Friday, November 9, 2012

Maybe time for an update?

Well, it has been a long time. We moved over to Wordpress a couple of years ago, had some trouble over ownership rights (which, had I been more patient, could have been entirely avoided), and basically shut down the blogging aspect of BFC&T. The last post, which is still up on our website (which is "under construction" for the umpteenth month in a row), was loving towards our neighbors, but a bit snarky towards industry folks. I cannot remember the reason for the snark, but, industry folks, if you're still out there, I do apologize. One thing that happened was our roaster (the machine) caught fire. This led to my burnout on pretty much all things coffee. I just wasn't interested in doing anything with it -- which is problematic when you own a coffee shop. I kept the status quo, handed off the roasting to a trust associate, did some baking, kept on teaching at the local college, and went to seminary (plus had another kid). I kept busy, but I always had this nagging suspicion that I should care, really care, about what I was doing. But I couldn't bring myself to that point: the damage, I thought, had been done; I just needed to look for my exit, preferably into academia. Funny thing is I found out that burnout comes wherever you're at. The trick isn't finding the "thing" that keeps you satisfied at all times, whether in love or work or play, but to push through, to take some breaks and refresh, and to actually love whatever it is that you put your hands to. Now, when I say "love," I don't mean some sort of passionate engagement: anyone who has loved knows that there are times when the emotions, the excitement, and the drive just aren't there. Real love, though, can blossom in those times: "Love isn't blind" as Chesterton says in Orthodoxy, "Love is bound; and the more bound it is, the less blind." We bind ourselves to things (interestingly enough, 'binding' in this sense is behind the word 'religion') no matter what circumstances and we seek to do them justice and to encourage and enable their flourishing. Passion will, from time to time, arise in that context: but it is by no means the foundation, nor the main driving energy. Rather, a sense of commitment, boundedness, is. It took me too long to remember that. But here I am...and the burnout has passed. It took a long time, but it is gone. I'm tired, certainly, but a little fatigue is nothing when you are committed. I'm back at roasting, I'm back at working on the details of brewing (the details, in the end, are what I love the most), I'm attempting to not totally fail as a manager and employer, and I'm looking forward to what the shop, and this community, can do. It is good to be home.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Movin' on up

For those on you who have this blog in your feed, I'm officially moving over to the new blog: BFC&T Blog. I invite you to switch your RSS feeds or change your bookmarks. I hope to post a little more often there as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

About Direct Trade

We are currently four bags into our ten bag order of Finca Vista Hermosa's "La Vega" Huehuetenango microlot. We love it. It forms the centerpiece of our drip coffee regimen and is a vital part of our 3219 espresso blend (webstore coming soon). Bethany and Jake, along with some other Geneva staff and students, are visiting the farm in mid-March and helping out (best they can) with the harvest. Our relationship with the farm is growing strong and we hope to be able to buy a container of their coffee next year.

That, though, is hard. Being a cash-strapped Beaver County business is difficult in itself, but when you add our commitments to the highest quality and the best buying practices, the dollar signs really add up. We are committed, though, to doing this.

Our work with the farm gives us a level of control over the long-term that isn't possible working with distant importers (although the ones we do work with, Royal NY and Coffee Holding, do a great job). We can work over a number of seasons to identify with lot (with its specific terrior) brings the flavors that we want. We can watch the farmers create and maintain great growing practices and be involved with their community (farming, after all, is never an individual endeavor). As the farm does better, we do better; as we do better, the farm does better. Gotta like those odds.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Why I Love My Work

I was struck the other day that I truly love what we are doing here at BFC&T. It has been a long time since I could say that: we've been racuously busy, in both the positive and negative sense, and I've just had a hard time sustaining a level of acceptable humanness. But the other day I was struck by a couple of things. Coffee, well grown, picked, processed, stored, roasted, and brewed is a wonderful beverage. Tea is the same way. I just did a cupping of Silk Road Teas and they were, by far, the best teas I've ever tasted. Seeing customer expressions after trying them confirmed in my mind why we do this day in and day out. Add to that the fact that Waffles Incaffeinated is making some sweet, culinarily adventurous waffles for us on Saturdays and Mondays.

