Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So Long...

Not to this blog. Don't worry, though you've probably stopped by now seeing as how I haven't updated in a seriously long time. As well as (much like you), I forgot that I even had a blog. But I'm back, and I've started using appropriate capitalization.

Here's the skinny (barista joke!):

In September, I quit Kaffe Blue in search of bigger and better things. Mostly, I wanted to find a job that was less routine, less early in the morning (yeah, I'm one of those night owls that drinks espresso after 8p.m.), less (in terms of coffee) intellectually disappointing. Not to say that the people I met there were not smart or stimulating or funny or witty, just to say that as much as I tried to push artisan coffee, educate the public in regards to "best practices," and develop Kingsport as one of the few and far between pockets of great coffee culture in the mountain south, it wasn't working. Only so many times can I explain why I won't make iced espresso or why the swill they bought at the gas station isn't a cappuccino before I either automate the process through pamphlets of questions you should get answered before coming into my shop or start getting tired of it. Don't get me wrong, I'll hold my tongue while adding as much flavor to a great latte as you want; I'll also make you your one and a half shot frappe without asking you for a physician-signed note saying you can't take 2 but need more than 1. But it does get old when the net effect of hard work, education, and practice equals yelling made-up words to a deaf audience with their eyes closed and backs towards you.

I had great customers, too, of course. I will miss all of my regulars, like the guy who gave me riddles, the old (may or may not be) homeless gentleman who would dance to the radio outside while i was opening and tell me about his 5th wife 30 years his junior, Miss Dawn and her posse that was ever-growing, the librarian crew or Erica's young daughter who called me "Mister Scott" and cried when she learned I was no longer part of her mornings. And if customers and their coffee were my sole job responsibility, I would still be there. But, a full service lunch gets crazy when you're short-staffed, making drinks, bussing tables, seating people, delivering food, and trying to keep everyone including co-workers happy.

However, here's what went down since the last post:
Two summer-special drinks.
1. The Cape Town Iced Tea: A tea made from rooibos red tea, shot of pomegranate juice, and a splash of blueberry syrup and made to order. Pink/orange in color, the flavor of those fruits with some vanilla notes from the rooibos somehow combined to cleanse the pallate. Seriously, you know that weird feeling when you eat something like garlic that sticks to your taste buds no matter how much you brush your tongue? Exactly the opposite sensation. I thought it was amazing, but apparently it's an acquired taste: over half were sent back with the note "disgusting."

2. The Mexican Mocha: Obviously (hopefully), a latte. We used a very slight amount of cayenne pepper on top of a rich chocolate made by Ghirardelli and pulled the shots on top of that. Milk (obviously), stir, and sprinkle on some cinnamon and you've got it. Amazing, and I don't even like chocolate. At all.

Also, I developed my own signature espresso blend using single-origins from our roaster. Our roaster wasn't happy, and said because we were no longer using his espresso blend, he "no longer recommend us to potential customers." Ridiculous, because he would still be our source for coffee. For my tastes, after drinking his espresso, I was left with this sensation of phlem lingering at the back of my throat like a loogie. I heard the mark of great espresso was that after drinking it, one wouldn't need a glass of water; it's supposed to clean your pallate, not give you pseudo-sinus drainage. So I set out to develop "The Beast" blend, which performed beautifully and better in all categories, as espresso, in lattes, cappuccinos, and americanos. It was smooth, clean, and a little earthy on the finish without all that acidity and crazy citrus running around all over your tongue. Now, when I left, I didn't give the recipe to Kaffe Blue. I did, however, give it to Jesse (the barista there who brought me into the Kaffe Blue Coffee Club). Very shortly thereafter, she left, and I haven't been back since. Therefore, I can't say with any certainty that the espresso blend is the one I developed, but I am doubtful it is. Still, if you want the blend recipe, tell me and I'll see what I can do for you.

Enough of that. So it's time to pursue a job in a field that suits the degree I'm paying for. Currently, I haven't snagged that job. Still, I'd love to fix your computer for you. Give me 5 bucks for the materials and talk to me about coffee and technology and we're set.

By this weekend (I promise), I will have another opinion up, this time on a cafe/roasterie in Chattanooga called Greyfriar's Coffee and Tea.

