barrelTen days ago I started an experiment with the barrel I got for my birthday. You can read about it here. Now I’d like to post about the results of my very unscientific experiment.

The Setup

I chose the Ethiopia Konga for my first venture in barrel aging coffee for a couple reasons.

1. It was one of the few coffees in my bunch of samples I’d actually roasted and tasted before, many times actually.

2. It’s flavor profile fit with the bourbon I had previously aged in my barrel. The Konga is a dry processed coffee, but not in the gigantic fruit bomb way that we often think of naturals. It’s major characteristic is its creamy body, though it does exhibit some red fruit characteristics as well.

The Result

So based on the changes that I saw in my bourbon over the course of a week, I aged the coffee for the same. The results were interesting. Given coffee’s porous nature it definitely soaked up some of the characteristics of the barrel and the bourbon that had been in there.

I was able to roast the coffee on Monday night and gave it about 18 hours to rest. It came out smelling like no coffee I’d ever tried before. When I tried the coffee (V60 Pour Over for those interested) it tasted like butterscotch, strong, almost fermented butterscotch. Honestly, it was a little harsh. So I let it rest a while longer and tried it again. The 2nd cup was much smoother and more mellow, but still retained the obvious butterscotch flavors, a success.

What I Learned

All these early experiments taught me a lot. For instance, 1 week in a small barrel will make a pretty big difference. But after some more reading no barrel aging I found out that it takes approximately 58 days to equal 1 year in a normal 53 gallon barrel. So I’ll be aging things a while longer in the future.

I was also reminded of the importance of degassing freshly roasted coffee. When I more frequently roasted at home I would often drink my coffee right off the roaster, but some coffee needs more time to rest. This was definitely the case because it turned what was almost harsh into something strange and wonderful.

Right now I’m prepping the barrel for more coffee aging with some Tanqueray Martinis. I can’t wait to taste the results of the cocktail and whatever coffee I decide to follow that with. It should be interesting.

For now we’ve got the Ethiopia Bourbon Barrel Konga in extremely limited quantities at Three Crowns Coffee. But it’s sure to be just the first in a long line of coffee aging experiments.

bourbon-barrelFor my birthday my wife got me a new 1 liter bourbon barrel. It’s pretty much amazing, just like my wife. I took a week to cure it per the instructions and another week to age some Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon that I got for Christmas. The results were amazing. Smooth, oaky, sweet, and beautiful. I read in some introductory guide to distilling that using a 5 gallon barrel will increase the speed at which the contents age. So, since my barrel is even smaller, I’ve decreased the time I let things age in the barrel.

However, my purpose was not primarily to age spirits, but to age some green coffee beans. I’m certainly not the first to think of this. Both Dark Matter and Ceremony Coffee Roasters offer some barrel aged coffees. But the idea intrigued me enough to want to try it on my own. So now that I’ve had a chance to age some spirits in preparation for the coffee, the question is which one? Here’s the flavor profile of the bourbon I used. Creamy, mellow, ripened red berry, rich, spicy, well-balanced, and moderately sweet.

Here are some of the coffees I have on hand:

Sumatra Harimau Tiger (5334) - Juicy, and sweet with intense fresh bell pepper, herbaceous, lemon and grapefruit flavors.

Tanzania Peaberry Songea (4786) - Sweet cedar.

Ethiopia Washed Yirgacheffe (5363) - Round with intense tangy florals, sweet lime and lemongrass flavors.

Ethiopia Konga Grade 1 (5362) - Chocolate, floral, lime and buttermilk tones.

Ethiopia Yirgacheffe 3 Konga (5569) - Floral, coffee cherry, apple, lemonade and wine flavors.

Rwanda Fully Washed Ngororero (5573) - Juicy, sweet and savory, with lemon acidity and a creamy mouthfeel.

Sulawesi Tana Toraja Peaberry (4560) - Smooth and citric with kafir lime leaf flavor.

Vote for your favorite in the comments.

new-year-resolutionsRarely do I feel compelled to devise a list of resolutions at the beginning of a new year. At best I compile, at least in my mind, a vague set of goals or things I’d like to see happen in the coming year. But this year, for the sake of accountability, I thought I would make that list a little more concrete. It’s not exactly a list of resolutions, but more a list of goals and things I anticipate or would like to do in 2014. It will be interesting to reflect upon these at the start of 2015.

1. Buy a House – We’re very close already. More on this when things are finalized.

2. Have a Baby – Our first one is on the way, due at the beginning of April. Can’t wait to meet him.

3. Plant a Garden – I don’t buy into all the health food hype, but I can assure you produce can’t be bought at the store like you can grow in your yard. But more than that I want to landscape in a way that all our plants are edible in one way or another. Time will tell if that is overly ambitious.

4. Be a Better Spiritual Leader – Vague I know, but here’s how I quantify that. Daily Bible reading, both personal and as  family. Getting involved in a small group. Start helping to lead worship at church.

5. Grow My Business – I’m excited about the growth we’ve already encountered at Three Crowns,  but there is room for so much more.

6. Read More Books – I tend to default to mindless entertainment. This year I want to read a book a month.

7. (Finally) Release that Album – I’ve been sitting on an acoustic album for some time now. This is the year I will release it. Maybe I’ll even record another.

8. Play More Shows – I can count on one hand the number of shows I played last year. Not that I’m looking to tour or anything, but I would like to play more shows, keep up my chops, and maybe start a band.

9. Pay Down Some Debt – Buying a home has brought into sharp focus our finances and realizing just how much income is going to debt makes me want to pay it all off right now. While that isn’t realistic, we are going to make great strides in this area.

