Interviews

  • SCG Crew Interviews: Allie

    Hey coffee fans! This week we're chatting with another one of our fabulous crew members! Allie worked in our Bellevue retail location before coming to our HQ to work on our commercial and home consulting teams! We hope you enjoy getting to know her!

    What’s your life story?

    I grew up in Louisiana in a town right off the interstate in between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It was a town of about 10,000 people, where the best food and coffee are served at the local gas station (I know). I graduated high school early and moved to Tennessee to pursue my degree. While in college, a friend introduced me to specialty coffee. I already loved my morning cup of drip, but tasting my first Chemex changed the game. I quickly fell in love with the community, the culture, and the ability to connect with people over a beverage. After graduating college, I decided to follow my heart (and my taste buds) and move to Seattle to find out what the real coffee scene was about. 

    What’s your background with coffee? Be specific if you can!

    I started working at Starbucks in 2015. I loved the rush of caffeine and adrenaline from working on the bar in the morning. I moved around a lot, so I've actually worked in several Starbucks in various responsibility positions. When I decided to move to Seattle, I was chosen to work for the Starbucks Reserve Roastery (which was the only one in the world at the time).  Working for the Roastery taught me a lot about specialty coffee, espresso, and roasting. I quickly made it a habit to go on coffee crawls every chance I got so that I could learn about how others pulled their espresso and what made it unique. When I stumbled upon Seattle Coffee Gear, I was hooked immediately. A whole new way to experience coffee: equipment!

    What has it been like transitioning from SCG retail?

    Working in SCG retail gave me great hands on experience with our most popular equipment and allowed me to have a real understanding of what people are looking for in their machines. I can pretty much narrow down the machine you are going to purchase with a few well answered questions. 

    What’s your favorite thing about the coffee industry?

    Coffee = connection. It brings people together from all over the world, from all places in life, at any time of day. It's amazing how many wonderful and passionate people I have met at a coffee bar.  Pouring beautiful latte art or dialing in an espresso to an exact note allow me express myself in a really fulfilling way. 

    What’s your favorite way to brew/drink coffee?

    Black coffee. Most mornings I start off with an espresso and a hand brew chaser. 

    What do you like to do for fun? Outside of coffee!

    I love to travel. I try to go somewhere new every year (if I'm lucky). So far the best place I've ever been is Salzburg, Austria. 

    What’s one thing you want everyone who shops at SCG to know about running/opening a cafe

    A ton of work goes into making an excellent cup of coffee.  I have a lot of respect for the product and the way its made. Choosing the right equipment (and using it well) makes all the difference in the drinks you sell!
  • SCG Crew Bio: Bryan

    This week we're catching up with Bryan for another SCG Crew Bio! Bryan is one of the amazing folks on our commercial operations team. He's the person who will help to make sure you get the most out of your commercial coffee purchase!

     

    What’s your life story?

    I grew up in a tiny agricultural town in eastern Washington no one had ever heard of, but that is now known for its unique varietals of hops. Seattle had been where I wanted to live as long as I can remember. As soon as I got my drivers license I would make the long trip to the "big city" (not so big back then in hindsight) to experience the culture, the people, the music and all the Emerald City had to offer. Exploring coffee shops, 24 hour diners, all age music venues, thrift stores, record shops and the like. After high school I moved to Seattle for school and have been here ever since.  

    What’s your background with coffee? Be specific if you can!

    I first fell in love with coffee, and coffee shops, at the now defunct Bauhaus Coffee on Melrose and Pine in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle. Its moody atmosphere mirrored that of the city. Tall ceilings, walls lined with shelves full of books, looking as much like a medieval library as a coffee shop. Regulars crowded around tables, The Smiths likely blaring over the stereo, rain dripping from coats as they sipped coffee beverages being prepared on a La Marzocco. My first peak of a machine I would grow to know and love. I worked as a barista at Seattle's Uptown Espresso for three years in between working in the automotive industry and as a bicycle mechanic. Ultimately I would find my place in the coffee industry combining my technical skills and love of coffee as a Coffee Equipment Technician. I spent five years in the field managing technical services for Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Seattle and throughout Washington State before making the transition to my current roll at Seattle Coffee Gear.

    What’s your favorite thing about the coffee industry?

    My favorite things about the coffee industry are the people, the passion and the machines that allow them to create the unique beverages and experiences coffee drinkers around the globe enjoy every day.

    What’s your favorite way to brew/drink coffee?

    l like to start the morning with an espresso and a cup of filtered coffee (drip or pour over), followed up by an americano or cold brew in the afternoon depending on the season.

    What do you like to do for fun? Outside of coffee?

    l am an avid cyclist, enjoying riding for fun as well as sport. I enjoy bicycle camping around the beautiful northwest and racing cyclocross in fall. Getting outside and enjoying nature is always a blessing (added perk, nothing tastes better than a cup of coffee in the great outdoors). I also still enjoy working on machines outside of coffee equipment. I restore and build interesting cars and bicycles. You'll often find me with a wrench in my hand or on/in some sort of machine with wheels.

