Monday, October 26, 2009
Starting on Thursday evening, I had the idea to hook up the coffee equipment temporarily and use them for promoting the opening of the new coffee shop on campus, Vida Coffee Co, a few months early. After mulling the idea over with some associates, we decided to prepare a temporary setup on an existing cart designed for serving specialty coffee. I'll save you some of the dryer details of the next 48 hours worth of labor preparing the cart for action and skip to Saturday morning serving coffee during the parade.
My family arrived at the 812 (the building's name) at 8am. I continued preparing the cart for active use, tested out the machine, etc until the arrival of the dairy products and some extra cups a lids. At about 9:30 we opened up Vida Mobile, ready to serve small espresso drinks free of charge, promoting Vida Coffee Co.
The word "cart" as you can see, is a bit of an understatement. It is a completely self-contained, fully operational, specialty coffee preparation unit. These are utilized widely across europe by the likes of World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies and the Coffee Collective from Sweden. The concept just is not real popular in the United States yet, unfortunately for Vida Mobile. My next goal will be convincing my board of directors to allow the temporary Vida Mobile to continue to function, perhaps even opening as an early form of the shop, continuing to promote the eventual "real deal" inside the 812 itself in January of 2010. I must say, my latte art progressed very nicely throughout the day:
Some more pics of Vida Mobile:
Lord, thank you for the great time on Saturday and allowing me to serve such great coffee to so many great people. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Baristas are responsible for the delivery of high-quality coffee beverages. Their skill in preparing these delicate drinks determines a large part of the overall outcome of the drinks prepared. Evaluating the Barista is done in conjunction with evaluating the drinks they prepare. This is how we evaluate espresso, a large part of the Barista’s job:
Espresso is pressure-brewed coffee. This method’s purpose is to extract vital oils and aromatic gases by forcing water under intense pressure through very finely ground coffee- creating an emulsion. Extracting the coffee’s oils and aromatic gases, suspended and infused within the water, creating a beverage that tastes just like how freshly roasted coffee smells, is the essence of espresso.
Four components for evaluating espresso (ordered by importance):
Taste: A Barista must know what proper espresso tastes like in order to replicate it properly.
Pour: The ideal pour will begin slowly, with a few drops, but will quickly become a thick and steady stream- like honey. Near the end of the pour, the color will shift to light amber from the original dark red. Extraction beyond this change will draw harsh flavors- called “over-extraction”. Pay close attention to the color, texture, and flow of the steams to control shot quality.
Crema: This is the foamy substance created through the release or coffee’s aromatic gases while trapped by the natural oils also released at the time of extraction. The desired crema will have identical color to that of the perfect pour. This color is a dark red with flecks of rust brown. If the crema is stirred, it should not dissipate, but recover.
Time: Shot timing should only be viewed within the context of the other factors. The ideal shot should take 20-30 seconds.
Lord, thank you for creating the person who invented the espresso machine and the magnificent coffee creation that it produces. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Growing conditions for coffee plants are very precise and the slightest detail can affect the overall production and quality of the fruit it bears. Nitrogen and Potassium content, slope of the land, amount of exposure to the sun or frost, and even the direction of the wind all have parts to play in the overall quality of the coffee grown. Covering coffee trees with tarps or mesh blankets, effectively shading the plants protects them from damaging sunlight. Coffee grown like this is known as “Shade Grown” and is worth premium prices for its increased quality. Depending on the amount of rain a particular region receives, coffee trees can produce multiple times a year. In regions that experience multiple rains per year, the trees will produce cherries 7-9 weeks after each rain. Regions that have one primary rainy season will produce one crop at the end of the season.
There are three main methods for harvesting coffee. The first and most labor-intensive method is hand-picking. This method is tedious and time consuming; therefore it requires a large workforce for even mediocre sized farms. This is the only method that ensures the greatest percentage of ripe-fruit harvesting, which leaves unripe on the branch. Only harvesting ripe cherries produces the best tasting coffee product after the roasting, so much of the gourmet coffee industry demands this method of harvesting. The next method is called Stripping. Stripping involves removing entire branches of a coffee tree and does not search for only the ripest cherries. Machine Picking is the final method. Machinery is used to harvest on a huge scale and is usually reserved for lower quality distributors.
