About jeremyho

Barista

R.I.P. Coffee Common

Today’s formal announcement of the dissolving of Coffee Common made me want to resurrect this blog to post a few thoughts on the impact CC has had on me.

As nerdy / fanboy as this sounds, it was one of my dreams to be able to participate in an event like Coffee Common, and I was fortunate enough to have been selected as a barista for CC x TED 2012 in Long Beach. Through CC I was able to meet incredible baristas / coffee people from around the globe who all have and continue to inspire me. I was able to enjoy coffees from Roasters I may not have ever experienced, and had the pleasure of introducing others to these same coffees.

But the biggest thing Coffee Common taught me was the importance of Discovery & Wonder, and this came in the form of story telling. At CC, we were encouraged to make telling the stories of our coffees a priority. In our industry, we are privileged to work with coffees that are completely traceable, and with this traceability surfaces the honest, real-life stories of the human-beings behind each coffee. These stories are amazing and the incredible interactions I had reinvigorated how important they are in engaging not only customers, but us as coffee people.

Finally there was the sense of community. People were pretty floored when we told them that we were actually from different cafes and roasteries from around the world and would ‘normally’ be considered competitors but were all united in our passion and love for providing an amazing coffee experience. We have an incredible global community in coffee that is actually very tight knit. I strive to take this into my own community and develop the coffee scene closer.

Coffee Common was and will be one of the absolute highlights of my coffee career, and I thank the Coffee Common committee, fellow baristas, sponsors and roasters who sacrificed so much to make it happen. The friends I made, the experiences and interactions I had inspired me in so many ways.  And I guess you can see the impact a concept like Coffee Common has had. While Coffee Common has formally finished, you see so many CC like events and ideas spreading around the world, which I think shows a goal accomplished by CC.

Thanks Coffee Common for everything!

Jer

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Wollondi

Hello all,

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted and I can’t wait to get back into regularly updating this blog.  Mike has done a fine job creating some literary masterpieces and as a result, enjoying some writing groupies so now it’s my turn to get some of that sweet action.

Lots has happened over the last little while.  I’ve travelled alot, eaten alot and drank and prepared alot of coffee.  As many of you likely don’t know, I recently competed in the Canadian National Barista Championship in Toronto.  While I will post on this in more detail later, I wanted to share with you the coffee I competed with.

Ethiopian Wollondi.

Region: Wallega (West Ethiopia)

Processing: Natural

In my very short time in the industry I have encountered very few coffees that I have truly fallen in love with.  Most of them have been naturally processed coffees, and most are from Ethiopia.  I was very privileged to be able to use Wollondi as my competition coffee.  This is an extremely rare and unique coffee for a number of reasons.

With the institution of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, many independent mills / farmers now can only sell their coffees to exporters through cooperatives or certain representatives.  This is making certain famous regions like Yirgacheffe or Sidamo now more generic as cooperatives (albeit being ‘separated’ for more higher quality to lower quality) still lump different coffees together at the mill.  It’s limited the availability and traceability of these amazing coffees much harder.  However, Wollondi was sourced by 90 Plus coffee, an organization headed by Joseph Brodsky who spends enormous amounts of time on the ground in Ethiopia hunting these rare gems and working with farmers and millers, sharing his technologically advanced methodology.

Wollondi is from a region of West Ethiopia called Wallega.  This is another reason why this coffee is so damn cool, because this is such an unheard growing region.  The region itself is quite deforested, yet in a rare patch of beautiful forested area grows this coffee, planted neatly under these rare trees.  It’s comprised of two numbered varietals, 74110 and 7487.  Joseph told me that the coffee plants live harmoniously with the wildlife and other plants there, something that you don’t often see as in many coffee farms, the plants are grown separate from other types of growth and animals.

Tole Narian grows this coffee and him and Joseph are helping train and educate the pickers to go beyond “picking ripe cherry”.  A sugar content analysis is done on the cherries to determine the maximum sugar level.  Doing this allows the maximum level to be correlated with the appearance of the cherry at this level.  This appearance is then visually shown to the pickers so that they pick the cherry at its maximum sugar level.  Just because a cherry is bright red doesn’t mean it’s at its optimal picking time.

