Friday, March 31, 2006

I'm a writer!

Two days ago I received an email from Larry Jones at Rocket Coffee Roasters in Phoenix, AZ. He told me he loved my contributions on CG and asked if I would be willing to write for Arizona Coffee. His exact words were,

"My reason for this email is to ask if you would like to be a contributer of some form to the site. You could write a short article about anything coffee related, equipment review, maybe how the coffee scene in TX compares to AZ...whatever, I trust your instincts! This site is becoming a major resource for coffee here in AZ and I know they are doing a interview this Fri with the owners of a large popular coffeehouse and will be recording future interviews for playback on the site as well."

Of course, I couldn't say no. We corresponded a bit and I learned that the Specialty Coffee scene there is much like it is here. He's a Third Wave roaster in a Second Wave town, and extremely frustrated with his attemps to progress the Third Wave in the Southwestern United States.

It sounds familiar.

I figured there's no better way to help progress the third wave than to convince the general coffee-drinking public by showing them WHY we should care so much about quality.

I finished the article just a few minutes ago, and submitted it to Larry. As soon as it's published, I'll post a link here for all to see.

Awesome stuff.

edit: UPDATE!
I should've updated this quite awhile ago, but the article is up.. it has been up since the day after I submitted it.
Let me know what you think by leaving comments on the site (not here, please).
The only article present, currently. "Quality.. Why Bother?"

I hope you like it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


So, I took a trip about 2 minutes away (maybe 1/2mile) to that newer shop I mentioned to talk to the owners. I walk in, she seems happy to see me again, and he seems glad to meet me for the first time. He invites me back behind the bar. I do an attempt at latte art, and screw up horribly. I thought maybe I had overstretched the milk.

It turns out, he pulled a double shot from a single basket. Not only that, but it took maybe 10 seconds. Yipes! After a quick crashcourse in proper espresso extraction, he was as excited as I was at the crema produced. It wasn't anything spectacular, but it was not bad at all. We tasted an under-extracted shot so we could see what to look for. I mentioned that it was "sour". We tasted an over-extracted shot. Some sweetness, but also some bitter flavors. We tasted a 'par' shot. We all thought it was much better.

Tried pouring art again. Nailed it. It was pretty exciting, they started showing customers. I've never been so happy as a customer in Lubbock. I love seeing this sort of passion and love for coffee. It's just so rare. It was like a breath of fresh air. I am working my way out of feeling like an island.

He told me about how they were trying to break away from the local coffee roasting company's hooks that they have in the local coffee industry. It seems they're connected in some way to every shop in town. It drives me nuts, and I was all too happy to hear that they were trying to do something different. A song for sore ears, as it were.

In other news:

A friend of mine is working on a site similar to the starbucks delocator, but this one will have options for reviews, and the credibility of the reviewer (i.e.-their position in specialty coffee). I'm really excited about it. It's a long way off, but I'll keep everyone posted. He wants to link to coffee blogs and resources on this site as well, so if you want us to list your blog, contact me to let me know. I'll get a list running.

My hope has new life. Thanks to James V. for helping to keep it alive in cyberspace. You da man.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Guatemalan coffee never tasted so good

Today, my girlfriend said she needed some coffee so she could stay up to get her work done. I told her I would roast some for her. She said I didn't have to(considering the weather.. and general work involved). I insisted and asked what she wanted. She told me she truste me to choose for her. I eventually coaxed it out of her that she wanted something with a lighter body. I went home and looked, and decided on Guatemala Acatenango Cooperative from SweetMarias.

Set up the popper, stir rod, measuring cup, and chair to go to town. I pre-heat the popper, since it's snowing outside at this point. Dumped in the beans, and let 'er rip. It took quite awhile to reach first crack. I'd say 8 or so minutes, though I had forgotten my timer this time. Roasted it to about City +. It had only a couple of hours to rest.

Took it to my girlfriend's apartment, and ground it , and brewed it . Grind to somewhere between cone-drip and espresso, toss in the filter, and brew it up.

Pour her a cup and have her taste it. Too hot. Add milk and sugar. Pour myself a cup. Taste it..

It's got a good balance. Medium body, good acidity without being overpowering (which is why I was never a fan of Guatemalans in the past.. the acidity was always too much the focus), and a good overall mouthfeel. The flavor wasn't very crisp, but there were hints of medium acidity fruit. Towards the end of the cup, almost luke-warm by now, an amazing flavor of caramel. It's incredible. The caramel flavor lingers long after the cup is finished as I walk back home, the snow still softly falling.