Lord, thank you for great coffee and the people who propagate and harvest it. Please keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Growth Climate: tropics near equator at altitudes between 980 yards to 1.2 miles at a temperature between 59F and 75F.
Characteristics: can grow to be 3-6 yards tall. Arabica prefers climate variation, but are less resistant to disease. Arabica produces a less bitter smelling or severe tasting product than Robusta. Also, Arabica is self-pollinating.
Growth Climate: tropics near equator at altitudes between 220 to 660 yards at temperatures between 75F and 84F.
Characteristics: can grow to be 8-14 yards tall, but are trimmed to 4 yards on plantations for harvesting convenience. Robusta prefers steady climates, but is more resistant to disease. Caffeine content is about 2-3% higher than Arabica. Also, Robusta is pollinated by insects drawn to its flowers.
Depending on the origin of each coffee, its character will differentiate. From spicy and smoky notes to fruity and flowery, each coffee’s profile will be unique based on its growing season, roast, and preparation. Every coffee tree grows flowers that last a few days. After the flowers wane, a cherry (or drupe) is produced. The cherry develops gradually: from green to yellow, to dark red when ripe. If the cherry is left on the tree too long though, it will begin to degrade into a dark brown color. The cherry itself is made up of five main components.
The first part of the cherry is the outer covering, the exocarp, which would be considered the “fruit” section. Immediately underneath is the mesocarp, a very thin jelly-like layer. Still inside are the seeds, or beans. The beans are wrapped in a substantial white colored endocarp, commonly called the “parchment”. Beneath the endocarp, totally encasing the individual beans is a thin layer called the silverskin. Finally, wrapped in the previous four encasings, are the beans. Arabica seeds are usually elongated with an “S” shaped crack down the middle. Robusta seeds are much more round and have a straight groove down their middle. They are usually grayish brown instead of Arabica’s blue-green tint.
Lord, thank you for this amazing fruit. Please keep me learning and advancing my understanding of it. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Monday, October 19, 2009
My brother-in-law is a Barista for Starbucks in the 6th richest county in the United States, in Overland Park, Kansas. He knows my thoughts on Starbucks, but due to the circumstances I relented and we went to get coffee together before church. What follows is the account from that morning.
We left my parents house at a quarter after 7. The drive to his particular retail store was about 30 minutes, so we chose to go to a closer location, about 15 minutes away. During the drive, we discussed several things, but mostly coffee- a mutual interest, but for me a passion. I schooled him a bit on what a proper Ristretto, or "restricted" shot was like. I told him this would be the first thing I would order when we got there. He assured me that Starbucks knew what this drink was and would make it well for me- I doubted. You see, I have ordered this drink just once before, the first time I visited Starbucks- the "Baristas" there did not even know what I was talking about.
A Ristretto is an espresso shot, the beans are ground a bit finer, the dose is likewise a little higher, and the tamping pressure is greater. All these factors added to the fact that the shot is only pulled for about 20 seconds makes for a very sweet shot, measuring about .75 or 1 ounce, since the more bitter elements are extracted later in a regular shot. Most straight espressos in Italy are Ristrettos. The shot should have a dark rust red crema almost completely covering the surface instead of the usual "Longo" 1.5 ounce shot which just has rust colored speckles.
We did eventually arrive at the Starbucks storefront. I ordered my Ristretto and the Barista behind the counter actually knew what I was talking about! Well, she acted as though she did anyway. I was served my Doppio Ristretto in one eight ounce paper cup: ugh. I took the plastic lid off the cup to view what I was about to drink and saw a perfectly average regular Starbucks espresso shot. These Baristas had no idea what a Ristretto was and even if they did, they had no way of producing it since their espresso machines are pre-programmed for a standard Longo espresso shot for the sugary, dairy-based drinks soccer moms have come to know and love. I was served one regular espresso shot that was highly watery, bitter, and had little crema. When I swirled by cup a bit, the crema disappeared. Just what I expected.
