Latte Art Throwdown + A Little Update on Where I Am (In Life)

Now I’ve got no idea how many people legitimately follow what I post on here – those who do: thanks for not casting me away merely for the lack of content I produce, however infrequent.

Last I did update anyone, I was working for a to-be multi-roaster coffee bar concept that never quite happened. That’s alright. I’m currently working at a new creperie in Tempe, Ariz. and couldn’t be happier working with some of the greatest chefs I know and can call friends, heading a coffee program that buys its beans from MadCap (of Grand Rapids, Mich.) and tries it’s best to be delicious, approachable, and an absolute asset alongside the items coming our of our kitchen.

And we did what all emerging coffee shops do at one point or many others: held an awesome latte art competition. It was an absolute pleasure inviting strangers and friends to watch some of us execute the final step in the coffee chain – legitimately the last .00001% – of laying art across the top of an espresso.

Oh, and there’s a video produced by my good friends at Royal & Design, a media marketing team here in Phoenix. Suspending reality, it makes us all look like action movie stars and race car drivers – which, for a barista party, is darn impressive.


PDX: The Overflow

The Portland Scene

The Ace Hotel in Portland. Through the walkway on the left you'll find one of Stumptown's most skilled baristas hard at work.

Moving a friend from Phoenix to Portland is no easy task. Even though San Fransisco is the best halfway mark you could hope for, arriving to such a densely congested city after the sun has set can be a bit disorienting – so it’s a good thing we opted for the comforts of a late-night deep dish pizza and fresh pillows to rest our heads on.
We woke up well before most of San Fransisco, took a walk up the street and breathed in the foggy air that had a refreshing snap to it, almost like sipping on ginger-ale – but that’s not exactly the morning beverage we were looking for. So we made our way just up the hill to Four Barrel Coffee Roasters who run a business curing the morning fogginess with healthy doses of espresso and pour-over brews. The baristas that morning were an eclectic bunch – I had shots of Friendo Blendo espresso from a Sprudge writer and an excellent Kenyan coffee on the slow bar poured by one of the city’s barista-by-day/bartender-by-night hybrids.

Fuel and a sense of direction for the road.
After a quick stop by Sightglass Coffee in SoMa, I stuffed a huckleberry pastry into my pocket before we headed six hours up the road, into dense forest and colder air where we found a chance to stretch our legs and document the crawl’s first Oregon coffee destination.

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//Noble Coffee Roasters – Ashland, OR//

A stone’s throw away from the University of Southern Oregon (if you’re the team’s center-fielder), lies Noble Coffee Roasters. If you’re at all familiar with the local college town cafe anywhere, this coffee shop’s appearance and clientele draws similarities, but with a big upgrade – college kids without music in their ears and their noses buried in textbooks, but instead busy making conversation right alongside older guests, table after table in the well-lit and open space. Take ten steps towards the lacquered wooden bar and the picture gets a bit more serious – a four group-head espresso machine and multiple grinders that propose the question: “Which espresso would you like?” The baristas at Noble don’t miss a beat, as they not only know the coffees backwards and forwards, but they’ll pull their shots with precision – no doubt a reflection of great leadership by their owner Jared. The guy is humble and it’s probably because he knows his stuff, but even more so because he’s just a really nice guy. He buys the coffee (like it or not – it’s all certified organic), roasts it, and often serves it while telling you a story of how it got from the farmer all the way to his shop.
It’s a privilege if you can make the trip, as it’s still over four hours of driving south from Portland. When you do, make friends in this college town so that you can make sure to visit more often.

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//Coava Coffee Roasters – SE Portland, OR//

Coava is so impressively simple in their coffee preparation and service that it’s tough to wrap one’s head around. They’re a shop that manages to be increasingly spectacular at almost everything they do, and just when you think it’s good enough; that they could possibly be content with their work, they’ll come out with a version 2.0 of their perforated-steel Kone brew method (the only substantial modification we’ve seen to the seven decade-old chemex), or provide us with back-to-back North West barista champions, or just roast coffee they’re sourcing to a finer degree of tasty. And in all seriousness, I think they’re just having a lot of fun. The menu is the the most straightforward you’ll find in Portland – two single-origin options for espresso (as a cappuccino or macchiato if desired) are also what’s brewing on the kone/chemex. The Benjamin Miranda as espresso and brewed by chemex is exceptional. The cappuccino made with the same espresso, which I’d had on my second trip to the shop, was arguably the tastiest all trip.
As for interior design, we’ve all seen the combination of steel and wood before, but never like this. It’s amazing how a shop can be molded out of a company that shares a space with – as is the case with Coava and Bamboo Revolution. The bamboo woodwork flows throughout the bar space, with custom built edges and divots that house an espresso machine, sinks, and brewing stations. Wood-topped tables big enough to encourage meeting new friends are what fill up the rest of the space, with the exception of some decorative machinery from another era that, as if by purpose, fit right in with the coffee roaster that round out their half of the space.

