Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Appreciating Life a Little More: Looking Back At How I Survived 2 Days Without Coffee

"...and you call yourself a coffee blogger." Yes it is true. Recently I allowed two days to pass where I did not have any coffee. No, I'm not trying to prove anything or even cut back on my coffee consumption (although it did help me stretch coffee beans to last just a little bit longer than usual). In fact it all happened on back on Black Friday (yes, I realize that by now this is forever ago...being a parent means less blogging for me).

I woke up, washed up and got my son Liam all dressed and ready to go shopping with the wife and off we went. About 2 hours into the shopping festivities my head gently reminded me what part of my morning routine I had overlooked. As the headache increased, I tried not to focus on it and resolved to enjoy the day out with my family. I kept telling myself that my coffee fix would be addressed as soon as I got home and dreamt for that natural Kochere Ethiopia from Portola Coffee Lab . Time passed and my headache turned into a tolerable inconvenience. By the time I got home I dared myself to go the rest of the day without coffee, just for kicks. Challenge accepted! In fact the next day I fell into the same rut where I, yet again, forgot to make a cup of coffee in the morning and went through the same withdrawals and challenged myself to face yet another day without my legalized and sociably acceptable drug of choice. Once again, challenge accepted! The third day I came to my senses and made my cup of coffee, but here's where it gets good...

So I've been drinking speciality coffee for a couple years now and I'd like to think that I've developed a higher standard for good coffee. Not only that, but I'd also like to think that I've had some pretty darn good coffee. Perhaps I could even go out on a limb and say I've had some of the best coffee available in the North American continent. The only downside to drinking such good coffee on a daily basis is that (at least for me) I feel like "awesome" coffee has been downgraded to just "good" coffee. It's a bit like a person who eats at a 5 Star restaurant everyday and begins to think nothing of it. It's called normalization. After my two day hiatus from coffee, I began my coffee making process of first opening that fresh bag of whole bean Ethiopian coffee. The fragrance of that bag filled my senses with a sort of warm strawberry jam type of scent that made me wonder just how tasty this cup was going to be that day. As I weighed out and ground my beans, I placed the grounds in my coffee filter and slowly began pouring my water over it in a circular manner. As the coffee bubbled signifying its freshness, the aroma of the coffee was released into the air for my senses to take in. The soft coffee scent mixed inside a fruity arrangement of aromas was the final signature that reminded me how good this specialty coffee was going to be. As I drew my cup to my mouth, the aromas heightened and were complimented by the smooth and clean taste of coffee. Taste, smell, and even the feel of the warm coffee cup in my hands brought me into this long forgotten state of appreciation for this beverage. After two days of no coffee I was brought back to the understanding of how good specialty coffee really is.

But what about my car? My clothing? How about where I live? I am blessed to call Orange County, CA my home and am caught in between Los Angeles County and San Diego County and close enough to the San Bernardino mountains. Have these "things" become normalized to me, so much so that I complain when I eat Subway twice in the same week and that I feel that there's nothing to watch on Netflix anymore? Has God blessed me so much that I no longer see this as a blessing, but as something I deserve? Even further than that, am I no longer content with this blessing? How many of us can come to that same unfortunate conclusion that us middle class Americans have been normalized and possibly desensitized into thinking that the awesome "cup of coffee" that we have is not so special anymore. Maybe we all need a two day vacation from whatever our "cup of coffee" may be. It gave me some perspective and I could guess that it would
do the same for you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Shop for Old Town: Copa Vida

We had slept for approximately 1 hour, if that. The cries of our bundle of joy, Liam, had kept my wife and I from the one thing that we have been in much deprivation of since day one of his arrival...sleep. Sleep schedules, routines; nothing seems to work on this kid. Finally today, I decided that the only solution for this was a nice long trip up to Pasadena, CA to visit a coffee shop I've been hearing my cousin rave about for the past couple months: Copa Vida.

