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

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Celebrating 1976

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

30th anniversary blend

Carl has been working on his 30th anniversary blend, since Phoenix Coffee will be celebrating his 30th anniversary roasting coffee here in Cleveland this September. The blend is a redesign of our Dark Espresso Blend, it is downright buttery and tastes good out of our Saeco machine at home, and damned good out of my French Press for the past three mornings, but so far hasn't brewed well in the Astra at the Roastery Espresso Lab. So we may not market it as an espresso blend, just a regular drip coffee blend.

He has told me that one of the components is Tanzanian Peaberry, which surprised me, because somehow the brightness of the Tanzanian is so subtle in this blend that I missed it entirely. I have tasted other blends with Tanzanian where the Tanzanian has been discordant, but here, it folds in nicely, like adding a drop of lemon juice to a broth. Hmmm... maybe this connects to my earlier post about the interaction of acids and salts. That principle must be an important part of blending. I think this is something that Carl just intuitively understands, but my analytical mind still wants to understand why blending is not just a matter of putting a few good-tasting coffees together. There are some really interesting and surprising interactions between the coffees.

So stay tuned... the new blend will be making its debut in the next two weeks.
1976 Blend?
Disco Blend?
Coffee Guru Blend?
Carl's Blend 30 years later?
Three Caffeinated Decades Blend?
Bald and Proud Blend?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

How to take the edge off your lemonade, courtesy of Mystery Solution 049

I finished grading everyone's sensory skills tests from yesterday's seminar. Unfortunately, no one passed, although Julie Hutchison (Owner of the Lakewood Phoenix) came close, with a score of 61% on "section three", the tough one, where a score of 70 is required to pass. Next time!

As I was going through the grading, one thing stood out. Mystery solution #049 (the number has been changed to protect the innocent). No one got it right. Why?

This solution happened to contain one part "Sour IV", one part "Sweet II" and one part "Salt III". These notations refer to dilute aqueous solutions that were our "reference solutions". "IV" denotes the most intense reference solution and "I" denotes the least intense. This particular solution contained three pretty intense components, the most intense of which was the Sour IV. Few of our 15 participants tasted sour at all, and no one guessed that it was Sour IV. Many people guessed Salty instead, or Sweet.

Did I mix it up wrong? Vaguely panicked, I started reading through the fine print of Ted Lingle's Coffee Cupper's Handbook.

After a few minutes of perusal, I happened to find this:
"Acids increase the saltiness of salts. Salts reduce the sourness of acids."
AHA! This could explain it.

Just to be sure, I ran to the kitchen and mixed up a small batch of Sour IV (2 grams of lemon juice per liter of distilled water) and a small batch of Mystery Solution 049 (3 grams sugar, .66 grams lemon juice, .66 grams of salt in one liter of distilled water) and tasted them, calling Carl and Charlotte in to verify. Sure enough, Sour IV tasted sour, but Mystery Solution 049 tasted mostly salty, a little sweet, and not even noticeably sour. Wow! The sour taste just disappears when you add enough salt! Although, I think if I was taking the test, I would guess the sour was in there, just because it is a given that some of the solutions contain all three componets. This one tastes so "thick" and complex, I think I might have guessed that the sour was in there, even if I wasn't completely sure.

So next time you're drinking lemonade (sour and sweet), try adding some salt. You'll see, the sourness will just melt away.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A mound of white powder on a gram scale 6 pm on a Friday night. What kind of job do I have after all? I am a commodities dealer, coffee just so happens to be legal. The white powders in this case were salt and sugar, which I was weighing in order to prepare the reference solutions for the "Test Your Taste" Seminar tomorrow. I had two tables covered with empty water jugs, water bottles, measuring cups, scale, lemons for making the sour solutions, more measuring cups, 5 gallon jugs; it was all I could do to keep track of what was where. Thank goodness for Dawn's excellent sense of organization that had preceded me when she prepared the first round of reference solutions. Tomorrow, in addition to doing the taste test itself, we'll be discussing the number of tastebuds each of us has, the mysterious fifth taste called "Umami" and hopefully discovering if any of us are what is called "supertasters".

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Twisting tamp of new baristas

On Tuesday, during part two of a nine hour training program for our new baristas, I think we perfected the new Phoenix standard of the twisting tamp. Per Dennis Skitzki, our ever-opinionated Espresso Wizard, the twisting tamp seems to be a good methodology for producing an evenly packed particle matrix in the filter basket. We still use the standard 40 pounds of pressure, but while applying pressure, we also twist the tamper about 120 degrees. The first two or three shots we made were awful, but those are generally the sacrificial ones that we give to the spirit of the espresso machine anyway. The machine hadn't been used in a day or two, so it always takes a bit to re-adjust. Then, we were cranking. Even with three newbies pulling shots, wow, some of them were fantastic. I happen to think the twisting tamp was at least partly to "blame".

