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

Sunday, June 12, 2005

So you wanna be in the coffee business?

It looks easy, doesn't it? Pulling espresso shots, pouring coffee, it seems like a simple thing. It seems like something that you ought to be able to pull together in a week or a month. This week alone, I met or spoke with a total of nine people who are opening coffee houses or establishing a coffee concession in an existing business. One is buying an exisiting operation.

Here is my dilemma. I have been in this business for 12 years. I love this business. I love the complexity of coffee, the science, the people, the art, the style, the lingo, the aroma. I love to help people get started in this business. And I appreciate ambition. I even appreciate a cavalier, can-do attitude, since I tend to be somewhat cavalier myself at times. But I must admit that I have a difficult time dealing with it when people tell me that they are opening a coffee shop and they want to buy coffee from me and they want to be open one week from now. Actually, it's not the coffee that's the problem. I can get you set up to brew regular coffee and have you even be somewhat knowledgeable about what you are doing within a week if we spend quite a bit of quality time together. It's the espresso that's the problem. I can't tell you that I can have you brewing great espresso in a week. Especially if you want to buy or you already have a traditional espresso machine. Learning to brew great espresso with a traditional machine has a pretty steep learning curve. I think it took me years to get the concept behind it, and I think, Julie, the owner of our Lakewood store, would agree. She recently told me she had an "aha" moment when she realized that espresso is actually emulsified. And she's been doing this for years!

So maybe here's the answer. Buy or lease a superautomatic espresso machine if you are in a hurry to get open. Don't go traditional. Thankfully, most of my new customers who are coming on board, and who are in a hurry to get open have taken my advice. They're going superautomatic. There's still a learning curve, but it's soo much easier to educate you on a superautomatic machine than it is to show you how to do great espresso with a traditional machine.

I'm glad to get that off my chest. For every problem there is a solution, and to the problem of the in-a-hurry coffee shop owner, superautomatic is the way to go... Saeco, Astra, Nueva Simonelli, they all make machines that work well.


Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Sarah,

How about creating some kind of Espresso Excellence certification that requires a set amount of training?

Make the baristas earn their chops.


Jeff Hess

11:46 AM, June 17, 2005  
Blogger Sarah Wilson-Jones said...

We are just launching our Barista Certification program... we offer a certificate of achievement to any barista who can demonstrate his or her skill, knowledge, enthusiasm and creativity at espresso preparation. We can do this at our location or their coffee shop. There is a travel fee if we travel to them. The full color framed certificate is $18.

12:58 PM, June 17, 2005  
Blogger Christine said...

oh, God, yes, I'd take the coffee business right now. if i came home, you'd hire me, right? you wouldn't tell me i'm overqualified, right? i used to be a barista in the pacific northwest, where they do it right, and my sister used to manage a Tully's and we'd have long deep conversations into the wee hours about crema....

6:04 PM, June 20, 2005  
Blogger steveg said...

Though today I pulled the perfect shot and almost started to cry when I had to pour into a customers cup for a kickstart to her dark cup, it seems almost comical that Sarah tentatively has me as "Espresso Evangelist" sign the certificate.

9:36 PM, June 20, 2005  

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