R.I.P. First Degree Coffee…

I’m retiring the name First Degree Coffee. I’ve never totally been sold on the name but I couldn’t think of anything better so I went with it. It’s sort of, I don’t know, clumsy? I also think that having worked in the Göteborg coffee scene as much as I have I just felt that the role I hope to continue to play needs a bit more “edge.” That’s not a word I like to use but its used widely enough that when it’s used, you know what’s trying to be conveyed.

Anyway, I think No Wave Coffee Co. fits the current state of the industry in that we’ve been in the Third Wave (unofficially) for about a decade and while there have been many changes within the industry, the “third wave” tag still applies. My friend Brian Jones likes to use the term “progressive coffee” and I think that’s more appropriate. It suggests that from the service side, baristas, coffee shop owners, roasters and buyers we are creating, discovering and/or re-discovering new ways to share our passion for coffee.

No Wave sounds more “aggressive” or “confrontational” if you will. Which is exactly what the coffee culture could use a bit more of. A lot of coffee shops have developed a lot of bad habits and seem far too willing to only serve what they think people are used to. On the other side of the counter I see a customer base that also seems far too willing to drink what’s served and not demand something different.

I’m the American, I’m supposed to be brash, arrogant and cocky. Those who know me know I’m really not any of those things but I do like a challenge and I’m extremely stubborn. Hopefully that’s something that can be turned into an advantage for the Gothenburg coffee scene.

Stay tuned

Originally posted on DMV Coffee:

Peregrine Espresso hosted last week’s TNT at their newest location on 14th St.  I didn’t think it would be possible to push that many people into their space, but it was packed.  We had a full bracket with new faces, old faithfuls, and Team Tryst who brought the party once again.  Oh and Peregrine won their 3rd straight TNT, no big deal.  Travis Becket claimed his second win in three months and helped Peregrine continue their recent hot streak.   Below we have Anna from Filter, Miguel from Peregrine, and Reggie all the way from Sweden donating some da Matteo coffee for the winners.

     

Our three judges included Miss Kristen Powell (long time DC coffee pro), Meredith Taylor (Peregrine 14th), and Jonathan Riethmaier (District Bean).  Quite the all star cast if you ask me.  If you’ve never been to Jonathan’s website…

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Let’s Push Things Forward

It occurred to me last night what it is exactly that’s holding back progress in the Gothenburg coffee scene.

On the one hand, there seems to be a lack of entrepreneurial drive from within the scene itself. Meaning people aren’t leaving DaMatteo, Bar Italia, Espresso House, Marmelad etc. and going to open their own cafés. The new shops popping up seem to be coming from the peripherals of the scene but not necessarily WITHIN. Given Sweden’s strong support of those with entrepreneurial aspirations this is sort of hard to fathom.

I think this is only a small portion of the problem though, the biggest drag on the system also stems from the entrepreneurial side.

When I was in Stockholm to compete in Brewers Cup I visited a couple of the more renowned coffee shops in a city that has more than a handful of renowned coffee shops. I only got to check out one of Drop Coffee‘s locations, Kafë Esaias (which hosted a latte art throwdown that Saturday night) and Johan & Nyström’s Concept Store but those were enough to open my eyes. Several of the baristas I met at these cafés were competing on Sunday and/or Monday. These coffee shops focus on quality and are staffed by talented and passionate baristas and benefit by being in such proximity to one another.

The real source of strength comes from the fact that even though Stockholm is occupied by Sweden’s largest specialty roaster (J&N) right around the corner from the Concept Store is where Drop Coffee is located. Drop Coffee is not just  a coffee shop, they are a micro-roastery too. There’s also the fairly newish Stockholm Roast as well as David Haugaard. All of them based in and around dear old Stockholm.

Malmö’s coffee scene is quite strong as well. And even though I’ve never visited Malmö I’m aware of the depth of talent located there as well. Malmö benefits from its proximity to Copenhagen which itself has quite a strong coffee scene. Solde and Den Lilla Kafferosteriet are based in Malmö proper with Love Coffee in nearby Lund and Koppi about 45 minutes away in Helsingborg. All of these roasteries within such a close proximity create a strong foundation of coffee-talent and sort of a coffee culture profile.

