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

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bars are beginning to reopen in New Orleans

John reports that Igor, the bar down the street from him in New Orleans, is preparing to reopen in the next week or so. And, even more exciting for us, he can ship coffee from New Orleans, too. Hooray! Now if only something could be done about the gasoline prices....

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Decaf? Also known as why bother?

This is not an area of coffee knowledge that I tend to dwell on very often, but from time to time, the subject does arise. So I'm weighing in on the subject, recording my opinion for posterity.

Phoenix Coffee tends to carry coffee that has been decaffeinated using the methyl chloride method, as well as some Swiss Water Process decafs. But every coffee "expert" has their opinion on decafs and which method is preferable, and I am no exception. Although the thought of being a coffee "expert" is cause for trepidation in and of itself, but I digress. Let's just pretend I'm an expert because I do have an opinion on this issue. And isn't having opinions at least half of the requirement for being an expert anyway? I prefer the less expensive methyl chloride decafs over the SWPs not only because I feel they possess superior flavor integrity, but also because I think the methyl chloride decaffeinating process is superior. Read on for my reasons...

Here is a 2002 article by Brian Martell that discusses the different types of decaf processes succinctly and accurately.

Last year, I visited a decaf facility in Veracruz, Mexico that utlizes both methyl chloride and ethyl acetate for decaffeinating. I know these sound like scary chemical names, and they are. However, methyl chloride has a redeeming quality, which is that it is volatile at virtually room temperature, so after coffee has been roasted to 400+ degrees, no trace of the chemical is left. Furthermore, methyl chloride is the solvent that is most caffeine-specific. It pulls out the least amount of extraneous flavor, and leaves the bean the most intact. Indeed, when I decaffeinated tea in organic chemistry lab at Rice University, we used methyl chloride as the solvent. And the procedure even worked for me, one of the shall we say less gifted laboratory students.

Some other positive things about methyl chloride decaf process are that it does not have environmentally hazardous by products, since the caffeine that is produced is resold as a commodity to soda companies among others, and the solvent can be re-claimed completely due to its low evaporation point, and then is reused indefinitely. Furthermore, the process does not use a lot of water, which is so important in the often developing countries that also produce coffee.

I assure you that when you purchase decaf coffee from Phoenix, whether it is "natural" decaf (methyl chloride process) or SWP decaf, you are getting a pure cup of coffee with state-of-the-art flavor integrity, that will be free from any hazardous solvent or pollutant.

Friday, September 23, 2005

web of life in the coffee business

From my office chair, I looked at Billy, sitting in one of my other office chairs, holding his half of the tuna fish sandwich, as his dog, Turbo, jumped up on his lap, wanting to share. Billy was talking to me about the Grovewood Tavern. Steve sat in my other office chair, waiting to hear the news about Grovewood. Were they finally ready to switch? I took a bite out of my half of the tuna fish sandwich as Will appeared outside my office door; he had arrived with his tool box ready to fix the juke box. Will wants to learn how to fix espresso machines. I told him he could start on our dusty broken juke box as a tester. On my desk sat my hastily scrawled list, minutes old, of six things that had to be done in the next two hours before I had to leave the office to go pick up the kids.
  1. YT Shaker, Mike (call to tell him when the new espresso machine will be arriving)
  2. Vince (call to tell him we're not interested in the Coventry space)
  3. Paula T. (get her pricing on the refurbished espresso machines that we have in stock)
  4. Iced Tea/Coffee... Cathy (tell her about our iced tea shipment shortage and about paying our bill)
  5. Accountant (call Mitch about the tax return he's working on)
  6. Barnhart (call Don about the dimensions of the Astra 2000 and the Astra steamer)

Thank goodness for lists. The more I make them, especially the down and dirty quickies that are often completed in the near term, the more sane I feel. I completed five of the six before I left the office, but I had to bring the kids back to the office in the afternoon to complete the remaining item. Granted, as I worked on this list, my efforts were punctuated with a couple of calls from Tina C. ("bad ass barista") at the Lee Road store, a call from Kiley ("renaissance barista") at Superior, a call from Carl calling from California asking me to contact his older children for him, a call from a Lee Road customer wanting to buy a stainless steel sink and did we sell them, and several questions and messages from Dawn who is the nerve center of the Roastery and answers the phone in the office next door.

