from the ashes…

October 16, 2008

It has not been a year since my last post so I’ll consider this blog still alive with this addition… on life support, but still alive.  I could claim being busy with various activities such as heavy investment in last years USBC, taking my position as in-store trainer as serious as limits allow, pulling together old friends and new to host a very well attended regional coffee jam and in general restructuring my whole life… but sadly all of these except the last item would have been good fodder for discussion and sharing here.  My apologies folks.  Better late than never…

In a mere 6 hours I will be getting on a plane to head to LA with my wonderful friend and cohort in the great battle for good coffee, Sarah R.  We will be playing the gracious guests of USBC champ Kyle Glanville as he shows us the various elements that have made our store in Silverlake a smashing success.  Aside from being the “it” place out in Los Angles, our Silverlake shop is also in the vanguard of specialty coffee making dreams like serving only freshly brewed to order coffee, small espresso drinks and the best beans a reality.  Our Broadway shop and the company in general is currently engaged in a quest for positive change.  Hopefully after this trip Sarah and I will be bringing back some of these positive changes to our shop.

Many of the details of this trip are still “to be announced” sort of things but much of it will just be the solid basics of great coffee.  How do we in Chicago make the transition to only brewing coffee to order?  What are the training elements we need to develop a staff capable of working with multiple espresso options, brew devices and world class coffees?  What type of service do we need to offer to make being a barista the type of career path that it is evolving into at this shop?  The game is changing and for once in life I feel like I am on the right team.

More to come.

Day 5 (belated seattle post)

November 20, 2007

Day 5 – I had to take a break sooner or later

After 4 days of non stop pushing to see as many café’s as I can, I decided to take a breather before coffee fest goes into full swing spend today taking it easy at a few near the hotel.  I go yet again to the Denny st. Vivace and relax with my morning macchiato and read another article out of the newest Barista mag…

Coincidentally enough, this one is by authored Erin Meister and photographed by the midwest’s very own Scott Lucey who hosted me in his home town a few weeks earlier.  It focuses on the job of Barista trainer and uses as a reference multiple times… Vivace’s very own David Schomer.  I curiously look around and see David sitting in the conference room to my left, I begin to think that this is getting to be a little bizarre.  Anyways, it is an interesting article that, along with all of the quality shops I have been to on this trip, only serves to reinforce my belief that everyone can afford to step it up a notch with their training.  I get a little work done and then proceed to take my only photo of the day.

lil bug

I found this little guy crawling on my hand.  Cute huh?
After this I am off to pine st. Stumptown.  I enjoy an Americano an kick back.  After a little while Duane, Kyle Larson and Billy Wilson wander in.  Kyle in all his gracious slides me over a nice pressed Panama from a Geisha Varietal.
Later this eve all of the kids start showing up.  First is Ryan Wilbur, Intelly LA up n coming hotshot who has been around coffee block a few time already.  Ryan, Nick and I head out for beer and food at the Elysian room where one and all has gathered.  Mill rock competitors, NWRBC peeps and general fest folks are all around swilling beer and catching up.  The party moves over to Linda’s and eventually tapers off as one n all get ready for Friday when it all hits the fan.

Day 3

November 8, 2007

     No matter how much I might like to, sleeping in has not been to successful of an endeavor on this trip so far.  I am out the door by 8 yet again with Victrola’s roastery/cafe as the first stop.

victrola outside

A hefty uphill bike from my new digs (nick’s hotel room floor) leaves me eager for coffee (the Tully’s offered with the continental just never seems to make it in my cup…).  I locked up my bike in front of Victrola and look on enviously…  While there are a good many hole in the wall café’s in this town, many places are just flat out huge and this is close to that.  Plenty of seating, high ceilings and good light give the café a wonderfully relaxed feel.  The bar is staffed by a gentleman named Chuck who proceeds to promptly pull me a potent little macchiato.  This is one of the most espresso prevalent macchiato of the trip so far with the thick body of fruity nature of the espresso really carrying through the milk.  After talking with him for a minute or two a few customers approach the counter, I attempt to make some room and while doing so toss about half of the drink on my leg before the demi smashes on the floor… definite cool points (sigh)  I slink away to a table as he helps out the folks at the counter.  As with most places in town so far that have a roastery and café combine, they provide you with a good view of what’s going on.  Large glass windows are in all of the walls separating the café from the roastery, this goes for the training/cupping lab as well.  Before I finish unloading my laptop and associated gear Tom has kindly replaced my macchiato.

