I admit that I'm a coffee purist, which is really just a nice word for snob. I like simplicity, quality over quantity, no added flavors or condiments that get in the way of the experience I get from a perfectly good, pure cup of coffee.
Naturally, I have a personal vendetta against decaf.
It's not because I'm a hopeless caffeine addict who brags about the amount of java he can down before going to sleep for three hours and pop up fully rested. In reality, I rarely drink coffee after 4pm so that what sleep I do find to fit into my schedule can at least be worth the sacrifice of not drinking the beverage later in the day. I'm an all or nothing kind of guy – if I can't afford to enjoy a cup and be able to sleep well that night, I'll choose one over the other, depending on how my day tomorrow looks.
This attitude is the reason I have a personal issue with decaf. When coffee undergoes the process of decaffeination, there are parts of the bean that get removed. Obviously, caffeine is the major product removed, but there are other things that tag along for the ride or simply don't survive the process. This results in coffee that tastes objectively different than its caffeinated counterpart. In my subjective opinion, it tastes less delicious, so I don't drink it. All or nothing; either I have all the deliciousness there is to offer or I'll stick to water.
This is not to say I dislike or judge those who choose a decaf option for one reason or another. While I wish everyone had my same ideals of purity in coffee, there are still plenty of legitimate motives why someone does not want or cannot have caffeinated beverages, and that's perfectly fine and acceptable. I would never tell somebody with a sensitivity to caffeine that they shouldn't have any sort of coffee because my opinions are different then theirs. I may be a snob, but I at least try not to be a jerk.
That being said, I will admit that I was a bit less than thrilled to ponder the reality that as Boxwood grows its own brand, I would eventually have to roast our own branded decaf coffee. Which means I would need to start regularly cupping and tasting it for quality control and ensuring top quality. Ensuring top quality in something that you personally find difficult to find quality in is not always exciting, and this case was not an exception. So I trundled my beat up '99 Prizm down to our trusty green coffee suppliers at Royal NY and challenged them to 'wow' me. They said “sure thing!” in a tone a bit too excited for my own attitude and set up some options for us to taste. As we got started in the cupping, something horrible happened.
The decaf coffee tasted good.
Like, I could easily drink a few cups of this stuff and never even assume there was no caffeine in it. My world melted, fantasies of getting a tattoo that read “Death Before Decaf” over a skull chugging black coffee were ripped from my head, I felt I had been living a lie.
The truth is, technology has come a long way, and people are becoming more scientifically aware of the organic workings and tricks that coffee has up its sleeve. This results in decaffeination processes like the Swiss Water Process that does not rely on chemical reactions to obliterate caffeine but instead soaking them in water in ways that allow the caffeine molecules to be filtered out, leaving most of the good stuff intact. Yeah, it may not taste as fantastic, but it's still pretty fantastic, and that is taking me some time to come to terms with.
This is all to say, I have learned to swallow my caffeinated pride with a bit of decaf and will now begin my process in roasting Boxwood's first decaf coffee, an incredible single origin offering from Colombia that all of you cool people will soon find on our shelves this week.
Or not, I guess.
In the past I've talked a lot about coffee culture, the people that fuel it and how it relates to other food and beverage cultures. All of us are excited to create something cool and then to share it with everyone, to show that we can build new things that change the way we think about what we consume and to be in on it together as a community.
Collaboration is something that bridges a gap between people and ideas, hopefully resulting in a conclusion that unifies different groups of people under a common cause. Since coffee is on such an up and coming track, there's always a lot of room to venture out of our comfort zone of our cozy cafe and leap into different realms.
This week, that realm is beer.
A few weeks ago I heard through the grapevine that there was a new brewery called Twin Elephant that had popped up in Chatham, right on Watchung Avenue. Really? Local craft beer in this area? Yes, really. I thought that was rad, and I went down there to check it out and have a pint or two. THis place was a total surprise to me; a super chilled out and intelligent brewery hiding in plain sight that developed some of the coolest brew's I've tasted in a long while offering sometimes as many as a dozen different beers every week. I met the owners and the brewmasters, we chatted, we talked about how our two lines of work might cross paths one day and how we dig each others' craft.
