Events: Joan of Arc “Afternoons Mourning Blend,” Don’t Mind Control Variety Show

Oh my goodness! What's that?

Oh my goodness! What's that? Polyvinyl peeps and an exclusive blend!

The fine folks at Polyvinyl Records have teamed up with the fabulous production and roasting teams at the Fulton Street Roasting Works to bring you the Joan of Arc “Afternoons Mourning Blend.” Text from the bag, 95% of which was re-organized by Tim Kinsella from Joan of Arc lyrics:

Do you need that bounce in your step that comes from hitting bottom? Are you always in a hurry and an hour late for everything, just in time? Are you over the counter-productive culture, just staying alive and loveless, born looking tired? This unique slow roasted blend, dynamically balanced sweet and savory, may be an acquired taste, but has rich rewards for the sophisticated palette. Easy to drink on an empty stomach or a broken heart.

This coffee will be available exclusively at the Joan of Arc Don’t Mind Control Variety Show. The show will feature over thirteen acts comprised of Joan of Arc members as a showcase for the album, Don’t Mind Control. So head on down to the Empty Bottle on January 22nd if you want to see a fantastic show and own a piece of coffee history! Who knows who might show up? You may even see some of us there!

Events: Photos from the Fall Cookie Competition

Photos by Danielle Baumann

Every season, there’s an in-house throwdown competition, but if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re well aware. This fall, the comp was held at Broadway, and also included a siphon-pot brewing contest as well. Nicole Kirk from Broadway won the latte art throwdown, and yours truly just barely squeaked out a win in the siphon comp. Instead of a full wrap-up post, today we’re going to tell the story in images from Millenium Park’s Danielle Baumann.

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Pouring montage!

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The judges table.

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Sampling siphon brews.

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Tension.

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The champion and her new championship belt.

The Lab: Acessibility Vs. Technology

Preparing for an in house siphon brewing competition, I had a difficult decision to make: should I use the halogen beam heater, or should I use the butane burner? The halogen beam heater is a heat source that functions as a steady, consistent temperature with a control dial which allows the user to easily set it high to push the water into the top chamber and then turn it down to a brew temperature that maintains the water pressure in the top chamber. This requires a bit more fuss with the butane burner, which has no preset settings and can be slight inconsistent in its heating.

"And I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll cool the lower chamber creating a thermo-dynamic interchange which causes the brewed coffee to travel back into the lower chamber." Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

"And I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll cool the lower chamber creating a thermo-dynamic interchange which causes the brewed coffee to travel back into the lower chamber." Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

The easy choice would be to fully embrace the halogen beam heater, as it is a fantastic piece of technology. But then I started thinking about accessibility; the beam heater is a good $500, while the butane burner comes included with the price of our siphon pot if you buy one from Intelligentsia. If I was a customer, I’d feel like a good siphon brew would be unattainable without the halogen heater.

Mad science. Photo by Danielle Baumann

Mad science. Photo by Danielle Baumann

So where’s the line between technology and accessibility? At Millennium Park, as I previously mentioned, we switched to a pour over brew method for our pick of the day coffee because the accessibility of it trumped the technology of the Clover as far as being our featured coffee option of the day. Choosing the halogen beam heater seemed almost wrong.

Gaze into the swirling coffee: the top chamber has been stirred. Photo by Danielle Bauman

Gaze into the swirling coffee: the top chamber has been stirred. Photo by Danielle Bauman

That was, until, I heard a joke from comedian Patton Oswalt. He talks about friends of his who keep suggesting to him that he and his wife choose to do a home-birth instead of having the birth take place at a hospital. After a few riffs on having a home-birth, like out on the frontier prairie, Oswalt quips “Do you know what those women giving birth in shacks on the prairies were dreaming about? Hospitals!”

Sure, some technological advances can be expensive, but accessibility has a few different aspects to it: cost and function. The halogen beam heater might be out of most consumer’s league when it comes to price, but does the more difficult to use butane burner make customer’s apt to purchase the device? Either way, the siphon pot requires money or skill and practice, and becomes a harder sell to customers.

