Thursday, October 23, 2008

The SCRBC is just around the corner.

And, as expected, I don't feel ready. Does anyone ever really feel all the way ready for these things? My guess is "no".

A few more competitors this year than last. A few repeats as well, which is good to see.

This year we have Isaiah from Double Shot in Tulsa Oklahoma competing. Go Double Shot!

We also have Andrew from Stompin' Grounds in Cabot (outside of Little Rock) Arkansas. Hurray for more states being represented!

We still don't have any love from Louisiana, but hopefully they'll warm up to this whole coffee minus chicory thing soon. ;o)

The SWRBC is being held at the same time, same place, and the only company being represented is Coffee Cartel Lab, owned by the gracious Mexican hot-dog host Jason Silberschlag who took Edwin Martinez, David Latourel and me in the back seat on a pretty hectic drive through Tucson back at the AZ jam in '06. He then went to the first FVH trip and chatted with Jaime V.S. about training, and my name popped up. Of course, it never happened (and I'm not even sure it needed to happen, but it's a fun fact nonetheless).

Competing right before me is Mr. Sean Marshall of Catalina Coffee in Houston, but also of Fusion Beans, a coffee consultancy he co-runs(co-ran?) with a partner. What's interesting is that Sean contacted me a little over a year ago with a request for training. We were on, but funds were tight. It never happened.

But what I am most thrilled about on a personal level is that Nat Long and Skylar Stevens, both from Sugar Brown's Coffee will be competing. Rock! I am no longer the phil-proclaimed "Lubbock Lone Ranger". Yes, I know, you can't believe it. I have friends. In Lubbock. That care about coffee quality. It tends to happen, you know? You show a bunch of people a good thing, and eventually some of them start to catch on.

SB is the birthplace of the concept for this year's signature drink, and I am happy to see them represented at this year's SCRBC that they came to Dallas to watch last year.

I think they'll be running some coffees from Brown, and interestingly, I think they are coffees that were purchased (by Brown) with the intention of use in my competition blend. A lot of people are benefitting from a couple of good ideas here, it seems.

One thing I did happen to notice is the sheer number of competitors who will probably be using Cuveé coffee. 4 competitors from Caffe Medici, one from Cuveé, and one from Jupiter House in Denton, TX (another Cuveé account). That's about 35% of the mix using the same, or a slightly modified version of Meritage. Wowsers. I hope the judges like Cuveé's roasting style! Although, I'd be willing to bet that Clancy will be running his own blend, considering that he is now the roaster at Cuveé.

I'm also quite happy to see Ron De Young of Texas Coffee Traders on the list again this year. Soft-spoken, the farthest thing from arrogance you'll find, and the shot I had off his practice session last year was brilliant. We were all nervous and shaky for last year's competition, but some of us shook more than others. Ron was one of those. I hope he kills it this year.

I'm also looking forward to seeing Ashlind McAshan again. She's competing as an independent this year, after having competed in a couple of out of regions and the USBC last year after the shock of the SCRBC. This woman is freakin' determined, and she doesn't give a damn about what you, me, or anyone else thinks. She's told me so, and she gave me an extra copy she had of God in a Cup. Her home Starbucks is being closed, and today (the 22nd) is the last day of operation. If you need a good director of coffee, lead barista, manager, etc.., she will be for hire soon, and I know she would LOVE to find a great job doing what she loves. (those are extra difficult to come by in the north Dallas area, let me tell you.)

I'll be competing against two near-trainees, and two baristas from a shop I have a good relationship with. Interesting times for Jason. Do I mention the fact that I trained both Nat and Skylar on the basics about a year ago? Do I mention the fact that I have judged an in-house latte art competition for their shop a few months ago? Do I mention the fact that they call me all the time to ask questions and invite me for special cupping sessions, like the first one they held in which I lead a cupping of the much-touted Panama Esmeralda Gesha non-auction lot from PT's? (yes, it was every bit as good as they say, though I still gave it a 94-95, rather than the 97 Ken Davids decided it deserved. I'm too damn critical. I know it, my girlfriend knows it, my friends know it, and there's not a thing I can do about it. Oh well.)

Enough of this rambling. I saw a quote on Blanco's blog that caught my attention.

It is repeated below. (

"Space is the enemy here, and geopolitical boundaries seem to be the enemy of our coalescence. Because the entity is known as "Texas" it seems to make sense that we should all be one big happy family. But as the interstate sign makes clear as you cross into Texas from Louisiana, this really is a big, big place. The sign reads: WELCOME TO TEXAS! Beaumont = 15 miles; Houston = 150 miles; El Paso = 798 miles. Thus, we have to make the best of our situation by grabbing every opportunity for community, no matter how frequency and geographically-challenged and those opportunities are." - Aaron Blanco
Amen to that. You couldn't sum up the reason for the existance of Texas Coffee People any better than that.

