company - education - coffee

Friday, December 26, 2008

Restaurant coffee

Oh yeah, I think it's time to talk a bit about this topic.

I do not think many foodies would state they have had good experiences with coffee in restaurants. It is pretty common to expect 'diner quality' even in the most expensive or highly reputable restaurants.

The simplicity is that a handful of roasters/distributors deal with cafes in our area and there is not a lot of investment in the actual service of the coffee. I often hear the catch 'we serve X roaster' as a statement of quality. The truth is that brand is only as good as the training and support behind it. Unlike wine, coffee is not bottled and ready to serve, it still has prep which could be the difference between a decent cup and the dregs.

The simple truth is that it's easy to serve a decent cup. The problem is that issues often need to be solved before the service is even addressed. Water quality, grinder/brewer servicing, and of course a good cleaning are typically in need. Often management/ownership want the coffee to fit into how the service/brewing currently exists. It limits the ability for a good cup because there is already some preset method where only certain roasts will come out acceptable. This is especially true for restaurants which may have a musical chair service on the espresso machine where every table server is serving 'frothed' milk. There is very little consistency in this approach. You can tell at this point where my espresso bias comes into play.

Fresh roasted, fresh ground, fresh brewed. Those are the very basic tenants in coffee even before good green and the roaster's skill are a factor.

Few cafes have all three, so it would be hard to think restaurants would trump this without guidance. Most roasters widely distributed here in town hide the roast dates in the fold written in codes nobody understands, or tiny 4pt fonts on the bottom of the bag, or just simply no roast date. Add to that, mystery 'custom blends' which may or may not be custom because you just don't know what's really in it. Then you have contracts and leasing programs which simply encourage the shops/restaurants not to service equipment they don't own. Add to this, a high volume discount approach which throws actual hands on training and legitimate service to the side in favor of 5 pound bags going stale. Service is then an afterthought because of cost or lack of time dealing with so many accounts.

Restaurant service doesn't have to be some uber elite premium special coffee but at $7 a pop, it shouldn't be stale pods either. A simple service of a fresh roast from a local roaster would probably satiate most post meal coffee drinkers. Fresh ground in small batches or simply brewed on demand in an easily repeatable method. A single estate coffee of personal preference to the head chef or something with a little more story would be the next step up. A few restaurants doing something simple and tasty would go a long way. Then someday, you will start to see more per cup programs that pair single estates with matching desserts in progressive restaurants. Then dare I say it, fancy brew methods prepared with flare and skill in front of the patron.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

We will be open on Christmas Eve (wed) from 12-3pm for the last minute shoppers.

Thanks for all the wonderful feedback lately and of course for remembering to grab a bag of coffee before the Holidays!

If you need coffee Mon or Tues (as we are closed), you can hit Dave's Fresh Pasta down in Davis Sq. We also have this nifty little map for venues not in a 10 minute walk from the shop over here but I need to update it when I get time. Google needs to update it as there is a big delivery truck totally blocking the view of Taste in street view.

Happy Holidays! See you when it thaws out a bit!
East Arlington

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Round 10

I had a solid shot of PF at Taste in the AM, headed back to the shop after a brief stop at Simon's to drop off some Nimac Kapeh.

It was one of those days where I decided, again, I needed a hammock at the shop.

Then the snow came.

I ended up calling it a day and wanted to try to get some rest because it's been a long week. A lot of long hours to get roasts out ahead of Christmas. That means a few long days but in the end, so be it. We didn't get into coffee to be romantics, we knew it was work.

Retail sales have been solid but we do have a little extra espresso at the shop this week. If nobody braves the snow to get them, we'll just drink it ourselves. That reminds me, we are working on two new espresso projects.

One project is to rebuild Rudiments. Our initial vision is a roast of 70% Brasil and 30% Guatemala Atitlan, Nimac Kapeh. We finally found the espresso profile for Nimac and it's a hell of a straight shot. I wish some shop would just pick thtat coffee up and serve it as both house espresso and drip. But then... The idea for Rudiments is to be almost a classic North Italian profile done to our tastes. The Brasil is the base and the Nimac is the 'Yirg' profile that sweetens and adds aroma. In barismo fashion, it's clean, but this would be very mellow fruit compared to some of our other versions of Rudiments.

