What we do

How we brew

posted on Monday, September 21, 2015 - 8:45am by Michael Harwood

520 Park outside

With the doors at our Baltimore cafe now open, it feels like a good time to take a breath and reflect on the process. Our team at Ceremony has spent thousands of hours over the past year planning the space, training new baristas, and testing culinary concepts, all to bring Charm City denizens the cafe they deserve!

A key cog in opening 520 Park has been one of Ceremony's newest hires, the manager of our Baltimore café - Jared Cate. Let's get to know this fellow a little better.

Jared pouring cappuccino

MH Hi, Jared. It has been pretty cool to see the hard work you've put into the cafe. Were you just born this amazing? What's your story?

JC Being a military kid, I have lived in many places. If you go by where I was born: Stuttgart Germany. If you go by where my parents are from: Tampa, Florida. If you go by most recent home: Boulder, Colorado. If you go by longest time in a location: York, England. (Is that a long enough answer?)

MH Wow. You're quite the globe trekker. How did you get started with coffee?

JC In college, I started drinking espresso drinks at a local coffee shop, and quickly came to the realization that I couldn¹t afford them, so I got a job there for the employee discount.

MH That sounds strangely familiar! So you, like me, got in for the perks. What has kept you in the game?

JC There are two things that have kept me in coffee for this long: The opportunity to continue learning about amazing coffee by being around it all the time, and being able to be a part of a community - making a simple but significant difference in customers' days.

Jared on the Synesso

MH What a guy. We're on the same page again. Customer experience is number one. Going back to your first point though - what is your current favorite coffee and favorite coffee of all time?

JC I currently keep reaching for the Ethiopia Wazzala. The depth of flavor and complexity keeps it exciting every time. My favorite of all time is the first time I tried a naturally processed Ethiopian Harrar. While it may not be my current favorite, it's definitely one of the most memorable coffee experiences I have ever had.

MH I think many people, both in and out of coffee, would echo your sentiments about that naturally processed Ethiopian eureka moment. I experienced the same deal with a batch brew of Wondo in NYC! Ok, few more questions. What is your favorite coffee ritual?

JC I don¹t know if I have a favorite ritual. One of the things I love about the coffee world is that it is so diverse. You can have coffee in different ways all the time and not ever get stuck in a rut.

MH Great point! It really takes effort to make coffee brewing boring with how the seeds and the ideal parameters are constantly changing. Thanks for taking the time answer these questions, so we can get to know you a little better. What is something people might not know about you from meeting you in the cafe?

JC I have 5 kids! So far, they all like coffee, and my oldest boy is starting to learn to pull shots on our home espresso machine!

MH So if we run into staffing problems, we don't have far to look for new applicants! As a family-man and resident of Baltimore, what do you plan on bringing to your community's newest café?

JC I want to bring an eye opening coffee experience to the Mount Vernon neighborhood, and Baltimore in general; not only though the quality of the coffee, but through the quality of service as well. The coffee world can sometimes seem unapproachable to the uninitiated, so our goal is to portray specialty coffee in a way that isn¹t off-putting, and gets people at every level of coffee knowledge excited.

MH I couldn't agree more. Specialty coffee doesn't have to be scary or intimidating. Rather, as our bag says, "Coffee should be something special" and the right group of baristas can make that happen for the folks of Baltimore! We hope you, dear reader, can find a moment to check out our new spot at 520 Park, and please feel free to say hello to Jared! Until next time, happy brewing!

520 Park interior

posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 5:45pm by Michael Harwood

If you ever tasted our house-made cold brew, you know how refreshing and drinkable it is. So why mess with a good thing? Well, after much experimentation, we've feel like we've done one better with a little help from our friends. Over the last month, we've been working with Oliver Brewing Company, Baltimore's oldest running pub and brewery, to roll out the first couple batches of our kegged Nitro Cold Brew. The feedback has been exciting - if you take your meals in the Naval Academy Dining Hall, you know what I'm talking about!