victrola demi

We talk some more and he introduces me to Keith, the roaster for Victrola.  Good folks all around they humor my peskiness and even give me tips on a few new smaller roasterys up north to visit.  After plunking away on the laptop for awhile I go up for a double.  Wild, now I know how this carried so strongly in the mach… this espresso is thick potent and wild.  Orange marmalade maybe?  It was one of the most distinctly different so far.
From here I decide to head downtown towards the new Trabant location.  I precede going there with a quick stop at Elliot Bay Bookstore as recommended by a regular back in Chicago.  Wow… this is a beautiful bookstore for anyone looking to kill a few hours, very nice layout.  I however am a man on a mission so my stay is short.  I pick a book I had not seen before written by one of the folks we buy green from, Tim Castle, and head down to the basement café.  The food, nice, a touch pricey but its Pioneer square so I deal.  The cap however was, well.. it’s a good book store with decent food, we’ll leave it at that.

new trabant outside

Trabant’s new store has a great location downtown and for being open only a month seems to have hit the ground running with what it is trying to do.  The two guys behind the Bar, Tom and Z are fantastic coffee heads.  We hit it off immediately and geek about various coffees, clover settings and tamper styles.  Z makes me a cup of this fantastic Colombia COE llano grande that I am all to familiar with from a few months ago when we were offering it.  Spectacular, this and the Esperanza yesterday from stumptown re affirm my undying devotion to that fine tip of south America.  He also makes a cup of a daterra Brazil that is apparently naturally low in caffeine (according to Z, 1 cup of it is equal to 2 cup of a swiss water coffee).  I try a double from Tom that is very interesting.  Tons of blueberry, nice brightness and still a decent body.  I believe this was my first shot of 49th parallel.  Not bad at all.  Somewhere in the midst of this Lorrie McCullaugh and Philip Search wander in and even more madness ensues.  Lorrie and I catch up from last years USBC for a minute and talk about the new shop as well.

new trabant inside

It is set up as an art gallery of sorts, very minimal, white walls, high ceilings and few of a coffee shops traditional trapping… things like a POS, a large menu board or large drink sizes, very nice.  A new vintage lever machine Philip picked up is behind the bar and we slide around to tinker with that for a moment.  It has a curious small basket and uncanny ability to produce extremely sweet milk despite being a potential explosion threat (at least that is the rumor being circulated)  The bar is stocked with a 3 group Synesso and two Anfim grinders modified by Philip with special timers.  I did not get to play with them but Tom and Z had nothing but raves about the whole setup.
Next is Café Umbria.  They are also in Pioneer square and apparently have a roastery somewhere not to far away.  The café is laid out in a very classy Italian style and has the pastry/Gelato selection covered in more style than anywhere I have seen thus far.  Sadly as I feared, this meant that the double espresso I ordered was not going to be the focus of their attention.  The almond croissant was fantastic, the double was thin bitter and disappointing.  Oh well, for those in need Trabant is only a few blocks away anyways.
The next and last stop for the day is Seattle coffee works.  Sebastian, from behind the counter moving constantly, greets me as I enter.  This place is… very unique.  They have around 11 (?) grinders set up to pull espresso and it is all roasted locally.  The man is “in it for the love” defined.  We talk about the various roasters while he pulls me a shot of a single origin Costa Rica that they roasted themselves in the shop.  This is followed by him dialing in a shot of Kenya from Borogrove roasters for my pleasure.  They offer flights of espresso for those able to handle such a thing and will talk with you till the cows come home about coffee, again, for those able to handle such things.
I leave here fairly drained and ready for the hour or so of relaxation I have before Nick and I head out to Can Cans to eat and then hear the musical styling of a 15 year old Johnny Cash… the kid was truly amazing.  The day was great, now I rest.

Just to give this a frame of reference. I am heading to Seattle for 8 days of coffee mayham wherein the last 3 are during coffee fest/millrock/NWRBC. I have the goal of seeing, drinking and exploring the offering of the countless shops I have read about for so long. My trusty google map (with dozens of shops pin pointed on it) and I are making this journey alone but will meet up with several friends along the way i am sure. Stay tuned.

Day 1, Sunday November 4th.

