TCHO is a new homebrew chocolate technology startup hacked together by a space shuttle technologist, Timothy Childs, and the founder of Wired, Louis Rosetto. I've been a TCHO beta tester (offering feedback on the evolution of their bars through a number of different formulations) since before Volta opened, and I've been begging them to allow us to become a TCHO shop. Previously, you could only try their bars as part of their beta program, or through a single shop in San Francisco. I was thrilled to receive email last week that let me know that Volta would now be able to order TCHO, and that we'd be able to receive our first shipment before Valentines Day. The chocolates are not "fancy" like Vosges; no flavors or add-ins, only high quality 70%+ cocoa straight chocolate bars. But really good, and different than anything else we have in stock. And you won't find TCHO anywhere else in Florida (at least for a while).
Boing Boing TV has been running a series of short videos about their visit to the TCHO labs. Check 'em out, then come into the shop this weekend for your first taste of TCHO. The chocolates should be in stock by Thursday evening.
Valentines Day is upon us, and Volta has gone the extra length to be ready to supply your chocolate gift-giving (or receiving) needs. We've stocked up on the best chocolates that we've found over the course of the year: the L'Artigiano olive oil and sea salts bars, the Escazu Esca bars, all of the Cuorenero bars, and an expanded selection of Blanxart bars are all in stock. We have Askinosie Dark Milk in stock, as well as both kinds of Askinosie white chocolate with goat's milk. Chocolates start as low as $3 for the small Blanxart bars and range up to $9 for the Cuorenero 100% bar.
If you have any questions about what bars will win over your Valentine, just ask any of the baristas on staff for advice. They've all tried the range of chocolates and can help you with any questions you might have. We also have gift bags and blood-red tissue paper to make your selection gift-ready at check-out.
I've always been fascinated by the way that coffees can be transformed by different brewing methods. Any particular coffee will pick up radically different characteristics depending on whether it is prepared on the Clover, brewed in a syphon brewer, made with a plastic pour-over cone, or French pressed. Each cup can be great in its own way. It's not unlike how you can grill a steak over hardwood coals, sear it in a cast iron skillet, or saute it with a sauce-- different methods to produce different results. We love our Clover and still rely on it for our brewed coffee. When we get a new coffee in, though, we will brew it a number of different ways to establish a target for how we want to dial in the profile achieved with the Clover. Sometimes a coffee will display a subtle difference with one brew method that we just can't coax out of the Clover-- or reproduce with any of the other methods. Sometimes it is a syrup-thick body that just doesn't "pop" on the Clover, or a spice note that is lost in the sweetness of the Clovered cup. That's why we thought it would be a good idea to offer any of our brewed coffees with an alternative method of extraction. Starting now, we can brew any coffee on the menu with the Chemex. If the Clover is a computer with a coffee maker attached, the Chemex is the ultimate low-tech brewing solution. The coffee it brews offers a good all-around contrast to the Clover, especially with the South American coffees that are coming into season. The price is the same; just allow a few more minutes for your coffee to be prepared on the Chemex. We also are introducing a special "Chemex for Two" offering: 24 ounces of coffee brewed on the Chemex for $5. We'll change up the coffee offered on the special several times a week, so be sure to ask your barista what is being offered.
For the third entry into the Black Cat Project, Intelligentsia's espresso team decided to take the exceptional lot of Sumatra Lake Tawar coffee that we've been featuring on the Clover and roast it to different profiles, then blending the roasts to make an espresso blend from a single lot. The people who have been enjoying the Sumatra at Volta know that it is a much different coffee than what we typically offer. It has a big, heavy presence that is slightly dry, not unlike a Burgundy wine. Sumatra coffees are often used in espresso blending to build body and sweetness. They help to balance the acidity of Central American and African coffees. Given the wild variance in crop quality and intensity of presence, I don't see many roasters offering Sumatra as a single origin espresso. I was skeptical when I saw that Intelligentsia was going to offer it as part of the Black Cat Project-- especially when I saw the brew specs. We typically pull a double ristretto of Black Cat (itself currently a blend of Brazil and Guatemala) by dosing 18 grams of coffee at 199-200 degrees for 25 seconds to achieve a final pour of 1.75 ounces. The Sumatra pulls 20 grams at 200 for 35 seconds to make a 1 ounce double ristretto. Yikes!