Ceremony Nitro Kegs

So what is Nitro Cold Brew? We start with one of our freshly-ground single-origins, add filtered, room temp water, and allot about a day's worth of time. With these fundamental items, we increase the recipe from a 1-gallon Toddy to a several-hundred gallon lauter tun at Oliver. Surprisingly, it's not as hard as you might think to scale up a brew - if you account for dose, water, temperature, turbulence, grind size, off-grind time, roast consistency, roast age, and a few dozen other variables! Okay, so it is a little tricky, but we quickly figured it out under the steady hand of Oliver's owner, Justin Dvorkin. From the a lauter tun, aka big metal tub #1, we filter the fresh brew, then nitrogenate and keg the freshly gassy coffee. Nitrogen has a very different effect on coffee compared to carbon dioxide. Instead of being effervescent, prickly, and slightly sour from carbonation, the nitrogen creates a creamy, velvety, slightly sweet effect. The gas you most likely know from Guinness and 78% of the Earth's atmosphere also serves to reduce oxidation, which in turn keeps the coffee tasting fresh and flavorful for longer. We've had kegs taste good over a month, which is considerably longer than regular cold brew left in a jar or pitcher. The best thing is, when you order a nitro cold brew, all our barista must do is fully pull on a stout tap to fill up your glass!

Vince with the batch

As you see, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this 100% coffee-based beverage is a beer, but watching the cascading bubbles is only part of the enjoyment. If you love sweet, but not-too-sweet, creamy, way-too-easy-to-drink coffee beverages, then our nitro cold brew is definitely for you. Come enjoy a glass today at Ceremony and at many of our wholesale partners coming soon!

Nitro Cold Brew in a Pilsner glass

posted on Monday, June 8, 2015 - 12:00pm by Michael Harwood

Fictional cafetero Juan Valdez and his trusty donkey Conchita are the touchstones of Colombian coffee for most Americans. As they iconically ambled through my first caffeinated memories, I remember being struck by the humanity and effort signified by the characters. Millions now share in this association as the result of an incredibly effective marketing campaign launched by Colombia's National Federation of Coffee Growers in the late-1950's. Meant to differentiate the country's primary agricultural export, the characters worked so well that Colombia now sells the second-most Coffea arabica in the world, behind only Brazil. Indeed, if you've ever tasted coffee, chances are good it was from Colombia.
Juan Valdez and Conchita.

Though initially introduced by an advertising icon, Colombia is a coffee-growing origin we at Ceremony have come to know and love. The small size of most Colombian farms allows for highly-detailed work, like ripe picking of berries and controlled washed processing and drying. This extra attention translates to increased sweetness and higher cup quality all around. Most Colombian smallholding-producers own less than five hectares of land, so they don't have to sacrifice quality by attempting to manufacture large quantities. With a manageable farm, each producer or co-op has great control over their trees, harvest, and processing, resulting in focused, articulate coffees. It doesn't hurt that most producers grow the Caturra cultivar - a sweet, sometimes bright cultivar of the Coffea arabica Bourbon line. In response to coffee leaf rust destroying crops, we're seeing many, if not most Colombian farms now growing a small section of the Colombia and/or Castillo cultivars. Gaitana, Cedro, and Vergel are no exception. These two arabica/canephora hybrids were developed by Colombia's CENICAFE to have a pleasing taste and to be disease resistant - important with rising temperatures and shifting climate patterns making coffeelands more susceptible to disease. We're still missing a critical piece though - without which specialty coffee wouldn't grow at all. Great land.

