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Stamping “International” On Espresso Coffee

by Jonathan Bell

The Golden Coffee Box is an espresso coffee company that, while revering the Italian tradition and using it for inspiration and direction, is certainly not Italian. The company has adapted what it found best in the Italian tradition to its own market demands, the preferences of its clients and its own taste in fine coffees. Although a very small company, it can be judged successful, not only in the cup of espresso produced but also in terms of bottom line results.

This story is important because of the individual approach and hard-won success of its creators. As global markets fill with espresso-style coffees, not all are a worthy reflection of what is most treasured in the roasting and preparation of classic Italian espresso. Such companies as this one-and most certainly there are many with similar devotion and care to be found in growing numbers outside of Italy-deserve mention for their genuine passion for integrating espresso at its best into non-Italian, non-Mediterranean cultures. They are helping to globalize espresso as the exceptional and unusual coffee drink of distinction it is.

A green coffee importer once referred with fondness but clear condescension to roasters as mere “bean cookers.” He was right in that some roasters aren’t well informed about coffee origins and qualities. Nor do they do much more in the long chain of events leading up to putting coffee in the cup than pour the green beans they’ve been delivered into a big roaster and cook them away into the never-never land of a fully automatic technology that may or may not have a happy result.

But the importer was also quite wrong, in that numerous roasters, both large and small, have long been exerting, or are beginning to take, great care to learn everything about the green coffee they buy and to roast it with as much art and sensitivity as they can, with or without the technology.

From left to right: Kees Kraakman, coffee seller; Barend Boot, owner; Shiva Neiet, shop assistant.
Epitomizing the latter type of roaster is a Dutchman, Barend Boot. Boot is roasting now in the small retail area of his wee headquarters. This is the ongoing and frequent ritual of his day. He stands with both hands at play over a small golden box of a roasting machine. It’s no bigger than a breadbox. As it steams and burbles, he talks casually but with a missionary’s zeal about his work with coffee.

“This is our famous ‘Golden Box,’ ” explains Boot, patting the roaster. “It runs all day here, every working day. My father, Jacob, began making these many years ago and has sold them around the world. He still makes a few about every five years. They roast only 150 grams per batch so the market for them has mainly been for plantations to do cup tasting, for labs and traders and even small shop retailers. We use it in this store mainly to promote our coffees. It gives theater to espresso and that was my father’s goal-to bring the performance and ceremony of espresso to Holland.”

The machine’s notoriety helped give a name to the business itself after it turned from producing machines to roasting and retailing coffee. “Boot Koffie, The Golden Coffee Box” has since become something of an icon to Dutch gourmands. Even the Queen has stopped in personally on occasion to buy. “We roast to the second crack, or pop as some roasters call it,” says Boot. While talking, he’s rarely idle, constantly checking the color of the roasting beans, and adjusting the temperature accordingly. This is fine-tuned roasting to its highest degree. “The harder the bean, the louder the crack,” he reports. “Listen.” The first faint pop seems barely audible to the inexperienced. More checking of color, more tinkering with temperature.

“Now we wait for the second crack-that’s the critical moment, especially for espresso,” Boot notes. He seems to know quite well just when that second crack is coming-he’s roasting a Papua New Guinea at the moment, with which he’s well experienced.

The Boot espresso roasting time is somewhere between 15-18 minutes, depending on origin. Each origin is roasted separately. The emphasis on the characteristics of a single origin is critical because out of the 18 espresso coffees offered by The Golden Box, only one is a blend-a mixture of three origins.

The moment for the second crack has come. When it sounds, Boot quickly turns off the heat and closes the roasting chamber. “For most, but not all, of our origins, we now let the coffee sit. Even with the heat off, the roasting process continues while the beans are smoked in their own aroma. This is timed from 10 seconds to two minutes, depending again upon the origin.”

As a result of his technique, Boot describes his coffee as favoring the older European style coffees, and somewhat darker than is now fashionable in many markets. “Timing we find to be really crucial,” explains Boot. “Experience has taught that even a delay of one second in getting the coffee out can mean the difference between optimum result and disappointment-at least according to our own tasting expectations. “The key is constant tasting, constant experimentation. You must be willing to make mistakes, even costly ones, if you want to learn. It’s trial and error all the way, but when you do find the right method with a coffee to get a taste that is exciting, then you develop parameters that help ensure repeating the success.”

Color is a major concern for Boot. “We have developed our own color profiles for the roasting of each particular origin. We produce on three roasting units-a 5-10 kilo batch Probat, a 15 kilo batch Probat and an older 50 kilo Gothot unit. “Our roasting staff are trained to roast to quite specific control profiles that we’ve established for timing and color, coordinating both time and color to get the required result we want in each origin. We also use a color spectrometer, but that’s mainly to test ourselves.”

The Boot approach, in other words, is old-fashioned hand roasting. Keen attention is paid to customizing production, closely following carefully established techniques in order to achieve particular taste attributes and qualities. After roasting, the coffee “rests” for a full day before being packaged and shipped to customers or sold in the shop.

When Barend’s father began roasting and selling coffee in addition to building roasting machines, he found that the Dutch had forgotten what really fine coffees were like, due to WWII and its difficult aftermath, and also to the overwhelming prevalence of industrial coffee.

It was a long and frustrating job for Jacob Boot to reintroduce the subtleties of coffee tastes. He began with seven origins, and although mainly roasting for filter brewing he also started developing espresso style coffees, out of his own preference.

When his sons, Barend and Willem, came into the business they chose to focus primarily on espresso. Now espresso represents more than 75% of the company’s coffee sales and continues to expand as more and more Dutch people become acquainted with the espresso style. It might surprise some to know that 10% of Dutch coffee consumption is now espresso.

To get the kind of product they wanted, Jacob and his sons have also specialized in sourcing green coffee from around the world (Willem Boot, by the way, from experience gained in part at The Golden Coffee Box, has established his own coffee consultancy in California). The Boots pride themselves on offering coffees they have personally selected from plantations in various countries-some names of which they gladly share, some which they keep secret.

These origins are offered to the public in brewing styles that reflect what the Boots find most appropriate to each. For example, they offer 11 origins for filter style brewing-roasted lighter at approximately 13 minutes per batch-including particular plantation coffees from Colombia, Kenya, Guatemala, Java, Panama, Nicaragua and Mexico. They specifically keep the Guatemala, Nicaragua and the two organics they offer for the filter menu.

The espresso list is far more numerous. The house blend actually seems something of a token to those who expect to find one, otherwise all the espressos are carefully chosen single origins from Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Java, Kenya (one of the Boot secrets, as they cherish it for its relatively light acidic quality), Ethiopia, Panama (from the Ruiz plantation), Haiti (caffeine-free) and an Indonesian Celebes Toraja Kalossi.

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