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//The Heart Cart – Downtown, Portland, OR//

Maybe it was the sunny Portland morning poking over the heads of nearby buildings and into the windows in Alberta’s West End Bike shop (or the sight and smell of new bike gear), but Heart’s Cart was certainly one of my favorite stops.
The barista that morning, Amanda, was charming – though the cappuccino she made with a shot of their single origin Los Andes espresso unique to the Heart Cart that week was what sealed the deal. It came in a to-go cup (a garage door opens to serve their coffee to customers whizzing by on their way to work) and was in the top two I’d had during my stay. It’s caramel sweetness stands very present, and makes it ideal to be paired with steamed milk.

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//Heart Coffee Roasters – Portland, OR//

Heart’s first shop on Burnside is one of the coziest in memory during our stay – community is in the air when most all the seating is occupied by groups of people who didn’t appear to know one other before sitting down. The whole shop, in a way, is revolving around the roaster that sits in the center – like a cozy campfire producing lightly roasted coffee beans, brewed to release bright and fruity flavors that coffee drinkers fall in love with. The build-out is confident in it’s simplicity – large windows that let light fall on white walls holding simple art; a map of the world and anatomic paintings of snakes and the human heart. By the bar, slate grey walls and white counters are nice staging to an espresso machine that’s your favorite shade of green.
In-house they proudly do large-batch Fetco brewing better than most anyone, alongside a small roster of brew methods. Delicate flavors of their Kenya Karinga performed even better on a chemex than the aeropress I had tried it on first.
Heart Coffee’s reach isn’t exactly contained to it’s two Portland locations, since a multi-roaster bar nearby, like Barista, may be carrying them just as often as their brothers over in New York City. In addition to rotating wholesale space at a shop like RBC, Heart Coffee was also featured on bar at The Coffee Common’s Feb. stint in NYC (attendees got to see the way milk can mute flavors in the brewed Puerta Verde coffee).
Roasting quality green coffee is a great reason Heart has become popular in the first place, but in a line-up with other great roasters their coffee could be identified for their lack of roasting, so to say – they’ve got one of the lightest roasting profiles found in the U.S. Is it a similar roast profile to the likes of Scandinavia’s top players? Couldn’t say – I’ve never tried coffee roasted in Norway or Sweden (but I hear it’s close). If we really can look toward the Nordic region for the future of coffee the same way we fixate on Paris for fashion – Heart might be a little taste of what’s in store.

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//Water Avenue Coffee – SE Portland, OR//

Water Avenue has only been roasting for two years, but the shop/roastery/barista school that owned by Matt Miletto and his father, nestled into a complex with Imbibe Magazine is a wealth of knowledge on coffee and it’s specialty roots in Portland. Up front the baristas do a nice job with a wide selection of coffees, which extends to their espresso choices. The El Toro espresso is a delicious choice on it’s own or bathing in a few ounces of steamed milk. They’re not afraid to pull shots of the occasional single origin coffees that are naturally a bit savory in way that makes notes of carrot, onion, and black pepper favorable.
Behind the scenes, a guy named Brandon (one of the Stumptown Coffee’s originating roasters) works the coffee roaster and prepares cuppings, like the one I was fortunate enough to attend on my last day in the city. On the same day I was able to experience a Geisha varietal coffee being roasted from start to finish – which sparked a recent interest to start learning as much as I can about how to roast coffee.

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//Sterling Coffee Roasters – NW Portland, OR//

Sterling, the little shop that could, is only a foot or two longer on each side than what the photos show below, but they make the most out of a space with a pipe-sized sample roaster, a two-group head Synesso machine and striped wallpaper for accent. The two men on shift, Calvin and Tim (and don’t forget their ceramic pheasant, Bernard) were real stand-up guys who were just as ready to geek out about their favorite Parks and Recreation episodes as they were about the shots of espresso they were pulling. The shots are unlike the rest you’ll get in Portland, closer to two ounces of liquid and without the thick layer of crema. You’ll enjoy it. Sometimes it tastes good to break the rules.

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//Coffeehouse Northwest – NW Portland, OR//

Sterling roasts the coffee that goes to Coffeehouse Northwest, where some rules are also broken in delicious ways. If you so desire, they’ll make you a flavored cappuccino – the catch is that they use artisan caramel, chocolate, and vanilla bean syrup from the local Two Tarts Bakery. If that all sounds like too much, a dark hot chocolate isn’t a bad choice either.