Well, as they say the proof is in the cup. The resulting espresso is very thick and syrupy. The tobacco and grapefruit notes that we find in the Clover brewed coffee is still there, but it is sweeter and (for lack of a better word) rounder. It isn't a shot that I'd drink every day, but it is a unique experience for the adventurous espresso fanatic. I actually think that the Sumatra espresso comes into its own with milk. As a macchiato, it takes on a unique toasty quality. Not toasty as in roasted, but whole wheat buttered toast. The syrupy base comes out as buttery with a spot of milk, and the tobacco notes become more like toasted grain. It is equally wonderful as a cappuccino. Camila swears that it made the best capp that she's ever had, with those warm toasty notes accentuated by the sweetness of the steamed milk. The thickness of the espresso also plays well with the steamed milk, allowing for dark etching in the latte art and a consistency that is very velvety.
If you are interested in trying the Sumatra espresso, act fast. We only have a limited amount left, and we're taking a break from the Black Cat Project to offer decaf espresso for a few weeks. The Sumatra Lake Tawar espresso is available as a .75 upcharge for any espresso drink on the menu. Update: We're out of Sumatra espresso. Back to decaf on the second grinder for the time being.
The Black Cat Project continues this week at Volta with the release of the Guatemala La Maravilla single origin espresso. A remarkably balanced shot, this coffee is juicy and sweet with a heavy chocolate bottom. A different grade of La Maravilla is used as one of the foundations of our regular Black Cat espresso, so the single origin allows you the chance to deconstruct the flavors that you experience with our standard blend. The La Maravilla pulls an exceptionally creamy shot, so I'd recommend it primarily in the smaller drinks; the subtle charms of the coffee would be somewhat overwhelmed in a latte.
Interesting to note that two of Intelligentsia's own baristas used the Maravilla coffee as their espresso in this weekend's Western Regional Barista Championship. Both advanced to the finals; Nick Griffith won the competition. Here's how Ryan Wilber described the coffee during his presentation (as reported on foodgps.com):
Finca La Maravilla, from Huehuetenago, Guatemala, features “notes of Meyer lemon, sweet sherry and coffee flower. Due to high altitude and low temperatures, fermentation takes shorter time, leading to more concentrated sweetness.
Willbur said, “A coffee can be beautiful, but it takes quality roasting. Kept it a little bit on the lighter side to take harsh edges of acidity off but keep sweet fruit flavor intact.”
While prepping his cappuccinos, Willbur told the judges, “You’ll find a lovely Graham cracker sweetness.”
“With this coffee, what really makes it so sweet is not only the processing, but how the workers on the farm are taken care of,” said Willbur. “Mauricio built a home for pickers who come from the city. He’s even been known to throw a party or two. The happiness of the farmers shines through in this coffee.”
and here's what Nick Griffith says:
“One of the sweetness coffees I’ve tasted all year is Maravilla, from Huehuetenago, Guatemala, farmed by the Morales family. Start sipping, you’ll get Clementine with citrus, then juicy citrus, followed by cocoa butter. Washed process coffee brings balance of flavors. The eastern facing hill gets high sunshine in the morning and low light in the afternoon, leading to concentrated sweetness. The high altitude - 2000 meters - is also an important factor. The coffee is fairly light, with an Agtron reading of 65.
We should have the Guatemala on the guest grinder for the rest of the week. Next week we will be featuring the Sumatra Lake Tawar as an espresso. La Maravilla is a .50 up-charge in any espresso drink.
