blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Phoenix's inner sanctum

Last Friday, something important happened in the inner sanctum of Phoenix Coffee. We hosted our first coffee tasting at our new warehouse, roastery and office. It was awesome. OK, so maybe not everyone present experienced the same sense of wonder and fireworks that I did, as I jumped up and down and marveled at how nice the tables looked, set with white tablecloths, tall water glasses, fresh flowers in mismatched green and blue glass bottles, and of course, a set of five small cups for each coffee tasting guest.

We tasted Tanzanian Peaberry, Kenyan AA, Yemen Mocha Mattari, Zimbabwe AA and Fair Trade Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. We started with presentations from Phoenix Staff members about each origin country. First Matt Kiley (call him Kiley please, manager-in-training at the Superior Avenue cafe) taught us about Kenya, its well developed grading system, the Kenyan coffee auction, its soil with high amount of volcanic ash which possibly contributes to Kenyan coffee's wonderful acidity, the lack of water in Kenya that could be ameliorated by better irrigation from Lake Victoria. And he kept going, but alas, I had to cut him off as his time was up and we were trying to keep this whole program under two hours.

Next we heard from Kyle Smith (barista at the Superior Avenue cafe) who told us about Ethiopia and its strong coffee traditions. He told us about the different growing regions: Limu, Sidamo, Harrar and Yirgacheffe. Coffee is processed differently in each region. We discussed the difference between wet process and dry process coffee. And he shared the amusing and endearing story about Kaldi and his dancing goats, and Ethiopian legend about the origin of coffee. Indeed, coffee is said to have originated either in Ethiopia or in nearby Yemen.

Julie Hutchison (0wner of the Lakewood Phoenix store) and her daughter Hazel and her fiance Bobby then presented their research about Yemen. We learned that coffee in Yemen is grown on very old coffee tree stock; its lineage may date back thousands of years to the origin of coffee! In Yemen, coffee is a very small crop, a miniscule part of their economy, which consists primarliy of oil exports. The coffee cherries that are grown are allowed to dry on the trees and then are harvested and processed through old-fashioned stone grinders or macerators that remove the dried pulp from the outside of the "bean". Unlike other coffee producing countries, coffee in Yemen is not graded at all. This is due to the fact of the magnificent soil that produces a consistently good crop no matter where or how the coffee is grown.

Renee Martien (barista at Phoenix's Lee Road cafe) taught us about Zimbabwe. Renee said that she actually had difficulty locating information about Zimbabwe's coffee traditions. Instead, she found information about their current political situation and the turmoil that exists there. Many farms that are presently owned by white farmers are being reclaimed under the auspices of the government and given to black farmers. After learning about the problems that exist in Zimbabwe, ranging from AIDS to political turmoil, we agreed that it was amazing that we are able to get any coffee from Zimbabwe, given the countries difficulties. However, despite their difficulties, traditional arts and crafts in Zimbabwe have maintained their status and importance and are still highly respected by Zimbabwe natives.

Amanda Osenga (barista at our Lee Road store) ended the origin presentations with some very helpful information about Tanzania. She told us that Tanzania, once a British colony, was formed in 1969 as an independent government when two African countries combined their names to call themselves Tanzania. Amanda also pointed out that Tanzania has become famous for its Peaberry coffee, which is produced by a coffee plant when the coffee cherry produces only one small rounded bean rather than two of the usual "double pecan" shaped beans. Amanda also taught us about Tanzania's national coat of arms, which includes symbols for many lofty principles, such as freedom and hard work. It also includes a symbol that represents natural resources and elements since Tanzania is blessed with rich mineral mines as well as rich coffee-growing soil.

All five presenters did fantastic jobs; I was so proud of the information that everyone brought.

In my next post I will relate the next part of the program, where we sampled and compared the aroma and the taste of the five coffees. What a blast!

Drink up. Make sure its fresh.


Post a Comment

<< Home