Archive for the 'Bars and cafes' Category

Isa does Starbucks

One week ago, Starbucks opened its doors in the central train station of Antwerp. It’s the second Starbucks in Belgium, after the one at the main departure hall in Brussels Airport. Its opening was accompanied by lots of publicity and media attention. It was covered in almost all Belgian newspapers, the MNM radio station dedicated a whole program to it, celebrities and bands were asked to make the obligatory performances, etc…  It was a BIG news item, as if Belgium had been waiting for this moment for ages, as if only from this point on Belgians could start enjoying good coffee…

Needless to say that we as Caffènation baristas felt the need to go check this out. Earlier on this week, my fellow heavy metal cuppers Bert, Roeland and Jeff went on expedition. I don’t think they were in for a completely honest objective review, but however did wait an awful long time only to come back with burned tongues.

I wanted to give them some more credit, trying to enter as a regular customer, without being biased too much; trying to be as objective as I could. I travel from Ghent to Antwerp by train, hence passing by Starbucks almost every day. But the waiting line there was always so big while I was always in a hurry.  Tuesday I had ten minutes left before my train was leaving. The queue was pretty big with at least 15people in front of me, and I thought I’d never make it.

Surprisingly, I did! I must admit I was happily surprised with how fast the staff was handling it. One person was taking orders from the people in line, handling each of them a piece of paper while at the same time yelling out the orders to the baristas at the other side of the bar. This was a nice way to save time at the cashier, where the customers handed over their piece of paper, paid and in return got their sweets/sandwiches and a ticket for the drink. On a downside, the constant yelling by one staff member (“tall caramel frappuccino to go”) echoed by the barista or barista assistant (“understood, one tall caramel frappuccino to go”), was annoying me big time. The back and forth order yell made me feel like watching a ping pong game from way too close, it made me nervous and anxious to get my drink as fast as I could and get the hell out of there. Talking about killing a chill and relax atmosphere that should accompany a nice cup of coffee, this is certainly an efficient way of doing so.  Second problem was that the baristas couldn’t handle the fast income of orders; so they had to ask every customer: “sorry, what did you order?” I don’t mind repeating my order, but then why the hell do all the yelling in the first place.

However, these are all routine issues, and considering that the staff has only been working there for about a week, they did a pretty good job.  Bottomline is: I got my drink within ten minutes from ordering it.

More importantly now: the taste of my order! I got a ‘tall cappuccino and a blueberry muffin to go’. Because I had to run for my train, the first sip I took was when I was seated, so a couple of minutes after the drink was made… and I almost burned my tongue (I was very careful, as I saw them make my drink). I know these cups are designed to isolate warmth but one should basically never burn their tongue when sipping a cappuccino or latte or any milkbased drink for that matter, no matter how tall it is. So, I took off the lid and let it cool down for a while. I immediately saw the bubbles in the foam, and the smell of burned milk… The barista who made my drink first aerated the milk an awful lot, then to put the pitcher on the tray leaving it to steam further…  way too f’n’ long! What I don’t get, because they are using huge thermometers in their pitchers. It seemed to me that they are just using them for the ‘stretching’ fase of milk steaming, when air is carefully pulled into the milk; but don’t mind about the ‘whirlpooling’ fase, when milk is rotated so it gets a nice silky even texture of microfoam. At both stages, temperature control is of utmost importance!

Furthermore, I also didn’t get a nice balance between the milk and coffee taste. Even when it had cooled down, I only had a flavored, kind of bitter and even slightly caramel milk taste. A little bit like burned sugar. Do they use extra sweetened milk? Where was the coffee taste? I’d like to go back to taste their espresso, and see if I can recall any of that taste in the capp I got.

The blueberry muffin I got was ok. While it did have some ‘berry chewing-gum’ chemical taste, it was light and fluffy; as a muffin should be.

In total I paid 5,90euros for this: 3,90 for the cappuccino and 2 for the muffin. Im ok with the muffin price; but 3,90 for the smallest capp you can get is really too high a price for me.  If it were to have extraordinary coffee inside, or perfectly textured milk; it would ease the pain on my wallet weight loss and might justify the buy.

It sells fairtrade coffee, fair enough, but Starbucks is going to have to change a lot in order for me to have them as a regular. For now, every day when I take my train, I’ll be going in a wide circle around the queue to get my Dorica (double ristretto capp) at Caffènation.

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Just one of the reasons why I love my job

I’ve shared this on facebook, and on twitter… but I watched it again today and I am really impressed by this film.. that I wanted to share it here again…  On the risk of repeating myself, sorry folks…

This movie really captures the job of a barista in such a nice way: the actions that involve making a great shot of espresso: the grinding (yay, anfim grinders), the tamping, the brew temperature and pressure of the machine (synesso in this case)… and also the frothing of the milk, latte art… all daily actions of a barista… but what i love the most is how it shows the people aspect of our job: the social interactions, the people sipping their lattes, licking off the foam off their lips, their smiles… ooh, honestly, that is one of the reasons why I love my job…  It requires a lot, it is hard work, but it can be so rewarding! 