    What’s one thing you want everyone who shops at SCG to know about running/opening a cafe?

    You can't do it alone! Opening and running a cafe is a large on taking that requires a wide range of skills and a lot of work. Don't try to do everything yourself. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, rather stand on the shoulders of those that came before you. Knowing when and where to seek help in your business endeavors will save you a lot of hassles, a lot of time and a lot of money. The coffee industry is one you should enjoying being a part of, and there is a wealth of knowledge you can tap into.  

    What’s your favorite item we sell on the SCG website?

    The La Marzocco Linea. There is so much coffee history wrapped up in this machine that has been produced since 1990! Today you can certainly buy a "better", more expensive or flashier espresso machine. But the Linea, "the Volvo 240 of espresso machines", set the bar for quality in the industry and still performs today. What can I say, I'm a sucker for the classics. 

  • SCG Crew Interviews: John!

    From giving us the skinny on the newest commercial machines to helping new café owners on the phone, John's a pro! We asked him a few questions about his past, present, and future in coffee. Read on to learn more about this SCG video host and commercial consultant!

    Hey John! Thanks for answering a few questions. Can you tell us a little bit about your history? Have you always lived in Seattle?

    I have been a Washingtonian since birth and grew up in the boonies outside of Sultan, WA. Most people knew where I lived as the place they drove by on their way to the mountains. I lived in California for a brief moment before deciding that private school was too expensive and I moved back to Washington. My wife and I met at our church in 2014 and got married in 2016. We somehow wound up with 3 adopted black cats, it was not our plan to do so!

    What’s your background with coffee? Be specific if you can!

    I was a home barista at the start and knew nothing about the difference between drip coffee and espresso. I had a series of very cheap home espresso machines that promptly broke because I failed to take care of them. After my home endeavors, I began visiting specialty coffee shops and learning about what makes coffee good or bad. I started going to local coffee competitions to observe and eventually made friends with a few folks in the industry. I started with Caffe Ladro in Seattle as a barista and over a few years worked from there to trainer and then to manager. Along the way, I led cuppings, trained dozens of baristas, and absorbed all the coffee knowledge I could. I practiced my latte art diligently and ended up in a few of the local competitions where I met coffee people in the first place. Now I get to educate people from a different perspective and help coffee shops of all different shapes and sizes figure out this crazy and awesome industry we are all a part of!

    What’s your favorite thing about the coffee industry?

    My favorite thing about the coffee industry is the diversity of coffee itself and what it is to different people. Not everyone wants to wait 10 minutes for a carefully prepared cup of coffee that will blow their mind! Some people just need a caffeine fix to get their day started. I have been on both sides of that spectrum and appreciate coffee for both of those things. I think relegating coffee to just one thing that you think it is isn't doing it justice, and that goes for both ends of the spectrum. 

    What’s your favorite way to brew/drink coffee?

    I am an espresso drinker! I love the preparation, dialing it in, drinking it, the whole process. This started mainly because I did not have the patience to wait 5 minutes for my Chemex to finish so I could critique it and make adjustments. I initially liked the instant gratification a grind adjustment makes, but I grew to also enjoy the practice it takes to have consistent results all the time. 

    What do you like to do for fun? Outside of coffee!

    I'm a musician and enjoy all things music! I like to play music with others, go to shows, listen to music, etc... I mainly play with my church's Sunday morning team, but my wife and I are looking to get a house with a dedicated practice space. Drums are not meant for Condos!

    What’s one thing you want everyone who shops at SCG to know about running/opening a cafe?

    I want people to know that while it is not an easy thing to do well, the joy you get from hearing someone talk about how much they love your cafe is worth it. The relationships you get to build with your customers, as well as the experiences you get to create for them, make it all worth it!

    What’s your favorite item we sell on the SCG website?

    That's a tough question! I'd say one of our pitcher rinsers. I would put one in my home if my wife would let me! They make a world of difference in your bar flow and allow to increase your speed of service way more than you would think. 
  • Piecewise Coffee Co. - Building a Drink Menu

    If you haven't been keeping up with our friends at Piecewise Coffee Co. be sure to check out their Bio and Selecting Equipment posts! Today we asked Stanton and Lindsey a little bit about how to build a drink menu for a coffee shop!

    First off, from a “chicken or the egg” perspective, did you decide on a general menu before selecting equipment? Or did you decide on what equipment to purchase and then build your menu around that gear?

    The answer I wish we could give was to knock out the menu first, but it was too tempting not to get caught up reading equipment descriptions and watching product reviews. Choosing the equipment was exciting, while locking in a menu was more-so work. However, we learned it is very difficult to build a shop without first thinking about the menu. Without it you can find yourself fighting to make the layout functional. We were fortunate to stumble upon a podcast by the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) covering café startups and it helped give us a big picture focus on how equipment and menu influence each other.