2.5 hectares of land

Colombia cradles some of the most coffee-arable land in the world. With plenty of sun and rain, nourishing soil, high altitudes, and moderate temperatures, Colombia has all the requisite climatic aspects to grow delicious specialty coffees. Since this South American country straddles the Equator, growing regions are tropical and allow for two harvests a year (as opposed to most coffeelands harvesting only once). The main harvest here is called "Principal", while a second, smaller harvest is called 'Mitaca'. Equatorial latitudes ensure that temperatures, even at higher elevations, stay comfortable, warm (~70F), and supportive of maturing coffee berries. Bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Colombia receives an average of 2,000mm of rainfall per year, which is critical for vegetative growth. The Andes Range bisects the country north-to-south with mountains and several active volcanoes. Over millennia, eruptions deposited mineral-rich ash about the topsoil, providing las cafeteras and their coffee plants a highly-organic, nourishing bed. Gaitana, Cedro, and Vergel all lie in the same lush area of south-central Colombia - and thus, each of these three farms/co-ops have the ideal general climatic conditions for producing specialty coffee.

The Departments of Tolima and Huila in Colombia

The distinction between these coffees mostly comes down to microclimate, which can be defined as "a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area". At its core, Specialty coffee is based, at least in part, on this concept of microclimate. The core idea being that "special geographic microclimates produce beans with unique flavor profiles". Erna Knutsen used these words to define and coin the term "specialty coffees" back in 1978! With that in mind, take a look at the details of each coffee, think about the flavors and body you're getting, then imagine how a given terroir might be affecting your shot. What is the aroma/flavor/density like? How does this change our approach to brewing? Does a higher altitude or lower latitude mean anything in particular in this case? Does the freshness of the harvest matter?

Once you've pulled a few espressos, we'd love to continue the conversation online. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and let us know what recipes are working for you and what you're tasting. Holler at @CeremonyCoffee and your friends, using the hashtags #GaitanaSOE, #CedroSOE, and #VergelSOE!

We hope you enjoy the differences between these three amazing Colombian coffees. After tasting each of them, you'll never look at this special origin the same way again!

Co-Op - Gaitana
Producers - 50 local, small-holding farmers
Region - Department of Tolima
Harvest - Mitaca, Oct.-Nov. 2014
Altitude - 1800-1850masl
Cultivars - Caturra and Castillo
Process - Fully Washed and Sun-Dried under parabolic tents
Ceremony Recipe - 1:2 or 20g dose : 40g beverage weight in 25 seconds
Ceremony Notes - Cracker Jacks, Meyer lemon, and a long, coating finish in a syrupy, round shot.
Your Recipe - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #GaitanaSOE
Your Notes - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #GaitanaSOE

Farms - El Cedro and Nueva Zelandia
Producer - Jairo Quinayes
Region - Pitalito, Department of Huila
Harvest - Principal, March-April 2015
Altitude - 1700masl
Cultivars - Caturra and Colombia
Process - Fully Washed and Sun-Dried under parabolic tents
Ceremony Recipe - 1:1.5 or 20g dose : 30g beverage weight in 28 seconds
Ceremony Notes - Dried black currants, tonic water, and candied walnuts in a full, complex shot
Your Recipe - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #CedroSOE
Your Notes - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #CedroSOE

Farm - El Vergel
Producer - Robinson Roso
Region - Algeciras, Department of Huila
Harvest - Principal, March-April 2015
Altitude - 1800-1900masl
Cultivars - Caturra and Colombia
Process - Fully Washed and Sun-Dried under parabolic tents
Ceremony Recipe - 1:2.1 or 20g dose : 42g beverage weight in 30 seconds
Ceremony Notes - Black cherry soda, coconut macaroon, and Criollo cacao in a bright, clean shot
Your Recipe - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #VergelSOE
Your Notes - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #VergelSOE

Until next time, ¡Disfrute de un buen café! (Enjoy a good coffee!)

posted on Friday, May 29, 2015 - 10:15am by Michael Harwood

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

When you taste coffee for a living, occasionally you like to see how your palate stacks up; so you invite 30 friends over and have at it! Thus was the motivation for our second-ever Cup Tasters event - to host a friendly challenge that brings our community together over something we all love.