After explaining what the differences were between what should have been served and what was served, even my brother-in-law saw the light. He was so moved by the difference in quality I was explaining between local shops like my Vida Coffee Co and Starbucks, that he actually decided to start looking for a job at a local place (there aren't any around, or else I would have been there).
My brother-in-law redeemed his free pound of Starbucks coffee and gave it to me that morning- thoughtful. I chose an Ethiopia Sidamo. My logic was this: it had the latest "expiration date" (rediculous since all coffee goes stale 10-14 days after roasting- apparently Starbucks thinks 4 months is a good limit) and because Starbucks chars their beans. Ethiopian coffees are usually roasted very lightly since it compliments their natural floral notes. So, my bet was this will be my best shot at a decent cup of Starbucks' coffee. We concluded the trip by going to Target. I bought him a grinder for his coffee- he did not have one and was having it all pre-ground at the store before he took it home: awful.
I suppose if there is a moral to the story it is that Starbucks has its market: those who do not care about the coffee as much as they do the social value of carrying a cup with the mermaid logo will love it. Those few like me who value great coffee had better bring some with them the next time they go visit grandma and grandpa.
Lord, thank you for coffee, even if it isn't always great; the same for relatives. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Aroma: This is the first element to meet your palate. As you move to take a sip, what smells do you sense rising from your cup? Is it bitter, sweet, aggressive, muted? Are there hints of herbs, berries, tobacco, or chocolate?
Flavor: No surprise here; the first thing you will taste as you sip your delicious hot beverage is COFFEE! Coffee taste is very powerful and can, if you do not harness it, cause you to miss many other tastes. Beneath the first coffee taste, you may be able to distinguish tastes like wine, chocolate, berries, spiciness, or earthiness.
Acidity: This is the bite at the back of your throat. Before coffee is roasted, its nature is very acidic. As the coffee is roasted, it is progressively mellowed out, which is why the darker a roast gets, the more smooth and less acidic the coffee tastes. Although much of the acidity is removed during the roasting process, it also loses substantial amounts of inherent flavor.
Body: Body is the most abstract of all the elements compromising coffee’s taste. How does the coffee FEEL in your mouth? The beverage’s body will answer that question. An easier way of conceptualizing body would be to imagine what drinking water feels like compared to milk, then honey, then perhaps, motor oil. Which feels the heaviest in your mouth; what feels the lightest? The heavier the sensation in your mouth, the more body the coffee is said to contain.
Here are some typical taste generalizations (and I emphasize "typical" "generalizations"):
Central American: Nutty, smooth, and fragrant with average acidity levels.
South American: More mild and soft with significant acidity levels.
African: Sharp, aggressive, robust, and assertive with a great crisp finish.
Asian: Smooth and syrupy with lower acidity and higher body and flavorful notes.
Indonesian (yes, this is Asian, but worthy of separate description): Very similar to Asian, but spicier with a complex earthy body.
Lord, thank you so much for great coffee. I especially appreciate that coffee can grow in so many places with so many tastes. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Light roast styles include the “Cinnamon” and “Half City” roasts. These roasts are the lightest and require the least time in the roaster. After a few minutes in the roaster, the beans will “crack”. This “first crack” is accompanied by a visual increase in the beans’ size and is usually the first indicator for lighter roasts’ completion. Most mass coffee producers use roasts like this for its cheaper production costs. The surface of the bean is still dry with a light brown color. The end product has very high acidity and virtually no indications of having been roasted.
