Monthly Archives: October 2018

  • Interview: Ivania Rivera of Aldea Global

    Hey coffee lovers!

    We were given the extraordinary opportunity to interview Ivania Rivera, Head of Specialty Coffee for Aldea Global! Check out our video interview below, followed by the full transcript of the interview!

    Full Interview

    Seattle Coffee Gear: Can you tell us a little bit about Aldea Global?
    Ivania Rivera: Yes, we are a farmer’s association in Nicaragua. Right now we have over 11,00 members, total members. From those we have some vegetable producers, women who do business in rural areas. From those, 4,800 are small coffee producers. We started in 1992, and have been in the coffee industry since 2000. We are growing every year, little by little. We offer very different speciality coffees, and very different qualities of coffee.
    SCG: What does your role within the organization entail?
    IR: I do kind of everything! [laughs] But I have a lot of contact with the farmers and producers. I normally am taking care of the receiving centers, working with the dry milling process to the different preparations of coffee we have on contract. I also do the sales and contracts with importers, and follow up with roasters.
    SCG: Very cool, so kind of working in the middle area connecting roasters and producers. This is exciting for us because we don’t get the opportunity to talk much with people involved with producing. We get to talk to roasters all the time, but it’s a really awesome, unique opportunity to get to talk to someone involved with producing the coffee. How did you get involved with Aldea Global originally?
    IR: Well, it was something that I always liked, coffee. The first experience I had in coffee was I was a coffee picker on a farm. So I was wondering what’s next. What happens to the coffee cherry, where is this coffee going to? That was when I was pretty young. Then I moved to the U.S. to study agricultural business for export, then came back to Nicaragua and went to Aldea Global to see if there was an opportunity for me, and of course there was because we are coffee producers. Inotega is a region that produces 60% of the coffee from Nicaragua.
    SCG: That’s great. It’s an interesting story because we often work backwards. I worked in a cafe when I was a college student making coffee. I’ve always had an interest in where the coffee comes from. So it’s very interesting to hear the reverse of that. Someone who was involved in producing the coffee wanting to know where it ends up. It’s very exciting to bring those two groups together. So what excites you most about coffee in general, as an industry?
    IR: For me something that is really important is all of the people that are involved in the industry. It’s not only the production, but the transport, the milling, the processing, the shipping, the importing, roasting the coffee… Putting together all of the logistic people it takes to move this coffee from the producer to the final consumer. It’s a lot of hands involved. It’s a lot of work and a lot of love.
    SCG: Yea, there’s a lot of…
    IR: Passion!
    SCG: Yes! And the exciting thing about third wave roasting too is I think there’s a lot of passion all the way through. It’s not just going to a huge company doing the roaster. It’s going to small roasters that have a concern for the people that are producing the coffee too.
    IR: Yes, just imagine for example, one cup, having a cup of coffee. How many cherries does this coffee need? How many hands touched the coffee? Who was in charge of selling and buying that coffee? Who did the logistics? Who did the transportation? Who did the distribution? Who did the roasting? All of this takes a lot of effort, hands, and passion. So that’s why I’m excited about coffee.
    SCG: That makes sense to me, that’s one of the many things that excites me too! What do you think it is that makes coffee from Nicaragua unique?
    IR: I would say, for Nicaragua, for most of the producers, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that our people are doing for a lifetime. Once you are born on a farm, once you grow up enough in a coffee farmer family, then that’s something that you will do for life. That’s something that will become the only way of income for the farm. A way of living living, that produce is paying for the whole life of the family. So something that is really unique for Nicaraguan coffee is that all of the processes and production is done by family members. 92% of the producers in Nicaragua are small producers. So they are normally doing all of the process with their family. That’s something that’s important.
    SCG: Sure, that’s really interesting and I imagine that leads to a respect for all parts of the process that maybe you wouldn’t see in a factory farming setting. That’s definitely unique.
    IR: Yea, it’s something that’s important to the whole family. Even the kids are assisting with the harvest, and they’re taking care of the quality there. Doing sorting to add quality to it. They get involved with the process.
