2017 Holiday Blend

Every year in early November I begin the process of creating the year's Sidecar Holiday Blend. It starts with me thinking about the foods I love to eat during the Holiday season. Then I think about what flavors I want to highlight and what coffees I have or need to buy in order fulfill my vision for the blend. Then there's tasting. Lots and lots of tasting.

My goal is pretty simple. I want a coffee that is great by itself, but tastes best with a piece of pie. There are no right or wrong ways to create a blend, but here is my approach:

First, there are two main ways to blend coffee: pre-roast and post-roast. Pre-roast blends are blended before roasting and post-roast blends are roasted then blended. Both are terrific, but when it comes to the holiday blend, I'm thinking post-roast 100%! It's the best way to let the individual character of each coffee shine without the balancing (or middling) effect of pre-roast blends.

The backbone of the Holiday blend comes from a darker roasted Colombia. It's bold and heavy, but surprisingly smooth. It gives the blend strong body and welcome roasty flavors. For a little texture and brown spice we've added a sweet and savory coffee from Papua New Guinea, roasted to a medium level. It adds body and flavor without a lot of extra roastiness.

Two lighter roasted coffees round out the 2017 Holiday Blend. The first is a sweet and fruity, naturally processed Ethiopia. The winey notes adds greatly to the overall complexity of the blend. Finally a bright, lemony Guatemala brings it all blend together with a pleasant acidy snap.

Once we decided on the coffees, we made a ton of pourovers, adjusting the ratios and adding and dropping coffees until we nailed it.

At Sidecar Coffee Roasters we would like to wish you a happy holiday. We hope you'll enjoy it  with our 2017 Sidecar Holiday Blend.

 2017 Holiday Blend

2017 Holiday Blend


We're collaborating with Try Pie on a coffee/fundraiser/awareness campaign, so I asked one of the founders to help spread the word with a short guest blog entry. Please consider supporting this group however you can. My favorite way is to buy their pies (and eat them)!! - Jed

From Try Pie:

Try Pie is a diverse group of high school girls who work together making and selling pie for the Cedar Valley. A job at Try Pie means practical work experience in the kitchen paired with workshop structured learning in the classroom - allowing teens to build critical life and leadership skills for their futures. Throughout their time on the team, each young woman is encouraged to discover her unique gifts and skills and to learn how to recognize and cheer on the gifts and skills of her peers. 


After four years of operating out of Orchard Hill Church's kitchen in Cedar Falls, the team is gearing up to move to their own storefront in downtown Waterloo. This new location will allow move hours to be offered, more experience gained, more friendships built and more great pie made. Your purchase of Sidecar Coffee Roaster's Try Pie Blend will help Try Pie continue to offer meaningful work to Cedar Valley teens. 



COLD BREW Season is upon us

The sudden return of warmer weather suggests that we've finally entered Cold Brew Season. I thought I'd take a moment to refresh your memory on this fantastic, refreshing summertime beverage...

Cold Brew (or cold press or toddy) is simply another of the endless ways to make great tasting coffee. The big difference, at least how I explain it, is in the solvent used to extract the compounds that make up coffee. With hot brewed methods, hot water over a very short period of time is the solvent. In Cold Brew, cold water and many hours (up to 24) are the solvents. Without getting all Bill Nye on you, certain compounds aren't extracted with the cold brew method, resulting in a super smooth, easy drinking, lower acid coffee (up to 2/3 fewer acids).

Cold extraction brings out lower tones and heavier body (chocolate, caramel, brown sugar notes). Brighter citrus and floral notes can come across as sour. My personal take on cold coffee is that if you want something low acid and smooth in the cup, start with heavier bodied, lower acid coffee.  Our own Kickstart Espresso blend would be a great choice to start with. The coffees selected and the slower (stretched) finish highlight heavy body and chocolate flavor with balanced acidity.

Making Cold Brew Coffee: 

Making your own Cold Brew is easy, and you don't need much (any) special equipment. The Ratios below are for drinking-strength cold brewed coffee. Adjust the amount of coffee and water for smaller and larger batches. You can also adjust the concentration as much as you want (for a super concentrate you could use 3/4 or even 1 # of coffee per 8 cups of coffee).

