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Espresso across the United States: roasters share their secrets.

Espresso across the United States: Roasters share their secrets

Good espresso is not a passive pursuit, it requires active participation in bean selection, roasting, and storage as well as proper equipment for grinding and extraction. Last but not least, if you serve espresso to the public, good espresso requires time devoted to employee training.

One reward of fanatical devotion to good espresso is the personal satisfaction of drinking and enjoying it. But if you are a retailer, your devotion to a quality product can also reap the financial rewards of increased sales by the cup or pound to the general public. If you are strictly a roaster, quality espresso will generate increased wholesale poundage to restaurants or retailers.

In my January, 1990 column, I wrote that the 90's would be the year for espresso in the U.S. As we draw close to the end of this year, I decided to test my theory and called people in the coffee industry in various sections of the country. I talked to coffee people in such locations as New York, Louisiana, California, Alabama, and Washington state. I talked to proprietors of small husband and wife businesses, and I spoke to operators of large roast houses. What I came away with after these conversations, was an amazement that people who lived so far away from each other could have such a binding, common passion for good espresso.

I asked everyone the same basic questions;

* Have your sales of espresso

(by the cup or pound) increased

during 1990?

* Do you recommend a particular

roast for espresso?

* Do you recommend blending

for espresso and if so, what

beans do you blend?

* What do you consider the

most critical factor in producing

good espresso?

My first call was to Donald Schoenholt, president of Gillies Coffee Company in New York City. Don serves as a mentor to many of us in the coffee business and his devotion to quality is legendary.

Gillies produces three dark roast colors of coffee; Vienna Roast (darker than a traditional American roast with the first oil appearing on the tips of the bean), French Roast, and Italian, the darkest of their three dark roasts. Gillies recommends using the Vienna Roast in preparing espresso although in a city like New York with such a variety of ethnic preferences, the two darker roasts are also used.

Don told me that their overall dark roast sales are up, "Our clients are definitely buying dark roasted coffees, particularly the middle color which we call French. Sales are up dramatically in both the retail outlet and in sales to upscale restaurants where they have espresso on the menu."

He further encourages anyone roasting for espresso to look to their market for guidance on using one type of bean for espresso or using a blend. "I prefer to use faded coffees (past crop) in dark roasting and other roasts prefer to use bright coffees (new corp). We have had significant success in using mild coffees other than Colombia and Kenya varietals. In addition, we use Ehtiopian and Indonesian coffees of Arabica origins. The bulk of the coffees that are sold dark roasted in the northeast appear to be singular in the varietal type. You see a log of dark roasted Colombian and washed Peru."

Two very critical factors in producing espresso according to Don is the freshness of the bean and the grinding of the bean for espresso. "Dark roasts deteriorate faster than light roast coffee. I think packing is important, you have got to get it (freshly roasted coffee) into valve bags. Grinding is critical (in producing the crema on the espresso), more critical than the coffee going in."

Don also offers encouragement to small roasters starting out in the specialty coffee business. "Anybody who wants to take the time, and it takes an awful lot of time, to learn and to experiment can come up with great blends of coffee. You also have to be willing to spend the money necessary to purchase the green beans. The thing that separates the men from the boys is when you have a choice of two coffees that are very similar and one of them costs a nickel more a pound. The house that sells the cheaper one because they can get away with it gets cut out of a league so to speak simply because there is no compromising with quality, if you do you are out of the game.

From New York City, I headed down to Cajun land to speak to Bob Sturdivant, vice president, Coffee Roasters of New Orleans, Inc. His company is something of an anomily among New Orleans roast houses in that they don't sell coffee and chicory. Instead they specialize in dark roasted coffee and unique flavor blends and use 100% Arabica coffee exclusively.

One thing that I found out about Bob very quickly is that he has a definite opinion about his espresso. "Espresso roast does not mean burnt; espresso roast means dark overtones with undertones of reddish brown, and depending on the bean, with oil showing on the bean. Espresso is a dark color but it is not burned! In New Orleans we use a roux as the basis for the recipes. The roux can be dark, but it should never be burned. As the roux cooks, it goes through many color changes, just like coffee. It goes from a very light color, to the color or of caramel, to dark. You have to cook it long enough to bring out the flavor, but no so long that it tastes charred. The same guideline applies to coffee."