    Our menu doesn’t incorporate much onsite food preparation and a big reason was an attempt to make the startup cost more manageable. Eliminating equipment needs is an obvious answer to keeping cost low, but far costlier was the additional need for architectural designs and engineered systems. Take for example biscuits, we wanted to offer some as a secondary option to our other breakfast items and we started pricing out small ovens. Well the oven led to a ventilation hood which led to additional building penetrations for air flow which all lead to an increase in the size of the HVAC units. Our commitment level to that menu item changed quickly with those additional costs. Learning about things like insurance cost increases for using an onsite grease fryer or the sizing and placement of grease traps were part of the learning process for us. 

    It’s inevitable that menu and equipment decisions will impact each other but starting with the menu first can help keep changes to a minimum. 

     

    What kind of market research did you do for your area to make decisions about what kind of drinks to carry?

    We visited a lot of local restaurants and coffee shops. We felt like anything within an hour’s drive was fair game for learning what products were already successful in our market. Asking waiters or baristas what the more popular products were was very helpful as was just asking for favorites from family, friends, coworkers or anyone who was interested in what we were doing with the shop. Learning their favorites made it more personal while still reaching out to our customer base. Our goal with this research was to help develop a perspective outside of our own for the drinks people want to see in any coffee shop. Generally, people were very open to share what they liked and didn’t, which was encouraging. 

    How much did your vision for a coffee focused shop affect menu choice? The assumption would be a lot, but I’d like to get at the “coffee identity” factor and how it relates to your menu.

    With our goal to offer high quality in every drink, the shop’s menu won’t be overly extensive. We didn’t want to spread ourselves to thin starting off with a lot of options. Something about tons of choices, just didn’t seem like, “us,” right now.  We aren’t minimalists in nature, but we do love to cut waste enough to truly enjoy what is in front of us. We live our lives that way and believe the same for our coffee shop and its offerings. With that in mind, we’ll offer the best of the basics, focusing on amazing taste every single time.

    Do you think about food pairings when building the menu? Or was the thought to offer standby food options but build the drink menu independent of that?

    For us, the food and drink menu were built independent of each other. We knew the size of our shop limited space for food preparation so we built the drink menu and then developed relationships with high quality food establishments to help on the food side. Pairing between the two comes into play, but it is a little further down on the decision tree for us than may be at some other shops.

    How much does ingredient/coffee sourcing play into the development of your menu??

    Sourcing hasn’t impacted the menu development as of yet! We are working with local stores, which has made most of our development more convenient.

    How do you offset the desire to do something different with the need to offer a standard set of coffee drinks?

    It’s definitely a balance act between the vision for the shop and maintaining the shop’s economics. Our vision was so intertwined with serving the community that we started from the desire to know how best to serve the customers already surrounding us. This meant providing the standard coffee offerings based off the market research mentioned earlier. We then looked at how we could advance specialty coffee in the shop. We settled on some highlights with the pour over selection and building in coffee education events. Knowing every customer won’t want to know the growing region of a bean or the solid particle distribution in their espresso shot keeps us grounded to high standards on the more traditional drinks while focusing on stellar service. We believe quality speaks for itself in any form.

    Are you working with a specific roaster or seeking a wider range of roasts?

    The bulk of our coffee offerings will come from a single roaster who is local to our city. This is in large parts to the quality and diversity of the beans they offer. 

    How did you settle on your roaster?

    This was a big decision for us and a little intimidating at first. We started with several cold calls and email inquiries to regional and local roasters. Most were happy to answer questions we had and share about their range of products. Often they would send samples, and several allowed us to visit their roasteries. While the roaster’s bean quality was high on the list in making this choice, number one was having a relationship with the roasting company and knowing we could develop a good working relationship. You place a lot of trust into your roaster and knowing the people helped us feel settled in our choice. We are fortunate to have a great relationship with our roaster. 

    Are you looking to expand the menu in the future or specialize strongly in what you already have planned?

    While we are open to making menu changes to meet our customer’s needs well, the plan is to stay within our current style of offerings or at least stay very near them.

    How did you decide what you want to carry beyond coffee?

    Great question! We’re still working on that lol. A great part about opening the shop is knowing that every decision doesn’t have to be made before opening. This is one of those items for us that is still developing. We knew we wanted the food selection to be classic foods with a gourmet bent that would elevate the shop’s experience, almost without noticing. We believe we’ve done that with the partnership we have. The rest of what we’ll offer is still in process!

    How do you decide what to offer in terms of dairy and alternative milks?

    We wanted some variety in the alternative milk options but stayed close to the types commonly found in most shops (soy, almond, etc.). We’re big fans of the current oak milk products due to the great taste and ability to steam them like milk.

    One thing that always frustrated me when working in a coffee shop was general misconceptions about different coffee drinks from customers. Things like misunderstanding what a macchiato is, or not understanding the difference between a cappuccino and a latte, leading to customer complaints. Do you have any strategies for dealing with a customer that lacks coffee knowledge? How does that play into your drink menu?

