The Blog

Some loooooong overdue updates to Left Coast Roast

The thing about great coffee is that so much of it comes to us by way of excellent small businesses. But the thing about small businesses is that they change. All. The. Time. That’s part of the reasoning behind this blog — to keep up to date on the little changes here and there related to the roasters in the book. I’ve been sitting on a little pile of updates for too long. Here they are:

Ristretto Roasters closes it’s flagship location and moves to thriving SE Burnside location

New location: 555 NE Couch St., Portland, OR

Food Dude over at Portland Food and Drink reported back in March that the original, closet-like Ristretto in Portland’s sleepy Beaumont neighborhood is shuttering:

Now their lease on the original 42nd street location has come up, and they have decided not to renew as it’s just not big enough to fill their needs. Instead, they are relocating it to 555 NE Couch St. at 6th.

The new space which is being designed by Accelerated Development’s Keith Shrader who also designed the Nicolai store, will have more room for education, a much larger seating area, and they hope to eventually server beer and wine. The Couch store will showcase the first Steampunk brewing system in the Northwest.

The new location is scheduled to open in July. Stay tuned for a visit report :)

New Olympia Coffee Roasters location

New location: 2824 Capitol Blvd., Tacoma, WA

Right before I left for the Specialty Coffee Association of America show in Boston (waaaay back in early April), I stopped in Olympia to chat with Olympia Coffee Roasters co-owner and total sweetheart Oliver Stormshak. (Oliver and I presented a session at the SCAA together about the power of storytelling.) The roastery was abuzz with activity as the crew prepared to open their third Olympia location, which is set to become the company’s flagship location. It’s centrally located in the gorgeous 1938 Wildwood Building. The new cafe is STUNNING with hand-made tiles imported from Nicaragua, delicious art-deco-y interior arches, and maple accents. It’s modern and classic, and does perfect justice to the coffee. Over on Sprudge, you can find some photos that show off the space.

Heart Coffee Roasters announces new location in downtown Portland

New location: 543 SW 12th Ave., Portland OR [Not yet open]

Recently, Heart owner Wille Yli Luoma (say that three times fast) hosted me for an impromptu water tasting. Heart is installing a water filtration system that will allow them to finely tune the hardness of the water, which has a sizable impact on flavor (believe me — we tasted the same coffee with two different “recipes” of water and the flavor difference was shocking). In any case, Wille let slip that Heart was signing a lease later that day on a new downtown spot. This is perfect for Heart. Their east Burnside location in SE Portland has been great for them, but the new spot is tucked in among a number of design-savvy businesses that echo Heart’s minimalist, cosmopolitan vibe—home furnishings meccas Canoe and Alder and Co., cocktail lounge Kask, and Alpine-influenced restaurant Grüner (and, one of my favorite totally-out-of-reach boutiques, The English Department). It’s also just a hop, skip, and jump from another recent addition to the neighborhood, Blue Star Donuts. (Basil blueberry glaze anyone? Valhrona chocolate? Mmmm.) It’s perfect—and will make for some very enjoyable weekend mornings, sipping Americanos while I drool over brass kitchen fixtures at Canoe.

Water Avenue Coffee opening new location inside Enso Winery

New location: 1416 SE Stark St. Portland, OR

Water Avenue Coffee, located in Portland’s inner eastside industrial district, is partnering with Enso Urban Winery to offer a full coffee menu inside the winery’s tasting lounge. Enso has led the way in Portland’s burgeoning urban winery scene. The new cafe concept will include coffee-wine pairing options and collaborative tastings, exploring the intersection of wine and coffee palates. And though you don’t need any more reason than that to love the idea, there are also these awesome bags of sangria. The coffee cart will operate in the morning and early afternoon (current hours: 7 am to 1 pm), and wine tastings will start at the very respectable hour of 4 on weekdays, 2 on weekends.

Equator Coffee opens first retail location in Bay Area

New location: 254 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley, CA

Equator, which has been roasting in the Bay Area for over 15 years, is opening its first retail location between Mill Valley and Marin, just north of San Francisco. The coffee bar is inside the Proof Lab Surf Shop, a community-oriented surf-and-skate shop. Proof Lab has incubated a number of small businesses (including an art studio for toddlers, a landscaping design firm, and a ceramics studio).  Proof Labs and Equator both have longstanding sustainability missions. Mix that with Equator’s award-winning Geisha, the Marin sunshine, and the “vintage surf” decor and you have a perfect excuse for a daytrip north.

Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters closes pop-up shop in SF

New location: None!

This is too-bad-so-sad for lovers of Wrecking Ball Roasting, the babychild of coffee veterans Nick Cho and Trish Rothgreb (for the record: two of the most interesting, knowledgeable, hungry, social-media-happy people in the business). The team continues to churn out fine coffees for sale via the internet and some dedicated partners in the Bay Area (e.g., Marla Bakery). They are looking for a new permanent location for Wrecking Ball—

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 1.38.42 PM

…so keep your fingers crossed.

10 Questions with James Coffee Co.

David James Kennedy got started in coffee after spending time in Australia three years ago (in case you’ve been living in a cave, Australia has a kickass coffee scene). “When I got back home to Cali I was determined to figure out what made coffee so delicious to me down that way and discovered a handful of specialty coffee places that were serving wonderful coffee.” The musician and former motorcycle racer decided to start his own roasting company (it’s a family affair, owned by Kennedy and his father; his brother will join them soon).
James Coffee Co.

James Coffee Co.

For now, the only place to get the coffee is online. “The plan is to build the brand online and learn what it is to actually sell coffee. If things progress well, we’ll open a brick and mortar showroom/cafe in a year.”

Website: jamescoffeeco.com
Twitter: @jamescoffeeco
Instagram: worksbyjames

10 Questions

What inspires your roastery and your roasting? 

I’ve been a musician since I was 4. I got into building stuff with my dad when I was probably 10. I see roasting as very similar to building a piece of furniture or writing a song. It’s all about getting to create something with your hands. I love being part of something that gives me and the people around me such a social connection. I fell in love with coffee sitting around, hitting pause on the day, and interacting with the people around me. So to be a piece in that puzzle for other people is really attractive.

What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?

The U.S. Roaster Corp 3k at James Coffee Co.

The U.S. Roaster Corp 3k at James Coffee Co.

I’m roasting on a 3.5k S.S. Roasting Corp. roaster. I mostly love that it’s not a popcorn maker. It was made from scratch in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The guys that made it are good dudes.

How did you get started roasting?

I started on a popcorn maker. I read books, researched online, and have since been able to meet a few guys as well. It’s a lot of practice :)

Take us through highlights on the James menu. How are you finding the coffees you buy? What are you especially excited to feature?

I only have a few coffees and I’ve really catered it to my own tastes. I enjoy all of them a little differently. I’ve always been much more attracted to single origins because, good or bad, I like the adventure of trying a new coffee from a new place. But since I’ve also got a few blends I’ve found myself just simply enjoying a more ambiguous cup of coffee.

Celebrity death match: Single origins or blends?

Single origins.

Forging?! In addition to roasting coffee, you make metal objects with fire. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got started forging, what you’re making, and why it’s part of your identity as a coffee company?

One of the metalworks created by Kennedy.

One of the metalworks created by Kennedy.

I got into it from being around my dad. He didn’t work with metal but he was always showing my brother and I how to build stuff. As I got older, metal just clicked with me. Its part of the company because it’s part of me. Like the coffee, it’s an element of things I love.

Poway, California: A place few coffee watchers have probably heard of. What’s Poway like and what do you love about the coffee scene there?

I mostly grew up here in Poway. I was actually born in Wisconsin and besides that first year of my life I lived in Galesburg, Illinois for the next half dozen years.  On our way out west we lived in Wyoming then Utah before finally settling in California when I was 10. Poway is northeast of San Diego; I could probably say we’re in San Diego, but I like Poway better. There’s no coffee scene here, really.

You’re a guitarist with Angels and Airwaves. Wikipedia tells me you also race motorcycles. How do you find the time to be a coffee roaster and a daredevil?

I haven’t raced in a couple of years. I hope to get back to it, but for now I’m roasting coffee. So, yeah, there isn’t time for it all :)

David James Kennedy

David James Kennedy

What’s rock’n’roll about coffee?

Passion and a commitment to discovery is what created rock’n’roll. Those same elements push the community of coffee to better itself. So it’s an attitude, an outlook on life.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Honestly, roasting coffee and listening to music seems like the best combo ever, but I really just listen to the machine and the beans.

Trip Report: Coffee Nerds in Boston

By my fifth day in Boston, my feet ached so badly I found myself laying on the carpet in a quiet corner of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, hoping no one would recognize me.

photo1

Just down the street from the convention center — Boston, looking all Boston-y.