Medium roast styles include “Full City” and “American” roasts. Medium-Dark roast styles include “High”, “Viennese”, and sometimes “French” roasts. Medium and Medium-Dark roasts begin the process of truly roasting the coffee. Medium roasts highlight the coffee’s naturally flowery and spicy notes while Medium-Dark matures these developments. Medium-Dark roasts begin the oily development of the coffee bean. At the Medium-Dark stage, the coffee beans will have their “second crack”. This cracking is the indicator that the coffee has reached this Medium-Dark level. Premium coffee roasters from the American northwest often prepare their coffees at this level. Medium roasts will have a more balanced acidity than that of Light roasts. Medium roasts will have nicely developed aroma and body with moderate complexity. Medium-Dark roasts will result with a somewhat spicy, heavier bodied feel, lacking in the acidic bite. The roasting aromas and flavors and very evident and enjoyable, but some caffeine content is lost in the process.
Very Dark roasts offer exclusive tastes such as rich smoothness, bittersweet caramels, chocolates, and low acidity. Roasts such as “French” and “Italian” arrive in this category. The smoky-sweetness of Very Dark roasts offer coffees that are light-bodied, but still quite intense. At this stage the bean’s sugars begin to carbonize; if roasting continues too much longer, the bean will develop distinct “burnt” tastes (Starbucks is known for this quality, giving them the nickname Charbucks). If properly roasted, Very Dark roasts can be very enjoyable due to their notable roast characteristics.
Lord, Thank you for the great coffee and the ability to choose for ourselves which roast we prefer- free will is a great gift. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
There was a Costa Rican, an Ethiopian, and a Sumatran coffee provided. I had some inside knowledge of what each would taste like before hand because I have significant coffee tasting experience to start with; it was obvious that some there did not. This lack of knowledge cannot be considered somehow bad or embarrassing (maybe a bit embarrassing) it simply shows a lack of experience with the process and with specialty coffee in general. As we all know, there is only one really effective way to boost experience and knowledge- to do it.
So, back to the account. First off, smelled each of the ground coffees: quick short sniffs, like a dog. Then we poured water at about 200 degrees over the three selections, totally immersing and soaking the grounds in water. Over the next 3 minutes, we allowed the grounds to steep in the hot water. During this time, the grounds release carbon dioxide in large quantities, as well as other oils. These gases and oils intermix and coalesce into a crust that covers the surface of the coffee. At the end of this steeping time, we all took flat spoons and "broke the crusts" of each of the coffees (rinsing the spoon between each cup so as to not pollute the single origins). As we did so, we again, smelled the gases released by breaking this crust. These first gases are the most intense aromatics possibly derived from a coffee- very essential to the overall taste since 70% of taste is made of smell. During this whole process, we coffee geeks had to keep our opinions to ourselves so as not to influence the highly impressionable new people.
Next, we began tasting the coffee. We obnoxiously slurp the coffees in order to spray the liquid across the entire tongue, effectively coating all taste regions: sweet, sour, bitter, etc. These tastes are done quickly, then spit out and tried again a few more times, all the while we build our opinions of the coffees. Again, we rinse the spoon we are slurping with so as to avoid cross-contamination. Also, cold water is provided to rinse the palate before the next origin is tried. The obnoxiousness continues as we spit out the coffee slurped so that we don't go into a state of caffeine shock. This goes on for about 5-7 minutes. We continue tasting while the coffees cool because over different temperatures, the coffees can begin to taste differently. In fact, the optimum tasting temperature is right at body heat, 98 degrees, since our taste buds can receive the most stimulation at their own degree.
After the 5 or so minutes pass we begin to share our experiences with one another. Usually the new people use very standard and boxed in descriptions for coffee, the most green usually just say it tastes like coffee- and that's fine for that stage. I'll share with you my thoughts now: The Sumatra was roasted very darkly, which I actually appreciated because it had been roasted far too lightly in the past. I must say though, my taste preferences are changing. It has taken two years, but it is definitely occurring. What I think is happening, and what happens to a large degree with all coffee fanatics, is that over time a preference for lighter roasts is developed. I believe this occurs because darker roasts "cook out" most of the more interesting and complex floral flavors that give coffee its 800 or so taste characteristics we nerds find so fascinating to describe.
