$%* Road Construction
If there's a bright side for us, it's that we'll be the first block to undergo repairs, so they should be able to reopen the street parking spaces out front and have a clear two lanes to Cedar by beginning of August.
We're working on plans to minimize the disruption (maybe even making Rich a delivery boy for July). If you liked to sit out front and people watch, remember we do have three tables on our patio, so you can enjoy the view from the back.
Meantime, we ask that you continue to support the stores that will be affected by the construction - especially the couple of new stores like Planet Art Gallery and Kool Kat Designs that just opened. It's difficult enough to start a retail business. To start one and then have to immediately deal with road construction in front of your place is extremely difficult.
Bad Photos of Good Latte Art
Belle says she's working on something called an 'angel' - we hope to have photos soon.
Unfortunately, with the All-Star Game coming up in two weeks, we're running out of time to perfect the Pirates head logo some of the kids have been working on the past month. It's a tough one to pull off with consistency.
Possibly Two Top Cup of Excellence Winners in One Night?
Looks like we're going to get ourselves a pound of the Panama Esmerelda Geisha CoE 2006 that recently broke the previous auction price (set by the Santa Ines Brazil CoE 2005 we'll be serving next week.)
Since we don't do commercial roasting, we're trying to arrange it so that both coffees arrive here no later than three days post roast, at the height of flavor - which is the easy part. The hard part is trying to ensure that happens so both coffees arrive here arrive on the same day. That may not happen, but we'll know for sure next week.
If you're interested in trying either the Panamanian or Brazil let us know. We've already got a half dozen coffee geeks reserved for the Brazil tasting.
Interesting discussion from Europe where some baristas were following the auction that led to the Small Axe Alliance (Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Groundwork, Sweet Marias and Kaffa) landing the precious 5 bag lot (approx. 300 kilos or 660 lbs. total). And some US home roasters debate if it's worth it - with the same arguments you'd expect from both sides.
Us? If we had $300 to burn on a glass of the 1982 Petrus, odds are we'd do it at least once. Just to try it and see for ourselves how much better it is than what we usually drink.
Of course nobody we know has $300 to spend on such an experiement, least of all us.
But we do have $5 to try what is claimed to be the best coffee currently available.
And so do you ;-)
Stephen's Bon Voyage, Part Deux
We're making a mental note that all Stephen posts should get their own category called, "Hello I must be going."
Anyway, he's off to Paris (again) on Monday to rejoin Lorene, this time for at least a year. So his SECOND going away shindig is Sunday, 7:30pm in the back room at Molly's, if you wanted to say adieu redux (and buy him a drink, of course).
At least this party is in walking distance. Last time we had to go to Claddagh's in Southside Works.
Meanwhile, we're still trying to decipher his parting gift to us... the most bizarre CD he's put together yet. So far we've identified "9 Million Bicycles" by Katie Melua, a truly awful Vietnamese cover of Bowie's "Starman", several French lounge acts (including an Edith Piaf post-war number and possibly a Serge Gainsbourg), a tune that might be either Paul Anka or Bobby Darin, a rendition of "Swinging on a Star" that sounds suspiciously like Bruce Willis' "Bruno" (but not as cool as the version from Hudson Hawk), and some other songs we haven't classified yet. We're hoping that he'll give us a track list before departing.
According to Therese and Petra, Stephen has already invited just about everyone in Mt. Lebanon he's seen over the past two weeks. And just in case you were wondering, no we're not covering the bill.
Intelligentsia's Sustainable Coffee Buying Practices Featured in Today's NY Times
Want to know why we continue to use Intelligentsia as our primary source for roasted coffee? Nobody else is doing what they are in terms of helping to ensure the future of quality coffee.
NY Times: A Coffee Connoisseur On a Mission: Buy High and Sell High (subscription site - also in the Business Section of today's print edition of the NYT).
An excerpt from the article:
Mr. Watts and the founder and chief executive of Intelligentsia, Doug Zell, do not ascribe to the "buy low, sell high" business model. They buy high and sell high. In the coming years, both say they expect to pay 50 percent, 100 percent, even 200 percent above Fair Trade rates for beans so good that customers will pay $20 and more a pound retail. "On the grower side and the consumer side, we're trying to create a culture of quality," Mr. Watts said.
Mr. Zell underwrites the $150,000 to $200,000 annual cost of Mr. Watts's relationship-building and his seven months of travel each year in coffee-growing countries because he expects these investments to pay off as quality increases and customers learn to appreciate artisanal coffees from around the world.
To speed this development, Intelligentsia has devised a plan that offers farmers financial incentives for improving growing methods and producing superior beans. Mr. Watts was in Nicaragua to introduce this new approach, which mandates direct dealings with farmers and limits the role of the cooperatives that currently market most Nicaraguan coffee.
In addition to us here at Aldo Coffee, you can also buy Intelligentsia Coffee locally at Caffe Intermezzo, 21st and Smallman.
Counter Culture Coffee was also mentioned in the article as a responsible roaster sharing many of the same ethics as Intelligentsia. You can find CCC beans at Blue Horse Coffee across the street from the Galleria here in Mt. Lebanon.
The other company mentioned, Stumptown, ships only within a small radius of Portland, OR. Lord knows we've tried to get fresh Hairbender...
And while not having a major national reputation, local roasters Bill Swoope Sr. and Bill Swoope Jr. of Iron Star roasters/Coffee Tree have been instrumental in promoting the value of Cup of Excellence quality coffees. Bill Jr. makes frequent trips to origin and understands the value of working with farmers better than anyone in these parts.
As an aside, "smart" business folks continually ask us why we promote other shops here on our blog and on our Squidoo site. It's pretty simple. If you're really interested in high quality sustainable coffee, you don't have many options here in Pittsburgh. But we're one of those options along with the shops mentioned above. If we can convince you to raise your expectations of what a good cup of coffee is, then we're pretty sure you'll find us on your own.
This is how we've cultivated an exceptionally discerning clientele of espresso and varietal coffee aficianados over the past 18 months (who also happen to be fun and interesting people).
We hope you'll become one of them, if you haven't already.
Why Things Turn Brown
If Jim keeps this sort of thing up, we coffeehouse owners will end up having to offer tuition reimbursement as a job perk. Most of us hire the liberal arts types who never took Chemistry 201.
Interested in Tasting the World's Highest Rated Cup of Excellence Coffee? We'll Have Some Here In July
About two weeks from now we will have in our possession two pounds of the coffee that set a record for highest price paid at auction - the Fazenda Santa Ines Brazil 2005 Cup of Excellence, which fetched $49.75/lb at auction last year.
There are only 12 60kg bags of this limited production coffee which were purchased by Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver, BC and two Australian roasters. The coffee is the highest rated in Cup of Excellence history, with a combined score of 95.85 points out of 100 (pdf).
Since we'll only have two precious pounds of the stuff (which is costing us more than $70/lb including shipping) we haven't yet figured out how we're going to release it - maybe a special customer event or fundraiser, but perhaps something lower keyed. We're hoping some of the local food critics will come out for a taste so we can start getting world-class coffee some long-overdue recognition in these parts.
The exact date we'll have it is still unknown - depends on when Vince at Caffe Artigiano roasts the next batch, but it should be in about 10-12 days, if not sooner. It will ship day of roast and will take three days to get here. From what we're told by Vince, by the time we receive it it should be degassed and ready to go.
If you are interested in tasting some (and it'll be $5/cup, brewed press pot only), drop us an email to aldo AT aldocoffee DOT com and let us know. Soon as we know the exact date we'll be receiving and serving the Santa Ines, we'll shoot you an email.
World Party Lives
This has nothing to do with coffee, panini, or anything remotely associated with the shop. It's just that we're excited that one of our favorite bands, World Party, is back from the (almost literally) dead.
On Friday, Rich was looking through the paper and saw an ad for Mr. Small's upcoming acts which featured a familiar photo of a schnauzer from the band's now six-year old Dumbing Up CD and couldn't believe the good fortune of having them finally come to Pittsburgh.
We first learned of Karl Wallinger iwhen he was bassist/keyboardist for the Waterboys in the mid-80s. In 1986 Karl launched World Party, and Rich saw them in one of their first stateside performances, at Toad's Place in New Haven in 1987.
Between 1987 and 2000, Karl and World Party had several hits over five albums, including "Ship of Fools", "Way Down Now", "Message In a Box", "Is It Like Today" and "She's The One", which was a much bigger hit for Robbie Williams. Beyond the hits there were few songs on any of their CDs that were skip-overs. Almost everything the band laid down was worth a listen.
Turns out Karl had himself an aneurisym while on tour in 2002 and had been more or less reclused until making an appearance at this year's SxSW.
He's now back on tour and will be in Pittsburgh at Mr. Smalls on Sunday, August 27, for an acoustic set of his hits, fan favorites and new material.
Welcome back, Karl.
Btw, Karl, if you're reading this, since the Pittsburgh show is a Sunday show, how about stopping by early afternoon for acoustic renditions of "When the Rainbow Comes" and "Love Street"? And anything else you feel like playing ;-)
Barista Certification - Possible Soon in Australia?
Doubtful such licensing will ever come to the US... after all, what would the chains do?
Excerpts from the article:
Coffee aficionados know that it is not just the blend but the barista driving that hissing, grinding machine which guarantees a decent cup.
Now the industry, alarmed by the rising number of people who purport to know how to make a half drinkable latte, wants to license baristas so that the serious business of feeding the nation's caffeine habit comes with a guarantee of quality.
The AustralAsian Specialty Coffee Association says those who qualify for the barista licence will require plenty of specific knowledge, including how to treat customers, something lost on many of the nation's coffee makers.
Chairman Robert Forsyth, an international coffee judge, said Australia had evolved in 15 years into one of the most sophisticated coffee-drinking societies in the world and licensing baristas was the logical next step.
Scott Callaghan, 25, an employee at Morgan's Handcrafted Coffee who last month won the World Latte Art Championship in Switzerland, said licensing could add credibility to the industry.
"I certainly think there are too many people behind espresso machines with far too much arrogance," he said. "To make one good coffee is not hard, but for a cafe owner to work with a professional barista and build the cafe's business, this is rare and takes years. Licensing could give cafe owners the confidence to determine whether the person walking into their cafe is any good."
If licensing ever does come to the US, you can bet we'll be on board with it. But really, we don't see barista certification in the future. Good baristas know who they are and know who the others are in their areas. As do customers. And for now, that's good enough for us.
Is It Coffee, Chocolate Or Citrates?
We caught this unfortunate ad placement* on one of our newsfeeds. Seems Peet's Coffee has teamed with Scharffen Berger Chocolates to create a new Mocha Freddo(TM) beverage.
Good coffee, good chocolate, cold drink for summer. Sounds tasty, right? Well, maybe not so much once you read the ad that's in the box right at the start of the first paragraph:
They say that any press is good press. We only hope that when news about our shop appears online, the ads near our article are for foods and/or ingredients we don't need a PhD in chemistry to understand.
As most coffee fans know, Peet's is one of the pioneers of specialty coffee and remains a roastery focused on quality and wholesomeness, not chemicals. This ad placement was unfortunate and could happen to anyone. We're confident the Peet's article was covered by other websites. It's just that this was the one our Google newsfeed offered - which goes to anyone subbed to a feed for "specialty coffee". And that's a lot of folks.
*Note, this is the ad that was in position every time we returned to this page. If it is just one ad in a rotation of several, you may see something different.
The Secret Guest Espresso from Hines
We had planned on announcing we were serving a guest espresso today, which would've been the Hines Public Market 'spro - same stuff used by Bronwen Serna, 2004 US Barista Champ. We had 5 lbs of the black gold - freshly roasted this week and never before served in Pittsburgh - courtesy of Jay Caragay, with whom Rich had a great visit on Thursday (that's Jay at left).
The best laid plans... sometime yesterday morning we ran out of Black Cat and this week's shipment from Intelligentsia wasn't coming until late afternoon. So, before we could scramble together any signage or an email, we had to put the big silver bag of Hines into service.
Jay uses a three group Linea with the same double baskets as we use, so we had hoped to pull shots resembling the one he served me while at his shop. Rich, creamy, perhaps a bit sweeter than as Black Cat the chocolate is more a milk or semi-sweet chocolate taste as opposed to the Cat's bittersweet chocolate bite, more or less the same caramel undertone, but with what I thought was a bit of apricot.
Lucky for us we were pulling great shots without us resetting either the Linea or the grinders. Customers enjoyed their drinks with the Hines as much as they enjoyed the Black Cat. So if you had an espresso drink here between around 10am and 6pm, you can proudly state to your coffee pals that you've sipped the famous Hines Public Market 'Spro.
Downside is we didn't get to formally introduce it or promote it in advance - we're sure many of the coffee geeks in the area would've loved to have come in and tried some. Plus, we didn't get to play with any ourselves. By the time Belle came on duty it was all but gone, so she didn't get to explore the possibilities. And other than the beautiful shot Jay pulled for me when I was at his shop, I didn't get any either. And that's a crime!
At any rate, we thank Jay for the gift, which was, as it turns out, necessary. We'll get some more Hines one of these days and give it it's just due.
And Jay, enjoy those Arturo Fuentes, friend!
Every experienced barista worth their salt knows that pulling a perfect shot of espresso is extremely difficult to do on a consistent basis. Try as one might to repeat every step that went into pulling a perfect shot, inevitably the next shot just is good, in fact very good, but just not as good as the one a minute ago. And then we try to reproduce that perfection.
There are many factors that go into why some shots are better than others - perhaps the equipment or ambient temperature or humidity changes imperceptably in the last minute... maybe it was an imprecise tamp because of an inconsistent grind... perhaps a half-second difference in the brew time... or a half degree off the desired boiler temperature... a hair off the ideal water pressure... or a couple of lesser beans in the hopper just dragged down the rest.
Espresso equipment is fussy and people not robots, so even under the best conditions, repeating the steps that go into a perfect shot is extremely difficult.
That's why baristas call those rare perfect shots "GodShots".
Because divine intervention seems the only plausible explanation why shot A was just not quite perfect but shot B was absolutely dead-on from feel to color to tiger striping to crema and most importantly, taste, even though it would seem both shots should have been of equal quality because all things being equal... all things were equal. Except the end result.
It's happened to every barista who's stood behind our LaMarzocco to pull a shot. Maybe you've had it happen to you when making a cake or a burger or a gin and tonic. You tasted whatever you made and said, "Wow... this is perfect. This is the best X I've ever made!"
And then you couldn't repeat it. At least not right away.
The filling is always good and we get a lot of compliments. But for whatever reason, this week's batch is just a little better.
So thanks, God. Please share whatever it was with us when you have a spare moment.
Tiny Bubbles, Big Science
The other day we talked about advancing the image of the professional barista by highlighting Boston's Jaime VanSchyndel and his dedication to continual experimentation that could challenge many accepted theories on espresso making.
Well, James Hoffman, winner of this year's Great Britain Barista Championships and a top-five finalist at the World Barista Championships, is taking a different route on the path to understanding espresso drinks - getting down to the roots of the science involved in making bubbles in milkfoam and crema.
Get out yer Chemistry texts.
You think you server (or even the line cook) at Olive Garden has a clue about where their pasta comes from? (why the kitchen, silly!)*.
Moral: Expect more from your coffeehouse.
Note to staff: Pop quiz on this stuff Friday.
*Please note, we have no grudge against Olive Garden. We enjoy the endless salad bar on occasion ourselves. They were simply the first example we thought of. Feel free to substitute Bravo!, Rotelli or any other Italian-themed chain.
Another Sign the Apocalypse Is Coming
Lean Cuisine Panini. And that these women discussing them actually think Lean Cuisine pizzas are good eatin'.
Hope they enjoy those "panini" with a big mug of instant cappuccino.
Just don't stand too close to our store.
Really, America. What are you thinking?
Have Espresso Will Travel
Chris Mayhew of TRM Cycles (also known as Fred's dad) was up at dawn this morning setting up a maintenance tent for the MS150 - a 150-mile biking fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis. Chris thought it a good idea to offer some fresh joe for the riders, so we got up at 5am to brew a couple of gallons and cart it the 30 miles from Mt. Lebanon to Cranberry.
Now, Chris being the avid coffee guy he is, didn't wait for us to arrive with a vat of Aldo House Blend drip before he had his first cup. He wanted his Black Cat. So, he brought his Pavoni lever machine and grinder with him.
As we were pulling up, Chris had just finished dismantling his rig, having pulled enough shots out of the back of his van to slake his thirst for that incomparable Black Cat flavor.
That's what we call a dedicated espresso drinker.
We thought we had better photos of the equipment - but hey, it was pretty early...
There Are Baristas And Then There Are Baristas...
Many coffee-related blogs were created by baristas and owner-baristas to speak to other authors of coffee-related blogs and share info on just what kind of crazy experiment they just tried, or what amazing coffee they just tasted. It's often fun reading and we typically learn something new every day.
The aldocoffee.com blog IS our only website. So we don't usually engage in that kind of discussion because we need this space to talk to customers and potential customers about what we're offering. Most local customers/readers would tune us out if all we talked about were brewing temps, Scace thermocouplers and retrofits to install pre-infusers.
However, today we're going to get into some of that detail. We want to give y'all a brief look inside what it is that true professional baristi do. Maybe you'll find it boring. After all, what can possibly go into a $1.60 cup of Panamanian coffee?
You'd be surprised.
We briefly met Jaime VanSchyndel at last year's Mid-Atlantic Regional Barista Championships. From our all-too-short encounter, we noted Jaime seems a quiet, intense type. (That's not Jaime above in the lab coat - he's to the left - but he looks like he'd be comfortable in a lab coat, ya think?)
But it's folks like Jaime who are trying to change the world of coffee. Jaime toils in a small shop called Simon's in Cambridge, Mass. In the couple of years he's been there, he's hammered away at his roaster for better support, started a guest espresso program, taken apart espresso machines for major modifications, introduced new grinders just to see if they make a difference, and questioned whether accepted norms for brewing temps are indeed correct. And that's just scratching the surface - a quick read of Jaime's blog... well, there's no such thing as a quick read of Jaime's blog, unless you've got an engineering degree and have the trained palate of a pro coffee cupper.
And that's what makes this industry different from virtually any other we can think of. More often than not it's the folks working the machines who are pushing the limits as to what can be done.
That Jaime isn't working his trade in the Pacific Northwest is no longer a surprise. While the PNW region (including Portland, Seattle and Vancouver/Victoria, BC) is still the nexus of "third-wave" coffee, there are pockets of overachieving coffeehouses and baristas all over - Boston, DC, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, Kansas City... even Kearney-freaking-Nebraska... basically every city on this list (we're on page 2).
In the relatively short time we've been playing in this world, we've noted that the best baristi share the following characteristics:
1. curiosity - how would this coffee taste if I did this...
2. patience - is this taste/smell/feel repeatable? if not, how do I make it so?
3. skill - it's one thing to think it up, it's another thing to deliver the product consistently
4. jack-of-all-tradesmanship - engineering, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, process design, architecture, product design, physics, chemistry, biology, botany... and more. Many of the top barista blog. And many have photos on their blogs of extemely expensive machinery in various states of disassembly while they hook up probes, insulators, controls, heat exchangers, LEDs, chrome bumpers and underchassis neon lights among other things. And the real top-of-the-line baristas join roasters for trips to origin where they visit plantations in hot, humid jungles and deal with flies and mud. For most it is the best experience of their lives. They return excitedly telling stories of tasting coffee cherry pulp and witnessing actual wet-processing - things that "normal" folks might take pains to avoid.
And you find all these traits in people who perform a job that often pays well under $10/hour (not including tips). Which brings us to...
5. passion - love not just of the taste of coffee (and sometimes tea), but of everything that goes into it from origin through roasting through making the drinks to culinary experiments with coffee to coffeehouse culture and beyond.
Listening to baristas talk to each other is not like listening to most employees in service jobs. It's more like listening to journeyman tradespeople (it appears most great barista have degrees, but not in 'baristaneering' or anything related to coffee). There are technical terms in the coffee trade that are pure gibberish to the uninformed public. And beyond that, you'll find trade slang among the top baristas that is inpenetrable to coffeehouse employees content to be just a PBTC (person behind the counter).
What really makes this industry unique is that the top shops - owners and baristas - tend to share information with each other. You'll find many of the same people posting regularly on two, three or more forums like CoffeeGeek, Home-Barista, SpecialtyCoffee, SCAA, BaristaGuild, CoffeeForums and others. There's even a fledgling "Code of Conduct".
Imagine GM, Ford and Honda sharing inside info. Or Anheuser-Busch and Iron City... heh. But that's what folks do in this industry (well, not the Mermaid, but nobody cares).
A good example... It's one thing to know how to change the screens on our portafilters. It's a whole other thing to get into a discussion of how often - every other day, weekly, after X number of uses, when it starts to separate... etc. We've been following a discussion about this very topic and we hope it will come to some sort of agreed upon frequency - but it probably won't. Even among the best of the best there are levels of perfection-seeking - a handful of folks that make up sort of the A++ list, like David Schomer among others.
(Here, nobody gets to take apart any machine except Melanie. After all, she bought this stuff, she's earned the right to break things before anyone else. You'd be surprised at how fast she can disassemble and reassemble a $3200 Swift Grinder).
There are many other things to look at in determining espresso shot quality before a barista can go blaming the machinery. Nick Cho thoughtfully assembled a list of 50 of those things (to which others added). Our baristas are expected to know these 50 things. We don't know if anyone else in Pittsburgh (or Pennsylvania) does the same.
But we know Jaime VanSchyndel has Nick's list memorized. It's taped up for all to see behind the bar at Simon's. Most, if not all, of the nation's top baristas, are familiar with the list.
That's just some of what goes into what a professional barista does. All (usually) for less wages than your standard checkout clerk at the LCB store. (That's a whole other argument for another day, another blog, another gubernatorial campaign...).
We're still relatively new to all this. And truthfully, we're not sure if anyone behind our counter will ever take things to the limits that Jaime does (and we're not letting anyone near the La Marzocco with a drill anyway). Granted, we have it sort of easy - since we use Intelligentsia coffees, instead of having to experiment ourselves through trial and error, most times we can just pick up the phone and ask, "What if we do this..." and someone at Intelligentsia will usually reply that they've already tried whatever we were thinking of weeks ago themselves. Still, some of our baristas want to know "why" - and that's what we want to encourage. Not just with our staff, but with our customers.
It's good to know that with all the information that other baristas share about what they've done, what they're doing and what they're thinking, there's always somebody pushing the envelope, even if it's not us.
The end result of everything we learn is in the cup you get when you're here.
Nick Asks: Who Will Take Juan Valdez' Place?
We had some thoughts of our own. This could be the start of a new reality show called "Colombian Idol"... cast your vote for you favorite Juan Valdez replacement from among our baristi:
Vote early, vote often.
And here's one for you barista-types reading this post (figured since the guys over at portafilter.net asked the question, they can't be offended, right?). So, can you place the burros' earring and mane?
Music Wanted for STBD
Regular reader of this blog Justin over at Something To Be Desired is looking for music he can use for the web-based comedy series (which will begin using Aldo Coffee as a regular 'set' later this summer).
If interested, tell Justin, not us. Could be decent exposure. At least a "film credit".
Things That Make Us Go "Ewww"
The PG had us going for a bit with Amy McConnell Schaarsmith's article on making iced coffee at home, which was in yesterday's paper.
Some of what Amy said made sense. It's true that some people don't like hot drinks on hot days (never stopped Euros, though). It's true you don't add ice cubes to brewed coffee because the result will be watered down. And it's generally true that many coffee shops don't a good job of sweetening cold drinks when requested.
