Monday, March 19, 2007

Roasting Coda Coffee

Burn, baby, burn. It should be more along the lines of roast, but previous sounds better to me, and I like good intro. My second roastery visit in Denver is to Coda Coffee, a popular local roastery in the center of Denver. Tim, one of two brothers who started the business, the other being Tommy, invited me to come out and visit their roastery during one of the Third Thursday barista jams. Finding their place was rather easy, luckily for me, as they are in a decent sized light industrial park.

When I walk into the roastery, I am stuck by how large it is, I had imagined a small hole in the wall sized place, not a place of this magnitude. They have a pretty good setup for a new company, with a small office, lots of coffee, and a rather large roaster (to me). They have a new delivery van, lots of syrups and other stuff for their customers, so they are more of a one stop shop, which in my book is an added bonus for their clients. But they don’t carry enough extra products to be a distraction from their roasting, a delicate balancing act indeed.

After meeting the crew, and getting the 5¢ tour, Tim showed me the roaster, which as previously stated, is big, with its after-burner, plumbing and all sorts of gear. I got a bit of the process explained to me. We talked a little bit about his roasting philosophy, which is different from anyone I’ve meet. He explains that Coda is a custom roaster, so if you want a delicately roasted, high end, Cup of Excellence winning Brazilian, he can do that for you. On the flip side, if you want an extremely dark roasted, carbony, medium-low grade (they’re not going to sell anything they don’t have pride in), low cost coffee solution, they can work with you too. This fits them into a rather neat little niche, or rather, not, they’re adaptable, expandable, (they come with laser beams on their heads!), and willing to work with just about anyone. Go, go gadget roaster!

We wander around a bit, he showing me some machines, talking about experiences we’ve had in the business, then he lets me in on a special project. We walk to the back of the shop, and through a door marked for the restroom, and into an empty office area. This space will be their new cupping lab, training room, and offices, and maybe a little something extra (you’ll have to ask them). Part way into construction of their new diggs, they’re still excited over the prospect of having dedicated space for each of these activities. To me it’s very exciting to see a company expanding and growing, because you see the workers and owners fulfilling their dreams and ideas.

My overall feeling about Coda is rather positive after this meeting, and I see them filling a gap in Denver that is badly needed. So if you need coffee, no matter the style, origin, or type, I’m guessing that they’ll gladly fill your hoppers with some beans. Good luck Coda.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Field Trip to NOVO Roastery

Who say’s small means less, when it can mean the difference between a delicately selected, beautiful, full city roasted coffee and a dirty espresso machine. What do I mean? I mean the difference between a smart roaster, and one doesn’t care about what happens to their beans. Whenever you see a company that will sell to just about anybody, doesn’t care about how you prepare it, only cares that your last check didn’t bounce, and you made the minimum 15lb order this month (month??!!). Makes you scared? Right? But there is always a flip side to the coin, and I got to see it in action, right in front of my eyes, and without a self-congratulatory word uttered.

The space is maybe only a thousand square feet and change, divided amongst three separate rooms located in a central part of the city. A few doors down from them is an industrial metal artist, who I must admit, has some very cool stuff outside his door. The only people in the roastery today is Simeom, a very quiet and confident roaster from Ethiopia, and Herb, the PR man and father to Joseph and Jake, the other two masterminds behind NOVO.

The first space I enter, the actual roasting room, where some roasting action is taking place, I meet Simeom and he directs me to next door, where Herb is at. This is office/bean storage/meeting room/anything and everything else room. Herb greets me and we start talking about the facility, and how much expansion they have done, and will need to do soon, as it looks like they’re about to burst at the seams in some places. We look at some pictures of Joseph’s trip to Papua New Guinea, and all the people who where on that trip, which, if pictures can only describe 1% of the amazement, was incredible. Then Simeom comes in, and Herb says a couple jokes, I laugh, Simeom smirks, not even stopping in his quest for labels of some sort. Later I realize that Simeom is a machine, dedicated and efficient, in the few minutes that I watched him work, he is the MAN.

Their roaster is considerably different than most I have seen before. I do not have the words to describe it, but I will say that it does make some darn good coffee in their capable hands. You cannot miss the tubs and tubs of roasted beans against the wall. These will be shipped out the next day, which of course, Herb and I partook of, some Los Lajones Estate made in a Clover just for me. In this space the also have a small cupping and sample roasting lab, which like everything else, is slightly crowded, but has some CoE samples, and the obligatory growing pile of samples sent from farms around the world. A person could get lost here, a playground of Clovers, roasters, espresso machines, and mountains of freshly roasted beans, sounds terrible, right?

Then as get back to office I meet Patrick for first time, again, as we had only meet for a very brief time at the tasting the Friday before. Herb and I speak, he answers a few phone calls, which I think is nice, knowing that when somebody calls, they will get a person on the line, not an answering machine. I know that he needs to get back to work, and that I should go, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. As I say my goodbyes and get into my car, I start to drive away saying to myself, ‘Now that’s how you do it.’


