Free Public Cuppings: Ecco Caffe

Next public cupping: Sunday, 23 August, 2009; 11am

[flickr-photo:id=3843074110]Welcome to the Volta world tour! Over the last few months we've seen coffees South America, Africa, and the Pacific go head-to-head in a public cupping competition to win a place on the Volta menu. We won't be able to stock everything, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try everything. We stage cuppings whenever new coffees are released so we can compare each of the new crops.

The next Volta coffee cupping will be held Sunday morning, 23 August, at 11 am. We're taking the opportunity to evaluate new coffees from Ecco Caffe, our guest roaster for the month of August. We'll have auction lot coffees from both Brazil and Ethiopia, as well as Ecco's twist on Intelligentsia's Guatemala and El Salvador coffees.

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.

Chemex Brewing Guide

Tegucigalpa Calling!

[flickr-photo:id=3817856789;size=m]As summer winds down and we work our way through the rest of the Central American seasonal coffees, the roasters are able to turn their attention to microlots and to coaxing single origin espresso roasts out of outstanding brewed coffees. First up on the Volta menu: Honduras. In solidarity with the campesinos working the farms of Honduras from the border of Guatemala to the mountains of Nicaragua, we are currently featuring a first-ever microlot coffee from Roberto Salazar's Finca Pashapa and a special Black Cat Project edition of Intelligentsia's La Tortuga.

Counter Culture Coffee has been working with Sr. Salazar to elevate the quality of the coffees of several farms outside of the town of La Labor, in the northwest corner of the country. CCC roaster Tim Hill explains how this particular microlot came to be:

El Lechero is a three-hectare parcel of Finca Pashapa named after a tree with milky sap. When Roberto tasted coffee from this part of the farm, he discovered something special. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; the area is at 1520 meters and has a particularly high concentration of Typica and Bourbon coffee trees. Roberto kept that special parcel in the back of his mind, and kept working to create great coffees from the rest of Finca Pashapa, focusing especially on ripe cherry picking. This year, Roberto paid pickers more to take a little extra time and care on El Lechero, and once again it was kept separate.

Only 15 bags of green coffee were harvested for this microlot selection. We will be featuring it as our limited availability coffee for the next week. Stop by soon, because the Lechero won't be around for long. We are offering Counter Culture's El Lechero on the Clover for $3.25 a cup.

To the southeast of La Labor, Fabio Caballero's Finca La Tina is a jewel among coffee farms. As the first coffee farm in the Mogola region of Honduras, Finca La Tina has been in Sr. Caballero's family for three generations-- since its founding in 1930. Intelligentsia buyer Geoff Watts describes the farm:

At over 5,400 feet, La Tina farm is one of the highest farms in Honduras. The views are breathtaking, and there is no doubt that this piece of land is a wonderful place to grow coffee. Of course, growing the coffee is really just one step in many that lead to a great cup. The preservation of the quality that nature produces is as important in the equation as the actual growth. The sequence of events that take place after picking, beginning the moment that the cherry leaves the tree, help to define the difference between an "artisan coffee farmer" and a "harvester."

We've been offering the brewed coffee as La Tortuga, a blend from lots harvested at Finca La Tina and from Sr. Caballero's son-in-law's adjacent farm in Maracala. We also earlier featured a microlot brewed coffee from Finca La Tina, but it only lasted on the menu for a week before the supply ran out. Now we are getting one last gift from Mogola: a Black Cat Project single origin espresso based on a small lot of coffee from Finca La Tina. As with many single origin Central American espressos, the Finca La Tina espresso is bright. My first exposure to an early test roast, at the Chicago roasting works, reminded me of a lime popsicle. Now that we've had a chance to play with it here in Gainesville, we're coaxing out a deeper piloncillo-brown sugar base that counters the lime-zest intensity at the front of the shot.

The Black Cat Project Finca La Tina espresso is available as a .25 cent upcharge for any espresso drink. Personally, I like it as a straight double-- but then again, I like extra-hoppy IPAs. Matched with sweetly steamed milk, it makes the perfect summer cappuccino.