But we think Amy's recipes need a bit of work. First off, her whole concept of iced cappuccino is wrong. A cappuccino requires both steamed milk and microfoam. You can't just toss milk in a blender and get the same consistency. Her two cappuccino recipes are simply flavored iced coffees. Nothing to do with cappuccinos. Move on.
And instant coffee for anything? Che cazzo stai dicendo?
We have some other suggestions...
Side Note: This is our 500th post!
If you like cold drinks and have a home espresso machine, we strongly recommend making some frozen espresso concentrate that you can use as your flavoring base. In essence, you'd be making ice cubes from ristretto shots. Use twice the amount of grounds (or same grounds but half the water) you would for your normal shot. Fill up an ice cube tray. Let it freeze. When you want to make a blender or cold drink, let the cubes melt and use as you would a shot of espresso.
Or, you could buy a Toddy and cold brew a lot of coffee concentrate. If you have a preference for a specific varietal or (sigh) flavored coffee in your cold drink, the Toddy is probably your best bet.
We reserve comment on Amy's last recipe with the coffee and chocolate pudding mix. We can safely say it has nothing to do with a latte, but since we have a soft spot for Jell-O instant pudding, we might actually like that one (w/o the hazelnut).
Anyway, if you like the idea of an iced coffee, we'll make one for you fresh. Or, if you prefer frozen drinks, try one of our frappes.
Things Like This Never Happen In Mt. Lebanon
A day or so late, but we had to post about it - Naked Woman Stops Traffic Downtown.
"She was acting really weird and she tried to steal some peanuts so we asked her to leave, but she kept coming back in," Jackson said.
Finally, the woman walked outside, removed all her clothes and dashed into traffic on the Boulevard of the Allies, startling motorists.
Now we're not condoning streaking - or jaywalking. But it's a whole lot more fun talking about something like naked shoplifters in the street over a good cup of coffee than talking about the work crew who just shut off our power with an errant jackhammer (yeah, we're still mad about that).
Fairer Than Fair Trade: Intelligentsia's Direct Trade Program
There's been a number of stories over the past couple of years in Pittsburgh and national press on the Fair Trade Certified designation, what that means exactly and why paying coffee farmers reasonable prices for their crop is necessary for sustainable growth.
The short story: The Fair Trade Certification program, as run by TransFair USA, pays coffee cooperatives meeting certain criteria a floor of $1.26/pound ($1.41/pound if the coffee is also 100% organic).
Unfortunately, for reasons unclear to many, the Fair Trade program excludes a significant number of responsible growers. The program also doesn't detail where the revenues should be invested, nor does it earmark levels of investment in specifics that would improve both the product and the farm's (and community's) sustainability.
Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters take a different tack. Their Direct Trade(TM) program strives to achieve all of the above, plus more. The corporate ethic of Intelligentsia put them at the top of our list when we were searching for roasters two years ago. Intelligentsia pays appropriately for quality and assist growers in developing and improving their crops to meet the growing demand for (and discernment of) specialty coffee in the US.
Their relationships with growers is the primary reason why they (and as a result us) consistently get the best beans in the world, as evidenced by the number of Cup of Excellence coffees they offer and specials such as the Cruz del Sur(TM) Peru Tinga Maria micro lot we featured here last week.
Here's the criteria in a nutshell (although we encourage you to read the whole background):
Intelligentsia Direct Trade™ – Criteria
- Coffee quality must be exceptional.
- The verifiable price to the grower or the local coop, not simply the exporter, must be at least 25% above the Fair Trade price.
- The grower must be committed to healthy environmental practices.
- The grower must be committed to sustainable social practices.
- Intelligentsia representatives must visit the farm or cooperative village at least once per harvest season, understanding that we will most often visit three times per year: pre-harvest to craft strategy, during the harvest to monitor quality, and post-harvest to review and celebrate the successes.
- All the trade participants must be open to transparent disclosure of financial deliveries back to the individual farmers.
Do we pay more for our coffee. Yep. That's why you pay more. But we think the extra nickel or dime per cup is worth it and so do most of our customers.
So just because you don't see the Fair Trade Certified label on all of the coffees you buy here doesn't mean the farmers are being paid poorly. Rather, Intellgentsia pays more than Fair Trade - even more than Fair Trade Organic - prices for their beans, while ensuring that the revenues generated at origin are funnelled to the points where they will best help both the farms and the community. (For more, see interview with Geoff Watts, Intelligentsia's green bean buyer from April or listen to the Portafilter.net podcast).
Nobody else in Pittsburgh (save for us and Luke & Alexis at Caffe Intermezzo) can make that claim. And we feel pretty good about that. You should too.
Ay Caramba... Oy Victrola
We have the utmost respect for Victrola Roasters in Seattle. They've been on our Heroes & Legends list since day one.
Drinking a good beer, tequila or bourbon followed by coffee we can understand. But Corona? If Victrola didn't already have a well-established reputation as being a solid roaster/blender, we would really have to wonder about their taste preferences.
With all the great microbreweries in the Pacific NW, you'd think Victrola could do better than Corona. We wonder if that's what Tony drank?
Because of their stellar repuation, we will of course give Victrola the benefit of the doubt. Certainly they know more about tasting coffee than we do. Perhaps they were drinking Corona because it's only slightly more compelling a "beer" as Coors Light. The lack of flavor and character may be precisely what's needed so as not to interfere with cupping (although good or bad tequila or bourbon would certainly leave a lingering taste).
Regular readers know the Corona refrain by now... having lived in Mexico for a year we can confidently state that there's a reason you put a lime in it. (We pretty much stuck with Negra Modelo and Dos Equis lager while living there.) Granted, Corona is currently the best selling brand in Mexico, but remember that Bud Light is tops in the US (2. Bud, 3. Miller Light, 4. Coors Light) so that only suggests selling to the lowest common denominator, it says nothing of quality.
We do, however, applaud the Wilco selection. And we're jealous that they get to taste all those great Panamanian coffees. But that beer... we'd take Iron City over Corona any day (at least on a hot day... but never ICLight - now that's crap).
Yes, we're sorta beer snobs. And we don't have a liquor license, so no use getting into what we would serve if we could.
Btw, this all started because both Victrola and us were on the short list of top restaurant blogs as compiled by Profitable Hospitality. Victrola got an "A" for its blog. We only got a "B+". Color us mildly jealous.
(Plus they never responded to us when we offered a Super Bowl bet way back in January). So there!
We're still steamed about yesterday... hopefully we'll be open on time.
But today we're putting on happy faces. It's the first "Sidewalk Saturday" and we're considering baking all the remaining Sfogliatelle and cinnamon buns that are left in the freezer - they've partially thawed from yesterday's blackout, so we've got to use them up...
This is fun stuff. We're expecting a farmer's market feel to the street. Several vendors who don't have traditional storefronts will be hawking wares, including Mediterra Bakehouse, who makes our bagels and all the breads we use for panini. In our opinion they're not just the best bread baker in Pittsburgh - they're the best between New York and Chicago. And possibly as good as anyone in those two cities. Stop by and taste their breads for yourself.
Of course there will be produce, early season produce, but fresh and tasty no doubt.
Say what you will about whether Mt. Lebanon is a "cool" place to hang, but it's events like this that make it a better neighborhood than many other enclaves in the South Hills that don't have village centers or sidewalks. We love it here.
Can't Open At All for First Friday
We are fried, steamed, boiling over and all other manner of heated up.
Just got word that through some "mistake" the work being done to restore power to Washington Road has somehow bypassed our store.
Today is the first First Friday of 2006. Last year's First Friday in June was our second most profitable day of the year, trailing only Light Up Night. (LATER: The Trib picks up the story).
In other words, you couldn't pick a worse day to put us out of business. We're easily missing out on $1,000+ in sales. Plus we now have to throw out a ton of milk that would've been OK for tomorrow had we had power back by now. We took care of most perishables this morning. UPDATE: Hooray for Potomac Bakery - They got their power back and have offered to hold our milk overnight so we'll have enough to get through the weekend. Gotta love that! Everything that didn't fit in a cooler then will now have to be tossed. And we can't even clean tonight since we can't run the dishwasher or backflush the Linea.
We're not the litigious types, but somebody's going to pay for this.
We will reschedule Don Aliquo Sr. for a later date, hopefully another First Friday.
Looks Like 6pm Opening. First Friday Still a Go Despite Power Outage
Just got back from visiting the store and icing down some of the milk and other perishables. We've got a number of coolers for this. Luckily nothing in the freezer is perishable (or expensive).
We talked to a Duquense Light representative who indicated power should be restored some time between 5 and 6pm. The town was already putting out those ubiquitous cardboard garbage recepticles, so they're assuming a green light.
We're hoping for a 6pm re-opening. A lot to do once power gets back on, so it may be a little later than that, but we'll open as soon as we possibly can.
What Would You Pay for a Geisha?
What would you pay for a cup of Panamanian Geisha grown by Daniel Price Peterson of the Panamanian Specialty Coffee Association. These beans just set a new world record price, selling for $50.25 per pound.
Most highly rated specialty coffees are in the $1.75-$3.00/pound range. Keep in mind that the base price paid to cooperatives in the Fair Trade program is only $1.26/pound. So are Price Peterson's beans really worth a 15x-40x premium?
According to the article, Mr. Price Peterson's geisha scored 94.6 points out of a possible 100 at a taste test in April, with judges competing for superlatives and florid descriptions of its flavour.
One judge joked that even though he was an atheist he saw God when he tried the geisha, which he said had hints of bergamot oil, ginger, blackberry and ripe mango.
To put this in a retail perspective, one of our varietal coffees brewed in a French Press pot costs you $2.79. If we were to use these Geisha beans to brew that same size pot, we'd have to charge you $5.89 for it.
Like we keep saying, the concept of serving fine coffees like fine wines is coming. Pittsburgh may not be among the first cities to experience this wave, but when it comes, both the quality of coffee AND the price points will be much different than what you're experiencing now at most coffeehouses around town.
No Power - Reopening Later This Afternoon
UPDATE: As of 1:03 pm this afternoon we were informed it would be six more hours before power was restored. That would put us around 7pm, more than an hour into the First Friday celebration.
An errant jackhammer caused a total electrical service disruption on our section of Washington Road, thus we have no power and no way to make coffee or anything else.
Apparently the worker who was drilling on the sidewalk did not have correct information about where or how deep the power lines lay. He took 14,000 volts and seemed to have severe burns on his arms, although reports from the scene say that the worker was walking and seemed otherwise coherent. Our condolences to the worker and we wish him a speedy recovery.
As Fridays are our second busiest day after Saturday - and First Fridays are the busiest of all - we'd love to know who's responsible for not having the correct utility diagrams. This is costing us a lot of money. A LOT of money.
The township engineers have indicated power should be restored in about four hours, or sometime shortly after 2pm.
We hope to
will regroup and reopen in time for the First Friday events this evening and for Don Aliquo, Sr's much-anticipated performance here.
We will make a final decision on reopening around 4pm based on whatever information is available to us from the utility company.
Juan Valdez Hangs Up His Serape
Carlos Sanchez, 71, has been playing Sr. Valdez for some 37 years. The role was first created in 1959 and played by Cuban-American actor José Duval for 10 years before Sánchez took over. At the time, Sanchez ran a small printing workshop.
From the article:
The fictional Juan Valdez, one of the most recognizable Colombians ever, portrays a positive alter-ego to the image of narco-traffickers.
"I feel like a flag representing the country when I'm outside of Colombia," Sánchez told reporters proudly, his eyes watering at times from the memories of a lifetime in the limelight.
But he added that he feels he's grown too old and too heavy to continue a grueling schedule promoting the world's second-largest coffee-producing nation.
Sanchez's faithful mule, Conchita, could not be reached for comment about the upcoming retirement.
Annabella Tonight. Monday Hours. Rememberances.
It looks like we'll have some decent weather for the long weekend, and for Monday's parade up Washington Road. There's something else to be thankful for in addition to thanking our veterans who've sacrificed so much our country.
We'll be open until 3pm both Sunday and Monday.
Tonight, we'll be featuring Annabella, a husband/wife keyboard/drums duo from Georgetown, Texas who are passing thru on their way East. They play a very relaxed style of ambient music that will lower your blood pressure. They'll be on stage from 8-9:30pm tonight. $2 suggest contribution, please.
Finally, if you're planning on frying up some chicken or making a big ol' salad for your weekend cookouts, we've some fresh made bread crumbs and croutons on sale here at the store, made this week using some of our leftover Mediterra bread. The crumbs are whole wheat, the croutons both whole wheat and rosemary-garlic made from Mediterra Bakehouse foccacia. Either will taste much better than pre-packaged croutons on your Caesar or other salad. We even eat 'em straight out of the bag.
Washington Road Biz District Gets Stormhoeked
Well, at least some of the biz district did anyway. Those business owners who attended last night's biz blogging seminar were enthusiastic about the prospects of blogging their businesses and asked all the right questions.
Best of all, everyone got to taste some Stormhoek wine - the only folks in all of PA to have had that opportunity to date. We served up some of Stormhoek's Pinot Grigio, Sauvingnon Blanc and Pinotage.
It seemed everyone enjoyed the wine, perhaps partly because it was free, but mostly because they were easily as good as many bottles of California wines we've tried in the $15-$25 range. We imagine Stormhoek will be priced more competitively - although that means little in PA where we still pay an 18% "Johnstown Flood" tax on every bottle (we'll gladly give our vote to whomever kills that tax - and we'll actively campaign for any candidate who vows to disband the LCB as a retail operation).
Thanks also to Mike Woycheck of Pittsburgh Bloggers and Erik Dahl of the Dahlpod Podcast who were on hand to ably assist with explaining the importance of local aggregators and the emergence of podcasting as a legitmate marketing tool. That both Mike and Erik, along with the other bloggers in attendance, believe in the promise of a blogging business district, tells us we're on the right track.
Now to get all the other businesses here to understand...
Given last night's frost advisory, we feel lucky that we're behind schedule planting the basil and other herbs we keep on our patio out back (aka Il Portico Aldo). Hopefully we'll get to that this coming weekend.
But make no mistake, summer has arrived. How do we know? Well, 24 ended last night. And the Sopranos ends next week. And the Buccos are already out of the pennant race. So there's nothing left to watch on TV, thus no reason to stay inside. (The Bucs are more enjoyable on the radio anyway.)
Washington Road First Fridays start next week as well - and we'll have local legend Don Aliquo Sr. on hand for the first street festival of the summer. We hope to have our new Smoothie and Summer Drink menu out by then.
Meantime, we'll be closing out Spring this Saturday with Annabella, a husband-wife duo from Texas, who'll be on stage here from 8-9:30pm. Come on out and enjoy a great pot of French pressed Peruvian or Aldo House Blend and dessert.
Some days life is just full of plumbing problems. On Mother's Day, the dishwasher at the store cut out. Problem was a large particle found its way through the screens and filters into the drain pump, resulting in an annoying leak. We spent the better part of Sunday taking the dishwasher apart to fix it - only to learn that the part now has a crack in it and needs replacing.
If you brought your mom in on Sunday and had to endure paper service instead of ceramic, now you know why. We apologize for the inconvenience.
We suppose it was only appropriate that after we put the dishwasher back together, we returned home to find our water heater had blown up. 40 gallons of water all over our game room carpet. We managed to suck up about half of that back, but looks like we'll be replacing at least the padding, if not all the carpet.
Luckily for us the houseguests we'd had for the past week left early Sunday morning. Otherwise it would be getting pretty gamey at home about now, considering none of us have showered since Saturday. (As of 3pm today it's been fixed, thankfully.)
They say these things tend to happen in threes. If that's the case, perhaps the third is the pipe laying work that's been going on this past month. We learned at this morning's Washington Road Business District meeting that some stores at the south end of the street have had significant and adverse affects from the construction. The loss of parking, the dust, the noise - all of it has a negative effect on both car and foot traffic.
And that construction is coming our way very soon - just in time for summer smoothie season. We'll be wracking our brain the next couple of weeks coming up with ways to counter the effect of the construction.
At the very least we're hoping the construction workers drink a lot of coffee.
Searching for Aldo
One of the tools we get with our blog lets us see what visitors use as search terms to find aldocoffee.com. It is a useful feature. But, I found one this morning that gets a prize for something (not quite sure for what). Someone searched Google (not using the quotes) for: "a person pours a cup of of hot coffee,intending to drink it in five minute later.to keep the coffee as hot as possible, should she put cream in it now or wait until just before drinks it?" Yep. How's that for a specific search? We came up first on his/her Google search results. I think the answer is yes although it isn't going to make our FAQs. But it is one hell of a physics question, isn't it? Entropy - Rich, remember that?
Appreciating Slow Food
What is the Slow Food Movement? From their site:
Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic organization that supports a biodiverse, sustainable food supply, local producers, heritage foodways, and rediscovery of the pleasures of the table. Carlo Petrini founded Slow Food in 1986 in response to the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome’s historic Piazza di Spagna. Since then, Slow Food has grown into an international movement with more than 80,000 members in 100 countries worldwide.
So we joined and have been impressed with what we've learned. Sam also passed our name onto Marlene at Slow Food Pittsburgh and since that time Melanie and I have been getting a lot of invites to local food events. As most small biz owners can appreciate, we've had to pass on these invites because we're working just about all the time. But last night we made ourselves get out and go to our first Slow Food event. And it was delightful.
It was at Roberto's in Bellvue, which we'd been meaning to get to since it was Pizza Margherita. Roberto took us through the following menu, discussing what we were about to eat before each serving:
To start, Roberto served up an Insalata Primavera Roma - spring mix with blueberry, strawberry and Academia Monti Eblei extra virgin oil.
He followed the salad with antipasti plates featuring six items - each item representing a different region of Italy.
From Torino: Cupola di formaggio - a melding of gorgonzola, fontina, marscarpone, and walnut into a rustic paste
From Rome: Pepperoni ripieni - green pepper stuffed with pancetta and a regional bread/cheese filling
From Napoli: Barchette partonopee - zucchini stuffed with ham
From Genoa: Salsa di noci - walnut salsa
From Taormina: Polpette di finocchio - fennel balls (which looked like meatballs and were served with a tomato sauce)
From Bologna: Crostini di mortadella - mortadella blended with robiola cheese into a spread (normally served atop a crostini)
Roberto then followed with a couple of pizzas fired from his brick oven, one from the North, one from the South:
Milanese: salami and grano padano
Calabrese (Cosenza): crotonese cheese, sopressata and black olives
We ended with a dolci of Torta a Limone - a lemon flavored cake from Capri atop a sauce made from Limoncello.
Needless to say, everything was delicious. Roberto's pizzas have earned national acclaim (and Ron, don't worry, we still love Il Pizzaiolo) and it was obvious that Roberto loves what he does.
In addition to the food, the attraction of these Slow Food events is the other people you meet. Everyone there loves and appreciates good food. Last night we sat next to a wonderful couple who lives near us and shares many of the same interests, especially in the area of wine, where we listened and learned a lot (they have something like 3,000 bottles). Considering that we brain cramped and left without our own bottles, we were extremely appreciative they decided to share theirs with us.
We highly recommend joining Slow Food USA yourself. It's $60/year, $75 for a "couple" membership, which isn't all that much really. One dinner. We hope to see you at a future event. Who knows, maybe in time we'll host one here.
When it's your money, the only opinion that matters is yours. So we refunded her money and took the half eaten shell and filling she'd brought in. We knew it was ours because of the color and texture.
Rather than freak out, we took a look at possible causes for the excess "dryness". And it turns out she may have been onto something. For whatever reason earlier in the week somebody took it upon themselves to start packing cannoli filling into the pastry bags until they were virtually bursting. It was "more convenient than having to refill the bags all the time."
Hey, we're all for process when it improves the customer experience. But this didn't. The effect of increasing the cream volume in the pastry bags is that more cannoli cream gets exposed to the air, thus it dries out quicker. As we use a recipe that's drier than most to begin with, the result is probably something that's more like cannoli caulk than cannoli cream.
Up until now it's been our unwritten rule of thumb that no more than a cup goes into a pastry bag at a time. Now it's our written rule. Call it a learning experience.
There are two things we did take away from this encounter:
1) If a customer is disappointed enough to bring a half-consumed product back two days after buying it, that's a customer service situation worth heeding.
2) There is a wide defintion of what's acceptable in the world of cannoli.
We'll discuss (1) first since it's easy. Why give back a refund on a half eaten cannoli two days after the fact? Cannolis account for less than 2% of our business. Coffee and espresso is far more than half our volume and where we really earn our reputation - hopefully deservedly so. It would be an terrible thing to lose someone's coffee business over a dry cannoli - or anything else.
Will we have a chance to sell her something else? We hope so but we really don't know. But we do know that making an issue of it with the customer would certainly have closed that door.
Point (2) gets a bit more complicated. It's fruitless to argue over what a "proper" cannoli "is". This is one of those can't win situations. It's almost as fruitless as arguing about pizza (and don't get us started).
If you feel like wasting some time, we invite you to Google "Sicilian cannoli recipes". Take a look at a half dozen or more. Here's what you'll find:
For a 3 cup (3 lb) batch of cannoli cream, you'd use:
- 0 to 2 tsps vanilla
- 2oz to 1-1/2 cups grated bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup to 6-1/2 cups confectioners or fine sugar
- 0 to 1/4 cup cinnamon
- 8 tbsp orange zest to 1 cup citron plus or minus a couple tsps of orange blossom water
Any recipe that's within these ranges seems to be fair game for the label "traditional Sicilian cannoli". So much for standardization.
Now, all of these recipes may be legitmate. Obviously the creators think so. But are they all Sicilian? If you assume that they all originated at a time before phones, before cars, before refrigeration, then maybe two dozen different recipes all calling themselves "traditional" could develop on an island the size of Massachusetts.
The one constant is that Sicilians tend to add cinnamon to the mix. But the amount of vanilla, citron and especially sugar is all over the map. For our money, we're sticking by a little cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla and otherwise not too sweet in addition to being on the stiffer/richer side.
Most recipes call for commercial ricotta and overnight draining to lose the moisture. Early on we learned that's an imperfect science. Some batches we were getting were higher in moisture than others, which led to runny cream and fixes we'd rather avoid. So now we start with ricotta impastada and add whipping cream until we get the consistency we want. It's pretty much foolproof (unless someone on your staff decides to airdry the cream like it was beef jerky.)
We believe doing it this way gives our cream a richer, thicker texture similar to our opinion of a true Sicilian cannoli. But that's not going to work for someone who likes their cannoli creamier, or more airy. Based on this woman's comment, we're fixing our display procedures, but we're not going to try to copy Moio's fillings nor anybody else's for that matter. As Popeye would say, we am what we am.
Still the end product is tighter (less airy) than most other cannoli creams you'll find in Pittsburgh, although it is of a consistency you're likely to find in Boston's North End or in most of New York's boroughs.
Recently we also learned there's someone local selling "authentic Sicilian cannoli with goat cheese". Yeah. If all you have is a goat, you might try this. But one thing we do know definitively is that Sicilians make their ricotta with sheep's milk, not goat's milk. What we think this "chef" is talking about is cutting cow's milk ricotta with a little chevre to make it seem more like sheep's milk.
Getting sheep's milk ricotta in the US is possible, but not easy. And we'll admit, we don't use it at this point because surprisingly we haven't found a local source that doesn't use hormones. Getting sheeps milk ricotta shipped in from elsewhere is expensive because we'd only order small amounts at a time. Your $3.00 cannoli would be a $5.00 cannoli. And then you'd be REALLY pissed off if it wasn't the texture/sweetness with which you were familiar.
Some folks in Pittsburgh swear by Beto's and/or Vincent's pizza. Some folks (like those of us from Connecticut) think the pizza world begins at Frank Pepe's and ends at Sally's. Other folks (like those from Chicago) will defend to the death their pizza pot pies. And yet with the seemingly endless pizza options, Dominos and Pizza Hut and Vocelli keep growing.
