Elixir Coffee Specialists

Elixir Coffee Specialists

Normally I’d take issue with a name like “Coffee Specialists”. It’s draws parallels with fast food chains calling themselves “Burger professionals” or “Sandwich artists”. Sure it’s a catchy title, but it in no way makes me think the person behind the counter with the pimples and the hair net knows anything about making quality food.

Of course the difference in this case (aside from a distinct lack of hair nets) is that crew at Elixir Coffee Specialists are in fact, coffee specialists. Ignoring for a moment the slight issue of another cafe recently opening with the name Elixir in it, and a need to adequately distinguish themselves, you don’t get much more of a coffee dream team than Justin Kenny and Jonny Nease.

Jonny Justin

If you’re a Perth coffee lover, you’ll have likely seen Justin’s face around town. He’s been owner and operator of many excellent establishments in their time, the likes of which include Grind in Trinity Arcade, Fix in West Perth, and most recently Velvet Espresso on King St. It was at Velvet that Jonny came on board, and now Elixir is the culmination of Justin’s long legacy in the Perth coffee scene.

A consummate professional who goes about his business without pomp or ceremony, Justin describes Elixir as the goal he’s been building to all along. A place where he has the space to do what he wants. To create a boutique cafe and a small batch roastery where he can finally do coffee his way.

Elixir is in the building formerly occupied by The Grocer (a fact they’re constantly reminded of by the regular flow of people coming in and asking where The Grocer is, expecting to buy saffron threads and truffle oil). The good thing about this though, is that not only do they pick up new business from every person who gets a whiff of the amazing smell of their coffee, but it also means that there’s plenty of storage room out the back for the new arrived roaster, a coffee lab, and hopefully soon a whole lot of interesting green beans.

With the roaster to be commissioned in the coming months it’s an exciting time for Justin, Jonny, Gemma, Ruth, and the rest of the Elixir team, who all genuinely seem to want to be there… which is a nice thing to experience. Jonny, Justin, and Gemma run the coffee, and Ruth and Jen are the girls who make the food sing. All the meals are done on site with ovens out the back to get some serious cooking going. The menu changes often and has a focus on simple cafe classics done well. My last visit included a steak sandwich with roast tomatoes and a garlic creme that really hit the spot.

Elixir coffee - espresso pour Latte art capp

Coffee is an increasingly difficult thing for me to comment on. Being involved in barista competitions and knowing more people in the industry, it would be unfair of me to start throwing out unfettered opinion on every cafe I go to. Knowing more behind the scenes, you soon start to realise that one flat white or espresso can not be assessed on it’s own, but rather appreciated knowing the various factors that have gone into it. Where the beans are from, how they’re roasted, how they’re stored, what equipment you’re using, how well it’s maintained, and how busy the cafe is at any given time of the day are all big deciders in the overall quality of the cup.

So I won’t be rating 7 out of 10’s or 4 stars or giving you a detailed break down of the flavour profile of the coffees I tried.
What I will say however, is that Elixir is the kind of place where continual improvement and the pursuit of great coffee is the underlying goal. So regardless of the make up of their blend, the single origin they happen to be using on the day, what new and zany tamping technique, or grams per shot ratio they’re using, it will be part of an evolving process that I’ll happily take part in.

Elixir Coffee Specialists
Chelsea Village, 145 Stirling Highway
Nedlands

Phone: 9389 9333
Open Monday – Saturday: 7.00am – 4.00pm
Closed Sunday

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2010 W.A Barista Competition – Day 1

2010 WA Barista Competition

It’s been a huge day today as day one of the Detpak W.A Barista Championships got underway. This year W.A has 16 awesome baristas vying for the title of the states best, and a chance to be flown to the Gold Coast to represent W.A in the national finals early next year.

The first day of competition today at the Mount Hawthorn Community Hall had 11 competitors all strutting their stuff. Everyone competing admirably and doing their bit to further the appreciation of good coffee in W.A.

Tomorrow sees a further 5 competitors round out the barista competition, and the the states best latte artists will take to the stage
to see who can take away the Pura Milk Latte Art championship.