    We see this as such an opportunity to help our customers learn more about the products they love and how they vary. It’s not possible to expect each customer to “order correctly” when so many shops vary the recipes for the standard range of drinks. This is one flaw of the coffee industry that gets translated into the customer’s error. The goal is to serve each customer and have them know they’re being served. This includes covering ordering miscues and helping to ensure they get exactly what they hoped for when they came into the shop. With the drink menu, we anticipate having a few pictorial descriptions around the shop to assist with ordering and help prevent unnecessary waste.

    Building some coffee drinks can be a challenge from a technique standpoint. How much does training and staff capabilities factor into building your menu?

    We are working to build the training program and want to really break it down to a series of small skills that build on each other. The barista trainings by the SCA are fantastic and we plan to utilize them with our baristas. With a comprehensive training program and several quality control measures, we don’t anticipate having to restrict the menu.

    Do you have any other recommendations for aspiring cafe owners on how to construct their menus?

    Definitely get a subscription to a specialty coffee magazine or two. We’ve read about some fascinating and original drinks that may be inspiring.

    We'll be back soon with more from Stanton and Lindsey!

  • Piecewise Coffee Co. - Equipping Your Shop

    Hey everyone!

    A couple of weeks ago we introduced you to our friends Stanton and Lindsey Scoma, founders of Piecewise Coffee Co. If you haven't had a chance to read about them, you can do so here! This week we're taking a look at Stanton and Lindsey's process of selecting equipment. We're also sharing some of the photos of the cafe build in progress!

    Hey Stanton! We're excited to see the progress at Piecewise. How did you go about selecting the space?

    The area we selected was in what was formerly the city’s main economic hub. Several storefronts dotted the side-walk lined street, but the life of the area had left decades earlier. We wanted to show off our little city and the history it has by giving the community another reason to walk the street.  We were blessed to have building owners who share this vision. The building we’re in is around 75 years old and we stripped back most of the interior to expose its structural character. Many of the bricks in our space were made just down the road in a local brickworks. What elements could be left exposed were.

    Makes sense, how did you go about designing the layout of the interior?

    While showing a little of our city’s past, we also wanted a space that encouraged our customers to feel welcome. The long and narrow nature of the building allowed our customer servicing area to have one long bench with several two-person table tops. This makes the space adaptable for individuals coming to study or for larger groups to come push the tables together creating a more typical community table. Community can’t be forced, and our space allows it to meet a variety of their needs. The design is full of clean lines in a lessismore approach.

    How did the general layout of the space factor into your equipment selection?

    The largest impact on selection when considering space available was ensuring the drink prep area wasn’t cluttered. We eliminated a hot water tower because the available space just wouldn’t allow it. Instead, we chose a drip brewer with a hot water dispensers to help alleviate having to eliminate the hot water tower. Fortunately, our espresso machine was in a custom space built for it so we didn’t have any space concerns with its selection.

    What considerations does workflow require when selecting equipment?

    Workflow was important for us, but we felt it could be managed well if the equipment in the shop was easy to operate and allowed our baristas to stay engaged with our customers.

    When we designed the behind the counter area, we wanted to create two regions, one for preparing espresso-based drinks and one for drip brew drinks. Each area would have its own unique equipment and anything needing to be shared would be put on a small overlapping area. Equipment capable of doing everything required for each drink area was important for this concept to work. SCG helped us think through this and showed us equipment models that could get this design right.

    Where would you say Piecewise’s “coffee identity” lies? Do you see the shop as a coffee focused shop, or is coffee just part of a wider offering of food and other drinks?

    Our focus at Piecewise Coffee is most definitely on the coffee drink. It’s our desire to produce the best tasting coffee and introduce some third wave coffee products to our area.

    Broad question, but what were some of the benefits of working with a consultant? Obviously we want to make SCG consultants seem awesome, but even more than that we want to highlight how important it is to have a dealer that does more than just sell you a machine.

    The knowledge and accessibility of the SCG consultant staff was so impressive. Each coffee shop has a unique set of needs and no equipment review we found was able to address all of our needs like John did. He had a way of steering us towards equipment to match our business and coffee goals that we couldn’t have done on our own. And we never felt pressured working with SCG.

    We ran into an issue with a custom ordered item and John worked with the manufacturer to speed up shipping times so it wouldn’t delay our opening date. To get what we wanted, when we wanted it, would have taken us several phones calls coordinating with the manufacturer and shipping company. John handled it all for us. Another thing SCG did for us was finding service technicians. Within a day, he provided several companies who serviced our area and were ready to perform initial setup and on-going maintenance.

    How much independent research did you do Vs. relying on your consultant?

