måndagen den 28:e juli 2008

No more Mr Magic...




A short one today. 30 degrees celsius in Stockholm today. Nice day for a triple-shot in a big glass of ice... ;) The post will be a bit mushed up as I can't think straight in the heat, but I'll hope you get my point. Make a comment otherwise and I'll try to answer it in a less messy mode... End of disclaimer...

The farmers (including choice of milling process) are the only ones creating stuff in our industry. Their work can bring out great green coffee and by being educated and progressive they can make it greater. The later guys in the process can only ruin it. Their (or our actually) game is to ruin as little as possible of the stuff we get from the farmers.

The roaster is sometimes a knowledgable guy, actually having more than a clue about the maillard reaction and how to control heat to get the perfect roast profile. The work of a great roaster is never anything but destructive though. If he gets shit into the roaster, no cool trick can ever change it. A roaster at his best brings out the best of what already in the bean. He's decision in the process is what he decide not to bring out tastewise through temperature profiling as well as choice of cooling technique and degassing.

The barista is sometimes (a bit too seldom though) a knowledgable chap understanding the thing with his/hers HX or dual saturated boiler machine and how to set up the machine through boiler- and pump-pressure, flushing and using the temprature rises and decays to get the most out of the roasted coffee he is using. A destructive process too, a decent barista can bring out lots of different flavour profiles from one coffee, but they're all there from the beginning.

So to get the greatest, most interesting coffee the one we have to turn to is the farmer. Help the farmers by first stepping down from the "mister magic" roaster- or barista-role and get our costumers and guests to learn about their work. We are not working magic, we are focused as hell to be able not to ruin their legacy. It is time to get the focus over to them and make sure there will be a way in the end for them to survive when their countries is going from developing to industrial. Otherwise there will be no one farming coffee as there's not enough money to survive on it. Just look at the often qouted as "over-priced" La Hazienda Esmeralda total income from their top notch coffees. Most of us reading this is either running coffee bars or working in one making those kind of cash. And this very estate is one of the few getting decent money for their coffee.

The thing we need to do is to learn more and more about the farming, visit the farmers, and teach our guests what we have learned on our journeys - to make them see why they in the end will need to pay 50 cents more for their spro or cap - to make sure to in the long run be able to get the best coffee there is. And we need to use that extra 50 cents to pay the farmers a bit more. Make sure that they see a future in their craft!

The following posts will probably be about a few ideas of how we can change our industry in specific ways to get the guests and costumers more aware and caring about what's in the cup. (I'll try to get them up ASAP, but the heat is just twisting my head around...)

lördagen den 19:e juli 2008

Oh, please behave yourself!



An independent espresso bar or café is usually built on some kind of love for something. For lots it's the idea of the social thing that a coffee bar is offering. For others like me it is about the coffee. Very few is getting rich in this game, but most of us are finding satisfaction. My love is watching a great coffee extract, trying to get the most out of it. Hundreds of people on farms, processing mills, roasters, etc. has put their heart into making something great. So my job is a responsability towards them, to present their work in the best possible way and teach the public of their legacy. This is for me the main thing with working with speciality coffee and not commodity coffee. It is finally my judgement that decides what ways I will serve a coffee i.e. what I will sell to my guests.

The costumer is always right... We've all heard that phrase, and thank god it is not as wide-spread in our way of acting as costumers here in Sweden as in USA. As we try to change behavioural patterns to get people to understand what is in their cup we will get into weird situations. This mainly linked to the fact that some of our guests can't see a mission behind the stuff served. They simply see us as servants paid by them, not as guides on an interesting journey.

Last few days have been interesting in this sense as the blog-world has exploded about a short event at Nick Cho's place Murky's(I will tie this bag up later as the discussion following it has some points that I find interesting related the lists below).

How to act in an espresso bar:

1. Before walking up to the bar, take time to check out the menu (it is usually at the wall facing you if you are looking at the bar).

2. Make a deciscion about what you want or if you are not sure, decide what you're gonna ask us about.

3. If there is a line, take your place in the back of it and use the time to decide what to get. The line is full of fellow guests that are as much worth to the bar as you.

4. Be respectful towards the chap/bird at the bar, it is a human being that deserves respect. And by being respectful, you will probably get a better response and a way better interaction.

5. If you ask a question, listen to the full answer, not just the first two words.

6. When you order, please go with stuff that is on the menu. If the menu has no mention of flavoured-vanilla-mocca-latte, most likely it is not served...

7. If you are having mutliple drinks or company, order all at once and please don't change the order. So make sure that you are sure what to get before starting to actually order.

8. If you want suggestions about what to drink, give some preferences, do you like smooth, fruity stuff or bitter, smoky with strenght?!

9. When you recieve your fix, leave from for the next one in the line.

10. If you get something you really enjoy, please let us know!

You don't need a masters degree in social science to understand this stuff. It is just about remembering that you are in a social situation with another human at the same level as you and you are a guest in his/her bar.

