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

Friday, April 27, 2007

Off to the Specialty Coffee Association Show in Long Beach, CA

Next week Dawn (our Roastery Maven) and I will be departing for Long Beach California so we can be inundated with coffee ideas, products and people. We will both be volunteering at the US Barista Championship, attending some classes and chatting with vendors and other coffee biz folks. I hope to post on some of the specialty drinks that I experience as a judge, so stay tuned.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Phoenix Coffee outsells competitors at Whole Foods

Look at those empty slots! (Ours are the red bags)

We have refilled twice now, and the coffee keeps disappearing off the shelves. Note that the other coffees are still full! I am so glad that we have supportive customers who also shop at Whole Foods, and it is really a great opportunity for us to be on their shelves.

The end of organic coffee?

Interesting article on a USDA change in how organic coffees are certified on

I found it through exploring an entrepreneurial thinktank website co-founded by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. I have really enjoyed our experience with Whole Foods thus far, which has prompted me to look further into the philosophy that makes them so successful.

I am surprised that none of my other usual "sources" have sent this article to me or linked to it thus far.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What the %$@! do we do about Cleveland?

Today we had a nice visit from the clover folks, Anastasia, David and Don. They were great, knowledgeable, friendly, and we had a wonderful time experimenting with coffee together. We began with a journey inside the Tanzanian bean to find out the optimal number of seconds of dwell time that it took to deliver the characteristic Tanzanian punch, and finished up with a similar exploration of Yemen, one of my favorites.

While I loved the clover machine, when it came time for me to decide if I was going to buy it, I had to tell them to pack the coveted-coffee-toy back into its crate and take it back to Seattle. So sad. But, Phoenix Coffee's bank account, here in humble, poorest-city-in-the-nation Cleveland just isn't ready for an $11,000 coffee brewer. It's going to have to remain the domain of the coffee bigger shots on the West Coast for now.

Which leads me to the real subject of this post, a film I attended this evening, hosted by Future Heights, screened at the Cedar Lee Theatre, called "Making Sense of Place, Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City". The film was a collaboration between Northern Light Productions and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

So, readers who are not Clevelanders, you can stop reading here. But for those of you who are interested in the fate of Cleveland, for whatever perverse reason, keep reading...

Cleveland, once the fifth largest city in the nation, is now officially the nation's poorest, and boasts a population of 500,000 and shrinking. After 80 minutes of birds-eye-view perspective on our city's economic bleakness, the continuous population exodus to the suburbs, the problems with our education system, I stumbled down the theatre steps and bumped into Peggy Spaeth, director of Heights Arts. We chatted, pulled our coats around us and walked to our cars. When optimistic, creative minds are presented with huge problems, solutions inevitably bubble. Peggy pointed at an expanse of blank brick wall across the street... "I want a big mural there". She said. I pointed at the empty formerly Starbucks space next to the theatre "I want to open my tea house idea there." We bantered about art and coffee being part of the solutions to Cleveland's problems, only half-jokingly.

What the #$%! is the solution to Cleveland's crisis? I don't think anyone knows. I know we have a myriad of civic leaders working diligently on this problem. But the feeling of slow-motion suffocation continues. Concrete solutions are difficult to find, but as I reflect on it, I can describe the qualities I think a viable solution (or solutions) would have to have to WORK in the unique economy and culture of Cleveland. I have grown up here. I think I understand the Cleveland mentality, our conservatism, and our optimism. So here's a shot:

  • Something that can happen in baby steps, and does not require a quantum leap. Because Cleveland is not a quantum leap kind of place.
  • The solution must come from the fabric of which our communities are already woven. It can't be gambling, or high-tech, or something that seems foreign or imported or invented by the higher-ups. It has to come from our civic "soil", and be more-or-less home grown.
  • Something that is inspired, yet maybe obvious, that maybe was there all along but we overlooked it.
  • It might be putting a new spin on something old and traditional, something that people know and trust already.
  • It might involve renovating buildings or old, outdated facilities. It might involve "green building" or "environmental technologies" that also have short-term financial benefits.
  • It has to be something that many different people can be involved in, on many different levels, to facilitate grass roots involvement and excitement.

