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

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Don Evilio coffee from the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica

I sent an email to Jorge, the manager of the Don Evilio plantation in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica, and I heard back from him already that he can help us facilitate our Costa Rican Coffee Tour. This is so exciting! So I have begun researching the San Marcos Valley. It's only an hour from San Jose. Here is a picture from the Don Evilio website that I particularly liked. Furthermore, Sue Strauss (bean counter extraordinaire) had a great idea about how baristas can raise money for the trip... we can sell coffee at the farmers markets and festivals this summer and fall, and baristas get to put the profits towards their trip, in proportion to the number of hours that everyone contributes. Costa Rica here we come. January/February of 2007, most likely.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Water Buffalo, Funerals and Coffee... hmmm...

I spent the weekend pouring over books on Indonesia in preparation for our Indonesian coffee tasting that is coming up in March. Sunday afternoon was the best. It was bitterly cold; a perfect day to take my girls to the library and hole up in the children's section. I parked myself at a table next to two girls doing puzzles and surrounded myself with encyclopedias and children's geographical reference books. I took notes and looked at gorgeous pictures and maps of Indonesia while my two girls perused the stacks and read, also. It felt like being in college again. I got in touch with my inner geek. It was grand. I love my job.

One of the interesting things I learned actually came from a book I got from the adult section. The book is called Indonesia: a country study and it is published by the Library of Congress. But I wouldn't have been able to appreciate the info in this book if I hadn't primed myself first with the basics contained in the reference section of the children's department (sad but true).

There is an ethnic group in central Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes) called the Toraja. They grow rice for sustenance and coffee for cash. So our Celebes coffee is most likely grown by Torajans. The Torajans are not only famous for their coffee, which is still Carl's favorite, after all his thirty years in the coffee business, but they are also famous for their funerals. Really. Torajan funerals become a tourist attraction. Here's why...

The Torajan society is organized through several different types of social groupings, all of which possess very strong emotional and economic ties.
  • rarabuku = nuclear family
  • tongkonan = ancestral house
  • saroan = village work group

All three groups are important parts of each individuals life. So when someone dies, it becomes difficult to determine which members of which group actually inherits that person's possessions, since work group bonds may be as strong as nuclear family bonds. One way that people vie for the right to the deceased's inheritance is they offer the greatest number of sacrificial water buffalo at the person's funeral. In so doing, they prove their strong bonds with that person. The amount of land an individual inherits from the deceased might depend on the number of buffalo sacrificed at the relative's funeral. Somes people even pawn land to get buffalo to kill at a funeral! Thus, feasting at funerals is highly competitive and also results in quite a gory spectacle. Here is a link to one visitor's description of a Torajan funeral: Warning... it is quite graphic.

The Indonesian government sanctions these traditional funerary rites, by calling them a branch of "Balinese Hinduism". The Indonesian government, under their "Pancasila" doctrine, only sanctions the practice of five religions, all of which believe in a supreme being: Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Islam (most Indonesians are Muslim) and Buddhism. It is probably a stretch that this funerary practice, indigenous to Sulawesi, would have originated in Balinese Hinduism. Hey, the Indonesian government is practical, and any tourist attraction is a good tourist attraction, so let's find a way to make it legal.

Indonesian Coffee Tasting March 25th

Friday, February 17, 2006

Warning: This could happen to you if you visit the Roastery

Sarah torturing roastery visitors right after the Brew matters seminar

Phoenix Crew from Brew Matters Seminar

Front: Mike Hoffman
Then (left to right) Julie Hutchison, Steve Goldberg, Dawn Andrews and Elisa from IRTF, then Lindsay Sandine, Matthew Kiley, Lisa Dunn, and in the back, Brian from IRTF, Heather Terrore and Tina Chmielecki.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Coffee Culture... again... what is it? How do I explain it?

I think I may have finally figured out the answer to the challenge that Jim Collins poses to any business owner or executive who reads his book Good to Great. He challenges the reader to figure out what it is that their business specifically is the best in the world at. I think Phoenix is really good at roasting coffee, brewing coffee, and really good at service, and even food, and education, and treating employees and vendors well, and probably myriad other things, but what is that one thing that we are the absolute best at, or what COULD we be the absolute best at? It might just be...
creating, communicating and upholding coffee culture in Cleveland, OH. This may sound like a nebulous concept, but I think it's something that we understand and are uniquely suited to serve this particular purpose. I'm not sure how we actually sell this concept, especially to wholesale customers, but it probably can be done.