Spent cartridge. Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

Spent cartridge. Upper siphon chamber after brew next to a Hario beam heater. Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

But that doesn’t mean all technology is more costly and requires an electrical engineering degree to maintain. At some point in time, the sharpened stick was destroyed by the copper blade. And that brings me back to the Hario drip cones we use on our brew bar at Millennium Park. When customers ask me what the difference between the Chemex and the Hario drippers are, one of the many answers I could give them is airflow. The Chemex, a beautiful brew device which is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, tends to be a bit more finicky as there’s only the single pour spout which allows for air flow, which can choke up if the filter collapses into it. As the brewed coffee drips down into the bottom chamber, the air that perviously resided there is displaced and needs to travel outwards. The Hario drip cones, on the other hand, are open bottomed and have a series of circular ridges that allow for greater air flow and an easier even extraction. What that means, in the end, is that the technology of airflow has

Giving my spiel at the Cookie Competition, which is pretty much word for word what I've written here. Also, I did end up winning.  Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

Giving my spiel at the Cookie Competition, which is pretty much word for word what I've written here. Also, I did end up winning. Photo by Sara T. of Wee Imagery

allowed us to set up a cup by cup pour over brew system that is consistent and easy to demonstrate for customers. That doesn’t mean it’s better than the Chemex, just more accessible for the average coffee fan who’s ready to take the next step beyond standard drip coffee pots.

As for me, I’m dreaming of hospitals. I’ve chosen to use the halogen beam heater in the siphon competition. The consistent heat and preset heat settings are much too attractive. It is a competition, after all, and if I have the technology available to me I might as well use it.

My choice does reveal an issue though — I need to work on my butane burner siphon skills. It just takes a bit more practice, and a solid base of knowledge, but if I’m able to master the butane burner, anyone should be able to. And as a big advocate of accessibility, it’s high time that I’m able to demonstrate a butane siphon well enough for a customer to make the siphon brew as accessible as a Hario drip cone.

The coffee I’m using, by the way, will be the Kenya Thiriku. Not only does it make a sparkling cup full of great tropical fruit and floral notes, but Kenya coffees are dried resting on elevated screens which allow for a much more even drying as there’s more airflow compared to the cement patios typically used in Central and South America. I’m sensing a theme here.

Events: Numero Group Release

This past Sunday Intelligentsia had the pleasure of joining Numero Group in the release of their newest venture “Light: On The South Side”. Yet another stellar collection for the Soul-loving archeologist in all of us.

This hardcover book and double LP set contain over a hundred photographs by Michael Abramson. Taken during the years of 1975-77, these photos document the style and spirit of Chicago’s Southside clubs. In turn,  Numero Group dug up 17 tracks from the bands and jukeboxes that haunted this rare piece of history.

Michael Abramson and Rick Kogan discuss recreational choices on the South Side of Chicago.

Michael Abramson and Rick Kogan discuss recreational choices on the South Side of Chicago.

After a talk given by Abramson and moderator Rick Kogan of the Tribune, we fired up the espresso machine, pulling shots of “24-Carat Blend”. We put this little blend together in honor of another great Numero release, “Gone: The Promises Of Yesterday” by 24-Carat Black. Our own Charles Babinski and Juliet Han kept the drinks flowing.

Charles Babinski and Juliet Han work the drink table.

Charles Babinski and Juliet Han work the Intelligentsia bar.

Big hugs go out to Numero for inviting us along and spinning some killer selections from their 7inch vault. We are honored to take part. If you are not familiar with Numero’s catalog, I suggest you get yourself aquainted.

a glimps of Numero Group's catalog.

My Christmas list.

In Store Offering: The Pour Over Brew Bar

The prewet/bloom: a small amount of water is added and let rest for 30-45 seconds to help release trapped CO2, as well as open up the coffee and prime it for extraction.

The prewet/bloom: a small amount of water is added and let rest for 30-45 seconds to help release trapped CO2, as well as open up the coffee and prime it for extraction.

There are many loyalists who take a firm stance on either using filtered or unfiltered brew methods. Both sides have many valid points, and that’s why I usually spend my time brewing both through the Chemex and Cafe Solo. Being a filtered method is only one of the differences between brewing through the Clover and the pour over drip bar using Hario drip cones that Millenium Park switched to a few weeks ago for the Pick of the Day.

Regardless, there are three main reasons I like to cite when asked why we switched over to the pour over brew bar from the Clover.

The first is accessibility — the pour over method is not only easy to understand, it’s easy to replicate. If a customer really enjoys the cup we made at the store, they can purchase the same equipment as well as the same coffee and make it at home if they wanted to. Plus, it’s an easy system to understand. If you order a coffee, you can see the water go in the top, and the coffee to come out the bottom. And if you’re tall enough, you can even see into the filter to watch it brew (admittedly, the top row of drip cones are a bit tall for some or our baristas to pour).

