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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Weatherhead Lackeys

So Jim Eastman says that he can find me some Weatherhead lackeys to work on the coffee culture project. This is very exciting. But what I need now is to find someone to get me into the lectures that I wanted to attend that are both sold out! Today was John Spirk and John Nottingham, Bold Minds Lecture, I tried to meet Kiley and Tina there but no go. Monday is Richard Boyatzis, Resonant Leadership, and that's already sold out too. Bummer! If anyone attends either, let me know if your mind is bolder or your leadership more resonant as a result of attending just so I'll know what we missed.

Will Is Blogging!

Hey! I didn't get an engraved invitation to Will's new blog, but I found it all on my own, from Checking out Steve's blog that linked to Will's. Will was a great Phoenix barista and we miss him already! Check out his rosetta latte picture! I didn't even know he had made one!!! Why doesn't anyone tell me these things? Am I a disconnected executive??? I certainly hope NOT! This just goes to prove that the idea I hatched this afternoon with Jamie and Mary Ann from Aue Design Studio (way cool website) should be higher on my priority list...

Here's the idea:

Have a web cam set up at each cafe that we can activate (along with techno music and a disco ball) whenever a barista pours a rosetta latte. That way, Phoenix fans from all over the world (even John Eckendorf in Erie PA) can appreciate the accomplishments of our intrepid baristi.

Steve, isn't this something you can do? :) OK maybe the disco ball is a bit much, but I think the web cam part is do-able.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Coffee Culture... what is it?

Last time I asked this question, I went into the esoteric definition of culture. This time, I'll go the other way, by finding words and images that describe coffee culture.

Intelligentsia in Chicago has a nerdy elegance that Tina and Marcie and I loved. The lighting was a little too bright, but they might as well have been serving coffee in beakers and test tubes. Somehow they capture the romance of studying for an exam and how much fun it can be to bond with fellow students while learning. That's a great way to approach life, and this is somehow conveyed in the cafe we visited.

The Dancing Turtle in North Carolina has a scale near their espresso grinder so they can measure tamp pressure. I love this! And they make a great frozen mocha that the barista was able to discuss intelligently.

Red Emma in Baltimore clearly conveys the ownership's point of view; they give union discounts and the books they sell are heavily skewed towards Marxism. They proudly display their artistic inspiration with some very interesting collage installations that gave the place great texture and depth.

All of the great cafes that I have visited have a sense of coziness that is unique to each shop.

Intelligent exploration of the art of coffee.

Creating a place where People Connect and Things Happen.

Coffee Culture and Economic Development Study

Here's the latest on my idea about Coffee Culture and Economic Development. I have four targets for this project.

#1 (Thank you Norm and George) is Rebecca Ryan at Next Generation Consulting. I composed a long email to her but since it's 4 AM and I think I would present the idea better in person, I decided I'll call her instead.

#2 is Eric Neilsen, Weatherhead Prof, because it says in his faculty profile that he is interested in large scale social change and social theory. But is he cool? Does he drink coffee? Will he get it?

#3 is Scott Shane, Weatherhead Prof of Economics, because he's into entrepreneurship. It's a stretch, but I figure if he's into coffee culture, it could work.

#4 is Bo Carlsson, another Weatherhead Economics Prof. He is interested in the role of entrepreneurship in economic growth and innovation systems.

Any other ideas or does anyone know any of these folks?

Which Muppet Are You?

Don't you need to know which muppet you are?
Take the quiz here.

Turns out I'm Janice:

You are Janice.
You dig the groove man, nothing can bum you out.
Too bad you're too stoned to notice.
INSTRUMENT:Like, you know, guitar, fer sure.
LAST BOOK READ:"Finding Your Past Lives on the Web"
FAVORITE EXPRESSION:"Fer sure, like, fer sure."
FAVORITE THINGS:Peace, love and, like, granola, totally.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Coffee Culture is Inextricably tied to Economic Development

I know this is true. You know this is true. But I need more than anecdotal evidence to prove it. I need facts. I need data. What would be a convincing statistic? The number of independent coffee houses a metropolitan area has, as compared to its year-on-year economic growth increase? Maybe this goes back to defining coffee culture. Does anyone know Richard Florida? Isn't this something he should be studying? Maybe I should call him...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Astra Gourmet Espresso Machine for sale: $1600

I have used this wonderful espresso machine on numerous catering jobs and it has performed beautifully. I love this machine. It pulls beautiful shots. We even had it installed over at Lee Road for a week or two, along with a second machine just like it, while we reconditioned our two group machine.

The Astra GSP is an elegantly simple machine. It doesn't have fancy features. You flip the switch, the espresso comes out, you flip the switch back, and the espresso stops. Like I said, nothing fancy. It does have a good sized boiler at 4.2 liters. It takes 110 Volt power, 2000 watts. It's rated for 180 cups per hour.