Stay tuned for the results of the 2nd annual SCRBC in just under two weeks.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blend development... on the way.

Coffee on the way for sampling to develop the competition/production blend with Brown.

Watch out. It's not ready yet, but when it is, I can guarantee it'll rock your socks.

In tandem (if the experimentation/development goes well) the "Top Secret" project will begin actual development as well. Yippee! New drinkware is required, and I think I've figured it out, though I'm not sure. New/more bar tools will be necessary as well. This should get interesting. New toys make for a lot of time-wasting.

I'm trying a new approach to this year's competition. I've learned to transcend previously held obsessions in favor of a more subtle stance on things. Strong opinions gain attention and spark debates, but are often abandoned upon enlightenment. I'm tending to lean more towards the acceptance of the fact that nothing is concrete. It's a new direction for me. We'll see how it fairs when the hammer drops. I tend to have strong opinions and very firm stances most of the time.

Oh, right. You may have seen my pretty face in the Bar Tools article of the Aug/Sep'08 issue of Barista Magazine. No, microfiber isn't as fun to read about, but if you haven't yet, you really should give it a try. Steam wands, counter tops, filter baskets, polished surfaces, glass surfaces, the list goes on. David L. (Clover) almost tried to steal a couple at the TX Jam back in '06 after using some that I had lent him for the Clover demo. The secret has been out for awhile ever since. Behold, the origin of the Microfiber love: my former experience as a part time freelance (aka, on the side) auto detailer.

I am also absolutely thrilled for my virtual good friend and coffee mentor Jaime Van Schyndel and crew for the opening of their roasting operation in Boston. Big congrats!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

WBC Fires Michelle Campbell

Wow. Just, wow.

Read about it here:

If you have ever competed in any SCAA Regional, the USBC, or the WBC, you have seen the handiwork of Michelle Campbell. Nothing but love for the amazing work she's done over the years. She's left some gigantic shoes to fill that I don't think the board recognized the proportions of when they made this decision.

If you, like me, oppose this decision, you can write to the members of the WBC Board of Directors.

They are:

Monday, September 08, 2008

The SCRBC is Coming...

And I'm gearing up for this year's competition which will be held in Austin along with the SWRBC. Awfully nice of Cuveé to play host for both of them just so their region could have time and a guaranteed second year.

First things first.

The espresso blend. I'm working with Brown on a blend for this year's regional. It's looking to be quite nice, and something I would be happy to drink on a nearly daily basis. That's a rare statement to cross my lips.

Since the blend is being tweaked, but the flavors are fairly certain, I've begun working on a signature drink. As you can see, it was written away from access to writing paper, and is intended for certain eyes only.

That's right. This message will self-destruct in 10... 9... 8... 7... etc...

The equipment sponsors for this year's WBC, and by extension, the USBC and US Regionals are Nuova Simonelli and Mahlkonig.

This means that the LM GB/5 is out, and the NS Aurelia is in. I'm not really sure how I feel about that. I like the Aurelia. For a heat exchanger, it's a great machine. It's easy to work with, the steam lever is handy, and like most other Nuova Simonelli machines, from a technician's standpoint, it's easy to work on. But hidden in that slew of descriptors lies a phrase that says it all: "For a heat exchanger."

Naturally, heat exchangers do have their setbacks... like the lack of a reliable brew temperature. If you are not used to a double boiler, you can work out at which temperature your coffee tastes best using other methods... like, say, cupping, aeropressing, or any number of manual brew methods.

When you're working with a heat exchanger, unless you are quite familiar with the particular machine, it's almost a guessing game. How much water should be flushed? How much water does the heat exchanger line hold? How consistent is the brew temperature from flush to flush?

Lots of questions come about, and while I have no doubts that Nuova Simonelli will do everything in their power to make the competition Aurelia the best darn heat exchanger ever-to-be-used-in-a-competition that they can, the fact remains: It's still a heat exchanger.

With fun features like active cup-warmers that are, supposedly, going to be on during the competition and cool-touch steam wands, it at first appears to be a a tad easier on the competitor, however, I'm not really sure many people would even notice features like these in a competition setting. In a retail setting, however, these things can make a lot of difference. Generally, I would expect the skill calibur to be a a step or two higher in the competition arena.

On to the grinder. This year the grinder will be doserless. Why? Because that's what Mahlkonig manufactures. The K30 platform will be available for competitors to use. A few thoughts here.
For years, grinder dosers have been "the norm". In such a situation, the concept of "waste" carries much meaning, as does tidiness of the work station. Not all dosers are created equal, however, and with the advent of the newer Anfim models and precise electronic timers for espresso grinding, the "waste" category seems to wane a bit towards uselessness. Not to mention the fact that we've begun to see competitors skip any manual distribution whatsoever becuase their grinder drops the grounds "straight down". That's for another discussion, but it weighs heavily into the work station tidiness concept.