At any rate, the Sumarta was good, but clearly not the best. Its rogue wildly woody and charred taste got boring very quickly. I moved into liking the Ethiopia next. It had an extremely sweet blueberry sensation at about 180 degrees that caught my attention. As it cooled the sweetness increased to the point of displeasure. This won't be the case for most people, but for me it is a dessert coffee at best. Finally though, there was the Costa Rican. It proved much more challenging than the other two. Grown at over 3,000 feet, the cherries produce high density, large beans which generally equals higher quality (the elevation has a huge impact on this, I'll explain another time). At first it was mean, containing a strong acidity, like that of a car battery or highly carbonated water- standoffish. But, as it cooled a bit that acidity turned into a lighter, more flowery, lemon-like, front of the tongue, pleasurable taste. Light body and easily swallowed (I did swallow a bit of this one to get the aftertaste). I almost felt like I was eating a very interestingly flavored flower petal- crazy. Anyway, the taste that lingered left me wanting to try some more- the exact sensation desired.
Anyway, we all shared our experiences of each. Most of the new people had simple descriptions and enjoyed the dark roast for its lack of acidity. I was the only one besides the officiator who preferred the Costa Rican. What can I say? It was a great, well balanced cup. I almost bought some.
Lord, thank you for the great coffee and for the geeks who make it okay to slurp and spit. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Over the past few months, I've written up a training manual for my new employees at Vida Coffee Co. After thinking it over, I think that this very basic knowledge of coffee could be better utilized posted and available for all those who are interested- you, the reader. So, this is what I have done. The first section focuses on the processing and roasting of coffee from its origins to the roasters.
Coffee is grown in four main areas around the world: Central and South America, Africa, Asia, specifically Indonesia. People in these regions must pick the coffee fruit from the trees by hand (the fruit looks something like a cherry and is often given this name). There are two main ways of initial processing employed by the coffee growers.
The first processing method is called the “dry” method in which the newly picked fruit is laid out in the sun to dry after the fleshy portion of the fruit is removed and the coffee bean is left by itself. After the unwanted debris are winnowed out of the bean product, the desirable beans are spread out on large concrete or brick patios to dry, sometimes taking up to four weeks; then they are shipped.
The second processing method is called the “wet” or “washed” method in which the newly picked and de-pulped fruit is dumped into water and allowed to soak. During the soaking, the coffee beans are sorted by size and density. The low quality, low density, beans are removed easily from the tub because they rise to the surface. The beans are then de-pulped further through a process of fermentation or machine washing. Either method removes any remaining pulp adhering to the bean's silverskin parchment jacket. The fermentation method requires significant monitoring so that the fermentation does not produce unwanted taste characteristics.
After the new batches of coffee are processed by their growers, they are packed and sold to coffee roasters. The “green beans” (coffee not yet roasted) are roasted according to each roaster’s standards. Larger coffee companies use enormous mega-roasters that are computer automated and have a lower roast quality due to their hands-off methods and huge quantities. The individual connoisseur could buy a batch of green beans and roast them on their own using a barbecue grill, but will oftentimes result in low quality coffee due to lack of appropriate equipment.
The answer to both of these imbalances is to find a roaster with the proper equipment and skill to provide the perfect coffee product. These roasters will usually employ barrel roasters that roast 50-100 lbs of coffee at a time. Coffee is checked frequently to oversee its roast progress, enabling the master roaster to achieve their perfect result. This is the type of roaster Vida Coffee Co. uses. After the coffee is roasted, it is air-cooled and shipped to coffee shops.
Lord, thank you for the great coffee, those who grow it, and those who roast it so well. I pray you would keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I own several travel mugs: a few are made out of plastic, yet another is stainless steal, one is aluminum and copper, one has glass interior lining, and the last of the bunch is ceramic. Why are there so many different types offered? Well, probably because there are morons like me that think they need to have a few of every building material known to man- I'm getting a wood and brick travel mug for Christmas, I think. The bigger question I think, is which type of mug is best and why. As usual, I have a hypothesis.