//Barista, Alberta – Portland, OR//

Alberta’s Barista is a trip – on center stage is the machine making espresso, a La Marzocco Mistral, from the 2000’s, but everything else looks like it’s from the early 20th century. You walk in and order from a barista who looks the part, and then you sit down at a wooden bar and wait for your skilfully crafted drink. While you sip you can admire the trophies and antique items on the shelves, and wall-mounted antlers and mallard ducks. Barista is, in my opinion, the real definition of a coffee bar – they brew coffees and pull shots of espresso from multiple roasters, and in many cases they seem to be serving it just as well (if not better). When we stopped in the choices were an El Injerto roasted by Stumptown, the Oscillations seasonal espresso from De La Paz out of San Francisco, and Heart Coffee’s Puerta Verde. With a group of friends who can’t decide where they’ll go for coffee next, or even for a drink at night, I’d like to think that they could all agree on Barista.

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//Barista, Pearl – Portland, OR//

The Barista in the Pearl District is a little different. The old building it’s in is about as retro as things get in a shop that’s functions more to pump out quality drinks to a long line of business types than for a place to relax for very long at all – though there’s plenty of seating just outside. It’s a beautiful part of town, the closest you’ll get to the big city feeling, and the hustle and bustle of it all reminds you to admire the people of Portland and some beautiful architecture.

Mulch Makes Their Move: Espresso on wheels, offered in and/or around their space.

Jason Calhoon of Mulch Coffee just poured a beautiful cappuccino made from Water Avenue espresso and Organic Valley milk, swagger intact.

Mulch Coffee saw fit to make it so you could sit down and sip one of the best cappuccinos out of anywhere in the country right in Old Town Scottsdale – every Saturday morning. Sooner rather than later, it will be every day.

They chose a good place to set up shop – the Old Town Farmers Market couldn’t get more adoration from valley locals; the competition is stiff but boasts a friendly attitude and a lot of vegetables. Of course, no one takes the silent credo of stiff competition to heart more than Scottsdale dog owners – for perfectly groomed and mannered pups, Saturday morning at the market is show time.

The market vendors are a bit less flashy than the dogs and their owners, but they set the bar high for quality. Some markets don’t have raw honey from The Health Foodie, a sourcer that pays attention to the whole honey bee chain, or every root vegetable under the sun plucked from the soil at Blue Sky Farms, or those buttery croissants that would feel at home in Paris but Essence Bakery brings with them from Tempe – to which I remain faithful – though I dare you to challenge me with a pastry tour in France.

Up until very recently the farmers market in Old Town Scottsdale didn’t have a solid coffee option, either. And as early as 8 o’clock in the morning, entering the bitter cold of Scottsdale’s winter season, marketeers deserved coffee that tasted good and was brewed fresh.

When Mulch Coffee opened up shop at the market just a few weekends ago they brought high quality coffee grown by families in countries ranging from Ethiopia to Kenya and Colombia to Guatemala that kept customers on their toes. The coffee is roasted lightly and in small batches by a smart company out of Portland called Water Avenue. All together it was a world of coffee that Scottsdale hardly knew existed prior to Mulch, but the marketeers caught on quickly. As for presentation: Brian Clemens and Jason Calhoon brewed cup by cup to each customer, by v60 or Aeropress pour-overs (as well as offering a delicious, single origin cold-brewed iced coffee) with a smile and some conversation – be it about the coffee itself or the Sun Devils football game the night before (they probably lost).

Mulch suddenly outgrew their space and as of last Saturday they’re permanently across the street from the market, in front of the space they’ll be moving into in early 2012, right next to Old Town’s The Mission restaurant. Now the Mulch operation is decked out with a coffee cart that dons refrigeration for their Organic Valley milk and ample wooden counter-tops for pour-over coffee brewing – not to mention a world-class La Marzocco espresso machine and grinder that line up in front of the owner-baristas who work wonders behind it. They’re friendly too, so you won’t think twice about ordering that top-notch cappuccino.

This Saturday the guys at Mulch will be sweetening the deal by getting a bit more handsome – Handsome Coffee that is, a roaster out of Los Angeles that the reigning World Barista Champion, Mike Phillips, calls home. Their roaster, Chris Owens, knows all too well how to roast a coffee bean, having originally roasted for Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco – a personal favorite of mine. Handsome, as you may have read, is quickly becoming a favorite as well.

After Saturday the Mulch guys will be out in front of their space on Sunday as well, and then a two week break for the holidays will take it’s course. Shortly after that, however, you’ll see them quite a bit more often. Whether it’s in the form of their cart and some seating outside their space or if they’ll be inviting you inside their doors, at this point, is beyond me. Count on this: nearly daily operation as they move closer to the grand opening of their coffee concept – which at that point you’ll be able to visit them as often as your heart (and palette) desires.

P.S. It’s a safe bet that you’ll be able to find out where they are and when on their Twitter.

Setting up before the Farmer's Market opens, Brian Clemens of Mulch Coffee is setting the espresso dial to delicious outside of the coffee bar's storefront.

Not Your Everyday Special: Order It

It's kosher to bring your Four Barrel-roasted Giant coffee into Matt's Big Breakfast - Matt Poole owns both. On my plate: Three eggs scrambled with artichoke sausage, fontina cheese, and baby spinach. Hashbrowns in front.