The Oolongs I've Been Waiting For...

[flickr-photo:id=3817858039,size=m] Introducing the rarest teas that we’ve ever had at Volta: limited edition antique-style Dong Ding mountain oolongs. Both our medium and light-roast Taiwanese Dong Ding oolongs have a relatively high oxidation levels (about 45%). The lighter tea was produced using traditional Dong Ding style processing called Four Seasons style. The medium roast tea is a varietal that descended from the original Ti Guan Yin varietal; it underwent a special charcoal (high temperature) firing to give an amazing depth of flavor.

The Four Seasons tea was almost unavailable; we picked up all 100gr that were brought in to the US through Intelligentsia-- enough for 20 customers to enjoy this amazing tea. We were able to purchase 200gr of the medium-roast tea. If I though we could get away with it, I'd only carry oolongs of this caliber. Both teas require that you commit some time to enjoy them: both are so tightly rolled that it takes four or five infusions before the leaves completely unravel.

[flickr-photo:id=3815864809,size=m]From Shan Lin Xi, Taiwan, High Mountain Oolong (Gao Shan Cha) is very lightly oxidized (about 20-25%), very lightly roasted. This processing, combined with the high elevation, produces an overwhelming floral character and rich mouthfeel. This tea was grown at an elevation of nearly 2000 meters in one of the highest elevation tea producing areas in Taiwan. An extremely rare and treasured tea, the Gao Shan Cha is much more delicate and refined than the Antique teas. It hits its peak by the third infusion and begins to fade by the fifth.

A Different Itzamna

In previous years, Intelligentsia's Guatemala Itzamna (and El Cuervo before that) was a blend of coffee from two or three farms in different regions of the country. This year, each individual farm's crop was notable enough to separate into unique releases. We just switched our Itzamna from Finca Maravilla to Finca La Soledad. The coffee from La Soledad is touch brighter, but silky and with a strong vanilla finish. Henio and Raul Perez's La Soledad farm is from the Acatenango region of Guatemala, at an elevation of 1470-1740 meters; the coffee is a blend of Caturra, Bourbon, and Typica.

The first iteration of this year's Itzamna came from the Maravilla farm of Mauricio Rosales. Situated in the HueHuetenago region, the Bourbon and Caturra varietals of coffee grow at the dizzying heights of 1850 meters. While we have switched over to the Soledad farm for our brewed coffee, the Maravilla isn't going away: we will soon be offering Sr. Rosales' coffee as a single origin espresso. We had a very limited amount of the Maravilla espresso last year as one of our first guest espressos. This year's edition is every bit as spectacular.

Grounds for the Garden

Volta produces a few hundred pounds of high quality coffee grounds every week. For the last year, the good folks at Edible Landscapes have been picking all of it up for their composting operation-- until our production outpaced their demand. The grounds make great compost and also work as a mulch. While unbrewed, ground coffee is highly acidic, grounds from brewed coffee are pH neutral and very rich in nitrogen.

Volta's grounds are free for the taking. We have each day's espresso and brewed coffee grounds (along with organic tea and the occasional agua fresca watermelon rind) in individual plastic bags. Just ask your barista for a bag of grounds if you want to start working coffee compost into your garden or landscape. First come, first served: if you want an entire week's output, just ask.

Seattle gardener and author Ann Lovejoy offers her advice about using coffee as a compost:

Used coffee grounds have many uses, from mulching to compost building. This is one ubiquitous material it's hard to have too much of. If you decide to mulch your beds and borders with ground coffee, here's a hot fashion tip: Remove the filters first. Those raggedy white papers look too tacky for words when left fluttering around your flowers. White or brown, you can shred the filter papers and mix them into the compost, where they'll break down nicely in short order.

