Volta will be closing at 4pm this Sunday for staff development. We are very lucky to have Intelligentsia's Alexandra Switzer coming in from Chicago to work with our staff to help us become even more obsessive about pouring Gainesville's best espresso and coffee drinks. We'll resume regular store hours on Monday.
Volta's World Cupping series continues with round 4: Tanzania vs. Guatemala vs. Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua. The Central American coffees are launching a full-force attack on two-time winner Tanzania Edelweiss Estate. I'm afraid that our African champion has its work cut out for it: Guatemala has been the rising star of the specialty coffee world for the last decade, while Costa Rica has a strong local fan base. The proverbial 500lb gorilla is the Nicaraguan Limoncillo. This specific coffee is a micro-lot from the same farm that produced one of our previous winners, the Finca San Jose. Specifically, this lot of Limoncillo won second place in Nicaragua's Cup of Excellence competition. Retail price on the Limoncillo is $35. Per. Half. Pound. Yes, we're pitting a $70-a-pound, award-winning coffee against scrappy upstart Tanzania Edelweiss.
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.
Another tie-- or, actually, two ties! The Edelweiss (aka, the little coffee that could) held its own against the best coffees we could throw at it, but ended up tied for second. Once again, it stood out for its wine-like body and malty aftertaste, with fragrances noted as earthy, peppery, and smokey. Showing that it can stand up to the best coffees in the world, the Edelweiss tied with the Nicaraguan Lemoncello. The Lemoncello came to the Volta World Cupping with an outstanding record as the second place crop in the highly competitive Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence league. At $70 a pound, its value is on par with its quality. The Volta cuppers found bright aromas of roasted almonds and (in a rather specific descriptor) Queen Anne's Chocolate Covered Cherries.
First place was split between the Kenya Gaturiri Auction Lot coffee and the just-released Costa Rica Flecha Roja. The Kenya was easy to spot on the table if you were familiar with its syrupy tropical fruit flavors and spicy finish. The Costa Rican coffee was the real find of the day. Everyone raved about its toasty aroma, with many people picking out aromas of luscious pipe tobacco and cocoa butter. Its bright lemon-lime body and sweet & sour bite were wonderfully refreshing-- as coffee #5, it was clearly refreshing to find such a clean and bright coffee on the table.
We're out of the Gaturiri Auction Lot coffee for the season, and the Tanzania Edelweiss only has a few weeks left in the shop before it is retired for the season. We are sold out of Lemoncello but will have more in before classes begin. The Costa Rica Flecha Roja will be with us at the shop for at least another month.
We've succeeded on putting Gainesville (and Volta) on the map. More specifically, the Espresso Map. It's hard to express how happy this little turn of the web makes me. About a year ago, when we were first formulating the idea of opening a shop in Gainesville, we used www.espressomap.com to chart our way from San Francisco to Vancouver. It's a very discerning guide to excellent espresso across the US. From the site: "I add locations based on my own experience, insider consensus, or validation from competition-level baristi. Every cafe on this map should pour an excellent, sweet espresso, or perfectly textured milk-based espresso drink, every time, regardless of who's behind the counter." If you look at the map, you'll see that Volta has a very special place: we are the only shop listed in the entire southeast US south of Atlanta, from the Atlantic ocean to Austin, TX. I'm very proud of the work that all of our barista have put into building this sort of recognition for Volta after only a few short months of operation.
Wired Magazine just posted an informative video clip about the Clover. We are thrilled with how the Clover is working out for us at Volta for precisely the reasons that they cover here (except for the part about the Clover Equipment Company being bought out by Starbucks, and then Starbucks immediately taking the Clover off the market so that shops like Volta could no longer buy them):
Wired has now published one of the better articles about the Clover that I've seen in the mainstream press. In addition to detailed diagrams that illustrate how the Clover works, they interview Zander and the rest of the Clover development team about the brewer's development and future. The money quote, from a Starbucks' spokesperson:
After roughly six months of successful trials, Schultz proposed buying Clover's maker, the Coffee Equipment Company. "We thought Starbucks wanted to take us out on a few dates," Nosler says of the deal. "But they wanted to go steady." Michelle Gass, a senior VP of global strategy for Starbucks, is slightly less romantic: "Frankly, we just don't want anyone else to have it."
Here's where it starts getting interesting.
As we've said before on the Volta site, we're very excited to be working with Intelligentsia to bring amazing coffees to Gainesville. We strive, day in and day out, to do justice to every step of the supply chain: with our coffees, it is a collaborative effort that involves farmers, buyers, roasters, and eventually the Volta barista. We always strive to build a drink that honors and respects the work that has been necessary at every step from crop to cup. Working with Intelli makes the job a bit easier. Every month they surprise us with better, more complex coffees. If you think back to how much more sophisticated the coffees are than they were even a few years ago, it's hard to believe that we're drinking coffees from the same farms.