How not to act in an espresso bar:

1. Don't skip the line.

2. Don't distract yourself with other stuff than ordering when you reach the bar.

3. Don't interupt the barista while working with another guest's drinks. He/she should have 100 percent focus on the beverages in the making.

4. Don't act rude because the bar doesn't serve stuff the way you are used to, ask for suggestions instead. (You don't get angry at Burger King for not serving Pizza or at a Mercedez dealer for not selling BMWs...)

5. Don't scream stop while the barista is pouring milk or extracting a shot. (If you want it in a custom way, tell us while ordering)

6. Don't stop listening to an answer after two words.

7. Don't tap rhythms on the bar while waiting. (This is seriously the most annoying thing I know while working in the bar).

8. Don't wave your money until we ask you to pay. (We are not striptease dancers, having money in your hand is okay, just don't wave them or push them on us before we ask you for it).

9. Never serve yourself anything from the inside of the bar. (Not a glass, nothing, if it's behind the bar, ask us for it).

10. Don't leave the place in a mess, you are a guest for crying out loud.


It may sound harsh to some, but it really isn't. The same rules applying in any other social situation are valid in a café, coffee shop or an espresso bar. Which leads the line of thought back to Nick in DC (the blog-post that started it, Nick's less than PR-perfect responce). Over at coffeed I found the most interesting response so far to the situation. Hopefully we can get a good discussion out of it and learn how to become better at separating ourselves from the commodity market. I won't make this one any longer, I just wanted to make a short statement today and feel free to post add-ons to the list in your comments.

BTW, the image above has nothing to do with the text. I just like it. The first drops of a Pacamara single SPRO from Costa Rica.

Regards

LAb


Update 1: More storms in the tea cup... Nick is on a roll!

Update 2: Spreading over to UK and the Guardian, with Sarah Allen as writer... For us who know the history of the WBC-board this is serious entertainment!!!!

Update 3: As most readers are Swedish on this blog, here's a few people discussing it based on how the culture is shaped in Sweden. Mr. Levak, his opinions are pretty close to mine at this time. Poyan, interesting spin off on the list too. Riktigt kaffe, discussions that I'd like to see Christoffer Levak getting into as he seems a bit more interesting vision of what a barista working with specialty coffee in the future should be.

fredagen den 4:e juli 2008

On a slow note



Kind of Blue (Miles Davis) on the stereo system. A honey-like double-shot espresso with strong chocolate notes, a bit of hazelnut, low on the fruit and acidity with a huge body, a nice sweetness and almost no bitterness at all. The industry is still in a hang-over state since Copenhagen and a lot of people have gone on vacation. So this is a small sum-up of the stuff that's been crossing my mind since last time.

So let's start with the stuff everyone is chatting about...
Anette of Square Mile made the roast and blend for the winner for the second time in a row. (Stephen Morrisey 2008 , James Hoffman 2007). I'd really like to sit down with her and just learn. She's cute too. All creds in the world to her! To me that is the most impressing achievement of the Copenhagen industry get-together. Of course we saw a lot of solid barista performances, but nothing that really rocked me in ways of "unseen before" or "super creative". So I won't be discussing it here. In anyway it has turned me into the competition on a personal level. I am already trying to put together a team (80% done already), setting up a training facility (done) and starting to work together with a roaster to really get to know the stuff I'll serve and to roast it myself (starting in August). I've gotten sponsorship for most expences so once it start running (after vacation) I'll be up to my knees in work. I have a lot of creative ideas I haven't seen yet in competition, so fellow baristi, be aware!

In the blog world everything is the way it always been... Kiril is still living the life of the international espressi playboy (or globetrotter). St Ali my favorite café stylewise has changed hands, but the blog seems to be updated by the new owner. In Antwerpen it is still about finding the stuff that makes my giggle! Barismo is still the quasi-academic blog about getting the most out of the coffee (green or brown). Every competitor is thanking their close ones and their team. Rod Lazar came, but was gone in a flash. So nothing earth shattering there either.

Inside SCAA and the WBC-board there seem to be a few conflicts, but there is very "hysch-hysch" about it (to use a swedish term). Would love to see a greater transparency in our trade organisations... And no press-release yet on the new WBC-sponsors. Some info please, for crying out loud!

In the bar I have started to get a lot of really awkward people coming in on a regular basis. So my next post will be about the controversial subject of...

...How to behave and more important NOT to behave when ordering your coffee-fix! So remember to put me in your RSS-reader to get updated as soon as I publish it.

The final note of today...
I am putting my faith into me going to Toronto, Canada a few week this fall. Any ideas of places I must see and bars, roasters etc. I must visit?????? Would love some help on this one.

Best regards

LAb

onsdagen den 18:e juni 2008

Breaking the waves



A great day is reaching its end... Got a late invitation last week to a (too) late cupping of the Guatemala Cup of Excellence line-up at the local roastery Arvid Nordqvist (more on them later int the post). So I started the day with a walk in the morning sun down to their facility (located only a kilometer from my apartment actually). Once there I got a chance to flirt some with their lovely cute receptionists. Nice!

