While we were keeping our eyes on the Chemex bloom, trying to make the best drinks that we can for Gainesville, Imbibe magazine decided to honor Volta with a selection as one of the "100 Best Places to Drink in the South."
Let's just say that we are honored to be recognized along with some of our favorite cafes, beer bars, and cocktail mixologists from the region. And we're very pleased to represent Gainesville (and Florida) among the cafes. If only Alcove had been recognized for its beer...
It's great that the editors chose to mention our single-origin hot chocolates; while our brewed coffee and espresso drinks are always crafted to the highest standards, you just don't find many other shops anywhere in the country offering something as striking as the Askinosie 77% Davao Philippines Trinitario drink currently on the menu.
Indulge me while I get the bragging out of the way: I'm very proud that for the second year in a row one of the staff from Volta has taken up the challenge of representing Volta in the US Southeast Regional Barista Competition. Back in December Ambria decided that she'd like to give the competition a try. At the time, we didn't know when (or where) the SE regional would be held. Ambria wasn't even sure if she'd want to compete at the national level. To see if competition was for her, she decided to test her skills at an internal wholesale account competition staged by Intelligentsia (our primary roaster); instead of having its own staff compete this year, Intelligentsia had decided to throw its resources behind staging a practice competition for the benefit of its wholesale clients. The top three accounts would have an incredible amount of support from Intelligentsia: practice and competition coffee, direct access to the company's top trainers and roasters, and personal training with two former World Barista champions.
Back in January, Ambria and Anthony both flew up to Chicago to take part in the competition. Ambria would be using Ecco Caffe's El Ausol espresso, from El Salvador, while Anthony based his competition routine on Ecco's roast of a Colombian coffee from Finca Santuario (a bourbon from the Micay lot). In all honesty, we didn't know what to expect from the iWBC (Intelligentsia Wholesale Barista Competition). Team Volta was competing on a shoestring-- to keep the cost down, we were taking Intelligentsia up on the offer of being able to borrow much of the glass and prep wares necessary to compete. While we might have gone into the competition with a bare-bones set-up, Intelligentsia surprised everybody by staging an event that, in many ways, upstaged the national regional barista competitions. The day before the event, each competitor received practice time with one of Intelligentsia's educators, managers, or former barista champions. The event itself was indistinguishable from a national barista competition. The quality of judging was sterling. The SCAA's Marcus Boni was a tech judge. WBC/USBC sensory judge Loni Peterson was a head judge. Sensory judges included world champion Stephen Morrissey and US champion Kyle Glanville.
Given that Ambria had never even seen a barista competition before (and had only been working as a barista at Volta for ten months), she was a true unknown going up against the best baristas from Intelligentsia wholesale accounts coast-to-coast, including people who had been competing at the USBC level for several years. We shouldn't have wondered if her inexperience at competition would hold her back. If you've seen Ambria at work, you know how efficient she is in knocking down a line, and how effortlessly she can charm anyone across the bar. These qualities put her into the top of the competition through much of the day. Going into the last few competitors, it looked like Ambria was going to take second place-- only to be pipped by two very worthy competitors from Atlanta's Element Coffee with the last two turns of the day. Although Anthony's Micay espresso was spot-on, earning some of the top taste and tactile scores of the event, he was somewhat plagued with mechanical issues with both his grinder and signature drink hot-plate-- enough to push him 23 seconds over time. The resulting 23 point penalty put him in 5th place, one slot behind Ambria and just a few points out of third place.
While we might not have finished in the top three, our participation in the iWBC was tremendously rewarding. Not only was Team Volta able to gauge our skills against some of the best in the country, the ability to work one-on-one with so many amazingly talented people afforded us one of the most intensive educational opportunities that you could find within our craft.
While we were in Chicago, we learned that the US Southeast Regional would be held just 14 days later in Atlanta. Fresh off of the event in Chicago, both Ambria and Anthony signed up to represent Volta. Competition can be prohibitively expensive for a barista, but Ambria's showing in Chicago was impressive enough that she was able to receive a sponsorship from German grinder manufacturer Mahlkönig. For the SERBC, Ambria decided to use Ecco's roast of a coffee from Yirgacheffe's Dama cooperative. Anthony once again used the Colombia Finca Santuario Micay.
