This morning I found myself climbing over mountains of Ziploc bags filled with pounds and pounds of coffee, furiously grinding beans by hand, heating pots and kettles with and endless supply of water and feverishly attempting to keep the area clean from loose grinds, spills and spent paper towels. Screeching steam, unsightly slurps and crunching beans drove the dogs into the other rooms and my family seemed mildly frightened to enter the impromptu lab space. I was working.
This past week has left me incredibly caffeinated and motivated, and the fact that I came home last night with about 10 pounds of coffee under my arm was a hefty dose of fuel to keep me going for a while. I have just wrapped up my second SCA roasting class, and it has continued to show me how vast, incredible and occasionally daunting the world of coffee and coffee roasting can be. The more I continue my education in coffee the more I want to keep seeking more information, and the more I am motivated to be better and better at my craft.
So this morning I continued my efforts to taste and to create, toying with practice coffee roasted on a beautiful Loring roaster much too nice for me to. I was testing for espresso, cupping different ratios of blends and attempting to pull something resembling a decent shot with my super manual ROK espresso maker. It went okay.
Espresso, to me, is horrifying. It is an incredibly violent brewing method that exposes both everything that is right and wrong with the coffee being used. Grind consistency, dosing of coffee, tamp level and pressure, water temperature, water pressure and brew time are all things that need to be calibrated accurately to pull a proper shot of espresso. Even then, the coffee itself must be a coffee that is suited for espresso, cared for properly and roasted to a certain specification consistently in order for the resulting shot to be delicious and serviceable. If anything is off, the espresso may be mediocre, terrible or just not the right recipe for the perceived goal. this can be said for any variety of brewed coffee, but because espresso is such a potent representation of coffee that makes up a great deal of a cafe's menu's drinks, errors can make themselves more apparent to the drinker and more difficult to correct.
Because of these reasons along with productivity of workflow, espresso has been a personal white whale of mine. As a young and relatively new coffee roaster, I knew that jumping right into roasting espresso for the cafe when I first began my work at Boxwood I would be met with varying degrees of uncertainty and a lack of consistency in the final product I offered to clients and customers. But with a lot of learning, trial and error, patience and stubbornness, espresso is appearing less daunting to me, and soon enough I'll have my shots exactly where I want them.
It's been a little while since we talked, but there's good reason for that! At Boxwood we've been increasing our brain power and honing our skill sot continue to bring you all better coffee than ever before.
Two weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Roaster Pathway 1 course provided by the SCA and hosted by our partners in crime at Royal Coffee New York! I, along with five other thirsty students got to soak up an incredible amount of knowledge and hands-on experience with the guidance of the lovely Candice Madison as we drank the warehouse out of coffee. Coffee growing, processing, storage, cupping, flavor wheels, roasting profiles, temperature curves and a whole lot of jargon were just a few of the things we hammered into our skulls that week, and that's not to mention the fleet of ridiculously hi-tech equipment and machinery we got to work with!
As a group, we became able to perform proper coffee cuppings, identify traits and flaws in coffees and how to control those traits as a roaster to gain the best possible qualities from the bean. Many of the things we learned were things that I had a bit of experience with, but more importantly many of the thing we learned were things I didn't know that I didn't know. Prior to this class I was happy with my coffee, and without sounding boastful I do believe that it was a better quality than Boxwood's immediate competitors. After, though, I now knew that the level of quality I could grow to acheive woud be something I never really understood before, and I became excited to challenge myself.
Now I'm not saying that I took one class and now thing of myself as a coffee god, there is a lot of practice to be made and probably a lot f wasted coffee as I tinker and toy with my machine back home. Acheiving next level standards of quality nd controll will take time and patience and more resources, but I know a lot more than I did before and I know how to seek out the information that I don't know. I find myself very lucky to be where I am and I love the fact that I can share my experiences and offerings with an incredible crowd of customers who will give me feedback. At Boxwood we value every word that each one of you say, and we use both praise and critique to fuel ourfire to keep of making better and better coffee for all of you.
Stay tuned for more info about the behind the scenes stuff and also for some fresh beans hitting the shelf! Ethiopia is out of stock, but I am picking up a beautiful Kenyan on Monday to stock the shelves very soon. Until then stay cool everyone!
And all through the shop
Not a bag of coffee remained
Not even a drop.
Customers cleared shelves
And grabbed every bag
To keep stockings stuffed
Or to wrap up and tag
The owners were frantic
The roaster ran amok
Baristas did their best
To keep pushing their luck
Their hands moved like lightning
As orders piled high
But stock was running low
Cups would soon be bone dry
The roaster donned is jacket
And wool knitted cap
And bid them farewell
Into the cold winter snap
He trundled to Newark
In his old Chevy beater
To fire up the engine
Of his shiny bean-heater
He roasted and roasted
All through the night
Green beans turned brown
Under lightbulb sunlight
And at dawn's first rays
The shop was lit up
With shelves fully stocked
And overflowing cup
The workers were tired
And lacking caffeine
But their mission was finished
For the love of the bean
The store was soon flooded
With plenty of shoppers
Happy to witness
Fresh coffee in hoppers
Each one was serviced
With a greeting and smile
Plenty was to be shared
In true holiday style
The weary roaster retired
To the comforts of his bed
So dreams of cortados
could dance in his head
But before his eyes closed
He murmered a call
That echoed his room
And all down the hall
A voice came to the shoppers
And made them look up
"Merry Christmas to all
And to all a hot cup!"
