Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jewell of the Broad Ripple District

Hubbard and Craven's coffee shop in the heart of the Broad Ripple district in Indianapolis was fantastic. It reminds me a lot of my last employer, Kaldi's Coffee Roasters based out of St. Louis. Both are dominant artisan wholesale coffee roasters in their cities and surrounding region. Both have a handful of coffee shops under proprietorship. These two companies are dedicated to quality and I love it.

Last night, Hubbard and Craven's really impressed me. I decided to give it a shot because it looked like a classy place (and my only other option was St*rb*cks). I walked in to the shop with my wife, expecting to have to order a standard latte, etc. because traditional drinks are usually a foreign idea to midwestern coffee shops; this was not the case at Hubbard and Cravens.

I was met with a classy environment with a very developed menu. They offered a large variety of in-season varietal coffees, traditional espresso drinks, and even a CLOVER coffee brewing system! I had never gotten to try a clover cup of coffee, so obviously this is what I chose. My wife and I bought two different types of Guatemalan coffee; one had an overt chocolaty taste and heavy body, the other was much more floral and had a lighter body and more citric taste.

We were charged a reasonable 2.15 for the 16oz cups of very specialty coffee. To be honest, the coffee produced by the Clover was not shockingly superior like I had expected. By no means was it bad, but it simply did not live up to the hype I guess. I would buy it again, but mostly because it was brewed to order- the same reason why I would purchase a Chemex cup of coffee or a french press. At any rate, it was a great cup of coffee and a superior coffee shop with great service (the barista was cleaning up shop getting ready to go home when we walked in- no hesitation to dirty up the Clover for us).

Lord, thanks for the great coffee last night. Please keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Farmers' Plight

I thought this article was great at encapsulating the idea I want to address today: A farmer's struggle selling his produce at fair prices. A lot of us in coffee retail simply do not understand the issues that go into growing and selling coffee, and for obvious reasons. The first part of this article found on the Coffee Politics blog was very helpful in illuminating the farmers' fight for fair prices, so I'll bring it to you. I'm definitely not saying that I agree with all of the points argued on this blog, but this specific illustration about coffee pricing is very good.

"Will The Real Poor Farmer Rise"

"'A few days back, I had a rare and wonderful opportunity to spend time talking to coffee farmers in Yirgachefe, where about two hundred had gathered to greet ECX as we visited a coffee washing station owned by a prominent coffee exporter. As I stood taking in the absolute beauty of the sun starting to set over the terraced hillside where row after row of coffee drying tables loaded with beans in their golden parchment were aligned nearly perfectly, framed by dense coffee trees, while the wet mill processor creaked in the background, Ato Tadele came to greet me. We bowed to each other. He said he was a farmer who sold his red cherry to this private mill owner. I asked him how things were going. He said okay, but that he wished he could get higher prices. I laughed and said any farmer worth his salt would say the same, anywhere in the world. Then I asked what today’s price was. He said the farmers had negotiated a price of 4.35 Birr per kilogram from the miller’s starting offer of 3.50. I asked how they came up with that price. By now, we were surrounded by about 50 farmers all wanting to chip in. They said they had heard that prices in the city were getting higher. I asked them how they knew. They said they had heard on the radio. I asked them where those prices came from. A small pause. Somebody hesitantly said, the new coffee market in Addis? I said yes, breathing an inward sigh of relief. Just to make sure, I asked what time they listened to the ECX daily price broadcast. Ato Tadele brightened and said, at 8 pm. Some said, 7 am, and others, 1 pm. Now I really felt good. Then I asked if the broadcast was easy to understand. Then a lot of discussion came up, about too many prices, too fast reading, not very easy to understand. Okay, I said, let me introduce Ahadu, our market data officer, standing right here next to me, he wants to hear you on this and it is his job to get it just the way you need it. And so it went.'

'The point is that Tadele, and many more like him, take their red cherry or dry beans to the nearest market outlets, with just the faintest idea of what their coffee is worth or what the world out there, or even the national market, looks like. Our challenge is that we need to figure out, as a country and as a national marketing system, how to empower Tadele and others like him to make meaningful choices of where to sell, when to sell, at what price to sell, and to whom to sell, so that he can maximize his returns and improve the quality of his life, send his children to school, make sure they get health care, and break the vicious cycle of poverty in which he is trapped.'"

So, as you can see, the farmer faces an uphill battle. The least we can do as consumers and retailers is to be aware. This is our first step. Lord, thank you for great coffee and those who labor to produce it. I pray we are able to be just in our relation to others. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sick Without Coffee

I've been sick for the past five days. Yes, all five. I've got all the troops out praying for my recovery now, so it shouldn't be long, but I did realize something very interesting and disturbing this morning. I have gone without coffee for the past four mornings! Something about not eating but 300 calories worth of bread and drinking just enough water to swallow Tylenol just takes the motivation to prepare delicious coffee in the morning right out of me. To be honest, getting out of bed was not even physically possible for the last 3 days- 103 degree fever with all the amenities. I've got the fever down now, but still no desire for the good brew. I'm scared.