    Starting out, we had a high-level understanding of coffee equipment brands but didn’t really understand the differences when it came to us considering the actual purchase of equipment. Getting ready to drop some serious cash has a way of making you more interested in the details! At each coffee shop we visited, we would note equipment being used by the baristas and often we asked how they liked working with a particular espresso machine or grinder. All the brands have several models, each with their own nuanced pros and cons. We probably spent several weeks doing independent research when you add the coffee shop visits with the internet research. A ton of hours were spent watching Youtube reviews which helped show differences in action between machines. 

    When did Seattle Coffee Gear come in?

    As we got closer to placing an order for the equipment, we connected with SCG about the purchase and found out they offered free equipment consultation. This wasn’t something we had considered or even knew about prior to them mentioning it. The team at SCG listened to our dreams and goals with the coffee shop before ever asking what equipment we were interested in. Above anything else they cared about a quality match between the shop and its equipment. Their depth of knowledge was apparent from the first conversation. It was detailed and often based on actual experience working with the different machines. Most baristas work with one or two different espresso machines or grinders, but the SCG team has worked with dozens and from their experience they shared how each would perform in a store. 

    What was one of the most helpful techniques that John used to help you make purchasing decisions?

    The biggest question they asked was “Why” we wanted each specific piece of equipment. They took the time to make sure we knew what each equipment piece could do for us. The one time we had a question they couldn’t answer, they reached out to the manufacturer and got back to us in a day or two. Our confidence in equipment selection went way up after we connected with SCG. If we had to start over, we still would have done our own independent research, but would very much preferred having a conversation with the SCG equipment team at the earliest point in the process to narrow the options. 

    How much did brand factor into the purchasing process?

    Brand factored most into the espresso machine selection. Being the workhorse of the shop, we wanted this one piece to have a solid history of reliability and, most importantly, repairability. The number of servicing technicians is limited in our market and we needed to know our machine could be serviced by someone in the area. We had brand preferences for the other pieces of equipment, but yielded to features and pricing more on those items.

    What was the hardest piece of equipment to settle on? Why?

    The drip brewer took the most thought to choose. There’s a number of makes to sort through, each with a dozen or more of their own models. Sometimes the differences were hard to spot and pricing could vary wildly. John helped us settle on one that was very programable with brew parameters like water temperature and brew time. John’s knowledge of equipment reliability helped us feel confident in making our selection.

    What equipment did you try to save some money on?

    The biggest investment for our shop was by far the espresso machine and espresso grinder. Our goal with them was to get the all the features needed to produce the best coffee possible. John at SCG really helped us navigate the different models for both those items and make a selection. John was also able to help us save money on the bulk coffee grinder by steering us away from one that would be way overkill for our size of coffee shop. 

    Where did you leave room for upgrades?

    We were a little unsure which menu items our community would want most so we left a large section of our undercounter storage area open. As we grow this can allow us to add equipment for the specific wants of our customers, whether it be with additional refrigeration or cold brew taps or hot food storage.

    What piece of equipment are you most excited to get your hands on?

    We keep referencing the espresso machine, but it’s such a such unique item and we cannot wait to get some time using it! 

    We can't wait to bring you more from Stanton, Lindsey, and Piecewise soon!

     

     

     

     

     

  • Interview: Ivania Rivera of Aldea Global

    Hey coffee lovers!

    We were given the extraordinary opportunity to interview Ivania Rivera, Head of Specialty Coffee for Aldea Global! Check out our video interview below, followed by the full transcript of the interview!