Happy Holidays to all of our fantastic, amazing customers that have made our dreams come true! Everything we do, we do for you, and it is so worth it when hear your prais and when we see coffee flying of the shelves (even if that means I need to go roast a few emergency batches late at night)! All of Boxwood wishes you a great holiday season and hopes that you spend time with family and loved ones and to keep on being merry. We'll see you all net year!
It's stupid cold out if you haven't noticed, but we're staying nice and cozy warm inside the shop! Peppermint mochas, hot chocolates and Sweater Weather pour overs will help you forget the blistering weather that awaits your frantic commute back to your car, so you might as well stay in the cafe for just a few more minutes.
We're too excited to let the cold bother us right now though, we've got new projects to work on and cool things to do! I've talked a lot about our plans for expansion and growth, and we've been busy making those rad things happen. This week Ruby the Roaster and I found a new big fancy workspace to pump out hundreds of pounds of incredible coffee! This is a cool thing, because we previously were operating out of a much smaller facility that was little more than a fancy garage. In the new operating location, a warehouse in Newark, we will have increased space and resources to offer more services on the storefront end of business. Plans to upgrade equipment, streamline cold brewing and distribution are all that much closer to becoming realities, and the added benefit of better environment control means I will be able to fine-tune my roasts to an even higher quality! Espresso will be the next big mountain to climb, but be on the lookout for a few new roasts in the coming weeks.
With the approaching frigid holidays, be sure to stay safe and warm in the shop or in your home. If you're still looking for a few gift ideas we might be able to help! A coffee subscription is a great way to enable someone to get a steady supply of craft coffee delivered right to their door, and the store is bursting at the seams with loads of retail products including new glass and cork Keep Cups with our logo on it! They also come in an array of swanky color combos, so be sure to stop by the shop and chek them out!
Stay warm, and Happy Holidays!
I type this blog still overstuffed from the monstrous quantities of poultry and carbs I slobbered over Thursday's Thanksgiving and exhausted from the nonstop action of yesterday's Black Friday. It was a crazy busy day in the shop, but we had a blast pumping out pour overs, lattes, and hot chocolates to all of those braving the storms of American consumption!
Now that I have a morning to be a bit lazy before getting back at it, I would like to take the time to reflect on how incredible a journey it has been for Boxwood and its family this past year. We are so incredibly thankful to all of our customers and fans that gave the new, hip coffee shop a chance to show what we can do and who continually support us in our efforts. Finding a niche in a community that allows us to express our passion so wonderfully is a rare thing in this world, and without it I have no idea where I would be. A year ago I was just a geek in a college apartment praying that I could somehow swindle life into handing me a career in coffee, and somehow it worked. It worked because I stumble into some incredible people with an amazing consumer base, people with love and drive and passion.
As Boxwood's brand grows and reaches more people, we continue to be fueled by the love for coffee. The love comes from us as much as it does from all of you, and we are reminded of it every time we see a smile in our shop. I am so thankful for everyone that has ever bought a cup of our coffee or given us a compliment on how they like what we are doing. You are the ones that make it possible, and you are the ones that make it worth it.
Thank you :)
My parents' coffee maker broke, and it's causing rifts to form in the household.
Who would've guessed?
For years I have been trying to convert them to my own (oh so enlightened) ways of utilizing burr grinders and fancy kettles and cones for the perfect pour-over for their morning cup with no avail. Tested and true, they stuck by their all-in-one, blade-bean-smasher, perma-stained-metal-carafe hunk of a machine that made a bland and burnt cup most of the times you put any type of coffee in it. It was easy, they just put in water, beans, a filter and then they hit a button. After a few minutes of sounds resembling a jet engine wrestling a grizzly bear with a sinus infection, there was coffee! Sure, it wasn't the greatest, but it was convenient.
The water reservoir broke, and into the trash flew the sopping wet hunk of stained "stainless" steel. This was my chance.
I had finally weened my family to start drinking really good coffee a few months ago, or at least the coffee I was roasting as opposed to the bulk bags that came from Costco, and now I could finally convert them to caffeine nirvana by throwing in my own two cents about what should replace their broken brewer. I know they have seen my extensive collection of coffee paraphernalia and I have witnessed their eyes bug out looking over the absurd lengths I can occasionally go to in order to make myself a single cup, so off the bat I know there is no way I'm going to sell them a method that was inconvenienced by slow, tedious, manual processes. They wanted something easy to brew with, easy to clean, could make a lot of coffee in one batch, and took up as little counter space as possible. My mother was set on having and all-in-one machine again, but my dad was sick of not being able to successfully clean it.