He also prefers to blend his beans for espresso. "If you take two different beans roasted to the same dark color, they might both have deep, dark, but different tastes. One might have more body, and the other might have acidity. If you blend the two together, you get a more well-rounded taste."

Although he does prefer a blend of beans for espresso, Sturdivant, like Don Schoenholt, stresses that ally this year and its customers taste prefernces be your guide. He told me that their espresso poundage, especially blended espresso poundage, has increased dramatically this year and his customers seemed to prefer the dark roast blends using African and Indonesian coffees. "I try to blend for a good balance, always with a good African in the blend, a good Indonesian, and I am finding that adding Guatemalan adds body and aroma."

But according to Sturdivant, more critical than the color of the roast or blend of beans, is the freshness of the bean. "You are dealing with a dark roast with a very limited shelf life. Because the oils are on the outside of the beans, proper storage is critical, more so than with a bean that shows no oil. I would rather have a mediocre bean that is fresh than an exquisite bean that is stale."

From Cajun country I headed to espresso heaven, Seattle, Washington, and spoke with Bill Mohrweis, president of Veneto's Coffee. As anyone who has read a paper in the last year knows, Seattle is known for its espresso, and has more coffee carts serving espresso per capita than any other city in the U.S.

Mohrweis roasts primarily for one retail store, but what a retail store! He told me that "it has three, 3-group espresso machines but even at that, during peak hours we have a very hard time keeping up with demand. The store is doing over a million dollars a year, 60% of that is in espresso drinks, 10% is in brewed drip coffee and 30% is in whole bean. That doesn't sound like much but just our whole bean, over the counter coffee sales represent about 1000 pounds a week now. Espresso is our livelihood, we don't sell to restaurants, we're selling to consumers. In espresso drinks, we never do less than 1,500 drinks a day and we're fast approaching 2,000 drinks a day . . . all out of one location."

Mohrweis is an obviously successful retailer and he does credit his good location with a large measure of the success. He has also taken great pains to make the interior open, well lit and inviting. But after the location, he stresses the most important factors in operating a successful retail operation are the quality and consistency of the product time in and time out and the quality of the service. According to Mohrweis, the key to his success is "the quality of the product and the quality of the service, if you never lose sight of that, your business will continue to grow."

In his area, French Roast is their darkest roast and "Espresso Roast for most of us out here as we promote it, is our lightest of the dark roasts. On Espresso Roast I will take it one step further (than Full City Roast), and I am careful not to roast it too quickly, of course I don't want to bake it either. But it (the bean) will definitely take on a different color and you'll see traces of oil almost on the surface right as it is dropping out of the roaster, not quite but almosst. It will certainly oil up very quickly in the bin itself. But yet it will have a browner tint rather than the darker roast we call French."

Mohrweis does prefer a blend of beans for his espesso and judging by the number of espresso drinks he sells on an average day, so do his customers. "If you use high quality, Arabica coffees that are freshly roasted, it is very hard not to get a good crema. You hear people talking about fat content, and I believe that Indonesian coffee maybe because it is a softer bean, has a little higher fat content. I use a Sumatra Lintong in my blend to round it out and keep the body. In my blend I use one-half Costa Rican Tarrazu because I want the balance of the Tarrazu because I want the Costa Rican to be a very good blending coffee. I match that up with a one-fourth Colombian Supremo, usually a 17 or 18 screen, and I'll balance it off with a one-fourth Sumatra Lintong, which I find adds a lot of body to the blend.

Consistency is what he considers one of the most critical factors in producing good espresso. "The beautiful thing about espresso is that everybody can make their own statement with it. I think one of the most important things is to be consistent with that statement so your consumers know time in and time out, your product will taste the same. I think a big reason behind our success is even though I have 30 employees in this one store, we work real hard to go for consistency even though it creates a lot of headaches in training."

Mohrweis not only trains his employees how to make consistent espresso and espresso based coffee drinks, he trains them how to read the customers. If a customer walks into his coffeehouse for the first time and orders straight espresso without seeming to know what it is, his people can spot it. "What I find is that most of our consumers, and I am sure it is true across the nation, are not drinking straight espresso. Now some people do and love it, but with most consumers, you'll knock their shoes off if you give them straight espresso."