Somewhere along the line breakfast got boring. Cereal, oatmeal, toast, eggs, bacon, orange juice – grocery store quality; too often and too fast. Certainly not daily. And it’s hardly ever the smorgasbord from utopian 50’s era family ads, either. You can’t pretend that because you buy Frosted Flakes at the market you’ll somehow cook up the rest, so most are lucky if their schedule allows even a two-course combo of the aforementioned.

But there is a brick-laden cube that cooks up the best breakfast around and (aside from what you’ve read of this already) it defies the need any for any introduction. Matt’s Big Breakfast  is a diner that’s as much of a home team here in Phoenix as the Diamondbacks and Suns. It’s home to the “aforementioned breakfast” where the basics are done exceptionally well. There’s five-seater bar, the utopian ads are framed right there on their walls, and you can even get a bowl of frosted flakes (not kidding – swimming in Clover milk with banana slices). You know Giant Coffee in Downtown that I’m so proud of? They share an owner in Matt Poole.

But save the flakes for the less adventurous kids. Steal a scoop now and then if you think they wont notice (only if its your own kid, though).

It’s easy to get into a routine at Matt’s, though. Once the pancakes, always the pancakes some say. But I’ve got one straightforward message to deliver: you should order the special of the day.

You definitely don’t have to, of course, but if you’re like me and you’ve made it through the staples (fluffy pancakes, bacon and eggs trick), it’s best you treat yourself one step further. Be impressed by their (often) egg scramble specials that incorporate a little creativity. Sometimes it’s the chewy, crisp artichoke sausage with your eggs, or the chipotle sausage mixed in with pepperjack cheese melting eggs and complete with a warm tortilla (one waiter’s all-time favorite). Most recently it was canadian bacon, fontina cheese and baby spinach. I’ve become comfortable with adventure at Matt’s and I don’t ever break a sweat with an order –  generally there aren’t many ingredients I wouldn’t eat. Best of all, the scrambles still come with homefries or hashbrowns (they do it best – those crispy, shredded potatoes bathing in the best butter around). After exploring for months I’ve yet to try the “Chop & Chick,” a couple fried eggs and a skillet-seared pork chop cooked in pesto.

Our home team diner roots local, too. All of your basics that build a good breakfast don’t travel very far; eggs come in from Chino Valley, some meat from Niman Ranch. You spread fruit preserves that are made in-house on soft bread from Wildflower (I recommend the sourdough because the healthier whole wheat option ends up slathered in butter anyhow). Sometimes Matt’s Big Breakfast happens at lunch time after class, and I’ll finish every bite. But every other time I won’t get to that second slice of sourdough toast, but I’m happy to wrap it in a napkin and nibble on it on my way home. Or right up the street to Giant for coffee.

On A Sweeter Note: Cartel Coffee Lab’s New Espresso

(What's left) of a ristretto shot of Black Market Espresso. Specs: Single origin, 100% Red Bourbon. El Salvador. Batman in the corner.

You could talk to an espresso pro whose cup of knowledge runneth over, or just the coffee bar regular whose first move is to order a shot, and they’ll always arrive at the same consensus; a great shot appears reddish brown in color. It doesn’t work inversely, though; just because it’s reddish brown doesn’t mean it tastes exceptional. But one thing is for sure: blondes (typically tasting sour) need not be served.

Cartel Coffee Lab, as of last week, is now donning a fresh new espresso blend (and a promo video) – “blend” being an outdated term, though, as many shops are serving single origin coffee in place or in addition to their regular espresso. Cartel’s new stuff is 100% red bourbon; a single varietal of coffee grown on a single, family-owned coffee farm in El Salvador. Taking a sip of the new espresso tastes a lot like biting into a maraschino cherry that’s been sitting on your sundae, drizzled in chocolate. It’s sweet and smooth, familiar, and is followed with a dry, chocolate syrup body that coats your mouth. The shot is none other than red and brown in color, which brings to memory the chocolate-covered cherry, so it coordinates nicely.

If you ask your barista to throw four ounces of steamed milk and foam in a cup on top of a shot then you’ll most likely tastes something a little different. The foam will have spice and the body of the steamed drink, to me, tastes like semi-sweet chocolate; the maraschino cherry being gone for the most part. Just a few days ago a Cartel barista described the cappuccinos as tasting like buttery flapjack pancakes (no sausage or eggs) – a romantic description that shows off how much espresso can change the farther it gets from the roast date.

I’ve heard this espresso won’t be a Cartel fixture for long – not a ton of the green coffee was bought in the first place. But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts, whether it’s a weekday with their barista Seth or on weekends with Ashley, with visits that are even sweeter now than usual. Espresso can do that.

And since their video is enjoyable, and now famous, here it is:

Something Handsome Arrived

“Where did October go?” – A classmate of mine.