Honestly, I wouldn't mind the doserless grinder so much, except for the inevitable demon that seems to accompany every doserless grinder at some point: clumping. Is it better to sacrifice shot quality for "points" found in the waste category, or is it better to suck it up for the coffee and risk having a sub-perfect score for waste from your dosered grinder?

I know other baristas will say that the flavor from a non-distributed espresso is grand, and there is no reason for post-dose distribution. If all you had done is taste the result, I can understand how that conculsion can be derived, however, despite the all-too-common belief that "Taste is the only morality," if you had ever actually watched the pour from a shot prepared in this manner, any informed casual observer would be sure to tell you that something is amiss.

Are we expected to respect the product itself or the resulting liquor derived from its being? I tend to lean more towards the former, however, it seems there is a growing number leaning towards the latter. This is evidenced not necessarily by what is said, but rather, by what is practiced. I say this not in an effort to belittle, demoralize, or defame anyone in the quality sector of this wonderful industry in which I have found my way, but to question things yet again.

Unfortunately, the philosopher in me is never content with any answer or paradigm, and I will always question the way things are.

I realize that equipment sponsorship is needed, and that it is often driven by wealth (currency, if you will). Is it enough to meet base-level expectations? Is this enough to show due respect to the product this entire industry is built upon? Are we finding ourselves in an industrial slump much like the automotive industry where new ideas are existing, and yet, not being utilized in an effort to save companies or jobs? Frankly, I don't think we're there yet, but I would not be surprised if we found ourselves in just such a predicament as time moves forward.

I have much to say about ethics of competition, but this is neither the time nor place to say it. As they say, nobody likes a critic.

In the mean time, it's time to get my act together and start putting in some serious practice time. 3rd place last year. I had the highest score in the first round, and the competition... and it wasn't that high at all. My goal is to somehow find the balance between the retail ethics of coffee and the competition score sheets for maximum points while maintaining my personal integrity as a coffee professional, and a self-appointed coffee ambassador.

Halloween weekend, it's all going down.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, yet again.

Tomorrow is my 25th birthday.

Amazing. I'm young, but I'm starting to feel older. The more time continues, the faster it seems to travel. The mayans may be on to something.

Vince Piccolo of 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters sent a few bags of coffee to try as a "thank you" for referring a wholesale account.

(Double Bagging. )

(The line-up.)

In the time since my last post, a whole lot has happened, but I do not intend to do a full update.

I have been to Middle of Nowhere, Ontario and it was awesome. Neat™ Coffee Shop in Burnstown is doing some great things. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip there, and the students enjoyed the training, it seems. When I was dropped off at the airport it felt like I was leaving family, even though I had only been there for about five days.

I've also been to Granbury, TX to train The Mud Puddle in the small community known as Acton. They have been running Zoka Coffee out of Seattle, and that may or may not continue. It was their first choice for quality and taste, but things have been less than stellar on the customer relations side of things. Not a good way to start a roaster - retailer relationship, if you ask me. I'm sure it's an isolated incident, or Zoka wouldn't be so successful.

Lots of controversy continues in the Specialty Coffee world. I've learned that it is a part of every industry in every corner of the globe. The only difference is the topic and the faces. Without the Yin there would be no Yang. It's a beautiful world.

I heard from Austin Roasting Company that they have been tweaking their roasts a bit as per my suggestions from a phone discussion a few weeks back. Awesome. Jesse most definitely has the heart, and with his culinary background, they're an operation to keep an eye on for the future.

There is a Jam going on in Dallas tomorrow that I helped to organize. Check for details. I will not be attending.

I intend to kick back, play some tennis, eat some cake, and enjoy some Epic Espresso.

Until next time,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

LCC #4, and other coffee-related stuff

The Lubbock Coffee Club's 4th monthly meeting is slated for this coming Thursday.

This month's theme is latte art. We're having a full-on latte art jam, including tutorials, tips, social interaction, and lots of fun.

The intention is what it has been since the LCC's inception. To get local baristas and shop owners excited about coffee. It's working. Slowly but surely. We are building a scene. (about d*mn time, too. I've been at it for years!)

My good friend Aaron Blanco announced his $9 coffee sale at Sweet deal. $9 for any coffee they offer. Not bad at all. I highly recommend the PNG Tribal Garden. Clean, crisp, refreshing. Lots of grapefruit.