Maybe the trick is the roast profile. Maybe it's an extraordinarily good crop. Maybe it was the low-temp brew. It was probably a combination of all of those things, but whatever it was, it was brilliant.

I've been coresponding with Jaime Vanschyndel by email quite a bit lately. It keeps my hopes for coffee in Lubbock alive. He's a great guy, with great ideas that we tend to agree on most of the time. I find I am constantly envious of his position, however. I would love nothing more than to manage a shop with the control he is allowed where he operates. Having the final say on quality standards, training, presentation, and so on.

Here I am, dreaming already. I really need my own shop.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

One of the better days I've had relating to work

So, I'm at work, bored. Since Starbucks put a store in just down the street, right next to campus (like we are), business has dropped considerably. I've tried offering tips to help pick things back up, but the business has been running fine as it is for years, and it's not clear if it's Starbucks or just a slow semester. Others have tried suggesting random ideas as well.

But anywho, a customer comes in today and orders a large to-go cup of Guatamala Antigua. I've talked to this guy before, and he normally orders a cup of Sumatra Mandehling, but today, he says, "for old times sake" after ordering.

The story behind this is that he has actually been to a coffee plantation in the Antigua region of Guatamala. He's told me about how he's had coffee so fresh, it was literally picked off the tree, pulped on the spot, and then roasted and brewed. First of all, let me just say that I'm not so sure he knew exactly what he was talking about when he told me this, but I'll just assume he did. While I can't say I agree with this method, or that I would consider that to be a very palatable cup of coffee, I can say that he's experienced something most people never get a chance to.
He told me about the farmer whose face lit up when he thought his coffee was the best in a blind tasting he took part in.
He asked if I knew what farm or plantation our Guat came from. I ashamedly and disappointedly told him that, no.. we don't know. We get our coffee roasted from Metro Coffee Grouppe (it's basically the back-end of Coffee Haus.. the roasting, etc..), and they don't give us a roast date, let alone the farm or crop date.

He told me about how they kept their ancient copper drum roaster polished and spotless. He couldn't say enough about his experience. He keeps telling me I should go see it, especially considering "what I'm into".. meaning, my obsession with coffee. I told him that if I ever have a chance to, I'll definitely drop by. Filadelfia Coffee Estate, Guatemala

It made my morning.

I introduced another customer (a younger guy.. I think he was a fellow student) to the concept of different flavors from different regions. He said "I'm not a coffee connoiseur" in a tone implying "I don't care". He had ordered a large cup of Guatamala Antigua (one of our coffees of the day.. in case you noticed a trend), and asked for a refill. I suggested he try just a touch of raspberry syrup in it. I personally, have found that the flavors REALLY compliment each other well. While I'm not one for flavored coffee, I'm not opposed to flavor enhancement, which I feel this does very well.

I gave him a little sample, which he loved. Maybe this will spark a bit of curiosity. Alot of people don't know what they're missing.

Another upnote:
I went up to a new(er) shop just to check it out. It's run by a married couple in their late thirties or so.

I talked to one of the owners. Told her about how I'm working at a different coffee shop. She asked what my favorite drinks to make were, and I told her a cappuccino, and a latte because of the challenge(capp) and that I like to drink them, and the latte is because I like to pour art. She seemed happy that I could pour art. She told me that her husband was trying to learn all that stuff, and I told her I would be more than happy to teach him. That I'd love to see a shop in Lubbock pour art on a consistent basis.

Monday, March 20, 2006

General rant about quality and apathy

"To have good espresso you must become serious about good espresso." - coffeeDirtDog(Jaime Vanschyndel)

If you have ever read my posts on, you may recognize the quotation above. I put this quotation in my signature for a specific reason.

Why would anyone even consider the possibility that their espresso is good without having done significant amounts of research, practice, and trial & error?

It makes about as much sense as trying to start a fire by rubbing two random green sticks together, or thinking you could handle the challenge of quantum physics without ever having taken even a highschool physics course. It's just not smart.

In any trade, a practitioner of that trade is expected to know his/her craft extremely well before going into business, or the business will obviously fail. Why is it that so many people venture into the specialty coffee industry as though just any Joe Schmoe off the street is perfectly capable of being trained within a week (let alone a couple of days) to pull decent (let alone good, or great) shots of espresso and froth milk (let's forget about the art of microfrothing and the skill of latte art) to be, at best, palatable?