    Full Interview

    Seattle Coffee Gear: Can you tell us a little bit about Aldea Global?
    Ivania Rivera: Yes, we are a farmer’s association in Nicaragua. Right now we have over 11,00 members, total members. From those we have some vegetable producers, women who do business in rural areas. From those, 4,800 are small coffee producers. We started in 1992, and have been in the coffee industry since 2000. We are growing every year, little by little. We offer very different speciality coffees, and very different qualities of coffee.
    SCG: What does your role within the organization entail?
    IR: I do kind of everything! [laughs] But I have a lot of contact with the farmers and producers. I normally am taking care of the receiving centers, working with the dry milling process to the different preparations of coffee we have on contract. I also do the sales and contracts with importers, and follow up with roasters.
    SCG: Very cool, so kind of working in the middle area connecting roasters and producers. This is exciting for us because we don’t get the opportunity to talk much with people involved with producing. We get to talk to roasters all the time, but it’s a really awesome, unique opportunity to get to talk to someone involved with producing the coffee. How did you get involved with Aldea Global originally?
    IR: Well, it was something that I always liked, coffee. The first experience I had in coffee was I was a coffee picker on a farm. So I was wondering what’s next. What happens to the coffee cherry, where is this coffee going to? That was when I was pretty young. Then I moved to the U.S. to study agricultural business for export, then came back to Nicaragua and went to Aldea Global to see if there was an opportunity for me, and of course there was because we are coffee producers. Inotega is a region that produces 60% of the coffee from Nicaragua.
    SCG: That’s great. It’s an interesting story because we often work backwards. I worked in a cafe when I was a college student making coffee. I’ve always had an interest in where the coffee comes from. So it’s very interesting to hear the reverse of that. Someone who was involved in producing the coffee wanting to know where it ends up. It’s very exciting to bring those two groups together. So what excites you most about coffee in general, as an industry?
    IR: For me something that is really important is all of the people that are involved in the industry. It’s not only the production, but the transport, the milling, the processing, the shipping, the importing, roasting the coffee… Putting together all of the logistic people it takes to move this coffee from the producer to the final consumer. It’s a lot of hands involved. It’s a lot of work and a lot of love.
    SCG: Yea, there’s a lot of…
    IR: Passion!
    SCG: Yes! And the exciting thing about third wave roasting too is I think there’s a lot of passion all the way through. It’s not just going to a huge company doing the roaster. It’s going to small roasters that have a concern for the people that are producing the coffee too.
    IR: Yes, just imagine for example, one cup, having a cup of coffee. How many cherries does this coffee need? How many hands touched the coffee? Who was in charge of selling and buying that coffee? Who did the logistics? Who did the transportation? Who did the distribution? Who did the roasting? All of this takes a lot of effort, hands, and passion. So that’s why I’m excited about coffee.
    SCG: That makes sense to me, that’s one of the many things that excites me too! What do you think it is that makes coffee from Nicaragua unique?
    IR: I would say, for Nicaragua, for most of the producers, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that our people are doing for a lifetime. Once you are born on a farm, once you grow up enough in a coffee farmer family, then that’s something that you will do for life. That’s something that will become the only way of income for the farm. A way of living living, that produce is paying for the whole life of the family. So something that is really unique for Nicaraguan coffee is that all of the processes and production is done by family members. 92% of the producers in Nicaragua are small producers. So they are normally doing all of the process with their family. That’s something that’s important.
    SCG: Sure, that’s really interesting and I imagine that leads to a respect for all parts of the process that maybe you wouldn’t see in a factory farming setting. That’s definitely unique.
    IR: Yea, it’s something that’s important to the whole family. Even the kids are assisting with the harvest, and they’re taking care of the quality there. Doing sorting to add quality to it. They get involved with the process.
    SCG: So something we talked about that ties into all of this a little earlier that ties into all of this is that the current socio-political climate in Nicaragua is kind of tumultuous and in flux. I think that many people here and in most parts of the Western world don’t have a great understanding of what that really means, especially how it affects the coffee trade. Do you have any thoughts on that particularly?
    IR: We had some difficulties when the situation started in April. It turned very difficult to do some shipping of coffee in some parts of Nicaragua, but in terms of the coffee producing areas, they were not affected. The producers continue taking care of the farms, continue working, and this year we are preparing all of the receiving centers to receive that coffee. So what we hope to do during this political crisis is support the farmers. We cannot say “hey I’m not buying your coffee because this is going on in Nicaragua” or “I’m not financing your coffee because this is going on in Nicaragua.” We have to support our members because if they receive the services that they require, they stay in the farm, they keep producing, and that’s the only way that we can say “we are here to support our members.” So we provide them with loans, even during the crisis, we are financing right now, we are opening our business to new members, and getting ready for shipping and sales. I know many importers and roasters are worried about whether this coffee will get out of Nicaragua, but the coffee needs to get out of Nicaragua anyway. We don’t have any reason to have the coffee sit there.
    SCG: Right, and I think it speaks to, regardless of the political climate, these are still families working these farms.
    IR: and this is the Rural areas, most of the crisis is happening in the big cities. The big cities and urban places. But the Rural areas are working. Everybody needs to produce coffee there.
    SCG: It’s very interesting, and we’re very privileged to be able to ask you directly about things like that. Because that’s something that’s hard for us to get an accurate picture of a lot of the time with the wild news cycles that we see here. It’s hard to get reliable information about this. Do you think political challenges aside, more broadly, and maybe even historically, what do you think the biggest challenge is for growing coffee in the region specifically?
    IR: Many people may thins politics is the biggest issue or challenge, but I think it’s prices. That’s the biggest challenge right now. Not the political crisis. As you’ve you seen in recent years, prices have been lower. For a producer, it takes more money to produce enough coffee. So it gets really difficult to negotiate prices when the prices are down, as they are right now. It’s a difficult time for the producers because they ask if the coffee prices are how they are, how are we going to keep producing? How are we going to invest in the farm? How are we going to pay our workers to pick the coffee? How are we going to move that coffee from farms to the receiving centers? How can we continue the process? For small farmers it’s really difficult to think “we have been working on this farm for many years, this is the only way we have money to invest in the farm, and now I’m selling my coffee for less than it costs to produce.” So that’s a big challenge right now in Nicaragua and the region. It’s hard.
    SCG: I think that speaks to the value and importance of organizations like yours too. In terms of building those alliances and trying to help provide answers for those farmers because without that help it might be even harder.
    IR: Yes, but I’m also not just talking about the 4,800 members that we have. In Nicaragua we have 42,000 coffee producers. What about the rest? What about the coffee farmers who are not part of a cooperative like Aldea Global and have to sell coffee locally? It’s difficult for them.
    SCG: That’s a definite challenge. You’d hope, as the political environment improves, that perhaps you’d see prices improve as well. Ee appreciate your time so much, did you have any other thoughts that you wanted to share?
    IR: Well something that I always encourage people in the industry to do is, if you have the chance to talk to people about coffee, it’s good for you to come and visit us someday in your life. That’s the only way you can get the real, real information from the farmers on how coffee is produced. On all the effort it takes to produce a single bean. Did you know, coffee is hand picked? Did you know coffee is hand dried?
    SCG: I bet many people don’t!
    IR: Yes! Many people don’t know. So it’s good for people who are involved in coffee to know all the processes it takes, all the people it takes. That’s something that I like to share, that I always encourage.
    SCG: Well we appreciate your knowledge and willingness to share that information with us, and we’ll do our best to try to educate people on that too. Thanks for your time!
  • Video Roundup: 9/21/2018