    SCG: So something we talked about that ties into all of this a little earlier that ties into all of this is that the current socio-political climate in Nicaragua is kind of tumultuous and in flux. I think that many people here and in most parts of the Western world don’t have a great understanding of what that really means, especially how it affects the coffee trade. Do you have any thoughts on that particularly?
    IR: We had some difficulties when the situation started in April. It turned very difficult to do some shipping of coffee in some parts of Nicaragua, but in terms of the coffee producing areas, they were not affected. The producers continue taking care of the farms, continue working, and this year we are preparing all of the receiving centers to receive that coffee. So what we hope to do during this political crisis is support the farmers. We cannot say “hey I’m not buying your coffee because this is going on in Nicaragua” or “I’m not financing your coffee because this is going on in Nicaragua.” We have to support our members because if they receive the services that they require, they stay in the farm, they keep producing, and that’s the only way that we can say “we are here to support our members.” So we provide them with loans, even during the crisis, we are financing right now, we are opening our business to new members, and getting ready for shipping and sales. I know many importers and roasters are worried about whether this coffee will get out of Nicaragua, but the coffee needs to get out of Nicaragua anyway. We don’t have any reason to have the coffee sit there.
    SCG: Right, and I think it speaks to, regardless of the political climate, these are still families working these farms.
    IR: and this is the Rural areas, most of the crisis is happening in the big cities. The big cities and urban places. But the Rural areas are working. Everybody needs to produce coffee there.
    SCG: It’s very interesting, and we’re very privileged to be able to ask you directly about things like that. Because that’s something that’s hard for us to get an accurate picture of a lot of the time with the wild news cycles that we see here. It’s hard to get reliable information about this. Do you think political challenges aside, more broadly, and maybe even historically, what do you think the biggest challenge is for growing coffee in the region specifically?
    IR: Many people may thins politics is the biggest issue or challenge, but I think it’s prices. That’s the biggest challenge right now. Not the political crisis. As you’ve you seen in recent years, prices have been lower. For a producer, it takes more money to produce enough coffee. So it gets really difficult to negotiate prices when the prices are down, as they are right now. It’s a difficult time for the producers because they ask if the coffee prices are how they are, how are we going to keep producing? How are we going to invest in the farm? How are we going to pay our workers to pick the coffee? How are we going to move that coffee from farms to the receiving centers? How can we continue the process? For small farmers it’s really difficult to think “we have been working on this farm for many years, this is the only way we have money to invest in the farm, and now I’m selling my coffee for less than it costs to produce.” So that’s a big challenge right now in Nicaragua and the region. It’s hard.
    SCG: I think that speaks to the value and importance of organizations like yours too. In terms of building those alliances and trying to help provide answers for those farmers because without that help it might be even harder.
    IR: Yes, but I’m also not just talking about the 4,800 members that we have. In Nicaragua we have 42,000 coffee producers. What about the rest? What about the coffee farmers who are not part of a cooperative like Aldea Global and have to sell coffee locally? It’s difficult for them.
    SCG: That’s a definite challenge. You’d hope, as the political environment improves, that perhaps you’d see prices improve as well. Ee appreciate your time so much, did you have any other thoughts that you wanted to share?
    IR: Well something that I always encourage people in the industry to do is, if you have the chance to talk to people about coffee, it’s good for you to come and visit us someday in your life. That’s the only way you can get the real, real information from the farmers on how coffee is produced. On all the effort it takes to produce a single bean. Did you know, coffee is hand picked? Did you know coffee is hand dried?
    SCG: I bet many people don’t!
    IR: Yes! Many people don’t know. So it’s good for people who are involved in coffee to know all the processes it takes, all the people it takes. That’s something that I like to share, that I always encourage.
    SCG: Well we appreciate your knowledge and willingness to share that information with us, and we’ll do our best to try to educate people on that too. Thanks for your time!
  • SCG Expert Review: Saeco Xelsis Superautomatic Espresso Machine