Then, we've also moved the roaster. (Yes, that would be the third time in one year). It's new residence is a mere three doors down, on ground level, in the old Blue Room Billiards Hall here on College Hill. Compared to the space it was in, there is no comparison (but here's one anyway--100 sq ft v. 1100 sq ft). Now the roaster looks truly diminuitive, but its new digs herald a new age. Beleza Community Coffeehouse, in the Mexican War Streets of Pittsburgh, will soon be carrying our 3219 espresso, a specially created Beleza house blend, and our drip coffees. Yay! So, if you need a BFC&T, but cannot make the drive, try us in the city itself. I'm chasing down other possible wholesale accounts as a new part of my duties here.

Also, I learned about Terry Davis' Demitasse Poetry Contest. Few know it, but I am a published--and fairly prolific--poet, so I'm excited about this contest.

Lastly, competition is a-comin'! We are excited to have Jake and Meg compete, with Bethany judging, and myself volunteering at the event. If you have a chance, this is a great way to learn more about coffee and to support your favorite shops in our area. We'll be organizing trips down there for BF natives and Geneva College students, so be on the lookout for that in the store.

Coffee is great. Life is great.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


A couple of notes:

First, sorry I haven't posted much here as of late. A combination of insane business and the ease of Facebook have taken my attention. Expect more from here in the near future, especially as our new website is finished up by Jake. Also, if you are on Facebook, please consider joining our "fan page". Just search for Beaver Falls Coffee under the "pages" search section. We send out copious updates about concerts, new coffees and teas, and other items of interest.

Second, I just received a shipment of Sumatra and Timor coffees. They will be available for consumption and purchase on Monday. Coffee makes a great gift, as do coffee club subscriptions, brewing get the idea.

Lastly, we will be closed Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and (as usual) Sunday this week to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Please have a safe and wonderful week and we'll hope to see you right after.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things Are Happening

I haven't written in awhile. Lots of stuff going on and I feel so tightly-stretched that I cannot write what I want to or need to. I want to go on and on about La Vega, our direct trade with Finca Vista Hermosa in Guatemala. But I need to save that for another day. I want to speak about the development of Espresso 3219, our signature blend, but that also will have to wait. There is just too much to say about them now.

I will say that things at the margins are happening. We aren't in a big city, we don't have a lot of wholesale accounts. None of us have been in this business for very long and have had to struggle with some less than standardized equiptment (especially in the kitchen). But we love the margins. This is where we thrive and can make great stuff happen: especially when the margins connect with the center.

Cryptic, eh?

Friday, August 1, 2008

What Should We Call Ourselves?

Note: All opinions expressed on this blog are the thoughts of the writers and do not necessarily reflect BFC&T policy or official opinion, although you can be sure that we go back and forth about them constantly.

Jake has been in an interesting conversation over at Barista Exchange which can be found here, concerning coffeeshops and "working class" culture. Some parts of the discussion, from the perspective of a coffeeshop owner in a largely working class area, are disturbing--especially Jake's comment about McD's having a better shot at establishing an "Italian" coffee presence precisely because they aren't a coffeeshop and don't pretend to be (see the "Fratalian" Dunkin Donuts ads). That discussion informs this post/rant, but I don't want to post it there--I'm already involved in more forums than I should be.