Copa Vida: 
Making the drive from Orange County to Pasadena made for an unconventionally relaxing ride for our little monster. That is until we were about 5 minutes away from the historic Old Town Pasadena area; which then made for a very long 5 minute of locating the nearest parking structure so we could get this kid out of the car. At that point, it didn't matter how much the structure parking was; we just needed to get that kid out of the car. That being said, parking structures are probably going to be your best bet when stopping by at Copa Vida. Unlike the wealthy geniuses that own the parking structures in Downtown LA and charge $3 for every 10 minutes, the 90 minute free parking and a couple dollars for every additional half hour definitely didn't break the bank, which says a lot coming from a guy whose bank is almost always broken. Alright let's talk about Copa Vida.

Taking a stroll through the Old Town Pasadena to arrive at Copa Vida definitely gave me that small-town downtown feel; very Hill Valley circa November 5, 1955. As I walked in, I was greeted by the barista and cashier with smiles all around. The store definitely has a very clean and organized feel to it. One of the features I most enjoyed of this shop was first how large the space was and how well the space was used. It wasn't big in an awkward and out of place kind of way. Everything fits just right. Speaking of layout, as you walk into the main doorway, you'll notice the barista counter curves around in a horse shoe shaped fashion to the other side of the wall in which you'll find additional seats at the coffee bar and additional tables with more seating options. Like I said, it's a nice, big layout.

The Coffee:
Okay, here's where I get really excited. Copa Vida scores big points with me, personally, by carrying some of my favorite coffee roasters around. This place is proudly serving up Verve Coffee Roasters, Ritual Coffee Roasters, and one of my new favorites Forty Ninth Parallel. Copa Vida also prides themselves in carrying specialty teas as well for you tea drinkers out there. After asking for a suggestion from the friendly barista, I was treated to an off the menu one and one (shot of espresso in one cup and a single shot machiatto in another). With perfectly steamed Straus Milk and a carefully pulled shot of single origin espresso, you can't go wrong. The pairing made for a great sampler of both their unaltered single origin offering and it's creamy counterpart, both highlighting the naturally fruity espresso in their own unique ways. Their single origin espresso (Forty Ninth's Ethiopia Yirgocheffe Espresso at the time)was definitely a treat. I was also able to try out their freddo, which they've defined as an iced double shot of espresso with simple syrup to sweeten it up. This place knows their specialty coffee and they obviously know how to make their coffees.

The Verdict:
As always, I feel that when you have great coffee, skilled baristas, and ambiance to match it all, everything latches on to one last thing: customer service. That dreaded feeling of pretentiousness always looms over specialty coffee shops, so much that the arrogant title of "coffee snob" has been associated with any person who cares about the natural flavors of the coffee. Yes, I realize it's a two way street and that baristas with poor interpersonal communication skills can often give the appearance of know-it-allism so much that you want to slap their face and purposefully taint their perfectly brewed black coffee with tons of unnatural sweetener, purely out of spite. That all being said, you won't find that kind of barista at this shop. In fact when I struck up a conversation with the barista on bar and explained to him that I had come from Orange County to Los Angeles County to visit the shop, he seemed to brighten up even more than he had already, expressing how grateful he was that I made the trip over (not that OC and LA are that far off, but, an hour drive's an hour drive). 

Bottom line: a trip over to Copa Vida is a no brainer. Great coffee, skilled baristas with great customer service always makes for a great coffee shop experience. Get there people. 

Just came back from Copa Vida again and not only did they have the awesome coffee but also had amazing live jazz. Not showing any bias because it was my awesomely talented cousin Fabian playing, but it really did add to the whole coffee shop experience. 

And...We're Back.

Whoa. By the looks of this, it has been quite some time since I last posted on this blog! For that I do apologize. However my excuse for my absence is encapsulated in one name: Liam. Liam is my son, who many of my Facebook and Instagram followers are more than familiar with due to my incessant posts of his antics. Now regarding my lack of posts: there is a direct correlation between the frequency of my blog posts and my overall hours of consecutive sleep (4 hours of consecutive sleep is very much different than 4 hours of sleep interrupted every 45 minutes by a screaming child. This is real, people). Let me show you how this works and how it will continue to work in a very simple equation:

Consecutive Hours of Sleep ∝ Frequency of Blog Posts.

