It is our first Christmas break in Gainesville, and we were not sure what to expect as far as how many customers would be sticking around town. Turns out, quite a few. We've been humming with activity around the shop. It's been great seeing the students bringing their parents to the shop, and faculty whom have only been able to stop by on weekends during the semester are able to spend mornings with the NYTimes crossword puzzle and a latte.
On the other hand, the hard-working Volta baristas have flown home for the winter holidays. With only three baristas in town for the rest of the week, we're keeping shortened hours:
Jan. 1: We're now back to regular hours.
Leading up to Christmas, keep in mind that Volta has many great holiday gift items to consider: amazing chocolates from around the world, coffees and teas from Intelligentsia, Hario Japanese tea pots, and Chemex coffee brewers.
Yeah, I know that sometimes you just can't make it in to Volta for your coffee. If you are going to make your coffee at home, you might as well use the coffee maker that is preferred by many, many baristas and roasters around the world: the Chemex brewer. Automated coffee brewers just don't have the temperature control to brew a proper cup. Many coffee pros like their French press, but I find the coffee to be on the gritty side and often poorly extracted. And I hate cleaning a French press. The Chemex is an elegant solution for home brewing: weigh and grind your coffee: ~36 grams for a 12oz cup. Pre-wet the filter. Put coffee in Chemex filter, and slowly add ~14 ounces of 205 degree (f) water. It takes slightly less time than a French press, and the resulting cup is both rich and clean. It's what I use at home, and it is also what we use at the shop whenever we get a new coffee in and want to have a reference cup when dialing in the Clover.
We now have the new, improved design of the Chemex in stock. Instead of the wooden collar (think 1970 Scan Design), the brewer has an integrated glass handle. The 6-cup brewer retails for $36. Pre-folded filters are now $8 for 100.
People have been asking about gift cards for months. I finally came up with a design and production process that I think reflects on Volta's sense of style, and the cards are available at $5, $10, and $25. Give the gift of good cheer, or at least excellent expresso or amazing chocolate.
Many of our best chocolates come from a local importer, Andrea Tosolini and his company Fruit of the Boot. It's quite an advantage to have a local connection, because you never know when Andrea will come bounding through the door with a box of new samples to try. A few weeks ago Andrea was particularly animated about a new find. He had just returned from the Turin, Italy, Salone del Gusto-- the primary Slow Foods movement show in Europe-- with samples from Cuorenero, a chocolate manufacturer from Bologna. Cuorenero is the sort of chocolate that we can totally geek out over: small batch bean-to-bar production from the highest quality cacao, processed with incredible precision, and blended with a mind-expanding array of flavors to produce distinctive chocolate bars. It doesn't hurt that they also have an eye for packaging and have created a luxurious presentation as refined as the chocolate inside the box.
Cuorenero starts by sourcing whole cacao from Caribbean and Latin sources. Their chocolate is produced only with finos, the finest cocoa varieties from the plantations of Latin America (Santo Domingo, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Antilles, etc.). Finos are the premium cocoa beans from the Trinitario or Criollo variety of cocoa trees; they constitute a niche market (4% with respect to the world production of cocoa). After fermentation, desiccation and roasting, the beans are ground in mills and converted into cocoa solids. A special extended production process (approximately 200 hours) produces an incredibly refined base for their creations. They only use cocoa solids in their production-- no cocoa powder is ever used-- and they have decided to not make any milk chocolate products. The factory is an "Allergen-Free Production Oasis" with no milk residues, no nut processing, and no GMO-tainted ingredients.
All of this info would just be marketing spin if the chocolates were not outstanding. But they are. And they are surprising, like 73% dark tablets wrapped with cured Kentucky tobacco. They have the aroma and taste of the finest pipe tobacco. Or a special line of dessert chocolates created to be savored like a fine liquor-- chocolate bars molded so that they encase a whole Madagascar vanilla bean or an entire cinnamon stick. The resulting chocolate is completely saturated with the flavors of the spices to a degree that is startling.
Other flavors include 76% dark with smoked figs, 73% with dried mango or blueberries, and a wonderful 70% with bee pollen. Cuorenero translates as "Black Heart;" what could be blacker than a 100% dark bar? The 100% dark Classic Blend bar is not for the weak of heart, and it certainly isn't for every taste. Think big flavor, like a single malt scotch or a slice of black truffle. It is a glimpse into a primal taste of chocolate that borders on illicit.
About a month after we opened, I was thrilled to see Satchel wander into Volta on a rather quiet Monday night. For those who are not from around Gainesville, Satchel is a true inspiration for anyone who wants to build an independent restaurant on their own terms. His pizza joint, Satchel's, breaks just about every rule: he took an isolated location at the edge of an industrial park on the "wrong" side of town, created a focused (i.e., limited) menu that avoided "popular" items that would have been a distraction in his small kitchen, built a worker-centric employment environment, and operates as a cash-only establishment. Oh, and he consistently cranks out the best damned pizza in Gainesville. In a town where the newspaper's business editor clearly promotes the idea that the only possible successful food establishments must be franchise chain stores located by the interstate on the west side of town, Satchel's is an unquestionable Gainesville success story. In other words, Satchel's is exactly the sort of independent, break-all-the-rules business that I studied when developing the approach for Volta. On the surface, our shops couldn't be more different-- Satchel's is a rambling, rough-hewn establishment with a strong home-made folk art vibe. But I like to think that we have parallels in a tight focus on our core products and an obsession with quality.