The cupping took place at their "academy". A huge room that used to be a computer-office, but has been transformed into a lecture hall for all things conserning coffee. On the counter by the first wall on the left there were several espresso setups with at least three Compak-grinders and one Mahlkoning as well as a few two group espresso-machines (Expobar, Astoria, La Marzocco and Faema). Also featured in the machine park was a Ascaso dual-boiler domestic machine with grinder and a ECM Giotto. Lots of drip-brewers and siphons as well... Well, this post is not about their academy even though it is a very nice place.

The cupping of an already auctioned collection of coffees might seem like a dull thing, but it was actually marvellous. Three tables were setup with 2 sample cups of each coffee at each table. The first two were in order of placement in the competition and the third was blind. It was actually kind of nice to see that I could stand up against professional cuppers when it came to recognize the samples blind. So what is my opinion on the El injerto and the others then...

As I am an espresso guy I always have a preference for coffees that I believe will work well under pressure. The Injerto had a bit too much of a blackcurrant-like flavour reminicent of a good Kenyan SL28 actually. Not really my cup of tea. La Bendicion were a favorite of many attendents but didn't make me totally happy either. The Finca De Dios was very interesting with its strong flavour of Peanut and can surely make a great SO-SPRO. My favorites were the following (in no order) El Socorro Y Anexos, San Sebastian, Granja El Tempixque, El Porvenir, Accso, El Faro and Chichupac. Must say that it was the most consistent line-up I've seen yet when it comes to quality eventhough many different variaties were present. I also noticed that there were none or almost none washed coffee included. I like sun-dried coffees so that is a good thing I.M.H.O.

After the cupping session I got into a discussion about their small drum-roast and got invited on a tour through the Arvid Nordqvist roasting facility. The company is the forth biggest roaster in Sweden roasting approximately 8 000 000 kilograms of coffee each year. (For Swedish readers, check this site for great coffee information in general). It is the other side of the spectra from my place and we got into a lot of interesting discussions about everything from the soil in Brazil compared to Costa Rica, to the industrialization of the third world, difficulties with organic certifications, and the prizing on coffee on the exchange market, and lots and lots of more. Interesting day to say the least. On a side note; I got to see a shipment of hang-dried coffee from brazil that just gotten in that looks very interesting...

Afterwards my head was banging from the information overload and I'm still trying to sort out all the impressions I've got during the visit. I suggest everyone of you to make a visit to one old-school roaster as you'll realize that our "third wave" is just riding on knowledge of those before us. To sum it up; It is nice to stand on the shoulders of giants!

Took a friend with me to the espresso bar afterwards and made us a set of espressi - a nice organic bourbon that was like a shot of butter fudge. Wonderful!

(Disclaimer: I am kind of tired and waiting for the Sweden - Russia game, so I guess this post were full of errors I haven't corrected before posting)


onsdagen den 11:e juni 2008

Cerro del Cielo (CoE)



A great week so far, Sweden won against Greece and I got something marvellous in the grinder...

Got a more than decent gift from a friend today... Knowing influencial people is a gift in itself but this one is even more awarding: One kilogram of the sundried Caturra that won the Nicaraguan CoE this year. The Cerro del Cielo farm has produced a coffee that is nothing but amazing. I am a big fan of sundried coffees as I have a weak spot for extra sweet stuff... And this is probably one of the greatest I've gotten the chance to try. Complex, yet very well balanced. I even tried making a few espressi using it and the complexity, sweetness and balance was still there without a trace of bitterness. All creds to Mauricio Esteban Vilchez Urbina for bringing such a wonderful crop into the world. The Cup of Excellence means alot to our industry and I would like to thank all the people involved as it brings focus on the farmers to all of us and in the end even our guests. I am more than grateful. Such a fine caturra. Such a marvellous coffee.

tisdagen den 10:e juni 2008

Of great importance!



As every other profession, the life of a barista is made easier by owning a nice set of tools. I am kind of a modest fellow. My most valued tools are my Ergo-Packer-set from Espresso Vivace and probably the most important one: my beloved and old (here pictured) Le Nez du Cafe set. While browsing the regular forums you'll see a great amount of discussions about tampers, machines and stuff, but not that much about learning to understand the aromas in coffee. This is THE tool to raise the bars with if you're into the baristi game seriously.

Kind of a short post today, still nice weather here in Stockholm and the Sweden vs. Greece game will start in a few hours.

Heja Sverige!

fredagen den 6:e juni 2008

A little bit of quite for me...




Slowing down at the bar now as summer has hit Stockholm. Marvellous days, marvellous gals... I hang out a lot down the docks outside my apartment and just chill. Slow days are here to stay! While everyone seems to go on about the "hacienda esmeralda" auction (interesting point about their total income here), well I don't care that much right now. In a few years Geisha will be grown everywhere in Panama at least. Could rant about the future, but as summer is here I'll go outside instead and just enjoy the summer. Cheers.

(Pictures of a home-made naked portafilter extraction, a stale coffee, but still such a show to watch...)