Drawing from the weekly cuppings that Volta holds with staff and customers, Anthony organized his presentation around the Micay's fragrance and aroma. The signature drink used shop-candied kumquats (from nearby Citra) and a cracked black pepper custard to try to capture the ephemeral aromas of the Micay's break. Ambria focused on the wild spice notes in the Dama Coop espresso, building her presentation around an espresso soda made with caramel and Barbados molasses. While the program in Chicago gave both their first taste of competition, the stage in Atlanta was the first "real" experience of going before a large audience in the Georgia World Congress Center and a larger, international audience via streaming web video. Anthony finished the weekend in thirteenth place, just 46 points out of the semi-finals. Ambria struggled a bit with the profile she was getting from her espresso on the day before competition; although she was happy with her coffee on the morning of the event, she finished a few places behind Anthony.
Although Team Volta might not have finished among the top finalists, challenging ourselves with events like the SERBC has a galvanizing effect on the entire staff. Ambria came back from competition with a personal challenge to make every drink to the standard of the competition. Every customer is a judge who is going to get the best quality drink possible. Every member of the staff helped to get Ambria and Anthony to competition: each member of the team patiently offered coaching guidance, training time, and invaluable advice on fine-tuning espresso profiles and crafting signature drinks. And once again, Volta was the only shop in the state of Florida to send baristas to the regional championship.
Everyone at Volta would like to thank Ecco Caffe and Intelligentsia for the support over the last few months. Everyone in the Intelligentsia organization-- from roasters and quality control to wholesale and retail trainers found the time to answer questions, gave us guidance, and helped us find our way with some of the most beautiful coffees that anyone could hope to use. It was an honor to be able to represent the coffees in competition.
Once was enough for Anthony. After his experience at the SERBC, he decided to return to the other side of the table as a competition sensory judge. Having missed the bulk of the US regionals this year, he turned his sights to one of the most challenging trials one can face in the industry: to certify as a World Barista Competition sensory judge. The WBC is held once a year as the event to test all of the national barista champions in once place. WBC certification workshops are held in four or five locations each year, each time in a different region of the world. The tests are notoriously difficult; typically, only half of the people trying for certification pass. Anthony flew out to Long Beach, CA, to the Specialty Coffee Association of America's headquarters to take the test. Certification actually requires five different tests administrated over two days. Candidates take a battery of sensory and technical tests, along with written tests on the rules and two judging sessions with previous national barista champions.
We're pleased to announce that Anthony passed the exams and is one of fewer than a dozen sensory judges from the United States certified to serve at both the WBC 2011 in Bogota, Colombia, and WBC 2012 in Wein, Austria.
Volta’s Reserve Oolongs are extremely limited offerings– often less than ten pounds of these teas are imported to the US, with prices topping $400 a pound. The teas are offered in variations of “Gongfu Cha” style, literally meaning“making tea with efforts.”
Da Yu Lin, Gao Shan Cha
Da Yu Lin, Gao Shan Cha comes from a family-owned garden located on Li Shan (Pear Mountain), Taiwan, at an elevation of 2500-2600m. This garden is one of the highest growing regions for oolong tea, not just in Taiwan, but anywhere. The tea can only be harvested twice a year, greatly limiting the amount available for export. In spite of the difficulty of harvest, during prime years the tea can be truely amazing– displaying flavors of tropical fruit, pine, and wildflower. Our Dan Yu Lin is considered winter crop (November/December), as opposed to spring crop (late April, May); our air shipment of this tea arrived in late December, roughly 2-3 weeks after harvest.
Bai Hao Qin Xin, Gaiwan Service
Like all good Bai Hao oolongs, our tea was grown in Hsinchu (Xinzhu) county, in Northern Taiwan, and was harvested in Early July. It is a hand-crafted, highly-oxidized oolong crafted from the Qin Xin varietal. Bai Hao means white-tipped or white pekoe, refering to the abundance of pekoe leaves in this tea that are normally missing from Taiwan oolongs. The processing is about 55-60% oxidation, and it was lightly baked in low temperature ovens. While most Bai Hao oolongs are described as having a honey flavor, this one reminds us of rose petal, tropical fruit, and baking spice.