Then there’s Göteborg, which houses exactly ONE great roastery: daMatteo. That’s it. There’s daMatteo and there’s nothing but a sea of Italian-influenced coffee bars, many of whom are quite cool and hip and are staffed by talented baristas but quite frankly aren’t of the same “genre” and therefore don’t contribute to the scene in the same manner. That’s not to say they are a detriment, they just do their thing and serve more of a social role insofar as being a place to hang out and down a strong espresso.

What Göteborg needs is a Drop Coffee. A Koppi or a Love. ANYTHING to help establish a stronger presence of specialty coffee here in the GBG. DaMatteo, as I’ve said here many times before, can’t do it by themselves. Somebody needs to set up shop here in the heart of the city and establish themselves as not simply an alternative to daMatteo but as a destination of quality coffee. There are plenty of places that serve Johan & Nyström and at least one venue that features coffee from Love but that’s not enough.

Göteborg needs another micro-roastery. Who’s gonna step up?  Who’s gonna help push things forward?

 

Up With Coffee!!!

These three words popped in my head yesterday and I have not been able to shake them. It’s kind of a silly phrase but…I like it. 

I don’t know what it I should do with the phrase. Should change the name of this blog? Should I change the name of my company? 

Here’s what I have been leaning towards: perhaps “Up With Coffee!” is some kind of a rallying cry or slogan. A slogan for those of us who work in the coffee industry. A slogan for those of us who simply really love quality coffee. Perhaps “Up With Coffee!” is the point in which we draw a line in the sand between the passionate coffee enthusiasts who really care about what goes into the cup and those that just desire caffeine and don’t care about the taste, where its sourced, when it was roasted, etc.

Up With Coffee!

I’ll let this marinate a bit but, I just had to put the idea out there. 

UPDATE:
This image was shared in the comments section but I think it’s an amazing image so I’ll link to it right here in the post. Talk about “up” with coffee!

TNT|GBG: Ready! Set! THROW!!!!

Tonight at Jup’s Coffee in Gothenburg, Sweden. I will be joined by many of the city’s most talented baristas in the Gothenburg version of a coffee industry tradition known as Thursday Night Throwdown. The Throwdown is a latte art competitition that begain at Octane Coffee in Atlanta a few years ago. There are various versions of these events all over the world that aren’t necessarily called “Thursday Night Throwdown” (technically, it doesn’t even HAVE to take place on a Thursday) and the one thing they have in common is that the shared goal of uniting people within the local coffee community.

While the competition in these events are is pretty serious, they are still intended to be FUN. A lot of times a bit of beer is provided to help liven up the evening even more. It should be noted, though, that the competition itself is NOT the focus. It really doesn’t matter who wins or who doesn’t win. What matters is many of us who work as baristas really enjoy being baristas, yet being that we work in coffee shops it is necessary that we all perform dozens of often mundane tasks throughout our work days in order to keep the café operating. So perhaps we don’t have the time in our daily schedules to just do the thing we love the most, make coffee.

This past weekend, I worked with Åre Kafferosteri at a local event. There were no sandwiches to prepare, very minimal cleaning, no dishes to wash. We just made coffee. And I have to say, leading up to today it was a very calming and relaxing experience to just make cup of after cup of cappucinos, lattes and machiattos. Even though everything we served was in paper cups, it was still an almost liberating experience. I haven’t had a chance to just focus on coffee in a very long time. Last night, I went down to Mahogny after the shop had closed and just practiced making drink after drink and again, it was a very liberating experience. I even noticed some kinks in my technique that I didn’t even realize existed.

One of the benefits of an event such as a “latte art throwdown” or “barista jam” is that not only do we as individual competitors get to show off our own stuff, but we get to see how others in our profession do the same thing. We get to take notes, exchange ideas, share techniques and tricks of the trade which, in turn, will raise the overall quality of coffee preparation in the city.

