By Sherri Johns
Coffee, like fashion, tends to repeat itself. At the same time, technical developments and discoveries through research surface to show us a better way, or better brew in this case. But sometimes we simply renew and confirm what we already know, or a new generation begins the journey to a new group of consumers. Take Asia as an example, where everything old is new again.
What was once the brew de rigueur in Japan has found itself in China, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan and even raising a fuss Stateside. The science of the coffee siphon is an incredible treat for the eyes are well as palate.
In Tea & Coffee Asia’s quest to find out what’s hot and what’s not, multiple roasters and baristi were contacted, multiple questions asked and repeatedly the same answer came back. What is important is quality, consistency, brewing mechanisms and providing a professional barista – someone who is trained in preparing specialty coffee drinks, on staff. While there are some ideas about specific quality standards, the broad brush stroke we found interesting is the motivation shown by absolutely everyone contacted, the commitment to standards and quality and providing a personal coffee experience.
The year was 1996. I was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a transplant from Portland, Oregon, US, which was home to a lively coffee scene that I missed. Lo and behold a Japanese department store, Isetan, famous for the basement grocery, also hosted a hidden secret, a siphon drip coffee counter. Patrons could select coffee from Costa Rica, Jamaica Blue Mountain or Kona, among others, to be brewed by hand at table side by skilled, proficient servers and enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
Little did I know then that this style was a time-honored Japanese traditional technique. The siphon has now re-emerged as a hot new trend, This time around usually with coffee identified by farm, cultivar and even roast date and brewed table-side to a command performance by customers.
The Yama Tabletop Siphon Brewer sits proudly on any tabletop. Looking like a scientific experiment, it brews clearly one of the best cups of coffee. Two glass bowls are on either end of the brewer. The lower one is filled with clean filtered water. When heated, this water rises through a tube connecting the two glass bowls infusing fresh coffee grounds. Once almost all of the water has risen to the top and only a small amount remains in the lower glass bowl, the vacuum is broken and fresh brewed coffee returns to the lower bowl strained by a screen. Simply remove the upper glass bowl, and serve. The entire process is one worth watching; with sheer anticipation the barista can explain the coffee merits during the process as guests enjoy the show.
Hand preparation continues with the ceramic Dripper by Hario. Hario Ceramic Dripper is re-emerging as a brewing method of choice – move over espresso. The angle of the drip cone holds the paper filter with a large hole at the bottom of the dripper for the coffee to pass through. The cone itself has interior ribs that assure the hot water and fresh coffee grounds are agitated to extract the entire flavor. Brewing by the cup, one by one.
If you have the time, the Hario Hand Grinder with ceramic conical burrs that grind to a number of coffee brewing methods is an option. Lovely design and practical with no electricity needed.
The Hario V60 Buono Water Kettle with the spout from the lower portion of the kettle dispensing water where you need it boasts an elegant design and is designed to function. Perfect for pairing with the Hario dripper.
The Chemex Brewer is so beautiful and functional it is part of the permanent collection at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Its is a glass figure eight brewer with a paper filter. Ground coffee is placed in the pre-dampened filter, then hot water is poured slowly to wet all the grounds, allowing the fresh coffee to ‘bloom’. Then, water is once again added to complete the brewing process, creating an elixir of pure, simple coffee with clarity. Delicious as it is beautiful to watch.
French press, cold brew
The French Press by Bodum is still a table-side dining experience and particularly popular with hotels. Nothing but coffee and water, immersed for four minutes, then gently pressed. Grounds are trapped in the bottom of the glass carafe while fresh brewed delicious coffees sits on top. Serve and brew in one unit, many designs available.
Toddy Cold Brewer employs a cold process brewing technique resulting in a concentrate with epic smoothness. Add the concentrate to hot or cold water for a fresh by the cup experience. This coffee is perfect for iced drinks as it does not melt ice when used. Not exactly a counterside experience, unless it is in the large, sometimes up to five feet high, brewer. The smaller versions are mostly for home use. One in-between Toddy is available for cafes.
It would be remiss not to mention the people aspect as trends. Coffee is not only about coffee, it is about people and sharing and learning. The entire seed-to-cup experience must be told. To do so, many cafes, roasteries and even hotels are hosting cupping and coffee tasting sessions. Sessions range from presentations on coffee origins, how to brew and taste coffee and even barista training session for beginners.
Regardless of country location, the other hot trends most noted resulting in a competitive advantage range from hiring a coffee ambassador or professional baristi or opening a training center, often as part of the café. Some roasters agreed that getting involved in barista competitions in their community and elsewhere has helped to grow the experience of the local talent through gleaning experience and techniques from world class barista, helping fuel their business and staff motivation.
Baristi (plural of barista) are skilled professionals with a pedigree. They may have received recognition from local or international barista competitions and are well respected in the trade. It takes cutting edge roasters and retailers to propagate a barista culture. This has grown awareness. The general public understands more about coffee than in the past.
“Before, people simply bought a French wine, now consumers are asking the questions, which estate, which vintner, what year, what grape,” according to Brian Tom, president and co-founder of Graffeo in Hong Kong, “The same holds true for coffee. Hong Kong is right up there with New York and London for high-end wine purchases. We try and bring that to the table – the whole supply chain. I’ve seen value jump.”
In Korea, Seoul, there are literally hundreds of coffee bars with brewers placed so barista and customer can interact, the same with Japan. Lifestyle coffee drinks were mentioned often. We are talking signature drinks using non-traditional coffee items. What’s new? Graffeo Coffee has a partnership with Philip Stark group of hotels in Beijing that will feature a high end coffee bar, XO Café, where siphon brewing method will be the main event.
“We have to add to the theater of specialty coffee,” said Tom. “Any time I can get a customer to say, ‘What’s that?’ I know I have them hooked.”
Hooked on specialty coffee and hooked on a personal hand-crafted experience like no other.