His method of intensive training may be very time consuming but I would like to hold it up as an example to other retailers as the right way to train employees. After all, there's no arguing with success.

From espresso heaven I headed south again to speak to Grant Heath of The Kaffeeklatsch in Huntsville, Alabama. Grant and his wife Kathy are owner/operators of the only coffeehouse in this city and have been in business, serving and roasting coffee since 1976.

Few people would have thought that this small operation could have survived in this Deep South city, much less prospered and grown. But it has survived, prospered and grown, especially during the last few years. "At one time I could only sell one dark roast and that has grown to three; Light French, Dark French and Espresso" according to Grant. "Right now I can keep all three with no problem and sales of all three have picked up considerably and where I used to do one volume of espresso in cups per day, I'm now doing four or five times that. A lot of those sales are in straight espresso which is surprising taste. It used to be that most of my business was in cappuccinos or other espresso drinks with fancy toppings. Now it seems that more of the business is people wanting the straight essence of the coffee with fewer toppings. I'm hearing more of `no toppings, no cinnamon, no nothing.'"

Heath roasts dark for espresso. "I roast extremely dark, darker than I like to roast it, just because of customer demand. It (espresso) has a little dark brown in it but not a whole lot."

He also encourages experimentation with blends to achieve just the right taste for espresso, "I vary what I like for espresso, I may use my straight French Roast or I will use a blend of Continental Roast, or light French Roast and French Roast. My Continental Roast is straight Kenya AA, the best I can get, and I roast it just a little over Full City. For my French Roast and Espresso Roast, I use one third past crop Brazil Santos, one third Kenya AA, one sixth Colombia Supremo and one sixth Costa Rican Tarrazu.

When I asked Heath what was the most critical factor in producing good espresso, he had no hesitation. "First and foremost, it is the quality of your blend, not just the different types of beans but the quality of each one. you can't make good espresso without good beans." He also had some good advice to people roasting and experimenting for the first time. "Never get stuck in your same blend because your beans may change and people's tastes may change. . .always keep experimenting and listen to what others have to say, if not, you might miss learning something.

The final brain I picked belonged to Leonor Gavina-Valls, vice president of Gavina Coffee in Vernon, California, right outside of Los Angeles. In my completely biased opinion, Gavina produces an espresso that is like nectar. Talking with Leonor was like talking with a walking encyclopedia of espresso and rightfully so, as they are third generation coffee roasters. Before coming to the U.S. from Cuba, the Gavina family roasted exclusively espresso.

Leonor is a member of the younger, third generation and she is very knowledgeable of the family tradition. this knowledge was very evident as she shared espresso information with me. "We do not roast our espresso as dark as many other companies do, we go a little bit darker than the Viennese Roast but not as dark as the Italian or French Roast. In our opinion, this color is the correct one for brewing a cup of espresso coffee."

"We do recommend a blend of different coffee beans, to us, the best would be a blend of Central and South American coffees. That would give the coffee a nice, sweet flavor, versus going with something like a Kenya or Sumatra that would give the coffee too much acidity for our tastes." She also feels that past crop coffee can enhance your espresso blend because it doesn't have as much acidity as a new crop bean, but she also says that good, past crop beans are not always that easy to find.

"The crema of the espresso has to do more with the grind than the blend of beans. The blend of beans is important but so is the grind; if it is too coarse, the coffee will just seep through without having the crema, if it is too fine, instead of the crema being nice and thick, it would be on the burned side."

When I asked Leonor if there was anything she would like to pass along to someone who was just starting out in the specialty coffee business, she echoed advice that I had heard from everyone I spoke with "they have to experiment. . . do something that they like, not just because somebody says that's how espresso should taste. They should experiment and taste the espresso because after all. . . you're supposed to enjoy it."

Five different people, five different sized operations, five areas of the country but one opinion . . .listen to your customers, don't be afraid to experiment, use the best quality beans you can find, take pride in your product, take pride in your work.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Words:2808
Previous Article:(Re)interpreting the West Coast landscape through espresso-colored glasses.
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