Thanks and love,


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


it has seriously been a long time.
i'm sittin' in a cafe in Bristol, TV/VA called Java J's. the State Street location is sort of lazy tonight. a pretty intense game of chess (yeah, with the punch clocks and everything) is goin' on right across from me. i like this place because they're the only establishment in the Tri-Cities at which i don't have to request a traditional cappuccino by using the term "esprrrresso macchiato" (and here's to all you David Schomer fans). humor aside, it's sort of disturbing. in the phone book for the tri-cities, there are 17 registered "cafes," or coffee shops, or coffee-specific food service establishments, excluding $tarbuck$. i've now been to all of them. and while they all have their diverse flavors of patrons, the skills maintained by the baristas all taste the same. burnt milk, improperly pulled espresso, cold cups, sloppy pours. am i a stickler? i guess. but i'm a professional barista - at least in the sense that my sole source of income is sourcing coffees - so i should be. again, i guess i'm just disappointed with all the money being spent on poorly served coffee. maybe i'm gettin' over-roasted on the espresso scene around here. maybe i'm just gettin' too big for my proverbial britches. is this an existential crisis? and who really believes that what is at its essence a commodity can do such things to a man? anyway, enough cerebral stuff!

hot topic for you to research/discuss:

starbucks acquired the rights to the clover machines. what sort of impact do you think this will have on the specialty coffee industry? what does this mean for the anti-theses of starbucks, like intelligensia who already own the $11,000 machines? is starbucks trivializing coffee again(!)?

my trip to cleveland was amazing. thank you to all at phoenix coffee, especially the ladies at flaggy's house who so graciously accepted my stinky feet on their couch (just for you, i wore socks as i slept). i loved the entire experience, hell, i even loved that there was 2 feet of snow on the ground. i can't say enough good things about these people or the coffee they're roasting/serving/talking about. were i a lesser fan of the south, i'd be applying for a job. note: packed into my things for the return trip were not only a french press and three pounds of amazing coffee, but at once a completely revitalizing inspiration for espresso work and a panic-inducing weight, the burden of bringing such inspiration to the coffee consumers of my home.

also, one day, a dream flaggy and i share is to open a coffee shop. an artisan coffee shop/(maybe) roasterie. little to no food. coffee brewed in every form. sort of a coffee lab, with a stove for moka pots and free home-made dinners for anyone to come and share around a big wooden table. music, friends, coffee, life. it's gonna be done. just you wait.

i'm signing off. hopefully in the next week i'll get to some specifics. but in the works is an iced drink with pomegranate and rooibos espresso. also, a dark chocolate and pepper "mexican mocha." kaffe blue still has the chocolate and roses latte, which is still being ordered in spite of its lack of presence on the menu. come by. let me make you a drink.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

a lot of just stuff (i think)

well, i'm at it again. blogging. i promise i will keep this one mostly about coffee and as short as possible.

so first off, business lately has been slow. i think it's because people spend way too much on christmas and then hurt for months after. or their new year's resolution was to give up delicious lattes. or they relented (har har) coffee for lent. or they're sick of me. self-deprecation aside, business really has been slow. on days when the sun is 'a shinin' and the birds 'a singin' we do pretty well, but that business mostly comes for lunch, which isn't necessarily the coffee-lovin' crowd. i really think that education is the key to boosting our coffee business. first, that education initiative starts with educating the servers, who are the main contact between me the barista and the lunch customers, about the drinks we serve (like what comes in a mocha and people who say "skinny" mean "skim milk"). after we're all on the same page with the basics, the baristas, myself included, really need to buckle down and get all of our ideas on the same page. we want to do things consistently the right way all across the board. we've got to present a united front against the assault starbucks has launched on the palates of kingsport, if i may get militant. john q. public should be able to walk in and get the same drink from mandy that he gets from me. i feel, though, that the barista crew is already most of the way there on this one, which is a good feeling to have. then, the final piece is educating the consumers. they are the ones that really need to know what they are drinking, not just that it has an exotic name or lots of whipped cream. hopefully this education will in turn affect their taste sensitivities in such a way that i may never have to make a drink with 4 fl. oz. of syrup to one shot of espresso ever, ever again.

