Life at our coffee bar is always insanity. From the every day tasks of making the bar function, to carrying out the long-term vision of our company, it feels that there is always too much to do. In the midst of all of this, we are trying to focus on raising quality standards and increasing our focus on customer experience. To be honest, this can be hard to constantly approach from an internally motivated standpoint. So an industry level competition is always a welcome opportunity to challenge abilities in skill and customer service in a real way.
As a company, barista competitions have always been a large inspiration. I love how focused they are on customer interaction. Everything is aimed at education and experience. This differs greatly from the typical café interaction, where you are cycled through an industrial revolution style assembly line. Your order is taken, you drink is made, and you take your seat. Now granted, drink quality might still be impressive, but the whole process still feels somewhat reminiscent of a fast food establishment. Barista competitions offer a perspective completely opposite to this. Drinks are explained while they are being made. The barista is dressed professionally. Quality is matched with atmosphere and presentation. I remember attending my first NERBC in Ithaca back in 2007, and being captivated by the whole process. This is the type interaction I’ve always been interested in pursuing. By participating in competitions, I can better understand these interactions and better cultivate the skills that they require.
This year has been a particularly important year for me to compete in. While we’ve been roasting for over 4 years, this is the first year that our company has had a retail operation. In house, we are trying to match these barista competition style experiences. Our establishment is set up as a bar, with no specific place to order and pick up. Baristas try to engage and explain the process as they brew coffees. We feature signature drinks, similar to those found in competitions and have even started to feature coffee flights. So when I started preparing this year, everything took on more significance. These weren’t just standards I was learning for the sake of it – they are standards for quality that we will be implementing every day at the shop.
That being said, my experience this year at the actual competition was quite interesting. From a positive perspective, I feel that I was able to present drinks that I felt proud of. Looking back at my score sheets, I can glean some useful info in terms of technique and flavor balance. I really liked how competitors pulled shots of their espresso for spectators after they competed. Having such a strong presence this year was very exciting for me. Both Wade and Jarred were judges in the competition. Additionally, Wade competed in the brewer’s cup competition and did very well. From a negative perspective, watching the competition was frustrating. It was difficult to hear and follow presentations. There was very little standing room as a spectator. I also wish that there were an easier venue for meeting and dialoguing with other participants in the competition. They hosted an after party, but having an actual conversation was a bit frustrating in a loud bar. Overall though, I enjoyed the competition, and will definitely be participating again in the future.
While I am familiar with the five main factors that affect extraction (time, temperature, turbulence, grind, ratio), I will admit that I’ve thought of them all as having somewhat equal influence. I can’t say I’ve really stacked them up against each other, but all have been up for grabs when I’m dialing in a brew recipe. However, today changes that perspective.
Bunn recently lent us a trifecta to play with. Naturally, I was excited as I’ve heard a lot about it but have only gotten to taste a few brews from it. The core concept behind the trifecta is that every variable is programable and controllable. Over the week that we’ve had the machine, I’ve tried a variety of suggested recipes found on the trifecta website. Most brew ratios were pretty atrocious, using 28g of coffee for a 340ml brew volume. Aside from some ineffective pre-wetting and tedious cleaning, the trifecta worked well, even if the recipes weren’t great.
Today, we tried to dial in our own recipe, to come up with something that was tasty. Andy Schecter was kind enough to come over and let me use his extract mojo. We started with the machine’s factor settings and went from there. Initially, yields were all too low, coming in between 16.8% to 17.9%. Despite changing a variety of variables, the extraction percentage would hardly move. However, after several brews we decided to change the grind. Initially I had hesitated to tighten the grind as muddiness was an issue in some of the cups. Two notches finer, and the percentage went from, 17.9% to 20.5%. A very significant jump.
This got me thinking, if grind is so important, how sure am I that all our grinders are calibrated the same? How are people grinding at home, and how can we better communicate how they address grind particle size? Grind sizers such as this one may be a good solution.
The experiment has raised a few more questions for me. If these variables don’t influence the extraction yield significantly, but do largely influence flavor, what’s occurring from a chemical standpoint? Am I extracting different solubles?
If anyone knows of any solid reading on this material, I’d appreciate it. But for now, grind particle size has a new found place of respect in my life.
It seems that recently, everything is focusing on the power of collaboration. Joe Bean is in the midst of several projects geared towards bringing people together and creating something new. I think it’s interesting how quickly inspiration can generate through discussion. Often, it feels like we are trying to do everything in life on our own, but there is something magical that happens when people start to connect with each other. The growth of ideas and energy is exponential, and very satisfying. Here are some of the collaborations we are a part of.
