Friday, November 24, 2006

A Matter of Convenience

I remember the challenge in the mid-nineties when the coffee roaster I worked for began our blanket conversion to thermal insulated servers for drip coffee in our accounts. It was common to hear customer’s complaints about the coffee not staying hot enough, and the servers being cumbersome and difficult to clean. We performed multiple tests to see how long these new and improved servers would keep coffee hot. It was considered success to find a 160 degree pot of coffee after two full hours of hold time. If the manufacturers kept up their intensive research and development initiatives, well hell, we might be able to keep coffee at a servable temperature for an entire shift! Seems like the next logical step was to provide bigger brewers. How wonderful it was to no longer have to struggle with the overwhelming and complicated process of brewing coffee constantly! And now we will never have to worry about burnt coffee again. Ease of preparation is the cornerstone of any good restaurant, isn’t it? Think of the time and energy (not to mention labor, Sous Chefs are expensive) that could be saved if all of the sauté station dishes at the French Laundry could be prepared ahead of time, heated in some type of instant heating device (someone should invent that), and then be served up hot and semi-fresh for each of the famous restaurant’s patrons gastronomic pleasure. The nominal difference in quality could never be perceived by the average neophyte diner, I would bet.

Okay, you caught me being snarky. My point is this. Why is it such a struggle in the culinary world (and often the coffee house world) to convince many proprietors that coffee is so much more than a condiment? Do they not know, or care? Do some of the best chefs in the world really think all coffee is generally the same? Aren’t all tomatoes the same? Or beef, or wine? As a waiter for many years, I am sure I did not make it any easier on the owners for whom I worked. The server lobby at any decent restaurant is typically a force to reckon with. I think it is item #1 in the general waiter job description:

“Bitch as much as possible in an effort to ease your job whist driving up a customers check and deftly presenting them the bill in such a way they won’t notice tip is already included”. It killed us at a very busy (6M per year) resort restaurant to have a crappy little brewer that never seemed to make enough coffee to get through even the shortest rush without having to brew almost non-stop into those damn little glass carafes. Funny thing though; the coffee was always hot and tasted fresh when we served it. We also had to deal with that pesky coffee grinder each time we wanted to brew a batch. We had to put a filter in the basket, shove it into that spring contraption under the grinder, and wait a full 18 seconds while the coffee ground and filled the filter. It was absolutely unacceptable that we had to wait so long to get a simple cup of coffee served. By God, I had a 26 dollar whole Florida Pompano coming of the grill that I needed to serve right away and filet tableside. I didn’t have time for the inconvenience of such a trivial part of the meal, the last thing that goes into my customers’ mouth before they leave. I had more important things to worry about. Like where we were going drinking after the shift. Maybe liquid coffee was the solution.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Quest Commentary

I am really pleased to be so close to tasting the nectar that comes from the fruit of my plant. I get a real sense of pride from the whole process. I am sure people have "grown their own" before, but in my 12 years in the biz, I haven't heard of it happening. I have been a reluctant coffee fanatic for years. I have enjoyed drinking coffee since first discovering the flavors hidden in the whole bean coffee I would buy and grind in the 1980's. My journey as a coffee professional has covered many areas. From roasting on a little drum roaster, to making fancy espresso based beverages, to proudly selling what I believe to be the greatest beverage in the world.

I love to inspire other coffee people, and recognize how much there is to learn and share. I think I know a lot, and so little at the same time. Sometimes I take for granted how fascinating my chosen profession is to others. I also have to remind myself how lucky I am to being getting paid for doing what I love. The last year for me in this business has been by far the best. I get to jump on a plane every week, and visit with other coffee lovers and coffee hopefuls. I get to see what different businesses and enthusiasts find the most important part of their own passionate quests. I see those who don't get it at all, those who seem to care a bit too much, and those who know a little and ache for more. I feel like a conduit, and a liaison. I feel honored to be considered an expert, and have to remind myself I am not a fraud.

It is time for my Quest for Coffee to change. While I have always felt it is a bit egotistical to think the average person want to read what I have to say, I must thank the Internet age for making it free to find out. Look for new posts and pictures, and more personal opinions in my Quest. I hope my writing comes across with humility and insight. I hope my genuine passion comes through with a laser focus. I hope that someone who reads this goes away thinking just a little bit differently about something they love, even if it is not coffee.

Harvest Complete

I finished the harvest. A total of three picks have yielded a bumper harvest, as far as I am concerned. The heater vent drying method seems to be working well. The parchment remains a bit sticky, which is cool. It shows me how important the mucilage must be to the flavor of the bean. I thought that the mucilage would certainly all dry up after a week on a dryer vent, but it hasn't. I was surprised by how much smaller the green beans are once removed from the parchment.

Hey look, a fly crop! I am beginning to realize that since my plant isn't susceptible to real outdoor seasons, if I play my cards right I can probably harvest continuously. Even as the last of the first crop gets picked, I am already getting new buds on other limbs.
I hope to be able to get more photos of flowering in the future. It is tough because they only seem to last a day or two, and I am often out of town.