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June 5, 2006

Should you remove 'quakers' before grinding your coffee beans?


"... so sue me if I go too fast."*

I just learned moments ago that quakers — in the world of coffee — are a whole different thing from the guy on the oatmeal container.

"Quakers are underdeveloped coffee beans that accidentally made it through the manufacturing process," according to the first sentence of the response to the lead item in the "Notes From Readers" section of the new (July/August) issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine.

Here's the full Q&A.

    Strange Brews

    Q. In your supermarket coffee tasting story (November/December 2005) you blamed "quakers" for giving some coffees bad flavor. Couldn't you just remove the quakers before grinding a batch of beans?

    A. Quakers are underdeveloped coffee beans that accidentally make it through the manufacturing process. Because they are less dense than healthy coffee beans, they roast up to a much lighter color, and they can impart a spoiled, rancid taste to a pot of coffee. Some manufacturers pay a premium to make sure quakers are sorted out before processing.

    What about removing them yourself? To see what effect this would have, we spent half an hour sifting through bags of whole-bean coffee (from a brand that evidenced a high number of quakers in our 2005 testing), separating the lighter-colored quakers from the rest. Then we brewed up two batches of coffee: one with the quakers left in; the other, quaker-free. After tasting one batch against the other, a few things were clear: The quaker-free sample was by no means perfect, but the "quakery" coffee was worse (described as more sour, astringent, and "rancid"). Our opinion is that while it won't hurt to remove any qaukers you happen to see, spending half an hour hunched over a bag of coffee isn't worth the effort. Getting rid of a few bad beans isn't enough to transform a low-quality bag of coffee into a high-quality brew.


My first thought after reading the above exegesis was that removing quakers from my weekly pound of fresh-roasted beans delivered to my front step every Monday morning by Doug Escalera, founder-owner of Escalera Roasters here in Charlottesville, might be a perfect task for my crack research team.

They're certainly not of much use in their putative primary role around here, the one I hired and then carefully trained them for, to wit: research and analysis.

They're barely able to sign their own names on their paychecks, that's how bad it's gotten.

But I digress.

I just went and had a careful look through the latest delivery from Doug but there wasn't a quaker to be found.

No surprise, that.

So I guess that's not a job for the team after all.

There's a reason why the very best restaurants in Charlottesville and Central Virginia use Escalera coffee: it's probably intimately related to, among other things, the small-batch roasting personally supervised by Doug.

I suspect very few — if any — quakers ever make it out of the roasting pan with his gimlet eye focused on the beans.

How is it that I get personalized home delivery (free, I might add) by Doug?

Can you get this too?

No, you can't.

The reason I do is that, long ago and far away in a galaxy many parsecs from here, I did a huge favor for Doug that may well have jump-started his business.

I did it for no reason other than that's what I like to do.

I received nothing for it; Doug didn't ask me to do it nor did the other party involved, though both benefited mightily in the end.

That's just how I'm wired.

I didn't have a blog back then; Al Gore or Tim Berners-Lee or Flutist Haynes-not-Hayens hadn't even invented the internet, it was so long ago.

So I had to do something with myself.

Enough of that.

It's interesting, isn't it, that one bad coffee bean won't spoil a pot but a few of them certainly make it less palatable?

Isn't there an old saying with this sentiment?

"One bad rappel [won't] foil the climber's crunch."

Is that it?


Let me think on it for a few years.

*Can you name the song this line is from?


Hint: it's by Prince.

June 5, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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Too funny ...guess that is the only bestest favor that anyone could do to warrant free coffee beans for the rest of your life. Oh I do hope for Joe's sake that it works out with Doug and his friend. Or possible business partner? Or wife? Heck maybe all three?? I just had to giggle at that...If someone had offered me free beans to introduce them to someone or something....I would have jumped on that forsure....=) And lets not forget to shun the quakers. Think my coffee had way too many of them in it today. Thanks for the smile today ya'll. Oh btw...that really was a nice thing to do...with or without the free beans. We should all be so lucky to have someone just do something for them....just because it's the right thing to do or they felt the urge to do so.

Posted by: Rhonda | Jun 6, 2006 9:11:59 AM

"I did a huge favor for Doug that may well have jump-started his business.

I did it for no reason other than that's what I like to do.

I received nothing for it; Doug didn't ask me to do it nor did the other party involved, though both benefited mightily in the end."

Ok, let us guess. Did you introduce him to his partner, either business or personal partner?

Posted by: jen | Jun 6, 2006 7:44:46 AM

1999... by Prince... a song melodically similar to "Manic Monday" (except for the choruses)... recorded by the Bangles... but written by Prince...the circle is complete

Posted by: Rick Yaeger | Jun 6, 2006 12:21:26 AM

1999, of course. And I have a 1999 story. My best friend and I had spent all of our high school years in the 80s planning on the grand new year's eve we would have on 1999 (don't even start with that "It's not really the millenium" crap)...with Prince's song turned up loud in the background like a battlecry. Her daughter came on September 20, 1999, and my son graced the world with his presence on December 27, 1999 - we were both up all night on December 31 but it wasn't quite the way we had planned it! ;) We did call each other at midnight and play the song however, damnit.

Posted by: Shawn Lea | Jun 5, 2006 9:05:06 PM


Posted by: clifyt | Jun 5, 2006 3:04:47 PM

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