Coffee Education

Quills Tools: Mahlkoenig Grinder

Quills is excited to announce we have procured a new grinder! It is the Tanzania model made by Mahlkoenig, a German company that is renowned for their high quality professional products. So fancy in fact they are the official grinder company for the World Barista Championship.

What is great about the Tanzania is its range of settings. It has the capacity to grind as course as needed for French Press, or to grind as fine for Espresso. The burrs (or blades) on the grinder are concave, unlike many grinders where the blades are flat, allowing for a more even grinding of the beans.

It is also exciting for us that we are officially Mahlkoenig reps. There are only a select few in the U.S. Of course it is a little out of reach for home coffee needs, but when you want to add a coffee bar to your new business, let us know.

Quills Tools: Chris King Tamper

Of course we understand the buzz about coffee these days, we are obviously in love. But it is awesome to see when professionals of different fields become coffee enthusiasts. Biker extraordinaire, Chris King, has expanded his passion to the coffee world by designing and manufacturing his very own tamper.

Quills was lucky enough to be gifted one of these fancy tampers by our local bike enthusiast, Drew Hartman of On Your Left Cycles. A Quills regular, Hartman discovered King’s tamper and was delighted to share the cross-over product with us. King hasn’t given up bikes he is simply expanding his love for making tools and parts to his new love of coffee.

The tamper is an essential part of making espresso. All manual and semi-manual machines require the espresso grounds to be packed down tightly with a tamper before the portafilter (where the espresso goes) is inserted into the group head on the machine. This packing is an important part of the espresso process, the pressure added with human inflection helps determine the rate of extraction (speed the water goes through) of the espresso.

King’s tamper comes in varying weights, preference of which is determined by the barista. Often heavier tampers are useful for those with a lighter tamp, or the weight becomes a feeling of solid quality.

Needless to say we are delighted to have the new King tamper in our tool kit for making fine espresso. Thanks Drew! You’re tops.

Coffee Names: The Ins and Outs

When consuming coffee at Quills you may often be struck with the question of ‘Why does this *insert delicious coffee* have this name? What does it all mean?’ A common question, be sure. But the answer is not so easy. Coffee names are often a conglomeration of terms indicating the region, farm name, tree varietal, grading terms, or awards achieved. Woah, that’s a lot. But really it just means that a lot of information can be in the name of the coffee. Asking the informed barista of what the names mean can be the answer, but here are some of the terms often used in the naming process to give you a heads up.
Some of the terms involved in naming come from the type of bean. Whether it is smaller or larger or harder. The terms Peaberry, SHB or “Strictly Hard Bean,” AA or AB are indications of size or type. The peaberry is a result of a coffee cherry producing a single, rather than a double bean.  The bean is smaller, with a crevice splitting down the middle.  Peaberry coffees have some different characteristics to their normal bean counterparts.  Peaberries are usually brighter, more complex in aroma, and lighter in body.
SHB is short for “strictly hard bean”, which is the highest grade designation in Costa Rica, based on growing altitude. AA is an indication of bean size—AA is the largest size grown in Kenya. AB is a size down. These grades are not indicative of the quality of the coffee. An AB coffee can be just as good as an AA coffee.  Coffees simply labeled Kenya AA hardly reflect the quality contained in the cup, they merely indicate the size of the bean.  The quality of a Kenya coffee is determined by proper growing conditions, and meticulous harvesting and and processing, just like any other great coffee grown around the world.
Other parts important terms in the coffee names come from the region or farm they are grow in or awards they have received. A Co-op, or cooperative is a group of farmers who each maintain smaller sections of a large farm.  This allows for greater attention to detail, as each farmer can focus more attentively on a smaller amount of land. Using the Co-op name in a coffee draws attention to the farm and allows people to become familiar with the conditions the coffee is grown and be able to discern the Co-ops they prefer.
Awards are always important. Especially if you win one! When a coffee wins an award, like the coveted Cup of Excellence it is undeniable that growers and sellers want to show that off. The process in which the coffee is harvested can also be used as part of the name. A coffee that  says ‘wet-process’ means that the bean has been fully washed after harvesting, in contrast to a dry-processed coffee, where the coffee is left in the sun to dry.  
Here are some examples how that all works to name our tasty coffees. Here's a simple one.  We carry a coffee called "Nicaragua La Gloria". It's from Nicaragua, from a farm called "La Gloria".  Simple enough. Now let's take "El Salvador Cup of Excellence La Montanita Pacamara." El Salvador is the country of origin. Cup of Excellence is a national competition held in many coffee growing countries, recognizing and awarding the top coffee farms in the country each year.  La Montanita is the name of the farm where the coffee is grown. Pacamara is the varietal of the coffee trees harvested.  "Varietal" is a designation that is more precise than "species" or "sub-species", concerning trees.  
Of course you don’t need to know all that to enjoy coffee, but it does help to know where what you love comes from in order to find more and enhance your coffee experience. Taste and knowledge. Win.
For more fun terms and what not:


Behind the Curtain of Quills Coffee Standards

Down at the Quills coffee ranch we are always striving for better. But who decides what is best in the coffee world? We get inspiration from many pros in the coffee industry, roasters, baristas, and reps alike. As specialty coffee culture is growing in America and across the globe a standard is being set.
One of the primary associations to set this standard is the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). The SCAA is based out of Long Beach, CA but serves as a resource and network for coffee industry professionals all over the US. Among being smart and cool, the SCAA organizes and regulates the United States Barista Competition (USBC).
In addition to being a big deal among baristas, this competition helps to establish the standard of coffee brewing and barista stylings. The competitors must make a single espresso, a single cappuccino and a specialty espresso drink for each Judge. Within their fifteen minute barista presentation, they present each beverage in the order of their choice. Baristas are judged on taste, aesthetic, creativity and presentation. Unlike Latte Art Competitions, the barista is graded on taste and use of their imagination in their specialty drink. The winner of the USBC then goes on to compete in the World Barista Competition (WBC), which is a really big deal. The regulation established by the SCAA in these competitions has influenced the standards we hold at Quills.
This process may sound similar to the presentation Chris DeFerio gave at the Prima Barista Bash Quills hosted last spring. DeFerio, a winner of multiple Barista Championships, detailed the process of the barista competition and wowed the mock judges with his smoked milk and orange espresso drink. No wonder he is a winner.  
Who knew being a barista was such a big deal? Well it definitely is, and we aren’t the only ones that think so. There are competitions all over the country. Coffee Fest is also a convergence of coffee enthusiasts that influence Quills. Holding fests allover the country, even Hawaii, this meeting of hundreds of growers, roasters, baristas, equipment reps and every kind coffee lover under the sun come together to talk coffee. Hosting workshops and competitions, the goals is consistently learning and improvement.
Coming into coffee full force has led Quills into the path of such prominent and important coffee folks and we hope their standards keep raising, so ours do to.

Quills Drinks: The Miéle and The Velocé

At the Quills Coffee ranch we are always exploring the best and brightest ways to serve espresso. On top of the traditional espresso renditions, we offer some unique ways to imbibe that delicious black gold. The top on the list of fancy finds you will get at Quills is the Cafe Miele. A Latte with a special blend of honey and cinnamon, this drink is a classic at Quills. A customer favorite, and perfect for Latte Art, this tasty bev is perfect for a winter day, or iced in the summer for a just a little sweet and a lot of awesome. 

The Veloce, or fast in Italian, is just that. An espresso drink not to sip but to shoot. Don't be shy, just turn it up. The perfect balance of a flavor shot, half n half and espresso, goes down smooth and well fast. Perfect for on the go Joe or to accompany our bottomless French Press, the little sweet gets ya going. Just a couple more ways we can brighten your day. Like rainbows and stuff. 


