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

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Roastery Geek Update... Welcome Linsley!

Here is a lunchtime picture today of Brenden (our wonderful bean driver/roastery geek) who is moving to Michigan for a few months, and Linsley, our new bean driver/roastery geek. We will miss Brenden but we are also very excited to have Linsley! Welcome to the Phoenix, Linsley!

Linsley Oakes hails from Burlington, VT, where she grew up. She graduated from college in Quebec, CA with a degree in Liberal Arts and Philosophy. One of her favorite things is when she is able to see her perspective shift on something and she is suddenly able to see it in a new light; she also enjoys sharing these sorts of transformations of thought with others.

We think Linsley will be a dynamic, fun and intelligent addition to our Roastery crew. Hooray! It was a longer search than anticipated, but I think it was worth the wait.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kinesthetic Candy: One pound of shiny red happiness

Life as a barista is incomplete without a hand-made Reg Barber tamper. Tamping is the linchpin of the espresso process. It's the moment when the barista infuses the most amount of energy, intention and intelligence into the coffee. During the tamp, the barista uses his or her body's knowledge and experience to determine how much pressure to apply, the angle at which to apply it, the degree of wrist twist to employ and how long the tamp should last. Whew! Thank goodness baristas can use their kinesthetic sense to do all this rather than actually thinking about all those things, otherwise the whole process would take an hour rather than a fraction of a second. The goal of the tamp is to align the coffee particles in the portafilter basket, forming a uniformly packed dense matrix, ready for brewing.

When using a heavy tamper, especially one of these shiny red ones with the Phoenix logo :) your espresso pours will be more consistent due to better tamping. Why? That's a good question. I wish I could analyze this, to break it down into a reason why I think this is true. All I can say is that it just feels better to use a heavy tamper, it feels like the coffee particles are aligning more uniformly. All my years of experience using inferior tampers told me that I was really missing something the first time I used a heavier tamper. And then, when I used one of Reg's tampers, I knew there really was a difference. The proof is this... a few days after I brought one of Reg's tampers to the Lee Road Phoenix, Sasha, one of our baristas, began raving about how much better her shots poured with the new tamper. She said they were "beautiful" with this new tamper. They should have been beautiful before, too, but let's just go with the intention she had for the sake of discussion.... she noticed that the shots were better.

When you're accustomed to cheapo flimsy plastic or aluminum tampers, a hand-made stainless steel tamper with a powder coated handle is a morsel of kinesthetic candy every time you brew an espresso.

Check out the phoenix coffee website where you can buy one of these beauties and try it for yourself.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Roastery Geek

I need a Roastery Geek. Someone who loves coffee so much that they don't mind being literally surrounded by it all day. Someone who can follow specific instructions (for packing orders, which can be tedious) but who also would have an unfettered opportunity to putz and play with coffee, even learn how to roast, in between order packing. Yes, this would be interrupted by the morning delivery runs, but once you're back at the shop, grinding, weighing, packing, the immersion would continue. This job could grow into so much more, when we find the right person.

In need of inspiration, I just visited James Hoffman's blog, and James Haeger, Gabe Boscana, Tonx and Dwell Time. That's when I remembered that this is not just about filling a position. It's about the coffee, and our love for coffee. Surfing around, I appreciate the blogs of all these young, tinkering, coffee geeks, who all happen to be male (?) So I know they exist. I just need to find a someone crazy enough about coffee here in Cleveland.

Brenden, in his stint as our Bean Driver/Roastery Geek (he is moving to Michigan, bummer) managed to do some good putzing with figuring out a new gizmo for measuring grind size. I am so proud of the contraption that he built. We have discovered that the vibrator isn't quite as robust as it needs to be, but it is a good first try.

So that's the new working job title for the position that needs to be filled, I think, Roastery Geek. The risk is that this will only sound attractive to a select few. But all that matters is that it sounds attractive to the one who is right for this job. Might you know Phoenix's next Roastery Geek?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Next Phoenixer

Over the years, I have gotten more and more picky about who I hire as a Phoenixer. Our Phoenixers are all special people. They are all people I respect for different reasons, and who respect each other. Phoenixers are sparkly, enthusiastic, smart, compassionate and passionate. Just where will the next one come from? They don't grow on trees, but they do spring forth from an organic network of customers, friends, vendors, friends of friends and so on. I can't wait to meet the next one; I feel confident I will know him or her when I meet them!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dunk Tank Report

I highly recommend renting a dunk tank for fundraising purposes. It's fun!! It really should be called fun raising. And we even made a few bucks to put towards our Costa Rica trip. The nice people from Let's Entertain let us keep the dunk tank through the weekend, which allowed for many bonus dunkings. Thanks to everyone who was a good sport and either got dunked or dunked one of us!

Hello from the dunk tank

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wild, Funny, Unpredictably Wet

Dunk A Barista tonight at the Stroll on Lee. Actually, the fun starts with Kiley in the booth at 3 PM. Then Jeremy, Heather, Marcie, and then the Jones family. I'm scheduled for 7:30. This is certainly my first time in a dunking booth!

