Friday, January 15

Work week

One week at the new job. It is a fairly small shop, only takes one person behind the counter most hours. SIU starts up classes next week, which, I'm told, will be a whole different beast. We'll see.

As was assumed, there are huge differences between this shop and past shops. Not all bad, but so far I see contradictions is what they are telling me is important. I'm asking questions to gain as much clarification as possible, but for some things there aren't any answers. Thankfully, the owner has welcomed any and all conversation about things that come up.

( Coffee mumbojumbo follows)

For instance, when steaming a pitcher of milk, there are many different methods, temperatures, and textures that coffee shops make their drinks with. Tools can differ, with small 20 oz pitchers that typically make one drink at a time, or huge 1 Liter steaming pitcher for multiple drinks. Some shops steam their milk to 140 degrees. Others, as hot as 170. Every shop has a "right" way of doing things. Every shop has to think about how their techniques will be transferred to new employees so their drinks are consistent, and their patrons are satisfied.

The current shop I'm at uses the large 1 liter steaming pitchers. In the back, I found one small, 20 oz milk pitcher, which they call "the latte art pitcher." They don't do latte art, so no one has a reason to use it. I got the ok to bring it out to bar when I was working.

I was steaming a pitcher of milk for a single drink order with Jason, the owner, at the register chatting with the regular. When the transaction was done, Jason came over and we talked about steaming technique.

I don't use a thermometer (unless there is a specific temperature that a drink should be at). I have tempered my hand, knowing that I can hold the pitcher until it reaches 120 degrees, then I count for 4 seconds, and it reaches the desired 140 degrees, a temperature that makes the natural sweetness in the milk bloom, and allows the drinker immediate access to enjoying the beverage without having their body scalded or maimed.

Jason was trained to steam milk by sound. He said he knows when it reaches his desired temperate of 160-165 when the milk tone takes a dip to a lower pitch. I asked him to explain it while showing me. He did. I heard the tone shift. I asked about the consistency of the tone when either more or less air was added to the pitcher. He said it didn't matter, the tone would still shift at the desired temperate. I asked if he was willing to run an experiment, and he agreed.

I steamed a pitcher my way, and then took a thermometer reading when I was done. It was at 140. I asked Jason to steam a pitcher his way, to see if it was indeed where he said it would be. It was at 140. I asked him to do it again. It was at 150. I asked him to do it again. It was at 155. After the first pitcher of milk he steamed, he was shocked. He didn't realize he was so "uncalibrated." I asked him if his drinks were supposed to be served at the tone drop, or at 165 degrees. He said he was going to have to think about all of this and he would get back to me.

All of this was in good spirits. At the end, he was really excited to "have someone in the shop who thinks about these types of things." The current crew is great, just from a different coffee world. Everyone I've met has been warm and welcoming, and really excited.

(End of mumjum)

I asked Jason if he'd be up for a road trip to Milwaukee this March for those that wanted to watch the Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition. He got really excited and said he would think about who would be a good candidate to go.

What I appreciate about Jason, is he is passionate about giving his community a quality product, and to the best of his knowledge, he is offering that. He has acknowledged that he doesn't know a lot outside of the Crimson Cup philosophy (the company that helped him start four years ago, and who we still receive our beans through) and is open to hearing and changing things that would make his shop better. And really, there isn't much more that I could ask for from a boss. He doesn't see me as a threat. He doesn't see me as an upstart that wants to alienate his customers or cheat him.

Overall the shop is wonderful.

I have made, what seems like, reams of notes about what I would want in my shop, and what I will avoid. Even with that bit of info, this job has been worth it. One thing I will investigate more, is their delivery option. A coffee shop that has found a way to do delivery? Are their drinks good by the time they get to their destination? Are the hot drinks hot? Are the cold drinks diluted puddles of coffeedwater? Has the whipped cream deflated? Things I'll find out.

I'm really glad to be back in coffee, going through the gauntlet of proving to regulars that I'll make their drinks (better), and proving to staff that I'll be a great boss to work with. It's weird to think that when I leave this job, I'll be moving again, but that is three semesters away.


  1. Science is awesome! People who don't get offended by science are comparably awesome!

  2. i love the coffee talk!
    i hope they continue to see your coffee brilliance :)

    also, in more sad news, the GLRBC overlaps with nationals for me in OKC, so i can't go watch the action!!! :(


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