Drying is being advanced here too.  The drying process, especially for the naturally processed coffees, is a stage where lots can go wrong.  Uneven drying or lack of movement and airation for the cherries can result in fermenting fruit and a dirtiness or ferment note in the coffee.  Drying beds are raised here, and cherries are sparsely layered and moved around often to promote proper and even drying.  However, Joseph and Tole are going beyond this by creating “Drying Profiles”, meaning they are determining the specific rates of drying that prove to be optimal for the coffee.  In this case, Wollondi is dried quickly at first, then as the cherries become drier, the drying is slowed.  This is what gives the explosive natural tasting berry notes in addition to a high-quality acidity.

My tasting notes for this coffee:

Espresso:

Aroma: blueberry, stone fruit (peach/apricot).

Profile: blueberry, subtle baking spice, peach, cherry, hint of marzipan, dark chocolate.

Acidity:  juicy, clean acidity, sometimes tart like green apple acidity.

Extremely sweet with creamy body.

In a cappuccino, notes of:

Dark brown sugar, oat/malt, dark brown sugar-like sweetness, blueberry / dried fruit.

In the competition I likened it to eating a big bowl of oatmeal with a nice scoop of brown sugar.

It’s an incredible coffee, and has such distinct and popping flavors.  I love the sweetness and the huge amounts of fruit that this coffee has.  What’s incredible is that there is so much potential at this farm/mill/area.  Plans for lot separation, new drying profiles and upgrading the drying beds will all lead to making this coffee even cleaner and more outstanding (which is pretty hard to comprehend).

I can’t wait to try this coffee with a roasting profile for more drip style brewing methods.  What an incredible and truly special coffee.  Pictures to come.

Jeremy

I Rearry Rike Charcut

It’s so good and so cool that I get all excited and my chinese accent comes out!

Recently I had the opportunity to have dinner at Charcut Roast House, located on 899 Centre Street SW (in the shadow of the Calgary Tower).  Being the final weekend of Dineout Calgary, we opted to partake in the dinner menu, in addition to sampling a couple of things off the menu.

Charcut has been described as having “urban rustic” cuisine.  While I generally dislike restaurants being described with these generic amalgamating words (like “pan-asian cuisine”), it really describes Charcut’s style quite well.  The restaurant is sleek, stylish and very contemporary, with lots of dark grey with rich wood tables.  However, your eye is drawn to the almost-glowing red panels that highlight the open kitchen where you can see the chefs spitting whole chickens to be roasted in an open rotisserie, slicing house cured charcuterie, or bottling house-made preserves and condiments.  They even have a mason jar chandelier, and what “urban rustic” restaurant would be complete without a mirroring  portrait of two pigs? (or was it bovine?)  As mentioned, they make practically everything in house, and source very local, high-quality ingredients from surrounding like-minded farms and producers.  Do you like house cured pork, lamb, sausage and other charcuterie?  Do you like crispy chicken skin with your salad?  Do you like poutine?  Do you like duck fat poutine?  If you answered yes to all of those questions, then this is the restaurant for you.

We started off with the Albacore Crudo or Shaved Country-Style Lamb Ham.  Luckily, I was able to try both.  The Tuna was supple and soft, beautifully dressed with citrusy olive oil, accompanied with crunchy sliced fennel, and finished with truffle salt – a perfectly executed and a very palate engaging dish.  The lamb had great texture with nice thinness that gave away for each bite. It was also finished with cave-aged gruyere.  The portions on these dishes were quite substantial, with the lamb served on a decent sized wooden board, and the Tuna contaning ~6 pieces.

Next we ordered two extra dishes off the menu.  The first was a gloriously rich duck fat poutine with thick-cut, meaty fries slathered in duck fat gravy with beautiful, stringy curds.  Needless to say, I moved several steps (slow, fat, plodding ones) closer to obesity after this dish, but it was so good.  The best part was the end, where the curds began to stick together as I mopped up some remaining gravy.