So there you have it, folks. The more I sleep, the more I write. That being said, I better start writing while this little monster of a kid is still asleep.

Hours of this... made up when I see 5 minutes of this. Kinda.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Tour De Roast: Behind the Scenes at Caffe Luxxe

It's not everyday that you receive an email from a coffee shop owner who read your blog and invites you for a private tour of their roasting facility. Let me back up a little bit...

Back in April this year I went on one of my coffee shop visits at Caffe Luxxe in Brentwood, CA. Like I do with all my coffee outings, I wrote about it on this blog. It was about a couple days after I wrote my post that I received a message in my inbox from a gentleman named Gary Chau, Co-owner/Creative Director of Caffe Luxxe, explaining how he had enjoyed reading my review of their shop and my other posts as well (which, in and of itself, was exciting to hear). That being said, Gary was nice enough to extend an invitation to me and a couple of my friends to visit the headquarters/roasting facility of Caffe Luxxe. Honored and excited, I jumped at the opportunity to take Gary up on that offer, thus leading me to one of the most exciting coffee experiences I've ever had to date.

Driving to Gardena with my brother and meeting my good friend Terry at the roasting site, we all had been very excited to be able to meet the creative entrepreneurs behind the coffee that we had grown to appreciate so much. Terry had been a long time Luxxe fan (and the person who turned me on to checking out Caffe Luxxe to start) and my brother is a math and science brain who enjoys the math behind the coffee cup, probably more than he likes coffee itself. We walked into the doors of the facility and was greeted by the co-owner Gary.

We walked into their barista training area and were served amazingly creamy, dark chocolaty cappuccinos by Gary. My brother Joey was welcomed as he sat down by Caffe Luxxe's fluffy mascot, Sammy, who warmed his side as we sat down and just talked coffee. Gary introduced us to the other Co-Owner of Caffe Luxxe, Mark Waine, and together we sat and talked about life and some coffee (see how I did that...that's the name of my blog...never mind). I say that tongue in cheek, however it really was the nature of our conversation. Mark talked of his previous work at Microsoft and Gary's work in marketing for Bacardi and how their experiences during those times led them to where there are now at Luxxe. The conversations were so candid and free flowing that this hardly felt like a tour as it did a meet up between friends over coffee.

So now, I see this post going in two different ways. Either...

1) I tell you exactly the nature of our conversations, talking about their roaster, boring you with coffee nerd details and leaving you with a sense of, 'oh, that was nice,'
2) Tell you about Gary and Mark.

Let me tell you about Gary and Mark.

Gary explains the science mechanics behind the roaster.
The fact that I was invited for a private tour can give you an idea on the type of owners Gary and Mark are. They care. They care about their product, their customers, and their business as a whole. I can't look over (and I realize that I keep coming back to this point) the fact that these busy people were so personable and took time to make me and my friends coffee and just sit and talk with them at their roasting facility. Everything from coffee, business, life; all subjects were on the table and with such smooth candor. I've been to many shops, talked to many shop owners, and have met some very nice guys, however these guys definitely took the cake in 1-1 interactions with their customers. It was such a refreshing experience.

While being very nice owners, I realize that being nice can only get you so far, particularly in the business world. Particularly in food service business world. Particularly in the food service business world that is currently undergoing one of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. All of that being said, Mark and Gary of Caffe Luxxe know what works in this business. They've been doing speciality coffee here in Los Angeles before Intelligentsia opened in LA and have had to work from the ground up in educating the community (and even their own baristas when they opened) in what specialty coffee is all about. "We actually preferred people with no previous barista experience back then because they were more difficult to retrain," explained Gary. This segued into their explanation of their 6 month internship process that they have their employees go through before they even get behind the espresso machine. One thing after another, a common thread was evident in the explanation of their best practices....professionalism. One of the things I enjoyed most about this conversation with Mark and Gary was how professional they are in their business yet still be user friendly, so to speak. They have found that fine balance between customer satisfaction and maintaing their high standards for coffee without the pretentiousness that many shops have poisoned themselves with. They give quality coffee without any trendy strings attached.

