This blog really wants to stand at a bar and drink his espresso.

Archive for October 2008

A Quick Thought

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This industry claims to be based entirely on volume. While I realize that one must sell a lot of relatively low-priced items in order to make money, I see two situations where making money and quality are complementary. Even better, one of the situations might actually increase volume.

Case #1: By-the-cup brewing. At all times besides the morning rush, by-the-cup brewing makes complete sense. There is no hurry; most people are there to sit and linger over a cup of coffee. So why not now? There’s no easy way to increase volume to make more money, so why not increase the average sale by brewing by the cup? It might even cut down on waste, since there’s no need to dump coffee that goes stale sitting in a pot.

Case #2: Espresso machines. We use our espresso machines wrong. We are in no way optimizing the use of our espresso machines. When making a series of 16-20oz drinks that all have different milks in them, any efficiency that is inherent to manual espresso machine design is lost, and those Verismos that Starbucks has start looking really attractive. The machinery we work on is designed to pump out a lot of straight espresso quickly, and a lot of small whole milk drinks quickly. Steaming for multiple drinks is not unrealistic when they are all whole and small – it’s certainly possible to maintain foam quality when doing so, and even pour art. I’ve done it, which means that the many more skilled baristi out there can do it too. So why not trim down the menu, and start making drinks twice as fast? The drinks will be better, and the nuances of the espresso will be preserved. Isn’t this the ultimate goal, making money while serving the drinks we’re proud of?


Written by Nick

8 October, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Coffee

Less Hate in ’08…and ’09

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Apologies to one Matt Altier, from whom I lifted and adulterated the post’s title.

So out of some trepidation concerning the fact that my insignificant rants on this blog might be perceived as punkish and overly critical, I am hereby implementing the cessation of such criticality indefinitely. In its place will appear guarded enthusiasm for all of the good things that are going on in specialty coffee (can we please find another term for it?) right now.

Good stuff: A little birdie told me that there are now Clovers in every Intelligentsia, and that they will soon begin table-side siphon brewing. Three cheers for the beginnings of table service!

Another little birdie (well, many non-avian entities in actuality) told me that Metropolis has acquired a pourover stand, and might soon be putting that into retail use.

And then there’s this: Good Things at INTELLI.LA. There’s a new Black Cat, and the details of the blend have been released! I’m overjoyed to see blend details released, as I like to know what I’m drinking, and it actually increases my respect for the roasters and growers seeing what they can do with the coffee they have – like making a rounded blend from only two coffees. If this is the stuff I had at the Barista Jam this past weekend, then get to your nearest Intelligentsia location now, because this espresso is yum.

Speaking of Barista Jams, I got to cup a killer natural Sidamo from Metropolis, which I will hopefully be brewing at work soon. Intelli hasn’t touched natural coffees with a two(three?) year pole, and Metropolis seems to be gobbling up all the berry-licious fun in that vacuum.

More on the Barista Jam soon…including Doug Zell pushing by-the-cup brewing, and the rest of the industry resisting.

Written by Nick

8 October, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Good News

Living Room Coffee

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The shop I work in shares an atmosphere with most other indie shops, that of someone’s disheveled den. Add a pinch of kitchen aura, and a handful of second-office-ness, and one can completely and accurately describe Every. Coffeeshop. In. America. This is an exaggeration, of course, but true in 99.9999999% of cases, even the high-end specialty shops like Intelligentsia Broadway and Metropolis. Even the Intelli on Randolph flirts with this notion. Only The Coffee Studio, Intelli Monadnock, and Backstory Cafe sufficiently distinguish themselves from this model in my Chicago mind.

Why is this acceptable? And how has it not been challenged yet? It is essentially the paradigm that Starbucks implemented in the 90’s, and everyone saw it was successful and implemented it. Even GQ agrees that comfy chairs are a draw. But just because that way works doesn’t mean that others will not. Yeah, Starbucks’ agressive expansion stepped on a lot of people’s toes. It wasn’t just because of the chairs.

My point is this, and my cranky inaugural post on this blog hit the same mark: not every coffee shop has to be the same. Can we please get some variety? It might benefit the bottom line of a lot of shops to have some character with which they can distinguish themselves. The specialty industry talks a lot of game about standing apart via coffee quality, but we’d help our cause if the visuals and customer service experience matched the level of the product we were serving. I’m not just talking about being nice to customers; the layout of most shops right now is designed to minimize human interaction. There aren’t exactly many opportunities to converse with a customer.

And ceramic cups, seriously. It’s hard to present something as quality when it’s served in a paper sippy cup. We might be better off eliminating those entirely. Yeah, I just typed that.

Written by Nick

6 October, 2008 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Coffee