I was there for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual trade show, which brings over 10,000 coffee buyers, roasters, and farmers together alongside baristas, NGO representatives, financiers, and assorted entrepreneurs. They come mostly from across the U.S. and Latin America, but there were no shortage of Indians, Ugandans, and Ethiopians. There are lectures in English and Spanish and classes on tasting, roasting, and brewing; there is a massive “show floor” where businesses hawk coffee-related wares; there are hundreds of hushed side-room meetings in which importers try to match sellers with buyers and earnest aid workers angle for urgent solutions; there is the United States Barista Championship and its cheering crowds. There is more caffeine than you can imagine.

I was there to report on Symposium, two days of meetings that bring together the titans of industry—CEOs, directors of coffee, sustainability managers—to discuss the common challenges facing the business of “specialty” coffee. They are many: Climate change, an epidemic of coffee leaf rust in Central America, decreasing land area for coffee cultivation nearly everywhere, food insecurity for farmers, a profound lack of genetic diversity and biodiversity on coffee farms. (Read my exhaustive summary of presentations on leaf rust and genetics.) It was an orgy of information; I could barely sort out whose limbs were whose by the end of it. For me, an outsider to the everyday work of coffee, it was a consuming immersion. Judging by the coffee-break chatter, the pros are a harder bunch to please—everyone seemed to have a different opinion on which sessions were gems and which were useless. But there wasn’t a single session I didn’t find interesting; I gathered ideas for dozens of stories I’ll never have time to write. Then again, I’m a smokejumper, parachuting into a world that is by nature flaming and exotic to me.

A birds-eye-view of the United States Barista Competition.

A birds-eye-view of the United States Barista Competition.

I was also in Boston to give a presentation at the conference about the power of stories. Coffee, uniquely among commodities (think of oil, wheat), is grown on small farms by many hands. There are massive plantations, yes, but more than 70% of the coffee grown in the world is grown by smallholders. In the last decade, significant changes have taken place in the technology used by coffee traders to trace where the coffee has come from and where it is going. Because of this, it’s possible much of the time to know not only that coffee was grown in Guatemala, but that it was grown by Arturo Aguirre on his farm Finca El Injerto in Guatemala. The vast physical distance between my kitchen and the farm where my coffee was grown begins to shrink when I know the name of the person who grew it. It shrinks further when I know that person’s story.

Rarely, though, are the Arturos of the world telling their own stories. (Finca El Injerto is one of the very few coffee farms in the world that has built brand regonition in the U.S., in part because of their forays into the world of storytelling, including via Twitter and Instagram.) When you see a coffee farmer’s face—on a bag of coffee, on a website, or elsewhere—it’s generally because a roaster or a marketer put it there. That’s not in an of itself problematic, but it can be. Coffee has a rich history of colonization and exploitation. When coffee farmers’ stories are used to sell coffee to enrich others, it extends that history of exploitation in subtle ways. In our session, we talked about strategies that farmers, roasters, and importers or others can use to share the stories of coffee while being thoughtful and ethical about it. I was lucky to be joined on stage by Oliver Stormshak of Olympia Coffee Roasters (describing how he has produced a collection of incredible videos that tell the story of the company and the farms they buy from), and Cate Baril of Sustainable Harvest (sharing how SH brings farmers and roasters together for good, old fashioned, face-t0-face story sharing through their annual Let’s Talk Coffee event).

 

 

Join me March 18 at Powells!

One of the high points for me after Left Coast Roast came out was when a friend told me they’d stumbled across it at the local library. It hadn’t occurred to me that it might find a life in a library. I love libraries. I think libraries are as cool as democracy and universal health insurance. Maybe cooler.

powells

Courtesy of Walkscore.com

And the only thing cooler than a library is Powells Books. I go to a lecture series each year that brings in some of the top authors in the country, and to a (wo)man, every single person gets on stage and talks about how amazing Powells is and how lucky we are to have it. Indeed.

I can hardly contain my excitement to tell you that I get to talk about my book at Powells. Ohmagerd. Come watch me faint on stage from the thrill of it all.

Oh, and as if that weren’t enough, joining me will be Duane Sorenson, the CEO of Stumptown. I’m always more comfortable in conversation than stranded by myself in front of a crowd. Duane has graciously agreed to come offer his perspectives on how Portland rose to become one of the finest coffee cities in the world, as well how the coffee industry has changed dramatically in the years since Stumptown opened its doors in 1999. After the talk, which is being hosted by the Fresh Pot, we’ll all taste some delish Stumptown coffees together.