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

The game is simple - there are four sets of three cups of coffee on a table in front of you. In each set, two coffees are the same, one is different. It is up to you to pick out the different cup in each of the four sets in the shortest time possible, using only a spoon and your senses of smell and taste. The coffees we used were Brazil Santa Lucia & Brazil Esmeralda, Peru CENFROCAFE & Thesis House Blend (which has Peru in it!), DRC Muungano & Ethiopia Wazzala, and finally Colombia Gaitana & Colombia Aguacate. As you can see, many of these sets challenged the taster to differentiate between coffees grown less than 1000 miles and in some cases, less than 250 miles apart.

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

The night played out nicely, with baristas congregating from around Annapolis, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and as far away as North Carolina. We enjoyed complementary beer from Oliver Brewing Co. and Union Craft Brewing, though many competitors chose to wait for libations until after they had competed. Gotta keep that palate fresh! In the end, only a few got all four right, but there were many three out of fours, which was very impressive! A couple of baristas asked how they might get better at tasting, so here are a few suggestions: taste coffees blind and articulate what you are experiencing, talk with trained coffee professionals about what they taste, be interested in the world of flavor and aroma at large, taste a wide range of coffees from your shop and others, but most importantly, just be present when you're enjoying a cup of coffee (it's amazing what you notice when you stop to pay attention).

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

Thanks for hanging out! We had a blast and hope you'll join us for the next one!

Ceremony Coffee Cup Tasters Event

posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 10:30am by Michael Harwood

Two weeks ago, hundreds of U.S. coffee professionals constellated around the Long Beach Convention Center to illuminate and be illuminated at the SCAA United States Coffee Championships. With a grinder, delicate glassware, and bags on bags of coffee in tow, Ronnie, Vince, and I made our way out west to California to represent Ceremony alongside some of the sharpest minds and palates in Specialty coffee. A coffee professional should consider competing for many reasons, but being around incredibly dedicated and forward-thinking peers is amongst the tops. These connections grow our consciousness of how to better brew and serve our favorite beverage. Further, we see competition as a crucible for the cafe and roastery, through which we melt down and reshape our daily craft so that you might enjoy an even better experience.

Ronnie leading his judges through brewing at the United States Brewers Cup

Never one to be content with the status quo, our Director of Wholesale Ronnie Haas built on his first place finish at the Northeast Regional Brewers Cup by bringing the fresh crop Sulawesi Minanga and an important question to the United States level. Ronnie posed to the judges that they might consider the concept of an ideal coffee. We work tirelessly at Ceremony to bring in delicious coffees at prices that are reasonable for all parties involved, from the producer to you. However, the coffees that score and place well at the U.S. and World Brewers Cup levels are often rare, expensive, and more often than not of the Geisha variety. This is not inherently bad, but does represent a trend that is not necessarily reflective of your day-to-day experience with us or most roasters. We're not saying we dislike Geishas or that we think trying to score well to win a competition is wrong. Quite the opposite! What we do believe though, and what Ronnie got us thinking about is how we present an affordable, everyday, incredibly delicious coffee that connects with you.

Ronnie used our Sulawesi Minanga as his ideal coffee, which you can find here - http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/pedamaran.html
With a medium body, full mouthfeel, complex acidity, good sweetness, and clean cup, this coffee is really hard not to like. Whereas some coffees are super delicate and enzymatic, and other coffees are mostly about sugar browning and that classic "coffee" taste, our Minanga strikes a balance that makes it highly satisfying. It took a bit of courage on Ronnie's part to bring a C. arabica-C. liberica hybrid cultivar called S795 to a Geisha party, but we're glad he did. Several industry professionals came up to Ronnie after his performance and seconded his objective. Though Ceremony did not make it through to the U.S. Brewers Cup Finals this time around, we felt like Ronnie had pushed forward a conversation that will keep us thinking and moving towards a better experience for our guests.

