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

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

This is our life, This is your coffee shop

M. Phillips: Digging my car out of 3 feet of snow at 4:30 AM so I can have the shop open on time.

T. Chmielecki: 6 AM... Having Joel's medium coffee with splenda with 1" of room for cream ready before he even opens his car door.

S. Wilson-Jones: Double checking each filter of ground coffee to make sure the brew is perfect.

All: Driving 12 hours round trip to see Latte Art in Chicago.

S. Wilson-Jones: Shaking hands with 3rd generation Kenyan coffee farmer Njenga Kabaki.

M. Phillips: Pretending that this is Tom Slick's first performance of his song and dance.

All: Sweeping cigarette butts off the patio.

M. Phillips: Being genuinely sad when we run out of your favorite chocolate donut right before you arrive.

All: Exasperation! Rosetta lattes are much more difficult to pour than the video makes it look.

T. Chmielecki: Sore hands from stretching new red naugahyde around old tired cafe chairs that really needed the new look.

Phillips & Chmielecki: Seeing Jeff Ratka run across Lee Road in a purple cape to earn his place on the Phoenix Team.

M. Phillips: Hearing about the new play Park is writing and imagining the possibilities.

T. Chmielecki: Listening to Jim place his order for a small latte and naked cinnamon raisin bagel even though its unnecessary... I've been preparing this same order for him for years. But he likes to say it out loud nonetheless. I think it's the naked part that makes the order fun to say.

All: Triumph. Understanding the difference between acidity and body.

M. Phillips: Sadness. Ethel's cat died. And Ethel is sad. So we are sad.

T. Chmielecki: Listening to F. as he teaches us all about his new Emergency Medical Technician training.

S. Wilson-Jones: Trying a new method of espresso shot dosing in order to make a better shot.

T. Chmielecki: Bringing Clay's grilled sandwich over to him at the Colony since he has a line of customers and is too busy to come get it.

M. Phillips: Explaining to you that espresso blend coffee beans also make great regular coffee.

S. Wilson-Jones and D. Skitski: Solving the mystery of the shrinking crema. Why? Because great, long lasting crema, is an essential ingredient to sealing in aroma and flavor in the perfect shot of espresso.

S. Wilson-Jones: Our warehouse full of rough burlap bags full of smooth green coffee beans, waiting to be roasted and ground and brewed and poured into your cup.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The African Coffees

So how did they taste? Here's my take on it:

Tanzanian Peaberry
The ground coffee had strong, complex aroma. In the cup, we noticed a brightness and a hint of blueberry. Good acidity, light body but enough to carry the cup through. We had some Tanzanian fans at our table. This is a well-loved coffee.

Zimbabwe AA
I found this coffee the least complex of all. After the initial flavor, the profile dropped off, with minimal aftertaste or chew. This would be a good choice for the beginning coffee drinker, since it is a good example of straightforward, good quality acidity with not too many other characteristics. It has what is known as a "clean finish".

Yemen Mocha Mattari
I love Yemen coffee. The aroma of the ground coffee was intense and earthy. Coffee is one of the few things that can smell like dirt but that is not a bad thing. In the cup, this coffee was noticeably different from the other four. It was more mellow than the others, with good chew and aftertaste, but it also had enough acidity to be interesting. We noticed chocolate overtones and a unique, again earthy, quality to this coffee that made it memorable and enjoyable. On the Sunday following this tasting I also had Yemen at a friend's house, brewed in a French press and again, it was noticeably interesting, memorable, wonderful coffee.

Kenyan AA
The Kenyan was a hit. Its acidity combines so harmoniously with the other flavor characteristics. Its flavor profile resembled the Zimbabwe, but with more punch and a more lingering mouth sensation. Although when I say punch I don't mean that this coffee is incredibly intense. It's not. It has a very light body. And its acidity is light insofaras your mouth does not pucker. However, the wonder of the acidity that our Kenyan coffee has is that it is very noticeable but still subtle. Maybe because of the volcanic ash in their soil, the acidity that Kenyan coffee has can only be described as elegant.

Fair Trade Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
One thing we noticed about this coffee is that its flavor characteristics changed noticeably as it cooled from the temperature at which it was served, approximately 180 degrees, down to 160 degrees or lower. As it cooled, the acidity became more pronounced, so much so that the coffee became disagreeable to me. However others at our table still enjoyed it at that temperature. When it was first served, we enjoyed the slight smokiness of this coffee, due to its being roasted at a slightly darker temperature than the other coffees we were tasting, as well as a light to medium body and medium acidity. The ground Ethiopian coffee that we sampled had a less pronounced aroma than the other coffees.

What have you been drinking lately?

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.

Monday, March 21, 2005

blogs of the moment

Here are some other cool blog sites: (bridget the nutty artist ginley) (george nemeth who never leaves home without his laptop) (todd the wine nut) (steph, the sensitive and talented progenitor of the phoenix website)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

coffee as a magic substance

So think about it. Humankind has had a relationship with coffee for approximately 2,000 years. It takes a pretty special plant to get that kind of attention for that long. this plant has magic. It does good things for us two-leggeds. If that first lunatic fringe goat herder hadn't decided to find out what was making his goat dance, we wouldn't have had the Renaissance. Paris wouldn't have been founded. The Mongol Horde would have over-run Europe. They would not have stopped at the gates of Vienna. The United States never would have been founded. Lloyd's of London never would have existed. The Dutch never would have found cocoa.

That, my friends, is genuine magic.

From Cleveland Coffee Guru Carl Jones:

The Muslims banned alcohol and but allowed coffee drinking because it stimulated the brain and aided in prayer. It kept sleep away. Eventually, it was from Islam that the knowledge of the Renaissance came, from Moorish Spain. They brought mathematics and the ideas of Aristotle and Plato whose writing had been preserved by the Muslims. When the Europeans were living like pigs, the Moors had running water and and they had built the great cities of Spain and Syria, Damascus, Baghdad. They had sewers and the Europeans were living with the Black Death because they didn't know how to keep themselves clean.

So we owe a lot to coffee. Drink up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

cluttered kitchen table and a laptop

a handpainted napkin holder that we just picked up from claygrounds paint your own pottery studio
even though we don't have any napkins to put in it
a chefs knife and cutting board left from dinner preparation
a chipped maroon bowl with one, no, two, strawberries in it. they weren't very good, which is why there are still two left. when you have to leave the top half of the strawberry uneaten because its white and tasteless you really know that genetic engineering of vegetables is not the solution to the worlds problems.
obligatory salt shaker
cordless phone
bank statement, just reconciled.
empty water glass
there's more stuff, but if i keep writing you'll find out how messy i actually am and it's too early in our relationship to reveal that.

and me sitting here typing and wondering if my kids are asleep. they left today for three days at camp muskingham somewhere in southern ohio. it's too quiet around here. i miss them. this is the first time they have both been gone at the same time and my heart hurts. its a physical sensation not just something i am whining about.

i suppose i should include something about coffee since i titled this superbarista

cleveland needs a superbarista. because the list of coffee houses that i just read needs more culture, more creativity, better quality coffee, more care and more sizzle. and wouldn't it be up to a superbarista, or many superbaristii to bring that about? otherwise the death spiral of cleveland's economy continues. because as steve goldberg says, coffee is the fuel of creativity. and jim o'bryan with his studio strength blend would agree.