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Coffee Q & A: Americanos

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I love answering these Coffee Q & As. It’s one of my favorite things about this blog.

So here’s another really great question I got from one of our customers:

What exactly is an Americano? And why is it a thing? 

The good news is! The answers here are pretty straightforward.

So, an Americano is a shot of espresso with hot water.

At Black River Roasters, we only serve our Americanos in 12 oz cups, so as not to over-dilute the espresso.

Now for the second part of the question:

Why do people drink Americanos?

Well, there’s a popular belief that during World War 2, Americans stationed in Europe didn’t really enjoy the coffee they were being served. Typically, Europeans would drink shots of espresso, but the Americans were more accustomed to drip coffee that they could sip and savor. Americans were finding the concentrated taste of the espresso was unpleasant to them because they were used to the more mellow flavors of drip coffee. So they started adding hot water to the espresso to dilute the flavor, and to create a bigger drink that they can savor.

The Europeans began to notice, and if they made this espresso drink diluted with hot water, they began calling it an “Americano” (completely affectionately, I’m sure). And thus, the Americano was born.

Is an Americano that different from Drip Coffee?

Espresso and Drip Coffee have very different flavors. Even if you use the same coffee to make espresso and drip, the taste will be different (read more about that here). Even if you dilute the espresso with hot water, it won’t change the actual taste. It just helps mellow out the espresso a little. If you really want a cup of drip coffee, but an Americano is all that is available, you will likely enjoy it just as much! But I encourage you to try both and see what you think!

So that’s that! Americanos are an “Americanized” version of Italian Espresso! Easy to make and super yummy.

Got any more coffee questions you want answered? Comment below or reach out on Instagram @black_river_roasters, Facebook @BRROASTERS or twitter @BR_ROASTERS.

Coming up at BRR: May 24 – May 30

The Fun Never Stops at BRR

This weekend we have a few fun things coming up!

Open Mic Night  

The last Friday of the month is Open Mic Night! Last month, we had so many talented musicians perform! Come hang out in our lounge, drink some yummy organic coffee and hear some amazing local musicians!

Cupping & Roasting Seminar

I am so excited to meet you guys and run a cupping with you! If you are a coffee lover, you absolutely have to attend this workshop! Our master roaster will teach you the basics of roasting, along with some fun facts about coffee, and then you come to me to taste a variety of our coffees!

Space is limited! So sign up online or in store today!

Memorial Day

Black River Roasters will be closed Monday, May 28th in observance of Memorial Day. We want to thank everyone who has served in our Military. So, this month in our donation bin we will be collecting items to donate to the VA Hospital Lyons campus. Come by the store and check out the Wish List from the VA and donate if you can!

Coffee Q&A: Kona Coffee

What is Kona Coffee and why the heck is it so expensive? 

I’m not going to lie to you, readers. Until right now, I had no idea exactly what Kona Coffee was. Here’s what I did know:

It’s Hawaiian.

(That’s it)

So let’s do some digging.

What exactly is Kona Coffee? 

Kona Coffee is grown in Kona, Hawaii. Kona is located in the volcanic slopes on the West Coast of the Big Island. So, defining Kona Coffee is thankfully really easy.

But why is it so expensive?

Well, this is where it gets complicated. Several things affect the price of Kona Coffee.

First, it’s apparently delicious. I can’t speak on it, because I haven’t ever tried it. But everything I’ve read about it says that Kona Coffee is creamy, smooth, and sweet. And people are more than willing to spend money on a delicious cup of coffee. What makes Kona Coffee taste so good? It’s grown in rich, volcanic soil which helps bring out the minerals and sweetness in the coffee. Delicious coffee = price increase.

Also, Kona coffee is extremely rare. Less than 1% of Arabica Coffee in the world is Kona Coffee. And the entire growing area for Kona Coffee is less than 50 square miles. And it’s on the side of an active volcano- which, I imagine makes life difficult for the growers. Rare coffee = price increase.

And since Kona is located on The Big Island of Hawaii, any distributing must be done by shipping via Ocean Barge. High shipping costs = price increase.

