Archive for April, 2011

SCAA 2011 day 1

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

It’s Monday.

I arrived in Houston at 9pm. Caught a bus at 10pm. Met my roomie for the week Alex Negranza (@barista_alex), took a shower, we discussed cocktails for a few minutes as we’re both bartendistas as David Buehrer (@greenwaybarista) coined it. We’re stoked to be here. Duh!

After initial understandings of that, we decided that it was probably best to get food and a drink. Night cap. We did such at Grand Prize. A killer little bar that David drove us to. They have a Moscow mule slushy machine. Apparently it changes on a weekly basis. Cool.

They also had a picnic table full of crawfish. Which, being from Minnesota, I haven’t experienced much of. They’re basically super little lobsters. You can suck the brains out of their heads. Needless to say, it was delicious, and lots of that’s what she said jokes were made.

Later ended up at David’s house to meet Matt Banbury formerly of World Bean.

Topics of conversation:

Dosers vs. Doserless. Do any of us really still believe in dosers? Who knows. Timer mods are hands down a necessity. That was unanimous. Waste = bad. Thanks Aaron Blanco. You started it.

Cocktail bars vs. Coffee bars: service varies widely. Bartenders are typically bad, sure. Luxury cocktails are different. Service is typically better/ the patron/guest can’t really leave. They’re forced to stay. You can force educate them. In coffee you’re lucky to have 30 seconds, depending on your build out/setup. Are there parallels? Or are they totally different because of the demographic/ expectations of the customer.

Price: coffee is not a money makin’ business. Should we charge 5$ for an espresso? Should we have table service? Should we have espresso “bars”? Can we do those things and get away with it? Is World Bean the perfect setting to try that?

Money: do all forefront leaders in coffee have huge financial backing? Or are there some little guys? Is that bad or okay or just the way it is. It’s clearly working to some extent.

Either way, Alex and I both bartend, because A) there’s a lot to learn from the industry. And B) there’s money. We need to pay the bills.

Well. Right now, I smell like crawfish. And am super looking forward to the judges workshop in what 4-1/2 hours. Stoked for this week!

PS: Texas is effing warm for us minnesotans, but these people are nice! 🙂

Advertisements

Battling a Bias

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

As a barista and a student of coffee I think I can safely say that I’m not alone, in the industry, in having a bias. It is my opinion that we all have a bias. No matter how hard we try to be as objective as possible, unless it’s a double blind tasting experiment we will always have a bias. Even when it is, we will have a taste preference, and therefore a bias.

With this post I had more than just the obvious intention of setting out that this happens and giving an example of it. I also wanted to point out what I have noticed in having a bias and how it has negatively affected experiences that I’ve had, both as a barista and as a consumer.

Some of our biases are set in “better” equipment i.e. More expensive (Robur E, for example)
Some are set in the underdog, or opposed to the more expensive equipment. This is imaginably either out of hope that the more expensive equipment is in fact not “better” hope that the cheaper equipment is better/good enough or that everyone using the more expensive (Robur E) is simply blindly following what seems to be a really great piece of equipment. Double Speak I’ve heard Nick Cho call it. My understanding is that something false happens, is backed by influential figures and is therefore taken as truth.

The biggest example of this that I can think of is preinfusion. Please correct me if any of my data is incorrect, I don’t hold to any specific timeline, but a simple generalization of a timeline. The original La Marzocco Linea did not have preinfusion or flow restrictors/gicleurs. This was bad. The coffee puck was hit with water at 9 bars, super fast. Bam. Broke. Channeling. To fix this, La Marzocco added a simple preinfusion program, when enacted, the pump was engaged for a burst allowing a small amount of water onto the coffee puck, then it paused and was engaged again after that pause for the rest of the “infusion”. Some time later, flow restrictors/gicleurs were added to these machines. Primarily negating the need for the burst style preinfusion. The water came out at a slower pace, and needed to ramp up to 9 bars of pressure, giving the puck a decent amount of time to swell before infusion (depending on restrictors size). After this, there was still a flurry about preinfusion. From my perspective, this is why Synesso machines had preinfusion. Though the preinfusion time was now adjustable and at a different pressure, it was still primarily not necessary unless used for longer than 4/7seconds which would create a different shot altogether. This is what baristas wanted. So this is what Synesso did. From there, I know of a number of baristas who swore by preinfusion. Heck I was one of them. Point being, the facts weren’t really laid out, we were given the equipment, understood the expectation, and stood behind it. Whether it was right or wrong, we only now know. Or at least in my experience, preinfusion is not necessary. At our shop we’ve gone through using a Synesso Hydra, A WBC Aurelia, a Kees Idrocompresso, and now back to the Aurelia. To me, with our coffee my bias, hopefully more taste focus is on towards the Aurelia. I’ll have you know I was super skeptical at first. I thought the Synesso was Bomb. After tasting shots on the Aurelia, I was amazed that a machine without adjustable preinfusion, without control, could produce such delicious espressos.