If you look at it that way, we're simply one cannoli option among many. And we'll add that the Sicilians who come in enjoy our cannoli. Good enough for us.
It's a big world with lots to eat. There's a cannoli for everyone.
Our Naked Portafilter Has Arrived
We've officially joined the fraternity of coffeehouses that can create "espresso porn".
Our shiny new naked portafilter arrived from Espresso Parts yesterday afternoon. After unwrapping, cleaning and sterilizing it last night, we were ready to give it its maiden voyage this morning. Belle had the honors while we went scrambling for the camera.
While some swear that the taste and mouthfeel of Black Cat shots pulled by the naked portafilter are richer in body and smoother in taste, we did not experience a discernable difference in body or taste during our quick trials this morning. Which is not to say there wasn't - we were a bit pressed for time and Belle admitted the first shot we pulled with the naked wasn't one of her best (although the second try seemed dead on).
Regardless if it improves taste or not, we are not intending on using the naked portafilter as a matter of course. We still have a lot of training to do with - and that's why we have it - for training.
Using the naked portafilter exposes many flaws that might otherwise go unnoticed. In conjunction with examing spent pucks, being able to see the shot develop allows us to identify problems with tamping consistency, channelling, screen clogs and in some cases mechanical problems. In other words, using the naked portafilter as a training tool will enable us to further improve our quality standards.
And it makes for great photos. Which means that in addition to upgrading our espresso skills, we're going to need a better camera. Or at least a better photographer ==:-0
The Aldo Coffee Modeling School
So not only can our baristi serve a mean demitasse, turns out some of them can vamp, too.
Now we're waiting to see what kinds of modeling gigs Steve and Frank can get ;-)
P.S. We also catered the Salon Vivace event. Mostly bruschettas and crostini (canape and dessert) plus cannoli and cookies. If you're interested in talking to us about catering an event, let us know. We're flexible and can work around just about any theme you have. Well, except for Norwegian smorgsabord, sushi or Mongolian barbecue.
Even a Parking Ticket Can't Kill a Good Cup
We had a surprise visit from former Zoka and Blue Bottle barista/roaster/coffee geek Jon Ferguson yesterday. Jon's been visiting State College and decided to stop by on the way from Pittsburgh International.
We don't get many third wave West Coasties out this way, so it's always a pleasure to pick their brains and see if we're in the ballpark with our offerings.
We were so focused on talking shop that Jon overstayed his parking meter and took one on the chin from our notoriously prompt Washington Road metermaid. Hopefully the half pound of Panama Los Alpes he left with took the sting out of that ticket.
First thing we learned is that Jon isn't a West Coastie. He's from Nebraska, but his coffee quest led him to Seattle and later to San Francisco. Once he's done visiting PA he hopes to return to Nebraska and open his own shop in Lincoln or thereabouts. He's already bought a La Marzocco Linea like ours - not an insignificant purchase, yet an important component to the quality he's after.
While we were talking shop Jon had a traditional macchiato and a latte, the former by Therese, the latter by Belle.
Seems we did OK even by Pacific Northwest standards (he even photographed Belle's work). We hope to see Jon again in the next few weeks before he returns home and wish him the best of luck on his quest.
The Importance of Connecting With Origin
Jim Hoffman is the reigning barista champion in the United Kingdom.
Last week he took a trip to El Salvador to visit plantations that are providing him with the beans he'll be using in the upcoming World Barista Championships in Bern.
If you want a look at the kind of trip just about every caring barista dreams of, Jim's blog provides it. While most working stiffs desire a vacation at a fine resort or ski slope or Disney, the ultimate barista trip is connecting to origin.
We're all looking at this and thinking to ourselves... damn.
Some particularly amazing excerpts from Jim's trip diary:
"So..... I was invited to go to El Salvador as a guest of the Consejo (The El Salvadoran Coffee Council) due to the fact that two of their coffees featured very heavily in my blend that won the UKBC this year.
This was my first visit to origin. I don't think it could have been any better. I learnt a great deal about not only the current situation, the past problems within the country, but also about the varietals specific to El Salvador and how they came about - the Pacas and Pacamaras in particular. This is probably deserving of a separate post...
After a quick breakfast briefing on the current state of specialty coffee (something I will write more about later) we headed off from San Salvador to the Santa Ana region. The first farm I would visit would be San Roberto, which produced the winning coffee at the Cup of Excellence 2005. We were met by not only Don Lito, who owned the farm, but Alfredo who owned the mill that produced the coffee. San Roberto is by no means a big farm - 4 or 5 hectares. It is part of a larger plot divided into six. Alfredo was a great guy, very funny and kept us entertained as we wandered around. The eruption last year had affected the farm, and many more around it, and there had been some overly heavy rains last year which had also caused a problem.
One of these days we're going to have to stowaway in Geoff Watts' luggage.
Have Blackberry, Will Find Caffeine
Our old friend (well, not OLD, but a friend) Sue points us to a GPS application those of you with Blackberries may find very handy:
Here's what it is/does, according to the site:
Caffeine Finder GPS is the first mobile application which leads you to your next cup of joe. Caffeine Finder GPS points you to the closest restaurant or café for a great cup of coffee. Find every major café or restaurant across the country from over 45,000 locations. Once you find where you want to go, ask Coffee Finder GPS for a map, a review, and the address, all right from your phone or PDA. And if you use Nextel, you can take advantage of the automatic GPS location functions built right into the phone.
- Find a cup of coffee from over 45,000 locations
- Easy and fast to use
- Advanced search functions
- Get directions and high quality maps to help you get to your destination
- Read and write reviews and see photos of the café
- Get fun coffee facts from TheCoffeeFAQ
- It’s never been so easy to find a great cup of coffee!
Then again, if you had a bag of our roasted beans, a travel grinder and a travel press pot, you'd already be covered.
Ouch. So Close...
There were 42 competitors who completed Round One. Twenty were selected to go to Round Two, along with five others who received byes for winning their regions.
Belle was #25 overall after the first round with 563 points out of a possible 900. The leader in round one, Billy Wilson (2nd in finals) had 835 points, which we believe was the highest ever recorded by a US barista (hoping to confirm that tomorrow).
She would have needed 604 to have made the cut for the semi-finals. 41 more points. Not all that much, considering Belle had at least a 20 point penalty for going over the 15 minute time limit, perhaps 40 (we haven't seen her individual scoresheet yet). So all in all, a great showing. Something to be proud of and to build upon.
But the guy we really feel sorry for is Karl Smeltzer of Hotwire in Seattle. Karl earned 603 points in Round One. But he needed one half point more to make the cut. Lorrie Mahieu of Trabant Chai Lounge made it instead with 603.5 points.
It's only going to get more difficult from here. This year there were six possible byes (one entrant declined her bye). Next year there may be as many as 10 automatic byes if each region holds its own competition. And more cafes will enter. This year's 47 contestants represented only 14 states and the capital: CA (5), DC (2), ID (1), IL (6), KS (2), MA (3), MD (2), MO (1), NC (10), NE (1), NJ (1), NY (1), OR (1), PA (2), WA (9). We fully expect at least 25 states to be represented next year as the demand for better coffee spreads across the nation.
Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee: High Yield and High Quality are Mutually Exclusive
Shouldn't really come as a surprise, but here's the science.
Really, you thought we were joking about having to know all this stuff on botanics and chemistry and biology... Peter's been doing this for YEARS and he's still learning new things about coffee every day.
At the end of the day, we are all grasshoppers, grasshopper.
You Too Can Make Coffee That Tastes Just Like the Major Chains!
We're being facetious. (No we're not)
(NB - Just to be perfectly clear, the incident we're relating below had to do with us not having coffee at our house. We had plenty of professionally roasted specialty coffee from Intelligentsia at the shop. This home roasting experiment was only necessitated by us forgetting to take some of that excellent coffee home with us so we'd have some brew to wake up with.)
We realized at about midnight that we were facing a Friday morning with no coffee (we're out of samples and forgot to bring the leftovers from last Intelly shipment home), Despite the late hour, Rich decided to dust off whatever microdegree of roasting skills he's acquired to save the day. He dug out a sample bag of green beans (Filadelfia Estate) acquired from the Guatemalan booth at SCAA and fired up his electric wok.
We sincerely apologize to the R. Dalton Coffee Company and the folks at the Filadelfia Estate for the bean abuse that follows. Your wonderful beans did not deserve this punishment. Unfortunately you drew the short straw among the sample bags.
Now, the YOSM recipe calls for a roasting temp of 500 degrees. Unfortunately, our electric wok only gets to 425. But that didn't stop Rich from trying. About 4.5 minutes after putting the beans into the 425-degree wok, we heard first crack. Unfortunately, it was only about 10% of the beans that cracked. Over the next FIVE minutes we heard some more pops, but nothing like the Orville Redenbacher effect we were expecting. We were going to wait until we heard a second crack, but we got impatient. After 13 minutes in the wok all the beans looked dark enough to take off the heat (figuring they'd continue to roast while cooling as the instructions indicated). We cooled them off in a colander.
Then we turned on the OTHER kitchen light.
Ooops. Not nearly as dark as we thought. We had about 2oz of "full city" roast, 3oz of "city" and 4oz of "small hamlet in the exburbs" - beans that were sort of Halle Berry-ish in hue.
Well, that just wasn't going to do. Unlike Orville Redenbacher's popcorn instructions, Sweet Maria's never said we couldn't cook those beans twice. So we got a small (and expendable) pot, fired up a gas burner and waited till we got to 500. Then we put the city and hamlet beans in the pot. Refried coffee. But hopefully not "Spanish Roast".
In about a 90 seconds, smoke was billowing out the sides of the pot lid. We checked color every minute or so for about four more minutes before deciding enough was enough.
The results were shiny, glistening pellets of dark brown to near black beans. A bit more roast than we'd have preferred, but hey, it was our first try in years and it was an emergency batch. Most of the beans were solidly in French Roast territory, perhaps 10% of burned to the degree of Spanish Roast. Luckily for us another 10% or so were a tad lighter - the Vienna Roast category.
Luckily we didn't burn more beans. As this was the only coffee available to us for Friday morning, whatever it tasted like would have to do.
Just for fun, Rich then ground up a couple scoops and stuck 'em in his trusty old moka pot to taste the result. A few minutes later - chain store coffee! Seriously. You've had worse, trust us. And if hack roasters like us can pull it off, you and your whole family can give it a try. It's fun and if you like dark roasts on the edge of (or just past) char, it could save you a bundle.
But do follow Sweet Maria's instructions for dealing with the bean chaff... that stuff does get all over the place.
UPDATE: Six hours later, Friday morning 9am... it mellowed a bit in the cup. It's not completely AWFUL for emergency brew. If they served this brew at most of the (non-coffee) tradeshows I go to, it would be an improvement over what currently served. But you'd never find this level of near-char roast in our shop, or hopefully any other indie shop around here.
And our shirt still reeks of the smoke. Making a note to not wear anything I like next time...
UPDATE #2: A third party who hadn't read this post and knew nothing of our late night travails tasted the brew this morning and suggested it was similar in character to the Oaxacan organic we get every once in awhile, but weaker. That this person could detect some sense of origin (OK, they didn't nail Guatemalan Antigua, but it's in the neighborhood) meant that we hadn't gone completely overboard with charring everything... thus we'll call the experiment a "qualified success" and congratulate the Filadelfia plantation for producing a bean even we couldn't kill.
Coffee and a Cigar: One Man's Memoir of Competing at This Year's USBC
Jay Caragay, owner of the now legendary Jay's Shave Ice and Coffee in Timonium, MD, wrote an interesting post on his participation at the recent United States Barista Competition.
In his essay, he discusses the inspiration behind his "coffee and a cigar" signature drink, while citing the French Laundry's Thomas Keller, "Kitchen Confidential" author Anthony Bourdain and others in the food and coffee industry. And that's where many in the industry are looking for inspiriation - food science and how to best marry the characteristics of specific coffee varietals and blends to food ingredients and cooking processes.
It's an interesting piece and we imagine many in our industry will disagree with Jay's POV. There's also a recipe for his signature drink towards the bottom of the post.
Especially controversial in some circles will be Jay's thoughts on the effort and preparation required to compete as each year's roster of competitors brings a higher level of expertise and achievement.
For us, competing means the following:
1. It forces us to pay attention to preparation detail that may be sliding
2. It puts a premium on training and being current with accepted preparation methods
3. It allows our staff to "join" the community of top baristi, whether we win or not - and gives them (and us) an opportunity to make friends from all over North America
4. It introduces us to ideas that may work here in Pittsburgh
5. It gives us satisfaction to participate in and advance the growth of specialty coffee in our region
We agree with Jay on a couple of things - 1. that the signature drinks should be something that can be part of a standard coffeehouse menu, and 2. unless you're doing something specific that other competitors aren't (such as overdosing to achieve a specific quality) then keep quiet about the basics of espresso preparation - at this level everyone knows you need a tight portafilter seal, etc. etc. etc. 3. That you shouldn't call the judges by their first name no matter how good friends you are.
But there is a point where we take another path - and that's in the deferential service. We're closer to Tom's Diner than Thomas Keller when it comes to customer interaction. We will always treat you with respect, but not with pretentiousness nor overdone formality. More as peers. And eventually, if you let us, extended family.
That's just our approach - regular people don't need to settle for regular coffee. Excellent coffee should neither be out of reach nor intimidating. It should just be expected.
If you want to learn about why coffee tastes better, great. If you'd like us to just shut up so you can enjoy your coffee, that's great too.
We regard Jay as a friend and we hope to be visiting Timonium soon - cigars in hand. If you find yourself in the neighborhood (and it's only 45 minutes from Gettysburgh), stop by for a haupia macchiato and say hi for us.
Where to Get a Great Espresso in Boston or New York
Newsflash... Dunkin Donuts is no longer the best coffee in Boston and those blue and white "Greek diner" cups are becoming passe in New York.
While neither town was ever a bastion for Starbucks or any other chain (save for DD) both cities are quickly adopting the new breed of specialty coffeehouses, according to this Boston Globe article.
Posted at Simon's Coffee Shop in Porter Square (Cambridge, MA) is a list entitled ''Fifty things to improve your espresso production." Written by Nick Cho, a revered Washington, D.C., cafe owner, it includes everything from the easily understood (''use fresh beans") to coffee-geek technicalities (''insert the portafilter with enough torque to create a good seal with the portafilter gasket").
The list hangs on the shop's La Marzocco machine, but not where the espresso-drink makers -- called baristi, Italian for bartenders -- can see it. They don't need to, because they have manager and lead barista Jaime van Schyndel reminding them about such things on a daily basis. The list instead faces customers, as a way of reminding them just how tricky truly excellent espresso can be to achieve.
We met Jaime of Simon's at the recent CoffeeFest in DC and again in Charlotte. Like Belle, he competed in the barista competitions at both. Dude is tres serious about his coffee. There's nobody like him in Pittsburgh, not even any of us, although we're working on to catch up. And make no mistake, it is work - re-learning chemistry, biology, engineering, all to make a better cup of coffee.
The Terroir brand espressos used at Simon's are notoriously fussy, sometimes requiring different dosing techniques and brewing temperatures than other top espresso blends such as the Black Cat we use or Stumptown's Hairbender, the two blends most commonly used in barista competitions. But to Jaime the fuss is worth it to explore just how close he can come to perfection in the cup. As you can see from his blog, he loves experimenting with different beans and brewing methods - and none of the "established" rules of espresso-making are sacred.
If you love coffee and travel to the Northeast a lot here's a list of the top spots in Boston and New York. (Graffiti Cafe? You mean there's an alternative to Caffe Vittoria on Hanover that serves great espresso PLUS cannoli and grappa... this we need to check out...)
Much like the swallows return to Capistrano each spring, in the past week John the Chef, Bill the Fisherman, Sam the Investor and Tom the Writer all returned to the shop after lengthy absences.
Although business has been brisk, it just feels more like home when all the regulars are up and about.
Welcome back all.
SCAA Coming to Pittsburgh in 2011
Up to now, Pittsburgh has had virtually non-existant profile among the coffee geek culture. Whether by choice or not, the product of Pittsburgh's coffee roasters are almost never seen on CoffeeReview.com with the occasional exception of Bill Swoope's Coffee Tree Roasters. The Swoopes work with growers and the Cup of Excellence program was about all the exposure Pittsburgh has had at a national level until this spring when Belle and Andi started competing.
Naturally we're wondering whether Bill Sr. or Jr. had any influence on the SCAA's decision... if so, a huge thanks!
So this is great news. Hopefully by the time SCAA rolls into town Pittsburgh's baristi and coffeehouses will be up to the challenge. We've got some work to do.
Regardless of what everyone else's plans are, we're gonna have one heck of a shindig at our joint come 2011.
Somebody Stole Our Tip Jar
The deterioration of society was in evidence today in Mt. Lebanon.
Some scum actually came in this afternoon with a partner, distracted our staff momentarily and walked off with the tip jar.
Good thing I wasn't there. The person would have WISHED they'd been hit by a car instead of dealing with me.
Btw, somebody DID get hit by a car this morning while crossing Alfred. From what's been reported to us, seems some moron thought "right turn on red" trumped the illuminated "WALK" sign and took out an elderly woman who was crossing in accordance with traffic protocol.
Really, what the heck is wrong with people?
We'll make up whatever was in the tip jar to our employees, but really. You're taking money away from people who had the ambition to earn these gratuities by providing quality and service to appreciative customers. What have you done with yourself? Nothing. We're imagine your mom wouldn't be very proud.
Stop picking on little people you pathetic coward. Go rob a bank instead. They're insured.
And drivers? Look before you turn. And put down the cell phones.
Our Unexpected Easter Egg: Gaping Void Calls Us a Global Microbrand
It was nice to wake up and find out that we'd been featured in a post on Gaping Void this morning. Rich has been a longtime fan and follower of GV's creator and resident cartoonist, Hugh McLeod since Rich's first blog back in late 2002.
Hugh is simply thinking on a different level than most marketers - and far as we know, Hugh was the first person on the planet to make money using blogs to sell actual product (not consulting services or published content).
Getting recognition on Gaping Void means something to us. It's a great pat on the back letting us know we're on the right course. Kind of like a teacher you respect saying "you did good kid".
Now if only we could get Intelligentsia to start blogging... and maybe a Bill Swoope travelogue blog with his trips to coffee origin countries... that would be awesome.
This Post Is for Jay Caragay's Eyes Only
After finally listening to his pre-SCAA solo podcast on Portafilter.net and hearing his comments on our entrant to the USBC... well, we need to remind Mr. Jay "OnoCoffee" Caragay of something he said a mere six months ago on Coffee Geek:
But hey, thanks for at least spelling "Pittsburgh" correctly!
j/k, we love ya. But this should cost you at least one bag of Hines.
Sustainable Coffee and Fair Trade: The Portafilter.net Interview With Geoff Watts & Duane Sorensen at SCAA 2006
The guys at Portafilter.net nabbed a great interview with Geoff Watts and Duane Sorensen on sustainable coffee practices during last week's SCAA conference in Charlotte. It's bound to generate some controversy in certain circles.
Geoff is the green bean buyer for Intelligentsia (our roaster) and Duane owns the highly respected Stumptown Coffee (warning: Flash site) in Portalnd, OR. Both companies are noted industry-wide for developing education programs in the field to help coffee farmers produce a better product.
Since it's a bit of a pain trying to dial right into the start of the interview, we've taken the time to transcribe most of it - which for some reason is 98% Geoff, 2% Duane. Read on...
If you go to the full audio file, following the interview with Watts and Sorensen is a wonderful discussion with an Ethiopian coffee producer who was at the show - that's way too long for transcribing here but well worth a listen.
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH GEOFF WATTS AND DUANE SORENSEN FROM PORTAFILTER.NET PODCAST #31
Duane Sorensen: “Don't believe the hype. Spend your money on Rwandan coffees, spend your money on top auction lots of Kenya coffee.
Interviewer: “What's hype?”
Duane: “Kona. JBM (Jamaican Blue Mountain)... Kope Luwak.”
Interviewer: "Geoff, what thoughts are you having about coffee while you're here?"
Geoff Watts: “What is the real value of great coffee? Both of us feel if you're buying the best coffee in any given place it should have a price that justifies and rewards that quality - and acknowledges more than anything else - that quality.
“I got into trouble with several proponents of several certification schemes about the difference between paying charity for coffee and paying a price that's directly related to the quality.
“There's a huge difference and there's a danger in paying for coffees that don't measure up in the cup – handing money out of a sense of social responsibility but not truly incentivizing the development or production of better quality.
“In a system like that if you're paying money for poor coffee and paying more than its real market value simply because you believe you should, you're perpetuating production of a coffee that will never have real intrinsic value and becomes totally dependent on this system of goodwill. If the goodwill of the certification disappears tomorrow the coffee farmer is left right back where he started – he hasn't developed anything.
“Duane and I are all about developing quality and then paying for it – paying for its costs, paying for its production and rewarding the growers who are able to produce something special.
“Fair Trade has done a lot of good in the world. I personally know a lot of farmers who would not be producing coffee today if it weren't for the existence of Fair Trade. During a long time of coffee market depression where prices were below the cost of production, Fair Trade kept these guys in business.
“However, I still feel in general that Fair Trade, among others, deal with coffee essentially as a commodity – one lot is interchangeable for another. In the end, the farmers who want to develop a business and be able to produce a product that has value independent of ANY certification – that has a value on the open market – you can go to the marketing and say, 'I know I have great coffee. I know there's a buyer who will recognize it and pay me for it.'
"If you can help farmers get to that level, you've given them something nobody can take away and is independent of anyone's goodwill.”
Duane: “Certifications are good, but they don't recognize quality.”
Geoff: “It's about real sustainability. Fair Trade still has great relevance in the commercial market and in entry-level specialty coffees. But when you start talking about high quality and the really special coffees – the boutique coffees – they have a value that far exceeds Fair Trade. $1.26 (the base price negotiated by the organizations responsible for Fair Trade Certification) is not a great price. It's an OK price. A livable price. But not a great price.
“Education is absolutely critical to all this. There are very low-cost things farmers can do requiring very little extra investment. Simple techniques, processing techniques, careful handling of the coffee that can increase its value twofold or threefold.
“One of the things the specialty coffee leaders, the specialty roasters, the specialty buyers and importers need to push is this idea that a farmer can take control of his own destiny. He can improve the intrinsic value of his coffee simply by doing a few things that require little capital – it just requires more effort, more human care. You can increase the value of these coffees and you can create a product that commands its own value.
“Ideally we're going to find a world where buyers themselves are fighting over these coffees. The great producers walking out into the market with their coffee saying, 'All right, what are you going to give me for it?'. And you've got roasters fighting to obtain his coffee. That's the future I hope to see.
“Sustainability without the notion of quality built very critically and fundamentally into the model has no meaning. Without quality, sustainability is nothing but hopes and dreams. When you add quality into the mix, sustainability becomes a demonstrable principle and something that can provide sustainable futures for farmers.”
Something to think about for all of us, eh?
For those of you who can't get your fill of espresso info from this site, it's your lucky day.
Jim Seven has compiled a list of all the coffee blogs he could find - 52 and counting.
Happy reading. If you think there's anything left to know after devouring all that content, we'd like to know what it is.
Is Pirates Logo Latte Art Forthcoming?
The amazing folks over at Gimme! Coffee in Ithaca, NY posted some photos last week of latte art they've been practicing, including this skull & crossbones.
We wouldn't serve anything quite that sinister in a cappuccino or macchiato at our shop, but with a couple of tweaks, voila! we could have a Bucs logo. We're going to see if we can play with this and get some reasonable facsimile over the next couple of weeks.
