What I’ve Been Up To

So there has been a long gap between this post and the previous. It’s not that I don’t have content to post, because I write my blogs in advance, and post what is relevant to me. Life has been busy. A lot of things have changed in my life…for the better. My life is coffee.

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The coffee popup that I lead, Serve Coffee (ya…it’s the same name), became a catering business for weddings and other formal events. We still popup at my church and serve those delicious cappuccinos for free on Sunday…yup…it’s free. During the month of May we served at our first wedding, and it was an experience. It was an outdoor wedding, and we walked into the venue without knowing much about the accommodations. Because we don’t have to share power for our equipment when we popup at my church, I was never aware of the fact that the grinder needed to be on it’s own line. My wife and I got to the venue two hours before we had to serve, and got everything set up, so I could get dialed in not knowing that we were sharing power with the lighting guy. I hit the button to dose espresso, and the grinder shuts off. Long story short: coffee equipment requires a lot of power, and coffee equipment is selfish like a little child. It broke my heart, but we had to pre-grind a whole 5lb bag of coffee to dose our espresso. Lesson learned though. We need to research the venues that we cater at, and have to request to be on our own line of power. This entire pursuit of coffee has become an everyday obsession for me.

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I get the opportunity to work at an amazing coffee shop. I always thought I would enjoy working in the coffee industry, but I never thought I would get the chance to work at Copa Vida. It’s incredible. It’s fast paced. It forces you to work hard, and to work at a high standard. I get to work with friends. It really is a dream come true. I think customers assume I am friendly, because I’m paid to provide that type of service. But I am always happy, because I love what I do, and I know that God has placed me here for a reason. If you’re in Pasadena, then come on by, and say “hi,” because most likely I will be there.

 

 

 

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Serve Coffee

To this date, some time in March, I have been a little out of the loop working in the coffee industry. But I’ve been blessed to be able to serve this amazing beverage still on Sundays at my Church. Currently, I am the Director of Coffee for Serve Coffee which is a coffee popup that runs Sunday mornings. Yes, that title was self-imposed. Yes, we run, and use specialty coffee standards, and techniques. Yes, the coffee we serve is free. We are fortunate enough to feature Copa Vida’s coffee at our pop-up, and everyone is loving it.

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We run our espresso bar off of a single grouphead Giotto espresso machine. It’s a single boiler, meaning there is one main water boiler that provides hot water to both the grouphead and steam wand, but it has been running well for our fast-paced service. Honestly, I don’t know how the machine is keeping up with our queues, but it hasn’t blown up yet, fingers crossed. We grind using a Compak K10 for our espresso. It provides beautiful grounds that allow us to get sweet, even extractions. To keep our bar flow clean, and routine, we dose our grounds in a metal tumbler, and use a dosing funnel, similar to how G&B and Go Get em Tiger prep their espresso shots.

On an average Sunday, we serve around 45 guests from just our espresso bar. Our service runs a little over an hour, starting around 11am. We also have batch brewed coffee from our fetco. Just to make our service a little more streamlined, and practical, we use the same coffee for both our espresso bar, and batch brew. I didn’t see that it was financially prudent to buy one coffee for espresso, and a separate coffee for our batch brew. This has taught me a lot about dialing in, and extracting the best flavor from one coffee in the two different formats.

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I serve with an awesome team that embodies genuine service and care. I believe that it’s harder to serve when there is no financial reciprocation for what we do, and it’s a constant reminder that we are not doing this for our own glory, and praise. Because the coffee we serve is free, and my team and I do not get paid, the people we serve know that we have a passion for what we do, and it’s for a greater cause. Our church members often take trips down to Tijuana, Mexico to partner with an organization called Spectrum. We have partnered with them for over 7 years now, and they provide services for the less fortunate in their community. We’ve had the opportunity to build houses for those that need homes, pass out food, visit orphanages, and feed, and distribute water to the individuals that live in the Rosarito trash dump. We take donations when we serve coffee on Sundays to help Spectrum with the heavy costs of these endeavors.

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There are many new opportunities opening up for the popup, but I want to end this post with what I’ve learned. This coffee popup has demonstrated the generosity of the coffee community, and that by serving a cup of coffee, lives can be changed, and whole communities can be encouraged. We can’t wait to serve you.

My Life in Coffee Pt.1

After my baptism into specialty coffee, I bought a Clever Dripper. My close friend gave me a Hario hand grinder, and I started buying amazing coffee to brew. Once I started brewing my own coffee, I gained the courage to explore coffee menus, and brew methods more. Then I had my first pour over.

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It was perplexing to see scales being used, and a timer to monitor the brew. It seemed more like a science experiment, than a cup of coffee being brewed. I was still so naive. So, I bought my first pour over set up. I got myself a Hario V60, a Bonavita temperature variable kettle, and a scale. This led me on my journey in learning brewing techniques, and what is happening to the coffee during the brew process. My coffee knowledge was still in the infancy stage, but I kept falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Everything would change when my friend started a coffee popup.