Travel: Windy City Coffee Extravaganza

Quills baristas love Chicago, it’s true. When we make a getaway to the Windy City, what else could we do but venture to some of the finest coffee establishments in the country? One of our favorite hot spots is the infamous Intelligentsia Coffee. With multiple locations around the city, it’s easy to locate a spot near a Chicago fun time destination. A real inspiration to aspiring espresso bars, the high quality and attention Intelligentsia pays to coffee is unparalleled. Aiming equally for high quality coffee roasting, barista training and shop experience, Intelli gives specialty coffee shops a run for their money. On any random visit an array of high quality, delicious beans can be found for purchase, a barista champ on bar to deliver, and a cozy yet classy atmosphere to take it all in. Chicago coffee win.

But Intelligentsia isn’t the only shop in town we love. Star Lounge on Chicago Ave is also a favorite. Friendly and knowledgeable staff that love talking one-on-one about their air roasting process, their hand selected goodies and methods of brewing, this unassuming shop is a real gem. Pulling ristretto shots for their espresso drinks, or a short, thicker extraction, Star Lounge adds a twist to traditional espresso bar standards.

Kickstand, a small espresso bar located on the edge of Boystown on Belmont Ave, is a bright spot in the colorful neighborhood. The bright blue walls and colorful paintings are a different twist to the typical brown and whites of coffee shops that adds to the fun atmosphere of the shop. Serving Metropolis coffee, another Chicago favorite, this shop does the high quality coffee justice.

Slinging espresso is a fun but tough gig. All hale fellow baristas, much love to you.

Quills Drinks: Pour-Overs Are the New Thang

The newest addition to Quills is the infamous pour-over method. Assembled to deliver the best in coffee brewing is the Pour-Over Bar. Constructed so that the pour-over cone is positioned over the cup, it allows the fresh coffee to brew directly into your cup, then sip directly into your mouth. The pour-over has become a quality standard in coffee and offers a unique experience because of its slow brew method, like a French press, but has a paper filter that creates a barrier between liquid and grounds, using gravity as the means of extraction. 

Baristas at Quills are practicing daily, working out their wrist muscles and zen coffee skills to provide the best brew we can. Increasing our skill level at Quills is part of the fun. Prepared at the time of order, the freshness factor is superior. Offering this fancy brew method is part of what we do at Quills. Giving you the best of the best.

Quills Drinks: Cappuccinos and Lattes


Quills is obsessed with espresso, that’s obvious. But the 6 oz. cappuccino is taking over the love for coffee geeks as of late. We love all of our coffee drinks, of course, but there is something about this little cup of espresso and steamed milk that has become a customer and barista favorite.

This little drink enters the long debate of what is really the difference between a cappuccino and a latté. At Quills, we are striving for enhancing the coffee quo, and that means quality and accuracy. Since the explosion of specialty coffee in America and around the world, the interpretation of what constitutes the difference in these drinks has been immense. 

Inspired by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) judge regulations for what constitutes a cappuccino in barista competitions, Quills has settled on the difference being in the measurement of the beverage. The SCAA defines a traditional cappuccino as a “beverage of ratios, producing a harmonious balance of espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk” in a 5-6 oz. porcelain cup. Leaving room for interpretation on how much of each there should be.

In this loose interpretation there is still a long debate on the ratio of espresso, foam and milk. Some have adapted a precise one-third of each. This is more fitting for baristas that use a spooning method for precision. At Quills we have adapted a free pour method that integrates the foam and milk into to the pour instead of pour the milk then spooning the foam on top. We like this method because the result tastes and feels better in the mouth.  The light, fluffly consistency of milk used in the spooning method does not achieve the same balance and integration that the free pour method achieves.  Secondly, the free pour method allows for more aesthetic beauty in the cup with the addition of latte art. 

This leaves the latté in the interpretive category of the non-cappuccino. The common desire for a latté is less foam than a cappuccino. This naturally happens when there is less espresso ratio in the drink and the same amount of foam created for both styles but more milk is poured in to fill the mug, which is 10 or 12 oz. Ya dig?