Doing a Pirate logo seems it would be a much more technical job than the Steeler logos Andi etched for the Super Bowl, although it might be faster to do. It takes a long time to etch "Steelers" and those three diamonds. So even if we can pull it off, it might be something we only do when there's no one waiting. Still, there's fun in trying.
Thanks for the inspiration, Gimme!
And while we're toying with skull art, we imagine Andi and Lois are looking at this work by Colleen at Gimme! and trying to figure out how to get the awesome definition and contrast. This art almost looks like an applique as it's just brown and white with no "beige" where the milkfoam and espresso have mingled. Colleen wasn't at the Latte Art competition in DC where Andi competed, but with work like this, we imagine we'll see her next year.
Our morning crew can do the triple rosettas (with a bit of urging), but we haven't yet seen them try a double with a heart in the middle yet. Nor triples with this definition. But they're always up for a challenge. Stay tuned... we'll post photos when we get there.
Handy Tasting References from BCCY
This is a tool used by roasters while cupping beans (usually at the source of origin). You'll note that none of the words on the wheel represent positive attributes. Thus the name "Taint" (we have no idea what "rioy" means).
As Fortune notes, most coffee drinkers wouldn't be exposed to these "taints" as they're already removed by the time (most) commercial coffee is roasted and packaged for sale.
We were mostly unfamiliar with the Taint Wheel ourselves because we only roast at home and haven't yet come across poor green beans. But as we do more and more serious cuppings with local and national roasters, having the "official" nomenclature handy is helpful.
If you're interested in further developing your own taste profile, Fortune also points to the SCAA Flavor Wheel and a complementary glossary, both of which are useful for serious coffee drinkers interested in further developing their own taste profiles and applying common attributes to the coffees.
Having the right words at hand to describe what you like/don't like about your cup helps us understand the types of coffees that make you happiest.
Yo, Webmasters... Ever Hear of Customers?
We will typically not do business with vendors who use only Flash on their websites.
Really, all-Flash sites are a royal pain. We were just doing some research for a new product and came across a site that had a product that might have interested us except for the demands their website made on our connection, software and hardware.
If you're expecting us to download Flash 8.0 to view the content on your site, it tells us you're not customer-centric, so it's not going to be a good marriage.
More on the US Barista Championships and the SCAA, Including Vid Clips
A quick Technorati search turned up some other blogs covering the 2006 USBC and SCAA happenings in Charlotte.
Bloviating Recap from Chemically Imbalanced - a nice recap of performances from six of the seven finalists that will give you an idea of what really takes place and how intense the competition is. Included are three video clips featuring the signature drink routines of the top three finishers:
Amber Sather (3rd)
Billy Wilson (2nd)
Matt Riddle (1st)
Photo of Matt Riddle with the Grand prize (he also gets a Krups home espresso maker and a trip to Bern, Switzerland for the World Barista Championships).
Wrap-up post from Smelling the Coffee on the Barista Guild and Clover comments.
Wrap-up posts from All Right Mr. Gekko (apparently an Intelly barista) with many photos.
Podcasts from Portafilter.net (MP3 format - for AAC format, go to main page):
1. From the Counter Culture party with Nick Cho (98+ minutes)
2. From the SCAA exhibit floor with Nick Cho and Amber Sather (84 minutes)
3. Dinner with Zoka Coffee at SCAA with Nick Cho (33+ minutes)
Intermezzo Caffe Now Open for Biz in the Strip
We share the same coffee roaster, bread baker and passion for good coffee, but those are about the only similarities you'll find between us and Intermezzo, a pocket coffeehouse which recently opened on Smallman right before it jogs left at the church toward Benkovitz Seafood.
Intermezzo is so tiny it could literally fit in the front half of just one side of our shop. But as they say, good things come in small packages. While there are no inside tables, there are several outside.
The shop's owners, Luke and Alexis, offer three different drip coffees from Intelligentsia Roasters daily plus Black Cat espressos, caps, macchiatos and lattes. They also have breakfast pastries brought over from the North Side and some panini made on Mediterra Bakehouse breads.
Everyone in Pittsburgh ends up in the Strip eventually. So when you do visit the Strip, make a note to stop by Intermezzo. Luke and Alexis are very interested in your feedback on their coffees and shop.
Alexis also turned us on to one of the bottled soft drinks they sell called "Pennsylvania Punch" which was featured on some QED program recently (we missed it) and has proven quite popular. We bought one along with a macchiato. Good stuff.
Intelligentsia's Matt Riddle Wins 2006 USBC, Amber Sather 3rd
More on the USBC in this post from Coffee Geek, which has a number of posts from this year's Specialty Coffee Association of America conference in Charlotte and the 2006 United States Barista Championships.
Left to right: Billy Wilson, Albina Press, 2nd Place (Portland, OR); Matt Riddle, Intelligentsia, 1st Place (Chicago); Amber Sather, Intelligentsia, 3rd Place (Chicago).
If you'd like a run down of what was popular at the show/conference, Coffee Geek pretty much covered it. As for us... we're getting too old to get to all the parties. Looks like we made a mistake missing the one at Counter Culture's training facility.
P.S. We're still confused on what the judges look for. Our region's representative, David George, of Crescent Moon Coffee in Mullica Hill, NJ, gave an awesome performance in the semis but didn't get selected for the finals. Not sure if that's because he's only been a barista for four months or because he's from Joisey. Either way, we were rooting for him and Jay Caragay... someone, anyone from our Mid-Atlantic region.
Intelligentsia Places Three Baristi in US Barista Championship Finals - But No Belle
This was our first experience with the USBC. And as Tiger Woods is fond of saying, "We didn't bring our 'A' game".
We're extremely proud of Belle's performance and think from both a technical and 'performance' standpoint she did even better than in the Mid-Atlantics. However, a small spill error and perhaps some nervousness from the emcee's unexpected questions sent her performance over the 15 minute time limit, causing a 20 point penalty. Her performance probably would have been good enough to get into our regional finals, but not the nationals, where you'd need to be virtually perfect.
Belle was up against 11 barista from the Pacific Northwest, five baristi from Chicago's Intelligentsia alone (and one other of their customers), another dozen from the growing espresso hotbed of Durham/Chapel Hill, and contestants and winners from almost every region of the US - many of whom had been previous finalists and semifinalists at prior USBC competitions.
We left for the airport in the afternoon so did not get to see all the performances by the semifinalists. But Intelligentsia placed three baristi in the finals, according to Belle, who called us late last night with the names, but we didn't write them all down. The winner will be announced later today and we'll post it when we find out.
We have more photos of the competition hosted on Flickr (slideshow here). We'll post more on the trade show later today... for now we need to go shopping down the Strip as we're out of just about everything from being away all week!
Espresso at America's Largest Tile & Stone Trade Show
Rich has been in Orlando all week long at Coverings, one of his trade show clients. Coverings is the largest tile and stone event in the Americas.
Ceramic Tile of Italy is one of the major sponsors of the event. Each year they set up a huge cafe serving pasta dishes as well as a couple of espresso kiosks to serve up espressos, cappys and macchiatos.
Rich tried an espresso and a cappy (he'll try a macchiato tomorrow) and reports that the espresso has been spotty - one was sweet, but not as smooth or complex as our Black Cat, another was underextracted and bitter. The cappys were made with Parmelat, as is the case in much of Italy. It's a different milk taste than the organic Turner milks we use at Aldo. Not necessarily bad, but definitely different.
For those of you who attend a lot of tradeshows, being able to find a real Italian barista and a decent cup was a blessing. Usually the case at most convention centers will be one or more kiosks, often serving a national brand, with poorly trained baristas who don't time shots or know their way around a milk pitcher.
So while the espresso in the Italian booth was nowhere near perfect, if measured on a scale of trade show espresso experiences it was almost a 10.
Europe Finally Embracing Go Cups
Traditionalists may be appalled, but it seems there has been a benefit of having Starbucks invade Europe - the proliferation of go-cups.
When in Europe ourselves, we usually enjoy the relaxation of sipping espressos and cappys in the cafe. But there are times - especially on business trips - when a go-cup would be a Godsend.
In Sofia we used to go to the Dunkin Donuts on Vitosha Blvd. as it was the only place in town with go-cups. And we've been to a Starbucks in Germany for the same reason. So far we've stayed true to the cafes in France and Italy... but if we found great coffee and go-cups we could be swayed.
Hopefully go-cups and the traditional cafe service can co-exist side-by-side. We think it is a positive.
Belle Featured in PG On Way to National Barista Championships
Our Belle (and some of the rest of us) are ready to head to Charlotte, NC this upcoming weekend for the U.S. Barista Championships. In today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette (April 5), writer Sally Kalson profiles Belle and her upcoming adventure:
"If you go for a cappuccino at Aldo Coffee Co. in Mt. Lebanon, you might not notice much about the cheerful, unassuming young woman behind the counter. But Belle Battista, the barista (yes, she knows it rhymes), turns out to be quite the perfectionist..."
Stay tuned for updates as Belle competes with the best baristas in the country. The competition begins this Friday at the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America conference in Charlotte.
That KDKA Clip We Promised with Cara
We wouldn't go that far, but we are proud of the increasing number of unique stores here.
We can't figure out how to isolate this clip from KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live - there's no URL available for the specific clip. AND it'll likely disappear tomorrow since they usually only show the previous day's clips on their site.
To view, go to www.kdka.com/ptl and in the upper right corner, you'll see a large Flash viewer with several small screen captures underneath. Click on the second screen from the left - when you mouseover the screen you'll see the text "Washington Road Offers Variety for Local Shopppers". Zipper Blues is the first retailer in the segment, Zzzs - and Cara - is the second segment and Ona Boutique is the third.
As comedian Tony Rock (1st screen) mentioned later in the show, "What a great idea, when the wind is blowing at 50 miles an hour, have a fashion show - let's get some girls in pajamas out here!"
If you have the software to capture this video file, please make a copy and email it to us. We'll host it somewhere for posterity.
Coffee - Should It Be Priced LIke Wine, Beer or Water?
There's been a lot of discussion in the specialty coffee community the past few years on retail coffee pricing and whether the market for premium coffee is truly elastic.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and numerous top roasters have opined that a great coffee should command a fair price - it should be sold as a complex product like wine, not a commodity like supermarket coffee.
For the most part, consumers haven't appeared willing to accept that opinion. However, that may be changing.
Recently Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver, BC paid $49/pound for a lot of extremely well-regarded Brazilian beans. This would equate to something like a $7.50 cup of drip coffee. And a few hardcore coffee geeks would happily pay it, much like some folks will drop $750 on a bottle of Petrus from a great vintage. All wine is not just wine. And all coffee is not just coffee.
Interestingly, Caffe Artigiano already prices their cup coffee by the specific varietal or blend (prices are Canadian). They were among the first cafes to adopt the Clover, which allows them to grind drip coffees to order a cup at a time. This is where the upper echelon of specialty coffee retailers is headed (and hopefully we'll be among the first in Pittsburgh with a Clover sometime in the next couple of years).
Wine drinkers know and accept that a Yellowtail Cabarnet Sauvignon is inferior to a Silver Oak Cab which is itself inferior to a Petrus. Beer drinkers recognize a bottle of Coors Light is infinitely inferior to a Penn Marzen which itself is inferior to a Three Floyds Russian Imperial Stout (some might even say Coors Light is inferior to tap water, but that's a different subject).
But while most consumers can accept that a cup of Starbucks is worth more than the same size coffee from Sheetz, they don't accept that there are levels of coffee excellence well beyond what Starbucks serves up. So for drip coffee, everyone in the industry is at about the same price ceiling, regardless of quality of the beans, or the skills of the roaster and barista involved.
An objection to this pricing was eloquently stated in an article written by Nick Cho of Murky Coffee last year:
Coffee is a crop, that cannot forever be marketed, sold, and purchased the way it is today. To piggy-back on Mark Prince's article from a couple months ago, if wine was sold the way coffee is usually sold today, you'd go to a store and see a row of five to twelve bottles, with labels that say, "FRENCH WINE," "AMERICAN WINE," "ITALIAN WINE," "AUSTRALIAN WINE," etc. No vineyard or winery name, no vintage year, no nothing. Just country of origin, and that's it.
Admittedly, some of our customers might be OK with that. There aren't that many other options for a go-cup of decent coffee around here, so for some percentage of customers, our ability to provide a caffeine delivery vehicle is sufficient, regardless of how good it tastes.
But an increasing number of our customers wouldn't be happy with that. They're starting to realize the breadth of the coffee world. They may not know all the details as to why a Fazenda Vista Allegre Estate crop is better than most any other Brazilian. But they do know it tastes different, in the same way that a fine, complex, aged Shiraz tastes different than Two Buck Chuck (or Gallo Jug, since they don't sell Two Buck Chuck around here). You can more readily taste specific fruits, spices and other qualities in addition to the "coffeeness".
But it's not just the bean that merits the price. It's the roaster - does s/he create a milder roast (full city) or a dark roast (French/Vienna). And it's the coffeeshop - do they store beans properly. Do they grind to order. Do they know what they're doing?
Because so much depends on what happens after the beans leave the grower, the comparison to pricing like wine starts to fall apart. With wine, the vinter specifies the bottler so that's under their control. Almost all wine merchants know how to handle a good wine. It's then up to the consumer to know how to store the bottle and when to pull the cork and enjoy.
With coffee the bean is just the raw material. The roaster needs to know how to match the perfect roast temperature to the specific crop. And if the coffee is to be used as an espresso blend, you have to include the barista's skills. Do they know the proper temperature and pressure for the perfect extraction of crema and flavor of this particular roast?
A sommelier has few chances to screw up a glass of 1987 Silver Oak Bonny Vineyard other than pouring it down your shirt. But a barista can destroy a Cup of Excellence bean in seconds with a poor grind, poor tamp or over- or underextracting by pulling the shot for too short/long.
So in a perfect world, there's an acceptable price point for the bean, one for the roaster and one for the cafe/barista. We just don't know what that is yet because nobody can readily agree how to get there.
Because there's a glut of decent (but not great) coffee beans in the world market, it's become increasing difficult for coffee farmers to exact prices that would allow them to provide a liveable wage to bean pickers and processors. That's why "Fair Trade" labeling was created. But it's not enough.
At some point quality beans are going to become more expensive because they're worth it, much like grapes in Napa are worth more than those grown in Dormont (if that's even possible). Caffe Artigiano is among the first to make a statement in this regard. Others will follow. Even our own roaster sells some of its Cup of Excellence beans at prices up to $26/pound, which makes it all but impossible for us to serve them here. We'd have to charge you about $4.50/cup. And you're not ready for that. Yet.
Barista skills are also improving. There's a saying in Seattle that "nobody goes to Starbucks except for meetings". If that's true, it's likely because every other shop has better talent behind the bar. And you're going to see more of that in Pittsburgh - it has to happen. We're just among the first to make barista skills part of our experience. Everyone else will have to do so eventually because it's where the rest of the country is headed.
We'd like to think that makes our coffees and espresso worth more. But we're realists and our prices are pretty much the same as everyone elses'. But eventually there will be price differentiation because of beans, roasters and baristas. Make no mistake that it's coming. You'll have your estate picked/gourmet roasted coffees at a premium price which might exceed $5/cup. And you'll have everything else at a more affordable level, which might be pretty good coffee, but it won't be the best.
It won't happen this year, or next, or probably even the year after that. But sometime relatively soon.
It's April 1. Free Biscotto All Afternoon with Latte or Cappy Purchase
While they last.
You're waiting for us to say April Fool's, aren't you?
If you don't get here soon enough, it will be. Buy a latte/cappy, get a biscotto.
Just took the orange/almond out of the oven. Will be putting the anise in next.
Maybe we'll even dip a few. When they're gone they're gone. Welcome to April.
I've seen Leroy's business cards in the store, but we don't recall ever meeting the man. However, we think his photo-paintings are pretty cool.
That Model on Pittsburgh Today this Morning? None Other than Our Cara
We've been hoping for a link all day long to video from the KDKA site, but we haven't found one yet. Maybe they lag a day?
There are links to 10 different videos (upper right corner), but nothing on fashion as yet (Friday night). Soon as we find one we'll link it. Meantime we're pretty certain Cara and all of her relatives taped the program.
Anyway, if for some reason there never is a video forthcoming, stop in and Cara will be happy to act out the entire sequence for you.
Cooking for Engineers - Copious Recipes, Voluminous Detail, Humorous Commentary
We were scouting some recipes and came across this site - Cooking for Engineers - which we had to share.
If you've never been on the site, it offers up hundreds of good recipes. What makes it different is that instead of the nonchalant dash of this, dab of that of a Rachel Ray or "BAM" of an Emeril, you get recipes with the precision of a nuclear laboratory.
However, the thing that really makes the site a winner - and often an extremely funny read - are the reader comments, many of which are actually from engineers who take the author to task for missing by a milligram or using ingredients with incompatible chemical compounds. Not to mention pointing out every spelling and grammar mistake.
A typical comment, this one from the biscotti forum: I'm not a fan of almonds, in any of their forms. Anything that smells too much like cyanide can't be good...
In addition to recipes, the site's author offers up a large glossary of ingredients and useful articles such as "Common Materials of Cookware", which analyzes what your pots and pans are made of, and "Smoke Points of Various Fats", which is just as interesting as it sounds. Plenty of content here to warm every engineer's heart.
It's sort of like if the Phil Hartman "Anal-Retentive Chef" skits had their own cookbook, execpt with the focus on measurements instead of fastidiousness.
If you lack the kitchen confidence of an Anthony Bourdain and could use explicit directions for your creations, this is a great site to start.
And Here We Thought Tom Hanks Was a Standup Guy
Hollywood is about to make a 90 minute Starbucks commercial, with Tom Hanks' assistance.
Maybe the screenplay was based on a true story. But let's recognize that Mystic Pizza wouldn't have had any charm if Julia Roberts was clad in a Domino's smock.
The rich get richer...
So, we're looking for some stories on how hanging around Aldo Coffee has enriched your life. Or shortened it. Whatever.
Send your submissions to aldo AT aldocoffee DOT com no later than Friday, April 7.
Don and Craig, we KNOW you've got something to say...
And Now, Coffee-Flavored Coke. Or Something.
Coke Blak (or is that Coke Blehhh?) is being tested in San Diego before its inevitable national release.
Early reviews, as quoted from the article:
"It doesn't taste like coffee… it's closer to root beer than coffee."
"It almost has a licorice kind of flavor to it."
"I actually like it better than Coke."
"Compared to the other drinks with caffeine to get you going, this is a lot more pleasant."
Watch, it'll be a huge hit. And then we'll have to sell it.
Deja Vu - Steven's Back from Paree
Regulars coming in Saturday morning will be greeted by a familiar face as Steven will be back behind the bar, hopefully none the worse for wear after four months in Paris.
We expect Steven will be pulling a few shifts each week for the next couple of months. He plans on returning to Paris (and Lorene) sometime in June, possibly for good. We'll enjoy his company while we can.
Spring Panini Menu Unleashed - More Unique Tastes, More Italian Regions Represented
With Spring about to arrive, we'll be introducing a new menu on Monday* (note: Flickr may upload a smaller version - if so, wait for the zoom icon then click to enlarge).
Instead we're adding traditional panini ingredients like speck with eggplant, arugula with red onion and a new tuna with cannelini bean panini.
The new menu reflects a greater number of regional influences from the Piedmont, Emilia-Romangna, Campania and Sardinia in addition to Tuscany.
*we already made a couple of small mods during the past week, so if you downloaded the menu before March 30, please download again to have the most current version.
More on the Clover
Here's a story that ran this week in Seattle news on the Clover - the new single cup brewing machine that's just hit the market. Think of it as a really big Senseo except with fresh coffee.
Sometime in the near future we look forward to having our own Clover sometime in the next couple of years (hint: buy lots more coffee...)
There aren't any Clovers that we know of out East as of yet. But a couple of the top flight Seattle and Vancouver coffeehouses have them.
UPDATE: Our roaster, Intelligentsia, just put one in their newest Chicago store. They are only the fifth roaster in the country to install a Clover.
Expect to hear more on the Clover - as we've mentioned before, in time it may well change the way non-espresso coffee is brewed and consumed. With the Clover, coffeehouses can brew their more expensive Cup of Excellence varietals and blends one cup at a time with reliable precision instead of brewing in a vacuum pot or French press. And it will bring about "cup" pricing for different coffees, much the way wines by the glass are sold at better restaurants.
Happy St. Patricks
This abomination is also available on hot chocolate or anything else that comes with whipped cream.
At least it's not as offensive as green beer...
Catering for Harrisburg Hopefuls
We continue to amaze (or is it amuse?) ourselves with what we can put out in our tiny kitchen. We catered an event in store on Wednesday evening for Lieutenant Governor hopeful Valerie McDonald-Roberts. Thanks to Barbara Kraft for thinking of us and introducing a few dozen more folks to our little coffeehouse.
Here was the menu:
- Antipasti with three meats, five veggies and our marinated mozzarella
- Crostini with avocado & goat cheese spread
- Prosciutto wrapped melon with provolone
- Funghi Ripieni (Crimini 'shrooms stuffed with mortadella, parm, bread crumbs, herbs)
- Cheeses: Piave DOC, Bel Paese, Pepperoncino Rustico and Midnight Moon
- Mushroom Frittata
- Tramezzini with Prosciutto, Arugula and Fontina with Sun-dried Tomato Aioli
- Eggplant Fritelle with Marinara
- Red pepper & Onion Fritatta
- Two Amaretto-infused Crostini: (1) Nutella with Kiwi and Blackberries, and (2)Mascarpone with Nectarine and Raspberries
- Mini-cannoli with traditional ricotta and chocolate fillings
- Fresh fruit with chocolate dipping sauce
Not bad for a joint without a deep fryer and roughly a 4'x2' worksurface.
We're working up a "formal" catering menu with specific items and prices, but if you're interested in having us provide hors d'ouvres for your next event, let us know. We enjoy being creative and can work with most Mediterranean and Napa/Sonoma-type themes.
Closing Early Wednesday 6 pm
Aldo Coffee Co. will close early at 6pm on Wednesday, March 15 2006, for a private event. We will reopen Thursday morning at 6:30 am. Thank you.
Hey Nike... How 'Bout a Line of Baristawear?
Meant to get a photo of this but we got very busy this afternoon... Andi showed up today wearing a pair of Nike wristbands that she wears playing tennis.
So the mercernary in me says, hmmm... who is creating "barista wear" - functional gear for the professional barista? It seems nobody.
Baristas certainly need comfy shoes with strong support for lateral movement, non-slip soles and stain resistance. And they need aprons with a pocket for your tamper, a waist towel holder and perhaps some small cleaning tools.
The apron could have the names of several sponsors on it - maybe not as cluttered as a NASCAR uni, but something like the Champions league footballers would wear. A big "La Marzocco" across the front, a smaller "Intelligentsia" on one sleeve, "Mediterra" on the other. And of course a Nike swoosh. Such a uni would look sharp, be functional and convey a distinctly "euro" feel.
Plus we'd be the envy of all the other competition baristas in the upcoming Nationals.
Who's on this? How about one of the guys who didn't make the cut on Project Runway... we'd love Santino to create something, as long as it doesn't fall apart.
Dirty White Boys at the Firehouse in the Strip
Our regular customer and longtime chef John (Giovanni) graciously invited us all down to his nephew's place, the Firehouse (Penn Ave. between 23rd and 24th), where John also dabbles in the kitchen.
Many of our staff headed down early last night for appetizers that John was cooking up, but Mel and I couldn't get down there until late, so we didn't have the opportunity to sample any of John's or his nephew's creations. We did try several of the cheeses he works with, one which we'd never heard of - a Gouda/chevre blend that is creamy, a bit sharp and savory at the same time.
