Watts and Volta

Date: Wednesday, March 31

Time: 8:00 pm

Volta is honored to present an evening with Geoff Watts, Intelligentsia's VP of Coffee and Green Coffee Buyer. Join us at 8pm for a round-table discussion of (among other topics), Intelligentsia's development of the Direct Trade model of coffee trade, new production and processing experiments at origin, and the impact of the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange on specialty coffee.

Under Geoff's management, Intelligentsia practices direct trade, working closely with actual producers--and not just importers or exporters-- promoting a “seed to cup” attention to their product. Geoff Watts assisted in the opening of Intelligentsia Coffee in 1995.Today, he travels extensively to farms throughout Central and South America, Africa, and Indonesia, establishing new relationships with farmers, exporters, and specialty coffee importers throughout the world, all the while gathering insight and understanding of what it is that makes that makes coffee extraordinary.

Copenhagen Over Coffee

Date: Monday, March 29

Time: 5:30-7:00 pm

The Alachua County Young Democrats invite you to 'Copenhagen Over Coffee' - a talk with Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan about climate change policy and Gainesville. As a recent delegate to the U.N. Conference on Climate Change, the Mayor will share her views on local government's role in implementing climate change solutions. Volta Coffee owner Antony Rue will also give an introduction about running a local progressive business.

The event will start at five-thirty at Volta Coffee (48 Southwest 2nd St) and finish with a question and answer period with Mayor Hanrahan.

Reserve Tea Offering: Hong Yue

[flickr-photo:id=4407473848] Developed under the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, Hong Yue is the result of the Taiwanese Tea Institute experiments in blending native or wild varietals of Taiwanese tea with varietals grown in Japanese-controlled territories. Since the Japanese controlled Burma, they brought an Assamica plant similar to the Da Yeh varietal (Yunnan varietal) from Burma to breed with native plants. The result was Hong Yue.

Considered a red tea, Hong Yue is a similar to a black tea, but is brewed more like an oolong. Intelligentsia’s Doug Palas provides the back story: “This is the first Hong Yue I’ve ever tasted that lived up to its billing. The farm that I bought our Hong Yue from started growing the tea 7 years ago. They originally planted it because it is a tall leafy plant. In Taiwan land is parceled strangely. The island is so small so large plots of land are divided amongst families. The two families that produce our teas thought a barrier was needed to block wind to prevent soil erosion from occurring on their land. They planted Hong Yue to do just that. They harvested and made just 10 kg of this tea by hand. Intelly is buying all of it. This is only the third time in my 7 years of tea buying that I have come across a black tea of this quality.” The Hong Yue deserves careful consideration over multiple infusions. It begins with a first cup of mellow, honey-like flavors and a velvety mouthfeel. Successive infusions bring out crisp wintergreen flavors that are never malty or brisk-- most unusual for a black tea with this level of oxidation. It is best enjoyed as a self-drinker: no milk or sugar for this tea.

SERBC 2010: Competition Update

[flickr-photo:id=4381172035]The 2010 Southeastern Regional Barista Championship is in the history book. Volta sent its first full team to travel out to compete with the best baristas from Virginia to Mississippi, Florida to Tennessee. To the outsider, the competition must seem arcane. For those of us at the shop, it is a once-a-year opportunity to test the limits of our coffee knowledge and to learn from/party/network with other dedicated, passionate coffee professionals from around the country.

