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
Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate presents Thomas Olmsted's amazing collection of 400 commodity coffee cans. (He still has half again more in storage...) Think of it as a history of the first wave of coffee in the US: view the development of coffee marketing from 1920's to the present, played out in paint and tin.
The oldest tins in the collection date back to the mid-20s, when both modern-streamlined design and ethnic stereotypes were the norm. By mid-century, the artwork shifts to domestic bliss (Love Nest Coffee, anyone?). The 60s and 70s are dominated by utilitarianism, speed, and thrift.
We'll be hosting the collection until the end of the month. A selection of photographs of cans from the collection can be found over on Flickr.
Sarah is progressing on her quest to make the perfect French Macaron: witness her vanilla macaron with a salted caramel filling. Not only is Sarah an amazing barista (representing Volta at the Southeast Regional Barista Championship), but her true passion is in baking. She gets the Volta kitchen to herself three times a week to come up with, well, pretty much anything that she's interested in making. For the last four months, she's been working on perfecting the art of the macaron. Not the macaroon (i.e., the glob of sweetened coconut that passes for a cookie), but the French cookie made of ground almonds and sugar, filled with a contrasting buttercream frosting.
The latest version is truly her best yet: a white, vanilla cookie that is held together with a slathering of shop-made salted caramel. We only have a dozen or so left in the shop. Come by soon or you will have missed your chance to experience the best little slice of Paris that you are likely to find in Gainesville this summer.
Pair with: Four Seasons Baked Oolong tea.
A quick run-down of Volta's current coffee menu...
Organic Nicaragua Los Delirios: Finca Las Termopilas
Aromatics awash with fresh wildflowers, golden raisin and cane sugar. A laid back acidity furnishes a smooth mouthfeel that glides across the palate with Dutch cocoa, fig preserves and a touch of green grape. A gentle finish comes through in notes of malt and black tea.
The Canales family and the El Eden cooperative group continue to be among the most proactive and quality-conscious organic farmers in Nicaragua. The farms themselves are well maintained and almost entirely self-sustaining—they generate the fertilizer they need using manure from the bulls and cows, cherry pulp, and organic waste material from the banana trees and other crops they grow. The ecosystems on the farms can best be described as lush, and there is a great abundance of shade, a good diversity of tree type, babbling creeks running through the land, and a ton of wildlife. Los Delirios itself 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.
Nicaragua: Finca San Jose (available after 6/4)
One of the seven Mierisch family farms, Finca San Jose is the baby of the bunch, purchased in 2003. Some of the properties, ranging in scale, have been in the family for generations upon generations and others have come and gone due to implications of the Nicaraguan Revolution and the coffee crisis that hit in 1980 -2000. The acquisition of Finca San Jose in 2003 was risky, as the family had not yet fully recovered from the tough financial crisis but Dr. Mierisch saw promise in the overgrown fallow slopes overlooking Lake Apanas.
Just a couple of months of clearing and pruning and the coffee trees began to recover from the neglect. A few years after that, Intelligentsia was introduced to Finca San Jose. Intelligentsia's Geoff Watts now looks forward to every new harvest with Finca San Jose. Each new year brings about noticeable improvements in quality. What was once a plain, innocuous coffee is becoming a clean, shiny, juicy, nuanced cup. It just keeps getting better and better. Rightly so, their efforts are vigorous and fervent. The long-awaited rewards are beginning to appear.
Cherry preserves start this layered cup with a pleasant tartness, but not far behind are the sweet flavors of raisin, plum, and a textured, buttery mouthfeel. Baked apples and cinnamon lead the finish of this beautiful coffee.
Costa Rica: Flecha Roja
Peanut brittle, sweet walnut and citrus fruit provide enticing aromatics. A popping acidity cools into a mellow marmalade. Sustaining notes of maple, crème brulee and cherry bring about a counterbalance, lending depth and composure. The finish is resolute but leaves hints of nut toffee.
Panama: Finca Santa Teresa El Machete
Our El Machete is produced by an innovative farmer named Juan Pablo Berard. His dedication to coffee quality and social and environmental sustainability are obvious in all endeavors at the farm, from funding Casa Esperanza (a school for his workers’ children) to separating individual lots of coffee to preserving forest on his property.
Forest blackberries, concord grape and a pleasant winyness dominate the nose. The body is full, dense and silky in texture; reminiscent of Black Forest cake. The lime acidity underscores notes of St. Germain and muscat grape as the finish tapers into cocoa and nutmeg spice.
Tanzania: Edelweiss Finagro Estate (available after 6/4)
There is a ton of excitement around here about the coffees from Edelweiss/Finagro. It has quickly become something of a staff favorite, especially out in Los Angeles. It may be because the coffee has something of a mixed personality, in the best of ways. African coffees are perennially among our favorites on the cupping table, but they are also among the most challenging from a sensory perspective. The brilliantly unapologetic acidity and occasional savory tastes in great Kenyan coffees can sometimes be intimidating to the uninitiated. The complex floral and perfume-like aromatics combined with the lemongrass and delicate citric notes in fresh coffees from Southern Ethiopia can be so intoxicating that consumers accustomed to old or milder coffees don’t quite know what to make of them at first. But the Edelweiss, and Tanzania coffee in general, contains flavors coffee drinkers are familiar with in Central American coffees while keeping a very distinctly African identity. The coffees from Oldeani have been getting better and better each season, and still have not even glimpsed their true peak.
Tanzania has long been growing coffee in the shadows of more familiar African nations like Kenya and Ethiopia. In recent years its neighbor to the north (Rwanda) pulled off an astonishing climb up the Specialty ladder and has made a compelling bid for the attention of quality coffee drinkers worldwide.
A bursting, apple-like acidity leaves an impression of hazelnuts and cranberries through a finish that stays zesty and proper.
It's only May, and Gainesville afternoons are already tripping the 90-degree mark. When looking for a summer drink to add to the menu, we decided to look to Brooklyn and the mythical egg cream. What is an egg cream? Well, for starters, it doesn't involve egg or cream. Think of it as a cross between a cold chocolate milk and a melted ice cream float. From Wikipedia:
The origin of the name "egg cream" is constantly debated. One theory was said that they used grade "A" milk calling it a chocolate A cream thus sounding like 'egg' cream. Stanley Auster, the grandson of the beverage's alleged inventor, has been quoted as saying that the origins of the name are lost in time. One commonly accepted origin is that "Egg" is a corruption of the German (also found in Yiddish) word echt ("genuine" or "real") and this was a "good cream".
One thing is for certain: you better not call it a New York Egg Cream without using Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup. Accept no substitute. We tried making an uptown version using both Askinosie and Vintage Plantation chocolate sauces. No matter how refined the syrup, the result fell short of the Fox's. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to mess with a classic.
For our take on the drink, we start with an ounce and a half of Fox's, add three ounces of milk, then top the glass off with shop-made seltzer water. Give it a quick stir and you have a multi-layered drink with a white, foamy head and a clean, sweet, cool taste. It's the perfect drink to cool off before heading out for an afternoon at the springs.
In case you were wondering about the place of the egg cream in the mythos of NYC, here's Lou Reed with a few words on the subject...
Volta is pleased to present the premier of photographer Kazunori Saki's new collection, ASIA. Saki's work documents street life in China, India, Japan, and Hong Kong. The diverse subject matter is tied together by a strong sense of composition and play of positive and negative space that can be traced back to Kazunori Saki's formal training as an architect. We will be featuring the work until the April ArtWalk on 4/30.