The Training Question Answered

Before I publish photos of all the the soy latte art, on which I encourage everyone to please vote, I will make public this tid-bit of information. There has been a development in the position which was offered to me at the coffee shop where I work part time (the “Director of Coffee” position), and which was publicly announced on the 15th of November in a press release. The company made that announcement out of a great surge of enthusiasm while riding the wave of excitement for such promising changes and improvements. We had not, at the time, arrived at a final agreement concerning the scope of work, amount of time involved, and naturally, how much compensation. When it was made clear what was expected of my personal time (I already work a full time job and was simply offering to get all the Baristas well trained), and what responsibilities would be place on my shoulders concerning quality management, equipment maintenance, and overseeing of standards, it became obvious that what they wanted was a full time manger who would be devoted to the company in a way that would not be possible for me. The sacrifice I would have to make would be my family. Time with my family comes in short spurts each day just before we all go to our jobs and school, and just before we put my daughter to bed at night. These times, although they may be filled with discipline, frustration, and tantrums (and the toddler is also hard to manage too), are still the most precious moments of the day. There is no compensation rate, hourly wage, or annual salary that equals a fair trade if I must give up this time spent with my family. I had to turn down the position.

I am still behind the bar every Friday night, slinging milk and espresso, and turning on customers one by one to the concept of micro lots, CoE’s, and the taste of good espresso. Sara

Soy latte art

Today, 12/08/06, is the last day get in your submition for the Soy Challenge. Get all the details at the old Onion-Bean Blog.

Here are the prizes for the two best free pours:

1st place
1 Espresso 101 VHS tape
1 Espresso thermometer
1 Measured shot glass
1 Frothing spoon
1# Midnight Lotus Espresso
1 Stockton Graham & Co. Coffee mug
3 Stockton Graham & Co. Luggage tags
1 Cupping spoon
1 Coffee scoop

2nd Place
1# Midnight Lotus Espresso
1 Stockton Graham & Co. Coffee mug
3 Stockton Graham & Co. Luggage tags
1 Cupping spoon
1 Coffee scoop

Good luck!

Perceived Acidity: Naked vs. Spout

The other morning I was preparing a shot of espresso, Counter Culture’s Aficionado, in a Naked Portafilter. Recently, I received the bottomless as part of an assembly of training tools I have been putting together. I have not really espoused these gadgets before, but I am not opposed to them. The value as a training tool seems obvious, since the feed back relating todistribution and tamping is immediate. The grinder was very well dialed in that morning, and I prepared theNPF and drew a thick, viscous shot into a demitasse. It was like watching something in slow motion the way the droplets clung onto strands ofcrema, almost refusing to fall off. The surface of the crema in the cup was beautifully mottled with speckled flecks of burnt sienna colored textures. This is the espresso I drink practically every day, and I have become so familiar with the flavor from this machine, with these beans, through these portafilters, that I have lately been craving something new to shake things up on my toungue. I was almost floored by the bright, sharp, brilliant, tangy acidity in this shot. Turning to my co-worker at the shop, I commented on how tangy the espresso was. He concurred that his shot earlier in the Naked PF seemed hyped up with tang. It had notoccurred to me that the NPF was the cause, I thought it was this weeks batch of beans, or the massive humid low pressure that has caused us to use air conditioning in December. But as I thought about it, there seemed to be something to this.

I was just reading a couple days ago about the different acids in coffee. The spectrum of many acids in coffee run from delightful Citric acid to astringentQuinic acid. There can be anywhere from 1%-2% of these acids present in brewed coffee. That not really chump change in terms of overall quantity, it is novinegerette , but it is still a respectable quantity nonetheless. Even with someone who does not consider themselves to have good perception, a good instructor could show them how to determine a high acid coffee from a low acid coffee with relative ease. Looking at the worn down, scrubbed out interior of the spouted portafilter with much exposed brass surface area, I began to imagine acids bubbling away and etching into the molecules that make up the channel through which every drop of the espresso will have to pass over the course of a protracted 25-30 seconds. Are my shot becoming partially neutralized on their way to the cup? Are the precious acids dropping electrons like Britany Spears drops husbands, and babies for that matter?brass

It may be that Naked portafilter shots have more acid, since there is nothing to react with the acids as the espresso falls directly form the basket to the glazed porcelain. It may be that the old portafilter with spouts, the nickle plating a faded shadow of the past, are robbing shots of delicate brightness and eye opening Zip. I do not think ph paper strips would be nearly sensitive enough to measure the relative acid levels in these two types of shots, but I can’t help but wonder about glassy carbon electron probes connected to digital data processing devices with colorful GUIdisplays . Is anyone familiar with studies done on this? If someone has written a thesis for their Masters degree or PhD., I would love to hear about it. I will have to stick to direct comparative taste testing and anecdotal evidence, but my math will be a little fuzzy. Any one in Europe know anything about this?

Sex Sells

I figured I would see if I could boost the numbers with a little nudity. Please don’t report me as inappropriate. This is from a life drawing class I attend whenever I get the chance.