    Sporting a lot more than a new look, the new Xelsis from Saeco is here. We know you're eager to hear how it stacks up against the old Xelsis One Touch. We can say comfortably that these two machines aren't even comparable. Let's start with the first thing you'll probably notice about the new Xelsis, its looks.

     

    If Looks Could Brew

    Superautomatic espresso machines have never been the prettiest addition to the kitchen. While manufacturers like Jura and Miele do offer some strong design elements, most of these machines could be described as "coffee boxes". It's not the fault of other machines in the Xelsis' price range really, these devices cram a lot of components into the smallest form fact they can. It's no wonder, then, that aesthetic design takes a back seat to practicality.

    With the new Xelsis, Saeco took advantage of modern design tropes to build something truly striking. Regardless of color choice, the smooth angles of the face of this machine look and feel great. The chrome accents and textured buttons add this the machine's appearance in a big way too. This smart beautiful design is enhanced further by little touches like the illuminated water tank and smart logo placement. It all combines with a form factor that impresses.

    The smart case design factors into more than just the looks too. Many superautos have tanks that need to be lifted out of the side or top. This is manageable, but low counters can make refilling your water tank a pain. The Xelsis solves this by making the 2-liter water tank pull out from the front of the machine. We love this design touch, and when combined with the ease of removing the grounds bin and drip tray, makes maintenance a breeze.

    If we have any complaints about the case, it's that some of the seams can feel a bit... Plasticy. While the case as a whole feels solid and premium, some of the gaps in the plastic don't feel as premium by comparison. This wasn't to noticeable except when handling the machine to move it, however.

    The cherry on top is, of course, the touch screen. This screen also serves as your gateway into an incredible degree of drink options.

    Brew Like a Pro

    One of the key reasons to consider a semi-automatic machine over a superauto is control. You can control things like dose, extraction time, milk steaming, and temp very directly. Superautos usually let you adjust things like strength and temp, but not with the granularity of a sem-auto. The Xelsis bucks this trend by giving you nearly unparalleled control over your drink.

    It does all of this with the ease of use of a smartphone app. Controlling things like temp, strength, and more, are done with clear sliders and buttons. The only problem with this is that for some, it may offer TOO many options. Let's take a look at the basics:

    As you can see, strength and volume options are the basics, which most machines offer. Swiping right gives you access to more granular items like flavor, temp, foam, and more. It's a dazzling set of options that can feel intimidating at first. In the end though, with a little bit of experimentation, you'll be able to dial in your perfect drink. What's more, you can save your drinks to a profile so that you'll always be able to get the perfect cappuccino or latte. For those who don't want to customize, the default options still provide delicious drinks too.

    Other menu options like cleaning, and more granular machine settings, are easy to access too. The cleaning menu gives you simple, step by step instructions as well. Speaking of cleaning...

    Squeaky Clean

    Cleaning and maintaining a superauto can sometimes be a hassle, but we found the Xelsis' options to be simple and effective. the machine rinses automatically, and brew head cleaning is as easy as following prompts from the machine. The Xelsis also features Saeco's tried and true AquaClean filtration system. These filters cut down on maintenance like descaling by simply telling you when they need to be changed through the machine's interface. They are a great option that have proven themselves in other Saeco machines, and do so here as well.

    The hardest thing to keep clean in a superauto is the milk system. Saeco's attempt at solving this problem in the Xelsis is the Hygiesteam system. This system takes the form of a convenient, round carafe that fits easily in the fridge. A cappuccinotore wand fits through a hole (which can be closed) in the top of the carafe. From there, as you'd expect, milk it pulled up through the wand and tube and into the frother. The system automatically purges itself in the cappuccinotore caddy attached to the side. You can also manually purge the wand from the cleaning menu. It's a great system that is easier to work with than other carafes, which often have plastic points of contact that need to be scrubbed by hand.

    Ease of use, looks, and cleaning are all great, but what about performance?

    It's All About Performance

    The coffee out of the Xelsis is definitely on par with other machines at its price point. It won't blow your mind, but it should please any coffee drinker who's used to superauto espresso. The taste also lets the unique notes of the coffee through better than cheaper models, a great reason to consider an upgrade. All of that said, nothing beats manually dialing in and pulling a shot from a semi-auto or lever driven machine, but the Xelsis tries it's best and matches the performance of its peers. But superautos aren't just about the coffee.

    The Xelsis features some of the best milk texturing and flavor of any superauto we've ever seen. This is often the hardest thing to get right on a machine like this. Recreating the delicate process of hand steaming milk is a huge challenge, and the Xelsis really knocks it out of the park here. The microfoam from this machine is even of a high enough quality to pour latte art, not something that can be said about most home superautos.

    This machine should be able to keep up with the demands of a family coffee drinkers as well. The Xelsis features a short warm-up time and the ability to pump out several drinks in a row without stopping.

    So what's the verdict?

    Conclusion

    The new Xelsis definitely sets the bar for its price point, and even punches up in ways the previous model did not. While elements of the machine on their own are relatively standard, the full package is an incredible proposition. The HygieSteam system in particular, for it's ease of cleaning and fantastic milk, is a great reason to buy. We definitely recommend at least trying the coffee and milk out of this machine beside others in its price range to see the difference for yourself.

