Archive for April, 2007

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Gorilla Coffee Company part 2

30/04/2007

After an unsuccessfull hunt for a breaky I end up finding a Thai place that’s a bit out of the way I have a Chicken Pad Thai noodle and its one of the best and cheapest I have had in a long, long time!

Eventually it comes time to go back to Brooklyn to meet Janice again so she can take me to the factory so I can meet the owners Carol Mclaughlin and Darleen Scherer.

Monday 26th 3.30pm Gorilla Coffee co

Janice meets me insides and she is busy eating after a long day behind the bar without any food. I meet some other kids that work there though I forget there names and Janice then takes me to the factory.

Tucked down a small alley I enter the roastery and first impressions tell me they are a new and busy little business. Using a gass 12 Kilo Dietrich roaster they are busily loading coffee, tidying up and un loading a new three group Synesso which they are going to use for training purposes only.

The place reminds me of many small roasters that I have been too, it has an air of, growth? By which I mean they seem to be already out growing themselves and they have only just moved in! Its a good thing as long as you have a strategy for the growth and they have assured me they do. I really like how they move their green beans around in the metal bins.

Gorilla coffee have been open for four years and have been roasting now, for two. Origanlly when they started to roast, it was in the cafe, but they quickly found it too hard to manage moving all the coffee around in front of thier customers.

The owners are an energetic pair and have a passion about the fare-trade coffees they buy, I was more then happy to just listen to their mantra and not get bogged down in the usual debate.

 We cupped some of thier coffees by means of plunger and after them giving me some free coffee and a t shirt, Janice stole me away from the pair to take me to Gimme coffee.

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9 Th Street espresso 13th st

29/04/2007

On this day  I am on my own as Jen had to get back to Colarado for her studies and to get back to work again, did I mention she works at starbucks? Well, it would be a complete snob of me not be her friend just because I don’t like the coffee she serves! I hope to catch up with her at the end of my travels, hopefully in Portland.

9th Street Espresso on 13th St 26th of March 12.20pm

I am killing time today till I get to go see Gorillas coffee factory, so at around 12ish I make it to 9th Street Espresso. I am kinda kicking myself as Joes is really close by and I could of done this yesterday and given myself more time for other cafes that I wanted to go to.

This place is under a theatre and has a bohemian feel to it with a ticket box with posters everywhere and bare concrete floors. I am served buy Zachery a barista now for 6 years who used to work in Washington DC but I forget where. He makes me a great espresso and cappuccino and is I think a little wary of me… Do I look strange today or is it because I order an espresso and a cap at the same time he thinks I´m here to test his coffee.

Well other then the huge bags under my eyes that I have to lug around everywhere I think he is more warey of the health inspector that is sitting typing on her computer just behind me.

I stand at the bar and we get chatting, he came to New York to be a part of the flourishing coffee scene but feels he has been tucked away out of site and mind. Its a shame as his coffees are great and he should be on show at a busier store.

I don´t stay long as I am looking for some breakfast and could eat the arse end out of a low flying duck, and the pastry option just wont satisfy me today.

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Joe the art of Coffee

29/04/2007

On the 25th Jen and I have a bit of a lazy morning even though I would have to say that Hostel Jazz is one of the loudest Hostels I have ever stayed in! There is a dorm room with 18 beds in it and at the very early stages of the morning they were in and out of the room at intervals of less then 30 seconds! Now surely that’s fine but they would just let the door slam shut every-time and it would close with that mucho gusto and the floors would shake… I’m so mad even now just thinking about it!

So after deciding to get out of bed and get the day on the way Jen takes me for a walk along side Central Park towards the museum mile? I think that’s what its called… I am so bloody hungry and its nearing twelve we decide to go into the nearest cafe we could find for breakfast that was served out of Styrofoam with plastic cutlery. My survival training at school has come in handy today! That afternoon we walk along the Brooklyn bridge and take in one of the best views of New York.