I can’t lie to you; November did not creep up on me. Even creepy Halloween costumes didn’t creep up on me. I’ve been counting the days (and too inconsistently the hours) since the calendar struck October. It feels like the month was born with a finish line and and for most the only goal is getting to Halloween, a holiday I love, though I’m bittersweet about despite accruing piles of sugary milk chocolate and hard candy year in and year out. The milk chocolate, specifically, has always gotten under my skin – like that year I dressed up as Wolverine and, persistently, kept poking myself trying to open up candy bars with my adamantium claws.

You see, I’m a 35% cocoa and above kind of guy who dreams of a trip to Brooklyn where the Mast Brothers make chocolate bars from scratch (they visit some of their farmers, too) and where a special Madagascan chocolate blend walks its way over to Stumptown Coffee inside Manhattan’s Ace Hotel and makes friends with their milk and espresso.

Now that I’ve successfully weaved coffee into my story – getting to my point.

I’d found a reason to treasure my day-to-day countdown in the later half of October.  Midday the 21st I received a package in the mail; one of those cushiony white envelopes containing a rectangular object the size of my hand. A brick of cheese? Couldn’t be. But its distinct rattling sound and characteristic lightness gave it away.

I had a new bag of coffee. I skipped reading the sender’s address (adding to the mystery of the moment) and ripped open the envelope to reveal something much more exciting than a fine brick of cheese and more satisfying than the last chapter of a Hardy Boys novel.

A bag of Handsome roasted coffee, which I expressed over on my Twitter, saying: “I JUST GOT SOMETHING SO DAMN COOL IN THE MAIL.”

It was eight ounces of their highly anticipated Ruthagati AA coffee from Kenya, an “adventurous” choice, that came dressed like a candy bar in their new deep brown and caramel colored packaging.

Mathira, East District; Kenya Ruthagati AA coffee roasted by Handsome Coffee Roasters out of Los Angeles.

I documented the moment with photos of the packaging and then proceeded to brew up the coffee using a V60. The cup was crisp and popped like only a coffee 1-5 days out from roast could. The first thing I noticed was a palpable juiciness – the kind where you can tell your mouth is watering even though its full of coffee. The Handsome guys’ own flavor notes describe “juicy goodness.” Check. I suppose it wouldn’t be enough for me to stop right there and tell you it was a damn good cup of coffee?  Can’t I just tell you to click and buy immediately? Fine, because this is the internet I’ll go ahead and talk flavor breakdown.

Here’s what I tasted: citrus like the first spritz you taste of a lemon or an orange. But the taste was sweeter than that, and not like a sugary lemonade, but much more natural like a solid, tangy fruit. Similarly, I can’t help but to remember back to a cup of Kenyan coffee I had in San Francisco that I thought tasted very accurately like the “lemon candy” descriptor written on the menu. The pure citrus flavor in the San Francisco cup was very good. This one from Handsome, however, was quite a bit more complex. They seemed to have it very right with their own description of passion fruit and nectarines. It’s far too bold to peg all Kenyans with the same flavor notes, but we can all agree the best ones are all superbly, complexly juicy.

Flavor evaluation aside, I just sat, got comfy and sipped happily on one of the better Kenyans I’d had this season. I brewed Handsome’s Ruthagati multiple times each day (alternating between V60 and paper/disk aeropress brew methods, and once on the chemex with a friend) for the next 11 days until I ran out on November 1st; a perfect 14 days past roast. I wish more roasters sold 8oz bags but, as it turns out, Handsome sells only 12 ounce bags of their Ruthagati online.

Or perhaps I should just stick with the 12 ounce bags and have friends over for coffee more often.

I hear from Jesse at Handsome that the Ruthagati tastes great as espresso, too. And I hear from their Twitter account that the supply is selling out fast.

My consensus: Handsome hits 3/3 with me. The first was their espresso in a cappuccino at CoffeeBar in Los Angeles; second was a bag of their La Providencia (currently a part of their espresso blend) I’d been brewing a few weeks ago. Assuming you’ve been narrowing in on a Kenyan to start African coffee season out right, try an excellent Ruthagati AA coffee from Kenya, roasted excellently by Handsome. Brag to your friends, but don’t forget to invite them over afterwards. Tote around a bag and you’ll be the most popular guy at those coffee brewing parties you go to.

I’m sad to see the “Ruth” go. It’s nice, though, that a bag of Water Avenue’s coffee from the same continent; an Ethiopia Limu Kossa has landed in my lap. So far it’s crisp and tasty.

Ethiopia Limu Kossa roasted by Water Avenue in Portland, OR.

P.S. I’m not a “coffee reviewer” – nor do I drink coffee with the sole purpose of identifying notes. Sometimes I just enjoy a coffee enough that I feel I’d like to write about it.

Video: Coffee Connection – How Giant met Four Barrel.