Sarah West, as a first time competitor, acquitted herself with both grace and passion. We couldn't be more proud of the performance that Sarah put in at the SERBC. A slight bobble with steaming milk for her capps cost her a place in the finals; best as we can tell she placed 7th out of 35 and was one of the highest placed first-time competitors. Missed the finals by a point or two. Also, she is possibly the highest score ever for a barista from Florida! She's certainly has the top place of any Floridan barista of the last three years. Sarah worked very closely with the Intelligentsia roasters and QC team to narrow down her coffee choices, ultimately settling on the Bolivia Anjilanaka component of the Black Cat espresso, roasted a touch light to bring out the acidity that she wanted for her signature drink. Special thanks to Jesse Crouse, Deaton Pigot, Chris Clements, and Geoff Watts for helping with the coffee roasting and background information on the Anjilanaka. Of course, there's also Alexandra Wright: serving as Sarah's coach, Aly joined Sarah in Chicago for training with Stephen Morrissey and Michael Philips. (Special thanks to Paul Rekstad and Doug Zell for setting the training up and making sure Stephen and Michael had time to help in spite of daunting schedule conflicts.)

[flickr-photo:id=4381172973]While Sarah took up the challenge of competing, Anthony Rue and Natalie Suwanprakorn took up the daunting task of volunteering as sensory judges for the competition. For Natalie, the SERBC was the first barista competition that she had ever seen in person. After a month of studying for the judge's exam, she demonstrated what we at the shop have always known-- her discerning palate is matched by her sharp observational acumen. In a display of trust in her abilities, Natalie was selected to judge a full slate of nine competitors for each of the first two days of the competition. For those keeping count, that means that she evaluated (and drank) over 57 espresso drinks in a bit over 24 hours. On one hand, judging is easy. You sit at a table while person after person serves you espresso, cappuccino, and signature drinks. In reality, it is very difficult to spend hour after hour give full, undivided concentration to drink after drink, furiously scribbling notes and tabulating evaluations on score sheets before retreating to a room to "calibrate" or justify your scores to the other judges. On a professional level, it is an amazing opportunity to be able to sit in one room and sample all of the best espressos from the top roasters and cafes in the country, served by passionate men and women who have put considerable effort and expense into their presentations.

In spite of the late nights spent at Volta testing espresso, evaluating milk suppliers, and endlessly discussing signature drink variations, I get the impression that the experience has stoked the passions of the Volta staff. Look for a larger team presence in 2011-- we're already making notes for how we can push ourselves to improve our results at next year's competition.

Atlanta Journal Constitution article about the SERBC, along with photos of Anthony judging Byron Holcomb, from 1000Faces Coffee

The Competition Season

[flickr-photo:id=4359914823]Considering the glut of televised culinary competition shows (Iron Chef, Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, etc.), the idea of a barista championship must sound like a bit of a parody. After all, anyone can make a cup of coffee, right? Watch 35 people, over two days, making coffee drinks for a bunch of stone-faced judges? Admittedly, it is somewhat like watching paint dry. But making great espresso is a black art: you are working with select culinary ingredients that react differently over time, and seemingly trivial changes in technique have tremendous impact on the outcome. Barista work is a combination of skill, craft, and art. To push the art of the barista to the limit, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) have worked together for ten years to host the World Barista Championship. National barista champions are selected from fifty countries; those national champions then compete at the WBC in the late spring. Although no US barista has ever won the world championship, the competition has become very intense to represent the US through a series of regional barista championship.

It takes considerable effort to compete. The work usually starts several months out, as the barista/competitor refines technique to meet competition standards. Next, they work with a roaster to find a specific espresso blend/roast/single origin coffee that they want to use. Finally, they spend weeks drilling on the details of their presentation. The routine involves serving four judges three different rounds of drinks. Straight shots of espresso are judged for color and consistency of crema and the balance of acidity, bitter, and sweet in the shot. 6 ounce cappuccinos are judged on the visual appearance of the foam, consistency of the foam, and balance of espresso flavor against the sweetness of the milk. The barista must then have developed a "signature drink" that brings out a culinary understanding of the coffee. Signature drinks are the curve-ball of the competition. It's not something that is usually served at a bar; it's more of an exercise to push the barista's understanding of how flavors are built around the foundation of an espresso shot. In addition to the sensory scores for the quality of the drinks, competitors are judged on a range of technical criteria, from how efficiently they work to how much milk and coffee waste they produce.

