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.


Bethany and I were privileged to give an informative look at iced coffee theory and practice at last weekend's Grind Event, hosted by PACA and the Union Project. I usually don't go for iced coffee, it just isn't my thing, but doing the research for the presentation brought a new appreciation for what can be done with ice and espresso (even with the recent Arlington unpleasantness). Our presentation ended up being a little slap-dash, but we have honed since then and are prepared to ice anyone's coffee.

We usually make iced americanos (shaken) for our iced coffee--the shaking seems to cut down the bitterness associated with hot coffee poured over ice, but retains the full flavor and aroma. Today, though, I made a modified Shakerato using a combination of Tim Wendelboe and Rich Westerfield's recipes. Tasty stuff. These are definitely going in my next presentation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Australian Coffee Scene

I was reading the blog for Barista Magazine and was struck by the coffee scene in Australia, specifically The Aroma Festival. This event, going on its 11th year, links coffee retailers with the general public. The turnout is usually between 60,000-100,000!

In related news, Starbucks announced it will close 75% of its Australian stores. Independent shops often fear Starbucks and feel that the only way to compete with Starbucks is to act like a Starbucks. However, this isn't the answer. As it has been said before, the real way to beat Starbucks is to offer a better product and the consumers will decide. Unfortunately too many independent shops in the States offer a sub-par product and Starbucks wins out. Offering events such as the Aroma Festival showcases the shops that are passionate about their craft. I hope that working through BFCAT and PACA I can partner with others who are excited about developing the coffee scene in the Pittsburgh Region. It's been great so far and I look forward to all the possibilities.

(Photo by Halan)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Clinton Campaigns For Baristi

As a quality third-wave coffeeshop, BFCAT (and many others) have good reason to be proud about our coffee over gas station coffee. Some reasons are the quality training, the care and concern for the farmers, better atmosphere, community commitment, and the coffee doesn't come out of an automatic machine that spews out powdered milk and instant coffee. 
In this video, potential 44th President of The United States of America, Hillary Clinton, demonstrates the need for more quality third-wave shops with well trained baristi ready to serve potential commander-in-chiefs anywhere in this expansive nation. Will someone please get her a real cappuccino? 

Monday, April 28, 2008

Roasting notes 4/28

Roasted a little bit tonight, some observations:

Guatemalan Coban, at least the bag I have, always roasts unevenly. Probably the borer holes that litter the beans. Maybe the fact that some of my burners are not burning clean.

10 degree difference in final bean temp between Guat and Tanzanian Peaberry yielded no difference in final bean weight. Curious...

We've begun talks with two coffee farms to do direct importing (as "direct trade" as we can get so far): Finca Vista Hermosa and Daterra. Wondering if Klaus Thompsen will sue if we use those two coffees in an espresso blend...

It is interesting how quickly one comes to conclusions regarding certain origins. Based on just one bag, from who knows where, is a dangerous thing to do, but it is difficult to not think of Coban as always-and-everywhere inconsistent and borer-ridden. It is difficult to not think of Colombian as always having a bitter aftertaste, regardless of roast level. Here is the problem of prejudice and having to roast in larger batches (requiring a larger initial investment in origin). I tried roasting in our machine at its lowest capactity (1.1 lbs), but was met with an uneven, lying roast (it said 424f, but looked--at least some of it--465f). Two pounds didn't improve much. If I always have to roast 3+ lbs, then the options I have are limited, especially when it comes to my proposed triple blend ideas. I don't want to roast 9lbs for a product that I have no idea if it will even be good. Such is life, I guess. I'll just keep roasting away.

I need to remember to clean out the chaff bin before I turn on the gas.

Monday, April 21, 2008


The roaster is up and working here at the C&T. A couple of notes...


2) We now have bags for sale and our new packaging should be ready soon. Both retail and wholesale accounts available.

3) I've been post-roast sorting and have determined it one of the most difficult things to do. I'm not sure how to make pre-roast and post-roast sorting commercially viable, at least from where I'm standing right now. However, I was noticing a lot of "charcoal" beans--yes, beans literally reduced to charcoal--and berries in the Tanzanian Peaberry. Even in specialty grade coffee, sorting is necessary. Not to mention, even with an immaculately cleaned roaster, uneven roasts are still possible and probable. Sorting is, really, the next step of quality and consistency.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Silence and Roasting Smoke

We've been quiet here lately...and haven't been producing much coffee.