A final factor that makes Kona Coffee so expensive is the labor costs. The minimum wage in the United States is much higher than the minimum wage in many other coffee-growing countries. And Kona coffee is completely picked and processed by hand! Skilled, fairly priced labor = price increase.

So we have four factors that make Kona Coffee the commodity that it is. The delicious taste, the rarity, the location, and the labor costs all factor into one pretty expensive cup of coffee. So you’ll have to try it for yourself to see if it’s worth the price!

Have you ever tried Kona Coffee? Is it worth the high price tag? Leave a comment and let me know!

Got a coffee question? Message us on Instagram @black_river_roasters or on Facebook to get your question answered!

 

Weekly Recap: May 13 – May 19

What an amazing Week!

Seriously, we had an incredible week at Black River Roasters!

Story Slam Fun!

We had a small, but a super fun group at the Story Slam this month! We love listening to everyone’s stories and we can’t wait to bring this back next month. Next month the Story Salm will be June 21st. It’ll be the third Thursday of every month going forward. So now that you know when it is, make sure you come by!

Vendor Fair Day 1

We had such amazing vendors at our vendor fair I had to split this into a two-part post (so check back next week to see our day 2 vendors!).

 

The Whimsy Collections joined us for their first ever vendor fair! The mission of their company is to give vintage items a new life! Teacups become candles, Teapots become planters, and an old book has been broken down into a collection of really cool art prints! Their products are so special and unique and the great news is, you can buy them by clicking here!

 

Charitee is one of my personal favorite companies. This is a super cool group of girls who started a business with a mission to give back! 10% of the sales from their super cute graphic tees, sweatshirts, and even pants gets donated directly to a nonprofit! Sounds too good to be true? It’s really not! Buy one of their shirts here! Also, they used this weekend to roll out their brand new hats (seriously, how can you resist?)!

Our friend Krystal brought her wonderful Stella & Dot products. Honestly, it was really hard for me to know buy EVERYTHING from her! Amazing jewelry, clutches, weekender bags and other accessories can all be found here!

Etcharren Designs sold bracelets like crazy! Maria is a young entrepreneur, student, and BRR barista. Unfortunately, Maria doesn’t sell online, but she does work at Black River, so if something catches your eye on her Instagram @etcharren.dzn you can come in and ask her to sell it to you!

 

 

 

 

 

The Midland School was here with crafts handmade by their students! I am so obsessed with these birdhouses! One is now a proud new addition to my backyard garden! Everything is made by the students at the school and hand painted as well! You can learn more about the Midland School on their website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shannon from Young Living made the store smell amazing with her essential oils! You can check out everything she has to offer here! And stay tuned because there’s even some talk about her running a workshop at the store!

 

 

 

Createscape was here selling absolutely beautiful and would be a great gift or addition to any kitchen. Gina was even cranking out custom products at her table! You can check out her work and maybe buy a product or two on this website.

 

 

 

Made by Mello was here fueling everyone with delicious desserts to go with our coffee! Her Instagram @made.by.mello will inspire some serious food envy! Proceed with caution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pottery by Petra sold her amazing handmade work on Saturday! The beauty of her pottery practically sold itself! Check out her super stylish Instagram @potterybypetra and try not to buy everything (good luck with that!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was just DAY ONE. Day Two of the vendor fair is in full swing now, so if you see this and you’re in the area be sure to stop by. We have some returning vendors and some new people!

Did you come to our vendor fair? What did you buy? Post a picture and tag @black_river_roasters on Instagram or use the hashtag #blackriverroasters!

Brewing Basics

It’s Monday morning…

You know the drill, you stumble out of bed way too early for a Monday morning. You wrap yourself in your robe, slap on your slippers, and wander to your kitchen. Three scoops of whatever coffee is out on the counter, press the button, and voila! Now, you’re really awake. The smell of the coffee brewing travels up your nose and turns on a switch in your brain.
You drink the coffee, with a lot of milk, and a lot of sugar, cause, let’s face it, by itself it’s not as good as the coffee at the local shop that you can proudly drink black as night.
But why? Why does your coffee at home not taste as great as the coffee in the shop? It’s because they’re trained for months to learn how to brew the perfect cup? Right? Well… sort of.
Baristas are trained for months, and the training is truly ongoing for the length of the career. I’ve been working in the coffee industry for years, and I am always in pursuit of brewing the perfect cup.

