We've been asked a bunch of questions lately that we think a lot of you (ok, maybe a half dozen of you) have been thinking about yourselves, so we're going to post and answer a few.
1. What's up with this new 5pm closing time?
It could've been a 4pm closing. At least on weekends. The new call center across the street keeps us busy till about 4:30 on weekdays. After that it's tumbleweeds. And the call center isn't open Saturday or Sunday. So think of it as we're open on weekends an hour longer than we probably should be.
From a business perspective, we've traded the highly unprofitable 5pm-6pm slot for four extremely profitable hours at the Farmers@Firehouse market on Saturday mornings. If you were in our shoes, you'd have wondered what took us so long to pull that trigger.
2. Are you doing that Father's Day brunch with the food from coffee-origin countries this year?
Rich's brain kinda wants to do it, but his body is saying no. We haven't had a true day off since April. The roasting/LaVerdad development commitment in Cranberry is going from two days to three and his conference business is now picking up, so there's not much downtime for the planning and execution of the kind of brunch he wants to do. However, he's hinting that there might be something down the road utilizing only products from the Washington Road and Farmers@Firehouse markets, possibly in September/October.
3. What's going on with the espresso blends not being Direct Trade?
We made a decision - one that Rich has been trying to get done for three years - to use a more traditional (and industry friends, please forgive us for using this term) bolder blend for the larger lattes and anything with flavoring.
We're still serving Intelligentsia Black Cat and Stumptown Hairbender for small drinks. However, the reasoning for a third "milk drink" espresso is simple: A lot of work goes into developing Black Cat and Hairbender so that it's delicious as a straight shot or in a cappuccino or small milk drink.
Once you start overloading them with milk and syrups, the flavor gets lost. So instead of using a restrained, nuanced or bright espresso for big milk drinks and flavored drinks, we felt we should opt for a espresso designed to cut through all the dairy and sugar. So we developed one to do exactly that. It was either that or eliminate every serving size over 12 ounces, and we already know how you feel about that.
Right now slightly more than half of that blend is our La Verdad Honduras Las Capucas, which is a relationship/direct trade green coffee we purchase from Atlas Coffee for roasting. The other two components are not direct trade. We're working on sourcing a traceable/transparent Sumatran. Not sure if we'll have the same luck with the Monsooned Malabar component (about 5% of the blend).
The decaf espresso blend side of things are a little trickier. We are delighted - ecstatic, even - over how the new decaf blend tastes in both small and large drinks and as drip. But decaf is a pretty small part of our business - less than 10% of drip/espresso sales. The best way to do this would be to buy the green beans from our current direct trade/relationship then send them off to be decaffeinated. But we'd need to send almost a ton of beans out to have that make any economic sense. More than we'd sell in a couple of years. So we have to rely on what's on the spot market for now.
Our commitment to Direct Trade hasn't wavered. Neither Intelligentsia nor Stumptown started out 100% Direct Trade either. Give us a little time to get our sources in order.
4. What the heck is an empanada and why aren't you selling panini anymore?
To put this in Upper St. Clair parlance, an empanada is a slow-food version of a Hot Pocket.
Given our commitments to work outside the shop, it became impossible to come in and do panini each day. And having different baristas make the panini was just silly - first, it's not what we train them for, and second, each person had a different take on exactly what and how much of each ingredient went into each panini, so there was no consistency. And for Health Dept. purposes, we'd have to have each barista who made panini trained and registered as a food handler. That wasn't going to happen.
Plus, there was a ton of waste - lots of days we sold only half of what we put out (while other days we'd sell out in 20 minutes, so go figure).
With the empanada, Rich can come in on weekends or during slower shifts and bang out a few dozen, freeze them, and then all the staff needs to do is defrost, reheat and serve. We eat the leftovers for breakfast, or the staff takes them home.
But there's an even bigger picture involved. We've always tried to coax customers out of their comfort zone regarding food. And empanadas are a low-risk way to get you to try different tastes. At a mere $2.99 for two, you can have a couple of bites of an Ethiopian-inspired filling followed by a more "normal" tuna melt filling. We've got a bunch outof different fillings we're putting out there, from Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and roadside America. We've usually got two or three different kind in the case, so mix and match!
5. The new iced coffee is delicious! What are you doing differently?
Thanks for noticing!
Four years ago we bought a Filtron slow-brewing kit for making iced coffee concentrate. And it's been in the basement all that time because the principals weren't in agreement on how to brew iced coffee. For most of that time, the recipe was simply a double strength coffee poured into your cup with ice, on the assumption the ice would melt and further dilute the coffee.
However, once we got the gig at Farmers@Firehouse, we needed a way to make a LOT of iced coffee quickly. So we dug out the Filtron, checked online for some advice and brewed our Colombia Monserrate using the recipes we found. The response at the market was overwhelmingly positive, so we decided to use that same brew method in the shop. Something we should've done years ago!
That's it for this month's mailbag. If you have other questions you'd like to see answered here, send them along!