Our black tea offerings have drawn down to a very low level while we try to arrange a new supply of Assam and Darjeeling teas. Doug Palas, the Intelligentsia tea buyer, called last month raving about a new Chinese black tea that he felt was the best example on the market to date: a new crop Yunnan Golden Needle tea. He promised that it would not be cheap, but it would be worth it. I was skeptical when the sample arrived, but the entire staff was blown away when we finally brewed a pot for a staff tasting. The tea is golden yellow when dry, and the resulting tea is a burnished copper not unlike a first flush Darjeeling. It is without a doubt the sweetest black tea that I've ever tried. We are currently serving Golden Needles.
We are also working to train the staff in traditional Japanese Maccha tea service. Working with a Canadian company called Jagasilk, we are using traditional tea service tools to craft an amazing organic maccha that is wonderfully sweet and nutty. We will be offering both koicha and usucha, with the koicha being used as the base for an 8oz maccha latte. We will be offering maccha on the menu as soon as all of the barista are trained in the tea service; until then, it is available when you see Anthony, Ali, Sarah, Camila, or Sam working the bar. The maccha tea service is very labor intensive and the high grade of maccha that we use costs $40 for a 40g tin. Please allow 15 minutes for your maccha to be prepared; the usucha costs $3.50, the koicha latte $4.75.
The season for the Central American coffees has drawn to a close, making way for amazing African and South American coffees. We've already seen the early release of Rwanda Zirikana and Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, as well as the Kenyan auction lot coffees. Now it is time for South American to shine. First up: two very interesting releases from the same farm (Finca Santuario) from Cauca, Colombia. Sanutario is a fascinating study of the transformation of the speciality coffee trade. In 2000, Camilo Merizalde, born and raised in Cali, Colombia, and educated at Purdue University, decided that he wanted to build a coffee farm. Be brought all that he at learned in ag school to the table in establishing his farm, including sensitivity to reclaiming land that had been recently used for grazing cattle and developing a model nursery for testing the productivity of heirloom, non-hybrid varieties of coffees. Rather than pick the high-yielding, easier to grow varieties widely available in Colombia (Caturra, Catuai, Variadad Colombia), he chose varieties known for their ability to produce sensational tasting coffee seeds. The resulting farm is unique in its ability to produce different botanic varietials from the same farm.
We are currently offering the first two coffees from Santuario: El Mirador, a Typica coffee with classic Colombian flavor notes of fig, vanilla, and brown sugar, and Heliconias, a red Bourbon coffee with crisp apple acidity and caramel/nut overtones.
To celebrate the new crops, we will be cupping South American coffees at 11am on Saturday, 1/24. 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.
We also hold informal staff cuppings on Friday mornings at 11am. The staff cuppings are for us to develop our baristas' understanding of the coffees that we serve; unlike the public cuppings, these will move at a much faster pace and with less emphasis on describing the cupping process. We alternate between cupping coffees and focused tastings on different foods to help develop our understanding of the flavors and aromas of coffee. This week, we will be holding a tasting of red fruits. Anyone is welcome to attend the staff cuppings, but previous experience through one of the public cuppings is encouraged so that you are familiar with the process ahead of time.
If you signed up for the mailing list through the website or in the shop-- but are wondering why you have never received anything-- hold on, I'm working on a solution to a series of unexpected problems that have prevented the list from working. Volta's list is run on the same standard majordomo list management software that I'd used since the early 1990s while at UF. Given the uncontrollable rise of spam over the last few years, I've discovered that majordomo crosses the threshold of the spam filters running at many ISPs. First we ran into a problem with the mail not being delivered to any bellsouth.net addresses. Next we got caught up in the ufl.edu anti-spam matrix. Now that voltacoffee.com's own ISP has been bought and sold twice in the last year, I've discovered that my own outgoing mail has an hourly cap that is a quarter of the size of the Volta list.