James Hollis comes to us from Ohio Citizen Action, as well as a previous stint at Arabica. He has really cool Harry Krishna tattoos. But that's not why we hired him. He also has great attention to detail and aced the Espresso Quiz and drank way more espresso than I have seen one person consume at one time, except for maybe Kiley or Carl. James will be working at the Superior Avenue cafe. Welcome, James!

Temeka Payton has a varied and dynamic background. She recently graduated with a degree from John Carroll University. She is a drummer in her church band, has ROTC experience, and a very inquiring mind and probably does love coffee more than life itself. Temeka will be working at the Lee Road cafe. Welcome, Temeka!

Wes Johansen is an art history student at John Carroll University. Wes is a Cleveland Heights native, and is very bright and attentive. He has already been studying his Barista Bible, asking good questions, and has quickly mastered the concepts of over and under extraction. Wes will be working at the Lee Road cafe. Welcome, Wes!

Friday, August 18, 2006

the youngest and newest superbarista!

From Dorchester, MA hails Traeger Kittelstrom! Look at those cute blue eyes! And that bag of fresh Phoenix Coffee on his head!

Cleveland Museum of Art burns my cookies

Be warned, everyone, that when Steve Litt's article (in the Plain Dealer) about the partnership that the Cleveland Museum of Art has struck up with Starbucks is printed, it will contain four letter words courtesy of Carl Jones. Before Carl spoke with Mr. Litt, he asked me if he should edit his opinions for public consumption, and I said no. Thankfully the Plain Dealer has rules against four letter words. The Cleveland Museum of Art could have just as easily partnered with local independent shops who support the local arts scene EVERY DAY, with poetry readings, art exhibits, fundraising events, etc (see Phoenix's website for a list of causes we support). But no, they partnered with Starbucks.

Here's the Cool Cleveland blurb on what is going on:

CMA coffeeshop The Cleveland Museum of Art will be launching CMA@Starbucks and a very special unveiling on Fri 8/18 at 9:30PM at the Starbucks at Cedar Hill, located at 12405 Cedar Road. As CMA's unprecedented $258 million renovation and expansion continues, ten Starbucks locations across the Cleveland area will display "Arts Corners" where you can enjoy favorites from CMA's permanent collection along with a great cup of Starbucks coffee. You can also pick up CMA publications and get in on a range of special programs including book clubs and "coffee talks" at select locations to on-site Art Crew appearances. Visit to learn more. Which CMA piece do you miss seeing the most? Let's have a moment. Send you musings to

Letter from a customer

Dear Carl (and/or Sarah),
I've been working out of the office for the past two days. I started out at the Starbucks on Cedar (mostly because I didn't know you stayed open so late) but after hearing the girl beside me loudly pad her sentence with the word "like" for "like" the 100th time in 5 minutes I just couldn't take it anymore! Valley girls should be banned from using their cell phones in public. Yipe!
Anyway, so I came to the Phoenix on Lee Road and I have to say I never realized how cool this place was! The people are great and the atmosphere is really sincere and nice. I'd much rather spend my time here, any day! I've been enjoying many a tasty treat, I especially like the speedball, though the name reminds me of "the crackrock" (maybe that's why I like it so much) :)
Your coffeehouse is my new work away from work. Thanks for making it such a cool joint!

- Signed, A customer who I should really ask his permission before I post this, so I won't print his name, at least not yet.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Big Compliment

Yesterday, while I was educating three new baristas at our Roastery, I got a big compliment from Michael Corbin, one of our new baristas who will be working at our Lee Road cafe. As the day progressed, from morning paperwork, through two videos, lunch, then the quiz, then hands on practice with the espresso machine, Michael seemed to warm to the task of absorbing information. Around 4 o'clock, as we practiced making latte after latte, polished the ruby (see archived posts for explanation... it's nothing obscene) and then finally fractionated a shot of espresso into its three extraction phases, Michael proclaimed something like this:

"You know, I have worked at two other coffee companies [Starbucks and Arabica] and I have learned more this afternoon than I did at either place."

I was ecstatic and immediately gave Michael a high-five. (High fives are now a frequent occurrence around Phoenix, kudos to Kiley for that cultural contribution.) We work hard to educate our staff, but sometimes I lament our limited time and resources. As a small business, we are constantly challenged to do more with less and to make each minute count. I'm still coasting on the warmth of pride that swelled in me after he made that comment.

Go Team Phoenix!

Remarkable Phoenixers

What makes Phoenix Coffee remarkable?

The excellent product we sell and the remarkable people who sell it; that's what makes Phoenix Coffee the bright spot in our customer's day.

Phoenixers are humans who are not perfect, but who have the spark of intelligence, the sizzle of passion, the glow of kindness and solid presence of mind. Phoenixers are people who make you glad that you picked up the phone and called us to put in your order, or make you glad that you came in for that cup of coffee, backed by a warm smile and genuine thank you.