I guess I’m saying: keep on smiling and keep on being enthusiastic (“ooooh, look, there’s a heart in my coffee” ;)  )

On a sidenote, I far more twitter about coffee than I write about it here these days… Short small updates on what’s (been) going on in my coffee journey and ‘the’ industry in general. And at the same time you can occasionally learn about the music i like through lastfm. Follow me here.

Coffee breakdown

Ok, this blog has bean dead for a while… Not actually dead, but one has to admit that it suffered from a breakdown or some serious version of summer hibernation.  If it’s any support to the readers, the blog is aware of its dormant status, and has no intention of actually dying at all… He’s just really slow in waking up… Cut him some slack, will ya :) 

Amongst the so many daily interesting and not so interesting coffee related bits and twits that I read, today there was one in particular that caught my intention: a coffee breakdown…

(original by Brock Davis)

original by Brock Davis

 

Wired Magazine posted an article on the actual compounds of coffee… Of course, we all know that it contains water and caffeine, but it’s the other things that are interesting. Don’t you wanna know what you’re drinking? Go and check what’s in your cup!

 

Speaking about coffee breakdown, lots of people in Antwerp have their daily/weekly/monthly coffeebreak down for a while: Bar Choq has temporarily closed its doors due to construction problems in the building. As one of the best Belgium barista’s I know, and definitely the kindest coffee shop owner I’ve ever met; it’s truly sad that this has happened… While right now, in return for all those beautiful coffee moments he’s created, there’s not a lot we can do besides showing how much we heart Bar Choq… but let’s make him work his ass off once he’s back on track… Promised!

Me, my coffee and my barista

As a coffee aficionado, I follow about a dozen blogs about all things coffee, from local shops and ambassadors such as Caffenation and Bar Choq; over important roasting works such as Intelligentsia (USA), Has Bean (UK) and the Coffee Collective (Denmark) to world barista champions (eg. James Hoffman and Tim Wendleboe) and infamous trainers (eg. Daniel Humphries and Anne Nylander). (This reminds me that I still need to work on my links list, as they really do reserve a place there)

 

Recently quite a lot of the (international) talk has evolved around one event in specific… and to be honest, it really is too ‘hot’ of a topic not to talk about it…  Following the buzz of the latest weeks, partly created by the promise of some pretty impressive equipment, partly by a ‘be there or be square’ opening party and partly by the unfortunate postponing, past Monday at noon, the moment was finally there: THE state of the art-slash-wet dream of every barista-shop opened its doors in Venice, California…owned by Intelligentsia!

 

Unfortunately California is too far away for a quick visit, but telling from the pictures, Intellivenice, as it is commonly called, is a coffee lovers heaven. The whole place is designed to give each customer a personal delightful coffee experience and to “bring down the barrier between barista and costumer” as Doug Zell, owner of Intelligentsia, puts it. And when Intelli says ‘personal’, it’s not some hollow marketing term, they’re for real: once you enter, you are lead to your spot at one of the four (4!) coffee stations… there your personal dedicated barista awaits you to serve you some (oh yes, im sure you’ll have more than one) stellar coffee drinks, whether that is espresso-based or from the ‘slow bar’ meaning vacpot, siphon, press, or maybe a coffee from one of the two Clover machines? You can enjoy your cup at the barista station, chatting to people that really know coffee without having to worry about the line behind you; or chill at the relaxing benches in the back… There’s no counter or register (payment is via a Iphone-like tool that every barista carries, oh cool!)… Its just you, your coffee and your barista…

 

Intellivenice is every barista’s wet dream: 4 Synesso (amongst the worlds best espresso machines) two-group machines, a 1972 customized La Marzocco, 2 Clovers (machines mostly used in the States that make very clean but fully flavored individual cups of drip coffee… the company is now (sadly?) owned by Starbucks), and a ‘slow bar’ with several brewing options including vacpots, chemex, Eva solo and French press.

 

The barista’s that work the bar are not everybody: Kyle Glanville, US barista champion 2008 and Director of Innovation at Intelli hired newlyweds Chris and M’lissa Owens to work at the bar, both extremely knowledgeable and experienced baristas. Tim Styles, coffee professional from Australia but working for Square Mile in London recently, crossed the Atlantic to help manage the place. Other potential baristas were trained during an extensive ‘Barista Boot Camp’ with several tests to pass and certifications to acquire.