A quick and easy video I made showing the relationship between Giant Coffee in Phoenix as a wholesale client of Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco. I interviewed Matt Pool of Giant Coffee and Matt’s Big Breakfast about how the connection happened and his vision for Giant. I also interviewed Anthony, a barista at Giant who works daily with Four Barrel coffee.

A Private Dinner, a Published Book, and Your First Taste of Mulch Coffee Bar

Brian Clemens of Mulch Coffee setting up for Top Chef Stephanie Izard's Girl and The Goat Tour dinner in Oldtown Scottsdale.

Sunday night was filled with firsts. Rabbit sausage. An entire quail sitting on Korean cabbage. The kind of pork belly you don’t fry up in long strips and eat with eggs and hash-browns.

As for a night filled with seconds? “Yes please” was always my answer. And you wouldn’t see me turn down thirds, either.

Where could you find this dining sequence? On Sunday night it was Old Town Scottsdale, but you could always travel from state to state with Top Chef Stephanie Izard on her Girl and the Goat Tour – or just pick up her new book (the reason for the tour) Girl In The Kitchen and try for yourself. For those of you who don’t have that kind of time and budget to become a Top Chef groupie, just buy a ticket when she comes to a city near you – all tour proceeds go towards Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization with a mission to end childhood hunger.

Girl in the Kitchen Release from Stephanie Izard on Vimeo.

Izard’s event was three entrees and three desserts deep, a dish of each was prepared by chefs Beau MacMillan (of Elements in Scottsdale and the Food Network show Worst Cooks in America) and Randy Zweiban (of Province, a restaurant in Chicago). The event certainly wasn’t lacking in drinks – sprinkled with cocktails by the Liquid Chef Kim Haasarud (who writes an excellent mixology blog) and paired with fine wines from local guru Dave Johnson. All festivities were held outdoors in a space that will soon be open to the public as The Accidental Yard.

The front door to Mulch Coffee and The Accidental Yard

A particular point of interest to the public was that we got to see coffee guys Brian Clemens and Jason Calhoon in action, providing the coffee service for the event. Their bar will premiere as the first permanent fixture to the Accidental Yard this winter.

They’re calling themselves Mulch Coffee, and the public got its first taste Arizona’s first true coffee bar for the first time.

“Working as individual units we were able to create our respective, cohesive menus for dinner entrees, dessert, cocktails, wine, and coffee,” said Clemens about preparing for the event. “The impeccable flavors of each course coupled with the community and the backyard atmosphere brought harmony among the many components of the evening.”

The duo behind the bar served up coffee that they hand-brewed by chemex, the finely tuned acoustic guitar of manual brew methods, with coffee coming from a favorite roaster of theirs; Water Avenue out of Portland, Oregon. Water Avenue donated a generous amount of their Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and El Salvador Buena Vista coffees to the charity event; blueberry notes in the first and citrus in the latter. Both were delicious – the dinner guests’ word, not mine. Delicious might just be where I start to describe those particular coffees.

“The event gave me a glimpse of the opportunity Mulch Coffee will have to collaborate with other creative minds in order to create a truly unique culinary experience at the Accidental Yard,” said Clemens.

Didn’t get to try any of the coffee Sunday night? Water Avenue will be used extensively in their bar and is just one of the many roasters that Clemens and Calhoon will have rotating in and out of their menu once they’ve opened up shop.

Mulch Coffee's menu for the dinner, with coffee donated by Water Avenue out of Portland, Oregon.

Brian Clemens of Mulch Coffee serving brewed coffee to dinner guests using the Chemex brew method - all smiles.

Consequently another first was that I hadn’t worked behind a coffee bar in a couple months. Or, at least, prepared and served coffee to someone other than my friends or my mother, who makes the occasional trip down from the North (“North” being North Scottsdale). Last time I traded her a cup of coffee (some Guatemalan Finca La Maravilla roasted by Intelligentsia to sweeten the deal) in exchange for some of her older glass bread pans. Banana bread – by unanimous request of me, myself, and I – will soon be gracing my kitchen. I think I’ll use the Crepes of Wrath recipe.

That being said, it was fun setting up for the event and brewing on the Chemex alongside Clemens and Calhoon – exceptionally fun. Enjoyable company is an excellent compliment to have for brewing great coffee.

Dinner Breakdown

1st Dish: Rabbit Sausage, prepared by Chef Randy Zweiban

Presented in cut slices that snapped in your mouth when you bit in, topped with nuts that provided crunch and green apples for your crisp. It was a dish that audibly rivaled the snap, crackle, and pop of rice crispies cereal, though a bit more complex. I enjoyed the tang of the olives that I’d collect on my fork with a slice of the rabbit, already a tangy, gamey meat that does well when gathered inside of a sausage casing.