Monday, March 18
7:30 pm
Powells on Hawthorne

Courtesy of Powells.com

Courtesy of Powells.com

Left Coast Roast (Timber Press) is Hanna Neuschwander‘s caffeine-fueled guide to 55 key coffee companies in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California — from small artisan roasters like Heart, Coava, and Kuma and icons like Peet’s and Starbucks, to rapidly expanding shops like Portland’s Stumptown and San Francisco’s Blue Bottle. Hanna will be joined in conversation by Stumptown Coffee Roasters’s Duane Sorenson. A coffee tasting will follow their conversation. This event is cosponsored by The Fresh Pot.

10 Questions with Front Coffee Roasters

Front is a tiny new San Francisco microroastery in Portrero Hill that sits, well, at the front of a San Francisco start-up that has made good by bringing together eggheads from the worlds of design, film, robotics, and visual arts. Autofuss is a design/production company that uses repurposed auto manufacturing robots to shoot commercials for clients including Google, Jambox, Chevy, and Louis Vuitton. Like all hardworking, design-geeky entrepreneurs, the brains behind Autofuss wanted better-than-average coffee to keep the engines of industry turning. Rather than invite an existing coffee slinger into their space (like Amazon did with Victrola in Seattle, or like Facebook did with Philz Coffee in SF), the principles of Autofuss, Randall Stowell and Jeff Linnell, did one better and started their own microroastery. Now Front fronts the eclectic studios of Autofuss.

Front

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

The teensy cafe has a few seats, but is mostly standing-room only, with Deutsche beer garden tables on the sidewalk. On nice days, a garage door rolls up to reveal the entire space. It’s built on the footprint of what used to be an industrial loading dock.

While Stowell and Linell are responsible for getting Front out of the harbor in 2012, the captain of the coffee ship is Ian McCarthy, who has been roasting for just over a year in the space. (The retail cafe opened in summer 2012). McCarthy first came to coffee when his grandparents threw him into the kitchen of their Italian-American restaurant at the ripe age of twelve. “My shift drink was either bad Italian-American restaurant espresso, or sparkling water with as many dashes of bitters as the barkeep would let me have,” he McCarthy. The year between high school and university, he had his God Shot moment: “I found an espresso that was better than any I had ever had at a cafe in Portsmouth, NH, called Black Bear. I wanted to be close to it. I demanded a job on the spot. A few months later, I was managing the cafe.” He went on to work at Metropolis in Chicago before relocating to the Bay Area.

Website: http://www.frontsf.com/
Visit: 150 Mississippi St., San Francisco. Open daily, 8am-4pm.

10 Questions

What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

The idea behind the coffee program at Front is to give gracious, honest hospitality while operating technically at the highest level possible. We sweat everything. This isn’t a large space, and we have a tiny roaster. The folks at Sterling, in Portland OR, (who started on a one-pound San Franciscan, operating out of a kiosk the size of a generous mop-closet), were big inspirations for me when I was presented the idea that was to become Front. They were as good a proof-of-concept as I was going to get, and they are killing it to this day.

Front

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

Our roasting philosophy is to highlight the intrinsic qualities of the bean; the things that make it unique—variety, processing, geography. Terroir. In the end, this means having a light touch. I want our our coffees to be reflections of time and place, and have an energy like a tightly-coiled spring. To get technical, we roast our coffees for non-pressurized brewing in the city to city+ development stage range, usually for 10:30 to 11:20 minutes, dropping the coffee when the bean probe measures about 400-403F.

Single origins vs. blends: Which wins in a fight to the death?

The blends v. single origin question is an interesting one, and one I think roasters look at a little too narrowly. Why limit the question to political geography? I think we need to look at coffee through all possible lenses—processing, geography, varietal, etc.—to really have a complete picture of what we like or dislike about coffee. Do you love Kenyan coffee, or do you love SL-28? How many non-Kenyan SL-28 have you had? In particular, I am inspired by the work of an Alsatian winemaker, Marcel Deiss. Marcel grows the noble grapes of Alsace: riesling, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, and muscat. Normally, though not always, these grapes would be vinified separately, and you would simply buy a bottle of Pinot Gris from vineyard X. Marcel has a thought here, though—what if your conception of the vineyard in fact gets caught up in the variety? You think you are tasting vineyard X, but really you are tasting the qualities inherent in pinot gris in general. Now, you can of course drink lots and lots of pinot gris from Alsace and elsewhere and know what it is all about, which you should, but for Marcel it is more effective to see the vineyard from multiple angles simultaneously in order to see its full realized potential. He will vinify all of the grapes together and create a field blend. The idea is that when you eliminate the lens of varietal, you see the terroir for what it really is. If and when I blend coffees, its is with an approach inspired by this mentality—there has to be a concept behind the aesthetic. It has to give you some insight into one or more of our variables. Putting together a Bourbon from Rwanda with one from Brazil, roasting a single-origin espresso to three different roast levels, blending three different processing methods from a single estate—these are the sort of combinations that I think offer us insight into the breadth of variation and nuance inherent in coffee. Putting together an Indonesian coffee for earthiness, and a Costa Rican for brightness, so I can chase some idea of “balance,” this is less interesting to me. I am looking for the edge of things, less so the center.

