Tuesday, May 31, 2005

   from bronwen

Cupping is a great educational tool

One of the best things I have done to improve my barista education is to cup...and cup as often as I can. Because of cupping, I have not only developed my palate, but I continue to learn about the coffee -- defects, characteristics of certain varietals, roasting profiles, what I like in a cup of coffee and understanding why I like it and what makes it good. Cupping has become a favorite activity that I can't get enough of and look forward to on a weekly basis.

While visiting fellow coffeeinds and friends at Stumptown in Portland this past weekend, I experienced a great cupping -- a good table mix of some of Stumptown's current best (highlights were a colombian, rwanda, kenya, ethiopian)....I buttered up Stephen and walked away with a wonderful, winey and robust Kenya, a sweet and smooth House Blend, and my favorite, a delicate, citrusy, fruity Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Currently, I'm enjoying the Kenya with a grilled PBJ (is that wrong???). It's tasty -- compliments my Raspberry Jam. So, kiddies, cup and cup often if you can. Helps your coffee knowledge expand and keeps it fun.

Other barista news...Portland was a blast! Thanks to tonx from Victrola for tagging along (hope you had a good time) and a HUGE thanks to Chris Tacy and the lovely (and enabler) Valerie for their hospitality and being sooooooo rad (I'd follow you guys to the end of foodie heaven and earth). And definitely a great thanks to Stephen, Kyle, and Stumptown for letting us play coffee during our visit.

Till the next adventure,
b
   from Ellie

Memorial Day

Aren't 3-day weekends the best!??!?!? Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but it's always nice to have a little extra time to socialize and spend time in the great outdoors to recharge. This weekend some of my coworkers had a BBQ on Sunday and it sure was great. Many Intelligentsia folks from all 3 buildings hanging out, feasting, and of course, enjoying some cold beverages. I also love that disguised in the 3-day weekend is a subsequent 4-day workweek, although of course there are always challenges of fitting everything into 4 days. I have been feeling since the USBC in March that I have been playing catch-up and barely making it...until this week and now I think I finally feel like my workweek is more manageable. Just in time.
Last week's training included a new customer in Texas which was quite an adventure. In San Antonio apparently if you keep cattle on your land while it's in development there are huge tax breaks, so there are tracts of land in the middle of the urban sprawl with cattle on them...right next to the highway even! My customer said that sometimes the cows walk out into the street and block traffic. I love seeing new areas of the country and discovering their quirks!
This week I will be off to Florida. Both of these new customers have purchased Marzoccos (hooray!) and are quality-focused startups. These are my very favorite types of training where there are so many questions being asked and I'm constantly challenged to keep the training sessions interesting and relevant and of course challenging. In Texas I had the opportunity to work with some very driven high-school and college students and that's always nice since I don't really know many high-school age young people anymore. Not like it seems very long ago at all that I was in high-school.
Anyway I'm looking forward to seeing both of these new places contribute to specialty coffee and I know they have great things in store for them.
   from Nick

Everybody's a critic, so don't be one.

I've been in a little discussion with your friend and mine, Mr. Mark Prince, over at CoffeeGeek.

To make a long story short, he's pissed because word "got around" that he had some feedback on how his espresso tasted during a recent visit to Portland this past week. The baristas apparently didn't like his critical analysis of the coffee they pulled for him.

I told him that... well, why don't you check it out. The discussion thread on CoffeeGeek: "Should I just shut up now? Evaluating espresso in shops."

Thoughts?

Monday, May 30, 2005

   from chris

Sunday, May 29, 2005

   from Peter G

the cruelest month

I am in agony.

As a coffee buyer, the hardest thing is to wait for the coffees each year. If you're engaged in buying from origin, you've tasted coffees at least a few times before they've shipped from their country of origin. And once you've approved the pre-ship, there is nothing to do but wait for surface transportation to do it's thing and bring the coffee containers to a port near you. Oh, and then customs needs to make sure there are no terrorists in the coffee.

It goes without saying that this is an agonizing wait, especially when you have worked really really hard to source the coffees.

Besides, shipping is one of the most dangerous times for coffee. The hot n' humid deck of a container ship is no place for coffee to live, never mind docks at ports. I don't know how many of you guys reading this know about the trouble various shipments of Rwandan coffee had getting to the states this year, but many roasters (including this writer) were strung out for months waiting for coffee to arrive. Word is, the truckers in Rwanda would get a much better deal trucking supplies around for the UN, and would drop coffee containers by the side of the road until the more lucrative UN shipments dried up. As a result of this (and lots of other shenanigans, mostly related to the fact that Rwanda is landlocked and has no port of its own), some of the containers arrived NINE months after shipping, and the coffee aboard was dead as a doornail. This is especially tragic, given the fact that Rwandan coffees were among the most exciting things we saw in 2004.

