More thoughts…

If you read the comments on my last post, you’ll have read Stephen Morrissey’s rant… I agree. It’s disheartening to watching packets of sugar being dumped into your coffee…. Here’s my question then…

How legit is what we are doing?

We serve a very large number of good drinks… Machiatto, Espresso, Cappuccino, and even our standard Americano is a 5 oz. Then people pay $2 and up for great cups of coffee… Many take the leap and opt for our $4 or $6 cups. But, I see so much sugar going into these drinks.

Have we hit a point where we as craftsman must let go? Where can we go from here to see less adulterated coffee beverages?

Thought of the day…

So, I’m tired of nonfat milk. I’m also very tired of half-caf. It’s bullshit. It’s really just American’s finding a new way to bastardize something. I’m growing very weary of our ‘have it your way,’ McDonald’s driven culture.

The coffee bar has been mentioned in a few papers lately, all for different reasons and whatnot. With it, we’ve seen a nice influx of business. However, it is this influx that has tainted the list of drinks you would usually find in our que. Meaning, less “Can I have a latte?” and more “Can I have a coffee, topped off with shots, and then an inch of steamed soy.” I realize that what we are dealing with is a far improvement over many other coffee bars in America… However, it only goes to show that no matter how far you strip down the menu, how few options you list, people will find a way to take it and make it ‘their own.’

It is the core of this matter that upsets me. I’m especially tired of the half-ing it all. Literally, there is a woman who comes in and asks for a half decaf, half fat, iced latte. Do other countries see this kind of thing? Where people cannot except that sometimes, when you have a fine beverage, it should be all or nothing.

A New Era?

My silence in the last couple weeks has been genuinely due to a lack of activity. My life has basically been two weeks of bar shifts and a slight re-evaluation of life, time, and finances. All in all, I guess you could say with the new year comes new ambitions, and I have been fighting to gain a clear perspective of what mine should be. The most outstanding and highly prioritized, simply being to find my way out of the debt my (un-)education left me with.

The other side of it all being where I want to go as a coffee professional. I want to get better and faster on bar. I want to exercise my palate more, and try to line up more with our QC people here in LA. Oh, and I really want to cook more… I feel like there is much I can learn about any kind of food preparation from cooking. Cooking is definitely in my plans for the new year.

For the moment, our turn-over at the cafe has been ridiculous to keep up with.  Not in a bad way. Nick Griffith and Marco Torcasio are out. Both moved onto wholesale. Our manager is retiring from bar work due to surgery he had on his back, and other positions are drawing others out of the cafe. I’m now beginning to appreciate the two months of focused training that went on in June and July. We’ve hired 5 new people to fill the gaps and each is becoming increasingly aware of the bar and what out goals are as a cafe. One of the girls is already learning to pull shots… Which is rare here. She’s been tenacious since the moment she was hired and it’s paying off.

However, we need more time to train. Cuppings have been rare due to increased business and a less experienced staff. So, to allow us more time to train and more balance of our resources, we’ve decided to cut back hours during the work week. Starting Monday, we’ll be closing the bar at 8PM. Fridays through Sundays we’ll still be open until 11, but the rest of the week people like me will be able to live a normal life. This makes me ecstatic. Fear has been on my mind with us coming into the competition season. I really wasn’t sure when I was going to get a chance to prepare for the WRBC, but this will allow the time.  I’m thinking this is going to be a major burden lifted off of many backs. Already I feel more like a ‘normal’ person, as our wildly planned schedule has had me tense and sweating for the last few weeks. I think the end result will be something we’ve all wanted to see. Less crazy hours will equate to more time to decompress… allowing us to maintain a more cool-headed mood on bar.

Over-all, I see us being able to grab the reigns of professionalism once again. It’s a fresh year, a young staff, and whole lot more opportunity. In the past few weeks, had I told you to stop by, it would have been to simply see a friend and share some coffee. Now, I’ll be telling people to stop by so we can actually give them an experience.

More Tales from Vegas.

It’s my last full day in Vegas and still there is no sign of any coffee worth sippin’. I’m about to make another chemex of Tres Santos, but it’s my last filter… So, I won’t be able to make coffee for tomorrow’s drive back to Los Angeles. What can a barista do?

Anyway, I do have a great story to tell. So, I’m here with my girlfriend, Monica, and her parents. Her parents have spent the last couple days sucked into penny slots. At one point, Monica’s mother was rockin’ it. She had sunk $20 and won $80… Not bad. So, we’d been rolling around these casinos all day and around 12:30, we were getting tired of watching penny slots… And there were no signs of us getting out the casino anytime soon. The look of frustration was growing on Monica’s face, and I took this as a good opportunity to get off the floor and enjoy some whiskey.

