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!