I moved our roaster to the shop last week (maybe the week before, but I'm starting to get confused myself on how long this has taken) and thoroughly cleaned it. Top to bottom, left to right, six ways of Sunday. The roaster is probably about five years old and I think I may be the first to give it a thorough cleaning. Such was the start of my troubles...

After cleaning, the drum worked fine. But I broke the heat probe and so cannot tell the temperature inside the roaster, no pre-heat, guessing on what temp I'm roasting to, etc. One is in the mail from the nice folks at Ambex, but I still have a day or two before it arrives.

The cooling tray fan bound up--nothing happening. Once I finally got it unbound (involving taking it completely apart and enough WD-40 inhalation to kill a small horse) it is so loud that I need to wear earplugs. Sigh. It was quieter when it was dirty.

The sweeper has been the thorn in my flesh. The motor runs from the get-go, without the sweeper actually turning. When I get around to turning it on, it moves slowly. Then when I turn it off, it keeps on going. Sigh. It turns out to be an easy fix, I messed something up in the wiring. It will work fine tomorrow.

Ducting is leaking worse than a government employee to the media. New, permanent ducting is being installed next week (hopefully), but now I just am laying the sealant on pretty thick.

So the roasting, for all intents and purposes, has been shut down for about two weeks. I've been out of decaf for who-knows-how-long and I'm beginning to get worn down by the whole process. Thanks to Phil at La Prima, though, who supplied us with an emergency 13lbs that we blew threw in almost one day. I'm hoping that by the end of my 16 hour day tomorrow I'll be going strong, but I've been hoping that for awhile.

Anyway, roasting smoke. I wrote on this blog, some time ago, about distilling coffee smoke. Aside from some interesting culinary possibilities, I'm now wondering if it would be a good way to control the smoke I'll inevitably produce in this residential neighborhood. I certainly want to be a good neighbor. The difficulty, as I see it, is to make sure that no chaff goes out of the stack and into the condensing unit--something not possible with the setup I have. Otherwise, all that will happen is a solid mass of chaff that will back up the roaster Once that problem is taken care of, though, this could be a major innovation in the "greening" of the coffee industry. Maybe...I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Improving On The Reverse French Press

Trolling the Coffeed forums, we came across this post, about how to make a 'ghetto Clover' using a French Press in reverse. Instead of putting the grounds on the bottom and pressing down, put the grounds on top of the screen and pull up, supposedly creating a cleaner cup, akin to a Clover. Hearing that we could replicate a cup of coffee from an $11,000 machine using tools we already have, we were interested and had to try it out.

Swapping out dowel rods First there were some problems to overcome. Many of the replies to the post mention that the French Press has a limited range and that some of the water at the bottom doesn't get a chance to brew. Using our McGyver-like tactics we contemplated how to construct a longer dowel rod to get the screen to the bottom of the French Press. While fabricating our own dowel rod would be awesome, the solution actually turned out to be much simpler. We have several Bodum French Presses and just unscrewed the dowel rod from a larger French Press and attached it to the lid and screen from a smaller one. Voila! Just like that we extended the rod and didn't even have to take any pills mentioned on late night TV infomercials!

Full extension with the new dowel rod Once we fixed this problem, the other issue was how we should get the water in there. After some trial and error, we found the best way is to put the screen (and grounds) at the bottom of the French Press and pour water over it through the spout and swirl the French Press to get all the grounds wet.

Union Made Beer While this produced a great cup, I'd like to continue working to improve the reverse French Press. I'd like to use a finer grind for this reverse method, as the Clover tends to use a finer grind to achieve a fast brewing time. Sweet Maria's sells a nylon filter that could allow for a finer grind to be used. Another area of interest is how much the vacuum effect of the Clover contributes to the cup and how it could be implemented. Hopefully this is only the start of the 'Ghetto Clover' and that BFCAT and others will contribute to new designs and new ideas. Any ideas on how it could be improved?