Another thing that jumped out during the event with Åre was that for many people, coffee is just coffee. It doesn’t matter where the beans come from, how they were roasted or even how pretty the rosetta in the latte art may appear. Coffee is coffee. The aforementioned event was a high-end Hi-Fi exhibition featuring super-mega expensive stereos, some of which literally costs as much as a house. We were selling all coffee drinks for just 20 kronor (10 for a single espresso) which is a bargain at pretty much anywhere in town that wasn’t a 7-11 or Pressbyrån. But there was this one customer who complained about the cost of the coffee! First of all, Åre’s coffee is worth WAY more than the 20 kronor we were selling it for, second of all it was a HIGH END HI-FI EXHIBITION featuring million kronor stereos!!!!! Obviously, to this customer coffee — no matter the quality — was just not something he felt was worthy of paying that much money for, even if it was at a ridiculously discounted amount.

People take coffee for granted. It’s just a fact of life. And why not? It is readily available and sometimes it’s just given away. So it can be a bit demeaning when someone gripes about the price of a very high quality coffee or when somebody demands that we provide sugar even if we believe the coffee doesn’t require it (another Hi-Fi Expo tale.) I don’t think a majority of non-industry people even view being a barista as an occupation that come grow into a career — which is a bit odd considering how much coffee is consumed in the world — so it’s important that we have Throwdowns, “Brewdowns” or any other coffee-industry gathering if only to reinforce any doubts that may saunter into our collective psyches about the relevance of our jobs.

From a personal standpoint, if I had never joined the staff at Murky Coffee there’s no way I would be in the position I am in today. My time at Murky and subsequently, Big Bear Café, gave me not only a bankable skill but a high level of expectations for myself within the field. Murky taught me the techniques but it was my job as trainer at Big Bear that really forced me to think about the craft as I had to find a way to communicate what by that point had come as second nature to someone with little to no experience in the biz. Without any of this as a foundation (as well as an endorsement from Nick Cho) there’s no way I would have found work at DaMatteo. I’m not saying that being a barista is the ONLY way to find work if you move to another country but is a highly bankable skill to have in your back pocket, especially in these economic times.

There seems to be a considerable amount of excitement surrounding tonight’s event. I have to say, considering the fact that 95% percent of its existence is due to my own effort I am equally stunned, nervous and relieved that it’s actually going to happen. When I proposed it this summer to members of the coffee community I promised that I’d take care of everything as far as getting this off the ground. However, for this to mean anything it has to be a regular occurence and other people have to help share the workload, there’s no way I can do this all by myself every time. Hopefully the TNT will go well enough to inspire other members of the scene to step forward and help make this thing into a monthly thing.  I’ll admit, I have a few ideas already about next months but I’m not going to worry about that right now.

Right now I’m just going to savor the moment and go out there and rub elbows with my brothers and sisters working in the trade. Coffee is not just what we do, it is who we are and we are NOT to be taken for granted.

Ready….set…THROW!!!!!

[For those that would like to follow the event, I have created a channel on Ustream and will be streaming the whole thing! Here's the link.]

Selling Coffee or Selling Coffee Enthusiasm

This is a recent post I made on the discussion board at Barista Exchange. I just thought I’d republish it here because I feel what I express within the post will help shape how I proceed from here in my attempt to establish my own identity within the retail end of the coffee industry.

Just a little something I’ve been thinking about recently. I hope not to ignite any kind of flame war because I know, first hand, how intense things can get on here, just please, bear with me.

I am a self-professed music nerd, movie nerd, political nerd and a coffee nerd. I make no bones about the things I geek out about. When I hear news that my favorite band is working on a new record I mark the days on my calendar until that release date. When my favorite film director is working on a new film I try to be first in line when that film hits theaters. Now, as I’ve developed into a big time coffee nerd, I’ve bitten hard on staying up with all the gadgets and geekery that go along with this thing we love.

Recently, I’ve started a business in Gothenburg, Sweden with the primary goal of opening a specialty coffee-focused coffee house. Gothenburg is a very blue collar town and the people here have fairly simple tastes (I don’t mean that in a bad way.) To paraphrase an old Denis Leary bit, they love their “coffee-flavored coffee.” This means that Italian-style cafés who specialize in strong, primarily robusta do quite well. Despite operating within this marketplace Da Matteo has managed to build a strong brand name while roasting their own carefully selected specialty coffee. In Gothenburg, DaMatteo is the exception to the rule. It is essentially the ONLY specialty coffee shop in the city and, frustratingly, none of the city’s other most popular cafés seem to be even remotely interested in keeping up.