Sipping

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

We have a one-kilo Probat, and are moving up to a 15-kilo Loring Smart Roast shortly. I have more experience on Diedrich roaster, particularly the IR-12. From a R+D perspective, roasting on a one-kilo roaster is wonderful. From the perspective ofproduction, it is a nightmare.

Sustainability is something you think a lot about. Was that the rationale for deciding to buy a high-efficiency roaster like the Loring?

More than anything, I am realizing just how dirty and inefficient these pretty, old , German, fire-breathing beasts are. As lovely as an old Probat is from a roasting and aesthetic perspective, they are hardly sustainable. As much as my hair still stands on end when I tell people I am about to buy an air roaster, there is no way I can justify the footprint of either exhaust or afterburner anymore. Coffee Collective in Copenhagen is doing game-changing work using air roasters; this proves to me that new-fangled technology can be just as good if not better than the old roasters.

How did you get started roasting?

My roasting experience started in a tiny apartment in Chicago, using a hand-cranked popcorn popper, a stones throw away from Metropolis where I was working as a barista. Chris Schooley, the roaster and green buyer at the time, had an infectious dedication to roasting that ended up pulling more people than me into the craft. He was tremendously helpful, giving me spare green samples from importers, and letting me put my awful Whirly-Pop roasts on his cupping table.

Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve had.

There have been too many memorable cups to count. Like many people, I think it was probably a natural-processed Ethiopian coffee (fruit bomb!) that made me do my first double-take. Everything seemed possible after that.

Espresso or filter?

I am a big filter proponent. Occasionally, espresso preparation gives me the chance to see a facet of a coffee I would otherwise not experience. More often than not, I think non-pressurized brewing is the clearer lens through which to see a coffee. I drink much more coffee brewed with a Hario V-60 than anything else. I love the range of potential flavors possible with V-60s, almost as much as I love the range of opinions on how to use them.

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

What can I say about SF? I think there is as high a concentration of talent in this city as anywhere in the world. It is a flavor playground. It has me in its claws.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Lots of jazz on the ones and twos. Sanders, Coltrane, Coleman, Sun Ra, Hamilton, Mingus. The same principles apply to roasting: Tension, dynamic range, and negative space. Sometimes too much is too much. Sometimes it is just enough.

Roaster Roundup: De La Paz Acquired by Four Barrel

When I interviewed Jason Benford of De La Paz Coffee Roasters in San Francisco for Left Coast Roast, we talked among saw horses. At the time—way back in early 2011—the company was planning to open a new cafe modeled on a nieghborhood bar—lots of counter stools, no obvious place to stand in line, lots of wood. As the book went to the print, we ended up pulling out a few sentences that described the space. De La Paz was running way behind schedule and it hadn’t opened yet. (It’s never good form to write about something that hasn’t happened yet in a book, our most permanent of literary forms—well, after petroglyphs).

Fast forward to early 2013. De La Paz still hasn’t opened a cafe, though they have been roasting coffee out of the half-finished SOMA-neighborhood space for the last two years, and have a cart out front. I was puzzled as to why until I stumbled on this recent article from Eater SF. Turns out Benford was trying to juggle two businesses, coffee and woodworking, and it was just too difficult to do both. Instead of let De La Paz go belly-up, though, he approached the folks at Four Barrel about a friendly takeover. Here’s more:

Four Barrel owners Jeremy Tooker, Jodi Geren, and Tal Mor…are planning to build out a new cafe in the company’s Mission St. roastery. Geren spoke to us about the Four Barrel group’s plans for their newest acquisition: “We want [De La Paz] to be a side project that’s different from Four Barrel, and focused on a different kind of coffee. While Four Barrel is focused on single-origin coffees, De La Paz will be focused on blends…we’re really excited to do this other kind of coffee, that focuses on sweetness and body.” … The Four Barrel team’s next task is building out a cafe in the De La Paz roastery, a project Benford had already embarked upon with Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture, but had yet to complete.