10. Improve My Skill Set – I’d like to learn a couple new skills this year and improve on some that I already have.

30yrsLast week was my 31st birthday. In the midst of the busyness of the Christmas season and all the major life changes we are going through it caused me to pause and reflect. In some ways this is a reflection on the first year of my 30s and in others it’s a Christmas letter of sorts, since I know we won’t get around to actually sending one out.

Fire

It’s been 11 months almost to the day since the apartment fire. Still no word from the insurance (Progressive) except no. We’ve have more or less recovered, but are obviously still fighting the insurance company on this one. Funny how we’re still “finding” things that are missing. Thanks to all those who helped out in the aftermath and all those who I’ll probably never meet that donated stuff because people were in need.

Moving

In the last 12 months we’ve moved twice. Once across the parking lot and once to Warsaw, where we really want to be. We’ve started looking for houses in the area and hope to wrap that up soon. After moving six times in less than five years we are hoping this will be the last move for quite some time.

Baby

We’re at week 23. Just 17 more weeks (give or take) til we get to meet Micah James. We oscillate between pure joy and sheer terror.

Three Crowns

The coffee shop is up and running. It’s been a huge blessing and a lot of work. I couldn’t be more proud of the work we do. Shameless plug: For the next 12 business days we’ll be giving away drinks. Today started with 12 free pour overs. Who knows what tomorrow will be. Check our Facebook for updates.

Misc

Everything else seems incidental. I finished an acoustic album, but haven’t released it yet. We are attending a new church. L has a new job that she absolutely loves. Life is moving forward. God is good. (That last one is hardly incidental).

goodcoffeeI realize I’m an anomaly. There aren’t many people in the world who have invested as much time and energy in to a beverage as I have. So it’s not really surprising anymore when people who drink my coffee apologize. The reasons are different; some feel guilty for adding cream and sugar, others for the way the prepare it at home, still others for buying their coffee from the grocery store. Still it makes me feel strangely like a priest in an alternate universe where lay people come and confess their coffee sins to me. Well, stop it.

You don’t have to apologize for putting cream and/or sugar in your coffee, if you like it that way it’s OK. But you can improve the coffee you drink at home starting today (even if you add a little something to it). Here’s how.

Buy better coffee

I’ve long been convinced that 99% of people don’t like coffee because they’ve only experienced a poorly prepared stale incarnation of it. The first step to better coffee is to buy it fresh from a roaster that isn’t afraid to put the roast date on it. Coffee will be noticeably stale after four weeks and is best in the first two.  You wouldn’t buy milk past its expiration date, don’t do the same with your coffee.

Grind it yourself

The further coffee gets down the production line the quicker it goes bad. Roasted coffee has about four weeks. Ground coffee about 40 minutes. Yes, minutes. Even a cheap blade grinder will get you better results than buying pre-ground coffee. But for the best results invest in a high quality grinder. They will grind more evenly and extract more evenly.

Water

Coffee is 98% water. It’s easy to ruin good coffee with bad water and most municipalities don’t bother to make their water all that great. Use a mineral filter or bottled water, but stay away from distilled since there’s nothing for the coffee to cling to. If you’re brewing manually aim for 200-205 F. Too hot burns the coffee and too cold won’t extract enough.

The Golden Ratio

Precision is key to good coffee and gram scales are cheap. Once you start measuring your coffee use this ratio to start: 17.42:1. For the mathematically disinclined, that’s about 13 grams of coffee to 8 ounces (226.79 grams) of water. It’s only a starting point, and you may want your coffee stronger, but it will get you in the ball park.

Brewing

Learn your brew method. Most of them produce good coffee with a little bit of care. Avoid percolators and cheap electric drip pots that are less than 1000 watts and please stop dumping more grounds on top of the old ones. You’re not doing anyone a favor by being thrifty. It will only produce a weak and nasty cup.

Enjoy

Don’t reheat it or keep it on a burner, you’re slowly sucking the life out. Enjoy it exactly the way you like it, but try it black first. You may surprise yourself. Then you can stop apologizing for your coffee.

ImageI’m not usually one to celebrate Halloween. If I were going to make a statement of some sort I’d probably prefer to focus on the fact that it’s also Reformation Day. I’m not exactly opposed to Halloween, I just don’t make a big deal out of it. So today I want to share some music in the spirit of all things creepy and scary. I’ll let the music speak for itself. Feel free to share more in the comments.

The following as suggested by John Schambach.

It boils down to this: go do the work you love and damn the financial consequences. It isn’t suggesting that life should always be easy or that you can make loads of money by doing what you enjoy, but rather that we place too high a value on money and live miserable lives as a result.

It’s the reason I started Three Crowns Coffee. I love coffee. I love roasting, making, introducing people to good coffee, the creativity of it, the smell of it, and on and on the list goes. I had a “better” job before I got into the coffee industry. I made more money and had good benefits, but I was miserable. It made my wife miserable.

Now I work in an industry that most people view as something for high schoolers to make a little cash for the weekend. But I am fortunate and blessed to have this job. I am blessed to be able to make money doing what I love. It makes getting up at 5 am worth it. It makes washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms worth it. It make pouring over the finances for endless hours worth it.

It’s a bit of advice that’s popular at graduation ceremonies and in trendy YouTube videos, but few people follow it. We love to excuse it. “When I have enough money, I’ll start my own business,” “I can’t just quit my job, I’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed.” I’m not advocating irresponsibility, but I firmly believe if we are pursuing our passions the money will follow.

For some it may mean choosing a path less traveled. Skipping college despite the pressures to graduate from the same school the family has gone to for generations. For others it may mean taking a lower paying job and forgoing the financial security afforded elsewhere. I don’t know where your path will take you, but if you follow your passions it will show in the way you work and that won’t go unnoticed.

Go live the dream.

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