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First stop on the san fran trip: Blue Bottle.  The cafe was an interesting space although all the cool hews of blue and gray kind of give it a chilly, icy feel.  There’s an impressive cold-brew toddy machine straight out of some turn of the century mad scientist laboratory.  san-francisco-trip-1108-231

The baristas were friendly enough with…Matt I think it was…giving me a wonderful explanation of his favorite blend – the Haye’s Valley Espresso – it apparently had a “killer sidamo” that lent some heavy fruit notes.

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They were serving the Roman Espresso or did he say Eleventh Story something…anyhoo deep rich  mahogany crema, very viscous & buttery.  The flavors were tempered in the darker range nothing peaking out in acidity or fruit.  It had an even caramel sweetness with a dark underbelly of molasses &  hints of tobacco. Yum!

So at the behest of Matt I had to track down a shot of this famed Haye’s Valley blend which was indigenous only to their Kiosk location over on Linden street. (Each location has it’s own tailored espresso blend)

The Kiosk is just that – a hole in the wall, perched proudly between overbearing downtown buildings in a  small back alley.  A little greenery sprouting out of the sidewalk manages to soften some of the harshness of the city surrounding it.  So…the Haye’s, well it was tasty…on the wild side of tasty though.  I got a bit a papery sort of ‘off’ flavor I sometimes taste with some Sidamos, a little too dark you lose the fruit, a little to light you get the vegetal papery thing.  It was decent but I’d say the Roman won out that day, sorry Matt.

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Next up…Ritual 🙂

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(Belated Post From SCAA Coffee Fest 9/08)

Talk about a whirlwind of  a night.  Some of us were sittin around thinking hey wouldn’ t it be cool if we did like a tournament style Latte Art Smackdown?

Smack Crowd

Like one on one then the best pour moves on to the next round?  Yeah sounded awesome…until about 32 people signed up 🙂 and we realized we were lookin at good 16 rounds.  Luckily the lovely Cai stepped up and pulled shots which cut our time down significantly and actually it was awesome even with the hefty amount of time it took.  We had some lovely rosettas, but the designs that took the night tended towards the tulip shapes with multiple layers.  We started with 12 oz sized cups then worked our way down all the way to 5.5 oz which made things a bit more interesting 🙂

The judges that night were Kelleen, one of our lovely in store Latte Art Champs, and the illustrious Chris Deferio,  perennial latte art champion.   Prizes were provided by Espresso

Parts Northwest and Barista Exchange.

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We also had live music from Jack Wilson and some seriously awesome finger foods made by our in-house chef extraordinaire  Tonya.  The crowned champion of the night was Chris Giannakos from Cafe Crema in Vancouver, BC. Visit his sight at: http://cleanhotdry.com/news/coffee-fest-latte-art-smackdown/

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So I’ve gotten to work some shifts at our newest location, over on Beacon Hill. It’s been known as Galaxie Espresso for some time over there and has built it’s reputation as a chill neighborhood hang-out with some kick-ass espresso. 

It feels a lot like Portland. If you’ve ever been down there and to checked out some of the killer cafes they have, you know what I’m talking about.  Sparse white walls, minimalism with well thought out woodworking, subtle design nuances: all the elements really work together to make the space.  

 

There’s a huge map of Beacon Hill across the left wall and intricate architectural drawings spotting the right.

 

 

It’s small, the long corridor of a cafe kind of spills out the back door into the backyard of the neighborhood. Customers use the back door just as much as the front, giving the place a faster pace.  A pretty steady breeze as well as abundant natural light making it feel like you’re practically working outdoors.  It has a great feel.

 

 The owners of Galaxie, Woody and Yen, were longtime friends of Chris and Jen, the founders of Victrola.  Woody actually built our Roastery on Pike St so you’ll probably notice some similar stylings.  

As far as transitioning this cafe into a full-fledged Victrola, the changes will be subtle.   Woody and Yen have done a great job creating a sense of community at the cafe and their efforts when it comes to quality make it quite easy hit the ground running with the operation.

There are plans of maybe extending the porch out back, which Woody has always wanted to do, for a bit more seating.  Just some fine-tuning on the Synesso and grinders, maybe a few new faces behind the bar, and we’re ready to roll.

 

So if you have some time, come check it out! The Galaxie sign probably won’t change for a good month or so.