    Check out the Xelsis on Seattlecoffeegear.com here!

     

     

     

  • Roast of the Month: Toby's Costa Rica Santa Teresa 2000

    Welcome to October's Roast of the Month, featuring Toby's Estate Costa Rica Santa Teresa 2000!

    Sweet and Creamy

    This roast is a true winner when it comes to balancing sweetness and mouthfeel. The beans in this coffee were processed using a technique called "honey-process". This is similar to the honeyed process you may have learned about in the past, where some cherry is left on the bean while drying. The "white" part of the term refers to the amount of mucilage left on the bean, and the length of time it is given to ferment. The result of this process and the roasting technique is a flavor profile similar to that of a natural, but less intense.

    For this roast, that means delicious sweet notes of caramel apple and cherry soda, alongside creamier, chocolatey notes. What we love most about this roast is the way these flavors bend around the palate. It makes for an intensely satisfying mouthfeel and a taste you'll want to experience again and again.

    As is often the case with naturals and honey processed roasts, brew method is key. We recommend trying this roast as a pourover first, to really get the most out of it. This brew method will give you a clearer understanding of the roast's notes. From there, try dialing it in to your espresso machine or press! Just avoid using these beans in a super-auto. While not very oily for a honey-process coffee, we still recommend sticking to blends in these machines to prevent clogging.

    Grab your bag of Toby's  Estate—Costa Rica Santa Teresa 2000 here!

     

  • What's a PID?

    You may have seen that certain espresso machines include what's called a "PID," or "PID controller" more accurately. This week, we're going to talk about what a PID controller is, and why it's worth the extra cost!

    The Basics

    If you've been following along with us, you probably know that temperature is extremely important to brewing coffee. While different brew methods and roasts demand different temps, stability is key. PID controllers help ensure that stability. Machines without these devices often use a simple thermostat that isn't as accurate as a PID controller. By comparison, a machine with PID control monitors itself to ensure temperature stability and control.

    PID stands for Proportional-Integral-Derivative. Quite a mouthful! On a basic level, a PID controller uses the PID algorithm to determine the best way to control whatever process it's used for. PID controllers are used in a wide range of industrial applications, in our case, it controls the temperature in your espresso machine!

    A traditional thermostat has a tendency to hit a desired temp, then turn off the heating element as the temp rises above its target. Then it'll kick back on as the temperature falls below the target. This results in uneven temperatures that can result in inconsistent shot quality in an espresso machine. There are ways to mitigate this with many machines, but it often means learning how to ride the temperature wave with your specific machine. This may require timing the heat-up time precisely or running water through the group head before pulling a shot.

    PID controllers use the PID algorithm to keep your machine at the proper brew temperature. This also means the you can directly control the temperature of the machine. While not true in every case, PID controllers are usually visible on the machine. They also usually feature control buttons to increase or decrease the brewing temperature. While this won't matter for most, for some home baristas, experimenting with different roasts and temps is key!

    So You Want a PID Controller?

    It's possible to install a PID controller into most home espresso machines. The process however, can be daunting. Performing an after-market install of these devices is essentially rewiring the machine. You'll have to find the thermostat, disconnect it, and install the PID controller. This will require a pretty strong understanding of how these devices work, and competency in basic electrical work. You'll also need to understand how to program the PID controller , as these are devices used for a wide range of applications. Some vendors offer kits for specific espresso machines that will make this process easier. In any case, installation of a PID controller will definitely void your warranty.

    But there is hope! If you're in the market for a new machine, many now come with PID controllers installed. These devices used to be used primarily on commercial hardware, but have entered the home market. While you might pay a little extra for a machine with one of these devices, it'll come under warranty and save you digging around the guts of your machine. Once you have a PID controller, you'll be able to eliminate temperature as one of the variables in dialing in your shots.

    It's important to note, some PID controllers are clearly visible boxes attached to the machine. The PID installed in the photo above is an example of this. Other machines have external PIDs that are attached via a cable. Further, some PID controllers are internal and show up as a small screen on the machine, like the Ascaso Dream above. Finally, some machines have internal PIDs that do not have an interface. In these cases, you won't be able to control the temp easily, but the PID controller is still keeping it stable at a set level.

    We hope this helps de-mystify these devices!

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