Next we tried the roasted bone-marrow au gratin.  While many of you may find it horrendously disgusting to eat bone marrow, I really hope you muster up and try it sometime.  Again, there is no way this is good for you in any shape or form, but the bone marrow (roasted to order, I believe) was so incredibly creamy, buttery, and almost nutty (with that distinct bone marrow taste – it’s hard to describe).  The server called it “meat butter” which isn’t a term I’d use to get first timers to try it but I totally agree and it’s perfectly accurate.  This was served with some crisp brioche crostini, with parsley salad and salt to finish.

The main course was a perfectly crusted smoked, rotisserie Spring Creek prime rib, served with roasted lemon, an entire half bulb of roasted garlic, brassica mustard and arugula.  I had no reservations in slathering on the roasted garlic, and as  result I feared for the lives of anyone who had the misfortune of talking to me the next day.

To finish off I had a delicious BC cherry cheesecake served in a miniature mason jar.  Not only were the ladies swooning over how cute this jar was, but the velvety texture of the cheesecake (no crumbly consistency here) with the deep sweetness of the cherry was the perfect way to end this feast.

Charcut is going to thrive in Calgary not only because we have an insatiable appetite for meat, but because people are starting to look beyond chain restaurants or their usual spots for something a little more unique, honest, decadent and absolutely delicious.  Charcut Roast house was rearry, rearry, dericious.

I really, really like bruschetta.

It’s true.  I love making and eating it. I love having it ontop of thinly-sliced, crusty and chewy crostini.  I love it with some fruity olive oil, fresh black pepper and finished with a bit of sea salt.  I love how the juices soak into the bread, the aromatics from the lemon, and how the tomatoes are light and satisfyingly sweet.

Simple, healthy and just plain delicious.

So how do you pronounce “bruschetta”?  Is it more like “brushetta”, or “brushketta” ?  I’m quite certain the traditional italian way is the latter…but I’ve also been known to mispronounce many a word.

Drink Up, It’s Christmas

With Christmas around the corner, people start to settle into their favorite holiday drinks.  Sure, there’s the usual favorites – wine, coffee, and hot chocolate.  But something about Santa coming flips a crazy switch in people’s minds, and some crazy beverages are consumed, like Eggnog.  I mean, who saw a glass of milk, a few raw eggs, some sugar and thought “wow, that’d be GREAT blended together, poured into a tall glass and excessively consumed during the holidays!”?  Then some innovator probably came by and said, “you know what would make this better?  A hint of nutmeg…and some booze.”  I mean, the last thing I want when I drink is raw eggs and milk.

Another unique holiday concoction I’ve recently read about was for a Danish  drink called Glogg.  Essentially, it’s a mulled wine that’s steeped with spices and served warm.  One of the best coffee roasters in the world, The Coffee Collective, have their own danish version that uses citrus, cardamom, anise, vanilla, and other sugars, spices and roots.  I want to try making this!

Just the other day, our friend Elliot from J Webb Market Wines gave a few of us a very drinkable early Christmas gift – a bottle of Anchor Steam Beer’s Christmas Ale.  Located in San Francisco, this microbrewery has been making a unique Christmas Ale since 1975  that is different every single year.

Not only is the beer new each season, but the label (and tree on it) changes each year too.  Unfortunately, the ingredients list is TOP SECRET, and I couldn’t find any tasting notes documented on the website.  Drinking it slightly chilled, I got big flavors of potpourri, warm spices, and cherry-ish fruit, with big sweetness, medium-light body and some slight, balancing bitters.  This would be an awesome beer to drink early evening while preparing your holiday feast, or during a cold afternoon!

The beer had a very cola-like color to it too.  Another great holiday beer would be the seasonal Cherry Porter at Wildrose Brewery near the CFM.  Hey, the holiday season is a time to eat, drink and be merry, right?

What’s everyone else’s favorite holiday drinks?  Any cool things you’ve tried?

A Mini Calgary Cafe Crawl

Today, several of us from the cafe went on a short, downtown cafe crawl.  For the uninformed, a cafe crawl is like a pub crawl, but replace alcoholic drinks with coffee, scantily clad women with business suited men, the party bus with human legs, and clubs with cafes.

 

Sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?

 

Anyways, Calgary’s coffee scene has really blown up over the last couple years, with many ‘3rd wave’ shops now open.  Because of the locations of some of these cafes, I hadn’t been able to get to some, meaning I was eager to go and sample what the city’s new coffee purveyors had to offer.