This morning, I was running a bit behind. I did not have time to pour my coffee into my vacuum glasses by bodum. I was forced to take a travel mug, never my first choice for reasons I'm about to discuss. The only mug clean was the stainless steel and copper mug I bought from Kaldi's Coffee while employed with them. It keeps drinks very warm due to the copper exterior and has a superior rubber lining around the lid which never leaks, even after a few years use and washing in the dishwasher. However, I have always noticed a little bit of a twang from this mug. The stainless steel interior, I believe, taints the coffee's taste just enough for noticing. It adds a hint of alkaline flavor that disrupts my black coffee bliss- I don't think I'll be able to use it again.
My other mugs don't fare much better, I'm afraid. The plastic mugs do not stay warm for long and the parts do not do well in the washer- not to mention a bit of a sterile taste in the coffee, especially noticeable in lighter roasts. The only mugs I've really been able to enjoy are the glass insulated and ceramic. Glass insulated are usually harder to clean due to small openings and are rarely given removable lids. Ceramic is great, but can stain if you're not careful. The stains themselves can alter the taste of your hot brew, so clean them promptly. All in all, my recommendation is to drink your coffee at home, in your own personal ceramic or glass mug and wash it before you leave the house. We early risers have to try extra hard to accomplish this.
Lord, thank you for the coffee, even if it was tainted. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Today's purchase, as you may have guessed was a bottomless cup. I have my choice of a very lightly roasted Costa Rican coffee and a Sumatra Gayo Mountain (they also offer a flavored coffee and a decaf everyday, but I refuse to waste my time on those- I will address that issue some other time). Of course, I've tried both. The Sumatra, with its volcanic earthy soil taste is best roasted darker, for a heavier body and rich woody taste. This Sumatra at Kaldi's is roasted a bit too lightly. It allows for all the volcanic earthiness, but without any of the increased body, resulting in an overly flowery taste and lighter feel- it competes with the natural heaviness of the volcanic soil too much for comfort.
The Costa Rican coffee is lightly roasted as well, but due to the higher elevation growing conditions and different soil makeup, this coffee is deliciously prepared as a light roast. Kaldi's is a light roaster though, so it's hard to expect them to adjust greatly for the Sumatra. I bellieve their typical roast is closer to a City or even Cinnamon in some cases than the Full City roast most popular in America. The self-serve is nice here- I'm up refilling my mug every 20 minutes or so.
All-in-all, I'm satisfied. A great Costa Rican in peak season with a bottomless cup. Fantastic.
Lord, thank you for the great coffee. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Vida Coffee Co is located on the biggest, most populated college campus in Missouri. It is filled with college age people, most of which are just beginning their exploration into the coffee market. None of this is bad in any way, but it does force me to choose a direction. Does Vida go with a highly "value added" approach or one of mass appeal like Starbucks' drinks? I think we all know what I mean by mass appeal- lots of sugar and dairy, easily identified with what is already available at huge coffee chains, and less dependent on the integrity of the coffee beans' quality, etc. The term "value added" may be a little more abstract.
You may have guessed simply from reading previous posts that I am not a mass appeal sort of coffee enthusiast. I insist on must-have coffee. If I'm going to pay that kind of money for it, it has got to be jaw-droppingly well prepared. Value added concept encapsulates this premise. Let me give you an example to help explain. If you came into Vida Coffee Co and ordered a cup of Kenya AA and really liked it, I would offer to explain a bit of the growing and harvesting process to you. Then if you were still interested, I would proceed to show you a French Press and explain how it would help you brew that Kenya AA in an even more delicate and precise manner. If you continued to show interest, I would then offer to sell you a French Press. This is where value added really starts to show up: I would sell you that French Press, then give you a tutorial on using it, give you some fresh Kenya AA to practice with, offer to help you maintain the new press, show you personal grinders that could help you get even fresher brews, and all the while impress on you how this coffee is to be made more meaningful and valuable.
Mass appeal does not even begin this conversation. Mass appeal stops at the cash register. Mass appeal leaves the customer in the dark. It even hopes that you as the customer stays in the dark about coffee- to continue spending money on those unnecessarily sugary, milk laden, value-minimal drinks. Don't get me wrong, those drinks serve their purposes, but to leave people in the dark about the possibilities of coffee just seems wrong. It is possible to appeal both to the masses and add some value to their ideas of coffee, but it is very difficult. I suppose if I must err, I choose to show people enthusiasm for coffee, not just for their money.