The morning starts with a series of narrow hits… just barely making it each step of the way. I begin this process by leaving the apartment late and heading to the wrong airport… luckily my generous driver and I realize this and turn towards midway. I make it there just in time to check in late “you luggage might not make it sir…” nice. After not being able to get a boarding pass to print up for ten minutes, I proceed to the security check point where I cast off all my belongings and go through. I now discover that I have lost said boarding pass… nice again. They find the boarding pass on the other side of the check point eventually and let me go on. Somehow I make it to the gate by the hair of my chinny chin chin and get on the plane.

late check in
I get into the SeaTac airport around 11 and much to my gratitude I find my luggage indeed made the trip with me. The ride who also is letting me crash on their couch for the evening shows up right on time to spirit me away to downtown Seattle. I share the back seat of their VW with a 7 month old great dane that is as tall as myself when standing on his legs. Meet Bruger….

bruggar

The day flies by quickly as we head down to Pioneer square for a tour of Seattle’s underground. I lament not knowing the location of the new Trabant as I am surly within a block or two of it this whole time. The tour is interesting and we return to their apartment for food and relaxation. As fate would have it they live close (one block) away from the alley way Vivace shop. I swing over for my first shot in Seattle. The spacious nice Italian themed interior is what I expected as is the well pulled tasty ristretto double. What I did not expect however was the Synesso behind the counter and naked portafilter in the group. The naked porta filter gave it a nice body, but in my humble opinion also made the crema look like poo. The Baristas were friendly and pointed me towards Vivace’s larger café that also used to house the roasteria. I headed back to my friends and then convince them to swing out a little later to the Vivace roasteria on their way to the store (this shop was only 10 blocks or so from their apartment) This shop seems a bit larger and also has a lovely wrap around bar that the Baristas work behind with stool seating… I love that. I get another shot and my friend orders a café’ nico (an orange and vanilla macchiato) My shot is very consistent with the one from the other store. My friends drink, by the time I got to it, had no perceivable vanilla or orange flavor to it but was a tasty macchiato all the same. The evening ends with me wired and three hours off my sleep schedule (day light savings time kicking in the same day you fly west across the country is a little strange) After pizza, blogging and a trip to the park with brugger we all rest. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.

Milwaukee’s finest

October 19, 2007

This weekend came with the promise of a real life honest to goodness Milwaukee latte art throw down hosted by none other than those Altera coffee masters, Scott Lucey and Justin Tisel… All I had to do was get up there. I began early Friday morning, waking up at 8 throwing some junk in a bag and then heading to the roastery for beans. After picking up a mini coffee stash and quick cup I hit the road. I heard dozens of people say 2 hours from Chicago to Milwaukee, I here to call em’ out. I took an hour and a half with construction delays and no real directions. Not bad at all as far as drives go, I find myself at the first stop, Altera coffee’s roastery/shop on Prospect. As per tradition I show up early. Early according to who? Not really sure, but it felt early all the same for my first day of vacation. All the same this place has a wonderful feel. Adhering to a principal they follow with a few of their shops, the building is a rehab of something or other that now holds their roastery, training lab/cupping room, offices and a decent sized café. Exposed brick, hardwood floors, high ceilings and nice natural light give it a feeling that makes sitting down to savor a good cup an almost inevitable conclusion. The shop is upfront and where you enter, but the transition to the roasting/production area is virtually seamless with only a small counter and row of stools between curious customers and busy roasters. After lingering and looking around for a moment I moved to the counter and procured myself a double with a cup of Sumatra to chase it. The shot was nice, living Chicago and working at Intelligentsia, I pretty much exist in a black cat mono culture and thusly appreciated it for simply being different among other things. It was a solid 2 oz shot with nice crema, a pleasant sweetness and medium to light body. Before to long mister Lucey himself spotted me and the adventure of Milwaukee truly began. A short exchange at the table I was scattered about lead to a quick tour of the roastery and then off to see the city. Excellent host and guide that he is, Scott drove in his trusty Honda, accurately describing the surroundings and demographics of wherever we went. The first stop was Roast, a small shop using beans from anodyne (another Milwaukee roaster) and pulling shots from a 2 group Linea with naked portafilters. The owner was on bar and talked shop with us for a bit while simultaneously steaming, pulling shots, signing for UPS orders and handling customers. The only thing wasn’t doing was eating the poor neglected lunch he prepared for himself on a nearby table. We eventually realize the man could use a second to eat and leave him to it as we headed out to cruise by the new location for Altera’s “head quarters”. This is a massive building being built from the ground up to house all that’s new and wonderful (roastery, training lab, offices, café, bakery, etc, etc…) From here we went to Altera’s lakefront shop. Wow… this shop is in a reclaimed pump house of sorts and is half café, half museum, part time summer concert venue… it has a massive patio with nice landscaping and (as expected) a beautiful lakeshore view. Inside the place is a buzzing full service café with coffee, food, gear and the like. We quickly do a tour and find ourselves at the counter waiting for a shot from Jenny, one of Altera’s top Latte art rockstars (soon to be seen in Seattle’s Mill rock). Not to slag the first shot I had at prospect, but this one was decidedly better. The crema was dark, the body had more heft and an enjoyable upper end with a nice splash of acidity. Now at the point of being over taken by hunger and still with no contact from the Elusive Justin Tisel, we decide to head on over to Koppa’s. This is an amazing little grocery with a fantastic deli stashed in back. Food and friendliness aside this place has a mini lounge complete with arm chairs, Atari and your token Midwestern deer head.