I've been a tad busy lately. The semester is over, but I am behind on work. I've been working on completely re-creating the core curriculum for all three levels of training. Not to mention, I'm re-working the brand image. No longer is the "-Jason Coffee" name, brand, or logo being utilized. I don't like it. I didn't come up with it. And it doesn't send the intended message.

The new basic name/logo now looks like this:

Of course, there are also variations, like this one:
The first happens to fit nicely on a polo. The second happens to fit nicely on t-shirts and ball caps.

A bit "corporate" looking? Sure.. but I think it gets the point across and fits the target demographic.

Also a new "banner" picture:
(and there's another used on the sidebar at

I figure, I'm doing all this work on the image for my business, it's far beyond time to revamp the promo stuff, a'la the clothes and goodies at (yes, I know it's not as good as keeping stock, but I don't have the space or the cash set aside for that, so this will have to do).

I came up with this little gem today.. This one's just for coffee nerds:

To see the image close-up, or to see it on different colors (or to buy one, for God's sake) Click Here.

I honestly would LOVE to hear some input into design suggestions, requests (if you're a reader) and the like.

I'll be taking a trip to a town near Ottawa in about a month. This will be my first time in Canada, and I am very excited. Of course, I'll be working practically non-stop the entire time, but that's the reason for the trip, so there's no point in complaining about that. I'm hoping to get lots of pictures. The area looks to be absolutely beautiful. (especially compared to the flat over-grown plateau of light brown dust known as the "caprock".

Monday, April 28, 2008

Coffee and (amateur) Photography

It's not as easy as one might think.

Here are my latest attempts at photographic "ars coffea". (that's coffee art)

The beginning stages.

Waiting patiently.

a bit blurry.

Ran low on milk on the shorter one. (in case it isn't obvious enough)

As photogenic as coffee and espresso are supposed to be, I seem to have a difficult time being satisfied with any shots I get of either.

Tips, pointers, or undeserved praise are welcome. (and encouraged)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No Man Can Serve Two(or three) Masters

Time and time again, when I talk to people about coffee business strategy it seems the top priority is speed. "I want the customer to be able to be in and out in 90 seconds or less," and the like seem to have somehow become the goal to strive for in regards to customer service.

Fine. Good. Quick service is hard to look down on, but is that all there is to it? Of course not!

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that speed isn't a noble practice. I'm saying that it shouldn't take a back seat to quality.

I know, I know. This is said time and time again. "The horse is not only dead, it ceases to exist." Yes, right. I know. Hear me out.

You have to start with one or the other. Yeah, sure, you can have fast quality, but they are never equals. I don't care what the business plan or mission statement says. I don't care what the manager or CEO says. They are NEVER equals.

Imagine, if you will, a store that wants to franchise. They want to serve the best quality possible. For this reason, they are installing super automatic espresso machines. Counter-intuitive? Why? This means that service will be fast, and the quality will be consistent.. right?

Well... yes and no. Already, we've seen another variable enter into the equation. Consistency.

So now we have to choose between: Speed. Quality. Consistency.

Yes, those three little words that are cause for much planning, much strategy, and much debate over their importance.

The thing is, people always say, "well, they're all important", and the more advanced version, "Quality is the most important, but the others are definitely high on our list." That last one sounds great... on paper.

The problem is that too many times people will say things like that, but when push comes to shove, if there is a bottleneck line out the door, and the shot didn't come out quite right, a lot of people will serve it anyway. It'll be covered in milk anyway, right?

Herein lies the dilemma. We need more than a mantra. We need more than a concept. We need a philosophical framework for how to implement these words accurately and correctly in a cognitive manner.

Actions follow thought, so in order to perform right action, we must first practice right thought. As we've already seen, words tend to be kind of cheap. Mantras and slogans show their age and get stale. They are impermanent solutions to a fundamental philosophical problem within our industry as a whole.

As it is, time and time again I hear and preach that one should focus on a few things, and do those few things well. Time and time again, the word comes up with great emphasis. Focus.

Just as we must crawl before we can walk (and walk before we can run), we must begin begin by focusing on only one element before we can learn to successfully implement the others.

I propose the same thing than any reader of this blog would state to be their primary focus of the three priorities listed. Focus on Quality.

Start by perfecting espresso preparation and milk frothing techniques. Back to basics. Practice. Taste. Analyze. Troubleshoot. Repeat. Do this time and time again until the analysis yields consistent results, and troubleshooting becomes unnecessary.

And there, we've made our first adaptational merger of priorities. We began with quality. Now, we have adapted consistency to the primary objective.

They are not equals. Consistency is an add on. Like a six-speed transmission on a base model coupe.

It's nice, but not the core of what you intend.

Now that the fundamental skill set is in place, how do we beat the clock to get from point A to point B in our slightly improved automobile? We speed it up.