Roc Brewing Co.
Roc Brewing Co. is a local micro-brewer that we met at a farm market last year. They have just recently opened their first location, and are already producing some fantastic beers. We got together with them to work on a coffee beer. However, we didn’t want to do something traditional like a stout or a porter with coffee. While the flavors pair together well, the coffee often becomes one-dimensional and boring (in my opinion). Instead, we wanted a balanced drink, where the coffee helped pull out new flavors in the beer. After tasting different coffees through various brew methods with different beers we have landed on a concept. The vision is to create a bit of a heavier IPA, adding some Kyoto Sumatra or Papua new Guinea during secondary fermentation. I think we will use hops from the northeast, which are woodier and earthier than west coast hops, which are more citrusy. We will start brewing the first batch this Wednesday!
2011 Northeast Roasters Retreat
This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the annual roasters retreat. The roasters retreat is a regional event, for all roasters within the Northeast, and connects people within the industry and sharing ideas and knowledge. I have been to four retreats thus far, and feel like I gain a tremendous amount of information every time. Mocha Joe’s held this year’s retreat up in Brattleboro Vermont. Pierre from Mocha Joe’s was kind enough to let us camp out at his house, which was absolutely beautiful. While at the retreat, we took the following classes:
- Cupping with Atlas Coffee
- After the Harvest: The fight against hunger in the coffee lands
- Organic Acids with Mane Alves
- Processing and Silverskin in the cup with George Howell
- Creating a Production Roast: comparative cupping/discussion
- Cupping with Royal Coffee
- The Future of Coffee Certifications with Jen Gallegos and Al Liu
- Tea Basics with Patrick Patton
It’s been almost two months since my last post — how did that happen? I’m serving people drinks every day in a coffee bar — how did that happen?
Over the past weeks, I’ve accumulated several half-written posts concerning everything from our grand opening, to programing brewing equipment. Unfortunately none of them ever made it to the light of day. To say that this has been a significant life change for me would be an understatement. I am finally able to serve other people our coffee in a complete way. Every aspect of the experience contributes to create something larger. What has surprised me the most is how much I enjoy talking with people. Everyone is so interesting, to be able to listen about various people’s lives has been a wonderful blessing. Something about the combination of coffee and conversation is really beautiful to me — they marry so well.
First, we are working with The Owl House to create some coffee infused liquors. After doing some taste tests, our four pairings are as follows:
- Vodka with Colombian
- Bourbon with Sumatra
- Tequilla with Papua New Guinea
- Maraschino Cherry Liquor with Rwanda
As we approach our grand opening (this Friday!), it’s hard to ignore the growing excitement from Joe Bean friends and family. The anticipation is almost tangible.
This past Friday, April 29th, we had a party celebrating our move to which we invited some family and friends, as well as some local businesses that we have worked with. While the party was obviously held in celebration, a big part of it for us was to get the feel for how the new space would work with people. After all, we have planned out flow for a while, but it’s an entirely different thing to see it in action. The space functioned flawlessly. It encouraged a constant flow of movement that kept people engaged, and generated a vibrant energy throughout the party. Thanks to Roc Brewing Company, Leonard Oaks Wine, and Biscotti for Everybody for helping provide for the event!
To put it simply, after months of planning, seeing everything in action felt right. I can’t wait for our grand opening or for the days of business to follow. Continuing with the concept of anticipation, we have had a few blogs and articles written about us. Feel free to check them out:
Edible Fingerlakes wrote a very nice article about us (As of this writing, the online magazine is not up quite yet)
I am greatly encouraged to see other people excited about Joe Bean, our new location, and what we are trying to do with coffee. I very much hope to see everyone this Friday, May 6th for our grand opening! Here are the details:
Friday, May 6th
1344 University Ave. Suite 110
Life has been exciting, overwhelming, and deserving of many blog posts recently. As ideas stack up, choosing what to write about becomes increasingly more intimidating, so I apologize for the gap in my posts. Here are some of the things that have happened:
I would be lying if I said that this year’s competition wasn’t somewhat disappointing for me. Not only did I score lower than last year, but I went 3 minutes over time thus disqualifying myself. My shots didn’t run great, especially the first ones. I messed up my cappuccino pours, and nearly spilled one of the drinks. It was obvious that I felt uncomfortable with the espresso machine and grinder, both of which are very different from the ones we have. After I called time, all I wanted was to go on a walk by myself in the park. Instead, I had to face a large group of supportive friends who insisted that I did well (which turned out to not be so bad. Thanks friends).