So, anyway, as of this writing I am waiting impatiently for shipments to arrive from Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Sulawesi, Sumatra, Germany (decaf), Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua. Most of these are coffees I've tasted already, and can't wait to sink my teeth into. Normally, this would not all happen at once. Normally, nature works it out so that shipments kind of spread themselves out, and the impatient coffee roaster gets to be distracted by new arrivals while the other ones make their way to port. Not this year. Nature has conspired against us.

So I'm all cranky. I've been snapping at my coworkers and my friends. I apologize if I have been snappy with any of you guys. I didn't mean it. It's the shippers' fault.

Peter G

Saturday, May 28, 2005

   from Nick

Portafilter Podcast Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Here's our first podcast. Right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed.

Ehhh... first try.

Show highlights:
- Introductions
- "Journalistic Credibility"
- Phone call from Bronwen Serna, 2004 US Barista Champion
- Coffee cupping
- etc.

MP3 format, 12.4MB, 54:02 mins. 32 kbps bitrate, 11 kHz sample rate (low-quality audio)

FYI... Jay uses a nice offensive slur at the end of the show. Sorry. :-/

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

Friday, May 27, 2005

   from bronwen

new beginnings and endings

maybe it's just me, but as a barista do you ever feel that your job is in constant flux and change? customers come and go, responsibilities, cafe jobs, and ever constantly learning that you can always improve what you know and do. these past few weeks have been pretty eventful in my small little barista world and i've been slowly taking it all in.

first, and most importantly, hines is moving. just when we're starting to come into our own, BAM!!, we have to move. the location -- one block away from our original locale, across the parking lot from starbucks. it should be interesting. we're all a little nervous, a little scared, a little curious, and excited.

second, i now am a proud barista at both hines and all city coffee. i'm back to the 2-barista gig. in order to do this i had to resign from my current position as barista trainer at FareStart. i'm still going to be involved as a volunteer -- i love working with kids and helping to create a small change, but most of all i know i would miss it if i stayed away too long. i am very excited about being completely immersed in coffee practically 24-7. between 2 barista gigs and learning how to roast, i get to breathe, eat, and dream coffee. hmmmm....it feels like preparing for competition without the nightmares or stress.

third, can i just say how much i LOVE hanging out with the victrola crew (from here on out referred to as 'the vickies'). besides being hip, nice, and having great taste in music, they love coffee. this past wednesday they hosted a talk given by rwandanese coffee trader. it was enlightening, educational, and made me even more excited about what i do. what was great to see, were how many of their customers came to hear him talk and share his story. customer education is one of the biggest challenges baristas face and this is one of those things that helps them appreciate and understand what we do and where we're coming from in terms of truly appreciating coffee and maintaining quality.

that's all for now...being distracted by the tele...xoxoxo, bronwen
   from chris

intro

okay okay
since everyone else is doing their intros....

i'm chris. i used to be a professional barista. i used to be a barista trainer. i used to be a coffee bar manager. i used to be a general manager. now i think about coffee a lot while i look for a job.

i love espresso. but i'm not a geek. talking about PID controls and the like is a required part of the job - but i'd far rather compare tasting notes on single origin espressos.
i love coffee. but i'm not a roaster. i know enough to understand roast profiles and the like - but i'd far rather be cupping 5 different harvest days of El Salvador Las Nubitas.

i love talking about coffee. i love thinking about coffee. i love writing about coffee.
Nick calls me an evangelist. i guess these are my theses.

my favorite colour is yellow.
my favorite food is bacon.
my favorite vacation is Barbizon.
i like sunsets on the north shore of Kauai, good Moscato d'Asti, post-structuralist critical theory and sleeping.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

   from Nick

turn off wi-fi?

One of my baristas, Eric, pointed this article out to me from 'wifinetnews.com.'
"Coffeeshop Turns off Wi-Fi on Weekends"
"Victrola Cafe and Art in Seattle is a popular coffeeshop that offers free Wi-Fi--except on the weekends. In an experiment, the cafe started shutting down its Wi-Fi network on Saturdays and Sundays after watching their culture erode: the shop became full (and was turning away customers) with six-to-eight hour Wi-Fi squatters, many of whom didn't even purchase anything. Their second Sunday without Wi-Fi was one of their best revenue days in some time. I don't propose a Wi-Fi (or free Wi-Fi) backlash, but it's interesting how with some time under their belt, the clash of inward facing technology and outward facing culture hit these particular entrepreneurs' limit."