All of this is to say that I was floored when Sarah told me in January that she wanted to represent Volta at the Southeast Regional Barista Championship in February. Sarah had been with us for most of our first year, but late last spring she moved down to Naples. She moved back to Gainesville in January, and resumed work both behind the bar and as our primary baker only four weeks ago. Sarah is, without a doubt, one of the most culinarily gifted people I've ever met. She approaches ingredients as if they word words waiting to be formed into poems. She certainly had the skills to compete when she left, but how would she do after so much time away? Turns out, I needn't have worried. She threw herself into training with abandon. With Aly working with her as her coach, she's tried almost a dozen blends and single origin espressos from Intelligentsia and Ecco, keeping detailed logs of technical specs and tasting notes for each shot as each coffee aged. Two weeks ago, they flew up to Chicago to train with current US barista champion Michael Philips and previous world barista champion Stephen Morrissey, from Ireland. Back at Volta, they turned to the writing of chef Thomas Keller to use as a touchstone for developing a signature drink. Meanwhile, Natalie decided to study to attempt to qualify as a sensory judge for the competition. She's spent hours pouring over the rules and helping Sarah with mock competition runs and drink scoring.

It's amazing how much work has been done in the last few weeks-- and how galvanizing it has been around the shop. Everyone's understanding of espresso has been boosted. Technique at the bar has tightened up. We all have a better understanding of how to analyze the complexity of espresso as we all tried coffees roasted at different levels and temperatures, as the coffees age from days out of roast to two weeks. Even if Sarah decides at the last minute not to compete, every bit of the preparation will have been worth it for everyone at the shop.

Of course, though, I also believe that she has every chance of making the finals as a first time competitor. She and Aly will be joining Anthony and Natalie in Atlanta today. Everyone can watch live streaming video of Sarah's presentation on Friday (Feb. 19), sometime after 3:25 (her scheduled start time, but these things can run over schedule...), via the US Barista Championship website. If she does make it to the finals, she competes again on Sunday.

With so many staff in Atlanta, Volta will be closing early (8pm) on Thursday and Saturday evenings; we have also changed our normal week-day opening hours from 7am to 8am.

CJ Boyd at Volta

The CJ Boyd Sexted
Live at Volta: Friday, 2/12, 8pm
A special pre-Valentine's Day concert at Volta, with the CJ Boyd Sexxxtet:

The CJ Boyd Sexxxtet is a group of musicians interested in exploring the connection between music and sexuality. The line-up changes all the time; what continues is (their) commitment to experimenting with eros and its place in musical experiences.

"We are a vehicle of critique. We start with the supposition that our culture's fundamentally prudish, willful ignorance about sex is connected to our culture's simultaneous cult of sexuality hidden behind thin veils of pop icons on the radio and television. We suppose that the shunning of the body and the attempt to make sex a mere spectacle are both forms of denigrating our sexual bodies. The true celebration of sex, as far as we can tell, has yet to fully manifest itself in our culture. We tip our hats to the sexual revolutionaries of the 60s and 70s, as well as the great sexual scientists Freud and Kinsey, and hope to continue their work through musical/sexual experimentation."

Equal parts ambient and virtuosic, melancholic and playful, CJ Boyd’s bass playing melts glaciers, creating a sea of low, flowing rhythms, while also supplying melodies that soar over the ocean to dizzy the sun in its path. Waves of bass loops are garnished with harmonica drones and constant improvisational exploration. Deep-sea-diving for the hungry and alone. While certainly following in the footstep of great bassists like Mingus and Meyer, Boyd’s aesthetic sensibility also seeks to wed the minimalism of Reich and Riley with what might be called the maximalism of Beethoven's chamber music. Add some Moondog, Authur Russell, Godspeed, Eluvium. But with the improvisational prowess culled from jazz. Not a "bassplayer" in the usual sense of the word. But something refreshing and impressive—with fingers that only know how to dance to the deepest tunes.