Sometimes I wonder how I spend my days. What is the stuff that makes up a small business owner's day, specifically, if you're in the coffee business? We always say that life, especially in the coffee biz, is made up of relationships. Like a spider web or a woven piece of fabric, each relationship is one of the myriad strands that make up our lives. My list of "things to do" is actually composed of people who need my attention. I think of all the customers, vendors, employees, family members and friends who each form a relationship strand that is connected to me, and to each other, a woven network all influenced by the synapse stimulating powers of caffeine.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Can you see with your nose?

Have you ever noticed that our sense of smell is place-specific? We become accustomed to the way a particular place smells and we don't notice it anymore. I notice this the most at our Roastery. Roastery visitors almost always remark on the overwhelming coffee smell. I have to admit that I don't even smell it anymore, despite the hundreds of pounds of coffee that are processed in our Roastery every day. But if I put one five pound bag of the same freshly roasted beans in my car, I enjoy the aroma all the way home. Isn't that odd? Why do our noses filter out the familiar? Does my nose adjust its filters as soon as I walk through any doorway through which I have previously walked? Does my nose know that I have already walked through those doors? Does that mean that my nose can actually see?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

New coffee vocab: The Almud

This is great coffee trivia. Even Carl didn't know what an Almud was. He does now that I told him what one is. Here goes:

An Almud is the unit of measure by which coffee pickers are paid for the coffee cherries that they pick. I am guessing that this word is somehow related to the traditional baskets that pickers often carry on their backs for transporting the day's harvest. An Almud is a 28 lb measure of cherries. Each almud will produce approximately 4 to 5 pounds of mature coffee beans.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

If you really want to be in the "coffee know"...

Most coffee fanatics learn that there are two species of coffee plants: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta. Phoenix sells only Coffea Arabica beans, which mature more slowly than Robusta beans, have less caffeine, less chlorogenic acids and more complex flavors. They grown on plants that thrive at lower altitudes and have larger leaves than their Arabica counterparts. When I visited Finca Kassandra in Huatusco Mexico last spring, I found out that within the Arabica coffee species, there are several varieties of coffee plants. The variety that they plant at Finca Kassandra is Caturra. But here are descriptions of the other varieties, which I garnered from the marketing kit provided by the folks at Yauco Selecto Puerto Rican Coffee. So if you want people to really think that you know about coffee, you can somehow find a way to refer to some of these names.

Originally from Ethiopia, wide spread cultivation, limited yields. In maturity it can reach 10-12 feet of height. Branches grow in 60 degree angles from the trunk. Space between knots is large in comparison. Narrow leaves without much shine. Fruit is elongated with good quality and good cherry/bean %. New leaves will have a brownish appearance (tan).

Originally from the island of La Reunion. Wide spread cultivation on the higher mountain region. Tall tree. Branches grow in 45 degree angles from the trunk. Space between the knots is smaller than the typicas. New leaves will have a light green appearance. Good yield, needs early pruning and wide spacing.

Mundo Novo
Originally from Brazil, possibly a cross between borbon and typica. Tall tree. Small space between the knots. Branches grow in 45 degree angles from the trunk. New leaves will have a bronze color or sometimes green. Will mature after the typica and borbon. Adapts better to higher altitudes.

Originally from Brazil, a mutation of the borbon. Shorter and more compact tree. The branches form a 45 degree angle with the trunk. Space between the knots is very small. New leaves are light green. The leaves are more round and shiny, fruit looks like the borbon. Has high yield and matures late, good wind resistance.

Originally from El Salvador. A mutation of the borbon (like the Caturra). Early maturing of beans. Short knots, many secondary branches, heavy amount of foliage. Adapts well to sandy soils. Very resilient.

Originally from Brazil. A cross between the Mundo Novo and the Caturra. It is a short tree, but taller than the Caturra. Branches form a 45 degree angle with the trunk. Short knots. New leaves are light green. Round leaves with great shine. Late maturing. Handles wind very well.

I hope this helps all of you who are planning on planting your own coffee plantation in the near future. Or at least those of you who want to look coffee-literate at a cocktail party. Happy farming!

Monday, September 12, 2005

superbarista red dining room

The waves of excitement that have been coursing through my senses whenever I envision what my dining room is going to look like are taking me by surprise. And when I think about the colors for the living room too, it's almost better than sex (I hope my husband doesn't read this post). Looking at a table full of paint chips that all have intoxicating names verges on arousing. Not only are the colors themselves enjoyable, but the precision that is implied by the perfect correspondence between the exact shade of color and its descriptive name gives me hope that there is Order in the Universe. The paint chips and their names make me think that if I just describe all that I encounter with beautiful and insightful emotional honesty everything will fall into place like a giant organized kaleidoscope.

