One the things I’m most proud of is CoffeeCon’s eclectic group of presenters. The other day a first-week-on-the-job coffee company marketing VP asked me how I pick my presenters (after asking me why I of all people created CoffeeCon). The truth is I recruit them upon my experience as a presenter. I’m proud of the fact that I’m pretty good at asking the best person in the neighborhood how to fix my lawn mower. I research. I read. I also get lucky.
Jim Schulman is a coffee web guru was someone Scott Marquardt, himself an above average consumer coffee fiend, insisted on introducing to me. Scott even set up a dinner where Jim would host. Pretty nervy of Scott, I thought, but writers always accept dinner invitations. All I knew about Jim was Scott’s claim that Jim was an accomplished espresso end-user who made a profound shot. By this time I’d had lots of espresso, but, yes I would certainly say that Jim’s met this description. It was simply another level of beverage. The word “beverage” does not describe it. It was clear that it was an engineered experience, but as much a capture as a brewing. The heat and water were but processes to seduce the rich flavors from the grounds. Everything about it was special.
If this is what you want when you pull a shot at your house, or you simply are wondering what I’m talking about, I urge you to attend Jim’s seminar in San Francisco on Saturday, July 26. Like most of the best amateurs I’ve met, Jim knows as much as any professional, but he’s learned it by slow, careful practice. His self-effacing demeanor is also helpful because many of us view making espresso with trepidation. That shake I’ve had in my hands before making espresso is not from caffeine!
Jim Schulman is a coffee renaissance man. He had an exhaust fan installed in his apartment to vent his home roaster. His espresso machine, if not entirely his own design, was modified beyond its original incarnation.
If Jim’s knowledge is prodigious and his enthusiasm catchy, the most impressive of all is his insistence that he demonstrate his science using consumer equipment. It’s Scorsese showing you how to make an Academy Award film using your iPhone. That it can be done at all is a wonder.
Most people who have invested in a decent grinder and espresso machine still make disappointing espresso. The reason is a lack of shot preparation and tasting skills that take about an hour to teach and a three to four hours of practice to master. This is more time than a most people are willing to spend to improve their espresso; but for those who are truly interested, it is not a big deal.
The manual skill involves properly grinding, dosing, and prepping the puck. The tasting skill is knowing how to analyze the shot in terms of the balance of sweetness, bitterness and acidity, and knowing what changes to make to dose. grind and shot temperature to get that balance right.
That’s it in a nutshell.
Two other notably skilled practitioners, enthusiast and Home Barista Forum leader Tom Chips, and professional roaster and barista Dustin Demers, will be pulling shots and answering questions and being generally helpful.
One thing for sure: If you want to maximize your espresso appreciation, wish to brew more than a passable shot at home, or have considered your home espresso machine when you spring cleaned and discovered it stored away and would like to give yourself one more chance, you don’t want to miss it.