Ecco Caffe's Sidama Shilcho
This season's coffees from Ecco Caffè just keep getting better and better. Case in point: Ecco's roast of the organic Ethiopia Dara Sidama Shilcho. We knew that this coffee was going to be a superstar from the first time we cupped it two Thursdays ago (at our Volta public cupping!). The Shilcho has a malty sweetness when freshly ground, with notes of macadamia, plum, and coconut milk in the aroma. The coffee has a pleasing sweetness that is countered by an unmistakable grapefruit zest acidity. As the coffee cools, it offers distinct flavors of candied orange and lemon, with a nice rich fig finish. Speaking to the collaborative effort to bring this coffee to market, Ecco says "Shilcho, which roughly translates to “good taste”, belongs to the larger Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU). Formed in 2001, the SCFCU provides export services through the Direct Specialty Trade window of the Ethiopia Commodities Exchange, as well as credit support, technical assistance, certification management, and other social services for the 2,200 farmer members." We've found that it best performs when brewed with the Chemex.
Ecco Caffe's Guatemala El Tambor Espresso
Unleash your inner coffee geek by exploring the many ways that Ecco's Guatemala El Tambor expresses itself as it is brewed via different methods. We're loving the silky-but-substantial way it brews on the Clover; you can also ask to have it brewed on the Chemex to bring out more of its grapey acidity. Once you've tried it as a brewed coffee, move over to try it as our featured single origin espresso. Ecco provides a slightly different roast of the coffee for use as an espresso. We're enjoying learning how this coffee changes as it ages-- just off roast, it is bright and full of light florals that are best experienced as a straight shot. As the coffee rests for a few days we're finding amazing malty chocolate notes, but with fruit notes that are very similar to some of the very fruity single origin chocolates from Askinosie. Seven days off roast, it's the base for the perfect fall cappuccino as the spicy aromatics come to the front.
As an espresso, this coffee’s layered sugars transform into the velvety body that hold aloft notes cinnamon, baked pear and stone fruit. Illuminated by the balanced citrus acidity, this espresso lingers sweetly on the palate.
...and here again: Ecco at Volta. This month marks the one year anniversary since Volta introduced Ecco Caffe coffees to Gainesville. To mark the occasion, we've switched up to menu to feature an all-Ecco line-up. We couldn't have picked a better time, as Ecco is currently offering both the last of the summer season's stellar crop of Central American coffees and an amazing selection of the best African coffees now coming into season.
Although Ecco is part of the Intelligentsia family, the Sonoma-based headquarters maintains the flexibility of a smaller, independent roaster. Take their current offering from Costa Rica's Coope Dota: not only have we been offering the Coope Dota as a brewed coffee via the Clover and Chemex, but the roasters offered to hand-craft a batch for Volta especially for us to offer as an espresso. For the last ten days, Volta's customer's have been able to enjoy espressos and cappuccinos that were made with coffee as close as possible to that used by Michael Phillips to win the World Barista Championship. Although from a slightly later harvest, the Coope Dota espresso that we offered from Ecco "would likely be the same varietals, similar elevations (within 300 meters or so), tended by the same agronomists, grown in the same micro climate, and processed at the same mill" as Mike's coffee. That's close enough for us, and the results won over our customers.
Costa Rica Coope Dota
The Coope Dota cooperative was founded in 1960 and has grown to 769 farmers. The Ecco team has been directly working with the cooperative for the past four years. Coope Dota's immaculate processing mills are nestled in the hills of the prominent Tarrazu growing region.
This year has certainly proven that the care put into the crop by the farmers results in a better coffee: Coope Dota's coffee was used by Michael Phillips to win both the US and World Barista Championships, and it is the coffee used in Intelligentsia's Flecha Roja project. Although the Flecha Roja is always a favorite at Volta, we are actually more fond of Ecco's approach to the coffee this year. From our own cupping notes, we are finding the Dota to be a medium-bodied coffee with a persistent acidity, like a clove-studded orange peel. The coffee has a plum sweetness layered with toasted walnut notes, with a plush, lingering finish of dark caramel.
Guatemala El Tambor
El Tambor means ‘the drum’, and refers to the sound of water rumbling over an historical underground waterfall on this 450-acre farm. Founded in 1930 as a cattle ranch, coffee was planted starting in 1966. Mining was active on the farm until Victor Calderon successfully challenged the mining company and ceased mining activities. Most of the farm is old Bourbon, Typica and Caturra coffee plants, and broad swaths of land are maintained as natural forest. Honey and avocados are produced, and 10% of the farm is set aside for the farm’s workers to plant food crops such as black beans and corn.
