New Teas: Chinese Golden Needles and Japanese Maccha Tea Service

Our black tea offerings have drawn down to a very low level while we try to arrange a new supply of Assam and Darjeeling teas. Doug Palas, the Intelligentsia tea buyer, called last month raving about a new Chinese black tea that he felt was the best example on the market to date: a new crop Yunnan Golden Needle tea. He promised that it would not be cheap, but it would be worth it. I was skeptical when the sample arrived, but the entire staff was blown away when we finally brewed a pot for a staff tasting. The tea is golden yellow when dry, and the resulting tea is a burnished copper not unlike a first flush Darjeeling. It is without a doubt the sweetest black tea that I've ever tried. We are currently serving Golden Needles.

We are also working to train the staff in traditional Japanese Maccha tea service. Working with a Canadian company called Jagasilk, we are using traditional tea service tools to craft an amazing organic maccha that is wonderfully sweet and nutty. We will be offering both koicha and usucha, with the koicha being used as the base for an 8oz maccha latte. We will be offering maccha on the menu as soon as all of the barista are trained in the tea service; until then, it is available when you see Anthony, Ali, Sarah, Camila, or Sam working the bar. The maccha tea service is very labor intensive and the high grade of maccha that we use costs $40 for a 40g tin. Please allow 15 minutes for your maccha to be prepared; the usucha costs $3.50, the koicha latte $4.75.

New Coffees/Public Cupping

The season for the Central American coffees has drawn to a close, making way for amazing African and South American coffees. We've already seen the early release of Rwanda Zirikana and Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, as well as the Kenyan auction lot coffees. Now it is time for South American to shine. First up: two very interesting releases from the same farm (Finca Santuario) from Cauca, Colombia. Sanutario is a fascinating study of the transformation of the speciality coffee trade. In 2000, Camilo Merizalde, born and raised in Cali, Colombia, and educated at Purdue University, decided that he wanted to build a coffee farm. Be brought all that he at learned in ag school to the table in establishing his farm, including sensitivity to reclaiming land that had been recently used for grazing cattle and developing a model nursery for testing the productivity of heirloom, non-hybrid varieties of coffees. Rather than pick the high-yielding, easier to grow varieties widely available in Colombia (Caturra, Catuai, Variadad Colombia), he chose varieties known for their ability to produce sensational tasting coffee seeds. The resulting farm is unique in its ability to produce different botanic varietials from the same farm.

We are currently offering the first two coffees from Santuario: El Mirador, a Typica coffee with classic Colombian flavor notes of fig, vanilla, and brown sugar, and Heliconias, a red Bourbon coffee with crisp apple acidity and caramel/nut overtones.

To celebrate the new crops, we will be cupping South American coffees at 11am on Saturday, 1/24. The cupping is free and open to the public. No prior experience (beyond a love of coffee) is necessary; we'll provide instructions and guide the cupping from start to finish. A cupping is a structured tasting that is used in the specialty coffee industry to evaluate the quality of specific coffees, both in the field before auction/purchase and at the point of roasting to determine the best roast level. We'll start by evaluating the dry and wet aromas of the coffees, then move on to the "slurp" to develop an evaluation of each coffee's taste. All we ask is that you refrain from wearing perfumes or other strong scents when cupping with us-- there's just so much that a nose can take in before the individual fragrances of the coffees are overwhelmed.

We also hold informal staff cuppings on Friday mornings at 11am. The staff cuppings are for us to develop our baristas' understanding of the coffees that we serve; unlike the public cuppings, these will move at a much faster pace and with less emphasis on describing the cupping process. We alternate between cupping coffees and focused tastings on different foods to help develop our understanding of the flavors and aromas of coffee. This week, we will be holding a tasting of red fruits. Anyone is welcome to attend the staff cuppings, but previous experience through one of the public cuppings is encouraged so that you are familiar with the process ahead of time.

What happened to the Volta mailing list?