Now, speeding things up doesn't mean dropping the transmission. You certainly can't speed up with no fundamental with which to increase your speed. If you sacrifice the primary objective, the entire structure falls apart, and we are no longer in the upper echelon of product prestige.

Imagine the quickness not as a physical speed, but as an efficiency. We're going to replace the conventional oil with full-on synthetic. We're going to replace the air filter for easier breathing(inhale). We're going to use some GM Syncromesh in the gearbox, and we're going to (slightly) increase the diameter of our exhaust tubing, again, for easier breathing (exhale).

We have not added anything. We have only removed obstacles that make existing power more easily accessible. We haven't sped things up. We've only made the work flow more efficient. The result, as the car will attest to, is better efficiency, and more speed(power).

"Work smarter, not harder".. again. We don't need mantras. However, if you were to take the analogy just given and condense it into one sentence, that would be it. I just feel that such verbalizations are too general and really don't drive the point home effectively enough.

So now we have adapted NOTHING to our Primary Objective other than consistency(from earlier). We've just streamlined the operations a bit. Simple. This is not in the hands of the barista. This is in the hands of the general manager, bar manager, shop owner, whoever is solely responsible for the general layout of things behind the bar.

Now that everything is primed, this little sporty coupe is ready to hit the Autobahn.

It doesn't take much effort to speed things up a bit at this point. If it's truly challenging, then I would suspect that you didn't succeed in optimizing your work station's work flow efficiency.
(Maybe you used the wrong sized exhaust tubing. Maybe your air filter is dirty. Maybe you're still trying to cheap out by using conventional oil.)

In skilled hands, speeding up the pace means just doing the normal tasks in a slightly accelerated pace. Generally, this is more related to efficiency than actual velocity and acceleration of physical movements.

And thus, we have adapted Speed to the Primary Objective.

If you'll notice, neither consistency nor speed will stand on their own if quality truly is the high priority. Both are merely an adaptation to what is already present: a concentrated and intense focus on quality.

But if a bad shot is pulled, you don't ditch the foundation. You don't throw away the car. You throw away the offensive shot and start over. Just like making a U-turn under the highway overpass.

Think of it as a molecule. Quality has a couple of smaller atoms. The first one is consistency. Consistency has a smaller atom attached to it as well. It's called speed.

It's good to be back.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Swimming in Brown Coffee

Aaron Blanco asked me to do some testing for a brand new espresso blend. This blend is based on an interesting philosophy of espresso blending that Aaron has been thinking about lately. Creating a blend of two coffees to create an experience that equals more than the sum of its parts. This is the first attempt at a realistic execution of this concept, and only the second "production" (as in, regularly created) blend in the history of The Brown Coffee Co. It's called Espresso Two: Jacinto.

Since he was sending this coffee, and since I was leading a tasting for the Lubbock Coffee Club, I asked if he would be interested in kicking another bag of something my way. Well, that's what the Kenya Kichwa Tembo Cooperative was intended for, but there happened to be two extra surprises when the mail arrived.

The bag of Espresso One: Cottonwood (which, btw, has been reformulated for the new crop season.. more on this later) and the bag of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Gedeo Konga Cooperative FT/O (which comes to the roaster in 25lb. vacuum sealed bags. I've seen a green sample from the broker, and this stuff looks pristine) were intended for "friends" who backed out last minute. No worries. More for me. ;o)
Needless to say, I've been making crazy amounts of coffee here lately. With a full 3 pounds to burn through in a very short amount of time (not to mention visits to my friends at Sugar Brown's), the Expobar has been working overtime (and I've been praying for a plumbed pump and drain).

Even the Hario TCA-2(courtesy of the guys at Barismo)is getting in on the action, as is the French Press. Notes on some of these coffees to come, but for now, I'd like to say something about Espresso One: Cottonwood.

If you've ever tried it before, you may recognize the contents, except for one slight change. The Ethiopean used to be a Harrar. Now it's this "my tastebuds are confused" Yirgacheffe. The general profile of the blend has been affected, and I'm not sure what I think about it yet. I don't consider it an incarnation of Cottonwood at all, when comparing to what I remember from the last crop year. Sure.. there are similarities, but the heart just isn't similar enough for me to see it as the same blend. Don't get me wrong. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with it. Perhaps it just needs its own name.

To my surprise this time around, this blend seems to prefer a slightly higher dose with a coarser grind pulled at a pretty slow pace. (something like 35 seconds before blonding.. I don't keep track of volume) Obviously this is not the star coffee of the review, but I thought I'd drop one bomb at a time (and the slew of coffee is a bomb in itself). I wanted to visit an old friend. I've found this friend to have matured a bit since last we met.
Meet: the new version of Cottonwood.

Plenty more to come.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lubbock Coffee Club

After a good long while of trying to get one of these together, it's finally happened.

