Coffee and _________

I’ve been noticing a growing trend in ‘coffee and ________’.

What I mean is that the pure coffee bar, in recent years, was the height of cool. Retailing other things (especially food) alongside coffee was often seen as a compromise.

But no longer! We are entering a new age of ‘coffee and ________’.

I’ve been in San Francisco for the past week, and have been pleasantly surprised by the offerings at many of the hippest new cafes:

  • coffee and toast at The Mill
  • coffee and waffles at Linea
  • coffee and vegan stuff at Timeless

Is this business model of ‘coffee and things that taste good with coffee’ totally new? Well, not at all. But it’s cool again.
And generates more revenue than just selling coffee. And I got waffles at Linea 4 times in only 7 days, so there’s that too.


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short documentary on sustainability and Counter Culture Coffee

Emerson student Natalie Valdes recently finished and posted this short documentary on sustainability featuring Jake and Ryan of Counter Culture’s Boston team. Natalie asked me to take part and give my perspective on working with Counter Culture through my job at Pavement Coffeehouse. You can see me a little bit in the later part of the video.

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Starbucks acquires Teavana: but what does it mean?!?

20121115-221843.jpgStarbucks just announced that it will be acquiring tea retailer Teavana in a $620 million deal. Analysts are currently arguing whether this was a wise move for SBUX or “another needless acquisition by Starbucks, that enables them to sell something they already sell, that we don’t necessarily need.”2

But as far as I can tell, it’s doubtful that Starbucks will simply swallow up Teavana as a product to be sold within the existing Starbucks model. It seems much more likely that Starbucks will develop the model for their newly acquired tea-focused stores, and then grow their new, separate tea retail brand.

Howard Schultz seems excited for the change:

“We believe the tea category is ripe for reinvention and rapid growth. The Teavana aquisition now positions us to disrupt and lead, just as we did with espresso starting three decades ago.”

I’m interested to see how Starbucks “disrupts and leads,” and how the tea shops change. Will Teavana’s baristas still be required to be annoyingly aggressive salespeople? Will emphasis shift from bulk tea sales to beverage sales/service? Will there be fewer weird samurai chai fruit chocolate tea blends…or more? It seems as though specialty tea is mostly sold based on processing, and occasionally picking practices. Will we see increasing interest in transparent tea sourcing and info about origins? Variety? Trenta?

  1. 1369 signage. I think Ryan Soeder took this picture, then I stole it off the internet.
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NERBC canceled indefinitely or something, and how that makes us stronger

This year has been a disorienting one for NERBC competitors. First, with relatively little notice, the SCAA announced the 2013 NorthEast Regional Barista Competition would be held nearly four months earlier in the competition cycle than last year – early enough to put it in 2012. Just tonight, the SCAA announced that stupid hurricane super-storm Sandy would be delaying this weekend’s NERBC in Atlantic City “until a later date in the 2012/13 cycle.” Sprudge has all the info as per usual.

For some, this is a relief – for others, a nuisance. One thing we can be certain of is that this delay will up the level of competition at NERBC this year. All of the barista competitors who were finalizing their routines at the last minute now have some indefinite amount of time to get ready, rehearse, and figure out the best way to strain those suspended solids out of their wacky sig bevs.

Several of us were attending a runthru of Daria Whalen’s when we heard the news. It was awesome to see all of her work coming together, and I couldn’t help but think of all the Northeast barista competitors who had just recently finalized their speeches and drink recipes and station management. Now I can only think of how prepared those baristas will be in a few weeks (or months) when the competition can be rescheduled.

Let’s see whatchoo got Northeast.


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MANE coffee conference 2012 recap!

Friday around noon, I rolled into Pawtucket with two cars full of Pavement Coffeehouse folks, not really knowing what to expect from my first time at the awkwardly named MANE (mid-Atlantic NorthEast) Coffee Conference. In the end, the conference totally exceeded my expectations. Every class or panel I attended was worthwhile, and some were truly extraordinary.

With a registration fee of only $100, it made a really nice alternative to the much pricier, but also awkwardly named, Camp Pull-a-Shot. A wide range of experience levels from new baristas to old-school shop owners and roasters were represented. Perspectives were diverse, and discussions were lively.

Here are some highlights!