If you signed up for the mailing list through the website or in the shop-- but are wondering why you have never received anything-- hold on, I'm working on a solution to a series of unexpected problems that have prevented the list from working. Volta's list is run on the same standard majordomo list management software that I'd used since the early 1990s while at UF. Given the uncontrollable rise of spam over the last few years, I've discovered that majordomo crosses the threshold of the spam filters running at many ISPs. First we ran into a problem with the mail not being delivered to any bellsouth.net addresses. Next we got caught up in the ufl.edu anti-spam matrix. Now that voltacoffee.com's own ISP has been bought and sold twice in the last year, I've discovered that my own outgoing mail has an hourly cap that is a quarter of the size of the Volta list.

I'm working on a new solution to the problem, but until then keep an eye on this part of the website for the latest news about Volta. We'll keep you up to date with cuppings and special events, and we'll post about new coffees, teas, and chocolates as they arrive at the shop. We also have an active facebook page and twitter feed (links over there on the right) that I update several times a day.

MFA Poetry and Fiction

Volta is pleased to announce the continuation of the University of Florida's MFA poetry and fiction reading series. Stop by the shop to hear works read by up-and-coming authors and poets from UF's acclaimed writing program. Readings begin at 8 and last about an hour.

The MFA Poetry and Fiction resumes January 29, 2009

  • 1/29: Eric Smith (poetry), Emily Kissell (fiction)
  • 2/5: K.P. Giordano (fiction), Matt Frazer (poetry)
  • 2/19: Di Smith (poetry), Jason Stuart (fiction)
  • 2/26: Claire Barwise (fiction), Todd Styles (poetry)
  • 3/5: Ian Gazarek (poetry), Kevin Hyde (fiction)
  • 3/19: Jenna Wood (fiction), Phoebe North (poetry)
  • 3/26: Ellen Snead (poetry), Kate Megear (fiction)
  • 4/2: Tony Luebbert (fiction), Beth Ferda (poetry)

Black Cat Project: Single Origin Panama Pulp Natural Espresso

[flickr-photo:id=3194680940,size=m]Update: the Santa Teresa Panama espresso is now available. And amazing.
While we love our Clover, our teas, and our chocolates, in many ways Volta remains an espresso-centric shop. I think it is because of all the brewing methods, espresso is equal parts craft and alchemy. There is a magical moment when all of the variables are aligned and you pull the perfect shot... I love watching people drink their espressos at the bar, especially when they have never had espresso at Volta before. It's like the first time a new staff member nailed a shot and couldn't believe that they were drinking a straight espresso that tasted like a chocolate-covered cherry. "Is it ok that it tastes like fresh cherries?"

That's why I couldn't be more pleased that our roaster, Intelligentsia, has been working quietly through the year to revolutionize their espresso offering. It started with a fundamental shift in they way that they blend their standard Black Cat espresso. The changes started with assigning reigning US Barista Champion Kyle Glanville with the new job of director of espresso. Out of the gate, Kyle shook up the dominant way of blending espresso by undertaking a project to reformulate Black Cat to express seasonality. Gone are the days of warehousing enough of the blend's components to offer one single version of Black Cat year round; now, the individual components are in line with Intelligentsia's In Season program, always shifting as new coffees come into season. Black Cat isn't a monolithic blend as much as a reflection of the best seasonal blend. The second shift was to take Black Cat direct trade. Starting last fall, all of the individual coffees in Black Cat come from direct trade relationships with individual farmers and co-ops. The farms and farmers are now listed on the bag.

Now we're seeing the next phase of the Black Cat Project come into the shop: limited edition single origin and micro-lot espresso under the Black Cat name. Volta has always offered limited edition and guest espressos when we find something exceptional: from Jon Lewis's Microcosmos to the Denmark's Coffee Collective to Vancouver's 49th Parallel, we've be able to offer some of the best espressos from around the world. We've also offered a few of Intelligentsia's trial single-origin offerings: the Finca Matalapa espresso from El Salvador that Kyle used to win the US Barista Championship, and a single-origin Bolivian coffee that we had for our grand opening party.