2nd Dish: Pork Belly, prepared by Chef Beau MacMillan

One of the fattiest parts of the pig, pork belly is where you get your bacon from – marbling is too weak of a word for this cut of meat. Bacon has caught on quite well (now used commonly enough in pastries) and, as one of the attendees at my table pointed out, lent it’s hoof to pork belly becoming a cliche, trendy dish in any and every new restaurant that appeared on the Chicago dining scene. “Undercooked fat on dish,” he said. “But only if done wrong.” MacMillan did it right. Sourced well enough to give us a hefty chunk of meat, it was cooked tenderly with attention to detail. My teeth sunk in easy, and my palette hung on to the rich, fatty flavor that was coupled with a molasses, garlic reduction.

3rd Dish: Quail and Butternut Squash Kimchi, prepared by Stephanie Izard

My quail was dressed well for the evening. The only part of it missing, it’s feathers, weren’t in vogue for the warm October night. The meat was buttery, soft and succulent; similar to a really juicy piece of fried chicken but without the breading and grease. Its back laid against butternut squash and a layers of kimchi, a Korean cooked cabbage, of the same squash flavor. Quail and squash is an exotic, dainty take on chicken and potatoes.

As for the dessert? Beats me. I was brewing coffee while all three of my treats were delivered. If I had to guess one was a custard with caramel sauce and caramel popcorn, another had a toffee slice between peanut butter and chocolate patties. The third, my favorite, had sliced and cooked apple chunks with a goat cheese whip of sorts.

When the event was all said and done, I’d had one of the best culinary experiences of my life. Not just because I benefitted from an hour of dining and talking with experienced restaurant-goers, but even more so because I helped an incredible staff with an exceptional heart, and served coffee to attendees along side chefs, mixologists, and baristas that are fueled by a love for their craft, and have been revered widely in doing so.

Event tear-down was no easy task with a belly filled to the brim with rich food. Good thing I made it home with some coffee via Clemens – some of the Ethiopian and El Salvador from Water Avenue and some Guatemalan and Costa Rican from MadCap out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. My coffee-filled mornings can’t come quick enough these days.

Cali-Hospitality: Coffee Crawling Across Two Cities

From lunchtime to lunchtime, with almost exactly 24 hours to spend in the City by The Bay, the race to drink San Francisco’s finest coffee was on.
But the finish line, which in our case were delicious olive-oil drenched sandwiches, wasn’t the destination. My buddy Alex, who has a definite eye for design, and I treated coffee shops with the same tourist-driven attitude as any other San Francisco landmark we’d hit; the Fisherman’s Wharf, a drive down Lombard Street, the Golden Gate Bridge (not actually golden, by the way), and a concert at the Warfield Theatre.
But as far as being tourists goes we were the tortoises amongst the hares. There was no amount of relaxation that couldn’t be achieved at each and every stop. (Minimal) Time spent on photography and social media was merely a means to create a digital catalogue to look back on.
Not to mention we had taken our time getting to Everyone’s Favorite City – driving from Phoenix, Ariz., spending a morning on the way up and a full day on the way down in Los Angeles.

//Cognoscenti Cafe Los Angeles, CA//
A grey little box-of-a-place where you could successfully spend now to forever called Proof Bakery dedicates one of its four corners to this coffee bar operation. What perhaps could have been space designed to showcase just a few additional pastries or sandwiches is home to two group-heads worth of espresso machines and some pour-over brew counter space. During my visit they were happily pulling Handsome Roaster espresso and brewing coffees fromCoava, Four Barrel, Ecco and Heart. Heart Roaster’s Kenya Gichatha-ini, which we drank on cool marble-topped tables, was impeccably brewed by their barista and my favorite cup of coffee I drank all trip.
A retired New York City Joe barista was there to offer us sound highway driving advice.
Proof Bakery’s sandwiches (mine was bacon, goat cheese, fig jam, arugula between sea salted bread) were perfect for the road.
A note from Alex: Bare, slate grey walls. What could theoretically use decoration offers contrast to their colorful foods and pastries – a blueberry scone and a dark chocolate croissant for us.

//Ritual Coffee Roasters San Francisco, CA//
(above) Photo credit: Alex Devine
Freshly hitting the 5-year mark and escaping shop toddler-dom, as far as I’m concerned Ritual is officially a San Francisco and American staple. I got my first taste of Ritual from the Hope and Union Cafe in Charleston, SC and it’s been a personal favorite of mine ever since. Their baristas and bean sourcer, fresh off a public cupping, loved conversation and made me a cappuccino in a tulip-shaped cup (photographed above) – a first for me. I also tried their Las Manos coffee from Honduras, which I’d heard great things about on Twitter; it didn’t disappoint!
A note from Alex: Shop seating that stretches on for miles, filled with other busy-bodies, is a college kid’s dream.