The LCC Meeting #1 is in the history books.

This neck of the woods is YOUNG in the coffee scene, so I wanted to keep it kind of simple, yet not boring. The last thing I wanted to do was to intimidate anyone new to the quality side of coffee. At the same time, I didn't want to bore the people who had already begun their own journey in quality coffee.

The result? Comparitive tasting, as an education for communicating with customers in terms of flavor and reference. (note: not comparative cupping. why? read from the top again)

We tasted a C-grade pre-ground coffee, a C-grade whole bean coffee, a dark roast specialty coffee, and a light roast specialty coffee (both whole bean, obviously).

They were all pressed, and then tasted.

I'm happy to say that everyone seemed to take something away from it. Nobody was bored, and nobody was overwhelmed. (Phew!)

In attendance were
- the owner, manager, lead barista, and another barista from the host store: Sugar Brown's.

- A barista trying to supplement her thirst for coffee knowledge from Starbucks.

- Two baristas from Day Break Coffee Roasters.

- A married couple who run the coffee shop inside St. Matthew's United Methodist Church.

- Me, of

- Tim, the owner of Red Baron Coffee Haus (a drive-thru located at his Red Baron Car Wash)was supposed to show, but for some reason never arrived. (We hope you can make the next one, Tim)

I'd like to get more local coffee people involved in this. We have a meeting and topic already decided on for next month. Thankfully, I'm not presenting that one.

West Texas, watch out. Lubbock is wising up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

New "logo" for consulting Biz.

I'm tossing around a few ideas for a new logo of sorts for

I'm pretty much just scrapping the whole "-Jason Coffee" thing. Original, yes. Something I can easily sell? Probably not. Eventually, there will be a parent company over this thing anyway(I hope). The url is dang valuable! I was surprised it was available when I grabbed it.

I'll likely post a few rough pictures of some ideas I've been having here in a few days or so. I may not, but I'm planning on it.

If you want to criticize them, feel free to. If you've got better ideas (or ideas period) I'd like to hear those as well.

A bunch of coffees headed my way from Brown. I'm testing out an experimental espresso. "Espresso Two", which probably won't make it to retail, but it's revolutionary in design. (well, there may never be revolutions fought over it, so maybe it's not so revolutionary after all. It's certainly forward thinking, though.)

Also a bag of Cottonwood (Espresso One), Kenya Kichwa, and a Yirgacheffe to try.

One of these coffees is a donation for the local coffee club tasting I'll be running on Thursday. If you've been reading this blog for long, you'd know how huge of a step that is for the region. It's been a long time coming, but we're finally starting to see signs of progress on the whole. It's a beautiful thing.

Considering the history of reviewing coffees and this blog, I'm not sure if a review is to come or not. I really enjoy reviewing, but I'm not a big fan of the controversy that can arise from such activities. We'll see if reviews pop up here again or not.

Hopefully the grinder will arrive later this week, and I can get started on the mild restoration.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A New Grinder on the way.

The Mazzer SJ that I had poted pics of before was on loan from Rocket Coffee Roasters to prepare for the SCRBC, as well as for use as a second grinder during the competition.

I had fully intended to buy it, but the money never came in time, and then things got worse. I ended up sending it back when RCR pretty well dissolved into a consulting firm and not a lot else.

So.. I've been stuck with my stepless MDF. And boy, is it ever painful to use when you're used to bigger and better things.

The good news is that I have a "Rio" badged SJ on the way. It probably will not be put to use right away.

If I set it up to use right away, I will never have the patience to go without it for necessary (or unnecessary) cosmetic improvements. So, If needed, I'm going to get those out of the way first.

In related news, Great Infusions has made mention of some new "Duranium" burrs for the SJ. Unfortunately, they haven't given any real information beyond the fact that they are "supposed" to be harder, sharper, and last longer.

I was hoping for more evidence, like grind particle size comparison photographs, side-by-side cup characteristic differences. Instead, they mentioned something about the sound difference and that it might be a little faster (and the grounds may be a little fluffier).

Considering the fact that the name "Duranium" is of a mythical substance, I'd hoped for more detailed information.

That having been said, I'm holding out on purchasing new burrs for this "new" grinder until I've heard more news.

Grinder pictures to come.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It all comes down to one word

And that word is LOVE.

I don't work. I thrive.

Work is something you do because you have to in order to pay the bills.

Thriving is something you do because you love it so much.

I've been on a small coffee hiatus while getting over the flu. I've returned. And with my return from the hiatus came the gushing of mushy stuff. Don't ask me why.

I love the industry and everyone in it. At times, we don't agree. We may even have heated arguments. We may have times when we feel we are on top of the world, and a few short weeks later, we feel there is nowhere left to go. The feelings of extremes are always short lived.