The rift grows.
Now the thing with coffee, like many other facets of food, beverage and consumer products, is that there is often an inverse when you compare quality with convenience. As opposed to what a commercial may say, I can confidently tell you that you will (probably) never get the best cup of coffee you've ever had at the simple touch of a button. The most convenient thing you can do to get an amazing cup of coffee is probably pay a barista to make it for you. Seeing as how I can't always be the barista on-call at the house, there was going to need to be some level of automation involved.
My solution to them was a nicer version of a drip machine for a few extra bucks. The Bonavita 8-Cup Brewer (glass carafe for a cleaner pot!) is a fine machine for regular house-hold use that can make a pretty decent cup with minimal effort and cleanup. My parents nodded in affirmation, until I suggested the addition of a dedicated burr grinder. The idea of another appliance that took an extra step in the morning wasn't attractive to them, but I told them of this imbalance of quality and convenience and decided to leave it up to them to decide the caffeinated fate. Ease of use, or really good coffee; it was up to them. Just because you show someone your religion doesn't mean they will convert to it, they have to want it as much as you in order to transition to another stage of enlightenment.
In the end, they decided on using a small blade grinder and a percolator.
So it goes...
Since the beginning of this summer, Boxwood has been undergoing a lot of changes in the way we produce and create coffee and other products and services to all of you, our wonderful customers. We began our own brand of roasted coffee, set up a farmer's market stall and overall have been revamping and rethinking a lot about how we serve coffee and tea to do the very best we can.
With a new season upon us, resting and settling down for a little while may sound enticing after the rush of summer, but we are looking forward too much to what else is to come to get too comfortable where we are right now. Improving quality, modes of expansion and superior offerings will always be on the horizon we chase, and we are excited to be making each vision a reality bit by bit.
Recently Boxwood became a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, or the SCAA and I myself have become a member of the Roasters Guild. These memberships are incredible new assets for us, and offer us a multitude of virtual and real world resources that can educate us more about coffee and train us in how we can do what we do even better. This will also put us in the loop with a lot of great people and businesses in the specialty coffee industry and grant us some street cred towards being recognized among our peers for all our efforts of product offerings, service and growth. We hope to use this membership to continue our endless efforts to educate ourselves and those around us about the importance of variables that create great coffee.
As we continue to grow internally, so do we externally. With winter approaching, my small, private roasting space with minimal heating won't be cutting it. Ruby the roaster and I will soon be relocating into a new space with a lot more physical resources for us to capitalize on and provide us with room to grow. The space is TBD, but from what we've gotten to look at already, it's going to be a great transition for us. Cooler digs and more space will mean a lot more flexibility in workflow, opportunities to train staff and clients and provide us with our own form of a coffee lab that will allow us to cultivate incredible new offerings to unveil to our customers. We may even be able to offer classes and roasting tours to those who would be interested!
It is really crazy to think that only a few months ago we were just figuring out how to turn a roaster on, and already we are feverishly feeding our minds with more knowledge than ever and fueling this business into a fantastic position to offer great coffee to everyone. We don't plan on slowing down anytime soon, and we'd love for you to stick around and see just where we end up.
Fall is upon us once again, and everyone is getting into the mood.
We've unleashed our house made pumpkin spiced syrup for all, the baristas are beginning to don cardigans and beanies, and we've decked out the whole store like it's Salem at midnight. Things are getting festive, and coincidentally we stumbled onto a new blend to make the whole thing a wrap.
As we phase certain coffees in and out of rotation, we usually seek a varietal somewhat reminiscent of whatever has run out of stock to replace it in an effort to keep things interesting while maintaining some level of familiarity. As our juicy bags of Colombia Asojardin begin to dwindle (only a few left, you better snag 'em quick!) we set out to find a replacement single origin. Something sweet, festive, and worthy of the harvest season. Of course, once we got to the cupping table priorities quickly changed when we discovered a bright and shiny Mexican coffee highlighted a deep and syrupy offering from Bali in the most beautiful way. We fell in love, things began moving fast and the next thing I knew I was bringing back more coffee with me than we knew what to do with.
This was a good idea.
Our new Sweater Weather Harvest Blend will be hitting shelves this week, and we're super psyched about it. Incredibly balanced, sweet and syrupy, this blend is the perfect cozy companion on a chilly autumn afternoon. Just grab a thick blanket, a good book and watch the colors of the leaves change with this delightful cup to keep you warm! It also pairs great with holiday desserts, so break out the pumpkin pie while you're at it.
I think this sleepy Saturday I'll enjoy my cup while listening to some Alexi Murdoch, how about you?
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?
Hayden Kaye is our Master Roaster and head of the Say Interesting Stuff department.