Monday, March 22, 2010


Posted below is an "epic" photo I took the other day of two group pistons in compressed and decompressed positions to give a sort of cross-section shot of how a shot gets pulled in a lever machine. After much fretting about how to work this photo into a legit post, I've decided to simply post it as is because my head feels, to quote the White Stripes, full of pancake batter.
Also, I hope everyone is duly impressed with the fact that I can now place text around pictures, instead of just below them.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Newest family member

So, so,

This blog seems, so far, to be centered around coffee machines rather than coffee itself, a trend that I promise to curb once we get retail operations underway here at the warehouse. However we have a new addition to the family, pulled from a Dallas Starbucks, that comes to us via ebay, my first espresso mill - the mazzer major.

Now some of you (or all two of you, the size of my readership doesn't really allow for factions) may object to ebay purchases of equipment formerly owned by large, heartless coffee mega-chains. But let me remind you that there is a certain marketplace vibe and esprit-de-corps that survives on sites like ebay, despite the alienating medium of the internet and the fact that you will never meet the person with whom you are doing business.

For example, not only did auktionia send the promised grinder, but he sent it with approximately 70g of Starbucks coffee still in it. I am not sure if the coffee was intended for grind adjustment or to season my espresso machine or just as a sample of a roast he found particularly savory, but I find this kind of heartfelt consideration wholly absent in my dealings with major retailers.

I also appreciate items that feel like they've been used. This grinder not only shows the wear of a high-volume coffee shop - it also comes with a custom sign that reads "regular: 2 pulls" that I'm sure would up its value on antiques roadshow. Coincidentally, this is the same number of pulls I take in the morning to fortify myself before going to work. I'm sure if I worked at a Starbucks that number would be significantly higher, but would end in some very sloppy vente caramel macchiatos, hence the need for regulation. In any case, it's good to know that Starbucks knows how to be lenient within reason.

But, well-worn or no, this is a great grinder. Or as Steve would say, "all grinders suck, but this one sucks less." It has a bigger burr set than other flat burr grinders and rotates at lower speeds, meaning the coffee grounds are heated less, are charged with less static electricity and are of a more uniform size - all information which I'm sure excites you as much as it does me. In the end it means a slightly better shot of espresso - a theory I'm excited to test when we roll up the roll-up and start serving in April.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oh - How rude of me

Upon reflection, I feel remiss kicking off this blog with a post about an espresso machine, when really, the true workhorse of our coffee operation is, and will always remain, the roaster. Pictured above, this machine stands about as tall as I do (5'9 on a good day) and is just about the smallest commercial roaster you're ever likely to see. Batch size is limited to seven green pounds, although right now we are working with five pound batches.

It's also just about one of the simplest machines I've ever had to work with, and I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. Taking this thing apart involves about three tools, two of which are standard hex wrenches; and the cleaning is mostly about our shop vac and some high temp grease.

My brother came by the warehouse recently and mentioned, with youthful californian verve, that the roaster looked "hella steampunk," and I have to say that I agree. I think part of the charm of roasting coffee in small batches, and on this machine in particular, is that the technology is actually fairly old, which allows a lot of it to operate mechanically rather than electronically - hence the vaguely antique look of the machine (it was actually manufactured in the nineties).

So, boom. I hope everyone feels introduced. I have no cute, ironic or witty nicknames for this machine as yet, although I am accepting suggestions.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Inaugural Blend

Hello! I am Ian Riley, intrepid (I hope) coffee roaster at Bittersweet Cafe, here in cyberspace to keep you updated on our coffee program and answer queries and comments pertaining to that most invigorating of hot, infused beverages.

To recap: We began roasting coffee in August 2009 with our inaugural drip blend, Faultline, followed shortly thereafter by our first Single Origin offering, Finca La Florencia from Guatemala, and our espresso blend, Long Day's Journey.

We are currently serving Faultline (a blend of Sumatran and Ethiopian coffees), Long Day's Journey (mainly Brazilian dry processed coffee with a splash of Kenyan for spice and verve) and a single origin Brazilian from Fazenda Aurea in the Cerrado region of Brazil.

For more information on our coffee, or to just buy a whole bunch of it, please visit our webpage!

We are currently hustling and bustling here at the warehouse to get a weekly espresso service going out of the garage door. Hopefully, we will be supplying the people of Berkeley with top-notch espresso within a month.

In the mean time, I attached some pictures (which are, for reasons beyond my comprehension, posted at the top of this post) of our 2 group Astoria lever machine in mid refurb. I fondly refer to this machine as 'one-eye' due to it's missing fork cowling on one group. One-eye is a lot like the basketball 'Wilson' to my Tom Hanks in the much-ballyhooed and subsequently much-forgotten movie Cast Away in that we have a lot of one-sided, slightly psychotic conversations.

By the way, that green mineral deposit lining the inside of the boiler (called 'scale') is one of several reasons to use only filtered water for your espresso adventures.

Happy Brewing!