This thought was spurred by a meeting today with a cafe owner who has been a good customer of mine for about a year. He bought the cafe from its previous owner and has been making improvements ever since. He wants to take his business to the next level, so I spent a while trying to explain coffee culture. I talked about our goofy titles (like bad ass barista, espresso evangelist, etc) and lots of other examples, and I think some of it made some sense. At least I hope so.

Monday, February 13, 2006

More Colombian Coffee info from the New York Times

After all the time we spent talking about Colombia tonight, this article gives a great synopsis and then some of much of the material we covered this evening. Wow!

And the winner is Stove Top Espresso with Diane DeRubba

Yum! She added sugar to a small amount of espresso and whipped it into a froth before adding back into the pot of espresso that was enjoyed by all the visitors to her table.

All the Phoenixers who helped with the presentations, set up and clean up for today's Brew Matters event at the Phoenix Roastery made great contributions. Diane really went above and beyond, with her homemade biscotti and polished presentation, and the sugar whip that made the espresso taste like Cuban coffee. So when we took a vote at the end for which coffee everyone preferred, Diane's stove top espresso got the most votes. Then came Dawn's Vacuum Pot; she toiled long and hard before hand, making batch after batch to get the dosage right and to season the brewer. Participants also enjoyed the rich chewy French Press brew, presented by Bobby and Julie from the Lakewood store.

It was great to know that all the folks who came found a brew that they really enjoyed. Tina and Heather made some great espresso shots; I tasted them myself!

Julie shared with us the nine aspects that the Rainforest Alliance certifiers examine when they certify a farm, from soil conservation to how workers are treated.

Steve struggled with the finicky Neapolitan brewer (I didn't know what a challenge I had given him) and managed to make a few successful brews. What a trooper.

Kiley entertained his groups back in the roastery near the automatic drip brewer, attempting to explain some of the chemistry of Golden Cup certification and proper coffee brewing techniques. He also ended up giving some impromptu roastery tours!

Brenden filmed the whole thing, so hopefully we'll have an edited version that we can use for training purposes soon.

Mike Hoffman pitched in greatly with clean up, washing all the espresso cups and the food platters. The food from Tastebuds was great, thank you Bridget.

Charlotte and Veronica did a great job checking everyone in, handing out espresso cups, programs, and bottled water. We ran out of programs (I had printed 44) and we got into our third case of bottled water (about 52 bottles) so it seems we had more than 50 people attend!

It was great to be able to stand in the middle of the whole thing and overhear the simultaneous presentations going on... to hear all the Phoenixers using their coffee tasting terminology and vocabulary to work the crowd, from all corners of the room. We have come such a long way in terms of coffee knowledge and ability to communicate information, and I know we will only continue to get better. I'm already thinking about the upcoming Indonesian Coffee Tasting and how we'll format that. There's no way we can accomodate 50+ for that, I don't think. Or can we? Smaller groups are better; it makes it easier to customize.

Way to go, Team Phoenix!

Now it's 10:30 PM and I'm still wired. Could be a long night.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The tables are set

The roastery is all set up and ready to go for Monday night's coffee tasting. We will have munchies from Tastebuds for those of you who will be just coming from work.

Carl will be doing a brief introduction about sensory awareness and how to go about trying the coffees.

Julie will be telling us a bit about Rainforest Alliance certification.

We have six different areas set up where Phoenixers will be brewing coffee via six different methods. We will be using our Organic Colombian, certified by Rainforest Alliance.

  • Diane's area, for the stove top espresso, has a red tablecloth, appropriate for the Italian heritage that this brewing method represents.
  • Kiley is going to be making auto drip coffee back in the equipment repair area. Not too glam, but it will be a perfect place to learn about the TDS meter and what it takes to get Golden Cup certified.
  • Dawn will be attempting to make vacuum pot coffee on a butane burner. We made five batches this evening and none of them worked because the coffee got stuck in the top chamber all five times!!! Or maybe it was six... anyway, we're pretty worried about actually being able to demonstrate this method effectively. We're using an old-fashioned vacuum pot, it's Carl's and it's at least 20 years old. The new fangled electric ones from Bodum have been back ordered till March!
  • Steve has been working on perfecting the Neapolitan brewing method. We'll see how it turns out... it's pretty finicky, too.
  • Tina and Heather will be fractionating espresso shots and having folks try both the full shot and the fractionated one.
  • Bobby will be brewing French Press and talking about its history a little and hopefully raving about how good coffee is out of one of those simple devices.