Lord, thank you for the great coffee. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Let me tell you a true story from an experience in my life in the last few days. My wife just gave birth to my son, Levi. I had not had the opportunity to get out and go downtown for a classic coffee drink for a few days. When I finally did get to go, I ordered a traditional cubano macchiato prepared delicately by a great barista from Kaldi's Coffee House. The crema was solid; when stirred it did not dissipate, but would recover. It had a velvety texture and abundant rust colored speckles- all great indications. The first sip went across my tongue with a particularly crisp sensation of hazelnut- somewhat unusual, but not unpleasant. I attributed this to the lack of grind readjustment for the incoming low pressure system, but I cannot expect everyone to be that attentive. Anyway, the point is that I ordered my espresso and loved it. It lasted about 4 minutes, then I read my early middle ages textbook while I listened to Beethoven in my earphones (no I'm not really THAT nerdy, I just like his stuff).
So, about 15 minutes into my stay, I returned my demitasse to the counter, so that the espresso residue could be cleaned off the rims without staining the cup. I stayed at the shop though, just sitting, enjoying the semi-peacefulness of a place without a 4 day old boy. A few minutes into this, I noticed "those guys" walk into the shop. See, I used to work at Kaldi's, so I am very familiar with these particular patrons. These are the immigrated Italians who stop by from time to time, who think themselves very superior in every way to the unrefined American coffee drinkers. They usually give the baristas an overly difficult time, oftentimes returning drinks just to spite them, demanding new ones.
So, they get their traditional drinks and walk by my table. Of course they recognize me and also notice that I do not have a traditional cup on my table- I must be unrefined vermin. Now, I exaggerate a bit, and I'm sure that not all Italians are uber-snobs, but these guys are eccentric as you will see. I did have a orange sunkist soda that I was drinking- yes I drink stuff other than coffee. They sit down close by, and begin to look over at me and laugh. I really don't care, I'm an adult and am secure with my Sunkist. I don't need the approval of those snobs. BUT, they go one further.
The ring leader walks by me and actually says these words to me in semi-English, "you pathetic drinking pop in coffeehouse. get balls and order real drinks like us...". Wow. Really? What am I supposed to say to that? What do I do? I get instant flashes into my brain like, "dump it on him". But, instead I listen to the voice of Truth and say nothing. I let him get his jollies by dogging on me. Seriously though?! Really?!
Lord, thank you for great coffee and great people. I pray those that don't know You or Your peace will at some point and if you use me in that process, I pray I'm ready.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
First of all, there is the machine. There is almost always one straight giveaway- if the place has a La Marzocco, they will probably know what they are doing. They will know how to pull a shot generally. Their grind will be decent at the minimum and will have a respectable crema. A quick glance to the top of the La Marzocco will show that they have traditional drink cups: 2oz, 6oz, and 10oz cups for espressos, Americanos, Cappuccinos, and Lattes. No viewing of the menu is necessary if these cups are present. A shop serving traditional drinks well will have a consistent customer following drinking those beautiful creations, so check the tables.
On the other hand, a place sending off red flags will almost always have a two group machine, never a La Marzocco, and usually will be badly organized and dirty around the grinder and espresso machine. Their syrups used will be something cheaper (this does not mean that the syrups have to make the drink taste bad, but does show the shop's lower dedication to quality ingredients and preparation), usually DaVinci or Torani instead of 1883, Monin, or Ghirardelli. The types of coffees used will not be displayed proudly, with a short description of their origin or blend type if of high complexity- this will almost always be present at a higher quality shops.