kappas

Truly fulfilling and shockingly affordable… We take our good food score back to Scott’s apartment (also Jenny’s) and devour it before she arrives with her own food stash. From here we make contact with Justin and agree to scoop him up for a stop at Espresso Christoph followed by a quick bit and beer before the Latte art throw down at six. We (scott, jenny, Justin and myself) head over to the Jefferson location of Espresso Christoph where we meet up with James, the manager and resident coffee nerd. I am both nervous and excited as they pull with black cat. Some changes in the blend lately and it being pulled some where far far away left me unsure as to what to expect. I was definitely reassured as it came through wonderfully (actually on par or better than some of what I have had in our stores) James shows up and gives us the highs and lows of this new shop in the downtown district and we hassle him into possibly showing up latter for the throw down. Next is food and beer. The spot is Comets, a nice little “café”(?) that was out of the first 6 things Justin picked off the menu (which is surprisingly full of vegan options).

do-not-adjust-the-grind.jpg

He eventually found his true calling in the vegan meatloaf. In a flash the food and beer are gone, we have a thirty pack of award winning beer (as discerned from the small blue ribbon on each can) and make are way to the Jam spot.

strating the show

Altera’s training lab is decidedly cozy (small when filled with 10 to 15 people) but well equipped with a 2 group GB5 and nice variety of cups. As appropriate we are there first but soon followed by an increasing stream of baristas from Alterea’s wide selection of shops. Before long James and one of his Baristas, Yoni, show up. Its officially a party by this time. A talented roster of folks
Are lined up as things kick off. 5 minutes practice 5 minutes for real is the format, photos taken and the contender then picks best. Sam, Collin, Alex, Boots, Jenny, the list goes on and on, all thrown down. Some nice stuff manages to creep out even with all the nerves, heckling and PBR.

justin's trio

I even tossed my hat in the ring however poorly. As the event progressed the thirty pack neared extinction and drastic measures had to be taken. I convinced the wonderful miss Boots Mcquirk to run me to a liquor store where I could find the missing ingredients to some much needed Mai Tais. We make the run, come back and the shaking starts.

signature drink ingredients

This where things get hazy… Not so much to my surprise, I found that Milwaukee folks can drink me under the table with ease. Normally one or two rounds of these drinks puts my usual crowd out of the race, tonight however we manage to put one hell of a dent into two new bottles of rum. Rock… As one might expect the contest finished (placing to be determined at a later point via email selected judging) but the madness did not, a blind fold was found and a whole new game began. As predicted by our immense skill, no poured hot milk on there arm or stuck a hand in the grinder. Eventually enough is determined to be enough and we clean the joint up before taking off. I am guiding to a nice comfy couch by my kind hosts and fall out immediately. Lucky fool on vacation that I am, I’m given the luxury of waking up at 10AM with a hang over some bewildered lady who sort of lived there look on curiously (Justin’s room mates girlfriend and I woke up around the same time) however at least a few of Milwaukee’s finest (Scott and Jenny included) had to work morning shifts that day… I’ve been there and I feel ya kids, true troopers.
I swing by Prospects for a slow morning of drinks, dinking on my computer and talking when they slowed down for a minute. Truly a fun trip chalk full of inspiration and good memories. If you know these kids, pay em a visit, if they swing through your town, pull em a shot.
the future of coffee