Thankfully, we did get to sample some of what's available at the bar. There were a couple of beers we've never seen in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately we already forgot their names - but the one from Kalamazoo (it's the white tap handle) is a big rich chocolate stout, with the emphasis on chocolate. We've never tasted anything quite like it.
The Firehouse features a sharp and engaging bar manager from Cuba who mixed us some drinks we never heard of - nor would we have imagined - in the parts. One was christened the "Dirty White Boy" and comprised Guiness and vanilla vodka. The effect was one of butterscotch to me, but Mel liked the vanilla spike. He also created some sort of an esspresso martini.
We're getting a bit long in the tooth the fancy drinks, but we like the creativity and ingenuity that the Firehouse staff exudes as well as the space, which is comfortable and attractive, contemporary without being too trendy or faddy. We hope to get back there soon for some of John's unique appetizers... not that we get out much these days.
Fair Trade Coffee Isn't the Only Way to Help Coffee Growers
Reason magazine published a great article, titled Absolution in Your Cup, on the truths and fallacies of the Fair Trade Certified designation.
If you, like us, are concerned about sustainable farming and providing growers a liveable income, it's an article well worth reading. It dispels the notion that Fair Trade Certified coffee is the only way to help farmers.
We'll note that our French Roast and several of the varietals we offer here are Fair Trade Certified, most of our coffees are not - but may have cost our roaster as much or more to procure, thus compensating the grower at least as well as if it were Fair Trade.
Our roaster, Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters, deals directly with growers worldwide and has a strong reputation for partnering with growers and paying extremely fairly for quality beans. Even though many of the small independently-owned plantations from whom Intelligentsia buys beans do not qualify for Fair Trade Certified labeling under TransFair USA's somewhat draconian and inflexible rules, the growers who supply Intelligentsia are among the best compensated worldwide.
A couple of excerpts from the article:
Martinez owns a small family farm and produces a high-quality coffee, but none of his beans carry the Fair Trade label. His farm isn’t part of a cooperative, a Fair Trade non-negotiable that disqualifies small, independent farmers, larger family farms, and for that matter any multinational that treats its workers well. “It’s like outlawing private enterprise,” says former SCAA chair Cox, who now serves as president of a coffee consulting company. “What about a medium-sized family-owned farm that’s doing great, treats their employees great? Sorry, they don’t qualify.” In Africa, many coffee farms are organized along tribal, not democratic lines. They’re not eligible either, a problem that has prompted some roasters to charge cultural imperialism.
That assumption, absorbed by at least some of the coffee-drinking public, drives roasters and retailers nuts. They say the idea that coffee without the Fair Trade label is based on coercion penalizes independent farmers who don’t conform to the Fair Trade vision. (They also say consumers who drink only Fair Trade coffee are missing out on some of the best roasts available.) Nick Cho, owner of Murky Coffee in Arlington, Virginia, says customers often ask whether his coffee is Fair Trade, but quality-conscious coffee shops like his would never deal in coffee bought for less than $1.26 a pound. He finds the very suggestion that he’s dealing in cheap beans grating. “You don’t walk into a four-star restaurant and demand to know whether they pay their chefs minimum wage,” says Cho.
That assumption, absorbed by at least some of the coffee-drinking public, drives roasters and retailers nuts. They say the idea that coffee without the Fair Trade label is based on coercion penalizes independent farmers who don’t conform to the Fair Trade vision. (They also say consumers who drink only Fair Trade coffee are missing out on some of the best roasts available.) Nick Cho, owner of Murky Coffee in Arlington, Virginia, says customers often ask whether his coffee is Fair Trade, but quality-conscious coffee shops like his would never deal in coffee bought for less than $1.26 a pound. He finds the very suggestion that he’s dealing in cheap beans grating. “You don’t walk into a four-star restaurant and demand to know whether they pay their chefs minimum wage,” says Cho.
Couldn't have said it better ourselves. Thanks also to Nick for the pointing the article out to us.
Rest in Peace Aunt Zora
Melanie's aunt Zora, who was loved by everyone in the shop, passed on Monday morning from cancer. In addition to being Melanie's aunt, Zora also baked the apricot tortes we'd been serving up prior to last Christmas. Zora had just become a first-time grandmother a few weeks ago. She was 62. Our sympathy and love goes to Larry, Lara, Dan, Alison and baby Ava.
Belle to Compete in 2006 National Barista Championships
Belle says she's ready. We believe her.
Although she finished a strong fourth in the Mid-Atlantic Regionals a couple weeks ago, it's going to be considerably more difficult to get into the finals during the SCAA conference and US Barista Championships in Charlotte.
First off, there are more than twice the number of competitors she faced in February. And all the regional champions have a bye, just like UConn and Villanova in the Big East Tourney. Belle will have to go through at least one additional round that the champs won't.
Second, many of the national roasters will be competing - and all of them have rooms in the roasteries or stores set up for cupping, which can be devoted to training and practice. Even our idol, St. Nick of Murky, just created a cupping room which will be used to train his store's two entrants.
We don't have anything of the sort for practice. The only time Belle can practice is when we don't have any customers during her shifts. Which isn't all that often.
So the odds are stacked against our Belle. But we have confidence. We already know she can pour a great shot and make beautiful steamed milk and microfoam for cappys. The basics of flavor are covered. It's all the presentation stuff we need to work through.
After much debate, we're taking a different gameplan into this next competition. We're going to work on some new signature drinks, possibly something that flames or uses liquid nitrogen. We're also going to practice role playing in Italian. We figure the judges will be both impressed by her presentation in a foreign language, while not understanding a word, which gives us more leeway. Finally, instead of having Belle play recorded music for her performance, since she's a piano player, we're going to see if she can pour espresso with one hand and play keyboards with the other.
Bet the judges have never seen that.
Fred Drinks Aldo Coffee
Thanks, Chris for sending the photo.
We're all looking forward to warmer weather when our waterbowl doesn't turn into a big ice block and Fred and all our other pooch visitors don't have to worry about the salt on the sidewalks. Soon...
Our Master Plan For Making Washington Road the First All-Blogging Commercial District in US
Perhaps we're over-caffeinated... or just crazy. But we have this grand vision of a Washington Road corridor jammed full of shoppers every single day and night of the year. It would be like having First Friday or the Mt. Lebanon Car Show all the time.
And all of those people will be drinking lattes and cappys and espressos and smoothies.
Here's the plan...
Over the next few months we are going to try to convince every single business on Washington Road to create a blog. We know some won't, but we're going to try anyway. Some businesses here are just made for it, others may not be... but we believe this is a project that's worth a try - the first fully-blogging shopping district in the USA.
The ultimate goal is that if you can think of a word for something that's sold on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon, it will be on page one of Google searches for "thatword + Pittsburgh". And maybe even "thatword" on its own (like we did for bicerin, when our puny little shop had #2 on Google - it's now #20 as we write this). The result is when anyone Googles anything on Pittsburgh, some Washington Road emporium pops up in the top 10.
To that end, we're planning on hosting a business blog session in the coffeehouse the evening of Wednesday, May 24, which, if all goes right, will be sponsored by Stormhoek Wines of South Africa (long story there). If the sponsorship doesn't go through, we'll probably still hold this, but the day/time may change.
This event will only be open to business owners and marketers along the Washington Road business district from the school down to Bower Hill and selected bloggers we'll be inviting to help explain things (and who wouldn't forgive us if we didn't include them in an event with free booze).
Btw, "selected blogger" = regular customer who blogs. So if you're not yet in that crowd with Professor Madison, Venky, Matt, and a handful of others, you've got about 10 weeks ;-)
So mark your calendars, Wednesday, May 24th, 6:30.
Espresso in Brighton Heights
We wanted to offer a tip of the hat to some neighbors who deserve support from North Siders looking for a quality espresso experience.
The Vault in Brighton Heights came up in conversation with Aaron of Murky Coffee backstage at last weekend's Mid-Atlantic Regional Barista Championships. Had we been given the tip from most other people we might have disregarded it. But considering Aaron is no regular barista and Murky is no regular coffeehouse, we decided to take a drive over late Monday to see for ourselves.
The Vault is at 3615 California Ave. in Brighton Heights (that's a right turn from the connector if you're coming off Ohio River Blvd.) in a small commercial corridor in a residential area.
It's a great space. Striking colors, multi-level design with lots of conversation areas. A nifty U-shaped bar with diner stools - the kind you can spin on. We didn't try the soup but there are several on the menu and the black bean smelled great. We did have a macchiato and a decaf cappy served up by Drew. Both were very good. They use Orinoco Roasters out of Maryland, which we'd heard of but had never tasted before, so it was nice to get the opportunity.
Much like our Intelligentsia Black Cat is designed for use on the La Marzocca Linea espresso maker, Orinoco's beans are created for Nuova Simonelli equipment - and the one they've got at the Vault is a three-grouphead beauty of a monster. That alone tells us that the Vault's owners know what they're doing.
So if you're up on the North Side and too busy (or lazy) to get down to our joint, we'll happily recommend the Vault as a solid alternative.
Happy Baba Marta!
I was reminded that today is Baba Marta by Venera, who remembered to bring in a martinitsa this afternoon.
In Bulgaria, during the days before March 1, you'll see hundreds of vendors selling martinitsas on every commercial street in every town. The idea is to buy a bunch, then on March 1, you give them to your friends and family. You wear it until you see the first stork of the season, then you throw your martinitsa on a tree. The red represents blood, the white represents snow. And if you follow the ritual, you are ensured good health for the year.
Well, you have to admit, Americans have some silly traditions too. "Yes, every fourth Thursday of November we get up to watch a TV program featuring balloons of commercial cartoon characters navigating around lightposts..."
We first met Venera late last spring when she brought her daughter in for lunch. She's a Bulgarian native, so when she learned I'd (Rich) spent a couple of months in Sofia on a work assignment, we found quite a bit to talk about. She was in again just a couple of weeks ago and I told her I'd have a couple of martinitsa in the store. Unfortunately, I left mine on my office desk at home. But Venera remembered! Blogodarya, Venera!
Our excitement for Belle and Andi over the weekend resulted in some long posts. But one thing we forgot to mention was the incredible support shown by the Intelligentsia folks who were attending. Ellie Matusak even flew in from Chicago on Sunday to see Belle compete in the finals.
Ellie was kind enough to agree to drill Belle in Chicago before the event, giving her a feel for what the competition pressure would be like. Belle's composure was noted by most of the judges and we're certain Ellie's efforts helped on that account.
While we have the usual customer/supplier tiffs common to every business now and then, it is both the quality of the Intelligentsia product and the operation - the people, training and support - that were the reasons we chose them to begin with.
Pittsburgh Represented in Barista Championships
We're back from CoffeeFest and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Barista Championships.
Belle finished a strong fourth and we later learned she was in second place overall going into the finals. Which we suppose makes her for the moment the second best barista in Pennsylvania. But the top dog in Pittsburgh and Western PA. We can live with that ;-)
Andi may have had the more difficult challenge since she was competing not just within the Mid-Atlantic region but against national competitors for the Latte Art title. Her competition included several baristas who'd already competed nationally, including several from the Pacific Northwest, California, the Carolinas and Chicago. Andi placed eighth overall.
We learned in backstage conversations with several past winners and competitors that they may include a trip up here soon to see what's happening in the Pittsburgh espresso scene as we're now on the map as a city with cafes that can compete with the best baristas in the country.
The national championships coming up in Charlotte the first week of April. We might be there.
More Great Baristas Means More Great Coffee Places
For some time now we've offered the "Heroes and Legends" links at the bottom right so you know where to go for great coffee when you're traveling. Here are some other recommendations:
All the folks we've met this weekend in DC use great beans and have great barista skills. We'd be happy and comfortable sipping a cappy at any of the shops who sent competitors to this year's Mid-Atlantic Regional Barista Competition.
So we're going to list them all in hopes that you'll get to try some or all of these shops in your travels. (Note: 2006 MARBC Finalists are listed in Boldface)
B3 (Belle Battista the Barista), Aldo Coffee Co., Mt. Lebanon, PA (but you knew that)
Michele Granitz, Max Crema's, Fleetwood, PA
Troy Reynard, Cosmic Cup Coffee, Easton, PA
Chris Murcado and David George, Crescent Moon Coffee, Mullica Hill, NJ
Jay Caragay* and Darius Lewis, Jay's Shave Ice & Coffee, Timonium, MD
Jote Menkir and Thaybo Richardson, Mayorga Coffee Roasters, Rockville, MD
Kevin Dupree, The Cup, Bel Air, MD
Jesse Cooper and Johnny Boucher, Tryst Coffeehouse, Washington, DC
Katie Cargulio and Ryan Goodrow, Murky Coffee, Arlington, VA.
Brian Rice, Caffe Driade, Chapel Hill, NC
Russell Grimmet, Cup A Joe, Chapel Hill, NC
Daryn Berlin, Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, NC
Lena Abed, Open Eye Cafe, Carrboro, NC
(are you getting the sense like we are that Research Triangle, NC is becoming the new Portland, OR when it comes to coffee?)
John Lewis, Grinders Coffee, Couer d'Alene, ID
Heather Perry, Coffee Klatch, San Dimas, CA
*We'll add that Jay has been the most kindest and most helpful guy with great tips for Belle - and had the funniest presentation. His was the one we mentioned yesterday as being choreographed to his music. During Nick's interviewing, Jay explained his rationale for participating in the championships as follows: "One of my staff was supposed to be here instead." Jay is also one of the founders of the Barista Guild.
Belle Advances to Finals of Mid-Atlantic Regional Barista Competition
Our Belle is also Belle of the Ball here in DC as both the second youngest competitor and one of only two women to make the finals of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Barista Championships.
The championships will be held on Sunday at noon.
Belle matched her technical skills and creativity against baristas from Maryland, New Jersey, DC and the Philly area. She won over the judges with her fluid technical competence, the taste and consistency of her espressos and cappuccinos and in the creativity exhibited in her signature drink, a "reverse" macchiato of fig-infused milk marked with espresso and served in glasses rimmed with hazelnut and raw sugar.
All competitors must work with the same grinder and espresso machine, but unlike the latte art contest, the competitors may choose their own coffee, milk and other ingredients. Each competitor is required to make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks of their choosing within a fifteen minute time period.
Competitors must not only have technical competence and the ability to pull great shots, they must also prove themselves as people-friendly servers. The rules require that competitors personally serve the four judges and talk them throughout the entire 15 minute process (competitors are all miked for this purpose).
Competitors also choose their "performance music". This gets interesting - one competitor had his entire routine choreographic to his music. Belle chose one of the CDs from the store, which features many of the songs used in Fellini's movies.
As anyone who's done public speaking can attest, fifteen minutes is a long time to talk. It's especially difficult to fill 15 minutes talking about your coffee drinks. So competitors engage the judges with anecdotes and small talk for "fill". Belle discussed her recent marriage to Frank, her grandmother's napkins and her rationale to go with dried fruit as her theme.
Her enthusiasm, knowledge, skills and charm got her through the first cut. Hopefully it's enough to help her win the grand prize tomorrow, but the competition is extremely talented. Like Andi in the Latte Art Competition, whether Belle wins it all or not is less important than how she's grown professionally simply from preparing for this competition. And by competing and making the finals, she's making new friends, growing in the barista community and establishing her credentials in the coffee business.
Congratulations Belle, we're proud of you and delighted for you.
Andi Advances to Finals of Latte Art Competition
Andi was one of 26 baristas competing in the Millrock Latte Art Competition being held at Coffee Fest in DC. Five baristas from Fridays and five from Saturday advanced to the finals to be held tomorrow.
Contestants had five minutes of prep time to get used to the grinder and espresso maker. They then had five minutes to try to make as many artful lattes as they could. Andi pulled off three beautiful lattes, two rosettas and a heart, with more than 20 seconds to spare.
It wasn't that long ago that Andi would be nervous to try latte art with anyone watching over her shoulder. Now, she can pull off great-looking drinks with an audience of hundreds of spectators and four hard-to-please judges watching her every move.
Whether Andi wins it all tomorrow isn't all that important to us (although with a $1000 prize for winning, we're sure winning is on Andi's mind). For us to watch her growth into a professional with the confidence and ability to compete and score well at this level is an amazing award for both Andi and all her colleagues at Aldo Coffee Co.
Coffee Fest Day 1
It's our first day at Coffee Fest in DC. While Andi and Belle prepared for their Saturday competitions by evaluating today's competitors in the latte art and overall barista skills contests, Melanie appeared to impress the judges in the signature drink competition.
Half the signature drink competitors did their thing today, the other half will go tomorrow. While the judges weren't forthcoming about the chances of any individuals advance, both judges did note they liked the taste of the Aldo Alexander. We'll find out if it wins the $1000 top prize tomorrow.
We'll have more photos of Andi and Belle's challenges tomorrow as well.
Hope things are as fun and exciting back in Pittsburgh!
Dear Alpo: About Your Musical Taste, Blog Breath...
As a followup to our post on the PG's Songs About Pittsburgh contest, we've received some interesting email.
There's a general rule of retail marketing that suggests you never take sides and don't create issues that might cause anyone to dislike you. Seems in some people's minds we crossed the line on the song competition. In addition to being a cafe, we're people too and we do have opinions.
We continue to believe there's plenty to sell about Pittsburgh without having to rely on mentioning the Steelers. We love it here, even during the seven months that Big Ben is biking helmetless instead of playing QB.
That said, we're going to take the rare step of changing our critique of Jimmy Sapienza's "I Love Pittsburgh" because we've learned there are like a zillion versions of it, some of which don't mention the Steelers or any other sports team.
So we're happy to announce that Jimmy's fan club - and Jimmy - can rest easy because we're changing our vote and throwing it behind "I Love Pittsburgh". We've also offered an invite for Jimmy to perform here.
Granted, we still haven't heard many of the versions without the sports teams mentioned. But we're an Italian coffeehouse and Jimmy is Italian and that's gotta count for something. Capice?
Mid-Atlantic Barista Championships This Weekend
Belle will be competing against 19 other baristas for All-Around Honors and a custom engraved iPod. We're the only Pittsburgh joint in the competition. There are two other coffeehouses from PA (Easton & Fleetwood), five from Maryland, four from North Carolina, two each from DC and Virginia, one each from Joisey, Idaho and California (from San Dimas no less... do Bill and Ted have something up their sleeve?)
Whether or not any of our staff ends up with hardware doesn't matter to us as much as seeing them exhibit their dedication to making great espresso. All of our staff is encouraged to work hard to get to the level where they can compete nationally. Several others could have gone down and competed this week, but we need people to work, so we're leaving the shop in the capable hands of Lois, Cara, Petra, Therese and the new kids, Frank and Lauren. We already know Lois is going to Vegas later this year to compete herself.
We wish everyone the best of luck.
Singing About Pittsburgh - Do We Need This?
This morning the PG wants us to vote among five songs that will become the new 'anthem' for Pittsburgh. The idea seems to be to have one of these songs adopted in time for this summer's All-Star Game. Millions of people - all potential tourists - will have this song in their ears and on their lips creating a cascading crescendo of renewed pride in our town.
To frame this competition, the PG provided a list of popular city songs (what, no "Dirty Water???"). Unfortunately, there's not an "I Left My Heart in PNC Park" or "I'm in a Pittsburgh State of Mind" among the entries below. We listened to all five. Here are our thoughts:
"Pittsburgh" - the 30 second long intro, with a Sly Stone "Family Affair" groove, seems like it was done for one of those WTAE commercials where the smiling anchors are placed in various landmarks around town. Some lyric snippets: "Where you can catch a game on the shores of fame, and catch a night in a city so bright"... "You can go to the Strip and move your hips." "You've got a friend in PA and Pittsburgh too." Triple yoi.
"The Pride of Pittsburgh" - sounds like something the Convention & Visitors Bureau hired an ad agency to do. The very first line refers to the "City of Champions". The cliches pile up from there.
"This Place Where I Come From" - now we're getting somewhere. Interesting imagery of barges and rivers and industry. Small towns, valleys, farmlands... getting it done. It has sort of Mellencamp feel to it in both lyrical and musical construction. You couldn't see Tony Bennett singing it, but you could see Springsteen (or Joe Gruschecky) giving it a go.
"I Love Pittsburgh" - this is live recording by Jimmy Sapienza, opens by mentioning every other town's signature song, then immediately lists every Pittsburgh sports team. Is that what we're selling? Jimmy sings that "You can ride the subway" without mentioning you can only do so from the South Hills. Lyrics like "big time with a small town heart" will win some fans. There's a bit of a boozy lounge feel to the song and if it became popular, it would be a karaoke hit. "Look a pothole."
"Shot and a Beer Town" - if it were George Thorogood or Tom Waits performing this 15 years ago, it would've been a hit. This is a pretty good song. "In this shot and a beer town, people keep on toiling, the bridges shine just over the Kensington sky". It's the type of song you'd expect to hear on an album like "Nebraska". However, it's not the kind of happy, bouncy singalong tune that you'd use to promote a city. It's too introspective and thoughtful for that - and you'd want to listen to it with a shot and a beer.
Shucks. We Didn't Win Powerball. We Can't Buy the Pirates.
Which means we won't be opening up 165 new Aldo Coffee locations this year. We won't be trying to rename PNC Park or building the Aldo Coffee Igloo for the Pens.
Somebody in Nebraska won. It seems they were the only winner of the $365 million.
With that kind of money, could you buy Nebraska?
Hopefully the winners will use a good chunk of their winnings to do something that benefits a lot of people. Hopefully something that creates jobs and opportunities. But not all of it - we'd save a couple million for world travel and retirement.
Better luck next drawing.
Mike & Mike Followup
Turns out Friday morning's live broadcast of ESPN's "Mike & Mike Show" at Molly's wasn't as disruptive as we'd been warned. There were no huge lines waiting to get in. There were no noticable drunks afterwards. Other than the fact that all parking spaces on the street were taken by 6am, there was little evidence that anything special was happening.
Although the whole thing took place at Molly's, we did have a small role in the success of the event. Molly's ran out of coffee quickly and early. We ended up brewing five gallons of coffee and toting it across the street. Turns out not everyone wanted Guinness and Jameson that early in the day.
Melanie got a couple of signed postcards from the show's hosts. And both Melanie and Cara managed to get both Mikes to say the coffee was very good.
Friday Commuter Alert: Get an Early Start. Mike & Mike Show Coming to Molly's Friday at 6am. Parking Nightmare Expected. We'll Be Opening Early.
The popular ESPN radio morning show "Mike & Mike" will be broadcast from Molly Brannigan's in Mt. Lebanon this Friday. The show is normally broadcast from 6-10am. We understand Molly's doors will open at 6am. Fast Willie Parker is being promoted as a live guest on the show.
We understand that in other venues, the live Mike & Mike Show has drawn more than a thousand fans. Obviously a thousand people can't fit into Molly's. Where they'll end up is a mystery to us.
All of which means you can expect parking will be a nightmare Friday morning and that Washington Road will have an unusually high level of traffic during rush hour. Business will essentially come to a standstill since nobody will be able to find a parking space on the street, and probably not in the garage either - so if you're commuting downtown, better get an early jump on finding a spot. And if you've got an appointment that morning at the court or doctor's or dentist's office... good luck.
But rather than harp on the downside of this event, we've decided to do something else to capitalize on it... we're opening extra early. We'll be here by 5:30, perhaps even earlier, to serve coffee to everyone waiting in line to get into Molly's.
So What Are You Going to Do This Sunday?
Hockey's off for a couple of weeks (not like most of us will miss it, except for watching Crosby).