Ecco's cupping notes: this coffee is saturated in sugars: praline, maple, fig, pear and stone fruit. Elegant floral notes reward your patience as this coffee cools, revealing white grape acidity and a sparkling, almost effervescent finish of honey and cinnamon sugar. To that, we'd add that the El Tambor has one of the heaviest bodies of our current offerings, with a finish that is both peppery and oaky.
Honduras Finca La Tina
Ecco's roast of Finca La Tina's coffee is now the fourth iteration of coffee from this model farm that we've featured on the Volta menu this summer. Intelligentsia's La Tortuga was offered as both a brewed coffee and, on occasion, as a single origin espresso through most of the summer. Last month we offered the Isabella micro-lot, certainly one of the most delicate and floral Central American coffees that we saw this year. Now we have Ecco's offering from the farms of Don Fabio Caballero and Moises Herrera.
Finca La Tina is a local landmark of the Mogola region and boasts heirloom varietals of great genetic purity. The Caballero family is innovative and hardworking, investing each year in quality improvement measures, as well as social and environmental projects. For example, by building their own wet mill, they have direct control over coffee quality from growing, to picking, to dry parchment.
Volta cupping notes: Ecco's Finca La Tina, brewed on the Clover, is a mellow medium-bodied coffee with a pleasing acidity and sweetness of fresh pomegranates. It has a crisp finish with a touch of cashew oil.
Current espresso offering: Ecco Espresso
A wonderful video from my friend Ben (and his friend Jake) illustrating the syphon brewing process.
We are currently offering Intelligentsia's Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Adado brewed on the syphon as a special limited edition coffee.
The return of UF’s MFA poetry & fiction reading series: Thursday 9 September, 8pm. Then they will continue every other week (Sept. 23, Oct. 7 and 21, Nov. 4 and 18) through the end of the semester, restarting again in the spring.
I often get asked how I can spend so much time working around Volta. Truth is, I look forward to spending my days with so many creative people both behind and in front of the bar. Books are being written, businesses are being started, plans are being hatched. We argue politics with friends and plot extravagant desserts for the case. There are always coffees to be cupped, cappuccinos to enjoy, and new tea samples to evaluate.
We have a flow of information about the shop on our Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Flickr pool, but those posts tend to focus on new coffee or bakery items offered or scheduled events. They lack a sense of life around the shop. I wanted a place where we could post about the ephemera of Volta-- the latte art pours that were particularly nice, the way a slice of pie pairs with a brewed coffee, the ad hoc public defenders meeting in the cupping corner. Now there's a tumblr account for that. Voltacoffee.tumblr.com is where staff can upload daily photos and observations that don't really fit on this page or the social networking sites. It's only been up a week and it is already shaping up to be an interesting visual diary.
Gainesville's first Pecha Kucha Night will be hosted at Volta next Friday (8/13/10), 8:13pm. The Gainesville Sun has a nice write-up about the event online, and we also have additional information over at Volta's Facebook event page.
Thanks go out to Christina Kull for the organizational skills required for getting this event off the ground.
Cupping, or the formalized evaluation of coffee from fragrance through taste, has been a part of Volta's staff training and customer experience from our first days as a shop. Admittedly, what we practice at Volta is a streamlined version of cupping final production coffees. Traditionally, cupping has been an essential part of the coffee industry from the green buying process through roasting. Coffee professionals cup first to make sure that they are not buying damaged, defective, or sub-quality lots in the field, or else cup to score quality to set a purchase price. Roasters cup to make sure that they are finding the optimal roast levels for each lot. Since we don't roast our buy green coffee-- and we trust Intelligentsia, Ecco, and our other roasters to send us amazing coffees-- we don't need to cup for any of the traditional reasons. We expect the coffees to arrive without defect and roasted to coax out the nuances in the cup. I've even heard friends in the buying/roasting side of the industry argue that shops shouldn't bother with cupping at the retail level-- that cupping for customers only confuses or intimidates consumers, or that cupping requires an acquired set of skills to be developed so that a coffee can be properly scored to industry standards, and that consumer cuppings are a shabby simulacra without any real value. They'll argue that retailers would be better off with a guided tasting of brewed coffee instead of following the cupping protocol.