The key to producing better coffees? Get more money into the hands of the farmers to reward them for producing a superior crop. Sound easy? Forget it. The deck is stacked against the farmer. From out-of-control production costs (diesel, fertilizers, labor, transportation), the weakening dollar, and incredibly baroque local regulations and unfavorable financial arrangements, the cost of bringing top quality coffee to the US just keeps spiraling upwards-- and yet it seems that the farmers are always left out when it comes to sharing the wealth generated by their own crops. Intelligentsia strives to improve the quality of the lives of their partner-farmers (and thus the quality of the coffee produced.) Recent changes in the structure of the Kenyan coffee industry now allow Intelligentsia to purchase directly from the farmers and/or their cooperatives at their own negotiated price, thus skirting the previously-required nationalized auctions.
The Gaturiri Auction Lot coffee should be considered "direct trade in transition" in that it was purchased at auction from a farm that is finally able to build a direct trade relationship with Intelligentsia. Here's what Intelligentsia buyer Geoff Watts has to say about purchasing the coffee:
About half of what we purchased this year was purchased under Direct Trade principles with prices negotiated directly with the farming communities, full transparency in the chain, and quality rewarded with premiums. It is a significant step for us and for Kenyan farmers as it was not permitted under law to deal directly with farmers until about 22 months ago, and today the huge majority of coffee is still passing through the auctions.
We WANT TO BE AN EXAMPLE. We want to show Kenyan farmers what is possible and participate as leaders in the effort to re-engage farmers and introduce new expectations about transparency and commitment at the farm level. We want to earn the trust of the farmers and prove to them that pursuing a long-term, Direct Trade relationship with Intelligentsia is a great option for them. Based on lots of experience buying coffee in Kenya, it is my opinion that we've partnered with some of the best cooperative groups in the country, in the heart of what I consider to be the top growing region in Kenya.
There's nothing else like it in coffee. Kenyan coffee's uniquely flavorful profile is not merely upheld, but expounded upon in this year's crop, and it remains one of the most inspiring and recognizable of our offerings. Surfacing above the hearty wine-like body and grapefruit-inspired acidity are hints of peach, guava, apricot, mango, and a myriad of other ripe fruit nectars that resolve gracefully into a warm and clean finish of clove, cinnamon and sweet molasses. Its broad-ranging appeal is certain to excite the taste buds of both the adventuresome and casual sipper.
OK, so what about Volta?
The Gaturiri Auction Lot coffee retails for $28 a pound. Yes, that's a lot of money for a pound of coffee-- if you think about coffee in terms of Dunkin Donuts/big gulp commodity coffee. But the Gaturiri Auction Lot coffee is more Screaming Eagle cabernet sauvignon. The Clover provides us with a rare opportunity to offer one of the world's truly great coffees at a reasonable price: $4.25 per cup. We brought in a very limited amount of the coffee, roasted on 7/17. Depending on demand, it could last a few shifts or a few days; if you don't act quickly, though, you will not have a chance to sample one of the world's great coffees.
We have just added a few new items to the Volta menu...
First up, we are now serving a granola parfait with Junselle's Turkish Gold granola, fresh local blueberries, and your choice of organic yogurt, soy milk, or regular/skim milk. We're pleased to be offering a breakfast alternative to the buttery goodness of the 2nd St. pastries. Turkish Gold is a locally produced granola mix that is packed with vitamins, minerals and protein. It is coated with pure honey, flavored slightly with cinnamon and baked in the oven to enrich and enhance the blend. We're at the tail end of the local blueberry season, but we'll offer them for as long as we can find them out on the bushes. (This week's blueberries were harvested by our barista Kelly.) The granola and fresh fruit bowl is $4.50 with organic yogurt or organic soy milk, $4 with whole or skim milk.
Next, we have a new agua fresca on the menu: cucumber-chile-lime. It isn't as over-the-top as it sounds, and is actually very refreshing. It's a complete pain in the neck to make, so we're probably only going to carry it a few days a week. Keep an eye on the specials board to see if we have it ready to go the next time you are in the shop. Finally, we have a new source of Jamaica, so it is back on the board as our standard agua fresca.
Round 3 of our "world cup" head's up competition of coffee origin will be held at 11am on Sunday, 13 July.
Volta's World Cup is a competition to select which of Intelligentsia's coffee's we'll be featuring on the menu, as picked by our customers during weekly public cuppings. This week's cupping will be on Sunday, 13 July at 11am, and will feature the two top finishers from last week's cupping, Nicaragua Finca San Jose and Tanzania Edelweiss Estate, against Honduras La Tortuga.
Will the turtle come from behind to challenge the Nicaraguan and Tanzanian champions, or will the contender be left in the dust by our reigning champs? Join us for the free cupping event and help us pick our coffees for the summer. We have more information about our cuppings on the special events page.