But what if you could make better coffee at home?

What if you could start your day every day with a delicious cup of coffee? You totally can, and we’re here to help!
First, (shameless plug), we will be hosting workshops that teach you how to brew on specific equipment, so be sure to stop by one of those. But right now, I want to talk to you about the very basics of brewing so you can make improvements for Monday’s cup of coffee!
There are five basic elements of brewing:
1. Coffee to Water Ratio
2. Grind Setting
3. Time
4. Temperature
5. Turbulence
Let’s break it down, shall we?

Coffee:Water Ratio

So, first, the ratio. The Coffee to Water Ratio is the most essential element of brewing. Ideally, you are aiming for a ratio that is between 1:15 to 1:18. Why? Well, if you have too much coffee, say a 1:14 or a 1:12 ratio, you will end up with coffee that is under extracted, but strong, resulting in a very strong, sour or even salty taste. If you go the opposite way and add too much water, a 1:20 or 1:23 ratio, for example, your coffee will be bitter and weak. Do either of those sound like something you want?
No? Me either. Stick with the ratio.
Determining your ratio is actually really easy. Let’s say you are brewing for a 12 oz cup. Well, that’s roughly 340 g of water (thanks google!). So pick your ratio, I usually go with about 1:18 and divide by that second number.
So for a 12oz cup o’ Joe, I need approximately 19g of coffee! Take some time to experiment with your ratios. While a 1:18 ratio works for me, you might prefer 1:15, or you might find that different ratios work better for different coffees. Experiment! It can be really fun!

Grind Setting & Time

The next two factors are extremely, extremely tied together. Grind Setting- how coarse or fine you want your coffee ground, and Time- the entire length of the brewing process.
If you’ve ever come into the store and asked us to grind coffee, we have asked you what kind of machine you use to brew. This is not to inconvenience, or to judge you. We do this to make sure you get the best tasting cup of coffee.
The general rule of thumb is this: The longer your brew time, the coarser you want the grind to be.
Again, this comes down to extraction. You want the grind size and time to be balanced correctly to ensure even extraction, and that perfect spot between over and under extracted that we call “perfect extraction.”
This is a delicate balance, and again, it might require some experimentation to get right, but when you find that balance, you’ll know.

Temperature and Turbulence

The good news is, this requires little experimentation. These are hard and fast rules that you should follow for any brew method.

Temperature: Except for cold brew you want to brew with water that is between 195 and 205 degrees. This ensures that the water is hot enough to brew the coffee in a reasonable amount of time (unlike cold brew) but also is not so hot that it scalds that grounds.
Turbulence: This is how you pour your water to ensure even extraction. If you’re doing a pour over, this means that you pour in a circular motion. If you’re using a full-immersion method, then you MUST stir your grounds. I repeat: you MUST stir your grounds.

Easy enough right?

Well, yes and no. Find the exact right balance between the first three variables could require a lot of experimentation. But once you find it, you’ll have the best tasting cup of coffee of your life, right in your own living room.

Interested in coming to one of our Better Brewing at Home Workshops? Click here for tickets for the May event, and follow our Instagram @Black_River_Roasters for information on the next one!

Better Brewing at Home

So, here’s the thing-

I started at Black River Roasters a few months ago, and working here has set fire to my passion for coffee education. And I’m noticing that we Baristas are blessed with truly curious, inquisitive, and passionate customers, which is really awesome for me. Because you are all so curious and passionate about coffee, I get an outlet to share all the coffee knowledge bouncing around in my brain.

One of my goals from day one here has been to bring you this workshop. Better Brewing at Home. It is possible. You can make a fantastic cup of coffee in the comfort of your own home. That being said, please keep coming into the store, Baristas exist off human interaction, we need you!

What is Better Brewing at Home? 

Better Brewing at Home is a series of workshops that will teach you how to use specific brewing equipment. Each month I’ll be teaching a different brewing method. You’ll learn it all; the French Press, the Chemex, Pour Overs, Cold Brewing… if you can think it, we will teach it! I’ll show you the essential elements of brewing, and then give you plenty of time to experiment with the brewing equipment. And you’ll get to taste plenty of tasty coffee!