Finally, the who’s who of Perth’s coffee palates will compete in the Fairtrade Cup Tasting competition, a fast paced race to pick the odd coffee out of 8 sets of 3 cups. The winner is whoever gets the most right in the fastest time.

The event is open to the public and everyone who is into coffee at all is encouraged to come down. We have a coffee cart selling $2 coffees made by our competitors, and coffee roasting demonstrations run by local home roaster Trevor Green.

Tomorrow’s action will get underway at 9am and run through til the afternoon, so there’s plenty of time to come along and see what the best baristas in the state have to offer.

Here’s a few shots from todays action taken by Jon Wilson:

Directions to Mount Hawthorn Community Hall

2010 W.A Barista Competition

flat white rosetta

This is an informational post for people looking for information about the WA Barista Competition for this year.

The event is scheduled to be held on the 7th and 8th of November, at the Mt Hawthorn Community Hall, on Scarborough Beach Rd in Mt Hawthorn.

Over the course of the weekend we will be running the local W.A heats of the Australian Barista Competition, the Latte Art Competition, and the Cup Tasting Competition.

Entry for the competition is done online via the newly launched AASCA (Australasian Speciality Coffee Association) website. Links to all the categories being run on the day are below:

Entry for Australian Barista Championship WA State Heat

Entry for Latte Art Championships WA State Heat

Entry for Cup Tasting Championship WA State Heat

The links above will take you to the AASCA site where you can either use your existing AASCA membership number to enter the competition, or else sign up for a new AASCA membership at the same time as you register. The website also handles online processing of competition payments.

More information in regards to the event will be released, including barista jams and information nights, will be released as they come to hand, but for now if you are interested in competing (and if you’re a passionate W.A barista then you should be), please head across to the AASCA site and get your entry in, then get practicing !

Vacuum Brewing with the Cona

the finished product

Vacuum brewed coffee. It’s all the rage on the greater coffee loving scene of late. Mark Prince has been into them for years, they’ve made numerous appearances in barista competitions, St Ali in Melbourne invited a Japanese syphon coffee champion to give a demonstration of the art, and snobs and geeks across the country seem to be getting in on the action in greater numbers.

My first dabbling with vacuum brewed coffee happened after I casually dropped by Fiori Coffee to pay Kam a visit and make a nuisance of myself (as I am prone to doing). Noticing a familiar looking device sitting in a box on the floor I soon found out it was a Cona Vacuum Brewer. Kam, being the gentleman he is, kindly offered to let me try it out, and I’ve been experimenting ever since.

The basic principle behind vacuum brewed coffee is that you have two chambers. Water in the bottom chamber is heated, gives off water vapour, and eventually the vapour expands so much that it pushes the rest of the water up the spout into the top chamber. The ground coffee in the top then brews until you take away the heat source, at which point the water vapour cools and the brewed coffee is drawn back down in the bottom chamber.

I am by no means any kind of expert when it comes to this kind of thing. I’ve been picking up as many tips from other people as I can. So this post is more of just a pictorial guide to one way you could do it, rather than any kind of how to.

The Cona is a very beautiful piece of equipment on it’s own. Shannon Bennett fell in love with it so much that he makes a table side bouillabaisse by infusing fish stock and shell fish using it. The process of brewing coffee in it to me seems more like a science experiment than making coffee, but that’s probably why I like it.

My process is as follows:

Filter some water and fill the bottom chamber up. This is a ‘D’ series Cona, which holds at most a litre or so in the bottom. I fill it with about 750 ml of water, and put it onto a gas burner to heat up. This isn’t strictly necessary, but the Cona’s standard heat source is a little spirit burner, which takes forever to heat this amount of water.

Once some vapours are coming out of the top of the pot, and before it starts to boil, take it off the gas, and lock the top chamber in place on top. Light the spirit burner underneath and add the coffee to the top.