G-G-G-Ghetto C-C-C-Clover

We are in the beta testing stages of "pimping" our French Press to make-shift a Clover. Tastes pretty good so far, but we've got a lot of problems to overcome. Thankfully, now that Jake is posting on this blog, we'll have pictures!

Just to whet your appetite, though, the initial problem of the insipid under filter water has been solved by using the dowel from a larger press pot (which we happened to have handy).

More to come...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Finca Vista Hermosa

Today, with much anticipation, our sample order from Finca Vista Hermosa, a Guatemalan coffee farm, arrived.

I've seen a lot of green coffee, relatively speaking. While it is exciting, after awhile green coffee looks, pretty much, like green coffee. But this was different (and it wasn't just because it was in a burlap bag, either). This coffee has a face. In his excellent article on, Mark Prince tells the tragic story of farm manager Carlos Martin and his son Edwin. But that isn't all.

In our industrial society, for all its benefits, we often miss that the things we enjoy, the things we live off of, are made by someone--especially "raw" agricultural products. This easily leads to a dismissibility, a disposibility. When the human face behind the product becomes clear, though, the reaction must change. All of the sudden, the product isn't something that we deserve, but a gift that we must make sure we are worthy of. Am I worthy of FVH coffees? No, but they make me want to be more worthy and do justice to the people and land behind these fantastic beans.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Does Anyone Care About Quality?

These thoughts require a little background reading of one of the most important threads on The Third Wave and Milk-Based Drinks. The ostensible topic of the thread isn't what I'm thinking about, but where the discussion turns to whether or not cafes and coffee shops could stand up to competent critics, much like restaurants must.

Really this discussion cuts to the quick of my marketing whining (as seen in the last post)--we have no baseline definition of quality, whether in drinks or in ambiance. One question that I'm confronted with often from my staff is "what should it taste like?" and we spend hours each day thinking about it. The impression of what coffee and espresso should taste like from a consumer standpoint makes my head hurt. Not to mention the often obtuse tasting notes from "quality-oriented" roasters (note: I have had coffee that tasted like pink grapefruit and one that tasted like fresh-roasted peanuts, but those flavors were so overwhelming that the descriptions were more than apt). Same applies to roasting level--I've only met two people who *actually* like dark-roasted coffee, most folks I've met think dark roast is better because they've been told by some self-proclaimed coffee "authority" that dark is best for everything and everyone. We have no baseline.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we have assumed that coffee tastes a certain way and espresso tastes a certain way. Considering the sad state of coffee in this country (analogous to the state of tea and food in general), it is no surprise. I get chided for not carrying Lipton in the store, because it means "I don't sell tea". Same as when a gentleman tried to get us to sell Chock-full-o-nuts (one of the cheaper coffee brands) because, "They make it with 100% Colombian, which everyone knows is the best in the world!" Same as the marketing from the local gas chains coffee being "100% arabica beans", which they want people to interpret as "Our 99 cent coffee is made from the best beans in the world" but which actually means "We hope you don't realize that our marketing obfuscates much more than it clarifies and we hope you are too stupid to notice". With that sort of thing, Big Cream and Big Sugar team up with Big Coffee for Big profits. We have no baseline.

Building a baseline, though, whether in drinks or ambiance, is difficult. Not all coffees taste the same and even similar coffees, from similar regions or sometimes the same farms, taste different from season to season. Blends change from roast to roast. Percentages in each brew are contingent and ever-shifting.

The lack of a baseline is so frustrating because I've seen so many shops here and elsewhere that have attached themselves to a substandard of coffee because the owners/baristas have never had good coffee. Their baseline is so low (and often driven by dreams of profit--ha!) that it is no wonder that people still don't like coffee...even owners and baristas.

They say you can't beat something with nothing. So, what should the baseline be? I don't think I can give a definitive answer, but I've got hints in a direction that we are following here. Coffee, regardless of brew method, should be (at least) palatable with cream, sugar, or additional flavorents. If not, something is wrong and (as an owner/barista) you need to find out what and change it or (as a consumer) you need to send it back and create the demand for the owner/barista to do their part. If your espresso blend does not taste good straight, but shines in milk drinks, let your customers know that. If your espresso blend does not hold up well in milk, but shines as a straight shot, let your customers know.