You’ll be like a scientist in a coffee lab, figuring out how to change the variables to create a perfect cup. And honestly, that sounds like a dream to me! Not only that but if you find that you love the coffee from the brewing method we’re using that month, you get to take it home at 15% off!

So How Do I Sign Up? 

Easy! To sign up for May, follow this link! This month we’ll be going over how to make a perfect cup of coffee in the French Press!

Then keep an eye on our Instagram @black_river_roasters and our Facebook page for news on the next one!

Drop a comment and let me know if you’re interested! Or tell me which brewing method we should do next month!

The Seed to Cup Journey: Where Coffee Grows

Oh where oh where does coffee grow?

This installment of the Seed to Cup Journey is the first real step in the journey: Choosing Where to Farm.

The good news is, the world has made this relatively easy for us. As you know from school, the world is split in half by the equator. Well, other latitudinal lines divide the earth as well. The Tropic of Cancer in the North and the Tropic of Capricorn in the South. Coffee grows best between these two tropics. Of course, there is a little spillage over the lines because the globe couldn’t make things that easy. But in the “Coffee Belt” is a good general rule of thumb when picking a place to farm.

The Coffee Belt includes countries and regions that will sound familiar to any coffee drinker: Brazil, Kenya, Sumatra, Colombia, Ethiopia. The coffee economy bloomed in these areas because of their prime growing conditions (and because of our friend Francisco).

So, why exactly can’t I grow my coffee plant at my farm in NJ?

Well, first, you can, you totally CAN do whatever you want. In fact, we have a tiny coffee plant here at BRR. (visit, chat with it, and you can watch it grow). And honestly, that plant will grow, and we’ll have some yummy coffee in a few years, but the process of growing is not going to be as easy as it would be on a farm in the Coffee Belt.

Coffee is needy; the coffee plant is as particular about its growing location as a coffee aficionado is about her single origins.

Coffee wants a moderate climate and relatively high altitudes. Coffee grows best in either a climate that has a clearly defined rainy and not rainy season (resulting in one harvest) or a climate that has frequent rainfall (resulting in two harvests). See what I mean? Coffee is needy.

So, if you ever decide to go open up a coffee farm, move out to the coffee belt. Find a place in the mountains and get used to the comfortable temperatures of 60 – 70 degrees F. But before you start cutting down trees, and leveling out land for your farm, I want to bring one more consideration to your attention.

Shade Grown Coffee

You have probably come across this before. Shade Grown or Bird  Friendly. But you probably weren’t entirely sure what that meant. I know I had no idea what Shade Grown meant when I first read it on a label! The answer is actually both simple, and extremely complicated.

The simple, almost-too-obvious explanation is that Shade Grown coffee is well… grown in the shade. It is grown under the natural tree canopy that exists in that climate. “No Trees were Harmed in the Making of this Coffee” Easy, right? 

Well, not quite. The certification companies that determine if coffee is Shade Grown or Bird Friendly have set out guidelines that go beyond “Don’t cut down any native trees.” The guidelines include canopy height, species diversity, and even a guideline that talks about the leaf litter.

Why is this important? 

You can’t step into Black River, look at our website or social media without noticing our environmental and sustainability values.  Shade Grown coffee is key to being environmentally friendly! Growing coffee according to the Shade Grown or Bird Friendly Criteria ensures that the natural habitat is allowed to flourish and keeps the flora and fauna of these sub-tropical climates intact. The Smithsonian believes that Shade Grown coffee will help slow down population depletion of migratory birds and promote bird species diversity in coffee growing regions. Save the birds! Save the Rainforest! Drink Shade Grown!

So before you pick your place to farm, be sure to check out these Bird Friendly Farm Criteria. Then be sure to check back next week, cause I’m going to talk about setting up an Organic Farm! Also, drop a comment and let me know where your favorite coffee comes from in the bean belt! Then, check and see if that coffee is shade grown!

As always, follow us on Instagram @black_river_roasters for more fun coffee facts, photos, and events!

Coming Up at Black River Roasters: May 17 – May 23

Wow! We have a BUSY weekend coming up at Black River Roasters, and I, for one, could not be more stoked! We love bringing you awesome in-store events!