Then the Inter Religious Task Force will be presenting some information about the political situation in Colombia. Should be interesting.

It looks so nice at the Roastery! We hung a new coffee bag art weaving by the back door, and another one in the front education area for visitors viewing pleasure. We've got all different brewers for sale as well as of course coffee, and I'll be doing tours afterwards.

Pretty soon we'll be gearing up for March's event, an Indonesian coffee tasting! We've got folks coming from as far away as Chicago and Baltimore for that one already.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The origin of Cleveland's Arabica...

...was a Neapolitan coffee maker that an old friend, John Campion, gave to Carl Jones, my husband, circa 1976. It was the taste of coffee from that pot that gave Carl the inspiration to start Arabica.

This morning I made myself a pot of coffee using the very same coffee pot. It was a slightly messy, spurty process, but intriguing because making coffee with a Neapolitan requires patience and a good sense of smell. Not many other brewing methods require the use of one's nose as a "timer".

The Neapolitan, as Phoenix's Espresso Evangelist, Steve Goldberg, has discovered, is a finicky brewing method, involving two chambers, one with a pouring spout for after the coffee is finished. The first chamber is where the water boils and in so doing "steams" the coffee grounds before brewing. This is where your sense of smell comes in. The coffee brewer should be removed from the burner when it begins to smell like coffee. The aroma actually reminds me of the steam that is emitted when coffee is roasting, not brewing. So the steam pre-brews the coffee. Then the apparatus is inverted, allowing the hot water to fall through the grounds, contained in a metal cage, and into the bottom chamber.

The resulting brew was too bitter to drink without some steamed half and half. But, combined with the half and half, it was heavenly. Better than a latte, and it gave me a good buzz too. I think one of the reasons it tasted so good is because of the delayed gratification. Anything that we have to wait 10 minutes for just has to be better, simply due to the additional anticipation and excitement.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Last chance to sign up for Monday's seminar

Monday February 13th
Phoenix Coffee Roastery
1728 St. Clair Avenue
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Brew Matters
Coffee Brewing Seminar
Fun and Tasty!
We will be brewing Colombian RainForest Alliance Coffee from Mesa de los Santos plantation via six different brewing methods... French Press, Stove Top Espresso, Traditional Espresso, Vacuum Pot and Neapolitan. Phoenixers will be presenting tips on brewing great coffee via all these methods as well as a little history and background on each method. Furthermore, the Inter Religious Task Force will be presenting information on the current social and political state in Colombia, to give us some context on where this coffee comes from, and Julie Hutchison will be giving us some background on the Rainforest Alliance. Entertaining and informative! And you can be wired by the end if you sip enough of the samples.
Email with your name and I will register you.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hope for the unsettled

"People wish to be settled; only in so far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Superbarista to Judge at US Barista Championships

I am so excited to report that I just got the details on what it will take to be a judge at the US Barista Championships in Charlotte, NC. I will be attending a two day workshop in preparation as well as taking a sensory skills test in order to qualify. I have been reading through the Judges rules and regulations, many of which are actually behavioral guidelines, such as being respectful to the competitors, not speaking to each other during the presentations, not making eye contact, not laughing. There are many reminders about the psychological impact that the judges' behavior has on the competitors.

Here is what we are looking for in a Barista:
  • One who has a mastery of technical skills, craftsmanship, and who is passionate about their profession.
  • High quality beverages served.
  • One who has a broad understanding of coffee knowledge.
  • One who may serve as a role model and a source of inspiration for others.

I know Tina C. (bad ass barista at Lee Road) is getting pretty serious about competing. She has even developed her signature drink. She needs to feel more confident about her skills. Wouldn't it be cool to have a Phoenix representative at the USBC?

Valentine's Day Latte Art

More latte art from Steven at Dewey's. This is a raspberry latte specimen with pink foam for Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 03, 2006

We made Barista Magazine!

Phoenix gets more national publicity!

They published a nice article about our most recent espresso olympics.
Barista Magazine Feb/March Issue You can't read all the content online unfortunately.

Our next Espresso Olympics will be held on April 28th from 6:30 PM to 9 PM.
Plan on attending! You can register by emailing us and giving us your name and email to reserve your spot, either as a spectator or as a participating barista.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Steven Irizarry latte art from Dewey's on Shaker Square

Made on an Astra 2000 superautomatic using Phoenix's Blonde Espresso and Dairymen's milk. So pretty!

I know it tasted good, too, because he made me one the other day that was literally the best one I had had in a long time. Yum.