Ground coffee is high in nitrogen, making it a very good mulch for fast-growing vegetables. Many organic growers swear by coffee grounds as mulches for tomato plants, both for the nitrogen boost this heavy feeder appreciates and for coffee's ability to help suppress late blight.

Coffee-ground mulch also can help reduce the ravages of slugs and snails. At a recent class, one participant announced that she always mulched her hostas with coffee grounds each day and had never before understood why they were never bothered by slugs.

I almost remembered

For this month's ArtWalk, Volta presents "I Almost Remembered," an installation of photographs by Gainesville-area photographer Greg Turner.

Greg Turner's fine-art photography seeks to tap shared moments of childhood and reckless youth, to create links between the photographer's imagined past and the viewer's real-life memories.

To bridge these pasts he uses simple snapshots of the American road, those objects glimpsed in the in-between places on the American highway and residential street. The clues that let us know we're leaving one place and arriving at another: powerlines at
sunrise, the overpass in evening.

ArtWalk will be from 7-10pm on Friday, 31 July. Greg Turner's photographs will be exhibited at Volta through the last week of August.

Weekend Update

  • Volta will be closing at 7pm this Saturday (7/18) while half of the staff are up in Chicago training with Intelligentsia. Regular hours resume on Sunday.
  • Volta will be at the UF Center for Performing Arts on Sunday evening for the first Summer Wine Festival — Corks, Cakes and Chocolate! Come join us in the Phillips Center Fackler Foyer East for a wine and chocolate tasting. Natalie and Italian chocolate importer Andrea Tosolini will be on hand to feature samples of Volta's new Italian chocolates. Socialize with friends and enjoy delicious samples from local businesses. Hors d’oeuvres will be served in the lobby as you make your way to Fackler Foyer West for an auction featuring handmade cakes from professional and amateur bakers. Tickets are available at the Center for Performing Arts, on the UF campus.
  • Speaking of chocolates, we've been receiving new chocolates over the last few days: we now have Askinosie's amazing 77% dark bar from Davao, Philippines. It's the first commercially available chocolate from the Philippines in decades, and it has a wonderful, wild fruit flavor behind the punch of a 77% dark bar. We also have the Askinosie Dark Milk back in stock, as well as a new variant of the white chocolate with goat's milk, this time using the San Jose del Tambo cocoa butter from Ecuador. Finally, we're completely restocked with Cuorenero chocolates from Italy. The tobacco-wrapped chocolates are back, and we've introduced a new 70% single origin Bolivia bar.

Ugandan Relations at Volta

[flickr-photo:id=3648084428]Direct Development International's fundraising exhibition for rural Ugandan schools now graces the walls at Volta, and we couldn't be more pleased. Colorful oilcloths cover the walls and the espresso machine, water gourds hang above the chocolates, and the wonderfully witty drawings by the school children are framed by photos of daily life in the country side.

DDI's Kelly Heber (aka, one of our favorite baristas, ever) has spent the last few months in Uganda; the show is the result of her interaction with the group Uganda NOW. Kelly had asked the children in a Uganda NOW-sponsored school to draw whatever came to mind to represent Uganda-US relations. The results are surprising. There are drawings of American foods popular in Uganda paired with Ugandan foods popular in the US. Drawings of US-funded clinics in the countryside. There are soccer players and kids hanging out, wild animals, and party scenes.

We also have woven baskets, gourd shakers, and carved crocodiles (Kelly called them Florida gators, but I think they are crocs...). Everything in the exhibit is for sale, and all of the proceeds will go to Uganda NOW projects funding schools in rural Uganda. The children's prints sell for $20 each; the oil cloth sells for $25. The crafts and photographs range in price from $10 to $25. When Kelly was installing the exhibit, I asked her about the use of the cloth in Uganda:

Kelly (explaining the fabrics she's pinning to Volta's walls): So the oil cloth is used by the women in Uganda who dig sweet potatoes.
Me: What a coincidence! I dig sweet potatoes!