CJ's website
CJ Boyd on myspace
The Sexxxtet on myspace

Ecco Caffe: The Winter Collection

[flickr-photo:id=4026532478,size=m]Volta welcomes Ecco Caffe's full line of coffees and espressos back into the shop for January. We're very happy to be working with Ecco's espresso bend as our standard for cappuccinos and lattes. The current blend pairs new crop Brazil Cachoeira Yellow Bourbon with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Dama Co-op coffee; the resulting espresso has an amazingly textured crema with ripe fruit notes that meld into caramels and chocolate notes with the addition of steamed milk.

Ecco's focus on bringing quality coffees up from Brazil continues with the amazing Fazenda Sertaozinho. It's another heirloom yellow bourbon varietal, from a farm (aka, fazenda) that has a history of placing coffees in the top tiers of quality competitions. As an espresso, Ecco's Andrew Barnett notes "drenched in dark chocolate, this gem is resplendent with notes of Satsuma tangerine, vanilla marzipan and malted milk." The Sertaozinho is a jewel that reveals dramatically different characteristics depending on how it is brewed. In addition to being our featured single origin espresso, we have a different roast of the same coffee available as a brewed coffee on the Clover or on the Chemex brewer. The Clover-brewed coffee really shows off the honey and sugarcane notes brought out by the natural processing. On the Chemex, you get a sense of the depth of body that these top-quality Brazilians are famous for.

Ecco isn't only about the Brazils. Andrew has sourced an amazing auction lot coffee from Colombia, from producer Ramon Manzano’s Finca Loma Redonda. From Ecco's website:

The farm is near the town of Sotara in Colombia’s renowned Cauca coffee growing region. Intoxicating dry aromatics of sugarcane, floral, honey and cocoa transition into a sweet and beautifully balanced cup. Our team at Ecco fell in love with its elegant citric noted vibrancy, sparkling acidity and honey noted finish.

This coffee came from a competition organized by ACDI/VOCA, a non-profit organization that runs coffee development programs with small-holder farmers. It is motivated in part by a desire to convince farmers to switch back from growing coca to growing coffee and to help them find methods of making coffee farming more profitable. Many of these farmer groups are also considered "guarde bosques" – guardians of the forest – because their land surrounds native forest and represents a buffer zone that deters deforestation.

In a season that has seen wonderful coffees from Colombia-- specifically, from Intelligentsia's project with Finca Santuario-- the Loma Redonda stands out for its deep body and dark, ripe fruit notes.

Four Seasons Dong Ding Oolong

[flickr-photo:id=3817858039]I've always wondered if Volta could get by only offering oolong teas. Of all the tea in China, oolongs hold a special attraction. They are slow to reveal themselves-- it's something of a commitment to start a pot of a high grade oolong. The best oolongs require patience and many infusions before the range of flavors are unraveled. Working with Intelligentsia's Doug Palas, we are able to feature quality teas that are not often seen in Florida tea shops. We happened to be in Chicago, cupping (or evaluating) different oolong samples with Doug when we had the opportunity to pick up three exceptional examples of Taiwanese oolongs from the Dong Ding Mountain region.

Late in the summer we picked up two different roast levels of the Antique Dong Ding oolong teas from Taiwan: medium and light. The ligher version, called Four Seasons, was almost unavailable; we picked up all 100gr that were brought in through Intelligentsia. We also picked up a few hundred grams of the Gao Shan Cha/High Mountain Oolong.

The High Mountain tea is long gone. I'm posting because we just rediscovered 50gr each of the light and medium roast Antique Dong Ding teas. That's enough for 8 pots of each. Seriously, there's no more to be "rediscovered" in the stockroom. When this lot is gone, it's over until next spring.