But you've still got Cincinnati vs. Pitt and West Virginia vs. Georgetown. The Pebble Beach Pro-Am. And of course, the Winter Olympics - luge, ski jumping and snowboarding all start on Sunday. That's not a bad menu of options.
But it not quite the same, is it? Not after the past few weeks the Steelers put together.
We recommend using Sunday to get a head start on your taxes. After all, pitchers and catchers report in eight days and we have a feeling this year might be worth watching.
Making Bicerin at Home
Seems the Today Show crew did a feature on Bicerin this morning. And we're getting requests for recipes on how to make it.
The "authentic" recipe is as follows:
1.5 oz. espresso
1.5 oz. heated drinking chocolate (not instant cocoa mix)
1.5 oz. cream
It's important that all the coffee and chocolate remain hot. Using a heated demitasse cup, pour espresso first, layer the chocolate on top of the espresso and then layer the cream on top of that.
However, if you don't have drinking chocolate or an espresso machine, here's a reasonable facsimile that tastes almost as good, but lacks the authentic "layered" presentation:
2 oz. part strong coffee
1 oz. good chocolate syrup (Ghiradelli would work OK)
1 oz. heavy cream
dollop whipped cream
Mix the syrup with the cream and heat to point just before boiling. Pour over coffee and top with the whipped cream.
Then again, if you have $500 you're not using, you could buy one of these.
YET ANOTHER RECIPE (added 2/14):
This one is a bit more complicated than the simplified version above, but will more closely resemble the 'authentic' version of the drinking chocolate (it's the version Melanie gave the PG for publication is this Sunday's paper):
Bicerin: For four servings
3 oz heavy cream For the chocolate: Heat milk and cream slowly over low heat, stiring frequently, until steaming, being careful not to scorch it. Add the chopped chocolate, vanilla, and salt to the steaming milk. Stir constantly over heat until it begins to boil. Remove from heat. Assemble the drink immediately: In a 6-8 oz. glass or cup, layer equal amount of espresso/coffee (2 oz.) and drinking chocolate (2 oz). Top with cold whipped cream and serve immediately
3 oz whole milk
3 oz finely chopped or ground dark chocolate
1/2 tsp vanilla
tiny dash of salt
8 oz hot espresso or very dark, strong hot coffee
lightly sweetened whipped ceam
3 oz heavy cream
For the chocolate: Heat milk and cream slowly over low heat, stiring frequently, until steaming, being careful not to scorch it.
Add the chopped chocolate, vanilla, and salt to the steaming milk. Stir constantly over heat until it begins to boil. Remove from heat. Assemble the drink immediately: In a 6-8 oz. glass or cup, layer equal amount of espresso/coffee (2 oz.) and drinking chocolate (2 oz). Top with cold whipped cream and serve immediately
"I'm Going to Kennywood"
This was the fifth time Melanie and I were in a city celebrating a Super Bowl win. Difference is all of Melanie's were here while I had three in NYC ('68 Jets, 86' & '90 Giants) plus the '01 Pats in addition to tonight. And I will happily concede that Pittsburgh celebrates better than NYC or Boston. So congrats also to all in Steelers Nation for being the NFL's best fans.
We watched the game over at Cara's. And if you think she's loud in the store...
Best line we heard all night was Mike Logan telling Andrew Stockey post-game, "This is Pittsburgh. Where am I going? I'm going to Kennywood!"
Second best line came from Mick Jagger on introducing "Satisfaction", noting that, "We could've played this one at Super Bowl I."
It's a great night to be in Pittsburgh.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?
Weird Steeler Blog? Weird, Yes. Steeler Blog, No.
Ever since we put the links to the new Steeler videos up last week, we've been experiencing a surge in search engine traffic. Most of the Steeler-related searches have something to do with "Here We Go Song Lyrics".
And we're #1. How about that. We weren't even trying.
Then again, it seems nobody else was either.
#2 is from a lawyer in New Mexico. #3 is from Ohio. And #4 is from the creative director for AccuWeather. It's not until #5 that you get a blog from Pittsburgh... and it's a tech blog at that.
It would appear that actual Steelers blogs are not "weird" enough to merit a high listing.
You Steelers bloggers need to try harder. There's plenty of weirdness to go around in this town.
Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice
It was a somewhat eventful Friday night for Therese and Belle, who got to serve their first movie star.
If you couldn't guess by the headline, Michael Keaton stopped by around 7pm last night and had a latte. As is our policy with celebrities, we don't approach them to take posed photos unless they volunteer. We just take photos of their cups after they leave.
We also used this headline to summon him back because Mr. Keaton left his book behind. Looked like he'd just bought it, so no telling if he just forgot it or wasn't grabbed by the first few pages.
Last night also marked the start of our music calendar for the new year. Josh Moyer entertained with a mix of originals and covers evoking John Mayer-style blues/pop. We'll be having Josh back later this Spring. Good stuff.
If you're in the market for something different than the usual chips and dip for the game tomorrow, we'll be making some of our cannelloni bean dip and foccacia crisps for take out, so come by this afternoon if you want to buy some.
Old Baristas Never Die, They Just Hang Out in Paris
Once we have word on whether either/both have found gigs slinging espresso in some bourgeois street cafe, we'll pass that on so you can visit should you be in Paris.
Meantime, we're jealous.
Wagering Beans on SBXL
A couple of days ago we made an offer to Victrola Coffee in Seattle to wager 5 lbs of beans on the outcome of next week's Super Bowl.
We haven't heard back yet, so we're offering a chance for other Seattle-based coffeehouses to take us up on the wager.
It's possible we haven't heard back yet because we're not roasters ourselves, which sort of makes this a bit less emotionally intense - after all, if Victrola lost, they'd be serving the same Intelligentsia Black Cat blend we serve here. And as you know, that's roasted in Chicago, not Pittsburgh. Most of their customers would know that.
Still, we're hoping Victrola will accept the bet out of civic pride. They're one of Seattle's best and most respected coffeehouse/roasters, and we could do a lot worse than having to serve their beans for a day should the Seahawks trump our Steelers. But there are numerous other good coffeehouses in the area. Hell, we'll even take a retailer serving Stumptown.
But not Starbucks or any of their subsidiaries. Gotta draw the line there.
Any takers? Drop us an email if interested - aldo AT aldocoffee DOT com.
Better than a Cup of Cheddar
We were going to send this off to "Overheard in Pittsburgh" but decided to keep it for ourselves. Everything is intellectual property these days you know...
Monday afternoon, Belle was making one of our Black & Gold Lattes™ for a customer and in casual conversation, commented on how she's noticed that Pittsburghers seem to lap up anything related to the Steelers.
Customer: "Where are you from?"
Belle: "I grew up near Green Bay."
Customer: "Well, I guess this beats a cheese latte, doesn't it?"
Aldo on CD
We received an email this morning that made us do a double take.
The subject line was "Music from ALDO". Since we haven't gone the Starbucks route by licensing music we play here, we were intrigued about who was behind the CD.
Turns out he's a guitarist from Philly. Guess he decided to mail this to everyone he could find named Aldo.
The samples we played sound terrific. I suppose we're going to have to talk to him about playing here if we can afford it. Aldo at Aldo's. That should cause a number of folks to do double takes.
Big Ben's Blog Team Getting Lazy
No, Big Ben did not assume victory over the Broncos, but you wouldn't know it by looking at his blog.
Note the date on both posts. Gotta love that cache feature at Google.
We'd hoped that with two weeks between games we'd all get some "insider" thoughts, but appears that won't be forthcoming.
Maybe we need to convince Coach Cowher to start blogging.
Anyway, go Black & Gold!
Black & Gold Lattes All Around
Two more weeks of football talk. And who could ask for more?
Opportunists that we are (hey, who said that?), over the weekend Melanie tweaked our Latte Dolce Aldo into something called the Black & Gold Latte (which to me means something more like a Guiness and Tetley's, but you'd have to go to Molly's for that).
Silly as it sounds, the Black & Gold Latte been selling like crazy - several times the sales of the Latte Dolce Aldo even though it's almost the same drink. It's a great drink if you like caramel in your latte.
That's something you have to love about this town. When the Steelers are hot (and sometimes even if not) all a merchant needs to do is add some black and gold to the mix and voila! more sales. It doesn't work like that in New York. Or Boston. Or pretty much anywhere we've lived or traveled. But it makes perfect sense in Pittsburgh, the only city with official colors - and fans that travel better than any others.
Good thing we don't have a liquor license or there would be Goldschlager all over the place.
Given the success of Peppi's "Roethlisburger", we imagine somewhere in town there's an Irish bar doing brisk business selling "Joey" Porter or even "Heath" Miller Lites. And it wouldn't surprise us to see
Kaufman's Macy's selling Levi's Gardockers khakis.
And of course, there's the Alan Fanecannoli, which we'll do in time for SBXL.
Some Ridiculous Ideas for the Multitasking Steelers Fan
Why not expand that experience by going online during the game as well.
For starters, there will be a thread on Fark for the games, just like there was last week. We can pretty much guarantee there will be plenty of cursing (although Fark's filters are known for some pretty creative substitutions to common vulgarities), but reading Fark while watching the game gets you laughing.
It's already too late to sign up for the Official Steelers Bulletin Board so you can't post about this Sunday's game while it's happening (try next week), but you can read comments from everyone else who's there. You can also try the SteelersFever forum, which seems pretty active as well as the Trib's fan forum. And you should be able to sign up for the Steeler boards at ESPN, although there doesn't seem to be as much happening as on the local boards.
Of course, you can send Ben Roethlisberger your best wishes by posting to his blog.
Not to take a play out of the Terrell Owens' celebration manual, but couldn't somebody sneak Ben a Blackberry or Treo so he could blog from the sidelines during the game? Wouldn't that be the coolest thing...
And finally, to get revved up before the game (not that you need it), here are some recent fan-created Steelers videos posted to YouTube for your enjoyment:
Here We Go (note: current images, but uses last year's song, although Cedric Wilson's photo shows up when the lyrics mention Plaxico).
Enjoy. And go Steelers.
Maybe We Shouldn't Have Taken the Christmas Tree Down
The staff re-decorated the store again last night, this time in Steelers Black & Gold. Had we left the tree up, who knows what would've been hanging there this morning.
This city-wide Steelers mania is still pretty weird for someone who wasn't raised here. I remember NYC went bonkers over the '69 Mets, but every championship since has been sort of ho-hum. But have to admit, it's fun.
We're debating whether to do the (Alan) Fane-cannolis for tomorrow... the game starts at 3pm, right before we close. But... if Steelers win tomorrow, we may do a Super Bowl party for customers who don't have other plans. We were thinking of watching it there ourselves anyway... HDTV and all.
Better Than a Dollar Taped to the Wall
Now On MySpace: Invasion of the Espresso Slingers
Almost all local musicians, it seems, use MySpace to promote their bands and build a fan base. Something like 50 million or so people worldwide, mostly teens and college kids, but other ages too, hang out at MySpace.
Those numbers are why Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace last month.
A couple of weeks ago, as part of our new plan to encourage local (read: talented but not requiring a cover charge to you) musicians to more easily find us, we put up our own MySpace page. It's currently still only two pages - a home page and one blog entry on our compensation policy for musicians.
Last night we were adding some photos and checking other MySpace sites for "Pittsburgh". Lo and behold, we're not a smart and innovative as we thought - we found another local coffeehouse is already there: Affogato.
Kudos to the folks at Affogato for some heads-up use of this community-building tool. We haven't been up there yet, but looks like they've got their act together - they've already got 55 "friends" on MySpace who enjoy the atmosphere.
But we've still got Squidoo.
Some People Are Particular About Their Cups
We had a strange encounter yesterday.
To frame this story, we have been trying to find a better way to create less garbage. Through talking to other coffeehouse owners on some of the industry bulletin boards, we were pointed to a new takeout cup manufactured by Dart. Using this new cup meant we would no longer need those cardboard cup sleeves we've been using.
All well and good, especially as the new cups are actually more environmentally friendly than the coated paper cup/cardboard sleeve we'd been using (more on that in a later post).
But there was one thing we didn't consider. Some people like having the cardboard sleeve.
Why? Because Starbucks uses them. And a customer actually said to us, "I want a cup sleeve so people will think I'm carrying a Starbucks."
We try to please everybody. We gave them a sleeve.
Another Intelligentsia Outlet Coming to Pittsburgh
We hear the Strip will soon be getting another coffeehouse, this one called "Intermezzo". Not sure when it's opening, but they, like us, will be serving Intelligentsia coffees.
We doubt it'll have any effect on La Prima in the Strip, which is all but an institution, and for US standards, what you'd call a "pure" espresso joint - no frou frou, just good espresso and cappys. Their customers wouldn't have it any other way. It's why we like them. But, for the latte fans (and espresso drinkers who want things a little more posh), Intermezzo should be a great option and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Practice Makes... Um, More Practice
Sarah from Intelligentsia was in yesterday to help train some of our newer baristas on refining their art skills. And while everyone has the crema and microfoam down pat (no bubbles, slightly sweet) there's still some work to do on technique.
If you've ever tried to do latte art, it's very counterintuitive. Hard to explain, but there's a point in pouring when you have to do three things at all once: from your steady pour, about halfway through you have to tip the pitcher down into the cup, speed up the pour, then "push" the pitcher back and forth in small movements to create the swirls that make a rosetta or heart, then in a final flourish when you don't think there's enough milkfoam left, run a stem through the middle of your creation.
Anyway, Petra, Belle and Therese were getting the hang of it by the end of the afternoon. I, on the other hand, was painting Rorschach blotches. If you move your cursor over the photos, you'll see a brief explanation of each try.
One of these days I have to add a separate gallery for the good ones and the mistakes. And one of these days you will see me behind the La Marzocco... but don't tell Melanie or she'll start giving me regular shifts.
Coffee Lover Asks When We're Opening in Riyadh
The world has really become very, very small.
Received this comment this morning from a gentleman named Saud, who was replying to a post from last February:
I want (to) ask if the aldocoffee Have A Branch In Saudi Arabia
If Not What About In Future. Thx
Sorry to say there's only one Aldo Coffee Co. at the moment, in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, six miles south of Pittsburgh. Riyadh is not in our expansion plans. Then again, neither are London, Paris or Rome.
Saud, if we can ask a favor, if go to a Starbucks in Riyadh, let us know if they use the Arabic word for 20 or just "Extra Large" for the big cups. And whether they serve mostly Arabic (Yemeni, Ethiopian, etc.) coffees or coffee from around the world. Now that we've started the conversation, we're intrigued.
Btw, in replying to this, we found a neat site called of all things, Macchiato.com, that lets you figure out distances between major world cities. Cool.
Baristas in Training
One of Intelligentsia's top trainers will be back in this afternoon to work with some of our new staff and help brush up skills for the folks who will be competing in DC next month.
This is a big deal as it's the first time a barista competition will be held in the Mid-Atlantic. While Seattle and Chicago have been hosting these competitions for awhile, there hadn't been much interest in doing so in the East. That changed when some baristas from murkycoffee in DC began winning the contests. The always ebullient and helpful Nick Cho of murkycoffee will be hosting and judging the event.
We're serious that every cup we serve should look as good as it tastes, but it's still a learning process with lots of practice involved. We get better at it everyday, which is pretty much the best we can hope for. Hope you agree.
Aldo Coffee Now Included in Curriculum
Wonder if we can get royalties for that? More important, wonder what he's saying about us? Hmmm...
Blogging for Business With Robert Scoble
The following post has absolutely nothing to do with coffee. Geek alert from Rich ahead...
The third (some might say second) most famous person at Microsoft is in town for a couple of days to talk about blogs. Robert Scoble, whose blog is often credited for 'humanizing' Microsoft, was the guest of honor at the Pittsburgh Bloggers Blogfest last night at Finnegan's Wake and will be a featured panelist tonight at a seminar organized by TiE on blogs and podcasts (which is already sold out).
I mention this for a couple of reasons. One, we've been cited a few times as some sort of innovator in the area for being a small business that uses a blog as our website. It works for us. It might not for you, but if you're interested in learning more about the power of blogs, Robert Scoble and co-author Shel Israel have just launched a book from their popular blog called "Naked Conversations" (and Venky pointed out to me last night that my name is in the acknowledgements, which is pretty cool). There are numerous examples of how blogs can be used to build business and connect with customers. If you're interested in starting one for your business, this book is a great place to start.
Second is that Venky, bless his heart, managed to corral Mr. Scoble and eight others and convince them to make the trip from the North Side down to Mt. Lebanon to visit the shop for some late night coffee and cocoa (and thanks to Therese for agreeing to stay on past closing).
Mike Madison and Mike Woycheck were among the group that came over. What followed was a hugely entertaining and informative mix of tech and legal talk on such things as the internet in China, intellectual property, and how Bill Gates conducts staff meetings (sort of like six minute dating it seems).
I didn't have a camera with, but luckily Mike Woycheck took some shots that he'll email later which we'll post. I was too embarrased to ask Robert to use his brand new camera phone for the task.
We believe Robert liked his cocoa with marshmallows and seemed impressed we had HDTV (although the Pitt/Rutgers game wasn't on!). Now if we can only get a gratuitous mention in his blog and the 20,000+ that read it daily...
Have a Heart, Howie
In fact, she's taking Howie everywhere. Our email inbox has about a dozen photos of Howie. And they keep coming.
We can't seem to even get a photo of latte art without him being in it.
This may not appear to you to be a problem. But trust us, it is. In the time it takes to pose Howie with the cup, precious seconds elapse and the microfoam starts to disintegrate before the photo is taken. Then when we post the photos, the Coffee Geek guys start commenting on how the foam looks less than ideal and we don't know what we're doing... so somebody needs to stop monkeying around, if you know what we mean...
Now With HDTV
We finally caved and got the box for HDTV. The clincher for the decision was New Year's Day when we all of sudden became Pittsburgh's first "sports coffeehouse" - neither Molly's nor The Saloon were open last Sunday afternoon and we had the only TV on Washington Road. Naturally customers wanted to watch football.
So much for Starbuck's Howard Schultz's "third place" concept where TVs would be inviolate (although it should be noted that in Lakeland, FL, there is a SBUX with a TV that shows a fireplace burning. Florida... go figure).
Anyway, although we now have the HDTV, we've found there's really not much to watch in that format. Adelphia currently carries about a dozen HD channels - the local CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS affiliates (although local news is not broadcast in HD), ESPN and ESPN2, FoxSports, Discovery and a couple of HD-specific channels.
There are currently no HD options for CNN, MSNBC or Fox News - and those are the channels we typically tune in so customers at the counter or sitting at tables can read the closed captioning of breaking stories. We rarely play audio from the TV, except during Steelers games or on nights when everyone agrees to watch the same thing.
It's an expensive proposition, which means we may not keep it for very long. So enjoy it while it lasts.
Italian Baker Sends McD's Running from Apulia
Good to know that Italians still know how to eat well.
After a five-year battle, the fast-food giant McDonald’s has retreated from a southern Italian town, defeated by the sheer wholesomeness of a local baker’s bread.
The closure of McDonald’s in Altamura, Apulia, was hailed yesterday as a victory for European cuisine against globalised fast food.
Luigi Digesù, the baker, said that he had not set out to force McDonald’s to close down in any “bellicose spirit”. He had merely offered the 65,000 residents tasty filled panini — bread rolls — which they overwhelmingly preferred to hamburgers and chicken nuggets. “It is a question of free choice,” Signor Digesù said.
We may have to place a call to Apulia to get some of these panini recipes.
With all the busyness of the holidays, we neglected to mention that Belle got married last week. The wedding was up in "the middle of nowhere", Wisconsin, and fortunately, did not conflict with the Packers game. Our congratulations to Belle and Frank. We look forward to hearing all the details and seeing the photos when you come back next week.
As a token celebration, Cara had her newest best friend perform a serenade to the new couple.
Cara has promised us a series of travelogue photos of her monkey's first vacation trip, up to Chatauqua, NY. Perhaps the monkey will soon have his own blog.
Happy Anniversary to Us
Today is officially one year in business.
Last year on this date we opened with no food, no music, an extremely temperamental espresso machine and a lot of sawdust. We raked in $24.67.
Thanks to everyone who's been in and tried our espresso, panini, cannoli and everything else. And an extra special thank you to those who came back again and again.
We promised an email with a special offer to our regulars. It's coming, but not today. We've decided to "celebrate" our anniversary the first two weeks of next year. Like a Christmas birthday it tends to get lost with all the holiday hubbub. So stayed tuned and we'll let you know what's happening.
Craig Carothers at Kaufman's
We were in South Hills Village exchanging some gifts this afternoon when we heard a song playing in Kaufman's that sounded awfully familiar.
It was a pleasant surprise. Craig, wherever you're playing tonight, know that when Kaufman's plays your music, you must be doing OK.
Another Student Recital Tonight
Last week was student piano recitals, this week is anything goes. We're expecting to hear vocals, brass, woodwinds, strings, maybe even percussion.
And nothing beats a seven-year old on percussion.
Anyway, same deal as last week - if you're here for the show, stick to the North end, if you're here for takeout or to relax, use the South end.
Tonight's recitals start at 7pm and will last until approximately 8:30pm.
Our First Anniversary This Thursday
If you're a regular customer and on our email list, expect to get a special offer from us tomorrow.
If you're not yet a regular customer or on our email list, you still have today and tomorrow to get on it.
Show Me the Mon(k)ey
We meant to post this before Christmas, but didn't get the chance. At our first Aldo Coffee Christmas party, Melanie asked that everyone bring an inexpensive ornament and we'd have a "Chinese grab bag".
Everyone walked into Molly's with their ornament snugly secure in a lovely little gift bags. All except Rich (the bag would've put the cost over the $10 limit). So while all the prettily packaged ornaments were being fought over, Rich's tissue-wrapped ornament sat alone on the table.
Cara drew the last number and had the opportunity to "steal" any of the beautiful ornaments that were already claimed. And many were quite remarkable, especially for being under $10.
Trusting her instinct, she instead opted for the lonely, unselected ornament. And it became the talk of the evening.
The monkey is now a proud member of Cara's family and we have been assured that it will accompany them on road trips.
UPDATE: Cara has christened the monkey "Howie".
Closing at 4pm Today. Merry Christmas!
We wish all of our customers and neighbors the merriest Christmas and happiest Hanukkah ever.
We'll be closed for the holiday at 4pm on Christmas Eve and all day Christmas. We'll be back at 8 am on Monday, realizing that almost everyone will be sleeping in that day.
Proud Parents 'Preciate Piano Prodigies
For most of the students it was their first time playing in public (although the "home" crowd was extremely appreciative of all efforts). The kids seemed to cover just about every Christmas and Winter classic we could think of and they all did extremely well.
Thanks to Jay Weaver for recommending us and for all the parents, relatives and friends who stopped by for coffee and dessert while waiting for their progeny to take the stage.
Create Your Own Gift Basket
If you're looking for a last minute gift, we invite you to come in and create your own Aldo Coffee Co. gift basket.
We have several sizes and styles of empty woven baskets to choose from. Pick the one you want and then start filling it up with stuff like:
- cappucino almonds
- chocolate espresso beans
- chocolate cherries
- Ghiradelli chocolates
- Republic of Tea tins
- travel mugs
- demitasse sets
- coffee mugs
- and, of course, a pound of our whole bean or fresh ground coffee.
You pay for only the items you choose, not the basket. And we'll decorate your basket and wrap it up for you at no charge so it's ready to give.
Offer runs until 4pm this Saturday or until baskets run out.
No, Not That Mark Shuttleworth
We're getting tons of hits from the UK today. Seems that "Mark Shuttleworth" is very popular over there at the moment. And somehow our posts on "our" Mark Shuttleworth - the local jazz guitarist who plays here often - have become part of the joke.