I would love to hear your opinions on this, whether you are a drinker, an abstainer, or a professional. Let's build the baseline here in Beaver County.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Achieving Drip

I've been working with the Melitta pour over (the little red one) for a couple of days now. I use it to do cuppings immediately after roasting. One memorable moment was the cupping of decaf Sumatra, which I quickly decided was the best cup of coffee I had ever had. I think that the pour-over is immensely superior to the auto drip. However, since my electric kettle is at the roastery and my hot water tower is atop my drip brewer, I cannot get accurate weight measurements for how much water I'm running through. Thankfully, I've been accurate within an ounce...and never had a spill over (yay!). However, with a scale and moveable water source, it puts some amazing control into your hands. I'm hoping to write a litle something up about this and maybe submit it to Barista magazine.

Friday, February 29, 2008

What should be the goal?

I've seen signs in the area advertising the Beaver Valley's "best" or "finest" coffees and tea lately. I am not a fan of these sorts of marketing tactics. Partly because I believe that calling yourself the best is the worst thing that can happen to a coffee business. Partly because calling yourself the "-est", whatever the first morpheme, is the worst thing that can happen. If you call yourself the best, you've got nothing left to do, nowhere else to go, no way to improve; so if someone dislikes your (and the industry's) "best", then they certainly aren't going to give credence to anyone or anything lower on the totem pole. Which means a possible fellow worker in improving coffee has been lost, possibly forever. And this is putting aside the question of who has the authority to determine "bestness".

One of the genius moments of the "third wave of coffee" is that consumer education is a major emphasis. No assuming that the customer is ignorant or that the coffee professional is knowledge incarnate. Both are learners and rely on each other. Usually the emphasis with coffee education tends to be on understanding origin, supply chains, and brewing method. I would like to offer one other aspect for consideration: improvement. Forget "best", getting better is where it is at.

If I'm best (at anything), then I am always in the defensive. If I'm getting better, then my main competition isn't others, trying to keep them off the top of the hill, but rather myself, trying to push harder for my own betterment and the betterment of others, whether customers or fellow professionals. So the goal cannot be "be the best" (as if there are any objective standards to follow at any rate), but "be better today than we were yesterday". If you see that here at BFC&T, whether in the quality of our drinks, or our roast, or our service, then we have done it right. If you don't see that, please help us improve because we believe that there is a responsibility, a gift, given to us from farmer to drinker, and we want to respect that gift.

Updatus 3/8/08:

If you get a chance, read Luke's comment to this post. He says, much more concisely, what I was trying to say, albeit through a frustrated haze. It is the self-proclamation of "bestness" that gets my goose. Striving for bestness, or betterment, is what it is all about. Thanks again Luke.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Passion for the bean

This weekend impressed, once again, in my mind why we roast and try to roast well:

Because we can. But even more importantly, because we should.

I suffer (or, better yet, my wife suffers because of me) from a sinusoidal polarity in my personality. I ascend to extreme ups, only to crash into (wasteful) periods of unrelenting depression. The frequency is so high, though, that I don't spend a whole lot of time in the middle, where productivity happens. This post, for better or worse, is on an uptrend day (last night, not so much).

Ever since we left CoffeeFest (but not DC, John Carpenter hasn't let us out yet), I've been itching to pull shots and to roast. I've devised a few drinks I want to try, a few roasting experiments (what about beans with vastly different roast dates in a blend--properly aged post-roast of course), and we are hosting our first ever latte art party tomorrow night at the C&T (come one, come all). All I can think of, though, is the one off-coffee we cupped at Aldo's sometime back--the acrid taste of cigarettes and turpentine (Erik's description). Turned out to be a mass brand that a lot of people in the area drink, including some customers of mine that like to drink ours in-house, but don't have the budget to drink ours at home. Couple that with the surprised looks I've invariably gotten from folks when I tell them that the best-tasting cup of coffee I've ever had was from a decaf Sumatra right off the roast (and medium at that!).