The fun starts Thursday, the 17th with our second Story Slam! 

We had so much fun at last month’s story slam, and I’m super excited to be bringing it back. For those of you that don’t know, a story slam is a fun night of storytelling! Anyone interested in telling a story will submit their name, and our host will draw the names randomly. Then we’ll hear about five unique, interesting stories related to this month’s theme. The teller with the best story gets a $20 Gift Certificate to Black River to get yummy organic coffees and teas!

This month’s Story Slam theme is (drumroll, please): Rule Breaker!

Tell us about a time a rule was broken. Where you the rule breaker? Or was someone else? How did it feel to break the rule? Were there consequences? Tell us all about it!

Sound like something you’d be interested in attending? Show up Thursday, May 17th at 7 to attend!

The fun keeps rolling on Friday, the 18th with a Watercolor Workshop!

Story Slams not really your thing? That’s okay! You can come paint with our good friend, Emma from Cranberry Ink! Last month, Emma led a really cool hand-lettering workshop and the attendees took home unique products! This month, Emma has decided to teach Watercolor Florals! You can check out all her work on her Instagram @CranberryInk, and if you want to come to the workshop you can buy tickets by clicking here! Even better! If you bring a friend (or two or three…), you can use my special code CRAFTYFRIENDS for a discount!

Of course, we couldn’t let the Weekend go by without having a good time!

We’re hosting our Spring Vendor Fair THIS weekend! Saturday and Sunday between 9 – 3 you can come doing some shopping while you enjoy your coffee! Did you forget about Mother’s Day? This will be a PERFECT place to find a belated Mother’s Day gift! Or to find something to treat yourself! All of our vendors are local and are bringing you specially crafted products. I promise you’ll find something for everyone! Check out the vendor list below, and be sure to swing by! Make sure to come both days as the vendor list changes each day!

Vendor List: 

  • The Botanical Box
  • Charitee
  • Createscape, LLC
  • Essential Healing & Wellness
  • Etcharren Designs
  • Instinct Jewelry Designs
  • Keep Collective
  • Made by Mello
  • Maverick’s Boutique & Bakery
  • The Midland School
  • Pottery by Petra
  • Stella & Dot
  • The Whimsy Collections
  • Young Living

We can’t wait to see what all our vendors bring! And we can’t wait to see you at all our cool events this weekend! Be sure to follow us on Instagram @black_river_roasters to learn more about our events and tag us or use the hashtag #blackriverroasters for a chance to be featured on our blog/page! (Bonus points if you post an event photo!)

 

Coffee Q&A: Processing

This is quickly becoming my favorite part of the week! I love answering your coffee questions, so keep them rolling in! This week our question comes from a regular and concerns a coffee topic I was actually not too familiar with until recently: Processing.

“Hi! I noticed on my bags of coffee at home that one says ‘washed’ the other says ‘unwashed’ what does this mean? Is the unwashed coffee dirty?” 

Wow, this is a great question, actually. To answer it simply: No, unwashed coffee is not dirty.

The terms “washed” and “unwashed” are actually referring to the way the coffee is processed. You see, when coffee beans are grown and harvested, they are actually in these beautiful bright red cherries. But, as you know, we’re not drinking these cherries (unless you’re a Cascara drinker). So the beans have to come out somehow. How and when the beans come out of the cherry and are dried is called the processing. Washed and Unwashed are two types of processing. Today, I’m going to explain what happens during each of these processing methods, and in a future blog post, I will talk about how coffee processing effects taste, so stay tuned!

 

First I want you to examine this cross-section of a coffee cherry. As you can see here, there are a lot of things surrounding the actual bean. Most of this has to come off! How are we going to do that?

The Washed Process

So, let’s pretend we’re coffee farmers. We have harvested and sorted our coffee cherries and we’ve decided we’re going to use the Wet Process (aka the washed process) for our beans.

The first thing we’re going to do is put the beans through a de-pulping machine. This machine will remove the skin and some of the fruit of the cherry, and we will be left with the seeds inside. Which will still be surrounded by some of the leftover cherry fruit or mucilage. This also needs to be removed so we will ferment the beans in water for about 30 hours and then wash the beans with clean water. Now, the beans are free of mucilage.