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Life, by the way of Denver

About 6 weeks ago my wife and I finished packing and left Portland early in the morning, with the nose of our car pointed for Denver. Three days, bad weather, terrible road food, $100 in gas, hazardous roads, blowing snow, and a gallon of wiper fluid was all the stood between us and Denver. After arriving and getting into a hotel, we checked in with our new apartment, and it was to be ready on Saturday, we thought everything was alright. Saturday comes, we go to the apartment complex, sign papers and check out our new apartment, it’s not very nice at all, but we’ll deal. Then we go shopping for some food and supplies, and arrive back at the apartment, walk in, and turn on the lights. Cockroaches are everywhere, hundreds of them, an absolute deal breaker. I call the emergency maintenance line and leave a message, back to the hotel we go, unfortunately nobody calls. This had to been an omen.

Fast forward a week and we’re in a nice new apartment about a mile away from the cockroach filled one.

That is one of the few good things that has happened to us while in Denver, to be as polite as humanly possible. (The only two other things that come to mind are NOVO coffee, and Third Thursdays) I went back to Portland for two weeks to cover a few of my friends’ shifts while she is in Guatemala. That was rather cool, she has good employees, and her customers expect high quality, so I was able actually work the bar, not watering myself down. This is the last time I have worked since the move, and now it’s a month later.

Right now, according to my count, I have had 23 interviews, 0 returned calls, 2 people who said I was hired and then avoid me like the plague, 2 coffee shop owners that hide whenever I enter the building, over 100 phone calls to the above interviewers made, and 0 dollars added to my bank account. At this point I am actually looking at moving back to Portland just to get work, which is sad, there are quite a few people who will hire me, or hire me back in the Portland area.

Now I will wait until the end of the month, and by then I will make my decision. Is it really too much to ask for a few hours here and there, and I want to compete for whatever coffee shop picks me up. I really want to do well, expand my skill base, and elevate the knowledgebase of my customers and educate their palette, making them as happy as possible while making sure the coffee I’m serving is socially and environmentally responsible where possible.

I am going to cut myself short, see that I am rather upset at these circumstances that I find myself in, as I don’t think it is deserved, nor do I think it’s fair either. Now I will go and pick up my wife at work, and drive to Colorado Springs, to drop off film that one of her drivers forgot to drop off, woo hoo……..

Wish me luck (or give me a job, whatever works)!!


Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Family of Tastes

On the subject of coffee, I enjoy a good tasting, more than a little bit, and I enjoy watching people become amazed by really TASTING coffee for the first time. I really, really enjoy it when you get some amazing coffee and pair it with some very passionate people, then you're in for a real treat.

Just going into one of Novo's cafes can only give you a hint of what they're about, one that you can't quite grasp, its a palpable feeling you get, exciting and calming, all at once. They really do love their coffee, and they get giddy about just serving it to you and watching your reaction at first sip. But today isn't about their cafes, its about whats in the cup, and whats in the cup is very exciting.

The coffee on the menu today is: Tawar (Sumatra), Abeba (Ethiopia), and Los Lajones Estate (Panama), all excellent in their own right, but all very different. We are at their Denver Art Museum locale, and they have kindly set out some goody bags for our enjoyment. (I love swag, and I really love coffee swag.) The event is informal, but quite a few people are dressed up, with two ties in attendance, and three dresses, I'm impressed, but this coffee deserves this type of respect, and I'm all for it. Everyone is happily talking amongst themselves, but not everyone is at ease yet, and they are just looking around, so I talk to to a few of them, and they meld into the group, confident that they're at the right place. There's about 18 people in attendance, not bad for hardly telling anyone, but we, as we are informed, are the guinea pigs for the tasting, and they don't want to do a full dog and pony show and be unprepared.

The tasting starts with a few words from everyone, and introductions are made, we sit and they bring us some ground coffee of each type, we smell each and write down what we think it smells like on some tasting sheets. After this, we mingle, and talk to other tables while they prepare some press pots.

I go and talk to Herb Brodsky, and we sit a little bit removed from the event while we comment on how good it feels to have people enjoying the coffee that his son sourced, and his other son roasted, he must be on cloud nine right now. I'm going to visit the roastery this upcoming Wednesday, now that is a great development.

Now the coffee is coming out and I head back to my seat as the first cup has been served, and the second is coming out, and we get into it. At our table we decided to not have the coffee's labeled, this didn't turn out as well as planned, most people at the table are new to this, but after a bit of coffee wrangling, it all got sorted out, and will be labeled in the future to avoid confusion. The tasting goes on for another 40 minutes, talking and tasting, writing notes and tasting again, people really start to get into it, and then people start to mingle again. One table decides its had enough coffee for the night and cuts out before they go overboard. All the Novo employees are walking around and talking to the people at tables, answering any questions, giving their thoughts on coffee philosophy.

As the night wraps up, and everyone starts winding down, the feeling of the nights event starts to wash over you, and I feel somewhat elated and sorrowed at the same time. Although I love their coffee, love their philosophy, I feel as though I am still an outsider, not quite part of the Novo family, like someone looking into a house with a great party going on, but you not old enough to go. But I'm also so very excited, I got to at least SEE the party going on, and I know what going on. As my wife and I leave, on a caffeine high, feeling as though we could rule the world with just a flick of the bean, we resign ourselves to just having one day a month to really get into the hearts of the people who find, cultivate, nurture, and roast this wonderful coffee. This is my first, First Friday, and hopefully not my last.


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