...nasturtium, flaming sword, jungle forest, sea of grass, pulsating blue, drum beat, french roast, ink, buttercup, rejuvenate, asparagus...

Looking at all of them, out on my porch table, surrounded by the morning sunlight and of course with a great cup of coffee, since you can't forget I am superbarista after all, ***NOTE: THIS POST NOW IS COFFEE RELATED*** imagining the possibilities sweeps me away into an altered state. The kind of altered state where I can't be bothered with the dishes, or making my bed, or even making breakfast. Oh, wait, that's not an altered state, that's how I am all the time. I just manage to make myself do those things anyway since I don't want my kids to grow up to be like me.

I think one reason that I am so excited by all these colors, and the possiblity of having them on my four walls is that my family and I have been living in a house-turned-sensory-deprivation-tank for ten years. Yep, we have been living in this house in Cleveland Heights for ten years. And for ten years, the walls have all been painted white. I think the woodwork is plain white and the walls are technically lemon ice white, but that's really just white. A year or so ago I painted my office cheddar yellow and the closet door orange zest. The orange zest took four coats, but it was worth it. I painted the floor tilled soil brown and the woodwork parchment. These are Martha Stewart colors, can't you tell?

That was the first taste of color that our house got; now we are pulling out all the stops. The dining room is going to be ladybug red with a french roast ceiling and buttercup woodwork. The living room is going to be frank blue with sea of grass ceiling and buttercup woodwork. No telling what we'll do in the hall and the bedrooms when we get there. The house is just going to get more colorful as you go up the stairs. The girls are pulling for turquoise and red in their room. Hmmm...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Escorted by 20 officers in SWAT uniform and high powered rifles

John and Sara, our green coffee brokers, were escorted out of New Orleans by 20 officers in SWAT uniforms with high powered rifles. They are now in Hot Springs Arkansas and are actually glad that they don't have to spend 4 hours a day finding food and water and taking care of animals.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Update from New Orleans Survivors, our green coffee brokers

Most of the green coffee that Phoenix Coffee purchases comes through the port of New Orleans. Our green coffee broker, John, and his wife, Sara live in the Garden District. Instead of evacuating, John and Sara stayed put. Courageous? Or not-so-bright? Well, that's always a difficult call to make. Their house made it through the storm virtually unscathed, but Cathy, who works in their office, lost her house entirely. She is now in Baton Rouge. John and Sara have an attitude about life that is frighteningly similar to mine. I admit, I would have been tempted to stay, too. It's the adventurer in me, I guess. Now John and Sara are living in what seems like a new frontier. Their neighborhood is a ghost town, and going to get food involves organized looting of the local Whole Foods Market, with the alarm going off the whole time and a police man supervising their shopping in the dark amidst the heavy stench of putrified perishables.

They have been signed up for pet rescue by Sara's sister, so they are now being contacted by dozens of displaced New Orleans residents who were forced to leave their pets in their houses. This means that they have to go break into these homes (using an axe or another equally barbarian method) and feed the animals, clean litter boxes, and if possible, let the dogs out into the back yards so that they have somewhere to go relieve themselves. So it's basically like pet sitting for dozens of animals. John adopted a chihuahua (a rat with wings, he calls it) that had been locked in a bathroom. He said that when the dog first emerged he was all excited and anticipating his owner, only to look up and see John. After a few moments of fright, he quickly warmed up, because, as John said, "He must have realized that I was his only ticket out of there."

John was on the Canadian news the other day. He has also been in the LA Times and other publications because there are so few people still left in the city. John is particularly noteworthy because he has resumed his daily routine of going running every morning, which is what attracted the recent attention from the Canadian media. They wanted to know what he was doing. He said he was jogging in an attempt to re-establish his daily routine. Previous to the arrival of the National Guard, jogging was out of the question since it was a serious risk to leave the house unarmed. Now, Sara reports, things feel more safe.

No question that John and Sara are survivors. They are tough. Most of us probably would have wigged out by now. They lived for several years in Guatemala, which they say is helping them to cope with such oddities as getting their personal hygeine from taking a bath in someone else's swimming pool. And John charges his laptop (they still have phone and internet service at their house but no electricity) by going down the street to borrow some juice from a friend who has a generator.

Sara said they even went to a party the other night, which was very strange. The party was hosted by the gentleman who also made this sign for his window:
"Don't try. I'm sleeping inside with a big dog, an ugly woman, two shot guns and a claw hammer. Looters will be shot."

Even stranger is the motley collection of people who are left in the neighborhood. An ex-stripper, a twenty something kid, John and Sara (in their thirties) and two other characters, bringing the grand total to six people.