Another tie (sort of)!
In last week's cupping, we had a split decision between the Tanzania Edelweiss Estate and the Nicaragua Finca San Jose. For today's cupping we pitted the pair from last week against Honduras La Tortuga and a complete dark horse: an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe that we roasted in-store. (Note-- Volta isn't getting into the roasting business. We have a small Hearthware roaster that can produce enough for two Clovered cups at a time. I picked up the Yirg so that we could show customers the roasting process and to allow the staff to sample different origins that might not be available from Intelligentsia.)
When the dust settled, the winner was... the Yirg! Ok, so it wasn't an entirely fair fight. I thought I did a pretty good job of finding an optimal roast setting on the Ethiopian coffee, and it was a very classic Yirg-- but it was so different from all of the other coffees on the table that it really stood out in a way that skewed the results. With ten people who had never cupped before, it was easy to pick out the one really distinctive coffee while overlooking the more subtle characteristics of the others. If we scratch the Yirg from the results, we end up with... another tie between Finca San Jose and Edelweiss Estate.
La Tortuga took it on the chin today. It was my second favorite (after the Edelweiss), and it was also Satchel's second favorite (after the Finca San Jose). We'll keep it in stock for at least two weeks, but it has stiff competition on the horizon: Costa Rica Flecha Roja, El Salvador Los Inmortales, Nicaragua Flor Azul, and a reserve-quality Kenyan are all to be released in the next few weeks. We'll post the next cupping match-up as soon as release dates are finalized.
We take the quality of water used in the shop very seriously here at Volta. Both coffee and tea are 98+% water, and without amazing water we would not be able to make the espresso or oolong taste as good as it does. We are lucky here in Gainesville because we have some of the best water in the world literally under our feet. The city's Murphree well field draws our water from the edge of the confined aquifer under the Cody Scarp-- or, basically, the same exact water that is sold back to the citizens of the US as bottled spring water. The city utility treats the water in the typical ways with chlorine and a slight softening, but what we get out of the tap for next to nothing is the same water that people pay for when they buy AquaPenn bottled water from the Ginnie Springs Danone/Coke plant.
Before starting Volta, I spent a big chunk of my time documenting the slow-motion catastrophe that is the destruction of Florida's springs. As a business owner, I feel compelled to do everything possible to make sure that Volta has a minimal impact on our community's fragile ecosystems. We installed a Cirqua filtration system to custom-mix water for our coffee and tea production; city water is both filtered to remove chlorine and a portion is run through reverse-osmosis processing before being re-mixed for optimal harness and pH. The filtered water is also diverted to the ice machine, while the mixed water is on tap for our drinking water.
With water this good on tap, we see no reason to offer bottled water for sale. That's why Volta was proud to be among the first businesses to sign the "take back the tap" pledge put forward by Food and Water Watch. Bottled water places an undue strain on our immediate community-- it isn't just the pollution of billions of bottles around the world, or the wasted energy to (needlessly) transport drinking water to communities with perfectly good water. It is the horrible truth that our Floridan aquifer is under unrelenting pressures that will lead widespread damage; we need to take every possible action necessary to lessen our impact. It starts with a few people and a handful of businesses, but we must take a stand against the relentless stress placed upon our aquifer by poor growth management and expedient consumer choices.
Round 2 of our "world cup" head's up competition of coffee origin will be held at 11am on Saturday, 5 July.
Volta's World Cup is a competition to select which of Intelligentsia's coffee's we'll be featuring on the menu, as picked by our customers during weekly public cuppings. This week's cupping will be on Saturday, 5 July at 11am, and will feature Nicaragua's 2nd entry vs. Colombia vs. Tanzania. Colombia's Tres Santos is coming off a win in our first cupping. It will be going up against a new crop from Nicaragua's Finca San Jose (first time featured as an Intelligentsia offering) and the much-anticipated Tanzania Edelweiss Finalgro Estate. Will the new crop from Africa knock the South American favorite out of first place, or will the underdog Nicaraguan pull off an upset? Join us for the free cupping event and help us pick our coffees for the summer. We have more information about our cuppings on the special events page.
I'm about half way through Michaele Weissman's new book God In A Cup, which chronicles the rise of direct trade coffee relations in general and specifically the roles played by Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, and Stumptown. At times the prose it too clever for its own good (i.e., song titles and lyrics are worked into descriptions of people and situations), but overall it does a solid job of describing the work that goes into delivering a coffee like the Nicaragua Los Delerios to market. The book has flown pretty much under the radar (unless you are in the coffee trade). As one of our customers pointed out this morning, Salon.com has a new interview is Weissman up that is worth reading. There's also an extended audio interview with her over on the coffeegeek.com website.