It all reminds me that I love what I'm doing. If anything ever goes south here in the Falls, I'm going to search around till I find something in the coffee world that lets me continue to push my own envelope and bring quality coffee to everyday folks (which I consider myself to be a part of). I want to take the gift that has been given to me by God, by farmers, by importers and do right by it. I want to coax the full potential out of the beans, both roasted and brewed. I'm beginning to see that this will require much more out of me than I initially thought (I only work 92 hours a week as it is now). Seeing the beautiful stemware (especially that of Sonja from Aldo) used in competition made me want to further differentiate my drinks: dessert, morning, lunch, and all-the-time. Imagine the Canaan Conquest (a latte with honey, vanilla, and a little cinnamon) as a con panna or an affogato--beautiful!

Everything done to the glory of God, a motto, a mantra that I've tried to live by, but have had trouble defining "glory". A least here, with this work, I'm seeing shades of meaning blossoming: full flavor and aroma, presented beautifully, prepared respectfully from growing to brewing. There is a reason that organizations like the SCAA exist and people dedicate their lives to this field: the chance to be human here is high, the possibilities exciting, and the community enlivening. Cheers.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Western PA Pride

Three cheers to Belle, John, and Sonja from Aldo Coffee as they made the finals in the barista competition held at this year's CoffeeFest in Washington D.C. This is, mind you, out of 6 total competitors--Western PA baristas represent half of those competing. Awesome.

When we heard the news today from Melanie, co-owner of Aldo, we were overjoyed. Even though Aldo is over an hour away, these folks (along with many others in the W. PA area) feel like family. This region of the country, combined with this industry, has really been hospitable and familial to us as we've continued growing. I don't know where we would be if we didn't have these other shops pressing us, encouraging us, and testing us for quality and service. It is part of the reason that Bethany (originally from DC) and myself (originally from Omaha) decided to stay here after college and find our calling in Beaver Falls. It makes me proud to serve a hand-crafted, fresh-roasted, fresh-brewed coffee drink to my neighbors (even the ones I haven't yet met!). It drives me to intensively cup every roast, to create my 150-point (exagerration) roaster log, and to endlessly taste shots of espresso until I find the right way to serve excellence to every customer. What else can I do? These people are family. I wouldn't want to do any less.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Necessity is a mother...

of invention.

Thursday night of last week I realized that I was short on espresso and we had a catering gig on Saturday night. So, Bethany and I discussed options and roasting/blending my own was the most logical choice. Friday brought me to the roastery to prepare some Papua New Guinea, Mexican Chiapas, and Kenya AA for blending. Not the beans I would have chosen, but I work with what I've got. Later on that day, I started pulling and tasting straight shot after straight shot.

The Verdict

PNG was sweet with good body--I decided to use it as the base.
Kenya had a slightly smoky aroma when ground, but nice acidity and fruit when tasted. This was the other majority player, bringing in some punch and complexity.
Chiapas was overly smoky (not burnt) and somewhat flavorless as a straight shot. It would be the minority report for a little funkiness.

Tasting the three together was a good espresso, but awfully boring. Not to mention that the ground Chiapas smokiness overpowered all the other aromas and was a little bit sickening. I decided, in the end, to ditch it in favor of the acidic Guatemalan that I had roasted for drip earlier in the week.

The resulting espresso was a good straight shot and combined well with milk, although it made it "mild" (the words of many a tester-taster). It was sweet and balanced with a nice aftertaste--a good introduction into what espresso can be (that is, good tasting instead of bitter yuck). Since it was only a few hours til showtime, this blend was what we were going with.

The catering job had many folks new to the espresso scene and a few old hats. The old hats complimented me on the blend and the new folks were surprised by espresso. Mission accomplished, as far as I'm concerned. We even decided to name the blend after the catering place (all our blends will be named for places around Beaver Falls): Espresso Blend 819, for 819 Lincoln Place, otherwise known in the Geneva community as "City House".