Our proof: Ricky and I are also working on a series of sweet potato-based desserts to be featured throughout the month, including bourbon-sweet potato pie and glazed sweet potato pecan cupcakes.


To highlight the work, Volta has brought in a selection of African coffees that are the result of direct trade projects across south-central Africa. First off, we purchased one of the last lots of the Rwanda Maraba Cup of Excellence espresso available from Intelligentsia. The Maraba was the 6th place finisher in last year's Rwanda CoE competition, and it is the coffee that Mike Phillips crafted into a dynamic espresso to take 3rd place in the World Barista Championship. The Maraba pulls an amazing shot of espresso, and we have quickly sold out of every lot that we've been able to bring in. At $50 a pound retail, the Maraba is by far the most expensive domestically-roasted espresso that Volta has featured-- but we believe that it is one of those paradigm-shifting experiences that is well worth the extra buck to experience.

For a brewed African coffee, we are pleased to be able to present Counter Culture Coffee's Bwayi Lot #8, from Burundi. CCC describes the coffee as a "remarkable coffee from the Bwayi community of Kayanza, Burundi, offering mouthwatering notes of sweet lemon, butterscotch, fig, and wine. One of the best expressions of Burundian coffee we have ever experienced, we hope this coffee marks the beginning of a fruitful relationship with this community of dedicated farmers." As CCC explains, it isn't easy getting coffees out of a land-locked country like Burundi, and the Lot #8 offers a promise of great things to come if the obstacles are overcome. We were able to find a setting for brewing the coffee on the Clover that brings out an amazing butterscotch-fig finish, especially as the coffee cools.

Finally, we spent considerable time searching for a Ugandan coffee to serve but couldn't find anything available from a commercial roaster. We turned to Sweet Maria's, an indispensable resource for coffee geek home roasters, to pick up a kilo of organic Bugisu coffee from the eastern edge of the country. Sweet Maria's sums up the problems with getting good coffee out of Uganda:

While Arabica was introduced at the beginning of the 1900's, Robusta coffee is indigenous to the country, and has been a part of Ugandan life for centuries. The variety of wild Robusta coffee still growing today in Uganda's rain forests are thought to be some of the rarest examples of naturally occurring coffee trees anywhere in the world. The coffee trees are intercropped with traditional food crops and grown in the shade of banana trees and other shade trees. In these self-sustaining conditions, coffee is left to grow naturally, flowering on average twice a year.

Uganda has the unfortunate circumstance of being landlocked, and needing good relations with its neighbors to move its coffee crop to a port city. Transportation bottlenecks can result in containers full of steaming coffee beans stuck on the back of a truck or a dock somewhere ...not good for quality! But in recent years the problems of unstable East African politics and weak infrastructure seem to be improving, judging from the excellent quality coffee coming from the Northern Bugisu region along the Kenya border. Good marks are the Mbale Bugisu Coffee Factory and the Budadiri Coffee Factory -names of the mills where the coffee are prepared. Good Ugandan coffees are both unique among East African coffees and of intense character.

The Bugisu is an, er, interesting coffee. It certainly lacks the refinement of our Kenya, Ethiopia, or Tanzania coffees; in a way, it is more like a Sumatra or a Yemen. Tom, at Sweet Maria's, notes "The dry fragrance in lighter roasts has a clean lemon cookie scent, softly fruited and nicely sweet. Darker roasts have a chocolate biscuit quality in the dry grounds and Italian plum-like dark fruit in the wet aroma." It also has a woodsy-rustic quality that overwhelms when brewed on the Chemex but mellows nicely on the Clover.

We roasted up a kilo of the Bugisu on our shop iRoast home roaster-- just enough for people to sample during the opening. We will be selling cups on the Clover for $3, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Uganda NOW schools project.

Next Public Cupping: Sunday, 21 June, 11am

Our next (free) public coffee cupping: Sunday, 21 June, 11am. New crop Central American coffees from Intelligentsia, together with Counter Culture Coffee's Burundi Bwayi Lot No. 8. 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.

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