Ink Nude


Cafe owners, (specifically small business, but corporate as well) must make several important decisions when opening up a new shop. Who will be the roaster, or do we roast our own, what brand of espresso machine, drip or press, what size refrigerator and freezer? These are all very expensive decisions to make, but they will all be necessary for the business. You will pay what it costs to finance, purchase, or lease these items because without them you have nothing. Many places sink a great percentage of their start-up money into designers and designs for the counters, walls, floors and outsides of the space to ensure an inviting atmosphere. The inspections and certifications finally get completed and you hire up some kids, whom you know are in a transitional period in their lives, offer the smallest wage the local workforce will accept, and open up your doors. You have just put tens of thousands of dollars of machinery in the hands of youngsters who let their last bicycle rust to crispy flakes on the back patio because after it got that first scratch, well let’s be honest, they just didn’t give a shit anymore. What the hell, they didn’t pay for the thing themselves anyway, so they have lost nothing.

Maybe this doesn’t describe exactly what type of employee you have hired, but we both know that this accounts for an overwhelming percentage of espresso technicians and persons behind the counter. Yes, there are places that put a great deal more thought into their staff, but what I describe is the unfortunate trend. This goes even for those owners who dream of a top shelf business and have envisioned a level of quality and service for their own establishment that has driven them to quit their very secure-money-making-retirement-plan jobs to enter the romanticized Sauna of self-employment. It quickly turns into a Hot-Box.

Conventional wisdom (which I have on many occasions found to be incorrect) dictates that you never have more staffers on the clock than you need to run the cafe, or else you are, as the Feng Shui tells us, letting money flow out the door. This leads owners to the time honored tradition of “learn while you earn through osmosis”. Get behind the counter, press this, dose this, squeeze, ok a little bit more, good, ring it up. It just doesn’t make good sense to run up the “payroll” with extra employees who are just training, but not serving. So the big fault here is thinking of “payroll” money in a separate and unique category from “start-up” money. You treat these two lumps in a different manor, and with a different attitude. You need the equipment, so you pay for it. You need the supplies, so you buy them. You have to have the real estate, so you lease or purchase. You need a crack team of Baristas, or you are pushing swill. There is no way around that. If you do not make the up-front investment in having the staff expertly trained, you will struggle with inconsistent product, luke warm branding and client loyalty, and an ever wavering reputation for quality or lack there of. Then you find yourself desperately trying to make cost cuts in every possible area to make the business profitable. The bread could be cheaper, the bakery is too costly, the employee discount is too big. You will be chasing the wrong dragon for the limited life of the cafe. Before you know it you have run out of financing, your spouse has left you (I have seen this time and again), and you are locking the doors for the last time. The cost of training is a start up cost that must be put into every employee and new hire.

Look at Intelligentsia; trainer, Cafe Grumpy; trainer, Vivace; trainer. Successful businesses put time and money and energy into serious training and certification. They are making this kind of investment in the same young, transitional college kids that the others are hiring, so don’t tell me it is not worth the investment.

Enough lecturing, I am sure I am preaching to the choir anyhow. My dilemma is this: my coffee boss tells me he has this grand vision for the cafe, he wants it to be all that it can be, he is aware of inconsistencies, he knows that I can turn it around. I have agree in concept, but I have no intention of under pricing myself. I spent several years negotiating contracts with clients (in another line of work) and selling myself short over and over. That era of my life is over. His financial means is now apparently not able to back him up, or he is unwilling to find the financing for it. But I can’t help but get the feeling that there are expectations now as to what I should be doing. How come I have not trained the new girl yet? Why isn’t the Barista party organized by now? Where are all these great coffee ideas we have been hearing about? How come there are not more new procedures set in place. Well, my pay check seems to indicate that I am low wage counter help.

I have been feeling more and more accountable to the poverty stricken coffee pickers and struggling farmers to do some justice to the work and effort they put into their agriculture, especially since I met Aida Batlle. I have many of the best coffees in the world pass through my hands, and it kills me to think thatI might let the roaster down by leaving it in the bag for a week before brewing it up. There are so many things that can go wrong with the bean before it gets to me, the Barista. If I get an excellent coffee, grown and picked and sorted by hand, stored and shipped with care and urgency, roasted with scientifically diagnosed precision, and brought to the peak of freshness, I might be the one to ruin it and extract it into pure shit. It is my intention always to make it as good as I can, but as I look around I constantly see 99.9% of all espresso shots come out like crap (in the shop where I work and all the others I visit, though I would like to think I am personaly hitting above 50/50).

This is my plea to cafe owners and future entrepreneurial hopefuls. For the love of God, please make the investment into your staff, because they are the front line of your business, and the last point of coffee’s long journey.

It’s the User Interface

The stylish look is what gets ’em in, but it is the smooth user interface that keeps ’em. I figured I would check it out and see what all the hubbub is about, and , mmmmm, it’s niiiiiiice.

So I’ll try to get all my old stuff moved over here, migrated or imported or whatever they are calling it. Enjoy.

Oh, and the spell check even works, thank goodness.

Chit, they won’t let me import stupid Beta-Blogger, so for all archives and cool photos go here.