Maybe we'll have it in the store soon so others can give me pointers. Onward and upward!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

James Hoffman and the Siphon Bar

Pre-reading reading: James Hoffman on Italian Terminology
Blue Bottle's New San Fran Siphon Bar

Both of these posts excite me in different ways. Here in the Beaver Valley, drip brewed coffee is king. Espresso, far from being a novelty (we have Nuova Simonellis in our gas stations), is still viewed--it seems--as a fancy-schmancy way to act "above your place." Many folks just want "a regular cup of coffee," which is just fine with me. Espresso, while being a fine way to brew coffee, is not for every palate and is too easily susceptible to being masked by sugary syrups and too much milk (I had a nice, chocolaty macchiato earlier today--just right). Plus, I'm not too sure it is the "pure essence of coffee" as every brewing method (whether technology driven or not) produces different aspects of coffee, with none that I have tried bringing all out at once.

Since the crew and I have started working/experimenting with manual methods we have seen a rebirth in our palates towards non-espresso coffees. This is part of the reason that we will soon be adding Aeropress, Chemex, and (someday, if I can get my Schyndel on) siphon options to compliment our Americano, drip, and French Press methods already available.

To bring James Hoffman into this, his post concerning our way of using Italian inconsistently brought to my mind the problem of American coffee culture: we don't have one. The Blue Bottle piece talked about importing a Japanese siphon bar (even thought siphon was very popular in the U.S. before the "convenient" percolator); Starbucks made Italian-style (or -esque) commonplace. But distinctly American coffee culture, as far as I can tell, is still in its infancy, if not in utero. We should not, in my opinion, be totally enamored with one culture's coffee style. Much like our post-modern sensibilities, our fusion of many may produce something even better. Having such varied local cultures (which are, again in my opinion, of much more importance than our mass, national culture), different ways can certainly thrive and change for the better in our places. What about integrating Turkish/Greek/Cypriot/so on into our offerings?

I see, everyday, people becoming more educated about coffee in this area. When we introduce our varied ways of getting your "regular cup of coffee" I hope to see a veritable renaissance in coffee-brewing, as each method produces something different for different palates. Also, it will cause the perception of barista (or, as I'm thinking about it more and more, bartender) to be enhanced, since they will have skill sets not usually seen in coffee bars. Lastly, it will cause an increase in the quality of roasting since defects are more easily seen using different methods--especially as home-brewers become adept at using their favorite methods.

The espresso craze, if it is coming to an end, might well be replaced by the Chemex or Siphon or French Press craze, but hopefully we can get off the pendulum swinging from culture to culture and settle down with our favorite method and favorite coffee for a good cup and a good conversation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

All right!

Finished installation of the roaster today and "test" roasted 15lbs of beans; Colombian, SWP Colombian, and Papua New Guinea (a kind I've never had before). Still a few kinks to work out with the exhaust (and that fire code inspection, of course), but otherwise all systems go.

Time to think philosophy. What sort of things am I going to be stringent about, what sort lax? How much sorting, how many defects, how many blends? For whom am I roasting? And why?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The New Era Starts Tomorrow

Sigh. Roaster installation is harder than originally anticipated (as always). We've run out of pretty much every coffee we have, so I roasted some in my faithful-but-struggling popper on the stove in the house (too cold to do it outside). Enough to get us through to tomorrow? Don't know yet. Hopefully.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The New Era Starts Now

Jake and I brought our new (used) Ambex YM-5 back from Chicago yesterday and got it put in Hwaet Books & Games, waiting for install and inspection on Monday (maybe Tuesday). Good trip, but the cold was just atrocious.

We stopped at The Coffee Studio, a good little place off of Bryn Mawr in Chicago. Good coffee from Intelly through a Synesso, highly recommended if you are in the area.

I'll post when our roastery is open for business once I find out. Jake will be posting some pictures here soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Most Exciting Thing

Well, Jake and I leave for Chicago early Saturday morning and should return late Saturday night with our new Ambex YM-5 roaster. Unfortunately, we will be missing the grand opening of Hwaet Books & Games, a wonderful new shop here in Beaver Falls. We will, however, be working closely with them in two regards: Hwaet will feature BFC&T coffee in their game-playing, book-reading area and we are housing our roasterie in the upper-back portion of their shop. Eventually we would like to host semi-public cuppings/tastings, but for now I think I'm just going to try and keep my head above the waters.