Winter Break Hours

Who would have thought... Volta baristas are migratory. Most are flying south; one loon is flying north into the winter storm up in New York. A few resident baristi are sticking around to help keep the shop going over the Christmas break. With a smaller staff around, we're going to hold shorter hours from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day:

Dec. 24: 8am - 6pm
Dec. 25: Closed
Dec. 26: 9am-6pm
Dec. 27: 9am-5pm
Dec. 28-Jan 1: 8am-6pm
Regular hours resume Jan. 2

In (The Holiday) Season

[flickr-photo:id=4181766373]While some people might have dreams of sugarplums around this time of the year, here at Volta we're always looking forward to December for a more coffee-focused treat: the return of the in-season South American coffees. We already had a preview of the new coffees in November with Peruvian selections from both Ecco Caffe and Intelligentsia. The first weeks of December brought us the first two coffees from one of Intelligentsia's favorite farm projects: Colombia's Finca Santuario. Santuario is, in the best sense, an experimental collaboration between farmer and roaster. With input from Intelligentsia's Geoff Watts, farmer Camilo Merizalde has planted small plots of some of the most treasured varieties of coffee, optimizing the farm's elevations and micro-climates to bring out the best of each different crop. The first two coffees from the farm for 2009 are the wonderful El Mirador Typica and Heliconias Bourbon. The Mirador's syrupy body starts out with flavors that are are nutty and aromatic, but bloom into dense molasses, raspberry candy, and dark cherry as it cools. The Heliconias Bourbon (as in coffee variety, not Kentucky whiskey) has fewer bright fruit notes, but has a big body with hints of roasted nut and caramel as the cup cools.

From here out, the South American coffees come fast and furious. We already had preview samples of Ecco Caffe's Cachoeira Yellow Bourbon Espresso and Brazil/Yirgacheffe Ecco Espresso on the machine last week. Next week we'll have a sample of the single-farm Brazil Fazenda Sertaozinho espresso. Look for much more Ecco espresso to turn up throughout the rest of the year and into 2010. We'll also see two micro-lot coffees from different Colombian farms from Intelligentsia in two weeks, along with the return of Brazil's Agua Preta coffee. We hope to see Bolovia's Anjilanaka back in the shop by the first week of January.

In other coffee news, we will be featuring two exquisite coffees from Vancouver's 49th Parallel Roasters this week: the Epic Espresso Holiday Blend on the guest espresso grinder, and Ethiopia's Wonda Worka Collective Yirgacheffe coffee. We look forward to working with 49th to bring many more exclusive coffees to Gainesville.

New Chocolates & Gifts

Thanks to local Italian foods importer Andrea Tosolini, we have several new chocolate bars from both Maglio and L'Artigiano. From Maglio, we have new crop single origin bars from Cuba, Santa Domingo, and New Guinea. We also have their fine milk chocolate bars in stock, along with a real treat: dark milk chocolate with carmalized popped rice. Think of it as the best Crunch bar ever devised. We also picked up another twist on L'Artigiano's amazing combination of chocolate with sweet sea salt from Cervia, Italy: 54% dark milk chocolate with a layer of hazelnut buttercream and a sprinkling of Cervia sea salt. It is my single favorite new bar of the season.

We are also pleased to announce the return of the new, improved Escazu bars, from Raleigh, NC. All Escazu bars are now made in-house from bean-to-bar. Hal is importing the best beans directly from farms in Central and South America; the beans are toasted, crushed, extracted, and blended entirely in his workshop. The result is a jump in quality across all of their bars, along with more special runs of limited edition bars like the 60% Carenero Venezuela bar with goat's milk. Taza Chocolate, from Somerville, MA, is also working bean-to-bar; their chocolates are all stone-ground and have a rustic crunch that brings to mind old-new-world chocolates from Mexico. Their limited edition 75% dark bar from a single co-op in Chiapas, Mexico, is a very special example of their craft.

Finally, we made sure to stock up on coffee-making and gift items around the shop. We have Chemex brewers and filters, Hario Syphon brewers, Intelligentsia diner-style mugs, and many varieties of whole-bean coffee to choose from.

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