Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Brew Matters

Why, hello, I don't think we've met before ...
Why, I'm espresso. I'm in every coffee shop you've been in.
No, that's a bitter, harsh drink. That's not you. You're strong but smooth. And what a delicious crema you have on ....

On Monday night, Foodgoat & I trekked over to the Phoenix Coffee roastery for their Brew Matters seminar. We pulled into a dark, hidden parking lot, rang a shrill doorbell on an nondescript building, and walked into ... ahhhhhhh. Smells so yummy! We were walked through the roastery, which was just a room with bags and bags of coffee beans, enveloped by the delightful aromas of roasted coffee and freshly brewed coffee. Mmmm!

Phoenix Coffee is owned by the same guy who started the Arabica Coffeehouses in Cleveland 30 years ago. This is more import to Foodgoat, for whom the Coventry Arabica looms large as an icon of his youth. He still mourns the closing of the Coventry cafe and overall decline of Arabica since its acquisition by new owners.

Anyway, armed with an espresso cup, a bottle of water, and a helpful guidebook to 5 different coffee brewing methods, we went around the room to try Columbian coffee brewed 5 different ways by Phoenix baristas. First up, the French press, the method we use at home, and still the best way to brew coffee in my opinion - it's not only very easy, but a breeze to clean up and you're quite able to control all the variables. One thing that did surprise me - the amount of coffee he used. It looked like a full half a cup - quite a bit more than what we use, which is quite a bit more than what other people usally use.

Next was the Neopolitan style, which I'd never heard, and which I'm unlikely to ever try a home, as it seemed complicated, messy, and while it was strong and fine, it didn't taste all that much different from other methods. Something that requires flipping a container of boiling water is not something I need to try, considering I routinely trip on things that aren't there.

Then there was the stovetop espresso, which inspired the above passage. I know I've had straight-up espresso before, but it never impressed as this one did. Usually if I get an espresso drink, it's eased in with milk and chocolate, but this method didn't need any of that. The barista made a crema with a spoonful of sugar, and that added a lovely touch of sweetness that made it even more delicious. Now I must to get one of those stovetop things.

Next was the pressure brewed espresso, from the steam-making machines such as they have at coffee shops these days. Instead of pouring out samples, they gave us a bare drop to taste using a tiny straw. Considering that there were only 4 of us in the group, they could have poured some out so we could really taste it, but whatever. Still, I did learn that the machine requires a certain level of artistry, which might further explain why the coffee made at the coffee stand at work stinks.

On to automatic drip brewed coffee, where we learned about the golden cup, and more importantly, got to tour the roastery. Of great interest to me: the garbage can full of roasted coffee bean shell, which they just chuck, and yet is still perfectly good for composting and mulching.

Last but not least ... the vacuum pot, which wins the prize for the method that is the most fun to watch (and used to great comic effect by Kate Hepburn in Woman of the Year). Foodgoat and I agreed: WE NEED THIS, if only for when company comes over.

Overall, a fun experience in which I learned a lot. None of the Phoenix's are conveniently located to me, especially since the one in University Circle closed, but Phoenix employees clearly know what they are doing (at least with coffee ... I've been mightily disappointed in their bubble tea though), so I'll certainly head there much sooner than I would to Starbuck's.

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