Processing and Fermentation with Katie Carguilo
Processing and fermentation was the first class I attended at MANE, and it was awwwwwwesome. I think the material came from the Counter Culture pro series curriculum, and was taught by US barista champion Katie Carguilo. This class was easily the clearest overview of processing methods I’ve ever come across (though there are definitely some good articles and blog posts out there), and it ended with a cupping of 8 different process lots of Aida Batlle’s Finca Mauritania: regular washed, shade dried, washed in Ethiopian style, washed in Kenyan style, Sumalvador (like Sumatra process, but in el Salvador), pulped natural, natural and verde (underripe). Dope:


keynote address by James Hoffmann
I think almost everyone in attendance was a bit too “socially lubricated” from the “cocktail party” to have good notes or photos from this, so I can’t really recount it in any detail, but I do recall thoroughly enjoying international coffee superstar James Hoffmann’s speech. The imperfections of current equipment and best practices in roasting were discussed (“nobody in the world understands coffee roasting”). So, you know, admit when you could do things better and chat with others and seek solutions and contact manufacturers etc. James also made the point that you don’t have to go into roasting, and you shouldn’t because it’s dull.

a trip to origin
This panel discussion with producers (Adolfo Reyes Portillo), importers and roasters was truly enlightening. Particularly interesting was the discussion of the Cup of Excellence. The CoE was valuable for getting this Honduran producer recognition for the quality of his crop, but was too risky a format to continue selling coffee that way (the price at auction is too much of a gamble). Consensus on the panel was that the CoE elevates the work of producers, but direct trade relationships are a much more stable way to sell high quality coffee.

Adolfo finished by praising the dedication to coffee preparation at other levels of the chain, comparing that dedication to his at the farm.

confessions of a barista competition head judge
The big news from the “confessions of a barista competitor” panel came from the smiley mouth of Dan Streetman, head judge extraordinaire. Apparently, baristas will be required to use sponsor grinders in competition. The age of the competitor prep room full of Roburs lugged in suitcases from distant locations is over, for better or for worse! (after US regionals, as I understand it?)

sprudge’s “how did I get here?” roundtable
This late-night television style interview series led by Jordan of Sprudge was just plain charming:



retail therapy:
I heard some critiques, but for me this discussion of concepts in retailing coffee (led, again, by the masterful Jordan of Sprudge), was the highlight of the event. Everything from line flow and workflow and design to brew methods and coffee quality came up in the talk.

My fav concepts from this discussion:

  • on several occasions, Alex Bernson brought up the concept of using design to give the barista and customer the space and time to communicate across the counter from one another, whether through line flow or a manual brew bar.
  • Anne Nylander’s insistence on devoting a serious portion of the hypothetical million dollars for her dream coffee shop to training. Priority one on my list as well!
  • Matt Banbury made the point that elements that can be designed and built into cafes to increase profits generally also make customers’ experiences easier. Which begs the question: why aren’t we all more actively seeking to do this??
  • RAISE YOUR PRICES and prep your staff well to give consistent answers about the new pricing
  • James Hoffmann asked, perhaps rhetorically, if we are keeping cafes less profitable by not serving food (or not serving more food than we do). There wasn’t time for a full discussion, but the answer: YES.

Plenty of food for thought. Discussions were lively for me and the Pavement Coffeehouse crew as we lunched at a chain restaurant and, subsequently, drove back to Boston. Things are happening, y’all. Things are happening.

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MANE Coffee Conference

It’s been a loooong while since my last post. I hope to catch up on writing a little bit over the next couple of weeks. Traveling to San Francisco last week has given me a lot of food for thought.

But, more immediately, the awkwardly named MANE (mid-atlantic/north-east) coffee conference begins tomorrow, and I’ll be rolling in there with a big crew from Pavement. I’m super-excited to take classes, hang out with sweet coffee people, and bask in the glory of James Hoffmann‘s British dulcet tones and clever thinkery.

I’m especially excited to see the guys from Sprudge, who manage to maintain coffee celebrity status while being coffee paparazzi. It’s all very confusing….


So, anyway, you can expect to see lots of live-tweeting from @untastable, and at least one post afterwards to recap/review/analyze.


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Shakerato: espresso and sugar somehow ok together

When my friend Andy suggested we try making the shakerato, I was skeptical. The drink is basically espresso and sugar shaken with ice and strained. I’ve never really had any interest in putting sugar in espresso; I’ve typically found that espresso with sugar lacks clarity and is pretty gross. And bad. Also the iced espresso thing is still widely looked upon skeptically by baristas, though I’ve had a couple of tasty ones.

But I’ve been on a bit of a mixology kick, and any excuse to take out my good ol’ Patron branded Boston shaker that I took from that hiLARious promotional event we did—but, anyway, I digress.

So we made the Shakerato.

And it was actually quite good. Not as sweet as I imagined it would be. The cold temp keeps the perceived sweetness lower than expected.

Espresso and sugar. Surprisingly good. OK!

My recipe:
15g simple syrup + dbl espresso
Shake vigorously with ice and strain into chilled glass.

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