The last thing I want to mention of what I appreciated about this experience was how much goes into the ambiance of their shops.They realize that coffee drinkers, especially in the LA areas where their shops are located, care about not just coffee, but the ambiance. As mentioned in my review of their shop, Caffe Luxxe definitely has that Italian caffe feel that makes Luxxe a desirable place to meet up with a friend, enjoy the weather, and unwind from the busyness of life. It was something that Gary was very passionate about, as he explained his fond memories of the European coffee shops he had visited in the past. "I really want this to be a place where you can meet up with a friend during the day and have a cup of artisanal coffee."

ALL of this can be summarized with this: I truly have much respect for both Gary and Mark. These guys are both coffee lovers and smart businessmen who know what it takes to not only survive in a not-so-good economy, but to thrive and still enjoy what they do. "I get to do this everyday," was what Mark said as he showed us their coffee roaster with a smile that read of contentment and satisfaction. Everything from customer relations to best business practices these gentlemen have down and are always striving to improve on.

All of this, and a parting gift of a bag of Testa Rosa. Thank you Mark and Gary.
Joey, Terry and I walked out the doors of the roasting site and looked at each other in this awkward silent giddiness, as if we had just walked out of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. "How do we explain this visit to our friends, they're not gonna understand how awesome this was!" It's true. Since this visit I've explained it to some of my friends who enjoy coffee but they really didn't understand what made this tour so interesting. It was even hard for me to put my finger on it. Looking back, what made this visit so memorable to all of us (again, repeat from what was said earlier) was how decent and pleasant Mark and Gary were.  It all really comes back to that.

I've already told you how much I enjoyed going to Caffe Luxxe in a previous post, but if you still haven't had the privilege of visiting this shop, you owe it to yourself to head on over. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Breast Milk Cappuccino: The Good and Bad Decisions of Early Fatherhood

As many of you may know (at least my close friends and family who read my blog) I am a day shy of being a week-old dad today. My boy, Liam, is one of the most handsome individuals I've ever met, and I'm not just saying that because he's my son. Liam is awesome and so is my wife/producer-of-this-boy Correne.
One of the first things that went through my mind as my wife and I discussed our desire to breastfeed our child was this: making a breast milk latte. Why? Why not was my bigger question. And now, I have tried it and have important news to relay to those wanting to try one: don't. It's disgusting and tastes like a million different things that you've never wanted to taste before. Let me explain the pros and cons.
1) Consistency is not there. In order to obtain the amount of breast milk needed for a cappuccino requires multiple pumps, which then makes for multiple possibilities of tastes in the breast milk. From what I've read on breast milk, it tastes like what momma has had to eat or drink before. If she had something sweet, the milk would take on that sweetness, and so on and so forth with different foods and drinks. Three different types of milks pumped at three different times means putting together milk that is destined to taste funky.
2) Milk fat is all over the place. Again, this has to do with consistency, as some milks were higher in fat content than others. While texturing the milk, it reminded me of texturing soy or almond milk (meaning watery and not fatty for a good cap).

3) It's breast milk. It's disgusting and should not have been done. Breast milk is for the baby and has all the nutrients that the baby needs. It is not for making espresso based drinks. Trust me. Please. 

I'd like to think that fatherhood as all about making good choices and learning from the bad. I'd like to think of this as one of my first bad choices. However, I've learned my lesson and now am passing this wisdom back to you. Do not try this (as if you were even thinking about it...I know some of you were thinking about it, cough, cough, Andrew Gomez).
Yes, this was documented on video; in all it's wondrous glory. Check it out here

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Morning Well Spent

Morning routines, for many, are more than just routines. My morning starts with my alarm clock going off. Per my usual custom, I snooze it. Four snoozes later, in some sort of zombie like daze, I get up and head over to my coffee bar, grab my espresso machine or brewer of choice and start making my beverage. More importantly than that, my morning routine doesn't just end with me making a cup of coffee and enjoying it like some '90's Folger's commercial. Coffee's great and I enjoy it more than your typical person would, however if my morning routine ended there I would be doing myself a disservice.