1. Grind 8 oz of Sidecar Kickstart Espresso Blend (ground for a french press) into a pitcher

2. Pour 8 cups of cool filtered water over the ground coffee

3. After about 10 minutes, stir gently and set the pitcher out on the counter, covered

4. Wait between 12 and 24 hours. This is the hardest step, I know

5. Filter the brew with cheesecloth or fabric (a piece of clean t-shirt material works awesome) into another pitcher

6. Enjoy over ice with or without milk.

A little experimenting and you'll be on your way to a cool, caffeinated summer. Cold Brew will keep for a few weeks in your fridge, but it won't last that long. Try serving over ice or warmed. Is a great mixer for cocktails too. 

Dipping our toes into the "direct trade" and relationship coffee waters

What can I say, I got bit by the direct trade/relationship coffee bug this year. It was Veracruz, Mexico, January 2016. I don't know if it was from tasting a few too many fresh ripe coffee cherries right off the branch, eating simple, delicious lunches prepared by farmers off the back gates of pickup trucks, or maybe it was just the sun (January in Iowa will do things to you). I returned home and bought coffee from fincas I'd walked just days earlier (through IP coffee, so not exactly a direct trade), knowing that I'd be back.

Not a month went by before, my friend Peter from Black Sheep Coffee Roasters in Bishop, CA was in El Salvador and Guatemala sourcing coffee for us. Peter kept me in the loop via calls and email, because two international trips in 2 months just wasn't in my 2016 plans. But together we were going to buy some awesome coffees direct from the source.

It's great to tour farms, meet producers and cup coffees at origin, but it's another thing to say to them "I like that one. I'll take 40 bags". Buying direct from the producer can be risky (and still requires limited support of an importer/exporter) but there's value in the transaction.

First, the farmer sees first hand that we, as roasters, care about the quality of coffee we buy. We care enough that we're willing to travel thousands of miles to see it in person. To many of us, it is so much more than a commodity to be bought and sold (even specialty coffee is linked to the commodity market). Great coffee is why we are able to do what we do, and without it, coffee farmers might be growing celery or sugar cane and we'd be roasting peanuts.

Second, the farmer is able to sit down and negotiate prices and terms directly with the roaster who will take their coffee the final few steps of its long journey. By making a direct sale, more money goes to the farmer. This is crucial when you consider global economic pressures, coffee leaf rust (roya), global climate change and other uncertainties. I suppose you could also say that, at least for small roasters and fincas, it's taking a bigger, more corporate third party out of the equation and keeping the transaction between two little guys.

Finally, it allows us, as roasters, to buy and bring better coffees to our markets. The coffee we're looking at is not significantly less expensive than the coffee we can buy from one of several reputable, responsible, pro-farmer importers. It is, however; most likely, better. Without going into the minutiae of coffee scoring and sourcing, it's safe to say that the coffee we're buying will be noticeably smoother, sweeter, brighter and finer than what we could get for the same price elsewhere.

I will still buy lots of coffee from a few awesome importers. They play a vital role in my success, but I hope to also offer more direct trade and relationship coffee to you in the near future.


2016 Origin Trip (Veracruz, Mexico) Part 1

There isn't a whole lot of coffee grown in North America... In the last few years, a few avocado farmers on the California Coast have been planting coffee under their avocado trees, but that's about it.

Technically, the coffee of Mexico is North American, but the flavor profile and growing conditions in most of the coffee producing states are much more like Central America (think Guatemala). It's grown primarily in Chiapas and Oaxaca, near the border of Guatemala, and at a altitude of about 1800 meters above sea level (masl).

Then there's the coffee of Veracruz... 

A few months ago, I started chatting with Andy Newbom from IP coffees, located in San Diego, California. IP Coffee is promoting the coffee of Veracruz, Mexico as a truly North American coffee. Grown at around 1200 masl, a lower altitude than the best Central Americans, and quite a bit North of the equator, the coffee has a very different flavor profile from other Mexican coffee. It has a heavy body, great sweetness and it's rich with chocolate. It also has a milder acidity than other Mexican and Central American Coffees. Oh, and it's awesome as espresso.

