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

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The mysterious D. and his quest for genuine quality.

Yesterday, a restaurateur with a French Tunisian accent mysteriously dressed in black came to the roastery unannounced. I wonder if any of you readers will be able to guess the identity of this mysterious D. He brought us some samples we had requested. And he had another weighty issue on his mind which had prompted his visit.

The issue was D.'s unrequited search for quality coffee. In a blind taste test last week, D. and his wife (yes, he is married) almost reluctantly chose the Blue Moon Blend from amongst four coffees we tasted. D. was chagrined when later he noticed, while perusing our price list, that Blue Moon is one of our "value priced" coffees. His dilemma now is that he likes the Blue Moon, as many of our customers do, but also understands that you get what you pay for, and he wants to buy the best. So he asked us if he could explore some of our premium coffees, try some more samples, and continue the quest.


After we got past my sarcastic suggestion of selling him the Blue Moon and charging him a premium price anyway, we began analyzing what had gone on during the taste test. Steve (Espresso Evangelist) was of the opinion that the Blue Moon had simply overpowered the rest of the coffees, and I think he's right. Next to the Blue Moon, even my beloved Timor (which is what I wanted D. to choose) tasted mild and unimpressive. So we learned an important lesson from this, which is the Blue Moon has to be tasted by itself or it will skew the results of a taste test.

I will relish the unraveling of this taste mystery. Will D. choose a subtle varietal, like the elegant Kenyan or the complex chocolatey Yemen? Or will he go with a blend, maybe even a more mild version of Blue Moon? Since D. harkens from Tunisia, it would be fitting if at least part of his blend was comprised of African coffee. No one is using a Yemen blend, and Yemen is a coffee that has quality hard-wired into its genetics. Yemen coffee tastes great because it just grows that way. It isn't subjected to fancy or standardized modern processing techniques. It's intelligently wonderful coffee. I wonder how Yemen would blend with another coffee? This sounds like an adventure waiting.

Monday, July 18, 2005

10 Reasons To Be Proud of Your Phoenix Coffee Habit

  1. Freshly roasted Phoenix Coffee is good for you. If consumed within 20 minutes of brewing, it contains as many if not more anti-oxidants than green tea.
  2. By spending top dollar on Phoenix Coffee, you are supporting a local business (keeping your dollars here in Cleveland) as well as the growers and pickers and processors around the world who are involved in the coffee's production.
  3. When you stop in to a Phoenix Coffee to buy your coffee, either by the cup or by the pound or both, you are likely to run into someone interesting.
  4. Good quality coffee stimulates accordingly good quality conversation, creativity and inspiration (that's why we call it freshly roasted liquid intelligence).
  5. Coffee that has been picked, dried, washed, roasted, weighed, packed, delivered and brewed by "hand" has been invested with a lot of care and attention that can only do a body good.
  6. As a customer of Phoenix Coffee, you can congratulate yourself on being "IN THE KNOW". You have found Cleveland's best-kept coffee secret, home of Cleveland's Original Specialty Coffee roaster, coffee guru Carl Jones.
  7. Phoenix Coffee gives back to the community. As well as being a Fair Trade Certified Roaster, we also contribute to many many charitable causes, from Shaker Lakes Nature Center to Near West Theatre to Heights Arts, and MANY MANY more.
  8. Phoenix Coffee provides health insurance, dental insurance and retirement plan benefits to part time and full time employees.
  9. All three Phoenix Coffee locations are recipients of the Golden Cup Award, which means that every cup you get will be brewed to Specialty Coffee Association of America specifications.
  10. Phoenix Coffee champions professionalism for baristas and promotes coffee quality and coffee culture. When you buy from us, you're supporting an industry leader.

Drink up!

Monday, July 11, 2005

coffee guru

He throws away the first shot of the morning. Because the water that sits in the machine overnight loses its vitality. His favorite cup is a sturdy, deep glossy royal blue ceramic cup that most would consider too large for espresso. But it works for Carl. Many have been unknowingly entranced by the way he drinks coffee, including me. I started off drinking his coffee from afar; he was a voice on the telephone that called to find out the day’s deposit. When I closed the store for the night, I would always take a large cup home with me, savoring it as I drove home. The day I tasted the first cup that he made for me himself, I can’t remember if it was morning, evening or afternoon. Bold, strong, complex, rich, served in hand painted provincial French porcelain cup and striped saucer; he made it in an old-fashioned Italian espresso maker on the stove-top and married it with warm cream. Effortless for him, it was just part of his coffee repertoire, but life changing for me. The taste answered dire yet unarticulated questions about courage and the mystery of life’s possibilities and began a relationship with those principles.

Each of us who answers the phone at the Roastery has taken a call from a customer who has been unknowingly entranced. The caller is usually a bit bewildered, astonished at the fact that they are calling at all, but they are compelled to do so by the unusual and remarkable quality that they have noticed in the coffee. Each caller uses different words, “the best coffee I have ever tasted, outstanding, awesome,” but the net effect is the same. We say thank you, maybe make a note of it, and go on with our day knowing that another person has been bitten; by what, even they don’t know.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

someone impersonating superbarista

Friday, July 08, 2005

interview with roast magazine coming up!

I was tickled when roast magazine called this afternoon. I love this relatively new publication, gorgeous photographs, interesting and informative content, and they always have these cool roaster profiles... well, they're going to interview Carl and I next week. We're psyched!

they hatched!