I know the reason.. Financial capital is the heart and soul of any profitable business.. yes.. but it should never be the only reason (let's forget about the sole reason) for its existence. When the focus is strictly financial, all concern for quality is lost because the mentality is in mode for pinching pennies and holding back as much money as possible while maintaining "open" status.

In my opinion, these people miss the point entirely.

There is a popular saying in the industry that says, "People are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product." (I apoligize, but I have no idea who to credit for this quotation/concept)

Absolutely! And what's more, the quality shops are usually LESS expensive than the mediocre shops! "How is this possible?", you may ask. It's simple. When quality is the focus, and the business is in place to serve the best possible product to its customers, the customer base grows. Word of mouth gets around, and before you know it, people everywhere know just where to go for the best cup of coffee in their neighborhood. More customers equals more sold product, which means the average price for that product is decreased due to the volume of sales bringing in enough income to easily maintain "open" status, and much more beyond that. Striving to be the best one could possibly be (and perhaps, even beyond what they believe they are capable of) in the industry will only skyrocket the status and popularity of the business.

There are more than enough examples around to prove this point, so I won't bother naming names, but it's not hard to see if you happen to be in the Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, D.C., Charlotte, etc.. etc.. etc.. area. Great coffee is abundant.. but unfortunately, it's far from the norm.

I simply don't understand how some business owners can be content (let alone in good conscience) serving their customers a sub-par (let's not mention flat-out horrible) product again and again, day after day, week after week, year after year. The customers keep coming back only out of either: A. convenience, B. lack of a better option, or C. Ignorance. (none of these is a good reason, quite frankly).

These business owners are the ones who are convinced that their customers cannot tell the difference in the little nuances between an average espresso and a truly great espresso. If you ask me, that's a nearly direct insult to the customers that keep the business afloat! Thatt's absolutely absurd!

Do I sound angry? Yes, I sound angry. And why shouldn't I be? Why shouldn't every coffee house patron all over the country be angry? They're all paying top dollar for a "specialty product" that is expected to be the best they can possibly get. 9 times out of 10, it's FAR from the best possible on the machinery at hand (let alone the best possible given the financial capital in posession).

Seek out good espresso. Even if you can make great espresso (the best you've ever had) in your own home, and you have a quality shop with high standards in your area, support that shop. Visit it often and help keep it alive. In some places, Starbucks honestly is the best shop. I hate to say it, but it's true.

In ANY shop, if the person behind the counter (or if you're lucky, the barista) truly cares about what they are serving , then, chances are, even if it's not the best, it's at the very least drinkable, and maybe just a step above that, truly enjoyable. Drinking a great shot of espresso for the first time is an inspiring experience. Most people in that situation had no clue that coffee was capable of such complexity of flavors and such enjoyment.

Some people will never change, but we can help broaden the minds of future shop owners and young to-be baristas. People should love what they do with great passion.

This rant is over, but on that note, I'll leave you with this.

In the words of Chris Deferio, "May your coffee be deep."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My Home setup

Here you see my home setup. It looks a little different now, but this is how it looked when it was first assembled.
The Gaggia MDF is now stepless(how-to to come), the hopper is removed, and the tamper has its own non-skid resting place fixed to the top of the doser lid. The Gaggia Coffee is actually rebadged as a Proteo Romanza, and is now equipped with a bottomless portafilter, and the pitcher is now 12oz. instead of the 20oz. pitcher pictured. I've found the 12oz. pitcher to be far easier to work with on the Gaggia's stub of a steam wand (the turbo frother attachment was removed for its uselessness).

The tamper is a Stainless Steel Pro-Tamp designed by Terry Ziniewicz of with a convex tamping piston.

For the record, I have major upgrade fever, but I'm still a poor college student struggling as a Third Wave barista in a college town stagnant in a Second Wave market. Posted by Picasa

New blog spot

I figured it was time I jumped on the coffee blog bandwagon. I feel I've got a lot to offer, and a lot more to go as I progress in the specialty coffee industry towards the current goal of opening a coffee house.

I'll cover things I learn about home roasting, things I know about espresso and milk, and random thoughts I may have along the way (relating to coffee, of course).

I hope this proves to be of some help to someone somewhere.