As a coffee roaster, it's hard to make buying decisions based on an industry standard 200-300 gram sample of coffee. So Andy at IP Coffee hosted a friendly "world cup style" Espresso Challenge, pitting underdog Veracruz, Mexico vs. perennial powerhouse Brazil . To back up their claim that their Mexico was better than Brazil in espresso, they sent out full production batches of their coffee. Yes, that's right, they sent full production batches, free of charge.



Sidecar Coffee Roasters took the espresso challenge. The coffee was, indeed, very sweet and chocolaty. Brazil adds a lot of body and a little chocolate, but can also be a little nutty. After extensive testing over several days (I love my job!), I went online, filled out the scorecard and Mexico beat Brazil. 

The next thing I knew, I was buying a plane ticket to Mexico City. Andy and the folks from IP had invited me to Mexico to visit coffee fincas and tour their coffee processing facilities in Veracruz.  

We'll pick up on the trip in the next blog entry. Thanks for reading!

(If you've read this far, you deserve a treat. use blog10 in the coupon code to take 10% off your coffee order)

2014 Holiday Melange

The Holiday Season is a time to celebrate how lucky we all are. As a coffee roaster, I'm thankful to have great customers (who are embracing specialty coffee) and great coffee to play with.

Until recently, most of my "blends" have been pre-blended and then roasted. This is a great way to roast, and I've been very happy with the results. Lately I've been playing around with post-roast blending in order to get the most out of each coffee, instead of finding a "middle ground".

This years Holiday blend is a post-roast melange of three awesome coffees. It's a celebration of three coffees, three regions and three distinct flavor profiles. Each one is great by itself, but put together, they say "Happy Holidays".

The first coffee is from Indonesia. This medium dark roasted Sumatra Lintong is a combination of three processing styles (washed, wet hulled and natural). It's smooth and buttery with licorice sweetness.

The second is a washed Costa Rica "Community Coffee" from San Pedro. It's roasted medium/light to retain its citric acidity and notes of cocoa.

Finally, a lightly roasted washed Ethiopia Yirgacheffe (Konga) brings clean tart citrus and berry notes to the party.

Enjoy while it lasts!

My take on Cold Brew

Oh Summer, Where Art Thou?

Someday in the very near future (fingers crossed) it will be Cold Brew season in Cedar Falls, Iowa. We've had a day here and there, but it's been a disappointing spring for drinks that demand ice cubes. 

Eventually it will happen. I'll roll out of bed one morning and instead of reaching for the  portafilter handle of the espresso machine, I'll open the fridge, pour a few ounces of Sidecar's super concentrated cold brew over ice and a dash of milk and start my day. It will be a good day.

 Cold Brew Concentrate is very strong. A little goes a long way.

Cold Brew Concentrate is very strong. A little goes a long way.

Cold Brew (or cold press or toddy) is simply another (of many) ways to make great tasting coffee. The big difference, at least how I explain it, is in the solvent used to extract the coffee. With hot brewed methods, hot water and a few minutes are the solvents. In Cold Brew, cold water and many hours (up to 24) are the solvents. Without getting all Bill Nye on you, certain compounds aren't extracted with the cold brew method, resulting in a super smooth, easy drinking, low acid coffee. 

My personal take on cold coffee is that if you want something low acid and smooth, start with lower acid coffees, but any good coffee will work. I like the lighter roasted natural processed coffees, found in the Cold Brew Blend (natural Brazil and Ethiopia). It's a little nutty and a little fruity, with the edges sanded off for easy drinking. Add some Hansen's milk and it tastes like your drinking coffee ice cream. 


Making Cold Brew Coffee: 

Making your own Cold Brew Concentrate is easy, and you don't need much (any) special equipment. (adjust the ratios for larger/smaller batches). Another great way is to use a TODDY cold coffee maker and follow their directions. In lieu of a TODDY, this recipe works very well. 

