Todd Carmichael Insults Everyone Who Serves Better Coffee Than Him

Posted on June 2, 2010 by

Todd Carmichael, co-owner of La Colombe Torrefaction, has never enjoyed a positive reputation within the coffee industry. Apparently he’s had enough, and has struck back in a couple of articles for Esquire Magazine that are incredibly insulting to everyone who takes the craft seriously. It’s unfortunate that Esquire has given him this platform, and even more unfortunate that they’re not accepting comments from their readers. Perhaps because the editors understand how ridiculous these articles are.

Warning: both articles are incredibly irritating.

[Coffee Revolution - New Ways to Roast Coffee]
[Worst Coffee Trends - Bad Coffee Trends]

  • Guest

    Man, what a dick.

  • Chris

    Can I feed him to a beautiful wild Civet? – that was fun.

  • elia_weg

    That article kind of makes me want to go even slower so that i may piss someone like him off.

  • Todd

    I once asked a person behind the bar of a legendary cafe what was the difference between a Barista and a Barman (man in this case is latin for “hand”). He said “about 3 bucks an hour”. Enjoy

  • Jonathan Bonchak

    He really needs to stop. He obviously has no idea the damage he's doing to his own validity. Guess we've all got lessons to learn on humility and the web, even the gray hairs…sometimes it's best to think things through a little more and not be so defensive. Oh well.

    Man, I could really go for a beehouse pourover of that Amaro Gayo right about now.

  • Bea

    I love the subject line here–quite apt.

  • sandeee
  • Todd Carmichael

    I don't know Cho – 200c seems a little hot to me, no?

  • http://shotzombies.com Mike White

    20.0c

  • Todd Carmichael
  • Todd Carmichael

    Before I become completely ostracized there are number of very important topics in roasting that are never properly discussed on blogs like yours. I have 9 of them, and this is the first. Would you mind discussing it?

    One
    All serious roasters use gas burners to heat air, which is then blown through the coffee to roast it (probat et al). What I am surprised by is no one really discusses the major problem of coffee absorbing the unspent fuel which exists in that air if not continually managed. In effect, I am not aware of a single roaster that insures the coffee isn’t being turned into a toxic oil slick. In fact, I have tested four-dozen micro-roasters coffees from both coasts and each shows very high levels of un-burnt fuel. Wouldn’t you think this should a major topic of conversation, yet is not addressed? Worse, many of these were labeled “organic”.

    I highly recommend getting the appropriate meters, piercing the front of your drums (or use the test hole) and gauge this. After, you will find you will be continually adjusting your burners, or best, manage them with a gas/air controllers.

    Food for thought.

    Thanks

    Imglorious Bastard Todd

  • TownHallCoffee

    Mr. “Beware the expensive espresso machine” guy just put two (2) Synessos in his shop in Philly. No doubt paid for by his Esquire blood money. Douche-bagsaywhat? Go back to your restaurant coffee graveyard, Todd. Blech.

  • http://shotzombies.com Mike White

    I am not a roaster and am the first to admit that I know NOTHING about it, which is why I never write about it. Hopefully someone else can address this here for us. However, I AM curious about the type of meter you used to analyze the absorption of fuel in your samples, and why you trust those but not a refractometer. This is an honest question.

    Regarding ostracization: You upset a lot of people (Explained pretty nicely here: http://godshot.blogspot.com/2010/06/thank-you-s…) without providing a platform for engagement. This always frustrates people. A lot of the anger might dissipate if you give people the opportunity to question your opinions, and listen to your explanations.

  • Mark

    Todd, with all due respect, you seem woefully uneducated when it comes to both thermodynamics as well as rules/regs about “organic.” Natural gas, is not considered a processing aid under the USDA NOP. The byproducts of Natural Gas combustion are C02 and water vapor which is permitted by the USDA NOP and OMRI and has no bearing on the “organic-ness” of a certified-organic food product.

    Secondly, exactly how are you “testing” microroasters coffee products for the unspent fuel from natural gas consumption? Actually chemically extracting the C02 and water vapor (which, BTW, are the only byproducts of natural gas combustion) or are you able to taste the C02 and additional water vapor which would be absorbed by the coffee beans (call it a low rent quench)?