Joes Cafe, the art of coffee, East 13th street

This Joes cafe is has a nice layout and is very busy with a line to order never less then 5 deep. Jen and I wait around for a table and when one is free we dive for it and take off the thousand layers we are wearing to combat the cold. I go to the counter and order an espresso, american and a traditional cap and go around to the side of the bar to watch it being made.

 Its been made in a naked portifilter and looks like its pouring ok though I am distracted and am not looking to hard at it. I don´t bother with an introduction at this stage as its kinda awkward to do so at this point, for me anyway. The espresso was ok though a little thin and my cappuccino was nice with the espresso cutting through the latte art topped milk.

At this point I go up and compliment her on her espresso so I can make an introduction and Jessica Rufo screws her face up a little and says “really, I thought it poured a little fast”. Now at this point I am a little taken back, gasp a little and my first thought is why the hell did you serve it then?

 This could be a good time to rant

As you know it happens time and time again that the barista for some reason or not lets their standards slide and are more then happy to serve it anyway! Why take the chance to serve a bad espresso? Quite possibly the person drinking it would not know the difference, but in the one out of, say 100 chance you serve it to someone and never get their custom again! In this day and age of blogging and communication, cafes that have a good reputation in the world scene should really be on top of this issue all the time. Or maybe, just maybe, it comes down to the companies hiring policey. God knows the company that managed the Bewleys building had no hiring policey at all and Stephen and myself continuasly found ourselves battling to inspire any work ethic at all.

On the other hand why should a barista give a hoot what they serve unless they have a vested interest in the job. How does a cafe owner combat this? Higher wages? Some sort of bonus scheme? Will thorough training with enthuses on the plight of the bean and the people who cultivate, transport, roast and package it help? I am not sure that there is an answer to this, maybe untill the cafe owner starts to make the dream of a career barista a reality. Is a career Barista a possibility? Or is just like the first year of uni or an apprenticeship?When you are introduced to the fundamentals of the coffee industry before deciding to either specialise or move on all together.

I at one time was that guy who blindly made coffee not knowing about the industry at large. When I was only 3 days out of my 24th birthday I had an epiphany, I woke up and after years of searching outside of the coffee industry for a career. I decided that I wanted to open something of my own. I looked into buying a cafe and thank god that I did not at this stage as I feel that I would of gone belly up for sure.  I had not a clue about the industry as a whole but had been making coffee since I was 15 years old and just did what I did (talk about boring).

I went on the war path to find out as much as I could about coffee and I am still learning, thats why I love it. I then had a second epiphany when Bewley´s sent me to origin  I began to really understand what I had been training for years and I feel that I have found new life in my job.

La Virgen, Nicaragua 9/06

 

I also have promised myself after working part time in Dublin at a fine dining restaurant called Eden to supplement my wages so I could do this trip.  Never to work for another company that does not focus on coffee the way it should. I unfortunately for the sake of 100 Eruo´s in tips per night, had to shut my mouth and literally make coffee the complete opposite to the way it should be made, so as to just please the owner and the bitchy wait staff! Grrr never again!

 Sorry back to Joes.

Well after that exclamation on Jessica behalf we get talking anyway and she is very keen, but is just laking on this day the drive. She tells me she wants to open her own cafe and is already looking for sites in New York. I wish her the best and maybe when her own money is on the line she will take better care.

 I realise that I have not answered any of the questions I just put forward, maybe as a post I will go into my thoughts on this subject more… Will see.

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Gorilla Coffee Company

28/04/2007

After saying my farewells and the kids from Grumpy´s wishing me luck on my trip Jen and I exited feeling very cafinated but loving it! What a great way to start the week in New York, though the cafe would not let us use there toilet a theme that was actually going to be more common then I thought. We would head to Starbucks, New York’s and the states renowned public toilet facilities, thanks, Starbucks you are good for something! Ooh, was that harsh?

