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

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Phoenix on Lee

People patched together like a quilt
6 AM to 9 PM
Coffee, thread
Espresso, embroidery
Words, stitches
Laughter is the repeated pattern
Latte of kindness, rosetta or not
Thought and intention transferred through milk
Currency of smiles
Sourness the needle that makes it real
Angst punctures the fabric sometimes precisely
Laughter is the repeated pattern

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The box and its contents were dangerous

Her arm reaches out from between leopard print sheets and weightily lands on the SNOOZ bar atop the glowing red numbers 4:32. A wet nose nudges her outstretched arm as the flywheel composed of her day’s activities begins to turn, starting with I can’t forget my apron. She didn’t want her new boss to know this early on that she could be quite forgetful. Her fingers easily find the twist knob underneath the hand made paper lamp shade. Hand now resting on the dog’s strategically positioned rump, delivering the obligatory morning scratch, she wonders how long it will take for her eyes to get used to opening to light at 4:32.

There's no light from the window, only the glow of the lamp, coupled with the uncharacteristic silence of the city, it gives the impression that she’s the only human on earth at that time. Few are brave enough to paint their bedroom Rejuvenate Orange with Buttercup trim and Drum Beat Red bookshelves, nor do many people tend to face the world at this hour. Through her light-bracing squint, the colors remind her that the sun will rise. Besides, her landlord could care less what colors the walls are, just as long as they don’t have holes punched in them when she leaves, he had said.

Her gradually opening gaze finds her black apron with the Espresso Detour logo and “jackie” and “artista barista” embroidered in yellow thread in a handwritten-looking font laid against the back of the unfortunately 80’s-green leather chair. She had decided to ignore the green chair and the dirty beige carpet when she chose her colors; there wasn’t any chance of making them work, and besides, she could always get a slipcover for the chair.

Jackie’s life was pockmarked with projects in progress, like the cardboard box sitting on the floor next to the chair. It was a box that had once contained bottles of flavored syrup that had been delivered to the espresso bar. It had cut outs for fold-in cardboard handles on the sides, which made it convenient for carrying with one hand yesterday afternoon as she walked home from work and collected some contorted rusty pieces of metal, acorns, a crow feather and a pigeon feather, three large shards of clear glass and other sidewalk detritus with the other hand.

At the bottom of the box was a rolled up burlap coffee sack that had arrived at the espresso bar with the shipment from the shop’s coffee vendor. She had hoped she wouldn't be pushing it when she asked Dominic, the shop's owner, if he would mind sparing the extra bag, it seemed their coffee vendor had sent more than he needed for his coffee display. And the cardboard box was just sitting in the pile of boxes headed for the dumpster; no harm in grabbing that. The burlap was going to form the background for a found object collage.

The box and its contents were dangerous; if this project was left unfinished, it meant that she would intentionally have invited a box of trash into her apartment. The motley collection was far from the inspired vision she hatched on her way home after her first day of work and more caffeine than usual. She conceived of a piece that communicated the unerring pattern of connections that elusively underlie the random events and random objects of life. The thought had started earlier in the day when she realized that from her vantage point behind the espresso bar, as the customers came in, they formed a mosaic-like performance art piece. A stream of unique individuals threaded together by a desire for caffeination and kindness.

Monday, October 10, 2005

An eight year old's observations on latte art

Is it ever too early to start coaching kids to become International Champion Baristas?


In the words of 8 year old Charlotte:
Today when we were at work at the Roastery, we were this close to a Rosetta Latte (pronounced with David Schomer's faux Italian accent).

Q: What did you learn about making espresso today?
A: Two things. To make a Rosetta Latte, brew straight into the cup, not into the shot glasses.

Q: Why?
A: Because it makes the crema better.

Q: Better how?
A: It makes the background color darker.

Q: What was the second thing you learned?
A: I learned that the Rosetta Latte is very hard to make. So when you make it at home, make sure to start out in the middle and kind of work your way to the side of the cup.

Q: Did you learn anything else?
A: The Rosetta Latte is a delicacy in Italy. And also the macchiato is very similar to the rosetta latte.

Q: What was the best part of today?
A: Watching Kiley make funny faces at the camera after he made his **almost** rosetta latte.

(maybe when we're 14 we'll learn the famous Rosetta latte perfectly)


We didn't quite get a Rosetta Latte after one and a half five gallon buckets full of mis-fires and five gallons of milk. We got so darn close and we discovered a few key physical aspects that contribute to eventual success
  1. Brew espresso directly into cup.
  2. Tip cup towards milk pitcher
  3. Swirl pitcher continuously until you begin pouring
  4. Pour into the middle of the cup until the bright white foam begins appearing
  5. Relax

As far as naked espresso, it is possible to make a damned fine shot of naked espresso. Dennis is wrong. You don't need the bottom of the portafilter to act as a heat sink. I made a couple of killer shots that were beautiful to watch.

Such fun!

Rosetta Latte Marathon Goes Unrewarded

Friday, October 07, 2005

more espresso porn.

Here is why I am so excited about this naked espresso. Although it looks like this shot was in the process of getting overbrewed. Pretty nonetheless.

naked espresso update & workshop

We have finally procured a naked espresso portafilter (which is simply a portafilter with the bottom cut off) and begun experimenting with it, thanks to our friends at Astra (Richard and Alba) who have now added naked portafilters to their parts list. Hooray! So far the taste results have been mixed but the presentation results are consistently great in terms of visual interest. Watching the shot come out of each hole of the portafilter basket is fascinating! Dennis, our resident espresso wizard, feels that it is necessary for the brewed espresso to hit some sort of mass in order to lose some temperature before it hits the cup. He says the bottom of the portafilter acts as a necessary heat sink. And, to prove his point, we have brewed some really nasty tasting shots of espresso using this naked portafilter. However some of them have also tasted pretty good, so I am not giving up hope yet. It's such a gorgeous presentation I figure it's worth finding out how difficult it will be to use it on a regular basis.

In the sport of diving, each dive has a degree of difficulty. A forward one and a half somersault in pike position (straight legs) is more difficult than a front dive. Espresso has different degrees of difficulty as well. Superautomatic machines, like the Saecos we sell as well as the Astra 2000 and Supermega have a relatively low degree of difficulty. Making good espresso out of these machines is pretty easy. A traditional machine, like we have in our shops, where you use a separate grinder to grind the coffee, and then manually pack and tamp the shot, has a higher degree of difficulty. Lots more room for error. And these naked espresso shots seem to have the highest degree of difficulty yet. The brewing process is the same as for a traditional machine, where you are grinding, packing and tamping manually. And on top of that, all the imperfections become visible to both the eye since you can see exactly what is going on as the shot brews as well as to the tongue, since the imperfections definitely translate into the cup.

On Monday October 10th, we will be watching Latte Art and Espresso videos and experimenting with both naked espresso and latte art at the new espresso/coffee classroom at the roastery (1728 St. Clair, parking lot around back off Rockwell). It will be an informal get together, some of our baristas are coming, as well as my children who are beginning their training for the International Barista Competition next decade. The goal is to produce a good shot of naked espresso (or many good shots) as well as at least one Rosetta Latte. We'll be starting by 9 AM and will probably go as late as 2 PM. Espresso and Latte Art enthusiasts are welcome, just email me to let me know you are coming ( I'm sure it will be educational and should be fun as well.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Superbarista by Charlotte