Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What's So Special About Craft Coffee?

Craft coffee is something special. Or at least that's what we in the industry believe. However, I'm quite aware of a large group of you who have no idea what we're talking about. What's the big deal about specialty coffee? Isn't coffee just coffee? The questions are valid. And I'm afraid much of the craft coffee world hasn't explained ourselves with the patience and respect you deserve. So, for all of you wondering what's so special about craft coffee, let me pen a few thoughts for you.

Coffee is a drink at the center of society. It is the first thing we run to in the morning, the magnet calling together business meetings and casual dates, the inspiration for writers, the fuel for the productive, the addiction of students, the warmer for transients, the intrigue of foodies and the cup that gets us through the long nights. The popularity of coffee is impressive - it is the second most traded commodity in the world, bested only by oil. And throughout coffee’s history, entrepreneurs have not been blind to this popularity. From the first coffee houses in Mecca to Starbucks, coffee shops have thrived as social hubs and workspaces at the center of cities.

Until the last thirty years, coffee in America was primarily spotlighted at home or in restaurants. Then, with the help of large players like Starbucks, the focal point of coffee culture shifted to the coffee shop. This has long been the case for much of Europe - with cafes holding a prominent position in a majority of urban settings. So the shift finally came to the States as well, and from the look of things, it’s here to stay. Over the last thirty years the popularity of coffee shops has grown so extensively that today we see coffee shops all over every city we visit. The Northwest has been particularly fertile soil for these shops - with enough market share to support both the big chains as well as a thriving culture of independent coffee shops.

Like any sector of the culinary world, you have an entire spectrum of styles and approaches in these shops. And at the top of the quality spectrum of the industry is what we call craft coffee. On these levels the focus of the business changes from additives  – syrups and sauces – to the coffee itself. Coffee is the most complex single source food substance in the culinary world and craft shops approach this complexity in a similar way as wine or fine cuisine. Craft coffee is every bit as differentiated from other shops as fine dining is differentiated from Applebee's or McDonalds. The setting is different, the presentation, pace, price and product as well.

This sector of the industry is characterized by a high degree of skill and knowledge. Growing, finding, sourcing, roasting and extracting excellent coffee is incredibly difficult – and if one link in that chain is weak the end cup will be less than spectacular. Roasting is done by hand and in small batches. Cups of coffee are hand brewed using scales, thermometers and beautifully crafted and specifically designed tools. Tasting notes are listed on single source coffees. Different brewers are chosen to highlight aspects of each coffee. Espresso is constantly dialed in by the numbers and by taste. Highly specialized equipment is understood well by baristas and utilized to bring out specific flavors from coffees. These baristas are craftsmen and hosts with finely tuned palates and backed by the best tools and extensive training. The result is coffee that tastes unlike anything else in the industry – not bitter or sour – but sweet and bright and weighty and nuanced. These coffees remind us of fruits and chocolates and teas and are in a class apart from the diner sludge or giant syrup and milk filled beverages. It is a recreated coffee experience.

Approaching coffee in this way is relatively new in the food world and the majority of the population is still unaware that coffee can be so interesting and artisanally approached. The beauty here is the barista gets to share with the customer the discovery of coffee as something wonderfully complex and intriguing. I realize not everyone will be interested. That's ok. But for those who are, let us explore craft coffee together.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

All the Right Equipment - Barista = 0

The right equipment is nothing without a skilled barista behind it all. Love working with a team of talented baristas.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Single Origin Gorilla

Gorillas love Saturdays. It means we're pulling two single origin espressos. And we love gorillas.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coffee Going Mobile - 400 Free Cups of Coffee

So my brother and I went to the park to give out free coffee in support of Family Fest - a rad event put on by Family Building Blocks. All in all we gave away 400 cups of coffee - hand brewed Chemexes and cold brew on tap donated by Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Broadway Coffeehouse. A good day to be brothers.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Single Origin Saturday

Working with two single origin espressos every Saturday. And this crew. It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Coffee from Around the World

Single Origin coffees we're working with this week.