What it all comes down to is a bunch of people drawn to the same passion. The same spark. The same reason for a constantly moving target, always just out of reach, that we call satisfaction.

It's almost religious, really.

Where did this come from? It was always there.

It's late, and I'm feeling extra gushy about it for some reason right now, and felt like sharing the love publicly.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's been quiet in here... (and a little industry philosophy)

As most of my readers know, I also run a blog covering the entire state of Texas. This takes up most of my time.

Even when I had started the other site, I still found things to post here, and I still do.

But why, you may ask, have I not seen an update since October? Why, if there is more to say, have I chosen to remain silent?

Call it contentment. Call it maturity. Call it a stabilizing of the flame.

By whichever name, I've come to accept certain things that once caused an internal riot to think about.

Some may have been following Ryan's rant about the customer bastardizing their cup of coffee, or compromising the integrity of the craft of the barista.

Consider this an informal response, and a "state of the Coffee Aspirer in the here and now".

Some people know that outside of coffee, my other studies tend towards philosophy in some form or another. I find that when I'm studying more in-depth into the philosophy side of things, my writing is influenced, and my thoughts tend to be more analytical, and a bit less from the "gut".

Fair warning: This is one of those times. (Eastern religious philosophies, existentialism, epistemology, metaphysics, oh my!)

The biggest complaint given is that customers will customize what the barista, and the company which that barista works for, feels that they have come to a conclusive method of preparation for a specific beverage that they find to be the best product possible with the given resources at hand. The barista spends time learning, practicing, training, all in an effort to perfect this execution time and time again for the customer. And not only is this time given, but also time is given on a daily basis to dial in the equipment and brew techniques to adapt to the conditions of that day, with on-going adjustment as required as the day burns on.

All of this work put forth in an effort to display in glorious beauty the coffee that has been lovingly tended, carefully roasted, and now is being expertly handled with the attention of the craftsman at the final link in the commercial chain we know as the barista. And why all of this emphasis on what happens beforehand? Ryan doesn't mention it, but I think we all know. Anyone reading this blog, reading his blog, reading anything and everything, and walking the walk right along with the best and the brightest this industry has to offer already knows the answer to this question. It boils down to two words, and two words alone. Love. Respect.

Like many others, I am in this business out of my undying love and passion for the romanticized and commodicized globally enjoyed beverage and culture we know as Coffee.

So much heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears have been poured into this vulnerable fruit's culmination into the small cup of coffee, and more often than not, "to go, please". It breaks our hearts to see all of this effort go unappreciated, and quite often, taken for granted.

So why wouldn't we be upset when a customer wants to modify a perfectly good recipe to suit their own solitary and perhaps condescending tastes? All this care and attention, only to be drowned in a couple of ounces of some dairy (or God forbid, non-dairy) product, and masked with some form of sweetener. And for what? So the coffee tastes like they "think" it should? What should coffee taste like, anyway? Don't they know how many people went through God knows what for the sole purpose of the production of that specific cup of coffee to exist just the way it does? It's blasphemy! It's a disgrace! (well.. at least we think so.. but not the customer, apparently, as they happen along their merry way with their bastardized cup of brew.)

Let's pause for a moment, and continue to think about this farther.

Yes, we love coffee. This love goes beyond the expression "thanks, I love it!" with a passion that burns brighter and deeper, and with more energy than an uncontrollable forest fire ignited by a flooding of gasoline and a rogue match.

But, that's only half of why we're in the coffee business. We could be happy home baristas with this love, and be content. The world's best coffees, and no-one to tell us how to brew it, and no-one to break our hearts by compromising its integrity with "unnecessary additives".

Obviously there is more to this than love. Obviously more than respect as well.

Seeing the passion and fervor from several in the industry (myself included) reminds me of religion. Not just any religion, but a new and exciting religion that you feel the whole world must know, because it will change your life.

We are not content to be happy with our coffee alone. Oh no. We got into the business because we want to share our love for this beautiful bean, and enable others to "see the light" and appreciate and understand it as WE do.

So we set up shop, work for someone with a similar vision, or, in cases like mine, spread our vision and knowledge for others to benefit from. We are utterly convinced, that once they've had it OUR way, their entire paradigm of coffee will suddenly shift, and old habits... wait.. old habits?

Sometimes, people will go into a coffee retailer expecting anything. They have the cup of coffee, taste it as its served, and are suddenly made aware of a whole new world of flavors and experiences to explore.

Unfortunately, this is just not the norm, and I feel that if it were, the business as we know it would be so far out of our minds that we would be confused if we'd heard of such a thing that we have now.

