Monday, March 16, 2009

Coffee Talk

A week after dominating the 2009 United States Barista Championship with four of the top five spots (including no. 1), Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea is near completion of its second California location, in Venice. This will be no ordinary coffeehouse. Introducing a new model for caffeine purveyance that’s being hailed as “groundbreaking,” the new shop will forgo a counter and instead will be outfitted with separate pods where your own personal barista will advise you individually about what kind of “coffee experience” you seek and suggest pairings. The cafĂ© will even offer flights, or “cuppings,” a sampling of several different varietals similar to that provided in the tasting room at a vineyard, a trend that’s already caught on elsewhere.

Being open to new epicurean experiences of all stripes, I’m partly intrigued by the concept. But mostly I find it kind of absurd. I mean, do people really want to engage in a one-on-one coffee consultation every morning? Maybe they should’ve asked this guy before they went ahead:

Mr. Advice Man, Intelligentsia Silver Lake

I very rarely indulge in Intelligentsia anymore. For a period of about a week after the Chicago-based company opened its first West Coast outpost in Silver Lake, I went almost every day for its Iced Angeleno, a heavenly chilled concoction of four (4!) shots of espresso and milk, sweetened with agave nectar (sounds weird, tastes amazing). The thing is, they were 4 bucks a pop back then—now $5—and you don’t have to be Asian to calculate how many dollars were quickly being subtracted from my wallet. Since then, it’s been strictly a special-occasion treat—even before in this economy became a clichĂ©.

So I was thrilled when a package arrived in the mail from HenriettaHaus Coffee Roasters, based in Wyandotte, Michigan. Small-batch, hand-roasted coffee beans delivered straight to my door? Now that's groundbreaking. The beans therein had been roasted to a milk-chocolate hue and produced a brew that was nicely mellow. HenriettaHaus proprieter Amy Duncan started experimenting with home roasting a few years ago as a simple DIY project. Now she’s preparing to launch the venture as a true mom-and-pop roastery and coffeehouse with help from her husband, Jeremy. Amy recently answered some questions about starting HenriettaHaus (named after a thrift store painting that hangs in the couple’s home) and the small-batch roasting process.

HenriettaHaus logo designed by Jeremy Duncan

What inspired you to roast your own coffee?
I was having a birthday dinner at a really good Ethiopian restaurant in Windsor and we had the Ethiopian coffee ceremony where they bring out incense to the table and then come back and wave coffee that they’re roasting under your nose and then come back again with the brewed coffee in the clay pot. Anyway, I love coffee and I was sitting there and when they waved the roasting coffee under my nose I was totally inspired to roast my own!

How did you get started?
I received a Whirley Pop stovetop popcorn popper and some green coffee from my mother-in-law as a birthday gift along with some basic directions from the Web site she ordered them from and that was it.

Where are your beans from?
Directly, they come from, an amazing company dedicated to the home coffee roaster. Right now I’m drinking beans from a small co-op in Chiapas, Mexico, that I roasted 4 days ago. I have some green coffees from Hawaii, Sumatra, Brazil, Peru, and Guatemala waiting to be roasted. I don’t have any African coffees right now. I love to roast coffees from all different coffee growing regions because they all have their own unique characteristics. I’ve been roasting single-origin coffees but I’m starting to experiment with blending.

What is the roasting process? How long does it take?
I moved on from the Whirley Pop a few years ago because I wanted to be able to roast larger quantities. I was then using a stainless steel drum on a rotisserie in a barbecue grill that was dedicated to coffee only, but living in Michigan makes it hard to roast outside year-round so right now I’m using an indoor rotisserie that somebody modified for coffee roasting. They added an extra heating element and an exhaust fan and made a stainless steel drum for the beans. I just heat it up, put in the beans, and watch, listen, and smell. I did a 3-pound batch a few days ago for 27 minutes, which is not ideal. It should take about half that time but this is what I’m dealing with right now. This is also a big motivation to get my roastery going because I’ll be getting a better roaster!

What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in transitioning into a commercial/retail business?
I don’t know if there’s enough space on the Internet to answer that question! The first challenge I think is writing the business plan for the bankers and getting a loan. Next is finding the right spot to open shop. Then you have to deal with the inspectors and city officials and health department and everybody else that wants to reach into your pocket. These are all challenges that can be conquered. I think my biggest personal challenge is patience. All I want to do is roast coffee and make people go “mmmm”!


NLS said...

Henrietta Haus coffee beans are a thing that makes me go 'mmmm'!

HH said...

Mr. Advice Man? Really?
I think I must be feeling especially in need of advice because instead of thinking how absurd or gimmicky he was, my first thought was "hmm...wonder what his credentials are?"

I want to try the Iced Angeleno! Sounds yummy.

Intelligentsia coffee make my left eyebrow raise.