We let them go in the garden after I got home from work. After rhythmically folding their wings in and out, they flitted off into the slanting sunlight. We'll miss their expectant presence, but it was so glorious to see their new, vibrant colors.

vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over the top

Have you ever had this dessert? It is heavenly. It is so simple but so good. We are trying to come up with a name for it that is more descriptive and sexy than the current working name which is "espresso surprise".

Here are all the names that have been proposed thus far and my gut reactions to them:

versata sounds like something that contains green vegetables or is an italian clothing line

espresso slide good but too generic

'spresso swoosh reminds me of Nike

dirty sitzmark too german and industrial sounding

please add your ideas!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

the jig is up

Tonight at dinner, Charlotte and Veronica accused my husband, Carl, of being the Tooth Fairy. It started off as a veiled accusation by Veronica "I think the Tooth Fairy is a boy." "Hmmm," I said "What makes you think that?" To which Charlotte responded "The handwriting looked like a boy's handwriting. It looked like Dad's handwriting."

Now it was serious. The mystery of the Tooth Fairy was in jeopardy. Carl and I responded without hesitation. "My handwriting is much messier than the Tooth Fairy's handwriting," he said, "Go get the note and you'll see." Charlotte promptly fetched the note and Carl proceeded to copy it using his messiest script. "See, you can hardly read it." Charlotte and Veronica inspected it carefully. They were not convinced. "Now, do it in your neatest handwriting," Charlotte requested skeptically, handing him another piece of paper . I said to Carl, coaching him "You could print." Which he did, glancing back and forth between the Tooth Fairy note and his neatest handwriting. The pressure was on.

There were a few tense moments as the girls analyzed the letters. They looked back and forth between the Tooth Fairy Letter and the messy letter and the neat letter. There was a bit of hesitation, but in the end, the mystery of the Tooth Fairy was upheld. At least for now.

handcuffs for superbarista?

Please join me tomorrow morning at 9 AM in the Cleveland Heights city court where I will be pleading my case. Unfortunately, the issue will not be naked espresso. The issue will be sign that I now have illegally hanging in front of my store that says "NOW OPEN EVENINGS". It's illegal because it's a banner.

Here's how the ordinance reads:
"Pennants, banners, streamers, whirligig devices, bare strings of light bulbs, balloons and other similar devices are prohibited except for banners and pennants when part of public information signs installed by the City pursuant to Section 1163.02(b)"

I have asked the city (through Ed Kelley, the mayor) to allow me to hang the sign temporarily so I can communicate to the community that we are now open in the evenings, but instead, all I got was a court summons.

My case tomorrow will be based on the following:
Phoenix Coffee should be allowed to leave our banner up for another month
  1. Because by Phoenix Coffee being open in the evenings, we are providing a service to the community. We are providing a non-alcoholic, safe environment for Cleveland Heights citizens to enjoy good coffee, pastry and food.
  2. Because we have no other cost-effective way to convey the new hours to members of the general public. Advertising is not targeted enough. I can't display the banner inside my windows because each pane is only 18" wide and I have an awning above my window that further obscures anything in the window.
  3. Because there is only a gas station across the street.
  4. Because I only want to leave the sign up through the end of July, then I would be willing to remove it.
  5. Because it is a professionally made sign. It looks nice. I spent $150 on it.
  6. Because I have tried to be open in the evenings before, without a banner out front, and we were not successful at driving enough traffic.
  7. Because I pay City of Cleveland Heights taxes. Phoenix Coffee contributes to the community. In this instance I feel it is in the greater good of the community to endure the relative eyesore that is my sign in order to make the Phoenix Coffee evening hours available for the community.
  8. Because we have received compliments from customers about how nice the sign looks and about the fact that they noticed it and decided to come in.
  9. Because I have spoken with three city officials, Ed Kelley, mayor, David Cohen, inspector and Jevon Hall, planning department (?) about leaving my sign up and all indicated that this seemed like a reasonable request.
  10. Because the law should be changed to allow businesses to apply for temporary permits for banners so that information can be communicated to the public in a regulated manner.

I would appreciate any moral support!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

naked espresso

Next Sunday a group of dedicated espresso fans (baristas and baristas in training) are going to meet at Phoenix Coffee on Superior Avenue to pull espresso shots and talk "shop". There are only two things on the agenda... first, we'll fractionate a shot of espresso in order to fully experience its multiphasic nature. Then, if I can get someone to hack up a portafilter for us, we'll experiment with naked espresso. Julie Hutchison attended a seminar about this at the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) conference, and she and I have been intrigued ever since. Basically, the idea is to remove the bottom of the portafilter so that the barista can see the espresso coming out of the bottom of the brew basket. So the first thing the espresso hits will not be the bottom of the portafilter, but instead, the barista's shot glass. The advantage of this brewing technique is that the barista can see the exact way the shot is being formed. If there are any imperfections in the tamp or in the seal of the portafilter to the brew head, the barista will be able to detect it immediately, before the shot is even tasted. If water is squirting around the seal, that will be visible. If one part of the shot is being underextracted, and coffee is pouring through it while the other is being overextracted, and the coffee is laboring through the basket, this will be visible.

So basically between now and then I need someone to cut the bottom off of a portafilter for the cause of Better Espresso. This sounds like a job for Phoenix's Espresso Wizard or Mr. Make-My-Coffee-Machine-Work-Now. Or even Renaissance Barista with his well-stocked inventory of power tools. Hopefully one of them will be up to the job!

PS Baristas: I'm thinking a better time on Sunday would be 11 AM rather than the 10 AM or Noon times that have been tossed around. So the time is now officially changed to 11 AM. Be there for some serious shop talk!