I won’t get too much into the coffee popup, that will be a different post. Brewing coffee, and pulling espresso are two different beasts. Though they share many principles, the procedures are different, and pulling espresso requires a certain precision that can be difficult to grasp. Being on bar was exhilarating, confusing, overwhelming, and at times frustrating. I really didn’t know what I was doing. My friend is a home barista by hobby, and never received formal training, but his knowledge of coffee is like an encyclopedia, or I guess now it’s just wikipedia. There were times where it seemed like we had to learn things together. The camaraderie was amazing, and I loved it, but it was frustrating to not really have a strong sense of how my actions produced specific consequences.

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I started to frequent a coffee shop near my house, and decided that I would make it my mission for it to be MY spot. I went religiously, getting to know the baristas, and owner, and trying to understand the craft from their perspective. After many months, I finally felt like a regular. There were moments where the baristas, who I now consider friends, would let me pour my own cappuccinos, only to fail in their presence. My comfort level was to the point where I was washing my own dishes, and helping around the shop. It felt like home.

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I would constantly take the espresso machine that we would use for the popup home, so I could gain the Consistency in pulling espresso, and steaming milk. Finally, after pounds and pounds of beans, and numerous gallons of milk, I could pull shots and pour hearts. The owner was interested in my progress, and asked me to go behind bar one day. This was huge. This was like being called into the principal’s office, and going to Disneyland at the same time. I tamped. Unevenly. I pulled my shot. Espresso sprayed from the portafilter. I steamed my milk. Stretched too much. Instead of being sent back to my seat, because I failed, the owner walked me through his routine, and demonstrated proper technique. I worked at it daily, and after a few more months, I started working at a specialty coffee shop. But as always, the journey doesn’t end there.

How it all Started for Me

Starbucks. Isn’t that where it almost always starts? While I was in grad school, I would frequent the local Starbucks, trying to kill two birds with one stone. I needed a place to study, but I also wanted to earn my coveted Starbucks Gold Card. Not wanting to have third degree burns in my mouth on a daily basis, I would always order an iced coffee. This is when my palate started to change.

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That smokey, roasty, charcoal, and medicinal flavor would stain my mouth whenever I would drink my iced coffee, and with free refills, I would knock back at least 8 a week. This evolved my pallet as years before I would gag drinking whiskey, then all of a sudden I had a craving for those smokey, tannin filled flavors. I thought that Starbucks was the epitome of coffee, because of its properties to change my taste. Then a good friend of mine took me to my first specialty coffee shop: Handsome Coffee.

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Handsome Coffee was located in the Arts District of Los Angeles, which is now housing Blue Bottle LA. It was beautifully simple, and it still had the magnitude to change my life. Since all I knew was iced coffee, I ordered just that, but the baristas called it cold brew. I didn’t know any different. Through my palate training at Starbucks, I was expecting the flavor of liquid smoke, but what I tasted was completely different. I had that same euphoric experience that the rat in “Ratatouille” went through when he had his first taste of amazing food. My world was changed. The cold brew was mildly acidic, with chocolatey, and nutty notes. It was refreshing, and lacked that horrible bitter aftertaste. Handsome became the Mecca of coffee for me. Handsome was my rabbit-hole experience that I am still falling, and tumbling through.

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R.I.P Handsome Coffee Roasters.

Why Coffee?

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Even as I am trying to jot down the right words for this first post,I am sipping on a cappuccino. Let’s get to the point. This is going to be all about coffee. This is going to be about how it is impacting my city of Los Angeles. This is going to be about how it is impacting me. Today, I want to talk about “why coffee?”. Why talk about something that is already being talked about? Why have someone who is not necessarily an expert, or an authority in the world of coffee write about something so complex? Because I want to.
I am obsessed with coffee. It is an understatement to say that I love coffee. My favorite things in the world: my wife, coffee, and pizza. I told my wife that I get excited to sleep, because I know when I wake up I will be able to make coffee. But it’s not just the beverage that is so compelling and exquisite. Coffee is part of Los Angeles culture, American culture, and our world’s culture. It draws people together. In Ethiopia, where coffee originated, there are coffee rituals to welcome new guests that establish friendships. I love that. I love being able to meet with friends at a local cafe, and talk about life over a beautifully brewed cup of coffee…or two.
I want to treat this blog like a coffee ritual. Get ready to read about where I love to have coffee, how I brew my own coffee, what goes well with coffee (yes, food!), basic information that will make you sound like a coffee expert without being pretentious, and all things good regarding coffee. Since coffee culture is supposed to be inviting, I will only be posting positive vibes. I am not going to tear a place or baristas apart if I didn’t like the shop or coffee. With that being said, I want to welcome you to join me on this new journey with me.