1. Grind 4 oz of Sidecar Cold Brew Blend (ground a little coarser than drip) into a pitcher.

2. Pour 4 1/2 cups of cool filtered water over the ground coffee

3. After about 10 minutes, stir gently and set the pitcher out on the counter, covered

4. Wait (anywhere between 12 and 24 hours)

5. Filter the brew with cheesecloth (a piece of clean t-shirt material works awesome) into another pitcher

6. Enjoy. Start with a ration of about 1 part cold brew to 3 parts water or milk.

Cold Brew will last for up to 4 weeks in your fridge, but it won't last that long. Try serving over ice or warmed. Is a great mixer for cocktails too. 


Henry Ford, salt and your morning coffee

Henry Ford would take prospective executives to lunch and observe their behavior. If the prospective employee added salt to his meal before tasting it, Ford wouldn't hire them.

What does this have to do with coffee? Like those prospective execs, we are creatures of habit. If you want to learn more about coffee, give it a taste before you doctor it with milk and/or sugar. You'll be surprised by what you notice. Is it bright or earthy, lemony? Is it thin or heavy bodied? Sweet? Bitter? Smoky? Where does it cause the greatest sensation on your tongue? How long does it last? Do you notice anything different from yesterday's cup? 

Over time, you'll start to notice more than just "yep, that's coffee". If you're drinking super fresh Sidecar Coffee, you might find that you enjoy it more with a little less!

Oh, and please taste your food before you add salt!



1,000 Roasts and Counting...

When Sidecar Coffee Roasters opened in late November of 2012, I didn't know what to expect. I started small, bootstrapping it the entire way, with the mantra of "be the change".  The support from the community has been tremendous.

a gift from Joe.jpg

About 1,000 roasts later, Sidecar is busy defining the coffee culture in Cedar Falls. I am partnering with with a group of coffee lovers  to open Sidecar Coffee Shop on College Hill and I am about to welcome a new member to the Sidecar family.  

The current roaster, a Diedrich IR 2.5 (2.5 Kg) is headed to the hill to make room for a Diedrich IR 12 (12 Kg) roaster. The new roaster is a scaled up version of the 2.5, allow for greater consistency and efficiency, while maintaining the essence of craft roasting.   

You'll see me up on the hill working on new coffees and doing coffee roasting demonstrations, while much of the production roasting will continue downtown.  

Jittery Jed--From Seed to Cup

This is an article I wrote for The Cedar Falls Times in July 2013.  

Jittery Jed—From Seed to Cup

Coffee isn’t why I get up every morning, but it sure helps get things moving. I love everything about coffee and I’m lucky enough to have a career in it. Over the coming months, I hope you’ll enjoy learning about your morning coffee, from seed to cup in this column.

My love affair with coffee started in 1993 as a high school senior in Neenah, Wisconsin cramming for a physics final. This was the coffee equivalent of a toy poodle in a sweater: my mom’s instant coffee doctored with hot chocolate powder, milk and a dollop of Cool Whip. We've come a long way since then, baby.

Coffee will always be there. Through my early college years at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, bad coffee was liquid sleep. As I grew older, coffee became more social and refined. My friends and I sat around and drank coffee, talked about books, even tried to write books. Somewhere along the way, I had become a coffee aficionado. I owned an espresso machine and a burr grinder, but it wasn’t until I started roasting my own coffee beans and learning about how coffee is processed that I began to truly appreciate coffee and respect the labor of all the people who touch it. From the farmer’s care and the picker’s toil to the roaster’s attention to detail and the brewer’s finishing touch, hundreds of people play a role in making every single cup of coffee.  

Coffee means something different to everyone, but for me coffee is a ritual. Coffee is my constant. The ritual evolves over time, but every morning starts with coffee, carefully prepared. Lately, morning in my home begins with the sound of the espresso maker turning on. I roll out of bed and make lattes for my wife and me. Steam…  grind… tamp… brew… pour… knock… repeat. When our son was little and less mobile, we could enjoy two coffees in bed while he happily played and read. Today we’re lucky to get one before we’re chasing him around. Life changes but it always starts with coffee.

In the next column I’ll answer any questions you have about coffee. Email me at Jed@sidecarcoffeeroasters.