Things like cleanliness, coffee scents, and welcoming customer service are all obvious factors of great coffee shops. With these few points in mind: espresso machine, traditional drink cups, syrup type, coffee description display, and of course cleanliness, scents, and service are all telling factors of a coffee shop's quality. I'm not saying become such a snob you'll walk out of a place without even giving it a chance, but maybe these tips will allow you to prepare yourself for a letdown. Perhaps these indicators will help you choose how much money to spend a location on a first trip. More than anything, if you find a shop with numerous red flag signs, it may be smart to not get your hopes up.
Lord, thank you for great coffee and the shops that serve it. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
His reaction was just as I thought it would be: Awe. The Traditional Americano, as discussed before, is simply two shots of espresso with 3oz hot purified water. His assessment was one of near disbelief. He said, "this is just as strong as my black coffee, but tastes better." My question to him was how exactly does this taste better? His response was something like, "it's just fresher, more lively, and complex." Just as I expected.
What makes an Americano "fresher, more lively, and complex"? The answer is all in the espresso. The beans are usually ground 10-30 seconds before they are extracted. This quick timing leads to the extreme fresh taste, as well as helps produce the complex taste of the crema. The liveliness of the Americano is easy to explain. His usual black coffee is a home drip brewed Millstone whole bean coffee- not the greatest, but an attempt. If my father is feeling really ambitious, he will get a standard Pike Place roast from Starbucks; now it's easy to see why he thought the Americano was so lively! Starbucks' black coffee is usually ground and brewed hourly, but can sometimes be left for up to three hours before a new batch is brewed! Also, the coffee can be up to 2 months old before it even reaches the stores! This is all going without saying that the roast Starbucks uses is extremely dark, eliminating most of the more interesting taste qualities of lighter roasted coffees, including the caffeine content.
All in all, I think that this experience was pretty enlightening for him. I challenge any of you standard black coffee drinkers to step outside of the box some morning soon and get yourself a Traditional Americano. See how fresh, lively, and complex coffee can truly be.
Thank you Lord for the great coffee, my children, my wife, and another day. Here we go.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Right after my wife, Micalah gave birth to Levi (no kidding, 5 minutes), she looked at me and asked for some good coffee. Ha! What an amazing woman she is; her priorities are in perfect alignment: Baby Levi's BIRTH, then coffee. Wonderful.
I think I'll take her out and buy her the best thing I can offer her- a Traditional Cappuccino and biscotti of her choice. Yeah, I think that ought to cover it. For every successful delivery, a cappuccino.
Levi Anthony Thayer
Here's a quick pic, right after he was born- gooey stuff still on and everything:
Lord, thank you for my son, for great coffee, and for my beautiful and strong wife.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
The macchiato is what needs the attention today. This morning would have been a guaranteed downer without this beautifully crafted espresso blessing. Let's talk about what a macchiato is, shall we? Starbucks' macchiato is not what should be thought of when the word is used. We are not talking about a 12oz+ size syrupy mass with plenty of dairy and other additions. A true macchiato does not have size options, milk variations, nor syrup choices. What I am speaking about as being the other other "light to the world" is none other than the 2.5oz, 95% pure espresso shot majesty with a dollop (1 Tbs) of frothed whole milk on the top. Sound boring? Let me explain.
The macchiato Starbucks hooks unfortunate people on is a dairy/sugar slurry. They'll add just enough coffee "shots" to the mix to make them think their $4.50 was worth the while. What these unfortunates do not realize is that they have been sold a falsity- a lie. They have been duped into buying a truly tasteless mass of sugars and artificial syrups; a fake, a sugar rush. What these people are missing are the amazing natural flavors of the coffee itself, the natural sweetness of the steamed milk froth, the amazing genuine rush that caffeine provides- swapped for an impostor phony. This is a true tragedy.
My beautiful traditional 2.5oz macchiato cost me just under a quarter the price of a medium macchiato from Starbucks and tasted at least four times better. I wholeheartedly beseech you to avoid these syrupy blasphemies. If you cannot break away from your sugary enslavement, I pity you. Remember, those of you who are trapped in your sugary deception, you're hurting yourselves- and you're supporting the abuse and mistreatment of coffee beans everywhere.
Lord, thank you for the great coffee. Please keep my macchiato traditional and honor intact.