After doing some touristy stuff like ground zero, the statue of Liberty and little italy for some food and a beer, Jen and I head back to the Hostel so she can study and I contemplate a power nap. Though I have not made contact with Janice from Gorilla coffee as yet so I try to call her again before laying down. I ring and this time she answers and tells me to get my arse down to Brooklyn town now!

I kinda don’t wanna as I’m tired from that midday beer but I suck it up and take the trip from Harlem to Brooklyn leaving Jen to her studies. When walking down the streets of Brooklyn it kind of reminded me of Melbourne, it had a more of a grungy feel to it and some funky shops and bars along the way. After a bit over an hour I finally see across the road, the Gorilla coffee sign hanging over the sidewalk and I make a b line.

Gorilla Coffee Company 23rd March 5.10pm

Apon entry there is some heavy metal music playing reasonably loud and it is in stark contrast to Grumpy’s squeaky clean and quiet environment. The place has a homely grungy feal to it, with customers sitting down making use of the ample space, lap tops out busily surfing away. Straight away I feel a smile start to come on and I knew this was going to be fun! I recognise Jenice from her photo that’s on the cover of Barista Magizine as she is making an espresso through a triple naked portifilter on a 3 group Synesso. I decide to wait until she has finished making the shot before I make an introduction. I think she can sense the fact that I have walked straight past the ques and am staring with a smile straight at her.

She looks up with a smirk and head tilted to one side and in an inquisitive manor she says “can I help you”? I lean over the bar with a hand outstretched and introduced myself, which she quickly took then through it away to come around the bar to replace it with a warm friendly hug, American style she would exclaim!

Working with Janice today is Lynn and it turns out that he used to work at Zoka in Seattle where Janice worked as well, though they were in different stores. Lynn is responsible for the training of wholesale accounts and he tells me he is just starting to learn how to roast. You can see they both have a passion and a desire to better themselves within the industry, which must be a god send for the owners, Carol Mclaughlin and Darleen Scherer.

Gorilla have just had the bar redesigned and are still coming to terms with their new Synesso that is only a mere three days old. Janice and Lynn are hovering over the shot they are pouring me with great attention to detail. The shot was good, nice body and a long after taste with some smokey notes at the end. I plonk myself at the end of the bar and we talk in between customers that they are serving.

I notice that a big portion of their customers are regulars as Jenice and Lynn are engaging in conversation, jokes and something I need to brush up on, they know all their customers names! I had a cappuccino that was made in a 12 oz cup as they did not have anything smaller. In an admission Janice tells me that they need to re-size and work on their milk techniques. I would have to agree as the cappuccino that I got was huge, course and too hot, at least they recognise whats needed, though it might be out of there hands on the sizing issue at least.

I end up hanging out at the cafe for a good hour and a half just soaking it all up and getting highly caffinated, again. I would have no hesitation to recommend this place to anyone as its just got a great feel to it, they also have a filter option as well. So if you are going to head there spoil yourself with a well made espresso and just soke up the unpretentious atmosphere.

Janice and I make plans to meet for a cafe tour tomorrow morning, but for one reason or another she has to pull out, which suited me as I had a huge hangover that morning and need the sleep in desperately!

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New York

15/04/2007

I sit nervously in a US imigration office in Shannon airport, a 25 minute flight south of Dublin, as a large American customs officer pulls up my details on her computer. You see, I thought that I would keep my options open when I was in the States and had not booked beyond Chicago… big mistake!  The customs officer said I needed proof I intended to leave the US or I couldn’t get on the plane.  After telling her my plan she let me run to the nearest computer and with only 20 minutes until my plane took off, I hurriedly booked my flights to Guatemala.

They were calling my name as I proved to the officer with the help of an Aer Lingus attendant that I’d booked the flights.  I was the last body to dive onto the plane.  It was as though I was in slow motion: The closing door pushes back open as I land face-first at the stunned flight attendant’s feet.  “Running late, are we?” she asked, as I dusted myself off and strapped in, finger poised over the attendant bell so I could order a stiff scotch once at altitude.