    Mark Inman
    Taylor Maid Farms
    Organic Coffee
    Sonoma, CA

  • Todd Carmichael

    Mike – that's a wonderful idea. I would really like that. How can we arrange that. As for unspent fuel, I do have interesting results that may surprise – it is not what you are testing for. Also, roasters pay 6,500 for the Synesso, not 17gs. All cafes should pay this too, Another one of my pet pieves. People, most of this is our faults, the old guys. We protected our roasters and taught no one – secret like, and you spun off and went your own way. Sure I think many went off the rails, but I must accept that we gave no guidance. Maybe we can change that.

  • Todd Carmichael

    Mark… this is what I'm driving at. You are a hard worker, and organic is important, and sure, maybe I am “woefully uneducated”, yet here is what scientific papers have to say..

    “.. most coffee beans which are roasted with flame gases are bathed in the combustion gases and as a consequence take up a part of the deleterious combustion gases, especially H2S. Such adhering gases cannot be completely removed by an airing lasting 8-10 hours and more. “

    Further more, unregulated gas burners rarely burn 100% of all gas. In such case, un-burned fuel is allowed contact with the bean. Therfore, along with the H2S's, the product can be considered contaminated.

  • http://shotzombies.com Mike White

    What is the source of this quote, and how did you test your samples?

  • Inglorious

    Mike – there is loads of research available outside of the coffee blogs. The question isn’t “is this a fact” the question is, “can it be a fact and what are the implications”? This should be a major topic with in you “community” – and it will. My research shows a great deal, and we have been managing our “burn” for 16 years, I have loads. The first time I saw it mentioned “out there” was a tiny comment made by Phil Robertson in 2009. At that time, I thought it would explode into wide spread conversation, but it went nowhere. No one seemed to pick up on it. Before that no one would accept any of my posts, so I said screw it. You should begin your research by Googling his name and Hydrogen Sulfide. Note that the amounts have a great deal to do with gas pressure (low pressure is bad) and the micro roaster almost always uses low pressure. Once you get that far, you need to look at the total burn % of any burner, and how to control it. No burner unregulated burns 100%. Where does that fuel go? When you find what that fuel contains, you will panic. I know where it goes because the bean is not a closed system, especially when introduced to heat.

    Now, do you really want Nick Cho to be the spokesman? There are several other topics of this grade and you really need to have a person who is total up to speed. (BTW if you speak French, the name is Cho is ironic. Sorry, I can’t help myself)

  • http://shotzombies.com Mike White

    I'd still like to see the source of your quote, and know how you tested your samples.

  • Inglorious

    Hydrogen sulfide (or hydrogen sulphide) is the chemical compound with the formula H2S. It is a colorless, very poisonous, flammable gas with the characteristic foul odor of rotten eggs. It often results from the bacterial breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen, such as in swamps and sewers (anaerobic digestion). It also occurs in volcanic gases, natural gas, and some well waters. The human body produces small amounts of H2S and uses it as a signaling molecule.

  • http://shotzombies.com Mike White

    It's actually ADDED to natural gas to prevent leaks from going unnoticed. Todd this seems to be your biggest concern. If your Esquire articles had been limited to this topic I suspect the reaction would have been much different.

  • Inglorious

    K – in the mean time – google it. You'll find more than you need. Start with (spelled wrong) “Gas Roasters and Hydrogen Sulfied”. In the mean time, I'll link you to the best stuff. I know I have an annoying voice – and can come off all wrong – but really, what are the implications for Organic Coffee, noting that H2S is a deadly compound. Should we address it before it is noticed outside?
    Inglorious Bastard

  • Inglorious

    Mike – you are right. That is frustrating, and that is why I came here, to you. I never thought of myself as 2nd waver or anything but a coffee guy, but the multiple wave thing created a riff and divide that could not be overcome by posting a thought anywhere. Any comment we made, anywhere in this on-line world, was either not posted because it did not fit, or we were swarmed by angry bees – gang ba$#&d if you will.