I'm working on a new solution to the problem, but until then keep an eye on this part of the website for the latest news about Volta. We'll keep you up to date with cuppings and special events, and we'll post about new coffees, teas, and chocolates as they arrive at the shop. We also have an active facebook page and twitter feed (links over there on the right) that I update several times a day.
Volta is pleased to announce the continuation of the University of Florida's MFA poetry and fiction reading series. Stop by the shop to hear works read by up-and-coming authors and poets from UF's acclaimed writing program. Readings begin at 8 and last about an hour.
The MFA Poetry and Fiction resumes January 29, 2009
- 1/29: Eric Smith (poetry), Emily Kissell (fiction)
- 2/5: K.P. Giordano (fiction), Matt Frazer (poetry)
- 2/19: Di Smith (poetry), Jason Stuart (fiction)
- 2/26: Claire Barwise (fiction), Todd Styles (poetry)
- 3/5: Ian Gazarek (poetry), Kevin Hyde (fiction)
- 3/19: Jenna Wood (fiction), Phoebe North (poetry)
- 3/26: Ellen Snead (poetry), Kate Megear (fiction)
- 4/2: Tony Luebbert (fiction), Beth Ferda (poetry)
Update: the Santa Teresa Panama espresso is now available. And amazing.
While we love our Clover, our teas, and our chocolates, in many ways Volta remains an espresso-centric shop. I think it is because of all the brewing methods, espresso is equal parts craft and alchemy. There is a magical moment when all of the variables are aligned and you pull the perfect shot... I love watching people drink their espressos at the bar, especially when they have never had espresso at Volta before. It's like the first time a new staff member nailed a shot and couldn't believe that they were drinking a straight espresso that tasted like a chocolate-covered cherry. "Is it ok that it tastes like fresh cherries?"
That's why I couldn't be more pleased that our roaster, Intelligentsia, has been working quietly through the year to revolutionize their espresso offering. It started with a fundamental shift in they way that they blend their standard Black Cat espresso. The changes started with assigning reigning US Barista Champion Kyle Glanville with the new job of director of espresso. Out of the gate, Kyle shook up the dominant way of blending espresso by undertaking a project to reformulate Black Cat to express seasonality. Gone are the days of warehousing enough of the blend's components to offer one single version of Black Cat year round; now, the individual components are in line with Intelligentsia's In Season program, always shifting as new coffees come into season. Black Cat isn't a monolithic blend as much as a reflection of the best seasonal blend. The second shift was to take Black Cat direct trade. Starting last fall, all of the individual coffees in Black Cat come from direct trade relationships with individual farmers and co-ops. The farms and farmers are now listed on the bag.
Now we're seeing the next phase of the Black Cat Project come into the shop: limited edition single origin and micro-lot espresso under the Black Cat name. Volta has always offered limited edition and guest espressos when we find something exceptional: from Jon Lewis's Microcosmos to the Denmark's Coffee Collective to Vancouver's 49th Parallel, we've be able to offer some of the best espressos from around the world. We've also offered a few of Intelligentsia's trial single-origin offerings: the Finca Matalapa espresso from El Salvador that Kyle used to win the US Barista Championship, and a single-origin Bolivian coffee that we had for our grand opening party.
We're now pleased to be offering Black Cat Project single origin espressos on a regular basis. First up: Panama's Finca Santa Teresa. From Intelligentsia's website: "This pulped natural coffee from Finca Santa Teresa yields a unique espresso with strong floral aromas, juicy citrus and a lovely support of caramel and chocolate." We have the coffee in-house now, but we're letting it rest a few days before we put it on the menu; we'll have our own tasting notes up online by the weekend. After the Panama, we will be offering Black Cat single origin espressos from Finca La Maravilla, Guatemala, and a very unusual preparation of the Sumatra Lake Tawar.
To find out more about single origin espresso, check out this posting that we made last summer, when we featured the Bolivian single origin from Intelligentsia.