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Coffee News, 2-13-2015

No More Choosing Between Beer and Coffee

Thanks to Modern Times, you can have coffee, beer, or both.
Coffee and beer pair quite well, whether you're chasing stout with espresso, or drinking a coffee-brewed porter. Some Third Wave coffee roasters have even taken to barrel-aging small batches of beans. But it's taken a craft brewer who happens to be a coffee aficionado to pull it all together in grand style. Modern Times Beer founder Jacob McKean earned his stripes as a brewer and turned to coffee as a way to de-stress from the rigors of the brewing business; it didn't take long before he found a way to combine the two. A recent story in the LA Times points to a key difference between McKean and a typical brewer: a typical coffee-infused beer would be aged in used spirit barrels (often bourbon). McKean's approach calls equally upon his beer brewing and coffee roasting chops; he starts, as a coffee roaster would, by barrel-aging green coffee beans, roasting them, and only then adding them to the beer. Modern Times offers several coffee beers, including its original Black House coffee stout, City of the Dead stout (which is more coffee-forward) and others. What elevates this above mere gimmickry is McKean's knowledge of both coffee roasting and beer brewing, giving his beers a level of consistency that's frankly missing in some other brewers' coffee beers.

If You've Ever Been Suspicious of Yelp...

We're including this story because, like a lot of you, we tend to research businesses -- especially restaurants, cafes and coffee houses -- on Yelp before we patronize them. Yelp's review policy has long seemed arbitrary to business owners, with an Amazon-esque element that skews results practically beyond their usefulness. The company has been accused repeatedly of burying positive reviews -- and highlighting negative ones -- when business owners have refused to purchase advertising on the site. While we take Yelp at its word when the company says this is not their policy, a federal appeals court ruling toward the end of 2014 could inadvertently undercut that claim. The court's ruling? Yelp would, in fact, be within its rights to manipulate reviews as a form of "hard bargaining." One dissatisfied customer (not a party to the aforementioned lawsuit) has decided to get even instead of getting mad. Entrepreneur reports that Richmond, California eatery Botto Italian Bistro has decided to game the system. In reverse. They actually encourage their customers to post negative reviews. And did they ever; for a while, Botto proudly sported a one-star review (they've got three stars now -- perhaps they're slipping?). The reviews themselves are a kind of literary jujitsu, turning the very act of reviewing against itself, often with hilarious results. There's actually a lesson in all of this, especially if you're a cafe or coffee shop owner who feels as though you're playing against a stacked deck. Don't despair; with quality and a bit of creativity, you can still stand out in the crowd without having to pay handsomely for the privilege.

A Truly Green Espresso Machine

The Sanremo Verde Espresso Machine
We recently accidentally stumbled upon the Sanremo Verde espresso machine, and we're quite impressed. In a world where nobody's quite sure what to do with all the used K Cups generated annually, and when the closest most people come to recycling coffee grinds is using them to compost their gardens, Sanremo has managed something truly unique. Their Verde espresso machine is green in fact, and not just in name. The machine's side panels are made up of a composite that consists of recycled coffee beans and other recycled materials, while its knobs are crafted from upcycled wood taken from espresso bars. By itself, that's more than many companies do to reduce their products' carbon footprint, but the machine's innards are what elevates this from gimmick to high concept. The Verde uses a PID-regulated temperature control system that drastically cuts power consumption. Its robust feature set (dedicated boilers with independent temperature control per group head, backflush cleaning, shot timer, copper boiler and pipework, and a triple-level safety system, among other perks) means that the energy efficiency is gained without sacrificing brew times or quality.