United States Coffee Championship Arena

Having come in third at the Northeast Regional Barista Competition, I was invited to compete in the first round of the U.S. Barista Competition, which was taking place just across the room from where Ronnie competed. The arena itself was set in the round, surrounded by beautifully lit scrims and blue lighting globes. The giant space elicited feelings of great responsibility in me. I knew that on such a heightened stage, I had to give it my all. It is challenging to recount the exact number of hours I put into practicing for this event since it was always on my mind, but it was certainly over one hundred. All that hard work can go wrong in just one moment and it almost did before I even got started.

Before a competition round, each competitor receives one hour to practice on an espresso machine before they perform at staggered times throughout the day. I set up for my practice time and immediately noticed something wrong with how my grinder was sounding. I had packed it in my luggage (D'oh!) and something was clearly not right after all that jostling. My friend Travis from Mahlkoenig stepped in and attempted a couple of fixes, but something greater was definitely wrong. My hour of practice ended without having dialed-in any of the three coffees I brought. The urge to panic was palpable, but I reminded myself that I had been in similar situations in busy cafes before and gotten through those. In the end, it is just a barista competition! At the last moment before I went out on stage, Travis handed me a brand new EK-43 grinder (burrs not seasoned!) and the gracious SCAA staff (Thank you Hugo, Holly, Adam, Carlee, Lara, and whomever else helped out!) gave me about twenty minutes to dial-in before prep time began. Without those twenty minutes, I would've been toast because it might be near impossible to dial-in three unique coffees on a strange, new grinder in the five to seven minutes I had left after setting up during prep time (in which you have fifteen minutes to set up and dial-in right before you compete). I jumped straight from practice time into prep time, and then right into my performance. My head was swirling like a tornado, but Ronnie, Vince, and my partner Rosalind all made sure I had everything I needed and helped me keep it together. I couldn't have done it without them. The ensuing performance was a bit of a blur for me, but I tried to stay in the moment and deliver a delicious and hospitable experience for my sensory judges. To my surprise, spectators mentioned how calm I seemed (the film Melancholia comes to mind. lol). Even with the words of encouragement, I didn't feel very confident about making it out of the first round; but I had the rest of the day to wait before finding out, so I set myself to cleaning up and resetting optimistically for the next round, should it come. When the time for announcements came, somehow, my name was called to advance! I later found out that I came in second place out of the twenty-four competitors in the first round. I was astounded by my advancement after that morning's stress, but I was incredibly delighted. All of a sudden, I was playing with house money. Tomorrow was a new day!

Michael kicking off the United States Barista Championship

The six of us who made it through the first round were now competing in the Semi-Finals against the top two winners from each of the U.S.'s six regions (Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central, Northwest, Southwest). That made eighteen semi-finalists in total, with only six advancing to the final round. We're talking about eighteen of the best baristas in the entire country (though many great baristas also choose not to compete, or don't feel comfortable competing, which I want to help change!). This is tough company, but I felt great about being there. I had a working grinder and a little momentum to go with it! We switched my burr set (which was still functional) into the new grinder's shell and to my relief, everything went smoothly during practice time. When it came time for my performance, I don't believe I've ever had so much fun on a competition stage - it's funny how perspective works. When it came time for announcements, I was cautiously optimistic. Though I had competed at USBC thrice before, I had yet to advance to the final round. That all changed as I heard my name called to step forward. I looked down the line at my fellow finalists and had to blink to believe I was standing there, being photographed over and over. It is truly an amazing feeling.

By the morning of Finals, it dawned on me that I had not slept in three nights. It is amazing how adrenaline and doing what you love can stoke your energy! I felt pretty great, but I worried that my tired brain would sabotage me during that day's performance. Still, that morning's walk to the convention center was lovely and I felt remarkably calm for it being one of the biggest days of my professional career. I had a great time dialing-in that morning with Ronnie, Rosalind, and Kyle from Mahlkoenig. When it came time for my performance, some nerves crept in, but I left the stage feeling like I had given it my best shot. I ended up coming in sixth place, which isn't winning, but I have to say, I didn't feel like I had lost either.

