved Art

Just two short years after its invention in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, the Chemex coffee maker was (and still is) on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Dr. Schlumbohm worked to make daily tools both more functional and more attractive. It’s great to have a coffee maker make great coffee, but it’s even better to have a coffee maker look great while also making great coffee.

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Coffee, filtered

Aside from the design of the glass brewer, Chemex's double bonded filters are made to retain more of the fats and oils released in the brewing process than other types of filtration processes allowing for a cup that is cleaner and less acidic than a process using another type of filter. While it may give up a little body, it presents flavors more clearly, helping us live up to our name.

Chemex Pro-tips

Holding firm to the American way (Hello Imperial Measurements), Chemex brewers use 5oz Cups to designate sizes for their various purchase options. We’ve found that a 3 Cup brewer makes a great single cup option (about 300g), the 8 Cup brewer is great for 2 servings (600g), and the 10 Cup brewer works best for 3 (900g). We love to share our recipe and talk brewing with anyone who's interested.

Modbar Chemex Pourover.jpg

While using a glass brewer is beautiful way to brew coffee, sometimes retaining the high heat needed to brew the coffee can be an issue. That’s one of the reasons we use the Modbar pour over systems and also why our 3 Cup Chemexes behind the bar have leather covers around their bottom half.

We love our Chemexes. If you’re looking for a way to make coffee at home, we’d really recommend giving them a try. We sell a couple different options alongside filters in store and on our online shop. If you have a brew method or recipe that you think makes a better cup, tell us! We love exploring all of the ways you can make great coffee at home.

On Bar: Ethiopia Shakiso from Cat & Cloud by Steve Willingham

We've got a new coffee from Cat & Cloud Coffee Roasters on bar right now from Guji, Ethiopia. Some of our favorite coffees this year are from this region. They're always fruity, sometimes with exotic tropical fruit flavors, or simply juicy citrus and super clean like this one.

More specifically, this coffee comes from one of the lesser known areas of Guji, called Shakiso. It's basically a giant forest of coffee trees, and it's a pretty dangerous place due to tribal clashes.

The trees in Guji tend to be heirloom, so they're very uniquely Guji. The cherries are dense and grown under local Acacia trees. The conditions are perfect for excellent coffee: high elevation, good soil, generations of coffee-loving farmers, basically ticking every box on the good-coffee-checklist.

Cat & Cloud has been one of our favorite roasters since the day they started. Check out this post we did the first time we featured their coffees here.

We'll have this coffee on for the next couple of days, so come by and grab a cup.