It is a pourover machine, which means that it's completely portable and that you have to pour water in the back AND KEEP IT FULL. Recently, I have been using this machine for training purposes, and this is not a good way for this machine to be used, because we keep running it out of water and we have to replace the heating element. It's very embarrassing, having to tell Dennis that I burned out the heating element. It is best used in a focused situation, like a catering job, where you can keep your eye on it and keep it full of water. This is the reason I am selling the machine; the newer Astra units have an alarm in them that tells you when you're out of water, and someone like me needs an alarm like that, especially when I am letting trainees use the machine, sometimes unsupervised.

It has been well maintained. And before we sell it to you, we will go over it one more time and make sure it's in mint condition. One year parts and labor on it, but that does not include the heating element or problems due to hard water. Wouldn't it look cool sitting on your kitchen counter or in your coffee shop or restaurant? We also have a grinder to go with it, if you need one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Espresso Olympics Pictures by Brenden Beecy

Adam Zagger (Lakewood Barista) tamps to 30 lbs of pressure blindfolded. Amazing!

Julie Hutchison (owner of Lakewood Phoenix) watches her winning mousetail pour.

Adam Zagger (tied for second) Julie Hutchison (first place) and Matthew Kiley (tied for second) celebrate their winning shots in the espresso brewing portion of the Espresso Olympics.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Guess what, baristi? It's YOUR turn to be famous...

Breaking news is that Sarah Allen from Barista magazine emailed me that she is interested in doing a story on our Espresso Olympics! I bet you didn't even know that there was a magazine just for you, did you? Well, neither did I! Here's the link:
It looks like a great publication and I can't wait to get my sample edition. I think I will give away subscriptions to this as prizes for our next Espresso Olympics. We need to keep coming up with new events for the Olympics, too. So give me ideas. Please.

Speaking of ideas, Mike Hoffman and Lindsey came up with some great new titles. Here we go:
  • Livin' la vida mocha
  • Hasta la vista barista
  • Tamp Dancer
  • Lattes are for lovers

I know he had some others but those are the ones I remember right now. Carl decided the idea of "once you go black you can't go back" is too offensive; I didn't realize it was a Jim Crow reference. It does apply nicely to coffee, though.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

espresso olympics results

Today we hosted our first ever espresso olympics, in our relatively new coffee education area at the Roastery on St. Clair Avenue.

Here are the results:

Julie (Owner of the Lakewood store) won the espresso brewing judging with a score of 72.5.
Adam (Lakewood Barista) and Kiley (General Manager of Superior and Lee) tied for second with scores of 71.
Tina Reis (Superior Ave Barista) was third with a score of 67.

Other participants were Lamont (Superior Avenue barista), Mike Hoffman (Superior Avenue Barista) Bobby (husband of Julie, owner of Lakewood store), Britten (Lakewood Barista) and Mike M. (Phoenix friend and customer at Superior Ave).

We watched shot after shot, timed them, and learned that while the length of time that a shot brews for is important, it is not the most important variable. For example, Kiley's shot brewed very slowly, but the stream of espresso stayed tight the entire time and produced a sweet, nutty shot (kind of like Kiley himself, hmmm...). Tina's brewed exactly at 25 seconds and was the closest to a text book shot. It was solid and tasty. Julie's brewed a little slowly, but produced and interesting, striated crema. Hers was the first one we tasted and struck us all as being very good. My first shot was bitter, but I readjusted my tamping and dosing and produced a shot with a nice clean aftertaste.

Blindfolded Tamping Contest (to see who can get closest to 30 lbs):

Kiley 25 lbs
Julie 40 lbs, second try 30 lbs
Britten 60 lbs
Tina R. 40 lbs
Mike H. 35 lbs
Lamont 20 lbs
Bobby 15 lbs (he has a broken collarbone right now)
Mike M. 27 lbs
Adam 30 lbs
Veronica 20 lbs
Charlotte 28 lbs

Adam won!

Then we fractionated a shot and mixed up the fractions. Everyone was able to successfully identify the volatiles and aromatics, the solubles and sugars and the astringents and caffeine. However, blindfolded, only Julie and Britten were able to put the fractions in the correct order.

Prizes included some Cross Ion pens courtesy of Herbruck Alder, some Phoenix travel mugs and some of course, COFFEE! Everyone ended up getting a prize since everyone was able to successfully order the fractions of the espresso shot.

Congratulations, everyone! What a fun event!

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Cup of Joe" is a naval term

Hey! This is even appropriate to post today because it's Veterans Day!

