Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Tale of A Beer Brewer

I have to mention here at the outset, we not only run an espresso bar but we also roast our own beans. As a student of coffee it is always my desire to know more and more about the coffee roasting process and how to get more and more flavor out of our beans. That being said, you will understand fully the rest of my short blog.

Like most people in the coffee industry, our café struggles after 4pm when people's tastes change from caffeine to well something other than caffeine. The problem that most of the people in the coffee culture are trying to answer is how to continue to operate our businesses profitably after 4pm.

Industry wide there is a movement to add food, alcoholic drinks and the like the to our menus to offer people in the afternoon hours. We have been exploring this too.

We contacted a local beer brewer in our area and started talks. Alex stopped by and checked out our bar to see if something like this could even physically be feasible. We talked for a bit and then he invited me to stop by His place if I had a chance. Being a craft beer lover, I jumped at the chance of touring his place. I would not be disappointed.

The brewery was probably not unlike other brew houses around the world. They had vats full of bubbling and simmering hops, mash and the like. Carbon gases flowing, the smell of fermenting starches in the air. The place was a beer drinkers paradise.

Alex would spend the next half hour walking me through the cycle of life of beer. Something was happening though throughout the whole experience. You see I was so captivated by the depth of knowledge I was getting from Alex. I mean this guy is a master brewer. That it made me want to get back to my own roaster and get intimately involved with her. (Sheila our coffee roaster)

My love for coffee and how complex and varied its dimensions were heightened as a result of a chance tour of a beer brewery. My desire to produce that perfect cup of java was thrust back into the front my conscious mind after not just tasting a few samples of dark ale (boy was that good stuff) but because coffee is incredibly complex in itself and deserves as much attention as any other drink.

With every step that I took in Alex’s brewery, my interest and passion for my chosen field became all that more important and deserving of attention. Finding connections doesn't require proper planning or manipulation. It may just require us to get out of our comfort zone and experience something new.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Watch Your Words, You Never Know...

Pretty busy day today, so we weren't able to do our usual roundup of happenings in the world of coffee and tea. There have been some great things going on though I assure you. The most pressing thing that I have noticed is the proliferation of coffee people stopping by our shop.

What does that mean? Well it means that they are probably stopping by all of the shops around the valley and just never saying anything. In our case, the only indication that a competing company was in the house was when they told us as they were about to leave.

Why is that so important? Well, one of the former managers of Starbucks has been into our shop as of late and one of the things that he said to me, "Never bad mouth your competition, you never know if they are in the room?" Those are words to live by and ones that I am going to adhere to from now on. Sometimes it is too easy to jump on the bandwagon and down the other guy.

In the past few months our business has had many of the major coffee roasters and representatives stop in to sample our coffee. Why? Because we roast coffee and they just want to know what and how we are doing. It has been a real shot in the arm to hear, from their own lips, that we passed their test. It even makes us more proud to know that there are roasters out there in the valley who are doing the same kind of excellent job of producing great coffees just like us.

In the Las Vegas valley there are a few dedicated roasters and coffee shops that really bend over backwards to put out a quality cup of coffee. To them and to all of the people who are able to make it by their shops, BRAVO. So let's not ruin our great work by backbiting and calling names. Since there are only a handful of us, let's encourage and work together to serve our customers and community.

Sherman Ray is co-owner of Avery's Coffee Roasters, located in Las Vegas, Nevada. He and his wife Linda keep up with the world of coffee via Twitter and Facebook.  Follow the Las Vegas Coffee Culture Magazine on Twitter.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Question of Taste

Recently we had the pleasant surprise of a sampling of a vary rare, expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak. I got to tell ya is there really that much of a difference between the finest "naturally" occurring variety of coffee and a digested, altered cherry? I was about to find out.

I was really excited about this coffee from the first time I saw it. The entourage of people who delivered the coffee was impressive enough. It was like having a Senator or governor enter into the room. Then the unveiling of the bean. There was some picture taking and a few secret handshakes. The only thing that was missing was a document signing.

In my possession was two versions of the most costly coffee on the planet. One version, was a 3 month old pre-roasted bean in a colorful bag. The other version, was a small sampling of green beans.

As a roaster, my eyes immediately were riveted on the green beans themselves. That was the holy grail to me. The very reason for getting a sample from anyone was to get green beans. In those beans I could unveil the very goodness of the bean.

They left, I tip toed into my secret lair like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas with all of the packages from the little Who's from Whoville slung over my bowed back. Now, how to roast this small quantity of beans on one shot and get the desired effect.

My roaster, a 5k microbatch roaster, had never worked with such a small amount of coffee but I was surely going to give it a try.

Tasting the pre-roasted beans side by side with my own house blend, a medium roast guat, proved to be only a confirming endeavor. The beans were just too old to really show me what they had. All I could taste was old beans. It was going to take freshly roasted beans in order to make me a believer.