My flight was thankfully uneventful and my two hour subway ride to Harlem involved only two crazies having a go at me.  I got off at 125th St, noticing the sun had gone down as New York greeted me with a gaggle of people loitering around the shops.  I started to wonder if I was blending with the locals toting my bright yellow backpack, small day pack strapped to my front, guitar in one hand and a map in the other, looking bewildered in the icy rain.  I moved forward just a few paces when two squad cars pulled up and four cops with guns blazing jumped out.  They proceeded to tackle three young black youths, slamming them against the wall yelling, “Don’t be stupid and throw your life away!”  Eep!  I gingerly stepped beyond the commotion thinking that I was not in Kansas anymore.

I finally made it to Hostel Jazz, where Jen (who I used to work with at Bewley’s) met me with a big, warm hug and smile.  I’d never felt happier being indoors.  After dropping my gear into the six bed dorm we were staying in, we went out for some real Harlem grub with servings the size of your head and real American corn bread.  We usually experienced great service and our waiter was more than happy to oblige a foreigner with an Aussie accent who struggled to make a jet-lagged decision.  On a full stomach we made it an early night as we had big plans the following day…I will dream of coffee that night!

The start of the coffee tour, Grumpy Cafe, Friday, 23rd of March 9.30am

Jen and I awake early to get the day started.  I drag her to Grumpy Cafe as I want my first morning in New York to be had over good coffee.  Grumpy Cafe uses 49th Parallel coffee and has a range of single estate coffees to compliment their espresso options.  I bolt right up to the bar like a prancing pony that’s just been let out of the stable to feed and order an espresso and a traditional cappuccino.  The cashier replies, “We only serve traditionals here.”  In my haste, I realise that I have left Jen somwhere in the front of the cafe.  “Sorry mate!” I yell over two other customers in line, “What can I get for you?”  I order an Americano and some basic pastries for Jen and myself then step back to take in the bar’s design.  I love the low counters that allow patrons to watch coffees being made, in turn making it easier to interact with the baristas.  The two clover brewers are the centerpeice for the bar and the three group synesso is off to the right where the bar wraps around, letting customers stand beside the barista to see what’s going on, then get served.  My only qualm with it is that the grinders for the cafe are set up behind the baristas on an opposite bar, making them pirouette like a ballet dancer to grind the coffee.  That would drive me nuts.

I skip to the side of the bar which is closest to the front window and I introduce myself to Ed who is making my coffees.  I tell Ed I am from Australia but have been working for Bewley’s of Ireland for the last two and a bit years.  Caroline, the owner (the girl who served me), pipes up and asks if I know Stephen Morrissey.  I giggle a little then tell her yes, we used to work together.  Ed then takes his time to make our coffees and actually goes to the trouble of cleaning and even pouring out the first couple of shots saying that he was not happy with them.  As I write this now I realise I have not written tasting notes for the espresso or cappuccino so I can’t pass judgment on them.  I do remember the espresso and the cappuccino tasting very clean; Ed really let the coffees do the talking.  By this stage Jen had taken a seat and left me talking to Ed and Caroline about the cafe and coffee.  They have an Australian espresso on special today, a Bin 35 from Mountain Top Estate.  I then learn that Caroline is married to her business partner and it turns out he is an Aussie!

Like I said earlier, Grumpy’s has two clovers so now it’s time to try one of their single origin numbers.  I end up going for an Ethiopian Harrar which is nice coffee though I thought that the roast could have been lighter to make the acidity really pop.  All in all, the guys are really friendly and willing to chat to a stranger.  The cafe itself was going through some renovations but it was still comfortable.

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The Pacific Ocean

10/04/2007

Its been over two years since I have swam in this Ocean and it did not let me down, good waves, warm and just dam good! Love the black sand.

Thanks Guatemala!

I hope to have the New York blogg posted soon I’m playing a game of catch up, but Guatemala has been fantastic so far!!!