With my coffee in hand I then proceed to open up my Bible and study it. Now I don't want to paint this saintly picture of myself reading my Bible with a shiny halo hovering around my head. It's not like that. Imagine for a second: a gaunt man; a weary traveler, exhausted and weathered from the heat of the day. He stands with eyes shutting and head nodding off in and out of conciousness. Catching himself in misteps, he finds himself at a small house, dimly lit by a warm crackling fire. Wondering if this is real, he hobbles toward the door and knock as it swings opens, though it were inviting him in. He sits at a table, hovering over a warm meal somehow already prepared for him; a meal that once eaten would supply nourishment and vitality but if refused would mean starvation and ultimately death. That is who I am. I read my Bible out of necessity. The words out of that book are more than just stories, it's vitality. It has promises of a better life, both here in this world and afterward. It has the ability to change a ruthless murderer into an absolute lover of persons. It's a book whose writers, when faced with torturous death for their belief in it and were given an out for just admitting it was not true, could not deny the truth that was written in it's pages. I could go on at length about the effects it's had on me personally and many others, however I know that unless the cynic actually digs deep into this book they would not believe in it's potential.

Where am I going with this on my coffee blog? I'm wrapping it up now (by the way, remember that this blog is about LIFE and coffee. This is the life portion).

Here's what I'm getting at: set your priorities (I say this as a challenge to myself as well). Enjoy the things of life, but don't make them your everything. I love coffee but if that's where my morning time and efforts ended I'd be missing out on what life is truly meant for (and this goes for any hobby or interest, no matter what time of day). Put your stake in something that will last long beyond the coffee buzz or whatever your thing is. Invest your time in relationships. If you don't know where to start here's a quick hierarchal scale for you to try out:
  1. First and foremost work on that relationship with the God who made you and who loves you, despite all your shortcomings. Spend the morning cultivating that relationship, as I see this as the most precious and deepest relationship you'll ever have. 
  2. Then invest that time with your loved ones. Be it your spouse, your kids, your family and friends, invest that time together with them rather than just on yourself. 
  3. Last but not least is to spend your time on others you don't know. Now this is hard for me to write, because I'm selfish and guilty of not doing this. However, having a heart for the sick, the poor, and the destitute is what we should be about. Help others around you. Look for opportunities to love on the unlovables.
Alright, I'm done with this rant. I've spoken my mind. Enjoy you're coffee; make it good. Make your day count with the ones you love and, most importantly, with the One who loves you beyond your understanding. Any questions? Throw 'em in the comments bellow below (thanks for the typo correction, Cor haha).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

3rd Times a Charm: Handsome Coffee Roasters

It was only 1:30pm, and the wife was still at her baby shower until 3pm. Caffe Luxxe was great, but we had to do it. We had no choice but to go to another coffee shop.

Handsome Coffee Roasters:
This was not my first time at Handsome and, once again in total honesty, I had mixed feelings about this place from previous visits. Each time I had come I was "greeted" by less than friendly individuals, however I wanted my buddy to experience the snobbery as well, just for kicks. Thankfully, today was a  completely different experience.

After crossing over the 6th Street bridge, into LA's Skid Row and past the abandoned warehouses, you'll find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Once you think you're lost, look to your right on Mateo and there you'll find Handsome Coffee Roaster. This shop is in the middle of nowhere. The only reason for you to be in this area is for coffee from Handsome. Once you get over the exterior ambiance (or lack thereof) you walk into a very well furnished used-to-be-abondoned-warehouse-turned-coffee-shop. It's actually quite nice inside. Very modern, very clean. There is ample seating to the right, seats at the bar towards the wall, and seats up at the counter as well. Their large roaster is showcased in the back behind the glass, in all its glory. It's a pretty darn good looking shop inside.