For those of you who don't know what the Kopi Luwak coffee is all about, here is the short more sanitary version. There is a feline-like animal, the Civet, that loves eating the coffee cherries off of the bushes in the Phillipines. Once ingested the enzymes inside the stomach of the Civet does something miraculous to the coffee beans. Once the Civet is done with the coffee bean someone comes along and harvests the coffee log that is left on the jungle floor. (yes, the coffee log.) The coffee is separated from the log washed, dried and then roasted.

The transformation that takes place in the coffee bean is amazing. What is produced is a smooth coffee. This coffee is among the most expensive coffee in the world. It is called Kopi Luwak or Civet Coffee.

So now we are left with the tasting and the judging of the fresh Kopi Luwak coffee. At this point the jury is still out. Our initial verdict is average at best. The issue with any coffee isn't so much how rare and expensive it is. The issue is whether or not your customers will appreciate it as it should be appreciated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A National Trend- "Everyone on My Website" Boom or Bust? Depends

At the LVCCM we not only blog about the coffee industry but we also are shop owners. Since I'm a shop owner I too get all the same calls, frustrations with employees and vendors as any one else. That is why we can write about subject with some sense of empathy for you the coffee shop owner. This week we are going to talk about a trend more than an issue in the coffee industry but one that is potentially more disturbing because it can affect your bottom line.

As I was outlining this blog I received a call from the company that I wrote a termination letter to this morning. The representative never told me who she was. I had to figure it out during the conversation. I told her that I was going to blog about my experience. I did let her know that I would not divulge her company name but because I believe it will benefit everyone, especially in the Las Vegas area, I will tell you that they have a green sign that says on it "Bite". You can figure out the rest. This isn't even the website. These guys are just the delivery guys. They are the second level of profit skimmers.

Here's how it works.
You, the entrepreneur, sink 100k-300k into your dream business. You, spend a few years working day and night to build it up, until one day, Along comes a guy who says, "Hey, let me help you by putting you on my website, where I will throw you in with a bunch of other shops? If someone calls and orders something from your page, I'll forward the order over to you and you fill the order. Oh and by the way I have a partner who has another company that will do the delivery for us both. He and I  will each take 10-12% per transaction and we'll all become rich. Sound good? Screech.... Are you kidding me. With margins in the restaurant business as close as they are, taxes, employees, inventory, etc... and now here comes some "Tick" with a slick website. I think not.
Here's what I see wrong with these sort of operations
  1. They are filled with restaurants (not just you but your competitor also)
  2. They (the website) promise you the moon (you may get one call a month, while they get hundreds because they have everyone else on their site also)
  3. They take a percentage of everything you already sell online (and a percentage off of everyone else on their site)
  4. They partner with other companies to take yet another percentage (They probably get a percentage off of them too)
  5. Their real aim is to populate a website that they can sell because of advertising on that website. (That's what I would do. Sell the whole site for millions)

In the end, the shops only benefit a percentage of 1% on these type of sites. That is their plan. It only takes a percentage from thousands of businesses to make a killing. This should be a crime but heck to tell you the truth it is a brilliant idea. Only in America can someone come up with such a brilliant and legal concept.

My suggestion to all of these businesses that have been contacted by these sort of sites, "Charge them if they want your business on their site." Charge them a licensing fee just like you would a franchisee. If they believe in your company so much then they shouldn't have a problem paying a small fee to offer your products on their website. I can bet that any large corporation that is on their sites is charging them a licensing fee already. It is the small shops that don't know any better that are populating these sites and not being compensated.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I Love Chemist's

Being in the Specialty Coffee business is truly one of the most rewarding pursuits that I've been a part of. The people are incredibly dedicated to their craft. The customers are always cool to you and to top it off, they appreciate your efforts as an artisan coffee roaster/barista.

Recently, I had a gentleman come into our shop. He was a slender-built, studious-type guy. Glasses, a pocket protector, patten-leather shoes. The only thing he was missing was the white piece of tape over the bridge of his glasses.  He wanted to buy a pound of coffee but he was there for much much more.

Turns out that this guy was a  chemical engineer. Not just any chemical engineer, he was a coffee-phile with a curiosity for our beloved bean, that needed to be satisfied. For the next 30 minutes we investigated the enzymatic mysteries of coffee. Why you should and should not freeze it. When was the optimal time to use coffee and on and on.

Our conversation was amazing.

The amazing thing about our conversation was that these types of people are never satisfied with the first answer, it (the topic) expanded to my lovely bride, who brought out things about roasting and preparation, that she obviously had been hiding from me. It was like being in a doubles tennis match. Me and my bride against Chemical Engineer.

Talking coffee isn't as exciting to most people as it is to people who really have a passion for not only drinking it but roasting and brewing it. As the probing and prodding continued I felt a sense of confidence that was curious and exciting at the same time. We were speaking with a chemical engineer with 30 years of experience who just wanted to be pointed in the right direction but the conversation was mutual beneficial. We were sharpening up our coffee skills in a way you just can't get from school books. This was real world stuff.