//Four Barrel San Francisco, CA//
Enough great things couldn’t be said about this beehive of a shop that serves some up some of the sweetest coffee around to a never-ending line of customers. Two “fast-bar” baristas plug away at two parallel state-of-the-art espresso machines and one other mans the “slow bar” – a section dedicated to the slower art of hand-brewing great coffee one cup at a time. With all this action, this coffee shop was alive and literally buzzing with the sound of community and conversation.
You see, Four Barrel doesn’t have wi-fi. Or electrical outlets. Or lazy leather couches. It gets it’s coziness from families, friends, and great tasting coffee.
Beware: the locals might shoot you envious looks if you bring your own box of half-a-dozen Dynamo Donuts beyond Four Barrel’s own Dynamo Donut selection. I wish I’d taken photos during the pickup – Dynamo might have deserved its own blurb here, what with it wielding a La Marzocco Linea machine slinging Four Barrel spro’. A donut breakfast is usually only a ritual for trips to my Dad’s in Vegas, but from Dynamo I enjoyed cornmeal blueberry, strawberry earl grey, spiced chocolate, lemon pistachio, and maple apple bacon donuts. Gladly.
A note from Alex: Lower than average, small, rectangular, wooden tables offer just enough surface area to accomodate a couple cups of coffee and your phone or notebook. Combined with some music and the hum of surrounding customers, the designer’s intention is to bring you closer to your company you’re visiting with.
Also… Four Barrel does have a wholesale account with Giant Coffee in Mid-Town Phoenix, Ariz., a mere minutes from the downtown ASU campus. They faithfully pull Friendo Blendo espresso and carry the rest of Four Barrel’s seasonal single-origin coffees. 

//Sightglass Coffee San Francisco, CA//
Metal, wood and glass from head to toe, Sightglass successfully (almost nonchalantly) pulls off sticking just a bar, a roaster, and selective seating inside of a giant, high-ceilinged warehouse. Having too much empty space looks like part of the design, for once. I’d been wanting to visit since I first saw they were hiring maybe half a year ago, and since then they’ve opened up their shop to the public. Oliver Strand gave us our first look at the new space for his blog called Ristretto in the New York Times and I immediately recognized some of the baristas from his photography. Here, I took my own stab at cataloguing this beautiful space as well. My cappuccino was excellently textured and the taste was balanced – their Owl’s Howl blend being comprised of three cultivars from three different countries. I also tried a cup of their Kenyan coffee – they say it’s flavor tastes like lemon candies. And they’re absolutely correct.

Fun Fact: One of the original investors in Sightglass is Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter. Jack Dorsey also started Square (ever paid for lunch of coffee at some place via iPad?), and Sightglass was one of the first businesses to do Square’s beta testing.

A note from Alex: Unlike the square bar and seating designs we’re used to in most every shop, the bars and seating incorporate curves – keeping it fresh.

And as for lunch… From all the running around we’d done between driving the Golden Gate Bridge, picking up donuts, Four Barrel, and Sightglass, we were hungry. The locals all know about Tartine Bakery (they’ve got nation-wide following and a book dedicated to their story and their bread) and so we checked it out and paid our tourism dues by waiting in it’s line out the door. My sheep’s cheese, almond, lemon, sage and olive oil sandwich between two of slices of their bread was too juicy and incredible for words. Though, I may try to eventually…

//Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea Venice, Silverlake, and Pasadena, CA//
(above) Photo credit: Alex Devine
(above) Photo credit: Alex Devine
If Square Mile Coffee in London is the Manchester United of the coffee world, then Intelligentsia is certainly America’s winningest team – the New York Yankees. Though, they do hail from Chicago – starting their Los Angeles roasting operation and planting their first shop in LA’s suburb, the hip Silverlake, Calif., just a few years ago.
The hospitality and attention to detail in Venice was beyond my expectations. Our baristas were the manager Melissa and Jaymie, who prepared Alex and me two cappuccinos to start. Their Black Cat espresso was delicious,though I’m favoring single-origin espresso lately and so my cappuccino made with their Nicaraguan was right up my alley. I later had a single-origin Kenyan cappuccino at their Pasadena location, and while some would say the fruity Kenyan flavors can’t cut through milk, I tasted no problem whatsoever. Just berries and cream.
A note from Alex: The collaboration amongst baristas within each Intelligentsia is impressive. Also, their Pasadena location fills all necessities for a long visit; coffee, food and beer. It’s feels like a bar.

//Coffee Bar Los Angeles, CA//
Coffee Bar is just that: a coffee bar. Part of only a small group of shops across the nation with a plan to be consistently rotating coffee in and out from different roasters across the nation, Coffee Bar also incorporates the classic bar design; a network of bars and stools that focus on barista-customer interaction. I drank a cappuccino made with Handsome Roaster (they have a new site up) espresso that might have been the best all trip. Scottsdale needs one of these. 
A note from Alex: Scottsdale and Phoenix are in desperate need of a coffee bar. But who? And when? And where?