The reason for this is quite simple. The customers don’t really demand it so why should they bother? People have bills to pay, rent due. I understand that if you’re doing something that works, why bother switching up when there is no outside pressure to do so? I don’t necessarily AGREE with that but I understand it. I have no intention of opening yet another Italian-style café in Gothenburg. My company, First Degree Coffee, will feature high quality coffee, carefully prepared by hand and made to order. This may sound like no big deal to many of you because that’s probably what you’ve been doing in your shops for years now. In Gothenburg, however, this is a pretty big deal considering that in 90% of the shops you go into, if you ask for a regular coffee you’re going to get an Americano.

What does any of this have to do with you? Well, I suppose my overall point is that you and I may have no problem talking about “terroir” or extraction ratios. Or perhaps there’s nothing strange to you about weighing your morning coffee.

To our customers, though, these things probably don’t mean diddly squat.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that before we all get too caught up in ourselves and the crazy science that makes working in this profession quite exhilarating, let’s not forget that none of us would be anywhere in this business if not for the fact that SOMEbody actually has to buy our product. For most people, it’s just coffee. It’s just a method of delivery of caffeine. Many of my closest friends totally get that I’m a coffee geek but they don’t really get WHY. I try to explain what the difference is between my Hario dripper, my Bee House dripper and my AeroPress but it usually ends up in shrugs.

So, instead of focusing on trying to sell the technique or hitting our customers over the head with intimidating terminology there’s one thing that we are all perfectly capable of selling: our enthusiasm. Our customers don’t really have to know the exact flavor profile of the latest coffee but what may be the best thing is to just emphasize what it is that YOU, the barista, love about. Make it personal and people will be more willing to follow.

Again, I won’t sit here and pretend that I’ve discovered the ultimate answer to being a successful coffee pro. I guess it was a bit of a revelation that I had (just today!) and wanted to share it with all of you. My apologies in advance to anyone who reads this and feels some what insulted. I don’t feel I said anything insulting but in the world of internet discussion boards one has to walk a very tight rope and have a very thick skin. Either way, I’m very interested in seeing what you all think!

 

Building an Arsenal of Coffee Brewing Awesomnessity

I think the reason I’ve taken to coffee so much is because I’m a geek and this is an industry in which very often rewards geekery. Whether it’s the terminology or the technology, the coffee business belongs to the geeks. For the most part.

In a short amount of time, I’ve developed a pretty nice arsenal of coffee brewing nick-nacks and doo-dads. I thought I’d list them here and update it as the list is sure to grow. I’ll also comment about how I use each device and how each one performs with certain coffees. I mean compared to some people I know, this is pretty small change. Nevertheless, I’m pretty pleased with all of the gear!

New additons:

Sowden SoftBrew from Dear Coffee, I Love You. on Vimeo.

The OXO Good Grips French Press (8 Cup)

The Tiamo V-Style Dripper:

And finally. One last addition to the collection:

A really quick note about the Homeloo. HOLYYYYY CRAP!!!! This thing is amazing. The control you get is phenomenal. It feels like you can place the water on each individual grain of coffee. And it’s lighter (and smaller) than the Hario at HALF THE PRICE. The one single downside is the handle, as you can see, is uncovered metal so the sucker gets hot. However, it also cools long before the pitcher itself. Really, really impressed. I’m tempted to make this the official pitcher of First Degree Coffee right now.

The Kone Filter from Coava

…which was designed to be used with…

The Chemex Coffemaker

Another new addition to the family is the Beehouse Dripper.

The Hario V60
The Hario V60 Dripper Cone

The Hario Buono KettleHario Buono Kettle

Bodum Chambord French Press

G

Clever Coffee Dripper

AeroPress

Melitta Drip Coffee Pot
Melitta Drip Pot

 

Hario Siphon Brewer

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