After the conversation was over and everyone was satisfied with the discussion, I was literally exhausted. I couldn't tell you all of what we spoke about. This I do know, It was all good. My mental powers had been drained. I was physically and mentally spent. But I would do it again...and like it.
I Love Chemist's

Thursday, October 2, 2014

National Poll Says Local Shops Best

I spend a lot of time looking for articles, info and frankly anything that is out there that speaks about local coffee shops, flavors and trends in the Specialty Coffee area. There are tons of great companies out there, especially in the Las Vegas market.

Recently, there was a huge article released by Business Insider that listed the Best Coffee Shops, by State. In our beloved Nevada, out of the literally 10's of 30's of coffee shops from N,S, E, and West Grouchy John's from Las Vegas was listed as the Best Coffee Shop in Nevada. Congrats to JJ and John.
Now while we celebrate the listing of Grouchy's in the article, the more important thing was really just below the surface of this article.

In our locale, there are over 300 coffee shops. Only 20+ of which are Independently-owned shops. That means that over 80% of the shops in Las Vegas alone are either a franchise or a strip hotel shop, which is also a franchise. Nothing wrong with franchises at all. We all aspire to expand to a point where we can have a franchise, myself included. The point here is that the vast majority of shops in Las Vegas and the State of Nevada are huge national franchises.

OK that being said, the coffee shop that wins as the best shop in the state is a small mom and pop operation. Not only is the shop a small mom and pop store but you would expect, being named the best shop in the state, that the roaster for this operation would be an Illy or Pete's, or some other national roaster. Not on your life. The roaster that Grouchy's uses is a local company, as a matter of fact they are so small that they have only been in business less than a decade. In the scheme of coffee roasting that means they are barely out of the crib.

Here's where I am going with this whole thing. The vast majority of people who drink coffee, settle in at a Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or some other huge chain store coffee company. And bless their hearts they are content at slugging down that stuff. But the BEST COFFEE SHOP in NEVADA isn't a Starbucks, CBTL or any other huge company, it is a little ole shop on the East side of town, who gets their beans from another little ole roaster in Boulder City.

That is huge folks.

In the final analysis, yes, there is something to be said for micro-roasters. So the next time you are thinking about getting a really good cup of coffee, don't settle for less than the best.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Starbucks Affect

At the outset, I just want to say that this post isn't going to be my usual light-hearted look at the coffee industry, leaders and trends. Rather, it will be a serious rant brought on by a feeling of frustration of most, if not all of the Barista's and Specialty Coffee Shop owners in America. I know that this sounds like a huge remark but I believe you will by the end of this post you will agree with my assertions.
I call this blog the Starbucks Affect or "What the heck Starbucks has done to the coffee industry." Not just from the perspective of the consumer but from the perspective of the barista and the perspective of the Starbucks Affect from the perspective of the Coffee shop owner.

Barista Perspective

The barista is more than just the person who mixes the drinks for the customer. He or she is an educator, counselor and encourager, occasionally, of the clientele that walks in the doors of every shop worldwide. From time to time the education part of the barista's job profile gets stretched. Let me give you a case in fact. Starbucks makes a version of a Macchiato that has come to be known as a macchiato. This perversion of the classic macchiato is no less than a rip-off. The classic macchiato is two shots of espresso with a dollop of milk foam on the top. (macchiato means to stain) in this case, the stain is the milk.

What Starbuck's passes off as a macchiato is actually a single shot latte. A Latte should have two shots of espresso. They have made the stain the espresso, thus ripping off their customers for one shot of espresso. (they get around this by calling it a latte macchiato)

To shorten up this post, I'll cut to the chase. As a Barista, our job has turned from being an educator and server of Specialty Coffee, to being a Coffee Psychologist. We have to retrain people into knowing what the correct definition and expectation of classic coffee and espresso based drinks. This can sometimes be frustrating. We have even had people come in the door and question our knowledge and in some cases our ethics because they have been brain-washed by Starbucks versions of drinks.

Shop Owners Perspective

As a coffee shop owner my take on Starbucks has done for the coffee landscape is bitter sweet. On the one hand they have helped to highlight coffee drinking to more acceptable level. People who may never have tried coffee now do because of the Starbucks Affect. So thank you for that Starbucks but on the other hand the feeling that Starbucks has sold their soul for the almighty buck is a deeply and widespread feeling among the coffee community.
In their zeal to be the #1 coffee company on the planet, they have lost sight on one glaring promise, "Serve good coffee."

As a shop owner, wanting to expand my business and serve other areas of my town, it has become impossible because of Starbucks business practices. Their effort to put a shop on every corner, serving inferior coffee, has meant that all of the available good sites have been taken. They work out arrangements with strip malls so that no other coffee shop can compete for the same business. The worst thing about this is that if they don't like their location, i.e. it isn't making $1 million dollars or more, they just leave, leaving the community with no coffee shop of any kind.

So from a shop owners perspective, in my mind Starbucks does more harm than good.
I wish I could say that I'm just jealous about the success of Starbucks but looking at the holistic effect of not only a Starbucks but any company that has business practices as they do all I can be is honest.