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1st stop London UKBC and Cafe tour

04/04/2007

The UKBC (United Kingdom Barista Competition) was held at the impressive Excel conference center.  What a great way to start my travels to see the UK’s finest compete.

I managed to lodge with Klaus Thomson, free of charge, which was fantastic for my budget and even better for convenience as the room was only a couple minutes from the comp.  After not much sleep, apparently I snore, who knew?  After what was one of the worst hotel breakfasts I’ve had (thanks hotel Ibis), Klaus and I made the short walk to the center.  Here we saw James Hoffman and his coffee roasted by Stephen Leighton of Has Bean take the top honours with a score of 721. James wowed the audience with his donut coffee signature drink which I will explain in lamens terms.   He began by infusing donuts into milk (not sure how long he did this, I think overnight?) then put the mixture into a centrifuge on stage for about 7.5 minutes.  Next he simply poured an espresso, then added the mixture.  I had the chance to taste his signature drink and surprise, surprise: just as the name suggests, it tasted like coffee and donuts!  Though it might have been a little too sweet for my liking, I still thought it was the best signature drink of the day.

So congrats James, you’re a good kid!

19/3/07

What is it with world champions and their need to out-do everyone?  James Hoffman could not stay out to celebrate his victory as he had a car packed full of gear and winnings, so Klaus stepped up to the plate and did the celebrating for him. Alongside Klaus was Louis Henry (5th) Cooper, Steve Pank and myself and we partied until 6am.  I’m convinced we consumed enough grog to make even an Irishman cry like a school kid who can’t find his way home.

That morning Klaus and I awoke to the sound of house keeping banging on our door wanting to clean our room.  We were running late for our appointment with Stephen Morrissey and his girlfriend, Jen Moylan.  We hastily caught the DLR & Tube to our respective hotels, then raced to meet the lovely couple at Flat White, a mere four hours late.

Flate White www.flatwhite.co.uk


I love this place.  I’d been here once before well over a year ago and like then, this place was pumping.  I met Cameron McClure, the owner, last time I was here and I’m pleased to report he has not changed.  He has his team so focused and excited about each coffee; it’s amazing and very contagious.  After being away from Australia so long I’d forgotten how much the Kiwis and Aussies up-dose!  I had to chuckle as it’s definitely something I will have to get used to again.  The bar is designed so customers can watch their coffee being made at the side of the bar after they’ve ordered.  I ordered an espresso and watched as the barista started grinding the coffee, supplied by Monmouth.  As he began dosing, he forcefully settled the coffee once, twice, a third time.  Whilst leveling with his fingers, he aggressively patted down the coffee then leveled it flat, back into the doser.  He went through the usual tamping routine, flushed the group head locked in the portifilter, then brewed immediately.  The shot looked wonderful, donning a lovely, rich, golden brown crema with great consistency in the cup.  The espresso had a very thick, creamy texture, and although I could not taste the barista, it was salty and I was a little disappointed.

Finally Klaus arrived and we had some breakfast which was more like afternoon tea.  We each ordered a cappuccino and went around the bar to have a look.  Cam knew of Klaus and his high-profile barista status and as he was pouring the coffee he told us he was nervous.  You wouldn’t have guessed it though, as both coffees Cam poured had flawless rosettas.  He has a very interesting way of holding the cup when he pours his milk through the espresso.  He grabs the handle with his right hand, then places it in a cupped left hand so he’s “cupping” the bottom of the cup.  He then brings the cup quite close to his face (not too close so he’s breathing all over it) and with as much love as you’d give a precious newborn, he pours the milk.  I loved watching such a unique approach.

The coffees were fantastic so we had another before we left to have a look at Monmouth Coffee Company.

Monmouth Coffee Company 27 Monmouth St London www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk


Monmouth is another great cafe with a completely different feel about it.  It was more of a chilled, relaxed and cosy experience.  Although they do have a great espresso blend, they have never pulled me a good shot, so we are skipping this and heading straight to the single estate filter coffee they offer.