If some of the problems associated with all of this revolve around language, then I think we should rethink our terms. I agree with Luke at 21st Street Coffee & Tea that our language should have concrete referents--in other words, a cappucino should refer to an Italian capp, just as a croissant always refers to a croissant, never to a scone. Within that linguistic space, though, there is considerable room for interpretation: good capps and undrinkable capps, croissants light and flaky, pan chocolate, etc. This, of course, is not easy and we still offer (and will for the foreseeable future) a 12oz capp. However, that doesn't mean we don't think about it and haven't encouraged some customers to try a 6oz for here capp. This argument, though, has been ably rehearsed elsewhere and isn't my main concern tonight. My main concern is what we call ourselves: barista.

For the record, I like the term. It is elegant and sets our industry apart from others. However, it is a lot like opera: for the Italians opera is in the vernacular, for us it is high-brow and unintelligble without an interpreter (and even that is no guarantee). When opera is done in English, historically at least, it hasn't been regarded as nearly as high an art form--the irony is terrible, but such is life. For this reason, I don't think barista is a good term for all coffeeshop employees to use, especially in areas where that sort of linguistic boundary marker is off-putting. Not to mention that if McD personnel are going to be calling themselves barista, then the word is so cheapened as to have lost meaning altogether, so why use it?

Instead, may I propose that we gravitate towards the term 'craftsman' (or craftsperson, if you like). In the specialty coffee industry, we often emphasize that the better shops do treat the position of barista as a craft: respect for tools, for materials, a constant betterment of product, presentation, and service. However, we rarely, if ever, look at the other crafts to see how they handle themselves and what they do. There are master carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bakers, chefs, and the list could go on. Rarely, at least with the construction trades, do we see the level of bravado and snobbery that we see with many so-called barista. The folks that I have worked with in these trades (for that is my work background--food and construction) are humble about what they do, letting the product speak for itself as a showcase of work, talent, and the pursuit of beauty (and a paycheck). Certainly, there are characters, there are cads, and there are pricks, but the level of self-overestimation is lower on the radar.

If a coffeeshop is to find itself reaching a working class clientele (and I find no reason to assume that the working class wouldn't appreciate good coffee, good surroundings, and good food expertly prepared), then it must embrace something along these 'craftsman' lines. This doesn't mean, by the way, a cheapening of quality: a shoddy building is despised, good tools are looked upon with pride by the user and envy by others--so there is plenty of room for excellent coffee prepared on excellent equipment. The problem is that, as one of the posters on the BX states, "quality is overrated". The coffee industry operates with most coffee, regardless of origin or preparation, tasting basically the same--the differences are "nuances" or "shades", hardly a convincing argument to ask people to shell over $4 more for a similar product to what they are used to. I don't think this problem is intractable, though. I've talked to many people here who can't drink coffee anywhere else anymore, because we've "ruined" them. I know I certainly cannot drink the local gas station coffee anymore, it just tastes disgusting (and they have the same equipment as us).

Which brings me to the idea of "just" coffee. We hear it all the time, "I just want a coffee". It is almost like good coffee carries the stigma of hubris, of transcending one's boundaries in a sinful way, so that anything associated with the "latte lappers" (as one local radio personality puts it) is trying to be better than your roots, as if it is a cultural slap in the face to tradition and propriety. We rob ourselves if we think anything is "just" anything. Humankind wasn't meant to live with substandard things, whether food or tools or dwellings. That doesn't mean we should all be elitist or aim for hubris, but we shouldn't lock ourselves into thinking that because something is quality, is good, is tasty without cream and sugar but still tasty with, that is necessary "above us". It isn't. Good coffee comes from humble origins and only through hard work, attention to detail, and a lot of sweat and tears can it reach a level fit for human consumption. Whether you are working class or a Brahmin, you should fight to have coffee treated so well.

I find a lot of hope in the working class culture (from which I spring) that I don't see in the "upper crust". But we've let ourselves be deluded into thinking that our way of life shouldn't be beautiful--because we've let others set the terms of debate. It is time for "unsnobby" coffee, but not from an industrial swill factory, whether the largest national chain of coffeeshops or fast food joints. There is too much to lose if coffee isn't looked at as a trade to be enjoyed and appreciated.