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Coffee Talk

By Anne Mitchell · December 4th, 2012 · Drink
eats_drink_customportafilterhandle_jaredbowersPhoto: Jared Bowers

People love Dojo at Findlay Market for their gelato. I am hopeless in the face of their delicious affogato. This espresso/gelato float has gotten me through many a difficult day. On a recent visit, Dojo owner Michael Christner advised me that he was about to up the ante. He informed me that after my next cup, “You might need to use the bench by our stand in order to regain your composure.” 

Dojo has now had its new espresso machine, La Marzocco’s Strada from Florence, Italy, installed and it’s a hot rod. I can picture Christner revving the engine as he explains, “We have performed some of the one-of-a-kind modifications on this machine. It has African Wenge woodwork on all the handles, custom paint, newly fabricated glass panels and internal LED lighting. But wait. There’s more! The greatest part of this project is that we utilized all local businesses and fabricators for the custom work.” 

Gizmodo, the gadget blog, explains that the Strada — even unmodified — promises a new kind of control over pressure, “one of the most critical parameters in making espresso.” Espresso machines force water through coffee at high pressure. Varying the pressure while you are pulling an espresso shot extracts different properties and flavors from the coffee. So with the best beans, the right grind, the cleanest water and the right pressure, you’ve got the perfect espresso. 

Christner and I talked about the coffee revolution that’s underway in Cincinnati. A lot of folks are bringing their “A” game (single origin beans, local roasters, alternate brewing methods) to the table with coffee service.

Fair trade, direct trade, organic — do they make a difference? If so, why? I asked Rhett Harkins, manager of a favorite local coffee shop, Corner BLOC in Price Hill.

Corner BLOC is very community focused, so I wanted to see if Harkins could tell me any benefit past the “do-gooder” angle. He could.

“Fair trade is OK, but direct trade is better in terms of benefit to the farmer and to the consumer,” he explained. “With direct trade, the farmer gets a good price for their beans, but since they are dealing face-to-face with the buyer, they want to sell them their best coffee. And a not-great cup of coffee could be organic. Organic doesn’t necessarily indicate quality.”

Harkins went on to point out that certification programs like “Cup of Excellence” are better indicators of the best coffee and return on the farmer’s investment. The certification spotlights individual farmers, who know they’ll be able to sell their entire crop without joining a co-op and diluting their profits and their quality.

Dojo, Corner BLOC and Tazza Mia, among others, all get their single-source, direct trade beans through local roaster Deeper Roots. 

At Tazza Mia, Cory Hester and Alex Stahler told me that their mission is to elevate the masses from Starbucks to a better cup of coffee, but without preaching or pretense. 

“We’re just growing peoples’ thoughts about coffee,” Hester explains. “Coffee that’s roasted locally, fresh weekly, it’s going to supersede any national brand.”

The whiteboard at Tazza lists some of the characteristics of their beans. The Pacific Island beans, like Sumatran, have an earthy flavor. African regional beans are fruitier. South American beans make a coffee that tastes nuttier, more chocolaty. Periodically, Tazza Mia offers select coffees for a limited time, like the current Brazilian Cup of Excellence No. 4 from the farm Fazenda JR in Sul de Minas, Brazil.

There are a lot of home espresso makers on the market, but they can’t compete with Dojo’s souped-up Strada. One method of brewing that’s familiar to coffee drinkers who brew at home is gaining popularity at coffee shops: the pour-over. A proper pour-over takes a few minutes, and the ritual reminds me of a tea ceremony. There are several systems on the market, and Corner BLOC offers three. The Chemex, with its simple beaker shape, and the Hario V60, which uses a ceramic filter holder, are the preferred slow, manual pour overs. Both processes call for pre-moistening the filter, pre-warming the coffee mug and allowing the coffee to “bloom” when it is first moistened. Water temperature is important and the coffee beans should be ground between fine and medium. The third, the Clever Coffee Dripper, is a hybrid of a Melitta and a French press. 

So next time you’re ready for a better cup of Joe, think local and pass the ’Bucks. There’s a serious coffee scene right here in town and it’s a delicious way to learn about better brews.

CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: amitchell@citybeat.com



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