The cafe has a very small seating area and you do end up feeling like you are sitting on top of each other, plus the staff is less friendly than that of Flat White.  When I told them I’m doing a story for Barista Mag as a “Barista-at-Large” and wanted to ask a few questions, they curtly said if I wanted to talk to anyone I would have to get approval from their head office.  Normally I would have thought this snobbish, but having had my knuckles rapped by Bewley’s after doing an interview for The Irish Independent without going through Bewleys’ PR company, I understood.


With menus the size of a novella, I ended up not even really reading.  They reminded me of menus at Chinese restaurants with 150 different options, though Monmouth’s coffee selection isn’t huge.  They just provide detailed stories about each coffee, which is great if you can be bothered reading them.

I tried their Las Nubes coffee from the Chiquimula Region of Guatemala which is made through a single cup melitta filter.  It was a good coffee, though too roasty for my taste and would have been better more lightly roasted.  I appreciated the change from drinking espresso but I could not finish it as I was feeling the caffeine more than usual that day…or was it the hangover?

The time came for Klaus and me to bid farewell to Stephen and Jen as they had to catch a flight back to Dublin.  Klaus and I raced to meet with coffee hunters Anette Moldvaer and Stephen Hurst, of Mercanta and London School of Coffee.  After a quick goodbye, Klaus and I struggled towards Mercanta on our hungover legs through the hustle-bustle that is the London Underground.

Mercanta www.coffeehunter.com 6.30pm (1.5 hours late)

For ages I’d been dying to see this place.  I couldn’t wait to see their signature cupping table that is shaped like an “M”, not to mention, cup some fantastic coffees.  Anette took us to the cupping room/lab where I finally got to see their cupping table.  With its green countertop and built-in sunken sinks, Stephen claims it could double as an ideal entertaining bar as well.

Mercanta opened ten years ago and specialises in importing specialty and premium green coffees.  The company boasts five Cup of Excellence judges and a barista school too.  They also have an office in Guatemala which Stephen advised me to visit when I am there.  Apparently there are some good farms nearby as well.

Mercanta does all their cupping blind so there are no preconceived ideas about the coffees we were cupping.  They use 12 grams to 250mls of water with a brew time of four minutes before breaking.  There was a run of ten coffees and I was feeling very nervous about being around such expertise.  I tend to shut up and listen when I find myself in that kind of company.  We started with five coffees that were only marginally different from one another, but they all had good sweetness and nice, nutty flavours.  I was beginning to worry that being out until six in the morning was taking its toll as I could not pick out huge differences among the coffees.  Then about eight cups into the run, wham!  An incredible coffee just jumped out at us all with an amazing lively acidity–this coffee was truly standing out above the rest.  We all guessed it would have to be an African coffee, most likely a Kenyan.  However, it turned out to be a Guatemalan Maragogype large bean, or as some say, an elephant bean!  It was a genuinely high quality coffee.

After cupping and listening to Stephen Hurst talk about Mercanta and London’s coffee industry, we all went to the pub for a pint.  (Probably the last thing Klaus and I needed but it definitely did take the edge off.)  James Hoffman finally joined us after spending the day teaching customers how to clean an espresso machine.  What a reality check for James, having just won the UKBC the previous night, then going back to basics the very next day.  Had it been me, I would have taken some time off to relax.

Anette, James, Klaus and I went to the back of the pub to have some Thai and catch up.  I took this opportunity to sit back and listen to some of the great minds in the coffee biz talk everything coffee, and I do mean everything!  I have to thank James and Anette for buying us dinner that night.  I only hope I get to return the favour sometime.

Although I had a great time in London I left thinking it’s still got a long way to go in its growth of speciality coffee.  London is so big and there seem to be just two hot spots to visit.  It could be a good business opportunity just waiting to happen…

Next stop, New York!