true's blog

Putting Volta On The Map

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 On Clover

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):

Update

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."

One Spectacular Kenyan

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.

New menu items

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.

World Cupping, Round 3: Sunday, 11am

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.

Update

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.

Take Back The Tap!

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.

Next World Cupping Event: Saturday, 5 July, 11am

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.

God In A Cup

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.

Public coffee cupping, Sunday @ 3pm

With an onslaught of new coffees about to be released by our roaster, we've cooked up a coffee cup-off to pick what we'll be featuring on Volta's daily coffee menu. Think of it as a world cup head's up competition of coffee origin, where you are the winner because we'll be featuring the coffees picked by our customers as the best-of-lot. This week's cupping will be on Sunday, 29 June, at 3pm and will feature Nicaragua vs. Colombia vs. Panama. We have more information about our cuppings on the special events page.

Update

We had eleven people turn out on a blustry Sunday afternoon for the cupping. Third place in the cupping: Panama El Machete, with two votes for best-on-the-table. Everyone liked the cured tobacco, fig, and orange peel that turned up in the fragrance/aroma section of the cupping, but El Machete's assertive sharpness and winey, off-sour finish wasn't what the day's cuppers were looking for.

Second place, with three votes: Nicaragua Los Delirios. Everyone liked the thick body and the walnut-spice aroma, but today's Los Delirios exhibited a slightly dry, smokey aftertaste that people either loved or hated. Among the three who place it at the top, it was by far the most complex and interesting coffee on the table.

And the winner of the first round of Volta's World Cupping with a tally of six first-place votes: Colombia Tres Santos, from Huila. On the fragrance and aroma section of the cupping, we found hints of dried flowers, lime custard, and hot sweet bread. When it came to the slurp, everyone was knocked out by the green apple tart flush at first taste, the lingering bright, ripe sweetness, and the slightly leathery/woody notes of the off-dry finish.

The Tres Santos will go head-to-head with the Nicaragua Finca San Jose and the Tanzania Edelweiss Finagro Estate in next Sunday's cupping.

New Coffee: Los Delirios, Nicaragua

Our customers often ask me why we decided to partner with Intelligentsia and not a regional roaster. For me, it comes down to two reasons: the quality of the coffee and the positive impact that Intelligentsia has on its partner-farmers. Intelligentsia doesn't try to stock coffees from every possible growing region year-round. Instead, they stress freshness of crop (by not warehousing large amounts of last year's crop) and care in mastering the roasting of a few coffees at a time. It can be maddening at times; just when we dialed in the Panama El Machete we discover that they only brought in 50-some bags and are already sold out for the year (but not before we picked up one more order for ourselves-- we'll have it for at least another ten days). As one of our customers said, at Volta you have to learn to practice Buddhist non-attachment: just as you come to love a specific coffee, you have to let it go to make way for the next experience.

Los Delirios is exactly the sort of coffee that shows Intelligentsia at its best. It is one of those coffees that has a great story behind it. The coffee is the product of the work of the families of Daniel, Milton, and Donald Canales in the Nicaraguan town of Jinotega. Intelligentsia's Geoff Watt's explains the history behind the coffee:

Los Delirios comes with quite a pedigree, hard-earned through a particular focus on details at the farm and a visible dedication to continuous improvement of the farm infrastructure. Our first experience with this farm was in 2004 when it took first place in the Cup of Excellence competition, making history by becoming the first certified organic coffee to win a CoE event. It was a victory for organic coffees worldwide as there has long been a misconception within the industry that organic coffees are not quite of the same caliber as traditionally grown beans when it comes to cup quality. I had the fortune of being on the jury for that competition and remember well the excitement in the room when Los Delirios was announced as the top prize winner. It was completely electric, just like the coffee itself.

In addition to the coffees from Los Delirios, we also purchase coffee from the El Eden group whose members include three of Sr. Canales’s sons: Norman, Donald, and Milton. Each of the three manages his own small farm adjacent to Los Delirios. These farms were originally part of Los Delirios but were recently given their own names, and what we sell as Los Delirios is actually a combination of the best tasting coffees from the whole family and some close neighbors with whom they collaborate in El Eden. This year’s version is made up of coffees from La Florida (Sr. Benedicto Gonzales, member of the El Eden cooperative) and Las Termopilas (Milton Canales). The coffee is milled nearby by Prodecoop, one of the first coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua to really establish a quality reputation in the Specialty market. Their operation is gorgeous, and their success has made them a model for other cooperatives to follow.

Here's how the QC crew at Intelligentsia describes Los Delirios: Los Delirios ardently welcomes you with its buoyant acidity and creamy mouthfeel. Hints of honey dot across the palate as caramel and almond persist throughout. As the cup blossoms, snippets of fruit surface adding complexity to its clean body. Melted milk chocolate and fudge emerge in the finish lending to an overall impression of remarkable approachability and poise.

When we cupped the coffee today with our staff and customers, here's what ended up on the board: Fragrance/aroma of sweet orange, cedar, hickory, and roasted peanut shell; medium-high body; tastes of blood orange caramels, red grape, tobacco, and a pleasingly bitter aftertaste that gives a nice bite to the roundness of the flavors. The coffee sweetens as it cools, and a splash of cream brings out the fruit flavors.

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