We're now pleased to be offering Black Cat Project single origin espressos on a regular basis. First up: Panama's Finca Santa Teresa. From Intelligentsia's website: "This pulped natural coffee from Finca Santa Teresa yields a unique espresso with strong floral aromas, juicy citrus and a lovely support of caramel and chocolate." We have the coffee in-house now, but we're letting it rest a few days before we put it on the menu; we'll have our own tasting notes up online by the weekend. After the Panama, we will be offering Black Cat single origin espressos from Finca La Maravilla, Guatemala, and a very unusual preparation of the Sumatra Lake Tawar.

To find out more about single origin espresso, check out this posting that we made last summer, when we featured the Bolivian single origin from Intelligentsia.

Bulk

[flickr-photo:id=3179894543,size=m]We've been receiving an increasing number of requests to sell bulk coffee over the last few weeks, and we're happy to be able to oblige. Personally, I ordered Intelligentsia coffee online from Chicago for almost a decade before we opened Volta, and I love the way that the coffees take on new characteristics with different brew methods. As much as I enjoy my daily coffee on the Clover, there's something to be said for the richness of brewing with a French Press or the clean cup that only a Chemex can deliver.

We are doing our best to keep 12 oz bulk packs of our best selling coffees in stock at all times. I find that 12 ounces is a great size for one or two people-- enough to have coffee on hand for about a week, but not so much that it stales before you can finish a bag.

Whenever we have a surplus, we are also happy to sell coffee out of the bulk supply behind the bar. That includes Black Cat Espresso, Decaf Black Cat, and El Mago blend. Even El Diablo, if you are into that sort of thing. Just ask your barista what is available and we can weigh out however much you want.

Tastes Like Team Spirit

[flickr-photo:id=3179949999,size=m]So Andrea, our Italian chocolate distributor, calls and says "Ciao, Anthony! I have an idea for your display for tonight's game..."

Note that the bars are sitting on a Maglio 64% dark bar with toasted pistachios, hazelnuts, and almonds... a bar that is 2' x 3'. We're giving away free samples tonight during tonight's championship game.

Chemex Brewing

James Hoffmann, former World Barista Champion and one of the brain trust at London's Square Mile Coffee, has posted a wonderful video of proper Chemex coffee brewing. We sold out of another case of Chemex brewers, so I know there are a few of you out there who would benefit from this demo:

Videocast #3 - Chemex/Pourover from James Hoffmann on Vimeo.

Additional notes on the video are on the Square Mile Coffee Blog, along with a comments section.

Full of Holiday Cheer, Not Baristas

It is our first Christmas break in Gainesville, and we were not sure what to expect as far as how many customers would be sticking around town. Turns out, quite a few. We've been humming with activity around the shop. It's been great seeing the students bringing their parents to the shop, and faculty whom have only been able to stop by on weekends during the semester are able to spend mornings with the NYTimes crossword puzzle and a latte.

On the other hand, the hard-working Volta baristas have flown home for the winter holidays. With only three baristas in town for the rest of the week, we're keeping shortened hours:

Jan. 1: We're now back to regular hours.

Leading up to Christmas, keep in mind that Volta has many great holiday gift items to consider: amazing chocolates from around the world, coffees and teas from Intelligentsia, Hario Japanese tea pots, and Chemex coffee brewers.

Chemex Brewers

Yeah, I know that sometimes you just can't make it in to Volta for your coffee. If you are going to make your coffee at home, you might as well use the coffee maker that is preferred by many, many baristas and roasters around the world: the Chemex brewer. Automated coffee brewers just don't have the temperature control to brew a proper cup. Many coffee pros like their French press, but I find the coffee to be on the gritty side and often poorly extracted. And I hate cleaning a French press. The Chemex is an elegant solution for home brewing: weigh and grind your coffee: ~36 grams for a 12oz cup. Pre-wet the filter. Put coffee in Chemex filter, and slowly add ~14 ounces of 205 degree (f) water. It takes slightly less time than a French press, and the resulting cup is both rich and clean. It's what I use at home, and it is also what we use at the shop whenever we get a new coffee in and want to have a reference cup when dialing in the Clover.

We now have the new, improved design of the Chemex in stock. Instead of the wooden collar (think 1970 Scan Design), the brewer has an integrated glass handle. The 6-cup brewer retails for $36. Pre-folded filters are now $8 for 100.

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