Starting the pour: an ideal pour moves in a circular motion, focusing on the center of the cone, at a medium pour speed.

Starting the pour: an ideal pour moves in a circular motion, focusing on the center of the cone, at a medium pour speed.

The second is manual control — the Clover machine is an amazing triumph of technology that yields an amazing cup of coffee; that’s why we’re keeping one around to offer additional coffees. But the one thing the Clover doesn’t offer is direct control over extraction. With the brew bar, we can control the rate of

A close up of the pour.

A close up of the pour: the pronounced spout on this kettle helps us get the water to go exactly where we want it to.

extraction by how fast or slow we pour, and are able to adjust on the fly. The brew bar also brings the focus back to the coffee instead of the technology of the brew method. You don’t have to coax different intricate flavor profiles out of the coffee; it does the work itself with a slight assist from gravity and your pouring speed.

Finally, I just like how personal each cup is. It brings a bit of gravitas to coffee making. There’s a science behind it, sure, but like making an espresso drink, there’s also a bit of an art to it — each cup is an individual creation prepared by the barista (with the help of a grinder and a temperature controlled water heater). Not only that, but it helped eliminate a barrier between the person working the brew bar and the customer. You no longer have to talk over a row of machines, and since pouring requires your attention, you have the chance to stand around a bit more and chat with the customers.

Like a row of linebackers, amirite?  No, seriously, I know nothing of sports.

Like a row of linebackers, amirite? No, seriously, I know nothing of sports.

It’s still a work in progress, even though the cat’s out of the bag. We’ve been promised a more functional brew array (at a shorter height!) and amazing technological additions (mainly just a drain built into the drip tray so we don’t have to manually dump it anymore). But no matter what changes occur, the glory of the brew bar is that the essential function won’t change: coffee grounds, hot water, drip drip pour.

What’s Good?: Cappuccino

Our baristas all have a favorite of the moment; What’s Good? hopes to get the word out about what we’re all drinking.  This installment comes from Jeff Batchelder at Millenium Park, and shows that sthe best offerings are sometimes those that are the most basic, comforting, and delicious.

That's a darn good cappuccnio.

That's a darn good cappuccnio.

I like a cappuccino because it’s the perfect amount of milk to espresso to foam ratio. There is enough volume to a cappuccino to spend a few minutes drinking it without sacrificing the quality of the drink. It also should be made to the temperature that opens up the sweetness of the milk but also where you can drink it immediately if you want to. A well-made cappuccino requires more skill and attention than you would initially guess to come out just right, so when I go to a new coffee shop, I’ll sometimes order one to size up the place.

There you have it folks, straight from the barista’s mouth. And, for good measure, a few shots straight from the barista’s pour.

Here it comes...

Here it comes...

And boom goes the dynamite.

And boom goes the dynamite.

Spotted: Intelligentsia on Gossip Girl

If you squint enough, you might see some red wings on those cups.

If you squint enough, you might see some red wings on those cups.

What does it take to bring an Intelligentsia coffee bar to New York?

Apparently, the exploits of a group of privileged teenagers as they trounce around the city during their freshman year of college.

Fans of the show might have noticed that a “Greenwich Village” Intelligentsia has become one of the focal meeting points in the new season of Gossip Girl, being featured in every episode so far.

While it seems the people who work on the show are fans of ours, there are definitely many of us here at the stores and roasting works who are fans of the show. In fact, when I started thinking of doing the whole Spotted category of blog posts, I may have taken some inspiration from a certain fictional website…

Those living in New York who want to try Intelligentsia, well, sorry — we don’t quite have a coffee bar there yet. We do, however, have an Intelligentsia training lab and a large number of excellent wholesale accounts serving our coffee. (I even hear there’s an ice cream truck out there that serves a mean affogato with our espresso.)

For now, the Greenwich Village Intelligentsia is fictional, much like the story lines on the show. But you never know — in the case of Penn Badgely and Blake Lively, when it comes to Gossip Girl, life has imitated art before.