Michael portioning out signature beverage at United States Barista Championship

I am proud of the concepts set forth and of the coffees Ceremony sourced, roasted, and I brewed. For the last half year, I have focused on re-imagining our cafes' espresso program through the medium of the Mahlkoenig EK-43 grinder. Its potential to offer more choices for your espresso experience is truly exciting. My goal at USBC was to design a Specialty coffee experience by matching three different hybrid coffees to the course that creates the best experience for the guest. In practical bar terms, this means pre-dosing and grinding fresh for decaf shots, offering a non-house espresso or two (likely single origins), and reducing waste and poor-tasting shots. This effectively creates an opportunity for us to match your palate with the perfect coffee and course. For instance, a delicate coffee may not show up in a milk drink. I can use my experience to help guide you to a coffee that will be much more enjoyable in that cappuccino. I decided that in my USBC paradigm, a stand-alone espresso ought to be sweet and balanced, a cappuccino should be distinctive, yet familiar, and an espresso-based signature beverage is best when it expresses creativity and complexity. To get each of these, I tend to be of the opinion that you want the following type of coffee for each course:

Espresso - sweet & balanced flavor, washed process for clarity, light espresso roast, pulled longer in mass for sweetness and clarity, plus more to enjoy!
Cappuccino - big bodied, mid-tone flavor-dominant, positive intrinsic bitterness for weight, blend of light/med. espresso roast, pulled short in mass for strength to match milk
Signature Beverage - complex coffee, big acidity, positive bitterness, complete mouthfeel, stands up to ingredients, light espresso roast for flavor clarity

The coffees from our current line-up that best fit these descriptions and I took to USBC are:
Espresso - Colombia Bella Vista - Sold out!
Cappuccino - Sulawesi Minanga - http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/pedamaran.html
Signature Beverage - Kenya Gondo - Sold out!

We are sad to see the Bella Vista and Gondo go, but do check out the Sulawesi and let us know what you think!

A note about why I spoke to coffee genetics at USBC - I am optimistic about the role hybridization will play as a partial solution in mitigating coffee diseases and climate issues in the years to come. We've seen what hybrids can do in the cases of cultivars like Castillo (Bella Vista) and S795 (Minanga) combining the good flavors of C. arabica with the adaptability, disease resistance, and overall hardiness of C. canephora and C. liberica. Or in the case of SL-28 (Gondo), where two C. arabica varieties were hybridized for drought resistance. In all cases, cup potential was taken into account, which is making these coffees not only physically viable, but gives them a lasting foothold in a Specialty market that more and more seeks a high quality experience.

My takeaways from this past weekend are that it takes a team to achieve a high level of success, that Ceremony roasts some of the most delicious coffees in the country, and that it is possible to grow our espresso program in a dynamic way that we think you're going to love. Stay tuned and thank you for reading.

Until next time, happy brewing!

Michael, Ronnie, and Ros preparing for United States Barista Championship


Upcoming Public Events

Weekly Coffee Break: Recipe - WASHINGTON, DC

Join us every Thursday at our DC Workshop (1228 31st St NW) for a taste of what's new and exciting at Ceremony.

This week, we're taking a look at some of our favorite brew recipes and how to tailor them to each coffee and brew method.

Free for all, no registration.

Upcoming Wholesale Labs

Brew Hall: Office Hours - WASHINGTON, DC

Just like Study Hall, this is a free-form class designed to get you hands-on with any brewing method or practice on any barista-related behavior. Under the guidance of our trainers, this is the perfect time for baristas to troubleshoot!

Level 2

Complimentary for Wholesale Partners
$25 for Non-Exclusive Wholesale Partners
$100 for General Public