Just in time/Out of time

A quick update on available coffees: we received our final shipment Rwanda Zirakana today. The Zirakana has been one of the staff and customer favorites since we opened, and we will miss its citrus spice in the mornings when we dial in the Clover. We picked up enough Zirakana that we can also offer it as a bulk coffee, whole bean or ground to order, for $14 a pound.

We also received one final shipment of the amazing Los Inmortales micro-lot coffee from the Finca Matalapa. We previously featured Los Inmortales as our first reserve offering, and it sold out in two days. We have enough this time to last about the week, but it could go faster. Los Inmortales is available for $3.50.

Next up: Panama El Machete. We'll schedule a public cupping as soon as we have an arrival date.

Neurology and the love of the cookie tin

Volta is pleased to announce a showing of collage works by John Patterson. John's work is the first organized exhibition of local artwork to grace the walls of the shop (not counting the "Volta permanent collection" of a flock of birds by Katie Levy over on the chocolate wall).

John's work involves the meticulous cutting of advertising tins to create the material for large-scale collages. We'll be posting an extensive essay by another of our customers to provide some historical context for appreciating John's work. In his own words, here's how John explains his approach:

This body of work is the result of my layman study of neurology and my love of the cookie tin. In the last 20 years or so the field of neurology has exploded with fresh insight and spectacular advances, unraveling the mysterious underpinnings of our own cognitive life. Along with all of this has come a great many books that ride a line between the purely academic and what the rest of us can grasp. Add in a crafty ghost writer and you might be surprised how entertaining the brain can be.
The pieces on display are not meant to be an abstract representation of a brain; rather, they are a thought. They represent a sampling of the myriad associations our subconscious mind uses to tell our consciousness what is going on.

A key factor I wanted to get across was the nonlinear aspect of the organization, that connections can sprout in any direction. I chose cookie tins to work with because of their durability, because the art would not need to be put behind glass. The process was also so labor intensive and somewhat dangerous (paper cuts are nothing!) that I will not have to worry about competition...

Sold Out

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we've sold out of our allotment of Black Cat Project single origin El Salvador espresso. We'd like to thank our friends at Intelligentsia for giving us the chance to serve a unique single origin espresso; I think we were able to do justice to an amazing coffee. My own first shot was full of maple-spice goodness that was both unexpected in its intensity and yet subtle and pleasing in body and aftertaste. We are almost sold out of the Brazil pulp natural (we might have six or seven cups left), but we're working on bringing in one more batch of the Los Inmortales micro-lot to serve up on the Clover.

We've also sold out of all of the jamaica that I had in stock. We've ordered in several pounds of new hibiscus flowers, but we won't know if the quality is up to par until the shipment arrives next week. I'm certainly hoping so-- we sold out of every batch that we made this week.

Special Offering: Single Origin Black Cat Espresso, Finca Matalapa

I supposed you can make an analogy between single origin espresso and single-malt Scotches. In both coffee and whiskey, blends are developed to smooth out rough edges from elements that might be considered too overbearing on their own. Improperly handled, single origin espressos can be overbearing: blindingly bright, one-note flavor bombs that don't necessarily warrant repeated tastings. But in the hands of a master roaster, a non-blended, single origin espresso can reach incredible heights, just like a great single malt.

Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso is a dynamic blend-- individual components might change through the year, but the goal is to develop a consistently great espresso with a similar profile. What happens when the roasters from Intelli set their sights on taking one of the best coffees of the season to develop a single-origin espresso roast? For starters, they end up with a barista that takes 1st place in the US Barista Championships. Kyle Glanville, from Intelligentsia's LA roasting works, just took home the trophy with a performance centered on using a single origin espresso developed from the amazing crop harvested at the Finca Matalapa in El Salvador. Here is what Kyle had to say about the coffee:

I first encountered this coffee on the cupping table and knew it would make a great espresso. It was clean and sweet, with an undeniable maple character. The Finca Matalapa truly delivers as espresso what it promises in the cup. Using about 18g of coffee for a double shot, it reveals sweet floral aromatics and intense lime acidity underscored by notes of dark muscovado sugar. Its intense sweetness and balance are the fuel that propelled me to victory at the 2008 United States Barista Championship. I hope you enjoy this coffee as much as I have enjoyed using it. It’s a gem.