I used a measurement of 8 grams of coffee per 150ml of water (I fudged that from the SCAA standard brew ratio recommendations). Which means 40 grams of ground coffee for the amount of water in this example. The coffee is ground at roughly the same level as French press coffee, though I have been varying it lately to see the effects. Obviously you should be using some nice fresh coffee for good results.

Now you basically let the Cona work it’s magic.

The water will gradually rise up into the top chamber and begin to infuse. When it’s all mostly up in the top, I give it a stir to make sure all the coffee is adequately soaked, which brings out the “bloom” some more. Then when all the water has risen to the top (there will always be some water that doesn’t come up) remove the heat source. The coffee will then slowly start to be sucked back down into the bottom chamber, and the spent grounds stay up the top.

Some people wait til the water had all risen to the top chamber before adding the coffee, namely because it infusion all happens at a similar temperature, but I can’t say I’ve tried enough to tell the difference.

Here is my pictoral view of the process:

Observations

– This is great way to brew coffee, it’s an interesting process and the results can be amazing

– The Cona has a glass filter rod. I’m not sure how it works exactly, but the cups I’ve had are generally very clean and without grounds. I like that it doesn’t need changing and is easy to clean, but not sure how it compares to cloth filters in brewers like the Hario.

– It works best with interesting single origins that are roasted much lighter than espresso to keep their inherent terroir characteristics.

– Measuring the coffee in the top chamber through the brew process showed I was getting temperatures around 90 – 95C, which is not boiling obviously, so should be ok. A more specific approach to temperature management would give more reproducible results.

– My experiments have yet to yield any outstanding experiences, but I think that’s due to roast level
of the coffee, and mastering the technique some more.

– There are lots of other ways to do it, here’s a list of other resources I’ve been using:

Sweet Marias
Coffee Kid
Coffee Snobs
Coffee Geek
Barismo

Also, enjoy the giant photos :)

Menu For Hope

menu_for_hope

Menu for Hope is an annual fundraising campaign hosted by well known food blogger Pim of Chez Pim and a revolving group of food bloggers around the world. Five years ago, the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia inspired Pim to find a way to help, and the very first Menu for Hope was born. The campaign has since become a yearly affair, raising funds to support worthy causes worldwide. In 2007, Menu for Hope raised nearly $100K to help the UN World Food Programme feed the hungry.

I’ve always been a bit blasé about getting involved in causes. I like the idea of helping, but I’m generally happy for someone else to do it. Of course, that’s entirely the wrong attitude to have. For anything to get changed and make a difference, it takes the efforts of lots of people. So this year I’ve decided to get involved and offer a prize, and am pleased to announce Fiori Coffee have kindly donated a great prize, consisting of a barista training course and a gourmet coffee hamper !

Fiori Coffee

The prize pack includes a 2.5 hour professional barista training course for 1 person and a hamper consisting of 6 x 250 gram bags of fresh roasted coffee, 1 bag of chai, 1 bag of hot chocolate and a stovetop espresso maker (moka pot). All up valued at $250.

If you’re a coffee fanatic and that sounds like something you’d like to win (and you live in Perth, Western Australia), then please follow the instructions below in order to purchase some raffle tickets, which put you in the running to win.

My good mate Ed from Tomatom is coordinating the Asia Pacific entries, so please head over to his site to view the rest of the prizes on offer. And if you like mine, then remember to quote reference number AP14 when you buy your tickets.

Donation Instructions:

  1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at http://chezpim.com
  2. Go to the donation site at http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhope5 and make a donation.
  3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
    For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02
  4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
  5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

2009 WA Latte Art and Coffee Cupping Competition

Tanghy limbers up WA Latte Art and Coffee Cupping Compeition

We had another great day at the Latte Art championships and the Cupping Competition last Sunday. I bravely stood up to the plate again and sacrificed my tastebuds to the cause of coffee to judge the latte art competition in the morning, because as we all (should) know, latte art is much more than just drawing hearts and flowers on top of coffee. The milk temperature and texture and the way it combines with the espresso is paramount to getting a good score. So no matter how lovely your patterns are, if your coffee tastes like microwaved nescafe, you will lose.