Now, our coffee beans are ready to be dried. Usually, the beans are laid in special drying trays out in the sun for at least 7 days. During this turned, the beans must be occasionally turned or raked to avoid further fermentation and to promote even drying. Now, the beans are ready to be bagged, stored, shipped, and distributed!

Unwashed Process

The unwashed, dry, or natural process is a little different. The beans are grown, harvested and sorted, but now we deviate. Instead of pulping the cherries to remove the beans, we are actually going to leave them in the cherry. We’re going to use our special drying trays and leave the cherries intact in the trays to dry in the sun. The cherries are considered dry when they turn from bright red to brown. This process could take weeks, and the beans must be raked or turned regularly to dry evenly. And as you can imagine, a rainy or even overcast day can really slow down this process.

When the cherries are finally dry, we have to remove the dried cherry from the dried bean. This is done in a process called hulling. Essentially, in this step, friction is used to remove all the dried fruit from the bean. Then the bean is ready!

Seems Clear?

No? Well, that’s okay! It has honestly taken me months to wrap my head around the different processing methods, and this has been an extremely basic overview of the processing differences. The good news is that this question has inspired me to write future posts about processing in detail! This is truly an arduous process, but it is so vital to the taste at the end of the day! So stay tuned to our blog to learn more!

So what do you think? Which process would you rather try if you were a farmer? Do you have any coffee questions to ask! Drop a comment here or on our Instagram @black_river_roasters! And stay tuned for more answers next week!

 

Extraction

Extraction, Extraction, Extraction

Honestly, if I never heard the word extraction again, I would probably die happy. However, I am a content coffee professional, so I will probably hear the word extraction every day until I die (or get a job in a different field).
Extraction is super important when it comes to brewing coffee.

Essentially, extraction is what the water pulls from the coffee, and what brings the flavor. What we’re aiming for is the perfectly extracted cup of coffee. It is the goal of any and all coffee professionals, and that’s what we are attempting anytime you see us pulling shots, doing pour overs, or even prepping batch brews.

Why is extraction so important?

Well, extraction is the control that the barista has over the taste. The farmers have picked the best possible growing locations, grown their coffee with care, and processed the coffee in specific ways to affect the taste. Then the roaster has determined the perfect roast levels to give you the best tasting cup of coffee. Now it is up to the baristas (or you if you’re a home barista) to make sure what ends up in your cup is as tasty as can be.
We do this, by adjusting our ratio, grind setting, and brew time until all the factors line up perfectly.

So what does that perfectly extracted cup of coffee taste like?

It’s sweet and juicy; it’s well balanced; it has a long, pleasing finish; it’s just an objectively good cup of coffee.
Well, what if it’s not well extracted?
Here’s where it gets fun. Not only can an experienced barista taste when coffee is incorrectly extracted, but they can also tell you whether it is over or under extracted. And by the end of this post, you will too!
The good news is, the distinction is really easy on paper.
Under extracted coffee is sour. Over extracted coffee is bitter.
But can you actually tell me the difference between sour and bitter? More importantly, can you identify it when you taste something?

Experiment time:

Go to your local grocer and buy a lemon. Cut yourself a slice. Now, separate the actual fruit from the rind. I want you to pull apart the rind, and take a taste of the white part. Is that sour or bitter? Now taste the actual fruit. Is that sour or bitter?

Here’s the answer: The rind is bitter. The fruit is sour.

Notice how the flavor of the rind is generally unpleasant, it hits mostly the back of your tongue and leaves your mouth feeling pretty dry? While the fruit is a really sharp, almost acidic feeling that hits you really strongly in the front of your tongue? That’s the difference. And it will be the same in coffee! Easy, right?

No? Well, like with anything else, this comes with practice. And once you’re able to identify the problem with the extraction, you can adjust your brewing variables. Which is something I’m super excited to talk to you about next week!

So, what do you think? Does extraction sound easy enough? Do you want to learn more about how brewing relates to extraction? Comment below and let me know what you think! And check back next week to learn more! Follow us on Instagram @black_river_roasters for more cool coffee info!