Not being able to smell a thing may have some part to play in the lack of coffee crave. With this specific beverage, the smell is at least a third of the enjoyment. I'm taking Tylenol anyway, so I'm not getting the headache from caffeine withdrawals. That explains the physical side of my non-need for coffee. What about the psychological? A caffeine addiction only lasts for about 24 hours typically- it's the habitual practice of drinking coffee in a routine that takes longer to break. Have I really gotten past this? I just purchased what many consider the best espresso machine in the world! Can someone who just bought a La Marzocco 4 Group Linea for their HOUSE just sweep past an addiction like their morning coffee!? Maybe I'm reading to much into this, and I hope that is the case. I truly do hope I can get over this head mess soon because I think my habitual coffee intake obsession may be the greater victim if I don't.

This Linea I mentioned before is going to be the focus of many posts to come. I'll be dissecting the machine top the bottom, inside and out. If you choose to follow, we will explore the inner-workings of the most important espresso machine of the third wave coffee revolution. Here is a picture to tickle your fancy:

Thank you Lord, for the awesome new toy that I definitely did not need. I pray I'm responsible with what you've given me. Please heal me of my sickness. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Home Espresso

This post has been inspired by my sister-in-law who is addicted to her $3.00+ sugary mess of a espresso drink. She came up to my house to visit last month and while there. she and her husband (an avid coffee drinker himself) asked my opinion on home espresso equipment. Instead of limiting my response to them, I think I'll share this with you all. I'm not saying I'm the ultimate resource for coffee related questions, but I do have a well developed opinion on most subjects, so here we go.

I have three different categories for home machines:
1. The Best of the Expensive
2. The Best of the Not Cheap
3. The Best of the Economical

There are a vast selection of these small home units. I am going to eliminate from my discussion espresso machines that are clearly commercial quality: any machine with more than one group (place where the portafilter is installed and shots are pulled). There are some one group machines that are nearly commercial grade, but are clearly more suited for residential use than any multi-group machines. These nearly commercial one group machines are the same machines that comprise my first category of home espresso preparation.

The La Marzocco GS/3 single group espresso machine is clearly in the front of the pack for the Best of the Expensive home espresso equipment. This monster machine can pull gourmet coffee shop quality shots every time. Smaller coffee shop operations can feasibly use this machine on a commercial scale, it's so professional. The price tag also proves this point: usually hovering around SIX GRAND! Another machine commonly viewed as world class is the Kees Van Der Westen "Speedster" which runs close to $8,000. Obviously, the average coffee drinker is not going to fork out this kind of dough. There are some cases though, where this machine is not completely ridiculous. Some coffee fanatics I know spend an average of $4.50 a day at my shop. This is not even counting the other half of the household who oftentimes spends a significant amount as well. So, over a year, this family spends around $1,500 on coffee related products. I don't need to explain the mathematics of such a situation to you any further. For those of us without such exorbitant spending patterns, there are other options.

The second category is the Best of the Not Cheap. This category is limited to those machines below $1,000, but above $500. In my opinion, you do not need to spend the maximum amount in this category to get maximum results. There is a clear front runner for me in the Rancilio Silvia. This machine provides exceptional espresso at a more realistic price of around $700. This is well within the reach of the average addicted espresso drink fanatic, like my sister-in-law. If you are like her, you make a stop by your coffee shop of choice (preferably local) and spend your average $3.50 for every working day. This habitual spending racks up a year-end total of around $850 before tax. So, clearly, a nice espresso machine is within reach. But, if you are like me and are skeptical of home espresso quality or unlike me (I'm a professional Barista, luckily), are unsure of your ability to recreate your beloved drink, you still have lower priced options.

My third category is where I landed. I am hanging out with professional coffee equipment all day anyway, so why spend huge cash of my own on home equipment? My personal choice came after much investigation. There were two components I needed: 1. A pump-driven water system and 2. a removable water tank for easy refilling. My final choice landed with the DeLonghi EC155. This machine cost me less than $100, around $80 at the time. I've had it for over a year now and it does a decent job (obviously not a $7,000 job, but definitely paid for itself). The steam wand is designed for the novice- instead of requiring you to inject air into the frothing milk yourself, the wand does it for you. Simply submerge the wand tip into the milk in your pitcher and turn on the steam.

These machines I've listed above may not be your final choice, but I would consider looking at them; perhaps use them as a starting point in your search for your perfect machine. There are many other products you will need as well for producing espresso in your home: a conical burr grinder, a tamping mat, a tamper, knock box, and a milk steaming pitcher to list a few.

Lord, thank you for the great coffee machines available to us. I pray that You bless the searches for the appropriate machines for the readers. Please keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quick Note, and Warning

I cannot stand it when coffee is blasphemed. One notable occurrence of this heresy is when the name of espresso is taken in vain. For example, in "Barista Magazine" the October/November latest edition on page 21, the title reads, "The Great Minnesota 'Spro Together." Oh my goodness! Breathe, Brian.

Why do we feel the need to shorten the word "espresso" to "spro," why? That just sounds ridiculous. Let's focus our energies on establishing the actual name of our wonderful beverage, "espresso," before we go on slurring it. Do you realize how many people still think that the word is pronounced (and even spelled) like "expresso?" Please people, have respect for the word, the beverage, and the work we coffee professionals are putting into getting awareness out about this passion of ours we call ESPRESSO.
It is possible I took this a bit hard, but it needed to be said. Let's hold off on the pet names and slang for a few more years. Let's wait on that for a time when people across the country actually know that it is actually called espresso first. Thanks.

Lord, Thank you for coffee. Thank you for the professionals who prepare and write about it. Help keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.