Maybe you have a different perspective. If so, great! I’d love to be proven wrong, but in my experience tasting our espresso blend, I have had the best shots off of the WBC Aurelia.

Now to the point of dismay. After using the other machines, I don’t know if I could go back to them and happily serve my customers. They would be different espressos, yes. But would they be great espressos, I don’t know. In my experience, with a new piece of equipment, a new blend, or anything in the shop that I’m having trouble with, if I have difficulty dialing in to it, I almost give up. If it’s not going to be fantastic, or I can’t make it fantastic (in my eyes/perspective/to my taste) I have trouble finding a starting point. If it’s not going to be what I want then I struggle. This is maybe a bad thing to say. Sure, I’m the last person to touch this coffee, and the last one to make it “perfect” so that it live up to the potential that that coffee had. I most certainly don’t feel like I am the strongest or the last link in the chain and therefore most important, or that because I’m dealing with customers I have the toughest job. That’s a bunch of hooey. I’m not more important. But I still have trouble fighting a bias against things that are not designed around my taste/flavor profile.

As a customer I’ve experienced this as well. Asking a barista for something that they’re really excited about and getting a blank look, or a “well, this week is ok. We don’t have that really special coffee we had last week, sorry” my experience from that point on is almost always doomed. I’m sure there’s a coffee this week that’s fine, and I’m sure there are redeeming qualities in it.

As a barista, in the shop I find myself clinging to those coffees that I can stand behind, and having at least 2/4 menu items that I’m actually excited about. Without that I fall into the same “doomed experience” pitfall. The best, easiest way for me to sell coffee is to actually be excited about it. I’m a bad faker.

The Map

Posted in Uncategorized on April 10, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

I’ve put together a Map.

It’s a map of places that I would enjoy getting coffee in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  I’ve printed 300 copies of the map, and keep them at the shop that I work at (Dogwood Coffee) and have encouraged all other shops on the map to do the same.

My original intention behind the map was entirely selfish.  A few guests over time have asked where else in town they can get good coffee, or where in NYC, Chicago, Seattle or a slew of other cities they travel to/spend a lot of time in.  I imagine most baristas get this question.  My common response had been to go through the 5 shops in town, then get a confused/concerned look and realize I should write them down for my guest to better remember them.  While this works, It’s in my handwriting and on receipt paper (it looks tacky) and if I’m in a rush, I might forget one.  For other cities, I simply write down the ones I’ve heard good things about, in some cases have been to.

I printed the map to save time, improve the interaction with my guests, and make something that looks nice.

I realized initially, it could be awesome and bring our coffee community together.  Or it could cause drama between some/any of the shops that disagree with the list i.e. don’t want to be on the list with another one of the shops,  there is drama between those shops or there is a conflict considering that it could reasonably be cannibalistic marketing.  These are all small businesses, trying to make a living.  We all have bills to pay, and to business owners that’s loud and clear.

I won’t lie, I took inspiration from Gwilym Davies “Disloyalty Card

On another note, I didn’t feel that every shop on the list would participate in a “discounted” product.  Totally understandable.  I also didn’t want to further encourage anyone to try to fill up the card and leave their “home store”  I also didn’t want anyone of my guests or my colleagues guests to feel this way.

On one side of the map, I’ve placed information about the shops. facts. not opinions.  I put all of the information that I thought was important, to help guests see what potential a shop had to make great coffee, skill of barista and quality of experience aside (thought they were taken into consideration for the map). This information includes: coffee source, milk source, espresso machine, espresso grinders, brewing options.

On the flip side, I have images of the Twin Cities with arrows to each shop.  Also, the address and hours of each.

Simple.

I’ve also placed a disclaimer at the bottom of the map side

“this list does not represent the preferences of any of the listed companies. Please direct any questions to your Barista or Baristakeith@gmail.com”

On the other side also:

“for your home brewing needs visit: brewmethods.com”

for those who brew coffee at home, and buy beans at any of our establishments.

Espresso Map3-20

For the simple sake of learning more about other cities I have the lofty idea of making maps for the most asked about cities. Seattle, San Fran, Chicago, Milwaukee, Portland and the like.  We’ll see how that goes.