To celebrate Kyle's championship, Intelligentsia created a very small run of the identical roast used at the USBC. The Black Cat Project USBC/Matalapa Single Origin Espresso was roasted for one day only, for one commercial release. Volta will be featuring this amazing coffee for three days as our guest espresso, from June 3 until June 7 (or as soon as our supply runs out-- it could be gone by mid-day of the 3rd...). We will only be offering it as either an espresso ($3) or as a macchiato ($3.25).

Single Origin Black Cat Espresso, Finca Matalapa

  • Acidity: Bursting lime and Clementine
  • Flavor: Maple, pipe tobacco, dark muscovado sugar
  • Finish: Clean, sweet, citric

Agua Fresca: Jamaica

If you are going to open an espresso and tea bar in Gainesville in the middle of summer, you had better be ready with some cold drinks to battle the long, hot days. Our iced teas have been a hit (with Oolong Ginger Plum being the crowd favorite), and people are discovering how amazing iced coffees and mochas can be when made with cold-brewed coffee.

We love big flavors at Volta, and I've been thinking about some of the more obscure hot-weather drinks from around the world that I've always wanted to have when back in Gainesville. Top of the list: an agua fresca from Mexico called jamaica (just say Huh-MY-ih-kuh). Jamaica is a sweet-tart cooler made by boiling dried hibiscus flowers with turbinado sugar and a touch of vanilla. The resulting drink is a vermilion-red "agua fresca" served iced. My own introduction to Jamaica was while I was staying in Akumal, Mexico, while filming a cave diving expedition with Global Underwater Explorers. Every morning's breakfast was in an outdoor cafe just off the main square. The coffee tasted like sawdust, the orange juice was bitter Brazilian concentrate, but the jamaica was the stuff that kept us coming back every day. If you have never had an agua fresca jamaica, the flavors will startle you. Think cranberry sweet tart, with enough acidity to cut through the hot day like the best lemonaide.

Volta will be offering jamaica for as long as we have access to high-quality dried hibiscus. Look for it on the specials board, under Iced Drinks.

Testing, 1,2..

I love working with coffee,

wafts of espresso.

Can we go to Mexico?

New Limited Offering: Reserve Coffees

Every so often our roaster comes up with a coffee that rates high enough-- and is of such limited availability-- that they present it as a special reserve offering. These coffees are often only available in lots of hundreds of pounds (as opposed to the tons of more traditional lots of coffee), and are highly sought after at auction. It can be daunting to purchase these coffees at retail: they can cost well upward of $20 a pound (not counting shipping), and are often sold out as quickly as they are made available. Volta is pleased to be able to offer two of these rare coffees, beginning Memorial Day weekend. Supplies are extremely limited, so come by the shop soon if you want to try one of these reserve coffees.

Los Inmortales, El Salvador Finca Matalapa

El Salvador Matalapa has been the best-selling coffee that we've had in stock for the last two weeks. The Inmortales variation is a micro-lot selection that represents the highest grade of coffee from this season's harvest at the Finca Matalapa. Los Inmortales is only roasted in small batches, once a week, at Intelligentsia's Chicago roasting facility. Full of grace and nuance, the Finca Matalapa Micro-Lot introduces itself with delicate floral aromatics. The juicy citrus acidity sits aside notes of sweet apple and white grape as the body glides like silk into a finish of cane sugar and vanilla. We are offering Los Inmortales for $3.50 per cup.