Victrola Beacon Hill or “V3” (formerly know as Galaxie Espresso)
3215 Beacon Ave S 
(between Hanford St & Horton St)
Seattle, WA 98144

(More pictures on my Flickr site, check the left sidebar)


So these have actually been around for a little while but they’re new for Victrola.  It’s a steam tip designed with finer holes.  There sometimes referred to as ‘macchiato steam tips’.  So what does that do you ask?  Well, these tips produce smaller streams of steam, which create even smaller micro-bubbles in the foam.  This means foam that’s more velvety and dense.  We’ve always prided ourselves on excellent milk texture but the improvement this new tip made over the old one was stunning!  It also affects the taste of the milk.   During all steaming the surface tension of milk is reduced as some of it’s compenants break down,  this means it spreads over surfaces more easily.  Thats why cold milk forms droplets but hot milk splatters and spreads over a surface.  This directly affects taste because steamed milk spreads over the tongue very well so all those little taste buds can pick up subtle flavors more readily.  Since this steam tip produces a much finer foam, it increases this affect so you can detect even more of that subtle sweetness of the milk!  So get ready for some amazing milk drinks!

We recently got the opportunity to have a little maintenance powow with our friends down at Synesso.   They produce the Synesso Cyncra espresso machine which we use at all or our cafes.  Victrola has always been about fine tuning every variable that could affect the quality of our coffee so this was a great opportunity to pick their brains and learn some new stuff.  The two guys I went with, Jeremy and Chuck, will be taking on maintenance for our two cafes.   Jeremy will be heading up maintenance at Victrola on 15th while Chuck is taking on Pike St.

The Cyncra was the obvious choice for us because it gives so much control over drink preparation. It’s revolutionary in it’s thermal stability.  It can maintain temperatures within +/- .5 ‘ F, yeah as in 1/2 of one degree!  We can adjust temperatures as well as steam pressure on the fly with a push of a button.  To say we love our machines is an understatement.  They’ve seemed to think of everything on this one.  It’s incorporated cool touch steam wands with insulation to keep yourself from getting burned and lever control on the steam wands which is a vast improvement over the knob. And they’re built like a tank!  So anyways, bottom line, it’s pretty awesome.

Scott (red beard) guided Jeremy, Chuck and I through some basic preventative maintenance (steam wand & expansion valve rebuilds) as well as some more involved fixes.  It was super informative!  Scott’s a great teacher and gave us an indepth walkthrough on how to perform a lot of the fixes outlined in the troubleshooting guide.  So hopefully this will help us do a lot more instore fixes and keep our machines running at top knotch.

Pictured: Scott, Jeremy, Chuck

So, of course, after a nice demonstration from the guys at the factory, what did we do when we got back?  Rip our machine apart!

Yeah, she aint too pretty underneath all that stainless steal

Skeletor!

I was just doing a random search for some coffee-related subject and happened upon something quite staggering. Google has digitized William Ukers masterwork of coffee history “All About Coffee”!  This is an incredible resource and it’s been on my very-longterm, wish list because it’s so rare and expensive ($110+).  It’s older than dirt (1922) so it’s public domain and google has taken it upon themselves to scan the entire book!  It’s indexed, so its fully searcheable in its classy PDF format with full illustrations!  Ah google if you weren’t a monolithic corporation of millions of employees I would kiss you!

So if you’re interested, take a peak:

William Ukers “All About Coffee”

MARK HUNGRY!

So as the current trainer of Victrola Coffee and now Whidbey Coffee as well, I’ve got a lot of stuff on my plate.  I’m working on building training programs for both companies as well as writing curriculums.  It all gets a bit mind numbing after a while! So today it was nice to take some time and continue my chow down on some fresh perspectives on coffee.

So whats on the menu?  Well we have Scott Rao’s “Professional Barista’s Handbook” which I’m half way through; Gimme! Coffee’s “Barista Manual 1.0” which I’ve thoroughly devoured; as well Instaurator’s new and beautiful piece of work “The Espresso Quest” which I am about to dive into.  There’s always the classics as well: Dr Illy’s Espresso Coffee and Schomer’s Techniques of the Barista.

Writing a barista manual is no small undertaking, let alone an exhaustive treatise on espresso extraction or professional barista skill.  These guys have definitely given me some great brain-fodder and examples of well executed studies on coffee.