Fortunately the competitors on Sunday were a much classier lot than that, and after some stirling efforts from many competitors, the winner once again was Production Supervisor and latte artiste extraordinaire, Kim Godleman of 5 Senses.

Sadly I was judging the whole time of the comp, and with no minions to run around taking photos for me, I didn’t get many shots of the actual competitors during the day. The 5 Senses team did get a few shots though, that you can check out here.

Next up was the cupping competition, and true to form, I had not practiced once. Still, my steely nerves and trust in my palate was strong. I managed to get a break for lunch in between the latte art and the cupping, so I primed the tastebuds with a potato and ham calzone and a lemon lime and bitters. A lunch of taste champions no doubt. A few swirls of mineral water just to round out the bitters and we were good to go.

What is cupping you say ?
Cupping is the traditional method for breaking down the flavour profiles of brewed coffee. You roast a bunch of coffee to a certain level (generally lighter than for espresso), grind it to a specific courseness, and then let it steep in hot water (not boiling) for a set period of time. Then breaking through the crust of grinds on the top and inhaling deeply the aromas of the brew, and drawing out as much detail as you can about the nose, before slurping it as you would if you were tasting wine. Aerating the coffee across your palate and assessing the acidity, body, and length of finish etc.

The cupping competition is designed to be a high speed spectacle that mirrors this tradition. Each competitor is given 8 sets of 3 cups. 2 of the cups in each set are the same coffee, and one is different. The point then is to guess the odd one out, in as fast a time as possible.

The winner of the world cupping championships last year scored 8 out of 8 correct in less than 1 1/2 minutes. That’s 24 tastes of coffee in under 90 seconds… and 100% accuracy on what he was tasting.
Whilst I doubt I’ll ever be in that league, I’ll explain the method I use for this competition (If you can call it a method).

How I do it
Basically I taste the first cup in a set, slurp it across my palate and look for one single defining character of that coffee. Some coffees are predominantly sour, some particularly bitter, others are really earthy, or acidic, or just have some weird kind of funk to them. I then use that one characteristic to match against the other cups. If the next cup has it too, then they are likely to be the same, if the next cup doesn’t, then test the third, if the third has it, bingo. You can also try and use things like the heat profile of steam coming out of cups, and the colour of the brewed coffee if you need a little help. Though often it’s just more confusing.

So in a sense, you’re really not tasting coffee at all. You’re pulling out one flavour component that you can use to match against. Of course being a professional coffee taster, those flavour components are going to be a lot more apparent to someone who does it every day than to a weekend cupping warrior. But the concept is still the same. Of course the problem arises when the coffees all start to taste like each other, or when your mind starts to wander, and the taste you were matching against suddenly slips from your mind.

So how did I do ?
Well, not bad, but not good enough to take out the win this year. I was dead certain of the first set, which I pushed out after only one sip of each cup, and later found out I had it wrong. Which still confuses me as to how I could be so certain, but then these things happen. I managed to get 5 out of 8 sets right in a little over 4 minutes. Pipped by a stirling performance by non other than barista to the stars Ben Bicknell, who managed an outstanding 7 out of 8. A host of other competitors also came in with 5 out of 8 actually. So perhaps we’re all just talented :)

For the record, here are the results from the two days of competition:

Barista Competition Final Results

1st: Mark Chandler from 5 Senses Coffee / WA Barista Academy 546.5 points
2nd: Jespa Bood from Ristretto 454.5 points
3rd: Charles Stuart from Rocketfuel 453.0 points

Latte Art Final Results

1st: Kim Godleman from 5 Senses Coffee
2nd: Dale Fewson from Café 54
3rd: Natalie Donaldson from Epic Espresso

Cupping Competition Final Results

1st: Ben Bicknell from 5 Senses Coffee 7/8 in 3 mins 58 secs
2nd: Angela Kowalczyk from Epic Espresso 5/8 in 3 mins 32 secs
3rd: Matt O’Donohue (that’s me!) Executive Producer of Abstract Gourmet 5/8 in 4 mins 7 secs