published Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Bean to barista: Perfectly brewed coffee a growing trend in foodie groups (with video)

  • photo
    Local barista Matt Ludwikowski, who owns Brash, a new coffee shop in Warehouse Row, hand-brews each cup of coffee he serves. To begin the three-minutes process, he warms and rinses the coffee filter before adding fresh-ground beans.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

COFFEE STATS AND FACTS

• Almost 112 million tons of coffee beans were imported around the world in 2013.

• The U.S. imported almost 27 million tons in 2013, and Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee a day.

• It is believed coffee trees originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffay, and the fruit itself was first tried by a goat herder who noticed how it pepped up his herd when they ate it.

• It became an international commodity around the 15th century and is today considered one of the world’s most

important products.

• Around 1668, coffee houses popped up in larger American cities like Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

• Both the New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York began in coffee houses.

Source: International Coffee Organization and National Coffee Association

There is a good chance that you’re drinking a cup of coffee as you read this, but how much thought did you put into where it came from, how it was harvested, ground, roasted and brewed, or if the water temperature was in the recommended 195- to 205-degree range?

Serious coffee crafters and drinkers are pondering all that and more. Like cigars a decade ago and craft beers more recently, people are discovering there is more to having a good cup of coffee than choosing a favorite brand or a sugary additive.

This new wave of coffee lovers doesn’t begrudge anyone who wants a little pumpkin spice or cream and sugar in their mug, mind you, but they believe a really good cup has very little added to it. For them, it’s all about how you get from bean on the bush to coffee in the cup.

“I do think there is a difference in the context of sugary drinks, or what I would call ‘coffee as an ingredient,’” says Timothy Hill, coffee buyer and quality manager with Counter Culture Coffee in Durham, N.C., which sells coffee, in addition to hosting educational forums and workshops around the country.

Today’s serious coffee drinker wants to know where the bean came from, to the point of learning the names of individual growers in foreign countries and roasters around the world. If he is not brewing his own cup, he has found a barista who has the same passion for detail, even to the point of hand-brewing one cup at a time.

Local barista Matt Ludwikowski takes coffee so seriously at Brash, his new coffee shops in Warehouse Row and in Atlanta, he harvests the beans in Latin or South America, then takes them to his personal roasting facility in Athens, Ga. He uses the Athens facility simply out of familiarity and convenience, he says.

Each cup at Brash is hand-brewed, a process that takes about three minutes using drip filters, 21 grams of coffee and 336 grams of distilled water at a temperature of between 195 degrees and 205 degrees. Ludwikowski uses a digital scale on each cup he brews to get it just right.

Each coffee filter is warmed and rinsed, which also warms the drip vessel. He grinds the coffee, pours it in the filter, then slowly spirals the water over the grinds, stopping each time the water covers the coffee. This method provides for “the perfect finish and blend of mouth flavors,” he says.

“I do think the coffee is different,” says Andrew Ladebauche, vice president at Reliance Partners in Warehouse Row, as he sips a cup at Brash. “I usually put cream and sugar in my coffee, but I don’t with theirs.”

Ashelle Owens, a co-worker of Ladebauche, also has become a fan.

“I like the pour over and how it is made,” she says. “It is strong.”

When Ludwikowski is not in Chattanooga getting Brash going at Warehouse Row, he’s at a second Brash in Atlanta or he’s in Ecuador or El Salvador, overseeing the harvesting of the beans that he will later roast himself. Two weeks ago, he managed to squeeze in a trip to Las Vegas for a coffee convention.

“I like coffee,” he explains.

Like wine or the tobacco for cigars, location, weather and soil conditions will greatly impact a coffee’s flavor. Ludwikowski says the beans’ flavors, ranging from chocolate to nutty to raspberry, can be impacted by where on the farm a coffee plant is located. Those on a hill in the shade will yield different flavors than those in the sun, for example.

And it’s not just coffeehouses that are getting particular about their beans.

Coffee is so essential to the operation of the Chattanooga Market, when yet another coffee vendor left to pursue new horizons, market General Manager Chris Thomas decided to produce his own. He bought commercial roasters, grinders and brewing machines and created Market Coffee, which is only sold at the markets each Sunday.

It’s more of a hobby than a money-making venture for Thomas and, like many other hobbies, he’s found that there is plenty to learn on what it takes to brew a good cup of coffee.

  • photo
    Barista Matt Ludwikowski weighs beans before grinding them for a cup of hand-brewed coffee at Brash coffeehouse at Warehouse Row.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

“I get beans from three different distributors at 50 pounds at a time. I might get a couple of custom blends when they are seasonal. I like the South American coffees, personally,” he says.

When he learns of a special bean or blend, he might buy a five-pound bag. “I buy beans sometimes that you can trace back to the individual farmer, which is kind of neat,” he says.

The same is true for Hill and Ludwikowski.

“Eighty percent of getting a good cup of coffee happens before the bean leaves the farm,” Ludwikowski says. “Roasting is 10 to 15 — no, I’d say 15 percent — of maximizing the potential, and the rest is brewing.”

The good news for consumers is that all of this extra effort doesn’t necessarily raise the cost of a cup of joe. You can spend more, but a good cup at Brash is about $2.50. A five-pound bag of beans can go anywhere from $15 to more than $100.

And, we are not even talking about the famed Kopi Luwak bean, which is literally eaten and passed through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet, a mongoose-like animal in Indonesia. Those beans go for between $25 an ounce — $400 a pound — on Amazon.com.

But high price doesn’t necessarily mean best.

“I’ve had really good coffee from the less-expensive beans,” Ludwikowski says. “It’s all about the extraction.”

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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