John asked me if I had ever been through anything like this. I said no, the closest was when the power went out for a few days a couple of years ago. During that experience, it did seem like people were starting to come unhinged a little. I know I was. I can only imagine what a week, heck, months, of that kind of irregularity and difficulty would be like.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


Since I don't think I'll be able to find a way to work this new shiny word into a blog posting anytime in the near future, I'll cut to the chase and just share its definition with you. That way you can enhance coffee culture in your sphere by finding a way to at least work it into a descriptive oral diatribe that of course takes place over a cup of coffee.

Not that I'm encouraging you to complain, but what a joy this multi-syllabic word is:

Vituperation (I just wanted to type it again)
(")vI-"tü-p&-'rA-sh&n, v&-, -'tyü-
1. Censure; blame.
2. Invective; railing.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Wayne Johnson and the Secret Sufi of Life

Wayne Johnson was arguably the first person to be entranced by the way Carl drinks coffee. He was a PhD psychologist working in academia in 1976 when he discovered Carl’s all-but-hidden first Arabica coffee store. The shop was located down a weedy alley off Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, around the corner from the requisite alternative leather shop, and so far down the alley that it was not burdened with the pedestrian gaze. It was as if the first customers found Carl by God’s will alone.
Wayne liked to come in and visit with Carl, the young coffee entrepreneur with the Dionysian-gone-hippie hair and the peculiarly intense gaze. At the time Carl only sold bulk coffee, tea, spices and some coffee brewing paraphernalia. He didn’t sell coffee by the cup, but as Wayne and Carl talked, Carl brewed some to enhance the conversation. Over time, Wayne bought some coffee, a single cup Tricolator brewer and cloth filter. A week after his purchase, Wayne brought the coffee and brewer back.
“Carl, even using the same brewer and the same coffee, I can’t make coffee that tastes as good as how you make it, even though I’m following all of your instructions,” he stated.
“Sure you can, Wayne,” Carl retorted. Wayne’s $20 purchase had represented a sizeable chunk of last Wednesday’s meager sales. And so far that day, there wasn’t even $20 in the register with which to offer a refund.
“I’ve been trying for the past week, and I tell you, I cannot.”
“Oh, come on Wayne, of course you can. It’s just a matter of using the right amount of coffee and nice hot water. You’re probably just not using enough coffee.”
“Carl. I cannot. I have tried everything I can think of, from using spring water to using more coffee, even using less coffee, but it just doesn’t have that same taste that your coffee does when you make it for me,” Wayne continued.
“Wayne, here’s your coffee brewer, here’s some coffee, here’s the hot water,” Carl gestured towards the gurgling electric water kettle on the counter. “Make a cup of coffee. Let’s see how you’re doing it.”
Wayne nodded in agreement and began assembling the filter, filter holder and carafe for the brewing apparatus. He measured the coffee into the filter, glancing back at Carl for approval of the last spoonful of grounds. Carl nodded and smiled, turning the pouring handle of the water kettle towards Wayne. As the steaming water hit the grounds, the coffee’s pungent aroma rose from the grounds.
The two men chatted as the water ran its course through the brewer, emerging dark brown in the lower carafe chamber. When the dripping from the filter became slowly intermittent, Carl removed the filter and holder and poured the contents of the carafe into two ceramic cups. “Looks like coffee to me,” Carl stated, “let’s try it.” After a few sips of Wayne’s brew, Carl stated with bland persuasion, “Tastes OK.”
Wayne disagreed. “This does not taste like the cups of coffee that you have made for me before. I never would have bought this brewer if this is what I thought it would make.” The formerly thick coffee aroma withered in a seemingly prolonged silence. Wayne continued, “Why don’t you make a cup, and I’ll watch exactly how you do it.”
Carl measured the coffee by eye, using what looked like the same amount of coffee as Wayne had used. The boiled water hit the grounds. As the water mixed through the grounds, brown oily bubbles began to form on the surface of the black swirls of hot, wet coffee grounds, indicating the second level of extraction had begun. The two men waited as the grounds sunk, forming an organic curve of moist grounds on the bottom of the filter, completing the brew process.
Carl poured the steaming brown liquid into two more cups. First Wayne, then Carl, raised the cups to his lips and slurped. Wayne looked at Carl, hoping that he would voluntarily acknowledge what his taste buds revealed. But Carl was silent.
“Carl, this is a great cup of coffee. This is what I want my coffee to taste like every day.” Carl was quiet, not wanting to acknowledge the honesty of Wayne’s taste buds.
Wayne broke the silence “This just goes to prove my theory.”
“What’s your theory?” Carl inquired, glad for another route for the conversation.
“That you’re the Secret Sufi of Life. I’ve always thought that the Secret Sufi of Life would show up in a coffee shop somewhere doing something relatively non-descript like selling coffee.”
“Come on, Wayne, I’m not the Secret Sufi of Life. I’m a 29 year old guy who sells coffee. I just happen to sell the best coffee, and to be able to make it pretty well,” Carl stated.
“That just goes to prove it even more.”
“What do you mean?” “Now I know you’re definitely the Secret Sufi of Life. Because the Secret Sufi of Life would only deny that he was indeed the Secret Sufi.”
“OK, well then I am the Secret Sufi of Life,” Carl responded.
“Nope, too late. That doesn’t get you out of it. Your first answer is what counts.”