When I admitted my ignorance in the Cleveland Magazine article about where the term "A Cup of Joe" came from, Dennis Skitzki (our Espresso Wizard and now Historian) came to my rescue. He told me that the phrase was coined in deference to a Navy Commander that had abolished the enlisted men's rations of alcohol and had coffee served instead. I looked it up and here's what I found:

Josephus Daniels (18 May 1862-15 January 1948) was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Among his reforms of the Navy were inaugurating the practice of making 100 Sailors from the Fleet eligible for entrance into the Naval Academy, the introduction of women into the service, and the abolishment of the officers´wine mess. From that time on, the strongest drink aboard Navy ships could only be coffee, and over the years, a cup of coffee became known as "a cup of Joe."

I get to be famous again!

Superbarista made the back inside page (just past the plastic surgery ads) of Cleveland Magazine. Good picture, too. Article is goofy, but that was the intention in the first place.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

This gives me some good ideas for next Halloween...

Ritual Roasters in San Francisco dressed up as Zombie Baristas for Halloween... aka Starbucks baristas.

Pretty funny.

Read more here

I don't think Starbucks will bother to sue them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


We all need to find a way to work this word into our next conversation about coffee. You can pretty much use it in place of the French "Je ne sais quoi" which means literally "I don't know what" but translates into "that special something".

Umami is commonly called "the fifth taste". It is used to describe the flavor often thought of as pungent, savory or meaty. It is also associated with a feeling of perfect quality of taste and is said to involve all the senses, not just that of taste. The term was invented by a Japanese researcher at the Tokyo Imperial University in the 1980s. Umami story here Umami
seems to indicate when you experience something that has genuine substance (and therefore quality).

Dawn and I were quite suprised to experience this quality last week at the Canton Club (in Canton). We made our Restaurant Blend, which is generally a workhorse coffee, in a French Press and braced ourselves. After the first sip, we exchanged glances and then sighs of relief quickly replaced by exclamations. How could it be that good? We sipped again. I mean, really, how could it be that good? It must have been Umami because I can remember the chewy sensation in my mouth, how the cup felt in my hand, the chair underneath me, my feet on the floor, the look on her face, and of course the flavor. It is not often I rave about Restaurant Blend, but Wow!!!

Monday, November 07, 2005

No wonder the unenlightened still drink Folgers

I have often preached that Robusta beans, which grow at lower altitudes and mature more quickly, have higher caffeine content than their more sophisticated cousins, the Arabica bean. But I never knew how much of a difference we were talking about here. Till I read an interesting article in Roast Magazine. The caffeine content of Arabica beans (the type sold by Phoenix Coffee and most specialty roasters) is anywhere from .58 to 1.89% caffeine by weight. Robustas, by contrast, contain anywhere from 1.16 to 4.0% caffeine by weight. That's a big difference! No wonder people are still drinking Maxwell House and Folgers.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The first shot is for the machine

It's an Italian tradition that the first shot that you make is for the machine. But we still tasted it to remind ourselves why that first one is generally discarded. As we contorted our faces, Dewey asked why the first shot is no good. Just chalk that up to one of the mysteries of espresso. It's not logical, but it's true.

For the two subsequent shots I used the same amount of coffee and replicated the tamp pressure and polish technique as closely as possible. They got progressively better, but I still didn't have the shining example of complexity that I sought.

With a grin and a hand gesture towards the machine, Dennis let me know that he wanted to flaunt his prowess, and he stepped up to the grinder. I introduced him as the Espresso Wizard that he is, and after another false start due to our use of the incorrect basket shape, he produced a shot with all out nuttiness, complete smoothness and wonderful complexity. This is why we love espresso.

While Dewey may have been impressed with the "final" product, he was duly overwhelmed by the effort and consideration that went into making this exemplary shot. He got up and wandered into Carl's office, seeking consolation. Was it really this hard to be in the coffee biz? Would a superautomatic machine solve all these problems?

After coaxing him back out to try some other espresso permutations (namely naked espresso), we explained to him that if we had made all six of the shots on a superautomatic machine, they would have all rated a 7.5 or an 8. As it was, the first shot rated a 0, the second a 4, the third a 5, all the way up to the sixth rating a perfect 10. The question he has to answer for himself is how much of a gambling man is he? The superautomatic is a sure bet. A traditional machine requires extensive attention to detail and commitment to the art of espresso, which not many are willing to make.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Playing Village

Barefoot behind our house, out of adult earshot.
Packed earth paths, village sidewalks.

I decreed from atop the cement block the size of a refrigerator.

She was my only actual sister.
She thought of the moss first and refused to be owned.

Crouched on her moss, she turned her six year old back
Towards my ten year old voice.

Too busy for village meeting; just built a sink.
Stone, water, movement. Jealousy.

Age 33, in any woods I seek out the moss.
Humid under my fingertips.