    A thought – can we kill the “waves” and establish a solid platform where we all belong. OK, in the early days we were crap parents, we didn’t show you what we were doing. That was wrong. But its like math – the brain that pushes math forward knows all the math that let up to the last major break through. He doesn’t start all over again in a garage. (Although that did worked for Steve Jobs, there’s always an exception)

  • Inglorious

    These guys touch on it: smart cats

    Juris Meija, Joshua M. Bryson, Anne P. Vonderheide, Maria Montes-Bayón, and Joseph A. Caruso*
    Department of Chemistry, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0172

    Its just a start but the thread is wide. I'll let you guys rock this for a while without me – keep an eye on unspent fuel, indeed, with the added compounds. Note what happens when the fuel “steams away” and what compounds are left. Put the energy you put into other topics, and you'll nail it for sure. Meanwhile, I may piss off the fringe a bunch more with my writing, but I can address any issues with them here if you don't mind. I'm available.

  • Inglorious

    Thats a great question – and like you tweeted, I've probably over stayed my welcome (I'll leave shortly, revisit, say , next week) but I think that any tool ment to replace the tongue is suspect. I believe, however, in science and tools that measure such things as temp, Co2, fuel ment to inform us of the enviroment surrounding the product, but not to the point of trumping the human glands, never the tongue – the tongue is the tester.

  • http://shotzombies.com Mike White

    Refractometers are designed to supplement, not replace, the human tongue, and increase the consistency with which one can provide desirable taste profiles. What meter did you use to analyze the unspent fuel in the samples you tested?

  • Inglorious

    To test for fuel in the drum is easy, I can provide my recomendation for the
    best intrument if you like. To test for compounds and misc gas immissions in
    roasted coffee, that must be done in a lab and helps if you know someone at
    Dupont, our neighbors.

  • http://twitter.com/NickCho Nicholas Cho

    Yeah funny. It's a shame that you can't help yourself.

    Blah-blah-blah-blah. For someone who blogged on Esquire about wanting coffee to be more 'manly,' you sure know how to blather on like a schoolgirl.

  • http://twitter.com/jesseraub jesseraub

    By the way, that comment about roaster gas? Verbatim the email he sent to me.

  • Action Extraction

    All I've heard from anyone is what has amounted to an editorial pissing match and some childish name calling. No one has acknowledged the fact that Mr. Carmichael has 1, built a successful business that isn't going anywhere anytime soon and 2, actually has some relevant things to say about the coffee experience and the cafe experience in general. If all there was to the experience is what's in the cup, and his coffee is as bad as you all say it is, he wouldn't still be in business.

    While I don't agree with his associating gender with a simple beverage, nor do I agree with many of his broad statements about his own employees and the technical aspects of espresso, I do think he has some relevant opinions on what customer service is and how we should be experiencing coffee. That's not to say I think his cafes and employees are the model of service, I would argue that they are as trendy and rude as the baristas he criticizes, but instead of wasting everyone's time by trying to show how informed we all are, maybe we should engage in a meaningful conversation about the language of coffee and how our interactions with customers can make or break our business, regardless of the quality of the products we serve.

    I disagree with Mr. Carmichael on many levels and I believe his business and product are simply different from the model of showcasing single-origin coffees that are made to order. All of this back and forth is avoiding the fundamental difference of opinion the specialty industry and La Colombe have. Todd's customers are not, and likely will never be the customers who want to sit and talk about the subtle nuances of a coffee, but the question we should be addressing is whether all customers who enjoy single-origin coffees really want to talk about the nuances or if its just us coffee geeks. And if it is, what is that doing for the experience of those customers who just enjoy the differences single-origin coffees offer. How can we connect with people who aren't coffee geeks, because in the end its not always the people who are the most vocal that make us profitable. In fact, I'd argue its the guy (or lady) who comes in every day and doesn't say more than 10 words to you and never leaves without tipping. And isn't that what we're all here for, to make a buck.

  • Inglorious

    Cho – I'll pass on this one.

  • Inglorious

    Nice! Agreed, my bar people always need improving – and reality checks now and then. As we all know, it's easy to forget that there is not a plexiglass wall between the customer and us. As for the “male” thing, it was written for Esquire – a dude mag, that's all. I was thinking about the audience.