Half the fun, is the challenge of the customer conversion.

patience grasshopper... it takes time

Most Americans have been drinking coffee for as long as they've been allowed to by their parents. In many cases, this means "most of our lives". Throughout the years of our lives, we've developed certain expectations and behaviors to which we have become accustomed. For years, many of these ideas have gone unchallenged, and unchanged due to the stable nature of our experiences. For millions of people (literally), part of this collection is the category of "coffee". And for a vast majority (I dare say) of these people, filed in the platonic archives of data, the words "bitter", "hot", and some variation of the phrase, "add milk and sugar, or you won't like it" are quite likely to be found. We'll call this person, "Cx"

So, back to the beginning of this post. We're in our new coffee retail center, we've spent hours and hours in time, and thousands of dollars into making absolutely certain, that our methods will give coffee the most due respect possible, and the product will be absolutely outstanding.
Cx comes in and looks blankly at the menu. "I just want a cup of coffee..." The craftsman politely and expectantly asks, "Which coffee would you like?" Now, to us, this seems innocent enough.
Cx says, " you have just regular coffee?"

If you are the craftsperson who can relate with the undying internal flame of coffee passion, then odds are, you've had a situation like this, and you can probably recall that same situation, and how frustrated and possibly angry you were at the lack of respect for the coffee you brew, and the craftsmanship you've honed up to the moment.

But.. from the other side of this equation, can the customer hardly be blamed? Is it their fault that they've never had the honest exposure to an exceptional cup of coffee?

Project this concept further, and you can see where this is headed.

They order their coffee (often at your suggestion as to which coffee/beverage this is), and look around for the cream and sugar. They head to the condiment bar, and, just like they've learned, add a healthy dose of some sort of dairy, and a packet or four of sugar.

They have not yet tasted the coffee up to this point, but already, it's been polluted, damaged, disgraced by the addition of external contaminants.

Can they hardly be blamed? They've never had coffee any other way, and when they had tried, the liquid was so bitter, so acrid, so... BAD tasting, that they had been scarred for life, and had sworn off any form of the stuff without first having been smoothed over by some handily available additives. They would probably just stop drinking coffee altogether if it weren't for its stimulating chemical properties, and now-familiar taste (and the pleasing aroma) that has become a part of the daily ritual.

And now they have been served one of the best coffees in the world by one of the best baristas this country has to offer. Do they know the elevated status of the coffee contained in their cup?

Maybe, but usually not. Most people don't even realize that there are different grades, or different types of coffee outside of brew methods. Espresso is some esoteric voodoo in a cup that Italians love, and Americans are warming up to for some ungodly reason. (who can love such a bitter concoction, and so strong! That's just too much caffeine!) You see, these people don't know about this whole world of Specialty Coffee. And for most that do, they only know that "there is something better" than Folger's, Maxwell House, and the like. They're still just barely scratching the surface.

How are we going to open their eyes, and awaken them to the nirvana that awaits if we keep shooting them with daggers from our eyes, and gritting our teeth in an effort to contain the negative feelings we experience when the coffee we've just prepared with such precision and care has just been defiled and disrespected?

The holistic approach is this. True progress takes sacrifices. If we want the market to grow, and the appreciation to increase, we need to get more people on board the Specialty Coffee Appreciation Express, and the tickets aren't sold at a garden-variety ticket booth.

If you treat Cx with as much care and respect as you give the coffee, they will begin to notice. If you are constantly perceiving Cx as your enemy, or the enemy of your product, you will gain nothing but the reputation or perception that you are nothing but an elitist snob. We are not snobs... are we? We certainly don't think we are. We're just doing our best to express the coffee as accurately as possible. We respect our customers too, by sourcing only the finest, and going through inexhaustible education time so that it is possible to serve them the very best that we are capable of producing.

The only problem is that the Cx just isn't aware of all of those variables. They need a guiding hand, and some tolerance before you can gain their respect enough to be able to suggest something different, something new, something "superior". They obviously notice a difference, or they wouldn't keep coming back to YOU rather than your less-than-stellar competition.

We are, like it or not, in the service industry. We need to focus our attention on service to our customers, and in time, we can respectfully and in good faith guide them in the right direction.

Of course, it's often hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and Cx may never break out of their habits, but don't you for a second even begin to think that they don't love coffee for what it is. Some people have a harder time trying to quit smoking than they consider to be worth the health benefits if they do. Some people retain particular mannerisms, just out of subconscious habit. And some have learned to appreciate coffee only when accompanied by the texture of milk, and the sweetness of sugar.

It's not their fault. Let it be, and consider it a necessary sacrifice. The odds are that Cx will tell their friends, family, and co-workers about your outfit, and ZING!... more opportunities to spread the good news arrive on your doorstep.

As I said. The flame has stabilized. It burns bright and hot, but the combustion is under control.

There is comfort in watching progress unfold. Step back, and take a look.