The final espresso is a work in progress called Soma. I am still trying to finesse a third component so it probably won't be finished until post Christmas. More on that later.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


For a moment, there was some but anyway, it's been a long week and here are some notes.

The Rudiments Espresso pops with red ripe cherry but when you pull it right after a dark roast, it kinda tastes a bit like said dark roast. Rudiments is our straight shot/small milk light roast espresso blend (88.5% Morenihna Formosa + 11.5% Ichimara Peaberry). Clean them groups!

Poker Face Espresso (20% Kiandu + 80% Cardenas) opens up no earlier than day 5 but we may shift it's roast degree a little. It is a distinct mix and when you nail it, you get something someone was calling a 'purple (fruity) note' on the palate as a goopy thick textured shot.

Linnaean St. Espresso (10% Ichimara Peaberry + 25% Las Lajas Miel + 65% Morenihna Formosa) is pretty much my baby though I am very happy to have any of these blends in serious shops. It takes so much effort to get a good stage and get past the equipment and into training and service of quality espresso. You don't know how much it is appreciated to go into a shop and get a good shot of something you may have literally spent weeks creating. The alternative would be the frustration of seeing someone completely butcher something you know is good.

Taking director cues for a video shoot is harder than you would think. That's a post for another day though.

The last few days have been spent training and trying to get my head around serious issues in the cafes. Part of that has been re-touring many of the cafes in the area. Most of which I won't elaborate in detail on because while latte art is definitely peaking these days, the espresso runs the gamut from meh to drinkable. Few stinkers but mostly milk shots and strangely not all that unique from shop to shop with the exception of the notably bad ones. Several shops have improved a lot recently. I can't point to any reason in particular, some new equipment at one shop and better training at others, another finally showing it's roaster's single origin offerings. All positive signs even though on a swing through town, said roaster whose bags are now front and center had 'written off Boston' because 'it was stuck in the 80's'.

Nobody said it's gonna be easy.

It seems like new shops have triggered others to react but it remains to be seen who will actually set the bar beyond house light and house dark with some retail SO coffees in the Cambridge area I frequent. For some, that means a planned remodel and getting competitive, for others, new equipment and a new focus. That means taking a little risk and making the investment. Sadly, this has made it much clearer that there were shops that had really declined in comparison to the advances at the others. Seeing 3 month old retail roasts on the shelf at one shop in Harvard Sq. and visiting another which seemed to have lost the ability either to train it's staff or enforce said training. Both experiences did nothing for me to feel they were moving in the right direction. Further proof that sitting around on your hands waiting for some kind of magic or relying on brand image is not the way to go. Hard work, training, and keeping that equipment in tune goes a long way.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hand Mills and Kettles

We are out of stock on both the Hand Mills and Kettles for a little while. Our stock of TCA-2 is also low so first come first served.

We have more on the way. To be on the notification list, email barismo.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Espresso Notes: Poker Face and the Espressothon

Saturday, the 13th of December will be Espressothon at Taste in Newton. All day at Taste, there will be two espresso offered up. Noteworthy in that it will be the only place in town you can get both our L. St. and the new blend Poker Face pulled on a Synesso on the same bar. Mark your calendar.

Poker Face is a creation I came up with in cooperation with Nik Krankl, owner of Taste and a serious poker player. Nik was an avid poker player and a published author for Magazines like All In until his new coffee career began. It was from this influence that the name Poker Face came about for this blend. A mix of two vacuum packed coffees, our Kiandu(20%) and our Cardenas (80%).

In one way, it was a throw back to his father's success in the wine industry. An acknowledgment of his father's influence and deference to an exceptional wine his father created, of the same name. Much like the Syrah, this espresso has notes of berries, vanilla, and fruit but with a creamy texture and excellent mouth feel. Looking back before you go forward is something we respect a lot in our choosing names for blends and this is no exception.

Nik now takes this name a bit more literally. As a former barista myself, I understand how difficult it can be to read the espresso drinker. They rarely come out and literally say what they felt. Instead they hold it tight and keep a 'poker face' in regards to their emotions about what they just imbibed.

I have known Nik for a few years now. I can say I knew him when he had aspirations to open a shop across the river. Now he is the owner of a shop in Newton that in time will be the new destination for espresso enthusiasts in our area.

That reminds me that if you live in NY and don't feel like a day trip for espresso, Grumpies will have a version of this on guest through the weekend.