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Garrison Keillor's Coffee Love Affair

In response to the great news that coffee is American's number one source of antioxidants, averaging almost 1300 mg per day, second only to tea at a paltry 294 mg, we have this wonderful entry from Mr. Keillor:

The new buzz
Now that coffee is good for us, we can get on with our lives. And maybe
someone should hand the president an extra cup or two?

By Garrison Keillor

Aug. 31, 2005 Now that medical science has established that coffee is an important source of antioxidants that help prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, you and I can get on with our lives. A cup of coffee is what starts our engines and saves us from torpor and lassitude. We always knew this. Starbucks was built on the idea that there is no such thing as an overpriced cup of coffee. Yes, I know people who have quit coffee and who will tell you in their small tremulous voices How Much Better They Feel and goody for them but to me living without coffee is like trying to climb up the outside of your house using suction cups. Why not just use the stairs?

I wonder if the president is getting enough coffee. He seems like he's just not that into being president. I don't mean this to be critical in any way, but there is a dimness about the man that suggests a need for caffeine. It is not enough simply to refrain from adultery and tax increases and make the occasional trip to Idaho to announce that we are winning the war in Iraq. It's the French who take the whole month of August off, Mr. President. That's not us. Americans are not idlers and layabouts and feather merchants, we're strivers and pluggers and we welcome adversity, so long as we have coffee. Its bitterness is sweet to us.

Back in olden times, youngsters, back before people walked down the street talking on telephones, we were engaged in the Cold War and had nuclear holocaust to think about, and then the enemy collapsed, which left us feeling oddly bereft, so now we have embraced the War Against Terrorism, which nobody believes in -- there is no rush to enlist -- and yet the concrete barricades and the platoons of security at the airport do give us a sense of danger, which is satisfying.

In Minnesota, we have winter, of course. A blizzard gets us all ginned up, the one day of the year that sort of justifies having four-wheel drive so the moment the Highway Patrol issues a travel advisory, we reach for the car keys and think of a plausible reason to go somewhere. We return a few hours later, faces red, snow in our hair, snot frozen in our nostrils, happy to tell about our adventure. We live here for the same reason other people climb Mount Denali, for the sheer thrill of it.

Pure dumb happiness is the death of conversation: It's narcissistic and infantile. Is this not so? People sitting around eating big tossed salads and talking about how good life is ever since they gave up caffeine: This is torture. How much more enjoyable for your friends if you can tell how you spent a king's ransom on your vacation only to get a bad case of swimmer's itch which comes from a parasite in goose droppings and gives you a rash much like chicken pox and drives you berserk. "More coffee?" says the host. "Yes," you reply. "Black."

Once, at the Metropolitan Opera, I saw a soprano keel over near the end of the first act of Strauss' "Die Frau ohne Schatten," the first really dramatic thing to happen onstage in more than an hour, and the audience suddenly woke up. She lay in a heap on the stage, not singing, which also was gratifying, and the peasants ran over from their huts and a man in a brown suit walked in from the enchanted forest, it was great. She was OK, as it turned out, but there was a long intermission while they located a sub, meanwhile the patrons were in a festive mood, reminiscing about other operatic swoons and collapses they had seen. As I recall, I had a cup of espresso.

And now the phone is ringing and it is Anne our neighbor calling to say, "The plumber is at your back door." I let him in. He had knocked and knocked and was about to go away. Our water heater went on the fritz overnight. Without hot water, a person has a whole new lifestyle in which he must take sponge baths in the men's room at the gas station or else use disinfectant for a cologne. I am grateful for the plumber but if I had to do without hot water, I would, and so would you. So long as we have coffee, we will be OK.