i mentioned starbucks. they recently (last friday?) opened their store across town. i don't want to attribute how slow we've been to their new location in kingsport because that may almost be admitting defeat. so! that means that the other independent coffee houses need to retrieve our business. how are we going to do that? education. again. as my economics teacher always said, the more the consumer knows, the more problems they will find with starbucks. okay, so he never said that. actually, i never took economics, but that's not the point. the point is, if someone tastes good coffee, they will know what good coffee (and in turn bad coffee) is. and guess what: there are already a few places in kingsport to get good coffee. we being one of them, i feel we need to sort of team up with the other independent shops and be proactive about educating our customer base. two shop cuppings? yes. very small inter-cafe kingsport barista jam? i'm for it. open houses? by all means, please.

a couple of things that i'm terribly excited about:

1. the friendly friends at Phoenix Coffee are being very gracious in hosting me this upcoming march. that's right readers: i will be gone from kaffe blue from march 12th until march 16th (wednesday through sunday). no, i won't be in bed so you can call me and i'll come down to the shop and make your drinks. i'll be 7 hours away makin' drinks and learnin' some new skills and makin' new friends and basically having an almost entirely tax-deductible good time! and then come monday the 17th i'll be home and developing tons of new ideas for our shop here. really, miss felicia flagg, i'm excited!

2. i'm finally getting a day off, which means that i'm going to go down to our roaster The Coffee Company's shop and see how our coffees are prepared for us. i'm pretty sure he hosts open roasts every tuesday morning starting around 7:30, so i'll be there until noon-ish watching them roast and maybe even cupping some of the coffees we don't source. ch-yea!

3. the rosewater latte idea really turned into a good thing (thanks again miss flagg!). if you don't know about this, felicia from the aforementioned Phoenix Coffee turned me in the direction of rosewater in lattes. now, me bein' an extremely bearded man, i was on the fence about this rosewater and milk and all that. but, i thought, it's valentine's time, so let's give it a shot. i toyed around with her recipe and came up with this:

small amount of chocolate in the cup
small amount of rosewater in the milk (it's strong stuff!)
vanilla, twice the amount of the rosewater in the milk
the milk gets steamed with all of that in it
the espresso pours right on top of the chocolate

the taste: i enjoyed it! and in all honesty, i absolutely hate chocolate. brownies are gross, hershey's is gross, all that stuff. but this drink turned out really really well.
when you drink it, you get that initial scent of the roses but the taste isn't overpowering. then, you taste the chocolate, which is pretty mellow underneath the bouquet of the roses. so there's our valentine's drink: chocolate and roses (can you see how this applies to the holiday?).
please come try it. if i can be turned from just black coffee, espresso, and double cappuccinos to this latte, then anyone can.

this one is long, so i'm wrapping it up. final bullet points:
~ kaffe blue is now serving a very nice zimbabwe coffee. the taste is distinctly african but still a little smokey. sorry, i don't have the vocabulary for cupping notes.
~ i recently heard that women who are overly sensitive to caffeine get um...premenstrual symptoms when they drink too much coffee. severe irritability (is this them dropping off the caffeine high?), cramps, and headache. i haven't been able to find any informative articles, so if you guys can find some info for me just e-mail it to . that news makes me feel alright about serving decaf, 'cause i sure want to keep my customers feelin' good, or at least not that way.
~i've been having a hell of a time gettin' my rosettas lookin' good. i thought that it might be that we use narrow cups for our mugs and to go, which means that the crema gets too thick at the top of the drink. then today i got three pretty close to perfect! however, i didn't have my camera, so they're in someone's belly by now. still, if anyone has any tips before i get to cleveland, let me know.

one note:
i'm not writing this blog so i can make everyone happy. i have these opinions because that's the way i think and the way i feel. i'm not going to pull punches or make excuses or blah blah because then there's no way for me to get better. if i do something wrong, i sure hope i'm the first to admit it. if not, tell me and we'll fix it. i want to learn. if someone else is doing something wrong, i'll talk to them about it, but i won't compromise my beliefs just because it makes someone uncomfortable. if you have a valid point, defend it. you may change my mind if the evidence is substantial enough. and remember people: it's just coffee.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

why not update?

well, if you're readin' this, i assume you care about coffee. good, 'cause i care about coffee, too.