If I'm Mark Shuttleworth, Mt. Lebanon jazz guitarist, I'd be thinking about a UK tour, pronto. Strike while the iron is hot.
Student Recital Tonight
We'll be hosting a student piano recital tonight beginning at 7pm. We're expecting 40+ students and parents, so we'll be "closing off" the north room and entrance for the recital. Please use the south entrance after 7pm (the one next to Dr. Good's).
Recognizing tomorrow night may be your last night of rest and relaxation, we're going mellow - no scheduled entertainment. Just come on in and relax to some Christmas tunes.
The Art of Panini
While searching for some inspiration to help us develop a new turkey panini, we came across an interesting post on "When in Rome" from a Japanese perspective (we think). Here's an excerpt from the post, where the author writing about panini in Rome vs. sandwiches in New York:
"They are, to my delight, all pre-made. I've always hated the fact that most sandwiches in New York are custom made. Many things tend to be custom made in New York in order to accommodate the residents who are from many different cultural backgrounds. New Yorkers do not trust deli chefs to make a decent sandwich. The chefs in New York are, in many ways, not artists, but mere laborers, or even machines that execute the order exactly as they are told to. I do not like to tell them what to do. I want them to tell me what they think is good. I want them to present a piece of creativity with confidence to me. Every Roman chef is an artist who presents his or her creation with pride. I like that."
There's a lot of truth to that. It's only in the US (OK, Canada too) that you get the "can you substitute this for that" and "I'd like that on the side" and "can you do that without mayo?". In Europe, for the most part, you just expect the person putting together your dish knows what they're doing - because they usually do.
We could go on a long rant about how "more = good" in most of America and why chains are so popular here vs. the rest of the world. But we won't. Instead, we'll just ask you to trust us. There's a reason why tuna is paired with olive tapenade and artichoke on ciabattina. And there's a reason for every other panino we prepare.
Except maybe the turkey. We're working on that one.
Site Issues - Typepad Growing Pains
Seems many folks trying to access this site between Thursday evening and late Friday encountered either a 404 error or could not view any posts after December 9.
Our site authoring and hosting service, TypePad, has been publicly hammered by numerous bloggers for problems they've been having recently. These problems appear to be directly tied to TypePad's astounding rate of growth.
We're staying put with TypePad for now. For us the positives of using their product far outweigh the negatives, and we're not operating any ecommerce, so it's not like we're losing business over a day's outage. We're confident things will be fixed for the better. We've had conversations with key folks over there. They're smart and they really care about what they're doing and they don't make excuses. Exactly the types of folks we enjoy doing business with.
But... Rich is working on another platform, WordPress, for a client. And if this isn't just a blip and problems keep happening, we will have to consider a change.
Visit Our Online Store at Squidoo
The idea is that lens creators bring their own passion and viewpoint on whatever topic they wish and then link to other sources of information resulting in a sort of "central location" for information on their area of interest - their "lens" on the topic.
Rich had already done a "lens" for his trade show consulting business. It was painless enough to put together, so we decided to do another for coffee, resulting in the Pittsburgh Espresso Community site.
The goal of the Pittsburgh Espresso Community lens is less to promote Aldo Coffee Co. and more to educate our region on specialty coffee, whether you wish to drink it out or experiment with home roasting and brewing. We think the more people know about coffee, the better it is for us, and the better it'll be for those independents who really care about what they're serving up, whether here in Mt. Lebanon, up in the North Hills or downtown. We also hope that along the way more people in our area, young and old, become interested in the trade skills of the professional barista.
Squidoo also lets lens creators put together an online store. We've resisted selling a lot of paraphanalia in our store so far because of space and aesthetic reasons. But we also understand that part of espresso and coffee education is directing people to buy the appropriate items that will allow for better extraction and presentation of coffee.
In our Squidoo online store we feature items that are among the best reviewed in each category by CoffeeGeek. These include home espresso machines, burr grinders, demitasse, vacuum pots, French presses and recipe books among other items.
As Squidoo users are currently limited to only what's featured on Amazon, we can't offer everything we'd like. But it's a start. And apparently people are already buying, based on our increasing lens rank.
So whomever you are (we don't get to see who made purchases - it's all aggregated across the Squidoo universe), thank you!
The Problem With Automated Cappuccino Machines
1. Put in your coin (click the coin)
2. Wait for your drink, when it appears click it.
3. When the text box comes up, click on "apri".
4. See what's inside the machine.
For those not familiar with Italian:
Bleah! = Bleah!
Fa schifo = disgusting
Controlla il distributore = (check) the control panel
Apri = open
Manda questo scherzo ai tuoi amici = link that sends this joke to your friends
We Hope Everyone Is More Cheerful Than Last Monday
Having lived mostly in the NY and Boston metros, I (Rich) still don't quite get the community psychology where so many people's moods are directly tied to the outcome of Steeler games. Melanie has tried to explain it to me, but it still seems odd.
In talking with other local business owners, there does seem to be a direct correllation between the outcome of Steeler games and Monday business (or Tuesday following an MNF game). And last Monday, it was very apparent up and down Washington Road - a lack of cheer that not even the best, perkiest cappuccino could alleviate.
I suppose part of this is that in NY and Boston, if the team lost, there was a momentary blip in "the force", but then everyone quickly found something else to do. It's not quite the same here in Pittsburgh.
The only times I've seen people more morose were after the Red Sox vs. Bucky Dent and then against the '86 Mets. Those two losses did put Boston into a serious funk. But for the most part, when one season ended in NY or Boston, there were always two or more other teams in other sports to root for.
With yesterday's win and both the Chargers and Chiefs losing, the Steelers are back in the position of controlling their own destiny, sort of. They own the tiebreaker with the Chargers (who still have to play the Colts) and because of the way the NFL determines tiebreakers, they also have the advantage over the Chiefs - for now.
Hopefully everyone will be much happier today.
"Christmas Wreath" Latte Recipe
We'll be sharing some festive house, staff and customer recipes for holiday drinks over the next couple of weeks for you to try. If you have a recipe you'd like to share here, let us know.
You won't find some of these recipes in our store, since we don't have a liquor license. Like this one, which uses rum:
CHRISTMAS WREATH LATTE
For one 12oz drink
Two 1oz shots espresso (we recommend Black Cat, of course)
1 cup Steamed half and half (or whole milk) for latte preparation
2 tsbp white chocolate syrup (Ghiradelli or similar)
1 jigger (1.5 oz) of good rum (white or gold, not dark)
Green Creme de Menthe
Make the latte, adding rum before adding the milkfoam. Drizzle the creme de menthe in a circle on top of the milkfoam. Sprinkle colored jimmies onto the creme de menthe circle.
This can also be made as an 8oz cappuccino, using one shot espresso, less milk (3/4 cup cappy style milkfoam) and 1oz liquor.
New Beans Are In: Cruz del Sur & Celebration Blend
We've got a couple of new blends we've been serving this week - also for sale by the pound (beans or we'll grind to your liking).
Cruz del Sur(TM), Peru, offers sweet and delicate fruit combined with notes of semi-sweet chocolate. The flavors are held together cleanly and without interference - it's seamless and refreshing. The acidity is buoyant and round. The satiny body is balanced and supportive. Overall an extremely pleasant cup.
Celebration Blend is our seasonal special for the Holidays. It's characterized by great complexity and richness of flavor. Well-placed but moderate spiciness permeates the cup, accenting the subtle dried fruit and chocolate notes that take center stage. A pleasing molasses sweetness ties the blend together. At times its concentrated character is reminiscent of a great port wine.
We've been drinking both at home (one of the bennies of ownership!) and while the two are very different, they are both wonderful in their own way and have made it to our top five favorites.
Btw, either would make a wonderful Christmas or Hannukah gift for someone you care for or a hostess gift for wherever you're having Christmas dinner this year.
You Don't Know What You're Missing
Right now he's finishing up a Leo Kottke-esque treatment of "Blackbird"... no wait, it's turning into a half Richie Havens/half Hendrix finale...
The man deserves an audience. What's a little snow in the forecast? You're Steelers Fans! C'mon out and play, Mt. Lebanon! You have another hour - Ken plays until 8pm. And... it's free. No excuses.
Stay Warm & Dry With Ken Karsh Tonight
Ken Karsh will help you forget about the weather. He'll be playing some hot jazz from 6-8pm tonight. Ken's recent CD, Ventana, has received solid reviews from jazz enthusiasts. Here are a handful of links:
Admission is free, courtesy of the Washington Road Business Association.
Come out, support your local musicians. Especially the really good ones!
Like espresso? Been to Europe?
We're looking to fill some shifts. While our ideal person is a brilliant espresso artist who's worked as a barista in Europe, we recognize that's a bit optimistic.
You: Love espresso. Appreciate excellence. Enjoy face-to-face customer service. Are willing and eager to learn to be the best barista in Pittsburgh. If you know your way around tea, all the better.
Us: Will provide training. Will provide a great atmosphere with a terrific team. After training, will enter the right person into regional and national barista competitions. Will pay competive wages plus give you the skills to earn nice tips.
Finally Some New Music
We went shopping last week for some new CDs. Well, new to us, anyway. To augment our jazz, Italian and opera collection for the holidays, we picked up some "different" Christmas music, more Flamenco, some Italian folk artists (including something bizzare called "music of the mafia", which, if you speak Italian, is pretty interesting) and for true cafe atmosphere, some Edith Piaf (that's her on the left) and Serge Gainsbourg.
Since there are no longer any good used CD shops in the South Hills, we went online to Second Spin, which has a phenomenal selection of guaranteed used CDs at extremely fair prices. So if you're still listening to discs instead of MP3s, we highly recommend Second Spin to replace those remaining vinyl LPs and cassettes of your faves.
P.S. They also buy at fair prices.
Ken Karsch and Julieta Quintet This Week
We're excited to finally get jazz guitar guru Ken Karsch back here after the scheduling mix-up a couple of weeks ago. He'll be here this Thursday from 6-8pm, so stop by after you're done shopping on Washington Road. More on Ken later in the week.
We also have the Julieta Quintet playing on Friday. When we find out who/what they play, we'll let you know more.
Both shows are free.
Bomb Squad on Washington Road - Sunday Closing Early
When the bomb squad tells you to get out, you listen.
Apparently there is an unidentified package sitting out in front of Molly's. Washington Road has been closed off.
So we're closing. No point hanging around if nobody can get to us anyway.
Film at 11?
UPDATE (11:30am): Speculation from those gathering at the corner of Cedar is that the suitcase may belong to Corned Beef & Curry, who played at Molly's last night. Sorry we don't have photos - Melanie was chased out before she could grab the camera and logon. Anyway, appears that this story is now on the news as several reporters have shown up.
LATER THAT DAY: They blew the thing up. It wasn't an explosive - although there was apparently a mess of wires and duct tape. And yes, someone did call to say that it was theirs and they left it behind by mistake. Excitement is now over. Here's what the Trib had to say - and Melanie is quoted. And the KDKA video showing the briefcase exploding.
Pittsburgh 11th Best City in World for Business Trips
Hopefully the O'Connor administration and Joe McGrath of the GPCVB will make hay with it.
The Economist recently published its "Business Trip Index", in which it identifies those cities most likely to be a desirable business trip destination.
"The Economist Intelligence Unit has developed a new way of assessing and comparing locations as potential venues for business travel. It takes into consideration both cost-related and environmental factors, which together form an overview of how desirable a destination is likely to be to the business traveller. The index looks at 127 cities worldwide."
Of these 127 cities, Pittsburgh is ranked 11th worldwide. Right between two Australian locations we all want to travel to, Melbourne (10) and Sydney (12). Pittsburgh was ranked the third best city in the U.S. The top US city was Honolulu, which ranked fifth overall.
Interestingly, the three cities that top the list are all Canadian. But presence of NHL hockey was not part of the methodology.
Given the study covered only 127 cities worldwide, we should be extremely thankful that Pittsburgh even made the list of cities under consideration. That we ranked eleventh is testament that all is not gloom and doom - we have something to sell to the world. Our town.
For that we should be thankful.
Of course, there are those among us who will continue to be pessimistic. And for them, the Economist study offers something to chew on:.
Cleveland was ranked sixth.
Au Revoir Steve (Or Baristas in Love)
Today is Steve's last day slinging espresso with us. He's headed off to France to re-join Lorene, who's been missing him in the weeks since she returned home after spending the summer with us.
We had a small going away party Sunday night at Claddagh's in SouthSideWorks, where Steve and fellow baristas were joined by regular customers Tom the Writer and George the Photographer for the sendoff.
Steve may try to get a gig in an espresso joint in Paris, so he's getting all the latte art practice he can in his few final hours with us. If you'd like to say goodbye, he'll be behind the Linea from noon-5pm this afternoon.
Baristas in Pajamas
Neighbors should help neighbors, we always say.
So it was with that spirit in mind that we teamed up with our next-door neighbor Zzz's for some cross-promotion during last Thursday's Mt. Lebanon Light Up Night.
If you'd like your own pair - or know someone who would appreciate these lovely sleeping togs or other designer sleepwear or loungewear - you can find them at Zzz's, 671 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, 412.341.9050, open M-F, 10-6, Thursday 10-8, Saturday 10-3. Tell Heidi we sent you.
We were scratching our heads on Thursday night when Ken Karsh didn't show up and Bob Banjaree from Corned Beef & Curry did. Turns out Ken was scheduled to play at the Warhol that night and nobody told us. So apologies for the misguided entertainment listing for Thursday, but we really didn't know.
We finally met Ken last night. He stopped in, along with Mark Shuttleworth, to hang out with Bill Purse (last night's performers) and talk about guitars, equipment and the iffy state of live music in the South Hills over coffee, soup and panini.
Ken was a bit chagrined about the scheduling mix-up, noting that he had informed the business association about the conflict. He'll be back to play here sometime in the next four weeks - but we don't know exactly when yet.
Pittsburgh's Winter Will Arrive In About Three Hours
This is going to be one of those days that tests your wardrobe selection. 60+ degrees in the morning, close to freezing by mid-afternoon.
We're still in denial, as evidenced by our "Summer Cooler" menu board. Melanie has been working on some new menu boards which we hope to have up by end of the week. But hey, why not have one last summer smoothie this morning before you permanently don that wool overcoat?
Of course there's always soup. Tomato Fennel Bisque today.
Los Immortales and Mushroom Cappuccino
If you haven't tried Los Immortales yet, you're missing out. It's always a treat for us when our roaster sends us a bag of this World Exclusive from El Salvador. It's become one of our favorite drip brews.
Also on tap for today, we launched our Mushroom Cappuccino soup a couple of days ahead of schedule. We make it from a rich domestic mushroom stock then add porcini and herbs. We serve it cappuccino-style, with milkfoam steamed on the Linea. A favorite on both coasts, we believe it's unique to Pittsburgh. Try some for lunch today.
Sad Day on Washington Road
We learned late this morning that our neighbor across the street, Tony Caruso, of Caruso's Pizza, passed away at his home this morning. He was 39.
Our condolences to Frank and Josephine and to the rest of the Caruso family at this extremely difficult time.
Tony had a reputation for being a bit of a character and an acquired taste for some, but he was always kind and giving to us from the moment we opened our doors. It's always a shock losing a neighbor and friend, but so much moreso when you lose one at such a young age.
Fishing for a Deal
Bill the Fisherman had his eye on a new thermos to keep his Aldo House Blend hot during his weekly fishing adventures. So we traded for this massive steelhead Bill caught Monday morning. It was delicious, but we wish we'd had time to invite company - way too much fish for Melanie and I to handle on our own.
We're not looking to start a trend here, so please don't show up carrying a deer carcass to trade for one of our funky tea pots. But if you've got some reputable dynamite venison chili to barter, we could talk.
Dog River Coffee
Christine Hoag, owner of Dog River Coffee in Hood River, Oregon, stopped by on Saturday. Christine is originally from this area and opened Dog River Coffee in the summer of 2004. She is also a judge at the Nortwest Barista Competitions.
As the metro Portland area is right there with Seattle as the most competitive markets for espresso, you have to be extremely good to be successful. So it's always a treat when shop owners from the Pacific Northwest come stop by to talk shop and compare notes.
Plus, Christine may have figured out why our Linea has been acting up lately, which has confounded both us and our service rep.
If you ever find your way up to Hood River, we recommend you stop by Christine's shop.
Big Ben's Blog
Now that Ben Roethlisberger has a few days of rest to look forward to, we hope to see more posts on his blog.
He's added photos he's been taking on his cell phone and suggests he'll make that a regular feature.
We don't know if Ben reads all the comments to his posts, but he gets a lot of them, so if you want to share your thoughts with him, go visit.
Only thing we'd suggest is that as a role model for kids around here, Ben should begin use the spellcheck feature that comes with his TypePad account!
After what seems like weeks of waiting, we finally have soup.
We started today with just one, the Ravioli Tomato Parmagiana (which we'll probably have tomorrow and Saturday too, since it's the only soup we requested that our distributor currently has in stock).
Next week (assuming we get the other soup varieties) we'll have a couple of kettles going, along with our new menu.
Blogging Mt. Lebanon - Now Restricted Territory
Mike Madison is an Aldo Coffee Co. customer, fellow blogger and professor at Pitt. Through his Blog-Lebo site, he's been attempting to enable community discourse on a variety of topics from Mt. Lebo school board elections to local taxes to thoughts on the new Dollar Store on Cochran.
His rationale for engaging in these conversations through Blog-Lebo is best explained through this excerpt from a recent post:
Lebo: Community Blogging
Imagine the kinds of conversations that you have with your neighbor while you're walking around the block, or watching your kids play soccer or baseball, or that you have over coffee at your favorite coffee spot. Now extend that conversation into cyberspace, and sprinkle it with bits and pieces of information about the town that you haven't otherwise come across -- whether via anecdote, or the town magazine, or one of the local papers. Blog-Lebo is an experiment in virtual community conversation.
It's a great idea. While there are millions of blogs, and hundreds focused on cities across the country, very few are specific to suburban municipalities the size of Mt. Lebanon. We're one of only a few such 'burbs to merit blogger attention.
As such we're happy that Mike and his fellow group bloggers are investing their personal time and energy into the project. And we would encourage you to participate as well.
However, encouraging discourse implies some commitment to openness. And Mike has just cut out everyone without a Blogger account from commenting on his posts.
This is a shame as we had joined in on some of the earlier conversations and appreciated being part of the process. But he's now made it a requirement that commenters sign up for Blogger, which is the free Google blog software. We won't do that. Nor would many others who publish on platforms like TypePad (what we're using), WordPress or others.
Mike's rationale for preventing comments is that a number of the comments he'd received to date were from ranting and raving wackos. So while we understand his desire eliminate anonymous commenting, we wish he'd figure out a better way to do so, either through moderating comments before posting, or changing his technology platform. Having an open community discourse is a noble project. Closing it to only those who are Blogger customers defeats that purpose.
How about it Mike? We could make it worth your while to change the process. Would an AM Aldo Card do it?
No Soup For You, Yet.
We met with both the StockPot rep and their local distributor a couple of times over the past month and a half. We sampled a number of the soups and chose six Italian soups, with Wedding Soup being our daily offering, and five others offered as daily specials. We were told we'd be up and running as soon as we got the kettles.
StockPot lived up to its end, delivering the kettles on time. But we haven't heard from our distributor despite repeated followup calls. They're advertising that they're now carrying the StockPot line, but only one of the six soups we've requested is on their list...
Will let you know more as we find out what's happening ourselves. It's frustrating. Meantime, we're still operating off our old menu.
St. Nick of Murky Coffee - A Gift for This Afternoon
Welcome back. Apologies for those of you trying to visit this site yesterday. Our ISP is in South Florida and was hit by Wilma over the weekend. Their generators ran out of fuel yesterday, but thankfully this was fixed last night. They're not expecting full power for another 3-5 days, but have assured us the generators will be sufficient until power is restored.
While on business down in Virginia, I (Rich) had the opportunity to stop into Murky Coffee Tuesday night. If the name rings a bell, that may be because Murky is one of the "Heroes and Legends" listed at the bottom of this page.
Nick Cho owns Murky Coffee and recently opened his second store, this one in Arlington, VA (the original is in downtown DC). He's also a founding member of the Barista Guild, which is establishing codes of conduct for baristi as well as working to elevate the professionalism of the espresso-slinging trade. Nick and his baristi have also been featured on NPR, in numerous coffee magazine articles and on the portafilter.net blog and podcasts.
Both Melanie and I have followed Nick's articles and advice, so as long as I was nearby, I figured it would be a good idea to meet him.
Although I was way behind schedule arriving in the DC area due to the snow in the Laurel Mtns. on the drive down, Nick was still gracious enough to spend a few minutes with me before closing on Tuesday. We talked about a number of things, like preparing baristi for competition (most of his baristi have competed regionally and/or nationally), the advantages/disadvantages of free wireless and developing a "coffee culture" with employees and customers.
During the conversation, Nick noted that he was a "people person" and has tried to ensure his stores remain customer focused while also producing the best possible cup of espresso. While many an increasing number of baristi-owners, particularly out West, immerse themselves in the science and process of extracting perfect espresso crema at the expense of basic customer service, Nick's attitude that you can't forget the customer is refreshing. And, in our view, the only way to run to a business.
I had a double macchiato and also tried their classic cappuccino at the insistence of one of their four baristi. Both drinks were exquisite - and the macchiato even had a small design - something we haven't quite been able to pull off here with regularity yet (then again, not many of our customers order macchiatos).
We know that many of you do business in the DC area on occasion and we strongly urge you to head over to one of Murky Coffee's two shops and try the best espresso in our nation's capital.
Now, about that gift... I was going to buy some roasted beans for Melanie and I to enjoy at home. Nick wouldn't let me buy them. Instead he gave me a 12oz. bag of his Gold Label Selection "Kenya AA auction lot #830 Tegu Cooperative".
Nick is one of only three coffeehouses on the East Coast lucky enough to have acquired some of this limited edition coffee. Now we're the fourth.
We're going to share our good fortune with you. While it's not a lot to work with, we're going to make a couple of half pots this afternoon. If you're in the store between noon and three today, give it a try. I'm drinking a cup as I write this and it's very good - blackcurrant notes stand out among the characteristic spices for which Kenya AA is noted.
Beating the Dreary Pittsburgh Weather
That dank, chilly season is now upon us it seems. Nobody's out walking on Washington Road, except the occasional dog owner and some masochistic joggers. Skies are grey, everything seems wet, even when it's not raining. Having snow is better than this - at least it's prettier. In general, we're looking at five months of yecch.
So what to do to lighten your outlook?
How about a double pumpkin spice or gingerbread latte? A cup of warm cider? One of our fragrant and luscious white teas? A perfect cappuccino with a chocolate biscotti? Or a simple cup of today's specials - Kenya and Organic French Roast, brewed fresh all day.
Get out of your funk and treat yourself to something warm and wonderful. We'll be here all autumn and winter with the perfect concoction to chase away the Pittsburgh blahs.
Underreported - Hurricane Stan's Effect on Coffee Growing Regions
Bloggle reports on the aftermath of Hurricane Stan - the one that didn't hit the US.
Since the storm didn't hit us, it was underreported in our media. But Doug offers some detail on the devastation in Central America and Mexico - his words especially gripping because he'd recently visited those areas.
The regions hardest hit by Stan are the highlands and lower slopes of Sololá, regions around Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan… the same coffee-centered communities that I visited last January. The village of Panabaj is gone... most of its residents buried, and thus they will remain, interred in the mudslides. San Juan La Laguna is forever altered by wide avenues of mudflows. Finca Dos Marias — high in the cloudforest of San Marcos — is cut-off from the rest of the world. Roads leading to the farm were treacherous at the best of times; now they’re impassable, where they still exist.
Doug asks that all of us do what we can to help this region through charities operating there.