Gimme! Coffee has done a fine job in covering a very broad topic in a comprehensive yet straight-forward fashion.  I also greatly appreciate they’re transparency and willingness to share the ins and outs of what they do.  Specialty Coffee definitely has a reputation for harboring some “healthy” competition between cafes 🙂 so it’s rare to see a company that will “spill the beans” and share their training manual.  It’s refreshing to see professionals who are seeking to share ideas and get feedback. I think the New York coffee scene really stands out with their efforts to cultivate an atmosphere of camaraderie between cafes and Gimme! is no exception.  Hopefully us Seattlites will take some cues from their example.

Scott Rao’s Barista Handbook is a wonderful introduction to artisan coffee.  I’d hand that to any barista looking to get up to pace with what baristas are doing today.  It’s a great read.  Hearing the results of all his personal experiments with espresso extraction and lots of great charts compiling his findings is exciting.  It’s good to get another perspective that offers a different way of looking at the same problems we all face behind the bar.

Lastly is an incredibly, beautiful romp through all-things-espresso with a  guy named Instaurator.  He was the Chairman of the Australian Coffee & Tea Association and has pretty much done everything there is to do with the subject.  The photos are breathtaking, I’ve never seen espresso so pretty!  The book is a thick, hardbound undertaking. It’d look great on any coffee table though it’s not gonna get any time to lay around  at Victrola.

As for me my handbooks are coming along…I’m hoping to have them polished up by midsummer.  That is if they make it through the gauntlet of Victrola’s many scrutinizing minds….ok maybe by Christmas 🙂

This is by ‘newbie’ Greg Skidmore, he’s been with us for about a month

Rosetta by Chuck Lambert. He works our Pike St location.

Capp by Yours Truly

Macchiatto by Jeremy McDermott up on 15th


“I don’t think so.” he snaps with resounding finality. That was Chucks conclusion to a forty minute long interview with the CBS Early Show.

She spent the better half of an hour at our Pike St location quizzing baristas and customers about what chance Starbucks had of making a come back on the Seattle coffee scene. Before this clip Chuck got into specifics with her about shot preparation and Starbucks inability to even come close the espresso we serve. He rocked it, but in the end she just wanted to know one thing: Does Starbucks have a chance? and I think he conveyed what we would all want to.

40 minutes for four words. Oh well at least they did get a few glimpses of his purdy latte art in there. So Kudos to Chuck! Sock it to em!

Check out the video here:

Victrola On CBS Early Show

In our long winding tour from Huehue to Antigua there were plenty of photo moments including this view of Mt Atitlan that Klaus was taking advantage of.

We stopped at the R. Dalton Estate before Antigua. They’re a very well established coffee producer that falls into the “Disneyland” estate category by Edwin’s definition.  On the grounds they had a very large wet mill, dry mill, vast drying patios and a beautiful roasting and tasting facility.  Everything was very clean and polished with placards describing each step of production.  The farm has done so well our guide said this area is kept open simply to honor the R. Dalton family.  Their real production goes on in an even larger facility off-site although some production still goes on here.

Their cupping room was all class with sample roasters, ample lighting and space as well as a rotating, marble cupping table. We were all drooling over the setup.   Our guide talked a bit about how they run cuppings at their estate and some basic pointers on how to cup correctly.

Perry and Lindsay were elected to be the official tasters.

One cool cupping technique they showed us, modeled here by Eddie, involved agitating the dry grounds in the cup then slapping your hand over the top of it.  When you lift your hand off, it gives an ultra concentrated whiff.  Cool, thanks R Dalton!

Antigua was beautiful. The streets are all done in pastels and each door is individually designed and incredibly ornate. There are way too many shops to look through in a day.  We settled down into a little restaurant called Frida’s (as in Frida Kahlo) for some great food crazy art.  Then it was back to Guatemala City for our last night.

Eddie took to some of the nicer cafes in Guatemala that night. Among them is Cafe Barista which had a nice ‘hipster’ feel (for Guatemala) and some pretty decent coffee.

I had the espresso which was pleasent. 🙂

Apparently they’re pretty hot stuff around these parts.  I saw this sign in one of their cafes in Antigua:

That says “National Champions” if you were wondering 🙂

We had another great breakfast at Edwin’s parents house before heading off to the airport.   The Martinez family are probably the most hospitable people you could ever meet not too mention amazing cooks!   We’re definitely indebted to them for giving us such an incredible experience.