    Happy Friday coffee fans!

    We're light on video count this week but still high on content! We've got a couple of lengthier pieces for you to sink your teeth into.

    First up, join Gail and our friend Velton from Velton's Coffee Roasting for some thoughts on what makes a good espresso roast:

    Next, yours truly had a chance to sit down with Velton for a chat about how he manages his roaster!

    That's all for now, but stay tuned for next week, we have all kinds of great videos on the way from Gail and Co.!

  • Roaster Spotlight: Velton's Coffee Roasting Company—The Interview

    As noted last week, we had the great opportunity to sit down with Velton of Velton's Coffee Roasting Company to chat about roasting and coffee in general! Check out the full text of the interview below, or the video version above!

    Full Interview

    Seattle Coffee Gear: We’re here with Velton from Velton’s Coffee Roasting, how’s it going today sir?

    Velton: It’s good!

    SCG: Awesome, so you were kind enough to sit down with us and go through some questions about your process and about Velton’s! So my first question is what led you to get into roasting the first place

    Velton: I’d been in coffee quite a while, I’d been a barista for 10, 11 years or so, and where I was working at the time, I was managing Bauhaus Books and Coffee down on Capitol Hill in Seattle. They had opened Top Pot, and when they opened the second Top Pot they decided to get into roasting. They had enough of their own accounts at that point. I had told them a few years prior that if they did get into roasting that that was the next step that I wanted to take in coffee, and that I was very curious about it. To their credit when they opened the second Top Pot and put the roastery in they made me the head roaster. I didn’t know what I was doing for a while but we figured it out! That was around 2001.

     

    SCG: That’s a common theme I’ve heard. I know people who I work with and friends who are amateur roasters, everyone who really wants to get into roasting, but nobody really knows what they’re doing when they get started because it’s a complicated thing!

    Velton: It’s complicated and one roaster can supply a lot of coffee shops, so there just aren’t as many positions in roasteries as there are in coffee shops.

    SCG: Exactly. So in terms of how you run Velton’s, what do you look for when you’re purchasing green coffee?

    Velton: So we’ve got a few blends, we have to make sure we can maintain those. So there’s that. Then we always have about 8 different single origin offerings at a time. We try to keep a well-rounded offering of those. Some that are more approachable for folks, some that we feel will work well as espresso, some that are a little more wild that might still work for espresso but aren’t for everyone. So when we’re running low on some of those I’m trying to replace them with something similar. And always, of course, coffee is agricultural. So there’s different harvest seasons around the globe, so we’re always trying to buy what’s in season, as much as possible.

    SCG: So on that note, having some variety is maybe more important to you than specializing in a specific roast type, level, or origin?

    Velton: Definitely. I’m trying to have a little something for everyone. We always want to have a couple that are a little more wild, maybe bright. We also want something that’s very approachable, just nice filter cups of coffee. Something that, there’s a lot of coffees that taste great on a cupping table, but you might not want to drink a full pot of it. So we want one of those for someone if that’s what they’re looking for. So yea, variety is the goal.

    SCG: Do you have, regardless of whether you’re selecting coffee to roast, a process that you find, whether it’s washed, natural, or honey, that’s your favorite?

    Velton: It’s probably washed, that’s generally going to be my favorite, but there are exceptions to that. I definitely really enjoy naturals, and I think natural processing has gotten so much better. I like naturals a lot as espresso. As filter I might like four to six ounces, but it’s rare that I’m going to sit down and drink a pot of a natural. Again there have been exceptions, there have been outstanding ones that have come along.

    SCG: We kind of talk about the notion that the first time you have a natural your response is “how does anyone drink anything other than this? This is incredible!” Then you drink a hundred naturals and think “well that washed was really good though, maybe I do like the balance, and I do like that it’s a little bit easier to drink multiple cups.” Then eventually you hit a point where you think “well they’re both great, different times for different coffee.”