 

And last but not least: the beans. Intelligentsia is one of USA’s and the worlds most important roasting companies. They’ve been advocating for a growing awareness of good coffee, not only among customers but (more importantly) among coffee farmers. They travel to origin to create personal relationships with small farmers in remote villages. They explain to them how to distinguish good from bad coffee, what price their coffee is worth and how to make it (even) better. They try to create a better coffee world, a ‘fairer’ coffee world. Their Black Cat espresso blend is honestly amazing and they have some ‘in season’ (yes, even coffee has seasons, more on that next time) single origin coffees of exceptional quality. (For those who doubt: yes, I have really tried some of them myself when I was in NY)

 

Exceptional beans prepared on exceptional equipment by exceptional baristas in an exceptional environment… would “Intellivenice introduces the 4th wave” be too bald of a statement?

Either way, a visit is exceptionally ;) high on my coffee to-do list. Until then: gaze at the pictures, look in awe at the video of the first minutes and nervously follow the Intelli news.

Our lipstick in the middle of ORcup

On saturday, we have quite some classy shopping ladies coming in for a cup of coffee and a delicious piece of cake… We like them, they bring some attitude and liveliness to the place… but, honestly, we don’t like what they leave us with once they’re gone :)

What have they done to ORcups?

I can’t help but wonder whether such amounts of lipstick influence the taste of the cup?  Ladies, help me out here: lipstick flavored coffee on our new summer menu?

Speaking of which, that new summer menu is being worked at very hard. Both content as lay-out will change. We’ve been trying out some new coffee specials, refreshing home-made limonades and ice-teas. Ready for those hot’n’sweaty summer days. Some summer teasin:

Summer teasin

How the virus got me

It all started last summer, when I ended a one-year trip through South-America with a 3 months stay in NYC.

I was lucky to be living in lovely Williamsburg and every day my roomies came home with a great smelling cup of Oslo coffee… and I just got intrigued by the atmosphere and friendliness that goes with standing in line with all the regulars and drinking a delicious cup before heading to work or home… or just staying in the bar meeting people, working on my laptop… Coffee to stay or to go, coffee in the morning, afternoon coffee with friends, coffee right before hopping on the bus, a cup to wake up, a cup to go to bed. Back then, coffee was not my main interest, nor did the idea of getting a job involving coffee pop into my mind… but my days did involve lots of coffee…and somehow the coffee virus must’ve silently settled into my body somewhere…

 

…ready to hit hard a couple of weeks later.

Coming home after an inspiring year of travelling, meeting wonderful people, leading a ‘non-traditional’ life… is not really like stepping into a warm, welcoming, cozy home at all. Oh of course, there’s family and friends that you’ve greatly missed and that are happy to spent some time with you again. There’s some habits and staple foods that you gladly pick up again. But rather then being fulfilled with the embracing feeling of home, I found myself confused and without any goal or project. Though my plane had safely brought me ‘home’, I was floating around and couldn’t find good soil to plant my feet in. While everyone in my surroundings had a bunch of expectations that I felt I obliged to live up to, I would’ve rather just run away again.

I had to choose ‘the next step’, which seemed harder than all the previous steps I had taken in my life. Was I supposed to work in advertising or event organizing again, something I had studied for and done with pleasure (and a suit and overtime)? Or should I try to find a job in a cultural centre, promoting music and theatre, something that has always been an interest? Somewhere in the back of my mind, I also had the idea of opening my own coffee shop one day; something that seemed fun and great to do but that I didn’t have money for now.

And the idea that seemed the least plausible at first won. Somehow – the virus must’ve broken out – I found myself browsing coffee blogs, searching the existing espresso bars in Belgium (oh so few), looking for barista training (even less). As if my senses had now incorporated ‘coffee’ into their library, I came across articles in the newspapers, interviews on the radio, workshops, books and more information.

 

Coffee became my passion, my goal, my project, my savior, my soil to land in. My home is not a real time place, rather a feeling, a satisfying project surrounded by people that support it. So while I was waiting for OR – the new espresso bar that I was gonna start at – to get ready, I went back to NYC. This time on a concrete mission: visit as many coffee shops as possible, do some coffee research and get some training. It’s lovely to see how the industry is booming over there and how friendly most baristas are. A huge thank you to Daniel Humphries who gave me my very first barista training and who’s an amazing and encouraging trainer. And thanks to Everyman’s Espresso, 9th st, Oslo, Cafe Grumpy, El beit, Gimme and all the other cafes for my daily doses. As always, time in NYC flies and visits are too short, but I was excited to go back this time…

 

I am happy that I got the opportunity to start at OR, where I am learning every day and I am able to be part of the upswell of espresso and the growing awareness of and interest in good coffee in Belgium. Turning the key of the front door of the cafe and serving shots of espresso everyday, yes, it does feel like coming home.

 

Just so you know: my new home’s open to everyone: come in and sip your coffee; and I’d be happy to show you around.

 

Ps: People interested in my adventure through South-America can still read my stories on http://mwoi-isa.blogspot.com (in dutch except for one article in english)


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