I think that free wi-fi is great... I was one of the first to implement free wi-fi in our area. I'd have to say that in one of my shops, the laptop-user to people-sitting-talking ratio has worked out great. At my other shop though, not so much. A sea of Dells, Powerbooks, and ThinkPads. It's really quite eerie how when there's a break between songs on the stereo, there's usually complete silence.

What happened to people sitting, talking over a cup of coffee?

It's a tough conundrum to face. Don't want to play 'Wi-Fi Cop,' but something really needs to change. Some of the folks who left comments on the linked blog entry had some interesting ideas.

I dunno... do y'all have any thoughts on the subject? Victrolans? How has 'Wi-Fi-less Weekends" worked out?
   from bronwen
hellooooo fellow coffeeinds and friends --

this is exciting being part of the next phase in the coffee industry. knowing that we have the power to change it as it stands right now is phenomenal and creating change is good.

a little about me:
name: bronwen serna (also known as b, bronnie, bron, bra, bronwizzie, and whatever clever nickname you decide to give me. if i like it, i'll respond)
occupation on pf.net: barista
locale: seattle, wa; hines public market coffee, inc.
other: i'm a foodie, a traveler, love books (especially the rare ones), love chillin like a villian

i love my job and i love the people i meet and associate with. so being the barista, i get to tell you about my daily interactions and musings about being on the frontlines of the coffee industry. i hope it's entertaining as well as educational.

espressly, bronwen
   from chris


Good morning
   from Ellie

another intro

Good morning to planet Earth and thanks for tuning in to the early days of portafilter.net. You are the lucky few (or many?) who can say in the future "I was there at the beginning, before pf.net became all huge and corporate."
My contribution is and will be as the resident "trainer" and as a "current USBC participant" in the world of professional specialty coffee. A little bit about me: I live in Chicago and spend a handful of days each month in various other localities training my customers (new or existing retailers) and attending industry events such as Barista Guild of America jams and USBC competitions with my team of 5 and others from my crew. When I'm on my home turf my time is split between helping the continued education of the staff of our two fabulous retail stores and our Roasting Works, and training customers (local retailers), and of course, training for the next USBC along with whatever other varias cosas come my way.

Looking forward to it all-
-Ellie
   from Peter G
By way of introduction, my name is Peter G.

I have been told I represent the 'brownie' in this posse.

Few know this, but as a kid, my favorite color was brown. Other kids thought that was weird. Almost every boy liked red or blue, depending on their favorite baseball team (Dodgers or Angels). Most the ladies liked more creative colors: in the late '70s it was all about scented pens (blueberry purple) and flavored lip gloss (bubblegum pink).

I liked brown. I got made fun of a lot. I always chose brown corduroys and stuff. I swear to god I owned a brown velour cowboy hat. And I wore it.

I wonder if this had an effect on my choice of career? I mean, as a roaster, I study shades of brown all dang day long. As a science geek, I know that many of the flavors we love in coffee are related to 'browning reactions'. As a coffee buyer, my job is to predict how green coffee will turn brown for the next year or so. My business cards are brown. Seems like the coffee industry is permeated, in fact based on, the color brown! Ever notice, you can't even spell "Bronwen" without B R O W or N.

So that's where I'm coming from. Looking forward to the posts, because I have a few things I need to get off my chest.

Brown Power.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

   from chris

Pay Attention

once upon a time - when i was first learning to cook for a living - i was told that there is only one thing that separates the amateurs from the professionals.

the professionals pay attention.

they pay attention with a monomaniacal focus and they pay attention to an incredibly fine degree of detail and to the broadest of big pictures all at once.

being in coffee for a living is something much younger than cooking for a living. right now we have not reached the point where this attention is required to be professional.

but it will be.
and it should be.

pay attention.
   from Nick
Welcome to portafilter.net: coffee-people group-blog and podcast site. I'm Nick, your host, and resident "coffeebar owner." I hope that this site will prove to be a source of valuable, relevant, and interesting insight, information, and entertainment for you and your passion for coffee. Our blogging team represents the best that this industry has to offer (that is, if you subtract me), and I hope that we'll have interesting, relevant, and valuable things to write.

For now, I hope you enjoy this blog, and I speak for the whole pf.net team when I say, "Tip your freakin' baristas please."

Oh, and by the way, the first Portafilter Podcast will be up in a few short days. Stay tuned!!!