Here at Volta, we're taking a stand: weekly public coffee cupping are an essential part of our strategy to introduce in-season, exceptional coffees to Gainesville.
Volta's weekly cuppings, organized by Natalie Suwanprakorn and Sarah West, have evolved into an ongoing discussion between staff and customers as they refine their sensory skills and develop the vocabulary for understanding the complexities of coffee. Gainesville is incredibly rich with intellectual and cultural diversity, and the crowd around the cupping table always brings new and unexpected insight as we develop our abilities to discuss terroir, coffee varieties, differences in processing, and nuances of flavor and fragrance/aroma. Customers cupping for the first time often experience epiphanies as they begin to untangle how sensations of acidity can build sweetness in the cup, or begin to understand why a natural Sumatra or Ethiopian doesn't taste like a washed Colombian or Kenyan. We have customers who have cupped with us for several years now and have wonderfully sophisticated observations to bring to the table. Volta's baristas are cupping all the time-- when new coffees or samples arrive, or when we need to calibrate a formula for the Clover-- and will tell you that focused cuppings have a more subtle impact on their lives: that it forces them to think critically about flavors in a way that spills over into their enjoyment of everything they eat or drink. It really makes perfect sense. Coffees are incredibly complex. They have a range of acids that can mimic a very wide range of fruits, and the roasting process develops complex sugars that echo everything from grains to candies. Certain coffees are rich with umami characteristics. To understand coffee you need to develop your palate in a way that will increase your enjoyment of so much else that you eat and drink.
Oh, and I should mention that the cuppings are also fun, in a slightly geeky/nerdy way. The enthusiasm that Sarah and Natalie bring to the discussion of coffee is infectious. They love to be surprised by a new coffee that they have never tried before. Above all else, they seem to love talking about flavors, and the way that different people can taste the same coffees and have radically different perceptions.
Volta's free public cuppings are held every Thursday afternoon at 2pm. No reservations are required; just come by the shop a few minutes early to get a seat at the cupping table.
Back in the spring of 2008, Alexandra C. Wright was one of the first people to respond to a rather quirky job posting for Volta in the UF student newspaper. I remember that during our interview we had to deal with the dust and noise of the construction crew as they worked on the last of the final punch list, about three weeks before we were to open. When we hired Alexandra, she had never worked foodservice before. At least we had that in common. It would be a week before the GB5 was set up and we could begin to learn how to pull shots. I don't think that Aly knew what she was getting herself into at the time; I doubt that she'd ever had a properly brewed cup of single-farm coffee or a traditional cappuccino.
In her own quiet way, Alexandra took up the task of helping us build Volta's work ethic and our approach to coffee prep and service. Through trainings, cuppings, and endless days of pulling shots while puzzling over the black art of espresso, I realized that as Aly figured everything out, we would have no problem building an amazing staff out of people with no previous experience in the art of the barista. In those early days we most definitely pulled more shots for each other in training than we ever served to customers. Working together with Aly, I began to systematize our training. Within a year, Aly was our lead barista. You can thank her if you've ever enjoyed your drink at Volta-- she has been key in training everyone who has worked here.
After two and a half years with us, Aly has made the leap to the other coast to open her horizons to new experiences. Her last shift behind the bar was last Wednesday. Everyone at the shop will obviously miss her, but it's also hard not to be jealous that she'll be in an environment so rich in coffee and espresso culture while we continue our work to build something from scratch here in Gainesville.
To quote the Wreckless Eric record that she'd taken to playing in the shop over the last few months, if you see that girl out there in the world, please be nice to her.
20X20: 20 images x 20 seconds
PechaKucha Nights are informal and fun gatherings where creative people get together and share their ideas, works, thoughts, holiday snaps - just about anything really, in the PechaKucha 20x20 format.
PechaKucha presentations uncover the unexpected, unexpected talent, unexpected ideas within a community. Some PechaKuchas tell great stories about a project or a trip. Some are incredibly personal, some are incredibly funny, but all are very different.
Volta will be hosting Gainesville's first PechaKucha Night on 13 August 2010. Download the flyer to find out how you can get involved with PechaKucha. We are now looking for presenters for the first night. The format is open to anyone with a creative concept to present to the community: architects, designers, programmers, artists, storytellers, photographers, activists, theorists, engineers, cooks, musicians...
To find out more about how PechaKucha works (and to see examples of presentations from PKNs around the world), check out the official website.
PechaKucha Night - devised and shared by Klein Dytham architecture