The Coffee:
As you approach the often busy counter, you'll notice the menu. It's short and sweet (unlike my blog posts). It's espresso, espresso with milk, and coffee. That's it (well, you might be able to swing an iced coffee or iced latte, but that's a bit off the menu). I warn you before hand that this is indeed a coffee shop. Not a tea shop. Not a hot chocolate shop. Strictly coffee, and that's okay as long as you know before hand, unlike my beautiful wife who assumed they would have something for the non coffee drinker like herself. That was a different visit with a different experience. Needless to say, their coffee is great. I've had their espresso with milk before (by the way, that's just a simple way of saying macchiato, cappuccino, and latte) and was happy with it. Today I had their Rwanda drip coffee, which was very nice.

But let's back up real quick.

The coffee snob may grimace at the thought of speciality coffee being served in a drip percolator. In fact, this was my rationale for sticking to their espresso menu in past visits. I couldn't figure out why the heck artissan coffee was served in such a non-artissan brew method. So today I asked why they do what they do for their drip coffee as opposed to manual brewed coffee? The answer given to me by the barista was pretty simple; it tastes good. A more detailed answer followed as he explained how meticulous they are with their Fetco Luxus, as it's on a 20 minute timer and that once the buzzer goes off, they start brewing a new batch of coffee to consistently serve fresh coffee. Also, he explained the shower head inside the brewer pulses, which allows the coffee time to bloom (see step 5 in this post if you don't know what that means). Just for good measure, Handsome even measures the TDS (total dissolved solids) in their brewed coffees to ensure each brew is up to their preferred standards (in brief, TDS can give you an indicator how "strong" your coffee is). These guys even have a refractometer on hand to measure TDS and everything, which is pretty rad. In the end, the coffee they served from their drip machine was good. I can't complain. My Rwanda was bright and floral while my buddy's Columbia was complex and flavorful. Handsome has their bases covered when it comes to their brewed coffee.

The Verdict:
Handsome Coffee Roasters is becoming one of LA's best known spots for specialty coffee. Their simplicity in coffee offerings show that they really want to identify themselves as a coffee shop; not a cafe that sells chai tea and vanilla lattes. If you check out their feedback on Yelp you'll see they tend to take flack from those who want them to be an internet cafe a la Starbucks and they never will be like that. Their fair warning is often times exemplified in their location. They aren't easily accessible. They aren't in an area where people can come and just casually stroll by and assume this is just another coffee shop. You have to seek this place out and know that this place sells good coffee. Once you get there, you have only a few options of types of brewed coffee with only whole milk as your option for your espresso based drinks. Some may see this as being snobbish by not catering to other people's likes, but nobody every complains that In N Out doesn't serve hot dogs or that their menu only consists of 3 items either. That's just what they do, and I respect them for that. Keep it simple.

Now as as I mentioned right in the beginning I have not always had such a fond perspective on this shop. In fact the first two times that I stopped by this shop were less than pleasant. For some reason, I don't know if it was just because they were busy or something, I felt that the Yelp reviews were accurate as they described some of the staff as being rude and impersonal. I definitely agreed. In fact, as I mentioned in the beginning, I wanted to take my buddy here to show him how rude coffee snobs can be.


I'm so thankful that this time was a new day and a new experience. I had a great discussion with various staff members about nerdy coffee science, asked them about themselves and their involvement in the coffee world, asked where they were from, and talked coffee with them. It was great and each of the baristas were personable. I kid you not, I don't think I've had a more interesting coffee dialogue with baristas at a shop as I have at Handsome.

I think that this experience reminded me of 2nd chances...and even 3rd chances. I think I've told people before that I feel more likely to give people seconds chances simply because I've been given 2nd chances (and 3rd, and 4th, and 5th...). I feel that I don't really have a right to hold issues against people because of the grace I've been given in various situations and times. Yes, we're still talking about coffee here so I'll bring it back by asking you to give the specialty coffee industry another chance if you've had a bad experience. Engage the barista. Talk to them and ask them how their day is going. They love coffee, so ask them about their coffee. Obviously keep in mind the lines and such, but I can almost guarantee you that they'd like to talk more coffee with you after the lines has died down. And I may not be in the right position to say this (shoot, it's my blog I'm doing it), but I do feel a bit compelled to advise you to give people in general a second try. I'm sure you've received second tries and third and maybe even fourth. I think sometimes we all need another try. Right? Okay, I'll stop now. Go drink some good coffee now.