Behind the Curtain

What it is

For most of our customers, the Roasting Works might as well be Oz. People ask us questions about our coffee all the time whose answers involve references to “the works” or “the roasters” which, for our guests at the Broadway store, is often the final word; as if our responses have encoded within the message that one cannot ask questions about a place one will never understand. I’ll admit that even when I started out at Broadway I imagined this “works” to be, certainly, some kind of labyrinthine place whose fantastic and secretive beings toiled around the clock to celestial sounds…

…but of course this is fantasy. Just kidding. Just kidding, it is fantasy. In fact, after a tornado drops your house down the road, and after you kill the Wicked Witch, and after you muster the courage to pull back the curtain, you too would see that our Roasting Works is not much different from our coffeebars in spirit: a modest space overflowing with dedication and love for crafting coffee. Visually, it’s a modern Camelot of burlap bean sacs, scattered brewing laboratories, and a lot of studious palates. Imagine the smell of caramelizing Brazil beans hanging heavy like a rain forest air. Imagine the sound of heavy metal surfing out the exhaust vents into the crisp autumn expanse of Chicago. It’s a power source for those of us working in the cafes–we visit and we leave with a renewed sense of purpose and awe. Mike recently moved apartments yet couldn’t leave the neighborhood for fear his “powers” would diminish with distance from the Roasting Works. He really did use the word “powers”.

This post generates from a recent visit to the Roasting Works, during which Jason, Talya and I reserved time with the roasters themselves to taste a few of our newer offerings. (Actually this all happened three months ago, but unlike the coffee this little vignette won’t  lose flavor over time, so it matters not when I tell it, only that I do). That afternoon turned out to be an even greater treat because roasters Chris, Jason, and Curtis not only set the table with samples of our latest offerings, but had also lovingly set up a blind comparison between the roast profiles of our coffees from the LA Works and their own of the same beans.

Jason and Talya at the roasters' cupping table.

Jason and Talya at the roasters' cupping table.

Cupping

Cupping is a traditional method of evaluating the sensory perception of a coffee. It quickly became an industry standard among the storied “coffee men” of the late 19th century after San Francisco’s Hills brothers began using the method to choose coffees for mass production in their own Hills Brothers coffee label, one of the original American juggernauts of coffee’s First Wave. This method, one of steeping small doses of ground roasted coffee in individual cups or glasses, goes on roughly five times daily in different locations at the Works.

In a cupping the different samples are coded anonymously and then placed on a circular spinning table, where they’re rotated for cuppers’ convenience. There is a definite empiricism to all this–systematic steps of smelling and steeping and smelling again and then slurping, and considering numerical scores all the while–but then, as in all matters of taste, empiricism begets affection. What we like is more important than what scores high; like art that might not technically impress but still gets you, so much that you can’t forget.  Thus descriptions on our clipboards range from the literal to the sentimental, and every impression counts equally, whether its “apple skins” or “velvety” or “Christmas!” Turn, bend, slurp, jot, repeat. Until the whole table is covered in coffee-saliva and the cups have cooled.

Samples on the cupping table, coded and ready to grind.

Coffee samples, coded and ready to be ground.

Cupping with the roasters is, given the typically frantic pace of cupping in general, almost relaxing. Unlike Jesse and Sarah upstairs in Quality Control, the roasters aren’t responsible for sipping their way through storms of coffee samples, sometimes hundreds from a single production region, to choose which to buy. Rather, they work with the bulk imports already purchased by the company, roasting them to the right profile–one at which the coffee’s natural complexity is best expressed.

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Roasters Josh and Chris in the luster of the early afternoon.

During this visit we cupped samples of our Guatemala single-origin espresso from Finca (”property”, i.e. farm or plantation) La Maravilla, and the Honduras Finca La Tina, among others. The Chicago roasts prevailed slightly in some cups, definitively in others, and also lost a round or two to our LA roasters.

(There was also a surprise cup on the table–a decaf dark roast not available at our coffeebars–planted as a prank, which the roasters all decided to mark highly to see if they could persuade us via their expert status that it was delicious. “Oreo ice cream!” They said, enthusiastically. “Molten chocolate!” They got quizzical glances. J, T and I had written “ash”, “burned”, and “ew”.)

We had a great time. And overall, the main lesson of our visit was academic: precision in coffee roasting–as in preparing–is elusive, but endlessly sought. A few seconds more of heat can break and re-bond sugars or lipids in a bean, changing the body or flavor of a cup entirely. Given how fragile a thing coffee is, we at the retail stores couldn’t be prouder of the careful selection and roasting processes that are ongoing at the Roasting Works.  There is and will be plenty of posts on this blog about brewing, but like a nature photographer, we can’t take all the credit for our shots–we only select and interpret a landscape laid before us by a greater process. I’m sure the roasters would say the same thing about the growers, who might say the same thing about the Earth, or the Creator.