Whatever Cleveland embraces to help pull us out of our economic doldrums, it will have to be something that a lot of people can "get" quickly, without a complicated explanation. Like the other day when I mentioned "barista trading cards" to one of our baristas. She got it immediately. It didn't need further explanation. I'm not saying barista trading cards are the answer to Cleveland's problems. I'm just saying that something with a quick and elegant explanation would be the most likely to catch on.

So that's my crack at economic development brainstorming. Please let me know if the above thoughts ring true to any of you!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

don't serve the drink until the portafilter is empty

Dear Baristas,
I would like to hear your opinion on this issue, so please post your comments...
I have had several discussions over the past week with concerned baristas about emptying the puck out of the portafilter after the espresso is brewed. We all know that it is bad form to leave the spent coffee in the hot portafilter for many reasons. One reason is the heat from the group head bakes the coffee oils into the small holes in the filter basket, and the group head screen, contributing to rancid flavors in future shots. One barista stated that it was his habit to return to the espresso machine after he had served the beverage and empty the portafilter at that point. I replied that it was better to empty the portafilter before the drink is presented to the customer. This can be challenging because there is time pressure to serve the beverage to the customer quickly. But I think it is worth the extra fraction of a second to empty the portafilter before stepping away from the machine, because there is no chance that you will forget to empty it that way. Is there ever a time when it would be preferable to leave the puck in the machine 'til later? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

clover is coming!

Next Thursday, April 12th, we will have a clover machine on demonstration at our roastery from 10 am till noon. This unique machine uses both vacuum pot and french press technology to brew a 16 ounce cup of coffee in 40 seconds that tastes like a French press. I sampled it at the World Barista Championship in Switzerland last year... it was one of the few sources of coffee by the cup... and found the brew quite satisfactory. These machines retail for $11,000 and are really fun to watch and taste. Everyone is welcome to come and see the new brewing technology! Just please email or call (216) 522-9744 to let us know you're coming.

Monday, April 02, 2007

East 9th and Superior, here we come!

In December 2006, we (Phoenix Coffee) purchased Brews Brothers coffeeshop at the corner of Mayfield and Green roads in South Euclid, and have transformed it into a Phoenix. We added ambiance and Phoenix products, and began actively intertwining, interconnecting and building community, one relationship at a time. Sales have increased markedly and we are well on our way to making that location a success.

The Phoenix formula seems to be one part great coffee, two parts excellent, trustworthy and committed staff, one part ambiance and re-purposed decorative objects, two parts community building and one more part of monitoring cash flow. Put together and simmer until it smells right.

Now we have begun work on our fifth Cleveland location, at East 9th and Superior in the Key Bank Center (formerly McDonald Investment Center). Our new address will be 1700 E. 9th, which is funny, because the space is 1700 square feet. It's a blank slate. Not even a desk to use when we go in there to plan, or a sink to wash our hands.

The exciting thing about this is that we can do it as right as we know how the first time. So Polly (our in-house-architect-wanna-be and also my mother) and I spent 8 hours on Sunday pouring over the to-scale drawing and browsing restaurant equipment online. I have also spent some time reviewing the LEED for Commercial Interiors program for Green Building. It seems do-able to live up to the LEED specs at least enough to reach the first level of certification.
Yes, 75% of the interior space has daylight and views.
Yes, we can use low-emitting materials (carpeting, paints, etc).
Yes, we can arrange for a bike rack.
Yes, we can make the lights and thermostat precisely controllable.
Yes, more than 30% of our furniture and furnishings will be re-used resources.
I think we can do it!

Of course, there are other reasons to be excited about this new location. It's a chance to create another intentional community of customers, staff, vendors in the heart of Cleveland's financial district. Bankers need heart-shaped lattes more than just about anyone, don't you think? It's an opportunity to find and hire more fabulously talented, charming baristas and be proud of their smiles, conversational professionalism and coffee skills.

Last Friday, my yoga teacher, upon hearing that we were opening another store, asked "Should I be buying stock in you?" If the formula that I stated above continues to score at these new locations, the answer is certainly YES!