Come dunk me! Proceeds go to send baristas to coffee origin as part of our continuing efforts to develop sustainable business practices and relationship-based coffee. We want to know where our coffee comes from. And, we like to have fun in the process.

Plus, Randy Martin will be playing his trademark Lost Classics inside the Phoenix. Come check out his unusual guitar playing style and compelling voice.

Should prove to be a dynamic evening at the Phoenix!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cleveland, America!

I just returned from the opening of Herbert Ascherman's photography exhibit at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

When Herb first started his odyssey across Cleveland, seeking to capture Cleveland's shape and form, he originally thought he was supposed to be looking at buildings. However, when he encountered Sheila at Swift Cleaners (picture to the left) he realized that the project was really about the people of Cleveland.

As I walked thoughtfully down the wall of stunning photos, glass of wine in hand, marveling at the grit and variety of humanity, and I read the caption for Sheila's picture (paraphrased above), I realized that a similar thoughtform has been morphing in my brain lately as regards the coffee business.

Coffee is a business completely built on people. I make a big deal about the chemistry, the taste, the product, the processing, and myriad other facets of the industry, but it really all comes down to the human hands that carry out each step of the process. I had a meeting with a gentlemen named Kevin Cronin at one of my cafe's on Friday. And I found myself trying to explain to Kevin why I love the coffee business. What I was trying to tell him is that I am in love with the coffee business because of the thickness of the human strands, the human relationships, on which the whole industry turns. Trust and craftmanship are built into each stage of the process, culminating in the final sip, which is often consumed in the course of a dialogue between two or more individuals. Coffee may be a social lubricant, and coffee would not be able to be produced if it were not for the well lubricated social relationships between pickers, growers, exporters, importers, brokers, roasters, baristas and consumers. The richness of coffee will never cease to amaze me.

And thank you, Herb, for producing such a wonderful reflection of the humanity of Cleveland, that has in turn sparked such thoughts from me.

All you Clevelanders should definitely take a trip down to the WRHS at University Circle and take a look. You'll be glad you did. While you're there, you can also enjoy Herb's portrait of Phoenix's own coffee guru, Carl Jones, who is featured in this exhibition as well.

Friday, July 07, 2006

superbarista shirts have arrived

David and Goliath

I remember when I found out that Starbucks was opening on Lee Road, a few doors down from our Phoenix Coffee shop. I happened to be on the cordless phone in the basement of my house, doing laundry when I received the news. I think it was a Saturday morning. I admit that I cried. Carl, of course, was steadfast and confident that we would "win". I decided that we had to win. Friends and family had invested so that we could open Phoenix Coffee on Lee Road, and losing their money was not an option. I decided I had better start figuring out the esoteric principles behind the David and Goliath story, because that was about my only hope.

Since that moment, our business has done nothing but increase. Carl invented Blue Moon Blend, a coffee designed to compete with Starbucks. We changed our menu boards and decor. We began to focus even more on developing relationships with customers as well as community groups. We started our fall Pumpkin Carving party. We began doing monthly coffee tastings and events. Our store got better. Our staff got better. I got more and more proud of our operation. And I got more and more clear about how we are different from Starbucks, in terms of our store's look and feel and product line.

David was able to defeat Goliath because he was able to lodge his blow in exactly Goliath's weak point. Here in Cleveland Heights, Goliath's weakpoint was the fact that Starbucks is not a small, locally owned business. Starbucks can't be agile and can't change its operation to fit its customer base. We could do those things, and we did.

The credit for our success on Lee Road goes to every Phoenixer who made meaningful contributions to the effort, both those who are still with us as well as more than one previous employee. Thank goodness my staff was able to tell me what they thought we needed to do to compete effectively. We made many changes that they suggested, and now we have more business to show for it. Thanks to all of you. I get teary thinking about how much everyone has helped, and all the thought and concern that has gone into making that store succeed.

All that said, now comes the actual lesson in all of this. While Starbucks and Arabica were open, it gradually became apparent that we didn't even need to defeat the Giant. Our business was fine with both of them down the street from us. The competitive pressure was good for us, and did force us to improve our business. However, it would have been better in the long run, for the neighborhood, if Starbucks and Arabica both had been able to stay open. I will continue to preach to other cafe owners that the cafe business is not a closed system; the more cafes there are, the more business there will be. The David and Goliath comparison was born out of a scarcity mentality that I have actually outgrown.

Starbucks generally signs long leases. In this case, I think it was a 20 year lease. I have never heard of a Starbucks closing. Does anyone else know of any others that have closed?

Starbucks closes on Lee Road

Courtesy of Randy Martin, musician, writer, and Lee Road customer. The image may not be large enough to decipher here, but the plane sports the Phoenix logo and the ship sports the Starbucks logo.