ADDENDUM: I limit the thick descriptions of the roasters’ work because they rightly have their own blog, which they pack exhaustively with progress reports, parental love of their “little ones” and a little roaster-friendly vernacular. And please forgive that pun about “shots”. It wasn’t intentional.

New In Store: New Keyna Magic

Photos by Danielle Bauman

The rundown.

The rundown.

I’ve heard that there’s still a sizable amount of people who wait every year for the McRib to come back. Though I’ve been a vegetarian for five years now, I can understand the sentiment. I wait around half the year for Africa coffees to come into season, and we just had three great Kenya coffees come in: Gichathaini, Ndaroini, and Thiriku.

The Gichathaini, some have said, tastes like a big steak covered in strawberries when brewed through a Cafe Solo. Personally, I like to brew it through the Chemex — clean, savory notes with dried apricots and fresh cedar aromatics. The Ndaroini is a bit softer, but no less intense: baked pears and ripe plums, light floral notes and Middle Eastern spices. Both coffee have a great buttery mouthfeel and a great rounded body, but it’s the Thiriku that’s the star of the crop. The cup has an almost sparkling acidity with a tropical fruit sweetness, only to finish with an explosion of complexity that touches on spice, floral, sweet and savory notes at the same time until it hits with a pristine finish. Canned peaches, fruit snacks, middle eastern spices — it’s a coffee that never wants to quit.

These two found each other using an Internet dating service.

These two found each other using an Internet dating service.

While these flavor profiles might seem off-putting to some people, they really are coffees you have to taste to believe the complexity that occurs in the cup. That’s why we’re now offering the Thiriku as a 16 ounce Chemex or 24 ounce Cafe Solo at the Millenium Park store.

Kenya coffees allow for much longer fermentation that other growing regions due to the higher

I bet you've never seen a bag this close up before.

I bet you've never seen a bag this close up before.

altitude, and are dried on long, elevated screens instead of on cement patios — these and other post-harvest handling practices help develop the intense flavors, showcasing the extra care taken on the farming level.

Offering the Thiriku as only a Chemex or Cafe Solo is our tribute to these intensive growing practices. Sure it might take a little more time and energy to prepare, but the end result is worth it.

Stray Thoughts: Cafe Solo, A Love Letter

Cafe Solo in it's natural habitat

Cafe Solo in it's natural habitat

“That’s a really good cup of coffee.”

It was a simple statement from a friend. The night before we had been talking about what happens when good design meets function, and him being a computer engineer, we had plenty to talk about. But what sparked his interest the most was when I started talking about Eva Solo’s Cafe Solo.

The Cafe Solo is a simple glass carafe built on the simplest way of brewing coffee. Add coarse ground coffee and then pour water just off the boiling point over it. Stir, insert a top that includes a V-shaped mesh filter that sticks into the neck, wait four minutes, and pour. It works much like a press pot, but without any pressing. On first glance, however, it looks like an old fashioned milk bottle with a tin hat wearing a neoprene ski jacket. It’s a little bit funny looking, like a re-imagined water pitcher to leave on the table during a fancy brunch.

All zipped up

All zipped up

The beauty of the Cafe Solo, however, is the slope of the carafe. When you tilt it to pour, the coffee grounds settle in the corner and don’t move up the neck, making the mesh V-shaped filter negligible. Because of this, the Café Solo simulates the type of extraction you get from a cupping, where the grounds just sit at the bottom. It’s a total immersion brewer, and there’s no other method that makes a cup quite like it — rich, full, sweet and delicious.

Charles, the Coffee Educator at Millenium Park, likes to call it “idiot proof.” What he means by that is that it has the least chance for manual error when brewing out of all of the brew methods Intelligentsia supports. There’s no pouring technique like on a Chemex, and there’s no need to practice your butane burner skills like on a siphon.

As I explained this to my friend while giving a demonstration as he sat at my

It really is a handsome device

It really is a handsome device

counter at my house, he apologized for continuing to ask questions about coffee and what I was doing with the Cafe Solo since it’s something I probably have to do during the week when at work. The thing is, he had nothing to apologize for. In fact, even if he wanted to, he probably couldn’t have gotten me to shut up about that thing.

The thing I’m most excited for when I have a day off of work? Spending my morning drinking coffee on the couch from my Cafe Solo with my dog. And most of the time, it’s so good, I have to make another.