What really frustrated me though was that I’ve learned so much about coffee and preparing espresso over the course of this year. In preparation for the competition I developed a more in-depth and specific understanding of my shot recipe, and learned much more about pouring methodology. I know so much more about the coffee that I used (Rwanda Coopac) and about why I roasted it the way I did. By not being able to present it well, I felt robbed of the experience I could have had.
But then I realized how much the competition forced me to grow. This year, I focused almost all of my efforts on improving my technical skills, which is something that lasts and that I can keep using. While I didn’t make the drinks I hoped to make at the NERBC, I can make drinks that I am quite proud of every day at the shop now. So I am thankful for the whole experience, and I know that I can always learn a lot from failures (or at least setbacks).
Also, I found a video of me at the competition. You can see where I almost knock the cup over.
The rest of New York
While the competition was frustrating, the rest of the trip was amazing. After I gave my presentation, we went coffee bar hoping. We tasted some delicious coffees, and saw some beautiful cafes. It’s always so interesting to me to see how different places approach coffee and design. Every company has their own feel, style, and personality. I love that. Especially when it’s birthed out of genuine passion. At Birch coffee we got to talk to the owner for a bit. He had us taste a few of his coffees, including a kyoto style cold coffee. Not only was this a unique brewing method – the coffee was Rwanda Coopac, the same that I used for my competition espresso! Needless to say, I’ve spent quite a lot of time tasting and cupping this coffee. In the kyoto it was completely different, almost tasting like a scotch. Very interesting!
That night we went to a latte throw down. Never before have I seen a crowd cheer for latte pours. I’m sure that only coffee nerds would find an event like this engaging. Being one myself I rather enjoyed it. Check out this low quality cellphone video:
In other highlights, my good friend Eleni gave me a ceramic Chemex that someone in her ceramics studio made. It was a late Christmas present, and much appreciated. Also quite interesting to use, the ceramic holds heat much better than glass does.
Joe Bean Roasters
Of course, Joe Bean is continuing our work on the new space! We are working hard to complete everything before our grand opening on May 6th. This has by far been the most consuming aspect of my recent life, and is hard to summarize. To begin, Joe Bean is now an official member of first fridays in the city. If you are unfamiliar with this, it is a city wide gallery tour sponsored by Rochester Contemporary Arts Center on the first friday of every month. Different galleries hold shows and open their doors – now we are one of them. We have been working hard to get the space ready to display art in a professional manner with the help of some gallery planners, and we are nearly there! Our first show will feature coffee themed photography, which seems quite fitting.
We have nearly finished construction in the space. One of the most exciting new additions (for me at least) is some old barn wood that we got from a farm in Williamson. I get excited about old, worn-in wood. The barn wood bar and shelves, along with a good deal of other construction was done by a long time friend of ours, Brian Caine. He recently launched his own construction business, and we were his first official client!
The bar is up and running for the most part, and our roaster is now into full production! We aren’t officially open yet, but we’d love for you to stop by and say hi. And if you’ve run out, we do have a few bags of coffee that you can get. If you can, come in around 4:30ish, the lighting is outstanding.
I feel like there is much more to talk about, but this is already a long post, so I think I’ll be done. I’ll do my best to keep people updated about all the exciting news in the world of Joe Bean! Also, I apologize for the lack of photos of Joe Bean. The camera isn’t at the shop now. This one isn’t completely new, but is fairly recent.
I think I fail to grasp how significant this move is for Joe Bean Roasters. This Friday marked our last day open in the village of Webster. We offered free cups all day, then held a party to celebrate the move. Saturday, we packed up most everything, then some folks finished work on Sunday. The movers come tomorrow. And then that’s it. We’ll be in our new space on University, and out of Webster. What a whirlwind!
To give some context to this, Joe Bean originally opened as a café back in 2004. In 2007, we moved out of the café business to become a coffee roaster and became a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. As we became more involved in the industry, we began to learn more and more about coffee, and Joe Bean began it’s evolution, bringing us to where we are today. It’s hard to believe that 7 years have gone by since Joe Bean first opened, or that 4 years have passed since Joe bean has been roasting coffee. Anyways, here we are at the next step of our business. I am unbelievably excited about the move. The new space looks beautiful, and will let us become more of who we want to be.
Here’s a few pictures from the past few days.
I’m drinking an espresso in celebration.