 

Bright and early, I found myself at  Insomnia Coffee, located in the famous Burns building right next door to the Epcor Center for the Performing Arts.  In my opinion, this is a killer space as it is easily accessible to the morning business crowd, c-train commuters, and evening pre/post Epcor show crowd.  The space is clean, classy and deliberate.  The coffee… to be honest, it left something to be desired.  Unfortunately, all their cup sizes have not yet arrived, and as such, cappuccinos and macchiatos are served in 8 oz ACFs.  The coffee is supplied by Fratello, and while I cannot comment on on their brewed coffee (which I believe is done via French Press), I’m most certain the espresso is Joel May’s 2008 competition blend.  The reason I say it left something to be desired was that the espresso had several positive elements that I think were overshadowed by several negative aspects.  I think with a little more dialing on their LaMarzocco GB5, the espresso pulled could be pretty tasty.  I was getting notes of berries, spice, caramel and dark chocolate, which made for a potentially interesting shot, even amidst some of the negatives.  Unfortunately, several complaints across the table dealt with the milk quality as well.  Hopefully we caught them on a bad day and this was just an anomaly.

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Next, we headed down to DeVille located upstairs in Art Central.  DeVille, an Intelligentsia account, also serves Saint German pastries and food, as well as a small wine and beer selection.  This cafe has stunning whites, reds and blacks coating the furniture of their contemporary, edgy cafe design.  This cafe (2009 Krups Kup of Excellence winner) serves up Black Cat ‘spro on its Synesso/Anfirm/Robur combo.  Espressos, macchiatos, and cappuccinos were ordered by us all, in addition to some snacks.  The espresso was an improvement over Insomniac’s.

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Where the major disappointment came was in the food ordered.  Personally, I had ordered an aged cheddar,Dijon, egg and bacon breakfast sandwich, and Mike had a blueberry / white chocolate scone.  Before I even sat down, the sandwich had finished heating and was brought to me wrapped in white food/wax paper, on a white plate. Being perfectly honest, the sandwich was only marginally better than a mcmuffin at the golden arches (and sure reminded me of one).  At $3.50, this is no bank breaker, but I expected slightly more deliberate food from a Saint German kitchen.  Mike’s scone also tasted slightly doughy and almost undercooked as well.  Again, I hope that this was just an anomaly, and we had caught DeVille on a bad day.  (Unfortunately, I had a papery dry lemon loaf at the other location months previous.)  They do serve up a mean shortbread, though, and I’ve heard that their alcoholic offerings and snacks are great value and quality.

*

Overall, this mornings crawl…left something to be desired.  I think it’s great that these new shops have popped up and have started to show the masses that coffee does not have to be mundane, tim hortons quality swill.  However, I think what some shops are doing is being really great supporters of quality coffee, yet not living up to their standards when executing.  If you are championing quality coffee with premium prices, why settle for average drink quality coming off the bar?  I think this is a dilemma that many 3rd Wave shops are dealing with, including ours.  Opening a shop with premium coffee, equipment and design does not equal a premium product!  I think today was a great reminder to all that it all comes down to the drink quality we hand out over the counter – we should only be satisfied with giving a customer a drink that we have tried our utmost best (considering the situation) to produce.  If not, we aren’t doing coffee a favor.  People may start wondering why they are paying higher prices for a product that is only marginally better than a much cheaper, widely available alternative.  I also think what may be missing in this equation is passion.  I think there is a difference between a barista-opened shop, and any other shop.  If there is a pure passion for the product, there is inherently more care…and you can just ‘feel’ it and definitely taste it in the drink.  Thoughts?

I understand there is a consideration for feasibility, and by no means does this post harbor critisizing opinions, just some personal thoughts inspired by today’s experiences.  I’d like to see more pure, barista opened cafe’s that are driven to push the envelope, not just ride the 3rd wave to economic success.  It’s great what’s happening in Calgary and one can only hope that new shops will start springing up to elevate the way coffee is seen in this city.

 

 

*we also may or may not have gone to another shop in which I may or may not comment.IMG_4618