Long story short, we made those paths cross to develop a (hopefully!) lasting and incredible relationship between Boxwood and Twin Elephant, with today (Saturday) being the first unveiling of our joint efforts. On tap at T.E. you will find Diamonds and Pearls, a favorite stout of theirs now with a hefty helping of El Jefe dark roast coffee in the mix.
I'm so happy.
All of those involved are super stoked at how this is turning out, and we are excited to see what crazy new brews the Elephant dudes are gonna come up with next. Stay tuned to both Boxwood and Twin Elephant to see what cool things may be coming down the pike, wether it's more collaboration between the two beverage dispensaries or a knew venture altogether!
It's a lovely day for a pint, don't you think?
Did you ever see that movie Yes Man? The one where Jim Carrey adopts the mantra of saying "yes" to literally everything? It mostly worked out for him, and led him to experience things he was always too timid or cautions to do. Life isn't a movie where things magically work out exactly as the viewer (you) wants it to. There's a lot of conflict and grey area and weird stuff that happens and needs to be dealt with, but going out of your way to say "yes" to more things tends to lead to good experiences.
The past summer Boxwood has had a lot of growth, new developments and unique opportunities. When approached with new ideas or chances to be a part of something or make something new, we did our best to always say yes, which honestly is probably why things have been so crazy for us. But despite the long weeks and raised levels of stress, it was always worth the effort in the end.
The most recent event that surprised and excited us was an invite to a private shindig held by Weebly, the awesome company that has allowed us to create this very website ourselves, located in Brooklyn Brewery. Boxwood, along with a small bundle of other new companies utilizing the powerful website creator, were to be profiled to show other businesses how we have grown an how Weebly has helped us in our efforts to create and share. It was incredibly humbling and exciting to be offered the chance to network and show off our products with pride, so we bundled up my 1999 Chevy Prizm with loads of coffee, crates and bags and blitzed through the Holland tunnel with no air conditioning to set up shop in a brewery. We gave out loads of samples, chatted coffee with new friends, sold bags beans and merch, got our photos taken, participated in a Q&A with audience members and met some incredibly passionate people all excited about what they do. Sipping of complimentary craft beer was a nice plus too!
A lot of great things have come out of that night and plenty of other hectic days because we said yes to opportunities regardless of how ridiculous it may seem to pull it off. Whether your business needs a push or you just need to bring some change of pace to your personal life, start saying "yes" to more things, put yourself out there and go for whatever it is you didn't think you'd achieve. Maybe it will let you to sell to more people, or introduce you to new friends, or get you to discover a new favorite band or restaurant or experience. Shake hands, talk, have fun.
Why would you say no?
As fall brings about a new season of brain-stuffing, all night cramming and foggy early mornings, I sometimes feel a bit melancholy that I will not be going back to school this year. Being a recent graduate this past May, I can easily identify with the importance of being able to manage time, form good habits and make friends to help you through all the crazy and usually stressful weeks throughout the semester. The best friend to make during this time?
Coffee will always be there for you, coffee won't let you down. It will make you more alert, happier, smarter. Coffee is your study buddy, your early morning and late night companion, your cozy sweater on a cool autumn day and a cool fan on a warm spring afternoon. I sometimes miss the early mornings after a few hours sleep when I would somehow slosh together a cup in the morning as I struggled to keep my eyelids open. By my senior year I was a heavy user of coffee, and I had built up quite a collection of paraphernalia to fill my kitchen with, including three grinders, two sizes of pour over cones, a moka pot, a variety of french presses in multiple sizes, an aeropress, a few different kettles, Chemex, a cold brew system and even an espresso maker and stovetop milk steamer. I had every tool for every occasion, and I had learned versatility and technique that allowed me to utilize my limited time and space the best I could. To any new students or current students new to coffee, I have a few things to offer you as you venture into the realms of college and coffee.
Get an electric kettle
Before anything else, get an electric kettle. Most freshmen and sophomores are living in dorms without kithens, and even those students with acces to a stovetop will heat water slower than if you put in in a kettle that plugs into the wall. This versatile tool provides you with boiling water in a few minutes that you can not only use for coffee, but you can pour for tea oatmeal and the endless cups of ramen you will consume over the next few years. An electric kettle allows
Aeropress, French Press
While a coffee addict will somehow find space for any and every method of brewing in impossible spaces, these three tools are my recommended weapons of choice for quick and clean brewing to get you through the day.