If you have never heard of him, Simon Hsieh is someone to check out. His passion and dedication to coffee is legendary and an inspiration to me as I'm fleshing out my roasting philosophy. My neighbors and friends don't deserve anything less than the best coffee that I can provide, so why wouldn't I take a clue from this master? The idea of a consistently good cup of coffee, with fewer variables running rampant (defects, in this case), fills me with great excitement. If you are drinking a cup of coffee, would you want defective, off-tastes in your cup? Hopefully not. If you aren't sure what "off-tastes" would be, hopefully I can show you what a good (and someday, God-willing, great) coffee should taste like. If I can get a small cadre of folks around here to care, then I've reached an important place. From there, it spreads.

Today has been, sort of, "gourmet day" for me. I've done research on roasting technique and philosophy, researched distilling liquor (and why not?), and seen our sandwiches housed in a much more attractive (and environmentally friendly) wrapper as opposed to the plastic clamshell. I'm looking forward to a great day behind the bar, especially since the students of Geneva, my alma mater are back. The students bring an energy to the shop that is more muted over breaks, which in turn gives us more energy and zest. I'll finish my day with making scones and possibly another round on biscotti--I'm using some new techniques with the scones, which, in my opinion, has greatly improved both texture and flavor of an already exceptional pastry. I'm also starting to dream of "choose your filling" pate a choux (as known as cream puffs). I'll go through a whole box of store-bought-frozen ones in about an hour (yes, I know gluttony is a sin...cream puffs excepted), so I think that home-made will be even better. Plus, if you can choose your filling, how could that not be, in the famed words of Peter Griffin, "freakin' sweet"? Top this off with my new quest for a great Muffaletta recipe and you'll complete this "day of food".

After writing that, I think I need some lunch.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

MickiD's and the Third Wave

A lot of internet ink is being spilled about McDonald's plans to add full espresso drink service to all 14,000 US locations. The question that comes up for shop owners like myself is the quality of the coffee served and how their ubiquity will influence perception of what "coffee" is.

In an area like Western PA, where perception of coffee quality often goes no further than Eight o'Clock supermarket blends, this is a big issue. I've had many customers tell me that they didn't come into the store before because they considered coffee to be coffee. When they do come in, we have a chance to change their minds, and thankfully many folks have switched. However, for many that pass by everyday, the Sheetz gas station/espresso bar is more convenient and lower cost--quality doesn't even factor into the equation.

The question of quality, though, is slippery too. Many "third wave" coffee folks talk about how "its all about the coffee," but I think that is too nebulous. What does it mean to be "all about the coffee"? A lack of customer focus? No to-go drinks? Just standing bars with no food? It seems to me that a focus on coffee quality is part of a package deal, at least at the cafes and bars I've seen: customer focus and interaction, skillful preparation, great food, options for beverage enjoyment, options for different levels of coffee for those of different means while still keeping the taste level high and consistent. Thing is, though, McDs has many of those in spades. I wouldn't have one as a third place myself, but there are many folks who I'm sure do. What is better: to have a friendly place that will serve a consistent and non-pretentious product (even if the flavor quality is not top-notch) or a place that is committed to quality but is arrogant, too expensive, or down-right rude--all of which are common perceptions of coffee shops (which, of course, does not necessarily make them true, but we still have to battle them).

My hope for all of this is that more folks in this area will try the McCafe scene and then try us; I think we can win them over, even without egg McMuffins.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Great Day for a Roast

Today the weather was perfect for something I hadn't done in a long time: roast coffee beans.

But once I learned about the conditions outside (around 5pm--I don't get out much), I took my little Chefmate-voided-warranty-popcorn-popper to the back porch and let 'er rip on some Royal NY supplied Yirgacheffe. The beans were evenly roasted and had a distinct caramel note after the first crack. In fact, the smell was so sugary-sweet that I had to double-take--I thought I was making it up in my head. But both batches had that sweet smell. Makes me very excited to try the brew tomorrow morning. Also makes me wonder about the sugar content on these specific beans (just to note, no sugar was added to the green or roasted beans--I'm speaking of natural sugars in the beans themselves)--I've never smelt caramel in a roast before.

Add to this that BFC&T just acquired a roaster, an Ambex YM-5, that we are going to start roasting on in the next couple of weeks. Fresh roasted coffee all the time here in the almost makes me want to cry.