a note about the last blog: i understand that the time of a shot is not near as important as how it looks or tastes, and every espresso blend will pull at a different time depending on everything that makes it different from another blend. i guess you guys probably guessed i felt that way, but i still stick by the notion that a shot within the 20-30 second range (for an espresso, not a lungo or ristretto) that looks good probably tastes good. but always strive for perfection!

so i finally broke down and spent some money on a digital camera, even though i'm philosophically opposed to them. i won't be taking any "artsy" photos with it, because that's sort of counter-intuitive (i'm also counter-intuitive) [barista joke!]). so, i've got some photos of my new home set-up, a wonderful cup i found, and a few doubleshot cafe espresso shots pulled from my gaggia new coffee and rancilio rocky grinder. drink 'em in!

sweet. also, i'm going to be takin' my camera to work to do sort of a pictorial monologue (or whatever you call a photographic step-by-step journey) of my pursuit of latte art and delish drinks. i'm starting, though, to wonder whether or not our faema machine has some sort of...i don't know. something about it. it's great stuff, though.

so, stay tuned, hopefully i'll have a big ol' update soon with some pretty rosettas and smilin' faces.
also, i'm bringin' back the espresso lab...well, really starting it up since i now have the equipment at my bring some new tastes to kaffe blue. if you're in kingsport, stop by and ask me what's cookin'!

oh, go here if you're bored or need some alt-country (haha) in your life.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

a note:

okay, i know that all baristas have their own ways of doing things.
however, i would like to think that serving shots that are not properly extracted is not one of those nuances of barista style.
if a shot pulls like espresso-colored water, it ain't worth serving.
if a shot pulls drop by drop, it ain't worth serving.
i know there's variance with the amount of water pulled through the grounds, and every shot won't be an ideal 25 seconds, and i'm perfectly okay with paying for espresso in the 22-27 second range. but i'm not okay with paying for a 12 second or 15 second or 18 second shot.
apparently, though, the barista at a lexington, ky coffee shop (that is one of the top names in the lexington cafe scene, no less) did not understand that an 14 second (yes, i timed it) shot is not worth serving. and when i asked her politely "um...that double seemed a lot fast. would you mind pulling another please?" she at first looked like she didn't know what i was talking about, and then a little offended.
this shouldn't be the case. when i'm working behind the bar, and a person comes in and knows what a good shot is and what a bad shot is, and i serve them a bad shot (which hopefully i will never be so inattentive to do) i want them to recognize it, politely call me on it, and accept an apology and an drink they're happy with.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

in the beginning

[print "hello world!"]

so i'm sitting here designing this blog, outlining my pursuits as far as espresso goes, and i've decided to jump the gun and make a post.

a few quick things:
coffee geek has a podcast!
check out this barista blog. it's super!
hopefully, this blog will be continuously devoted to coffee. i'll try not to get too much into politics, religion, philosophy, etc., insofar as it does not relate to cafe culture, even though the discussion of those and all things are part of what makes someone a good barista and said culture such a good thing.
i would love feedback. questions, concerns, flamebait, or recommendations, leave a comment or myspace message (here), or hell, even e-mail me: . now, without further to do:

i've been thinking about creating some new drinks for kaffe blue. the ones we serve now are great, don't get me wrong, but the most "signature" drink we have is the house latte, which consists honey and vanilla, and whipped cream with cinnamon. as a barista aspiring to help people realize that my profession is culinary (i.e. not just for college-aged free thinkers who smell like patchouli and beat on bongos, who take a week off work to go to bonnaroo), i want to go further. while it may be tasty and a step in the right direction, it seems sort of...vanilla. plain. perhaps i'm jaded, but i'd like to keep pushing the creativity.

so, i think that since it's the holidays i'm going to try to develop a drink involving maple syrup (grade a medium amber) and apples. being as it is the first drink i've ever really planned out, i don't want to go too crazy. and hopefully it will be sort of a comforting seasonal taste that mimics a christmas dinner dessert.

i'll be experimenting with the drink all week, maybe involving some unexpected techniques to get the right proportions out and in balance, so stop by and i'll be glad to let you be a part of the tasting process!

that about wraps it up as far as the first blog goes. i hope you enjoy it and feel the need to tell me just how much. if you're in kingsport between 7a.m. and 4p.m., stop on by downtown at Kaffe Blue and say hey! i'll be there. seriously.