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

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jeremy says he can pour these all day

He says it's all about the milk.
He says they sell more lattes in Lakewood... he got more practice when he barista-ed over there. He says skim is easier than whole.
Jeremy, with his boyish charming face. Ya gotta love this kid crema with the rosetta magic. Come in an join his groupie crew at Lee Road when he pours on the latte art during his evening shifts thursday, friday and saturday nights.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

He who guards the coffee cherries

I am not the one who sleeps next to the concrete pad (patio) where the coffee cherries are drying by day.

I do not sleep there to guard the crop from being stolen.

That is someone else's job. He plays soccer with his co-workers under the lush Guatemalan rainforest canopy.

I am not him.

I get a 5 AM phone call when someone can't work. Am I guarding something from some thief?

I sleep on a mattress between a quilt and a sheet, my head on a striped pillowcase.

What does his bed look like? Is it made of burlap coffee sacks? Is it a hammock?

He cooks his meals at a communal oven/stove, made of bricks, made by anyone who can lay mortar. Tamales, tortillas, cafe.

I gaze into a pair of 8-year-old blue and 9-year-old blues across the talbe, chicken soup in my bowl.

Does he see the stars in the Guatemalan sky? Are the insects in the mountains loud at night? Does he have a rifle handy, for if bandits do arrive?

I go down the driveway to get the paper, sometimes in my slippers and bathrobe.

Does he wake up chilly with morning dew, the mountain fog set in overnight? Where does his family sleep?

He held my hand today, as I cursed at my impatience. I reveled in his wholesomeness and dedication, springing eternal.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Gearing up for the Indonesian Coffee Tasting

We are so ready for all you Phoenix fans who will descend upon the Superior Ave Cafe on Saturday! We have changed the location last minute; it's not at the Roastery anymore. I couldn't get my head around washing 250 cups by hand when there is a perfectly good dishwasher and plenty o' tables and chairs (and coffee maker) right around the corner at our Superior Ave Cafe.

We have been tasting the Indonesian coffees, brushing up on our presentation facts, studying the map, and I even got some Indonesian music from the library. Although I have to admit that gamelon music may be too exotic for my American ear.

Here is a map of how to get to the Superior Avenue Cafe.
See you there!

PS We are completely full, so I am sorry to say that if you haven't registered at this point, it is officially too late. Next time! Remember, these events (coffee tasting related) will be a monthly occurrence. Next month is espresso olympics.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

tuesday morning lee road latte art

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Art of Countertop Conversation

Create an opening, find a connection, share an idiosyncracy,
don't pry, smile
"are you always up at this hour?",
keep eye contact half a second longer,
go around the counter to pour the cream in when the pitcher runs out,
be yourself, wait, ask, smile,
"how is your day going so far?"
take in the human-ness of the two eyes across the counter,
be available, look again, follow up,
tell them Veronica made the soccer team or that Kiley's snail escaped,
we're going to Costa Rica,
come drink Indonesian coffee with us on March 25th,
breathe, wait, smile, ask

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

the meaning of life

I suppose I fit the barista stereotype insofaras I spend probably way too much time in a semi-existential funk, perplexed by the meaning, or lack of meaning, of life. Why do I care anyway? Did I just take too many of Steven Crowell's upper level philosophy classes at Rice University? Do I spend too much time with Carl Jones, whose raison d'etre seems to be the contemplation of the meaning of life? Or is this tendency to pause, randomly, and ask WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT ANYWAY? actually a healthy habit that keeps life in perspective?

I have taken to randomly asking our bright Phoenix baristas, and even a few customers, the question "So what is it all about, anyway?" They often respond with What do you mean? So I say "You know, life, why are we here? Why do we do all this?"

I only can ask this of folks who will not think I am putting them on the spot too much. I got a good response from Amy Gillissie the other day, when she stopped in for her bagel and coffee, being the often contemplative person that she is. She responded by saying that Life is about Love. Life is about loving others more than we have been loved. I have replayed this in my head several times since. It's a great answer.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Braniac Customers

I knew we had a bunch of brainiac customers, but rarely is that fact as obvious as it was today. I put out a laminated map of Indonesia to help draw attention to our Indonesian coffee tasting that is coming up on Sunday March 25th, which is almost full. And, just by having the map there on the counter, it spawned all kinds of interesting dialogue. First of all, I learned from David Caldwell, who recently read Guns Germs and Steel, an interesting theory about why European diseases decimated so many indigenous populations. The theory proposed by the author was that these diseases require dense population and intense food production, since they are so virulent, they spread quickly. Hunter gatherer societies produce less virulent diseases. I know there is a lot more to it than this, but this is the basic idea that I was able to glean while preparing David's large Cafe Phoenix made with mocha light.

We also had a customer point out the existence of Wallace's Line, which is an imaginary line that divides the Indonesia archipelago; it was invented by naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace who noticed a drastic difference in plant and animal species between the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi, even though the islands are not particularly far apart. Wallace began to believe that the islands west of the line on the Sunda shelf were all one continent at a former time. This theory marked the beginning of modern biogeology.

This is a great reminder of what an incredible resource the Phoenix Coffee customer base is. What amazing people come to Phoenix Coffee! Such creative, dynamic, intelligent people. In fact, I'm thinking that for our next coffee tasting, I should solicit customers to come present facts and information, rather than relying on just Phoenixers. At Lee Road, if our vacuum breaks, I take it down the street to the vacuum repair shop. If we have a plumbing problem, I just wait a little while until our plumber comes in for his coffee. I needed drywall work, and when Wayne came in for his speedball, I asked him to come look at it. We have painters, architects, general contractors, artists, jewelers, every trade or specialty needed. Maybe we should put together a Phoenix yellow pages? I could list five-year-old Esme, who helped me vacuum the floor with the silent sweeper vac this afternoon, under "janitorial services". I gave her a $.25 tip and her wide eyes, welcoming eyebrows and toothy grin made me feel like I had just handed her the key to the kingdom.

Lee Road Latte Art

The rosetta was actually created by Heather Terrore, but Heather is our quiet and retiring barista, and wasn't interested in posing for the picture, so here is Marcie Phillips with the gorgeous brew. Marcie, thankfully, isn't shy. Why not take at least visual credit for this latte? The customer for whom this latte was brewed was told to "hold on just a minute while we take a picture of this latte". She laughed and felt honored that her latte was that pretty.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Good is the enemy of Great

This is the first line of Jim Collin's book Good to Great which I have found to be a fascinating read. I read it for the first time about two years ago and lately I have turned back to it for guidance and reminders. Here's the first paragraph:

"Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons that we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good - and that is their main problem."

Greatness requires getting out of your comfort zone, because goodness is its own comfort zone. I am having a challenging week full of some tough decisions. In the face of uncertainty and unknown, it is difficult to remain confident and clear. But as I sit here at my kitchen table, at 3:30 AM because I can't sleep, empty bowl of cereal at my elbow, I know I have to just reach down inside myself to that place that knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will find a way to get Phoenix Coffee to the next level. No one else can tell me that. I just have to know. I look around me at the intelligent, creative people that I work with, who are willing to challenge themselves and to grow. I am pushing myself to do what I think is right for the company, in an increasingly rigorous manner. And, on some evenings, it doesn't make for good sleeping. But knowing that I haven't settled for doing things just any old way, and that I am willing to do whatever it takes to get this company closer to our particular manifestation of greatness, that makes it all worthwhile.