So, another exciting project from Four Barrel, which is just on a roll these days.

LA Coffee Tour: G+B

Two weeks ago, I spent a whirlwind 36 hours drinking coffee in Los Angeles. Coffee touring is well-matched to a sprawling place like LA, an excuse to ramble around a strange city with purpose. Part of being enamored with LA’s coffee scene, I know, was just having a “way in” to a place that otherwise feels mostly incomprehensible to me (strip malls? everywhere?). The longer I’m attached to it, the more I’m forced to concede that coffee is a club, with it’s own coded language and markers of belonging. But in a foreign place, it’s wonderful to have symbols to lean against.

The Angelenos have been gunning for the mantle of “hottest coffee city” for a while now. Perhaps it was all the sunshine, but I may be ready to concede them the title. With only a day and half, I didn’t get to a fraction of the places on my list (there are so many!). Those I did visit charmed me immensely. My undisputed favorite was G+B.

G+B

It took me almost half hour to unlock the mysteries of the food menu at G+B’s patron-partner, the inspired SQIRL, and get down to the task of ordering coffee. I couldn’t do it on my own. Instead, Charles Babinski (he of the “B”),  gently escorted me out of my helplessness to an order of brussels sprouts with egg and toast with “blubarb” jam. (I’ll get back to those in a minute.) I asked him to recommend something special in the drinks department, something I would be unlikely to find elsewhere. He was gracious in his reply: “We pride ourselves on doing the regular things really well.”

Pure, yes, but not puritanical.

So nothing fizzing or foaming, or called “Geisha.” At G+B, there are scales and refractometers, but they’re refreshingly out of sight.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not above gimmicks. But Babinski and his partner, Kyle Glanville, achieve magic without them. They manage to be pure without being puritanical. Ferreting out the best coffee, from a predictably small list of roasters around the country, they take time with each to find exactly where it sings. Each coffee they serve is served only one way—the way they can make it maximally delicious. Heart‘s Ethiopia Yukro was the best cold brew I’ve ever had (“Really?” asked Babinski, as if sad for me). It’s a bright coffee to start, and the refreshing citrus came through loud as a bell on ice, but then it resolved into a syrupy caramel that ran to the end of the block and back.

In the “different” department, Babinksi did acquiesce a bit and steer me to their almond milk cappuccino (the nut milk is made in-house). I loved it, but to really do the drink justice you’d have to rename it. Call it amandine, or anything to keep people from dismissing it as an ersatz substitute, when really it’s a whole new thing. Almonds are an especially oily nut; when soaked in water before being ground, the oils pass easily into the water to make “milk”. It went together with espresso in a masculine way, emphasizing its heavier, folksier qualities. If a regular cappuccino is dreamily looking up at clouds, the almond-milk version is hands-stuffed-in-your-pants-staring-at-a-country-road. The nut milk had an earthy sweetness, thinner than cow’s milk but heavier on the tongue, with just a touch of grit. Unusual for a coffee drink, it was actually thirst-quenching—like horchata, but without the teeth-numbing sweetness. (The espresso was Epic, from 49th Parallel.)

In conversation, Glanville mentions that they are toying with the idea of pre-sweetening lattes for those who want them that way. Think Dunkin’ Donuts: “Two milks, one sugar.” Despite the protestations of coffee purists, 95% of people that buy a latte put sugar in it. “So why don’t we determine the optimal sweetness of a drink and do it for you?” asks Glanville. It’s a fine question.

Perhaps I loved G+B so much because coffee isn’t even the main attraction. That honor goes to Jessica Kaslow’s SQIRL—a sort of magic workshop where small bites are transfigured into big flavors. Toasts, jams, “two-faced” sandwiches, and bowls of veggies. I have never had a better bowl of Brussels sprouts. The blubarb (blueberry rhubarb) jam was sweet for my taste, but still made a fine duvet for a thick, pillowy slice of bread.