Pecha Kucha Vol. 3 will be happening this month to kick off the new year with creative ideas and belated new year festivities!
Note: Deadline for submission is January 20
We are currently taking submissions for our upcoming event which have included but are definitely not limited to: photography, architecture, blogging, graphic designing, painting, etc. If you have a smart, creative idea or projects that you would like to share with your community, submit to PK! The idea is to share your work to get feedback while getting to see what everyone else in your community is thinking about and doing. Oh yeah, and drink some delicious beer from our friends over at Alcove.
If you've never been to any of our events, the presentation format is simple. You get to show 20 images for 20 seconds each which help you visually outline and present your work. The time limit helps keep the presentations short and simple and they also help remind you of what you want to talk about while you're up there.
SUBMIT to email@example.com by January 20th!
Check out some other events that happen around the globe and see some videos of presentations at:
Volta is pleased to be displaying a new installation of sculpture by Duncan Niederlitz. "New Work: Studies in Form and Texture" is our first full sculpture show at the shop. Duncan's work involves large geometric concrete, steel, and wood shapes interlaced with unexpected intrusions of nature in the form of moss along the margins of the work.
More information about Duncan's work can be found on the artist's website.
Closed December 25/26
Regular hours resume 1/2/11
While we are tightly focused on the seasonality of coffee, we shouldn't neglect of the seasonality of tea. It's not just that there are the famous "flushes" of Assam and Darjeeling teas throughout the year. Each of the great teas of China and Japan has their season, and each year's crop can have dramatic variation from the previous crops. For example, we've been out of Maccha (ceremonial powdered green tea) since the middle of summer thanks to a very wet winter and spring in Uji province in Japan. The quality of maccha available for import suffered enough that Intelligentsia's tea buyer (and Volta hero) Doug Palas could not find a lot of maccha without significant defects-- and thus, we've been out of maccha for months.
With winter, it's time for a rush of new teas from Asia to make it to the US market. New crop shade-grown sencha and maccha will be here in early January. By the end of January, we plan to have up to eight different oolongs on the menu, including new High Mountain oolongs from Taiwan and new Wuyi Mountain oolongs from China.
Already, new teas have made it onto the menu. Lightly Baked Qin Xin oolong is a new (to Volta) lightly oxidized tea. Qin Xin is a tea varietal that tends to grow slowly and as a result it is able to develop a soft, rich body and deep, complex flavors. Our Lightly Baked Qin Xin was hand-picked to insure consistent quality and was gently fired to preserve the delicate flavors of pine needle and wildflower. This new style tea really exemplifies the nuance of this special varietal.
The Dan Cong tea varietal is known for its distinctive aroma types that mimic the fragrances of various flowers. Our particular Dan Cong has an aroma and flavor reminiscent of the magnolia blossom-- even though no magnolia flowers are used as flavoring. The flavor is sweet and fruity with a bright floral aroma that borders on herbaceous.
Two new teas from Nepal have also made it to Gainesville. Himalayan Jade and Himalayan Oolong are the first two teas that we've tried from the region. This unique terrior produces an elegant green tea with notes of pine, fresh cut herbs, lime zest, and gardenia. Its brisk, almost effervescent character, is both assertive and yet graceful. The oolong is very lightly oxidized as is actually brewed like a green tea.
Now accepting proposals for PechaKucha GNV vol. 3:
Volta's wireless network has always been open and free. It will continue to be free for customers-- but we've just completed a security update that moves from open to encrypted access. While open, free networks have always presented limited-but-present security risks, new tools like the Firesheep plug-in make it far too easy for anyone to hijack your personal data and take control of accounts like Facebook and Twitter. We realize that most of our customers are going to use sites that are easily compromised while working at Volta, and we want to be able to offer an environment where our customers are free from the danger of compromising their personal information. We want to be able to use the network ourselves without the fear that someone can easily hijack our own accounts.
Effective immediately, Volta customers will need a password to access our wireless network. The password will be printed on your receipt with your purchase.