Fazenda do Sertão, Brazil

A pulped natural from the Carmo de Minas growing region, Fazendo do Sertão lends itself to an atypical complexity that wins the hearts of washed coffee lovers. The body is smooth and silky as notes of caramel and toffee wash across the palate. The acidity is subtle but worth noting with its Clementine orange juiciness and dried mango fruit tang. Leading into the buttery finish are nuances of cardamom and honey as the end note of Dutch chocolate plays pleasantly on the tongue. We are offering Fazenda do Sertã for $3.25 per cup.

Micro-lot Cupping: 5/24/08

Thanks to some last minute hustle on behalf of the Intelligentsia roasting works we were able to feature two spectacular reserve coffees for our second public cupping. We had six customers turn up early on a Saturday to join the staff in cupping Los Inmortales, a micro-lot from the El Salvador Finca Matalapa, the reserve pulp-natural Fazenda do Sertão from Brazil, and the shop favorite Rwanda Zirakana.

Here's a short listing of the impressions from the cupping. Six of the participants had never cupped before; two participants were from the staff.

El Salvador Los Inmortales

  • Dry: Dried apple, butter, vanilla, mango powder
  • Wet: Bread crust, peach syrup, nutmeg
  • Body/acidity: Sweet, medium-heavy body, mild
  • Flavor: Vanilla, apple, sweet rasin, peach
    • Los Inmortales was the favorite of just over half of the participants.

      Rwanda Zirakana

      • Dry: Orange, tangerine, caramel
      • Wet: Chocolate, "snappy" citrus zest, cotton candy
      • Body/acidity: Tangy-sweet, light-medium body, lower acid
      • Flavor: Walnuts, chocolates, tangerine finish
        • Zirakana was the favorite of almost half of the participants.

          Brazil Fazenda do Sertão

          • Dry: Earthy, hot bread, smoke, citrus peel
          • Wet: Red fruit, white grape, fresh-cut wood
          • Body/acidity: Light, medium body. Velvety. Sweet, low acid
          • Flavor: Chocolate malt, sweet like a pear, red fruits. "tastes like coffee should taste"
            • The Brazil was the favorite of two of the participants. (I was surprised that it didn't cup better, because in my opinion it produces the best cup of the three with both the Clover and the Chemex...)

The Secret Laboratory

If at first you don't succeed...

I can name a handful of cafes and espresso bars around the world that were touchstones for us as we developed the idea of Volta. Coquelicot des Abbesses, in Paris. San Francisco's Ritual and Bittersweet. Octane. One of the first places we visited that absolutely set us reeling with ideas was MarieBelle, in the Soho district of NYC. Janet and I both fell in love with the intense European drinking chocolate that we would drink from espresso cups on cold, rainy winter days. We knew from the start that we would have to develop our own drinking chocolate that was just as intense and satisfying as the MarieBelle's chocolate.

We opened the store with a recipe for a home-made chocolate sauce that had been passed around among some of the best cafes in North America. It makes the most wonderful mocha coffee drinks, but I've been nagged that the drinking chocolate that we've made from it could be much better. I took advantage of a slow early Saturday morning to set about with Aufeya to develop a recipe that can go head-to-head with the MarieBelle drink. I think we've found it. Volta's new drinking chocolate is still made from Askinosie 75% Soconusco dark chocolate and San Juan del Tambo cocoa poweder, but this time I'm making my own vanilla-turbonado sugar mixture to give it a more rustic, molasses note. And we dialed the ratio of cocoa powder down to increase the buttery mouth feel. Instead of 50% chocolate/50% frothed milk, we're making it as a true drinking chocolate by melting the mixture with hot water. To finish the drink, we're topping it with a dash of frothed milk, like a chocolate macchiato.

Once we were satisfied with the drink, we tested it on customers as they came into the store this morning. As Volta regular Scott (Rwanda Zirakana, to go) said, it is like drinking a big slice of devil's food cake in a shot glass. I think you will be impressed...

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