If you don’t like affogado because you think it’s an affront to coffee, I don’t want to be your friend.—Babinski

Kaslow lends space to G+B (it’s kind of a “pop up”) but their contract is up in April. The tenuousness of the project is unquestionably part of its charm—the whole thing feels of a particular moment. Even the space has the feel of serendipity and impermanence. Pure, but not puritanical. It doesn’t look like a typical cafe—if anything, it reads more like a New York lunch counter. It’s narrow and cobbled together. The geometrical blue paint is chipping, the metal shelves behind the bar are cluttered. There are no tables, anywhere. Inside are two small counters where you can take a stool and assume the position of a regular. Outside, on a shaded patio, it feels otherwordly. Svelte birds preen, perching their plates and drinks and bangles on too few, too small stools. Eating in the sun? Makeup for breakfast? Bracelets? I’m not from a sunny, sophisticated place—it’s all too romantic. I love it.

Babinski and his partner, Kyle Glanville, were stoic about what might come next. Possibly, an extension of the lease. They are looking for permanent cafe space, but G+B has proven more successful than they envisioned. Whatever it is, I’m in.

 

 

 

10 Questions with Entimos Coffee Roasters

Entimos Coffee Roasters is a collaboration between Matt Dittemore and Tim Tubra. Northwesterners by birth and by inclination (they were both steeped in Portland’s coffee culture in the early 2000s), they now call Sacramento home.  Matt and Tim began as home roasters (Matt in 2002, and Tim in 2009), but after exchanging notes and critiquing each others’ coffees, they began to collaborate.

"We'd kill for good coffee."

“We’d kill for good coffee.”

“I began this competition between myself and the coffee I was roasting,” says Tubra, “I wasn’t satisfied until I knew I’d found the perfect profile.” Friends and family took notice and began placing orders. With enthusiastic encouragement from their community, the duo formed Entimos in 2011 and began their fledgling business.

For now, Entimos is a tiny, roast-to-order operation. In addition to a small slate of individual coffees for sale online, customers can also sign up for three-month subscriptions, with coffee delivered once or twice a month. As a small operation, they roast only once a week and regularly update their website with their offerings. (Subscribers can expect to see 4-5 different coffees over the course of three months, so there are some repeats.) Beans are always shipped within 24 hours of roasting.

But there is at least one place you’ll soon be able to grab a cup of “the divine draught” on a Sunday morning—at the church where Dittemore serves as a pastor. He’s sharing the gospel of coffee with his congregation: “We are just starting to serve Entimos at the church. We want it to be a true representation of what our coffee is. We are in the process of changing over the equipment—it was pretty bad—which involves training the wonderful volunteers that make it in the morning.”

Might they expand in the future and consider a retail shop? It’s probably a long ways off. “We know that starting and running a retail space would be a large undertaking,” says Tubra. “Our focus is very much in roasting great coffee and we want to keep that our main priority.”

Website: www.entimoscoffee.com
Twitter: @entimoscoffee

10 Questions 

What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

The same bean roasted one day will taste different the next; from one brew method to another it will develop subtleties in flavor. There is no single cup that is the “best” coffee. This is what makes coffee so exceptional. One of our main goals is to help educate consumers about the differences between origins and assist them in recognizing different characteristics in each cup. While we enjoy a good blend, single origins are our main focus right now.

Diedrich IR-1What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?

We roast on a one-of-a-kind, white Diedrich. When we started we tried several different roasters but ultimately fell in love with this machine. It gives us full control over both airflow and gas pressure, important determinants of the roast profile. Apart from producing phenomenal coffee, it’s just so gorgeous to look at.

How would you describe your roasting style?

Knowing that it’s possible to roast a Kenyan and a Colombian very “dark” and have them taste essentially the same, we tend toward the lighter end of the spectrum. We want to give our customers a taste that showcases the particulars of each coffee’s origin and the farmers who grew and processed it.

Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve roasted: Where did it come from? How did you roast it? What most excited you about it?

Tasting Wrecking Ball's Kenya GatugiSeveral months ago we roasted a coffee from Nyeri, Kenya. It was processed at the Gatomboya co-op wet mill in Mathira, Nyeri. After dropping the beans into the roaster, we gradually brought up the heat. Just before first crack, we charged the temperature. We finished the roast just after first crack. It made a very delicious drip that was full of strawberries, but the single origin espresso that came from that bean was out of this world. We miss that coffee a lot!

What does Entimos mean?

Entimos is an English transliteration of a Greek word that carries the connotation of “esteemed,” “honored,” “held in high regard,” and “valued.” It encapsulates much of what we want our coffee to be. Being a student of the Bible, Greek is a language I [Matt] love. I took several years of French in high school but I don’t remember much of it—and “honoré” doesn’t have the same ring.

Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?  We have a mausoleum of coffee brewing devices and it seems like our preferences change all the time. If we had to pick one “go to” method right now? It would be a lovely pour over in a Chemex using Able Brewing’s Gold Kone.

What do you love about the coffee scene in Sacramento?

Without a doubt, we love the fact that it is growing.  For a long time, San Francisco was the closest place to get good coffee.  Specialty coffee has exploded in Sacramento in the last few years. The sense of community between roasters and coffee shops has been awesome. It is a privilege to be a part of it.

What’s the best thing about being a coffee roaster? The worst?

Hearing the positive responses from those who drink our coffee. Seeing people enjoy the coffee experience as much as we do is phenomenal. Being a part of the coffee community and experiencing the camaraderie there has been very fulfilling. How could there be a “worst thing”? We are doing what we love!

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Tim enjoys beats like RJD2 and Matt occasionally gets down with any kind of bluegrass. It just depends on which one of us is roasting.

Finally—and I’m dying to hear this—what’s the story behind that awesome photo of you being arrested for brewing coffee?

Tim: We wanted to enter the Able Xtreme Kone contest [a competition for the best brewing recipe for the Able Kone filter, along with a photo of Kone brewing that is "extreme, creative, and extremely creative"]. We thought it would be a killer idea to have a picture of us being arrested for brewing coffee. After many failed attempts to stage a photo with our buddy who is a police officer, we had all but given up on the idea. I [Tim] was driving home just an hour before the contest deadline. I was stopped at a light and looked to my right and saw the officer. I rolled down my window, got his attention and asked if he had 15 minutes to spare and wouldn’t mind taking a photo with me and my buddy for this coffee contest. He obliged and I had him follow me to Matt’s house. Hilarity ensued. Matt’s neighbors couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Matt: I was almost asleep when I got a frantic call from Tim informing me that he was three minutes from my house and had an officer following him. He told me to get dressed and get my Chemex and Kone FAST! Leave it to Tim to convince a cop to follow him somewhere in the middle of the night to pose for a picture.

Coffee + Sustainability panel recap

On January 21, I was honored to moderate a panel discussion at San Francisco’s famed Ferry Building about a vexing topic: “Coffee and Sustainability.”Joining me were Chris Bacon, an environmental social scientist at Santa Clara University and co-author of Confronting the Coffee Crisis; Steven Vick, quality control manager at Blue Bottle Coffee Co.,; and Colby Barr, co-owner of Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz and a winner of two Good Food Awards in 2013.

A recap of the panel, including full audio of the conversation and audience questions-and-answers, is live over on the CUESA website now.

I’ll also be writing my own recap for Sprudge (hopefully live sometime next week). Here are just a few nuggets from the CUESA recap, but there’s plenty more to come:

Certification itself isn’t a guarantor of sustainability, but it sets up criteria that move us closer to sustainability. —Chris Bacon

The farmer and consumer are most important [in the supply chain], and they’re the most disconnected geographically and emotionally. [...] To have longevity, you need to have a relationship, and to have a relationship, you have to pay farmers well. —Colby Barr

A big part of it for us is to calibrate with the farmers and say, ‘This is what we’re looking for, this is how we roast coffee, and this is what we’re going to pay more money for. It really empowers the farmer to know what their quality is so that they can demand the right price. —Stephen Vick

 

Coffee at Home

Last week, I taught a beginner’s class on making coffee at home at 18 Reasons, the amazing community education space connected to BiRite Market in San Francisco. Ariel Soto-Suver, a reporter from the SF Bay Guardian, was there and took some wonderful photos of the class and wrote up a little piece about it. There were 24 people in the class and they asked great questions. Every single one of them deserved kudos for coming to a two-hour class on coffee at the very end of the day (7-9 pm!).

You can check out thumbs of the photos below, or see the whole gallery over on the Bay Guardian site.

It always a bit funny for me to do these events because on the one hand, I have achieved some definite next-level knowledge of coffee in the last couple of years. But I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means. Case in point: I almost never talk about coffee and make it at the same time. I totally underestimated how long it would take to make two carafes full of coffee using a V-60 pour over and got all flustered at the start of class (hopefully it didn’t show too much!). It took me a bit to work my way back to a comfortable rhythm, but everyone hung in with me. Troopers. Anyway, it put a fine point on what a demanding skill set it is to make coffee. It’s not difficult, exactly, but it does take quite a bit of practice and it’s very physical. I hadn’t been reminded of that in a long time — since I was last serving customers behind a coffee bar, over five years ago now.