  • Inglorious

    But you would not post it. Of course it's verbatim, it was copied and pasted. Like I explained to Mike, I had to knock on many doors, and so I promised him I would address whatever anyone wanted to address with me here, because he's a stand up guy and will post things he might not agree with, from a guy he might think is a wanker.

  • Inglorious

    I paid 6g's for these as everyone should. The 17g machine is a myth and someone is getting a deep pocket cash infusion if that lever was pulled. I address this too in a post I gave Mike.

  • Inglorious

    Mark – can you call me by phone on this. It really is an issue with consequences for people seeking purity. I'm not knee capping you here, though at times I am a real wise arse. You could be a leader in H2S free roasting by using heat exchange. PURE PURE ORGANIC. Think of it! 215-426-2011.

  • Inglorious

    Cho – give me a call. 215 426 2011 Todd

  • Cm

    Todd,

    A few points:

    1) You present the H2S link as if it is a new finding, when in fact the levels of H2S in coffee were measured as far back as 1949 (Coffee Flavor Chemistry, p. 336).

    2) From wikipedia: “Since hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in the body, the environment and the gut, enzymes exist in the body capable of detoxifying it by oxidation to (harmless) sulfate.[6] Hence, low levels of sulfide may be tolerated indefinitely . . . . At some threshold level, believed to average around 300–350 ppm, the oxidative enzymes become overwhelmed. ” The level of H2S in roasted coffee is 0.7-4.3, well below the threshold level.

    3) But all this talk of H2S is really beside the point, because in your article you totally ignore one of the main reasons behind organic farming practices, namely, that they help protect the health and natural environment of the farmers. Also, just because H2S is present in roasted coffee doesn't mean that we may as well say fuck it and pack in all the other chemicals we can — actually, it argues for the opposite.

    4) If you're so worried about H2S levels, why don't you go electric?

  • Cm

    Todd,nnA few points:nn1) You present the H2S link as if it is a new finding, when in fact the levels of H2S in coffee were measured as far back as 1949 (Coffee Flavor Chemistry, p. 336). nn2) From wikipedia: “Since hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in the body, the environment and the gut, enzymes exist in the body capable of detoxifying it by oxidation to (harmless) sulfate.[6] Hence, low levels of sulfide may be tolerated indefinitely . . . . At some threshold level, believed to average around 300u2013350 ppm, the oxidative enzymes become overwhelmed. ” The level of H2S in roasted coffee is 0.7-4.3, well below the threshold level.nn3) But all this talk of H2S is really beside the point, because in your article you totally ignore one of the main reasons behind organic farming practices, namely, that they help protect the health and natural environment of the farmers. Also, just because H2S is present in roasted coffee doesn’t mean that we may as well say fuck it and pack in all the other chemicals we can — actually, it argues for the opposite. nn4) If you’re so worried about H2S levels, why don’t you go electric?

  • Inglorious

    Um, I was raised on a farm, I'm of farmer stock. I understand organic rather well. I also spend 8 weeks a year on coffee farms. I will also say that there is a way to rid the process of HRS and others … Without going electric. I know, I do it. Ask yourself, how does nat gas increase it's BTU? spend 4k on a test of 5lbs of your bean just roasted – and what's coming off of it then post your results here.

  • Anonymous

    Um, I was raised on a farm, I’m of farmer stock. I understand organic rather well. I also spend 8 weeks a year on coffee farms. I will also say that there is a way to rid the process of HRS and others … Without going electric. I know, I do it. Ask yourself, how does nat gas increase it’s BTU? spend 4k on a test of 5lbs of your bean just roasted – and what’s coming off of it then post your results here.

  • Barbara Anderson41

    Whoever wrote the title for this needs to learn correct grammar!!  How insulting!

  • Anonymous

    Todd:  Are you the guy who bankrolled Ripley Davenport to return to Mongolia and finish his long walk?  

  • Not surprised

    This does not surprise me it’s the Philly way and Philly attitude, the entire city is that same way, rude, crude people. They are all very angry bitter people who enjoy asking your opinion and then want to argue over your opinion on any subject.

  • Gamer_Czar

    If Todd did anything half-assed, he never would have made it to the South Pole…

  • Jill

    I love him! Great guy

  • BogKid

    Utter nonsense. I’m suspicious. Are you from California???