Anyway, I've been thrilled that Satchel and his wife (and many of his staff) have become regulars. He's said some very nice things about us on his blog, and he really seems to like a cup of coffee brewed on the Clover. Except he hated the cups. specifically, he really really hated the latte cups that we had been using for our brewed coffee. I rather liked the cups when we first got them, and I still love them for pouring lattes (where there's plenty of room for latte art and the foam keeps the coffee in the cup). I like the weight, and I prefer the wide cup because it envelops your face with the aroma of the brewed coffee and actually helps you to get a bigger appreciation of what's in the cup. But I don't have to walk with the cup, and every day we'd see people spilling too much coffee into the saucers on the way to the tables. And Satchel never liked how quickly the coffee cooled in the wide cup; he'd always request a second saucer to put on the top of the cup to keep it warm. Anyway, Satchel is the kind of person I'm going to pay attention to when he offers advice. His position on this issue was clear: get new cups for the brewed coffee. We listened. It took a month, but we finally located heavy white china cups that are large enough to hold a 12oz cup of coffee, leave room for cream, and not look like a bucket used for a monster-sized drink at some coffee chain. So, for Satchel's sake, we've swapped out all of our latte cups for the new, tall coffee mugs for all of our brewed coffees.
Public and Staff Coffee Cupping
Next public cupping: Saturday, 6 December 2008; 11am
The next Volta coffee cupping will be held this Satruday morning at 11 am. The pace of the new coffee releases has relaxed, so we're taking the opportunity to evaluate the Central Americans one last time before the onslaught of South American and African coffees kick up.
The cupping is free and open to the public. No prior experience (beyond a love of coffee) is necessary; we'll provide instructions and guide the cupping from start to finish. A cupping is a structured tasting that is used in the specialty coffee industry to evaluate the quality of specific coffees, both in the field before auction/purchase and at the point of roasting to determine the best roast level. We'll start by evaluating the dry and wet aromas of the coffees, then move on to the "slurp" to develop an evaluation of each coffee's taste. All we ask is that you refrain from wearing perfumes or other strong scents when cupping with us-- there's just so much that a nose can take in before the individual fragrances of the coffees are overwhelmed.
We also hold informal staff cuppings every Friday morning at 11am. The staff cuppings are for us to develop our baristas' understanding of the coffees that we serve; unlike the public cuppings, these will move at a much faster pace and with less emphasis on describing the cupping process. Anyone is welcome to attend the staff cuppings, but previous experience through one of the public cuppings is encouraged so that you are familiar with the process ahead of time.
For the December 5 ArtWalk, Volta will host the first solo show by photographer Keitha McCall. Keitha's photography is a natural extension of her love of travel. She won the 2007 Pentax Travel Photo Contest with a photo taken on a trip to Spain and Morocco. While she still travels extensively, taking her camera everywhere she goes, she realized that there are plenty of opportunities around her adopted hometown of Gainesville, Florida, particularly for macro work and landscapes. In May 2007, she began a project to take a self-portrait every day for a year. She is now in the midst of Year Two of this project.
ArtWalk takes place between 7 and 10pm.
If not power, how about a 20% discount on the first drink of the day for all card-carrying members of the UF Graduate Assistants United?
I like to think that Volta is the kind of place that graduate students at UF will want to seek out. As a former GA in the UF English program, I know that the GAU is the only organization that is looking out for the financial interests of grad student instructors in an increasingly hostile work environment. The GAU has been working hard for almost 40 years on behalf of UF's graduate student instructors; if you appreciate your tuition waver, thank the union. The only way for it to succeed is through member participation. For the few bucks a month that it takes to join the GAU, you have a solid group that has been fighting to preserve your pay, provide health insurance, and provide a slim line of protection against workplace abuses. If you frequent Volta and take advantage of your GAU discount, it will more than offset the cost of joining the union-- an incentive that I hope many will take advantage of.
Just show your GAU membership card to your barista when you order to receive your discount.
The good folks at Askinosie are experimenting again... Fresh off of the successful launch of their amazing white chocolate bar (which is almost pink with residual cocoa solids), they've ventured into the world of milk chocolates. Sort of. The new Soconusco Dark Milk Chocolate bar is 54% cocoa solids-- on the verge of a dark chocolate bar-- and it uses powdered goats' milk instead of cows' milk. The bar is finished off with a touch of fleur de sel, aka French sea salt. The resulting bar is absolutely unctuous-- last time I had something this luxuriously rich, it was the pork belly at WD50, in New York. And that's a good thing.
I'd recommend the Askinosie Soconusco Dark Milk Chocolate for any dark chocolate fan who thinks that there's no such thing as good milk chocolate, as well as for the milk chocolate fan who is trying to venture into the world beyond 41%.
Black as the devil,
hot as hell,
pure as an angel,
sweet as love.
The Volta staff is very excited close out the year with one final, great guest-espresso:Vancouver's 49th Parallel Roasters' Epic Espresso. Epic is a blend of coffees from Brazil, El Salvador and Ethiopia. This well crafted espresso displays wonderful balance and acidity. The shots are pulling incredibly creamy and very sweet with a lingering syrupy finish. Run by National and Regional Barista Champions Sammy and Vince Piccolo, along with their brother Mike, 49th Parallel is a new force in the North American coffee scene.
Thanks to a chance connection forged over a shared love of diving between people at both Volta and 49th Parallel, we have enough Epic Espresso to be able to offer it on the guest espresso grinder through the weekend. Sarah and Sam are loving the marzipan-spice notes of the Epic, finding a nice echo of the Coffee Collective espresso that we had over the summer. I'm currently enjoying an Epic cappuccino and think that it is just about perfect as a traditional capp. If you are going to try the Epic, I strongly suggest ordering a cappuccino, macchiato, or double espresso-- I'm sure that a latte will be great, but the extra milk will dull the delicate notes that we're finding in the smaller drinks.