We approached a bar I had seen earlier in the Belaggio. My kinda bar. Carved wood decor, nice comfy lounge seats all about, and very professional bar men behind the counter. All the chairs were filled, minus one recently vacated- and uncleared table. So, we asked a waitress to clear and she told us to wait at the bar and get some drinks.

The bar tender was a very friendly, but simply professional looking individual who was very helpful in leading me to the right whiskey. But where this all begins is when Monica asked for Jameson on the rocks… Suddenly out of the shadows next to us, this Irishman suddenly appears, shouting, “Jameson! Jameson is simply the best! It is the best!” This was possibly the best ice breaker ever… Upon receiving a Jameson on the rocks and the 16yr aged Bushmills the bar keeper pointed me to, I handed my card over to pay… at which, the Irishman rejected my card and said to put the drinks on his tab. Which, then turns to conversation about how lovely of a couple we are. I think I shook that man’s hand somewhere around three dozen times.

He continues to ask us about our trip, how the floors been treating us (which, up to this point, I haven’t even sunk a dollar into a machine), and what our New Years plans had been… We asked him the like. When we told him we hadn’t been gambling he simply pulled out a $500 chip and said, take this and go 00 on roulette. Now, I’m a skeptical kinda guy… Which is why I hadn’t even tried to gamble. So, I left the chip on the counter for a good while… Partially believing it to be completely fake, and partially waiting for him to grab it back. He never did.

Eventually, there were a few comments from the bar tender that got me thinking… The first comment was to the Irishman… You never tip me like that… The second, to me, was that I might have a hard time cashing the chip as they’ll want to know where it came from. Third, he said that in his 10 years at that bar, he’d never seen anyone do anything like that… Just then Monica’s mom calls and we had our out of this growingly awkward conversation.

Now, I’m not much of a betting man… But I had a good feeling my best odds were not to throw this thing down on roulette. Instead, we gave the chip to Monica’s dad… Who looks much more legit than my 22-year old punk ass. Flawlessly he cashed it… Now, I’m smiling, having not bet a single dollar, but walking away with $500…

All in all, this trip has been ridiculous. From comic shows, bad coffee, terrible food, and the like. I’m ready for Los Angeles again. I really miss east LA right now. Devin’s in Minneapolis, and I’ve been hearing similar thoughts from him. Then again, it’s negative-god-knows-what there… Best of luck friend!

My Coffee Analyzation of Vegas… Thus Far.

I’m in Vegas right now, January 1, 2008. This is the most un-stereotypical Vegas trip ever… I’m here, in a time share, with my girlfriend and her parents. This all to me is random at best. None the less, before the trip I was harassing Kyle Glanville as to whether I had any hope of finding good coffee here at all. His response was that this is grinder packin’ country… So, I have with me my grinder, chemex, hot water pot, and of course, a bag of our Colombia Tres Santos from the Cauca region. Delicious!

I’ve never been to Vegas before and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I’m not even really trying to figure out whether I understand it or not, but more so if I like it or not. I can understand what people are trying to do here, but I can’t figure out why they want to be here… If that makes sense. The biggest question is why isn’t there any good coffee. Just yesterday, I turned on the TV to find the news featuring a Starbucks… The images across the screen were simply terrifying. Now, I understand that many people here in Las Vegas are travelers who can appreciate a familiar cup of coffee… But think of the crowds that are drawn to high roller casinos. They’re the same crowds paying extreme prices for ‘quality’ cuisine.

In some ways, I can see someone like Jay Caragay doing very well in Vegas. Jay talks much of how much you can do with coffee, beyond just a brew. Food pairings, using it for cooking in new ways… I could see something like this striking a crowds fancy here. Oh, even a Jon Lewis style truck. Something that is mobile and can move to crowds and parties happening all over the place. Anyway, someone needs to do something, because if I had flown rather than drive, I’d be screwed…

Well, I’m here another couple days and I’m looking forward to taking more of this experience in. It’s interesting, and I know it’s one I won’t be having again for a good while. Happy New Year Everyone! I hope all of you out there slinging drinks find your tip jars over-running in 2008! May this industry see further development and further spreading of our coffee gospel! May Michaele Weissman’s book bring an elightened mindset to the general public in 2008! Cheers to all pushing for better coffee and better coffee economics!