The Aeropress is by far the most clever and quickest way to brew incredible coffee in a fast paced and tightly packed dorm room. Essentiall a plastic tube, a plunger and a paper filter, this little guy can brew a single cup of coffee in just a few quick moments better than the student union's cafe can and a whole lot better than your roommate's Keurig. This was my go-to tool in the early morning, it's incredibly difficult to screw up and next to brainless to operate. Add coffee, water, wait a little bit and press the plunger down into a cup. Cleanup includes popping the spent coffee puck into the trash and a quick rinse. Easy peasy.
The French press is basically the Aeropress's bigger brother. Insert coffee, water, wait a little bit and push the plunger. This method is quick and easy and can make a lot of coffee at once, whether it's for a long solo study sesh or you're brewing for a group of friends, this is a great tool that brews a great, full-bodied pot of coffee that will keep your eyes open very wide. Cleanup includes disposal of grinds and a quick soapy wash of all the parts.
Find time to grind fresh. Yes, it makes a difference and you won't regret it. There are many options, but i would especially recommend a small hand grinder. We carry the Hario Skerton in our shop, it's a simple machine that proves a little elbow grease can pay off big time. The ceramic burrs will last a long time and create a consistent grind that will extract beautifully with whatever brew method you choose. It is a relatively quiet grinder, and what sound it does make will attract sleepy friends from their rooms into yours like moths to a candle.
School is a lot of fun, and it's a great opportunity to find a lot of new interesting hobbies and to build a sense of taste. Coffee was my rabbit hole to fall down, and it was something I fell for completely. Take these few years to find a passion, and fall head over heels for it. Coffee will be there to help you find your way.
We have a lot to thank Italy for when it comes to coffee. Italians helped popularize the beverage for regular consumption around the Renaissance, they invented the first espresso machine in 1884, and they created their own culture influential enough to spur on the green wave of coffee in the US that is Starbucks. Without the country, I would not be writing this blog as I sip on an espresso and tonic (try it out at home sometime, it's pretty gnarly). We would not have the incredible coffee we drink today in the States. They are driven, they are inspiring, they are traditional.
You know what else is traditional? The running of the bulls.
What I mean by this is that tradition doesn't always make a whole lot of sense to those outside of a specific culture; you probably won't ever see me running away from and angry stampede of bulls down the streets of Barcelona, and you probably won't see me drinking bad espresso very often. Yeah, maybe I sound like an angry and naive youth, but Italian espresso, no matter how traditional you may like to describe it, is not good.
The way coffee used to be drunk hundreds of years ago is very different then the way we drink it today. Those drinking it never tried to do anything different different than what they were shown; put the green coffee in a hot pan until with was black, pound it up, add water and drink it. They didn't care about taste because they only knew the bitter black magic that gave them energy and let them sleep less. Why mess with something that isn't broken?
When the Italians got a hold of the stuff, their innovation was to condense a brew by using a lot of pressure to make a shot of espresso and then add some milk to it. This allowed for a quick breakfast with a jolt of energy and some nice milkfat to get the farmers and fishermen up and running until lunch.
It worked, why change it?
If you go to Italy today, you will often be met with the same traditional methods of preparation, and the resulting espresso is, well, pretty funky. It continues to be burnt and over-roasted; bitter robusta beans with loads of caffeine are added to the blends to create a charcoal and burning rubber – tasting shot in your authentic cappuccino.
But, it's the way they've always done it. Why? Well, coffee has a different reputation in that culture when compared to our current one, and that's okay. The flavor isn't something to be fussed over, it is what it is and that simplicity is beautiful enough to keep doing it exactly the same way. In the States, we've decided to fuss over it, and that's okay too. I fuss a lot, so I'm going to keep searching and experimenting and tasting and not sleeping while the traditionalists roll their eyes at me as they down their morning pick-me-up.
But hey, when in Rome, right?
Hayden Kaye is our Master Roaster and head of the Say Interesting Stuff department.