    Velton: I feel like that’s where I’m at. I like them all, as long as they do it well and the green was great to begin with, yea.

    SCG: Do you have any tips for ways to help develop your palate? That’s a question we get a lot.

    Velton: I think being conscious while you’re tasting the coffee. Even if you like cream and sugar, get in the habit of taking a few sips while it’s black. Let it cool a little bit, you’ll start to get more flavor as it cools. I think if you’re conscious about it while you’re drinking the coffee, and what you’re tasting. And it’s fine to cheat and look at the bag and see what they’re telling you you should be tasting. Then you just slowly build a vocabulary in your head that your palate starts to tie into.

    SCG: Do you have a favorite brew method for coffee?

    Velton: I would say my very favorite is pourover. I just feel like I get the clearest description of the coffee that way. But I totally love espresso. So my go-to is pourover when I really want to learn about a coffee, but I do love to see what it’ll do as espresso as well. It’s hard for me to find an espresso I don’t like.

    SCG: That’s generally how we approach coffee in house too, and how we recommend it to people. If there’s a really complex roast we always recommend it as a pourover because it’s the only way you’re going to get everything out of it.

    Velton: Yea, and usually the flavor descriptors are designed for that.

    SCG: Do you have any tips for somebody who maybe is an amateur roaster trying to turn it into a business?

    Velton: Definitely just keep tasting your roasts all the time. Try to trust your palate. If it’s your roastery, there’s so many ways you can roast a coffee and have it turn out well, but make sure you like what you’re doing and you’re not trying to roast just for your customers.

    SCG: This is one of my favorite questions. I don’t know how valuable it is, but it’s really interesting to me so I always ask it. Do you find that your environment has shaped the way that you roast? Or do you think that as a roasting culture develops it tends to guide the culture in coffee shops in a region.

    Velton: A little bit of both. I think they feed off each other. I’m not really sure.

    SCG: It’s a tough question, we’ve talked about it with folks in the past and I notice, being from the Midwest, from Detroit, the culture in coffee shops there is vastly different than what we find in the Pacific Northwest. While I haven’t spent a lot of time in coffee shops on the East Coast I know in New York it’s a very different vibe with roasters and with shops. I wonder how much local culture is influencing that, or if when you get into the specific parts of coffee culture there’s influence from roasters touching local coffee shops.

    Velton: I think in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had a pretty ingrained coffee culture. Maybe to a degree longer or greater than most elsewhere, but it was more dark roast oriented for a long time. A lot of the roasters that popped up over time have kind of modeled themselves that way and it’s taken a little longer. But I don’t feel it’s that way anymore. We have enough of a third-wave coffee culture in Seattle that the roasters that pop up now don’t feel like they’ve got to feed into the dark roast culture if they don’t want to. So it’s changing. It took us a little longer to change here maybe than elsewhere.

    SCG: That makes a lot of sense. This is probably a question that ties in with what you were saying about offering something for everybody. Do you ever find yourself chasing something with your roasts? Or do you generally let the coffee speak for itself and let it inform the way that you’re roasting?

    Velton: Again both. It’s kind of a two-way street where I have ideas up front about what I think this coffee will taste like so I roast based on that. Then I'll taste it and maybe take it in a different direction based on what I’m tasting. I definitely influence the coffee based on my expectations but then the taste will influence how I roast it right back. So they work together.

    SCG: My last question, and this is a hard question to answer, but do you have a favorite roast that you’ve done before?

    Velton: Favorite roast? No [laughs]. Every year there’s a couple of coffees that stand out to me. Sometimes they were ones that I didn’t expect them to be. More often than not if we buy a $30/lb geisha, and they’re hard to move so we don’t often to that, but quite often it’ll be the best coffee we’ve had for the year. Then other times you’ll get a $3/lb Peru that just blew everybody’s doors off. It was just so well balanced and had a little bit of everything going on. So every year we get a couple that stand out, but I wouldn’t say there’s one over the last ten years that’s the one.

    SCG: That’s a great answer! I appreciate your time!

    Velton: Thanks!

  • Video Roundup: 9/14/2018

    Happy Friday!

    It's back to our regularly scheduled blog programming this week with a roundup of videos for the week!

    First, we stopped by Velton's Coffee Roasting to pick the main man's brain on how long coffee lasts!

    Next, Gail gave us a review of the exciting new Porta Via from Rocket Espresso!

    Finally, we took a look at the Marco Mix commercial boiler with John!

    Thanks for joining us this week, have a great weekend!

  • Video Roundup: 8/24/2018

    Happy Friday!

    It's time for another roundup of exciting video content from our YouTube!

    First, John gave us a look at the Rocket R9!

    Next, Gail gave us a crew review of the new Eureka Slienzio!

    Finally, we had the pleasure of visiting Elm Coffee Roasters in the heart of Pioneer Square, Seattle to ask their founder, Brendan Mullaly, some questions!

    Thanks for watching!

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