We know - Aldo Coffee and just about everyone else on Washington Rd. (and Pittsburgh in general) has been collecting for Katrina for weeks , and we still have commitments into November to keep collecting for local Gulf charities that aren't yet seeing all that Red Cross money.
But as Doug points out, Stan one hits home too - it's up to shops like ours to help farmers in coffee growing regions, so we hope you'll join us in offering some financial aid.
There Is No Such Thing As "Panini Bread"
We swear that ad agencies for national chains - and the chains themselves - must think we are really, really stupid (although the case could be made that the agencies themselves are).
Case in point - Panera Bread is running an ad campaign where they talk about their "panini sandwiches".
This is wrong on a couple of counts. First, in the Italian language, the technically correct definition of the word panini is "little breads". Pan = bread, ini = plural of the masculine diminutive suffix ino. That's covered in the first couple of weeks of Italian 101.
If Panera Bread was trying to say "little bread sandwiches", they should be using the singluar descriptive, not the plural. But what they're saying in their ads is "little breads sandwiches," which hurts the ears of anyone who's Italian or knows something about the language.
Second, after World War II, the concept of the sandwich became more universal throughout Europe, courtesy of our GIs. The Italians had no word for "sandwich" so panino took on that definition as well in the common vernacular. In fact, there is still no other word or synonym in Italian that means "sandwich". Thus, if panino = sandwich, then Panera Breads' use of the plural "panini sandwiches" really means "sandwiches sandwiches".
Sounds dumb, eh? It's simply panino, if you're talking about one, or panini in the plural. No need to add the word "sandwich".
(We should note that the typical Italian panini you'd find in Rome or Verona or Genoa are pretty simple - a meat, a cheese, a veggie, a spread, if that, often just one or two ingredients, but very good ingredients. Point is, they're not overstuffed American sandwiches. And they're not necessarily grilled. Panino are served both cold and grilled - and some Italians consider grilling as "hiding the true flavors". Regardless, Italians don't worry the South Beach diet).
To be fair, it's not just Panera Bread. Taco Bell has been abusing the term "carne asada" for years when they talk about their "Carne Asada Steak" tacos. Carne asada is roast meat. Carne = meat, asada = roasted. That's it. There is no "set" recipe for carne asada, although just about every recipe we've seen includes chile and cumin. Even the meat itself isn't fixed. The beef used might be skirt steak (traditional) or flank steak or top sirloin or even bottom round. But it's just wrong to say, "roast beef steak" (I lived in Mexico for awhile and made this mistake myself the first week).
We're sure you can find other examples of ad agencies and their clients mishandling foreign languages. If you have any, please send them along via the "comments" link below.
Oh, and if it needs saying - there is no such thing as "panini bread". Traditionally, the "pan" in panino has meant "roll" - these might be round (paisano-style), oval (baguette-style) or flat (like ciabattina) but foccacia is used at times, as are other breads. Thus, panini can be made on any bread: baguettes, ciabatta, foccacia - or wheat, white, rye or pumpernickel if you're so inclined (although it's unlikely you'll see those last two in Italy).
Traditionalists may argue about using sliced bread for panini, but with the increasing worldwide popularity of panini, more types of breads are being used in panini preparation in every large Italian city in order to accomodate diverse tastes. There is a cousin of the panini - the tramezzini - which are tiny snack sandwiches made with white bread with the crusts trimmed. These are often served as appetizers with drinks.
So next time you see a restaurant or sandwich joint or bakery that advertises "authentic panini bread", ask them what official measurement they used to determine their bread is small enough to be "authentic" and what old-world ingredients they use make their bread taste like "panini". Then stop back here and share what they told you so we can all get a chuckle.
UPDATE: There's a new restuarant opening on Banksville Road this winter with a big sign outside that says, "Wood Fired Pizza and Paninis". Arrrgh!
The Geometry of Panini
Got a bit of surprise this morning when we started making the day's panini - the bread got fat.
Instead of the longer, narrower ciabattini we'd been getting since we opened, we received a bag of squatter, oval ciabattini.
Our first thought was, "How are we going to make a half panino out of these? It'll be way too small!"
But, before picking up the phone to call Nick, we broke out the tape measure.
Our usual ciabattina was in the neighborhood of 8" long x 4" wide. These new ones were more in the range of 6.5" x 5".
A simple calculation of total area shows that the old panini had 32 inches of total area for fillings while the new ones covered 32.5 inches. This tested out when we started putting the cheeses and meats into the sliced ciabattina - same amounts.
So if your panini looks a little squatter, it's just looks like less, you're really getting the same amount as before, in fact, a tiny bit more.
Roast Beef Lovers Are a Fickle Bunch
On our next trip to Italy, we're going to have to interview some panini shop owners to figure out their formula on how many of each panino variety to make each morning.
It's only when you actually start selling them that the thought might cross your mind, "Gee, I wonder how many of those get tossed at the end of the day."
After a strong start this Spring, we were finding our "9th Street Beef" panino had stopped selling. The last month or so we were selling maybe one a day. Whatever didn't sell was either eaten by our baristas the next day or tossed.
So we decided a week ago to take it off the menu in advance of our new fall menu coming out.
Sure enough, this past week it seemed EVERYBODY wanted roast beef. (And Cara was particularly upset there weren't any leftovers.)
While it was a tasty panino, you have to admit there is nothing very Italian about roast beef and horseradish sauce, even if did have provolone on it.
On the plus side, our North Beach Caprese veggie panino and our veggie specials have picked up steam.
To all you beef fans, while we hear you, the veggie crowd is putting their money where their mouth is - literally. So sorry, but the 9th St. Beef panini isn't coming back unless y'all get organized and start picketing in front the store.
Meantime, we're putting together a new Italian meat special for Thursdays - capicola, mortadella, salami and a bit of prosciutto. Hopefully that will sate your carnivore instincts for now. If it proves particularly popular we'll add it to our daily menu. Besides, there's always our Federal Hill Turkey.
The End of Tomatoes for Now - Menu Changes and Soup Forthcoming
Now that it's autumn, it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to find a good tomato at a fair price. Our own homegrown crop is nearly depleted. By the end of the month the tomatoes arriving in stores will be either:
1) only technically a tomato (sharing same botanical genus, but otherwise awful)
2) acceptable, but outrageously priced
Rather than subject you to those mealy, pink, tasteless excuses for tomatoes that you find nearly everywhere else or have to raise prices to get good tomatoes, we'll be altering our panini menu to take the focus off fresh tomatoes.
As ripe, tasty tomatoes disappear from the shelves, you'll start seeing more emphasis here on seasonal and marinated alternatives, as they do in Italy during their shorter winters.
- our tuna panini will now feature marinated artichokes and olive tapenade
- our turkey panini will now feature roasted red pepper
- our chicken salad panini will continue to feature Roma tomatoes as long as we can continue to get them, although we may occasionally substitute sliced cherry tomatoes, which we can always get ripe.
We are also replacing our roast beef panini with one made from Italian meats and cheeses - smoked ham, mortadella and sweet capicola with provolone and roasted red pepper.
But the biggest change will be the addition of soup to our offerings. We hope to have soups ready to go next week. We'll be offering Italian Wedding Soup every day along with a daily special country Italian soup, like pasta fagioli, ravioli parmesan, bolognese, tomato Florentine and Tuscan vegetable.
We hope you'll like the menu changes. And don't worry. Tomatoes will return next season.
The Slice Is Right - Understanding Prosciutto
We hand-carve our turkey and Angus beef and all our deli meats, in part because we think the texture of our panini is better with a thicker slice. And the hand-carving fits in with our "rustic" country Italian atmosphere. It makes a different sandwich and our customers like it.
But it would be foolhardy for us to try hand-carving prosciutto. The flavor and texture of good prosciutto is enhanced in part through the art of slicing, which is a separate skill from most other meat cutting. We don't have a meat cutter due to space constraints in the kitchen. And it would be silly to spend $800 on one just to slice prosciutto. So we buy ours pre-sliced every few days.
When we can combine our prosciutto shopping with other errands in the Strip, we will make a stop at the PennMac deli counter. They understand the importance of the slicing. After some quick trimming to remove unnecessary fat, their butchers get down to the serious art of perfecting the prosciutto slice.
Each slice is cut thin enough to be almost translucent. Slices are lain side by side, barely overlapping, on deli paper. Once one sheet is covered with a single layer of ham, another sheet is lain on top and the process repeats until the desired weight of the order is achieved.
The overlapping and thinness are vitally important. The thinness is what gives a good prosciutto its texture, which is silky and unlike any other deli meat. The overlapping is what makes it possible to work with in the kitchen.
As the meat is sliced so thin, the individual slices are exceptionally delicate. When there is too much overlap, the slices will stick together and become difficult to separate without tearing. When you work with prosciutto every day, you really learn to appreciate the art of slicing and packaging so that the individual slices maintain their integrity.
Unfortunately, we don't always get to the Strip when PennMac is open. So we've had to figure out where to buy closer to home. We have found two viable options: The Uncommon Market and McGinness.
Of the two, the Uncommon Market is the more consistent. This is probably because the same two meatcutters have been on duty every morning we've shopped there. The slices are almost as thin as PennMac, although they tend to do a bit more overlapping - although you can tell them to make sure the slices barely touch one another.
At McGinness, it's more luck of the draw. It seems everyone there has a hand in the meatcutting operation. And the results show it. We've had some great examples of slicing and some less than great. Our general advice would be to never have your prosciutto cut by anyone with blond hair.
One last note, if you're in the Strip and PennMac is closed (which means all the other delis are closed), resist the temptation to try Wholey's. We did once back in April. While Wholey's had Prosciutto di Parma, they don't know how to slice it. Our order was sliced thick and piled high on a single sheet of deli paper. It was impossible to work with. In fact, Dr. Good next door actually suggested that we were using an inferior brand because it "didn't look like di Parma" and "felt different". It wasn't the ham, it was the slicing. That's how important it is to get it right.
And that's probably more than you'll ever need to ever know about prosciutto.
Community Service Product Review: When the Shark Bites
We had even recommended it to customers who asked about it.
Well, if you were one to whom we recommended it, we apologize.
Seems the manufacturer has not responded to a litany of complaints about the life of the unit's rechargable battery. Like us, many Shark users found their machine's batteries simply wouldn't charge after about six months of use - which, apparently, is all that the manufacturer expects from the NiCad battery pack.
Which makes this nothing more than an expensive disposable floor sweeper.
Au Revoir Lorene
We said goodbye to Lorene last night. She will be returning to her native Paris tomorrow after her all-too-short stay in the US and at Aldo Coffee Co. She loved it here and is hoping to come back soon.
We wish Lorene the best and we'll miss her.
You'll be seeing a couple of new baristas here. Petra just started. She's the redhead you'll see on weekends (photo and bio to come hopefully later this week). We also have Belle in the wings. Although Belle is an American through and through, she has worked as a barista in Europe with Illy, so that puts our euro-quotient back to where it was before Lorene left.
We're always on the lookout for exceptional barista talent. While we'd love to hire more baristas with overseas work experience, it's not a requirement. But with many of our customers being either relatively new to the US themselves and/or having significant travel experience, your knowledge gained from working in other cultures is a big plus.
Cup of Excellence: Las Termopolis, Nicaragua
Las Termopolis review from Intelligentsia:
Vibrant notes of refined sugar and citrus open this cup and segue into crisp notes of melon rind and lemon candy. The body is well constructed and decorated with subtle tones of warm spice and sweet grass, finishing with the pleasant tang of ripe, juicy fruit.
This Cup of Excellence winner won't last long. We encourage you to stop by and give it a try.
Jennie on Katrina: School Uniforms Needed in Baton Rouge
Jennie just wrote us from NY where she's now starting her Master's program, to advise of a Katrina-caused situation that some of you may be able to help out with.
Jennie explains that all public school children in Louisiana are required to wear school uniforms. With many displaced children entering unfamiliar school systems having only what was on their backs when they evacuated New Orleans, they're not able to "fit in" at the moment. With many stores having been flooded, it's difficult to find uniforms locally.
If you work for one of the major department stores (or know someone who does) who may be able to help out, please read below or forward the permalink to this post via email. If you feel like buying a few shorts and shirts, that would also be helpful. Address information is below.
We'll let Jennie's email speak for itself:
Dear Friends and Family,
I hope this message reaches you all well and happy. I would love to hear from you soon!
Knowing all of you as such incredible individuals, I am sure that you have already sent monies and resources down to help with Katrina, so I don't mean to bombard you, but I I recently received an e mail from a mentor teacher of mine, Nancy Scott. She is explaining the ways in which the hurricane is affecting the school I used to work in, Crestworth Middle Magnet School.
Louisiana is near and dear to my heart, and it hurts in many ways that I cannot be there right now. I am working with fellow teachers on both short and long term solutions, as both will be important, so here is the short term request that I have received.
This school alone has received 50 new displaced students and are expecting up to 100 more. I asked Ms. Scott what she needed, and she responded with the e mail below.
In Louisiana, all public school kids must wear uniforms....I am imagining being in the 7th grade, displaced from my home, and one of 50 kids who stand out from the others because they do not have the right clothing.
Ms. Scott and I are starting a drive to collect as many pairs of kacki pants, belts, and polo style shirts (not the brand, just the style) in the colors of navy blue, red, burgandy, and gold. Size wise, it is middle and high school, so just about any size will be utilized.
As her email explains, it is not for lack of effort, but the fact that all of the "mart stores" which sell uniforms are flooded and/or out of stock. If you are able, it would be wonderful if you could send down as much of this inventory as you like. You can purchase it from anywhere...from one shirt to 10 outfits, whatever your pocket allows. I know that Sam's club and Wal-Mart carry fairly inexpensive renditions of this uniform. If you are able to send down something, all you have to do is put it in a box labeled:
Crestwoth Middle Magnet School
c/o Nancy Scott
10650 Ave F
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
If you could also shoot me an email letting me know what you have sent, I will help direct people's questions accordingly. I am hoping all outfits can be shipped out by Monday so these new kids can be quickly accomodated.
I apologize if I am rambling....long, but good day in the big apple. Thank you all, and please e mail or call if you have any questions! Love, Jennie
EMAIL FROM MS.SCOTT:
I would like for you to if you can find them send navy shirts, red shirts, gold shirts, and maroon or burgundy shirts and tan khaki shorts and blue shorts in assorted sizes. The reason is that it is hard to find these down here right now. We have friends, families and others in elementary thru high school and they are in dire need of these uniforms. Ms Clay went out today looking for uniforms and couldn't find any. So if you can help, we would greatly appreciate it. Most of my family got out but right now they are all cluttered up in family apartments and homes. They are not receiving any kind of help for jobs or homes yet. It's kind of hard right now for everyone. But we will keep our heads up. Thank you for all that you do.
Aldo Coffee Blog Getting More Notice
CTBizBlogs did a nice write up on our blog yesterday. We were mildly surprised that Sabine, the post's author, was pretty much dead-on in figuring out why we designed things the way we did.
Plus it's nice for Rich to get some notice in his home state.
Rich is moderating a couple of conference sessions on blogging later this year, one at the Blogging Enterprise Conference in Austin, and then at the International Association of Exposition Managers conference in Atlanta. Rich's main business has been in trade shows and he has been blogging about that for three years now (tsmi.blogs.com). Although the additional attention to what we're doing here at the coffeehouse certainly doesn't hurt, as evidenced in the response we received to being mentioned on Business Week's Blogspotting (and we're waiting on the follow-up print article this Fall).
If you're interested in blogging for your own business, Rich would be happy to talk to you about it.
Stan's Last Wish - A Neighborly Cup O'Joe
We came across this humorous story on Tom Peters' blog. It certainly provides an alternative to the usual "in lieu of flowers" obituary instructions.
Tom Peters: I was both tickled and admiring of an obituary Susan chanced upon in the Vineyard Gazette. The deceased was Stanley Murray, and the guidance to mourners was as follows: "In lieu of flowers, please buy some coffee for the person behind you in line at Dippin' Donuts or Espresso Love and tell them it's from Stan."
We can only hope they have great espresso in Heaven for Stan to enjoy.
Effects of Katrina on Coffee Prices
Reuters reports that large storage facilities containing millions of pounds of coffee may have been damaged in New Orleans in the wake of last week's flooding.
Rodrigo Costa, vice president of institutional sales at Fimat USA, said managed investment funds were active buyers in futures because of the uncertainty of some 1.6 million 60-kg bags of green coffee stored in New Orleans. That represents about 27 percent of all U.S. green coffee stocks.
"You will have a big drawdown of U.S. stocks" if the coffee was damaged by the hurricane, he said. "Whoever had a cushion of one or two months worth of stocks will have to look for coffee somewhere else."
Marketwatch indicates that regardless of the fate of the 1.6 million pounds of beans that are "presumably wet", the price may not fluctuate very much. It appears most likely that prices of "supermarket coffee" may be affected more than the specialty coffees such as what we serve here at Aldo Coffee Co.
You will also likely see the cost of lumber increase as much as 7% due to the loss of millions of board feet of pre-cut lumber that is now waterlogged.
While the availability and price of coffee beans is a relatively insignificant problem in light of the horrific toll on human lives that Katrina exacted in the Gulf region, we wanted to let you know that it's something we are monitoring. We awaiting word from Intelligentsia to determine whether its supplies of green beans were damaged and whether there will be any effects on shipments.
Labor Day Greetings
Today we will be closing at 1 pm.
Enjoy your holiday!
The right (and left) coffee
One of Aldo Coffee's favorite regulars, resident intellectual-conservative and nationally-syndicated columnist Tom Purcell turns his attention today to coffee, politics, Starbucks, and Dunkin' Donuts. Read his Sunday column Politics and Coffee, here.
But you'll have to come into the store to find out why our Cara decorates his table/office with groundhogs. We miss you while you are on the road, Tom.
Our New North Side Friends
Mel and I spent Saturday evening down in the Mexican War Streets at the "launch party" for Pittsburgh Dish. We supplied a couple of airpots of coffee, naturally.
Since it was also a housewarming, we brought along with a bag of Intelligentsia Kenya and a loaf of the ridiculously tasty parmesan pepper bread from Mediterra we usually have on hand in the store on weekends.
Of course I was delighted to talk to Since we had to leave well before the celebrations were over, we told our hosts, Joe and Colleen, that we'd leave the airpots and come back for them after our Sunday restocking trip in the Strip.
About 3:00pm Sunday afternoon, we pull up to get the airpots to learn that Joe and Colleen had drank some that morning and it was still tasty. In fact, when we emptied the last of it from the airpots a full nineteen hours after brewing, it was still steaming hot. Amazing pots, those Fetcos. (We don't recommend drinking old coffee, however. We change our coffee at least every 90 minutes in the store to maintain the best quality, freshness and taste.)
Since Colleen hails from New Haven, about 45 minutes up I-95 from Stamford where I grew up, we compared our horror stories on buying decent wine at a fair price around here, not to mention being able to buy a six pack of something that isn't Bud or Coors Light. We all pretty much agreed that we'd vote for anyone who could overhaul the communistic government-controlled PA Liquor Control Board and replace it with something a bit more capitalistic.
Needless to say, the wines served were great - and you wouldn't find them anywhere in Pittsburgh. Our city has many fine things going for it. But buying booze isn't one of them.
We Have a Winner!
John, who stops by early most weekends while strolling along Washington Road with his wife, baby and dog was first through the door this morning.
Although a regular visitor to the store, John isn't a regular visitor to the blog, so he was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of his drinks was free (a large soy chai latte - and a chocolate cannoli to boot) because our blog had reached 10,000 views after closing late last night.
Thanks for coming John and family, and thanks to all the visitors to aldocoffee.com for stopping by so frequently!
Big Ben Drinks Aldo Coffee?
Not yet. But somebody wearing #7 does.
And no, the kid in the background is not slurping down one of our lattes.
Cara's son Matthew got Ben Roethlisberger to sign a football, which made his day. We hope Ben doesn't see this photo and ask for it back.
We're hoping to get down there ourselves and get Alan Faneca's approval for promoting a black and gold "Fanecannoli".
P.S. 40 blog views to go until some lucky customer gets the free large coffee drink and cannoli.
$1.00 Parking on Saturdays
Did you know that parking in the "T" Garage is only $1.00 on Saturdays from 6am-6pm? Every Saturday? All year long?
Surprisingly, many locals didn't know this. Now you do. Which means you have one less excuse for not enjoying some window shopping on Washington Road. (Ahem... we're still not listed!)
Having a Blast in Mt. Lebanon
We certainly had enough amateur vocalists last night to keep Ken Bott busy, which means Cabaret Aldo will be sticking on the rotation for a bit. We think it'll catch on - everyone wants to be a star, don't they?
Just to make things "safe" and prove that talent was not a requirement, Rich took the mike first, with a suprisingly not completely awful rendition of "Summer Wind". Melanie tried her hand at "Put On a Happy Face" (one octave too high it seemed!)
But it was our customers who stole the show. One gentleman was celebrating his 64th birthday with us and of course sang "When I'm 64". When we ran out of courageous soloists, Nancy from upstairs got several groups together for a few collaborations.
Ken will be back next Friday accompanying Lilly Abreu. Which is a bit surprising since Ken is getting married on Monday to Colleen (who was collecting the requests and looking up all the songs while Ken played). So when you're here next Friday, be sure to congratulate the newlyweds.
P.S. Only 65 viewers to go for the free drink and cannoli (see previous post below), so looks like there will be a winner later today.
First Friday August Best Yet
Third time is the charm. After a good First Friday Mt. Lebanon in June and a disheartening one in July (heat & humidity, no doubt), the August edition was huge. We'd never seen that many folks on Washington Road at one time, not even for the car show.
Tangueros de Ley filled the Commons and Latin and Caribbean bands were playing all corners of the shopping district. Unfortunately we didn't get to check out any of them as we were just too busy - lines 10 to 12 deep at times. We couldn't find the time to get out to take photos - and we couldn't even work the door the first hour the band was on to collect our planned $1 cover charge. So everyone was in for free. Not that we minded as it turned out to be one of our best nights to date.
RJ and Alex brought along Bill Purse to accompany on bass. Bill's backbeat added a richness that further brought out the textures of the two leads. RJ is even thinking about bringing a drummer next time out.
Venky came in last night and posted about meeting Mark Cuban's mom here. I didn't get to meet Venky, but Melanie did. (Note: apparently Venky mistakenly deleted his original post, but put up other one here.)
To Venky's post - I admit I got a kick out of it since Melanie often accuses me of being very parochial about my home territory of Connecticut.
(Geek alert: to non-tech readers, please excuse geekiness that follows)
Then again, maybe Melanie's question was just her way of asking, "How come our we get beaucoup search hits from Google and Yahoo! but are virtually invisible on Mark's IceRocket search engine."
I'll add that my blog on trade show marketing gets a higher listing (#47) on "coffee pittsburgh" than Aldo Coffee Co. does... and ACC is a coffeehouse blog with daily posts. We don't understand how that's even possible (btw, Venky's post is currently #3 on the same search string).
For the record, Cuban graduated from Indiana University. The one in Indiana. Everyone in Connecticut knows that ;-)
Although he did take classes at Pitt as a junior and senior in high school. As everyone in Pittsburgh knows. Including Melanie.
RJ and Alex Tonight
They'll start playing around 8:30 and go through 10:30 tonight. All for a mere $1.00 cover.
An Erlin Update: Home Sweet Home
We received these photos today from Jennie, one of our charter baristas who's now earning a masters at NYU.
Jennie wrote to show us what's been done with the $1,200 you gave during our Benefit for Erlin back in May. It is indeed a new house for Erlin and family - their first with four walls and a roof. We thank you all again for your generosity in supporting Jennie, Erlin and this cause.
(Mouseover each photo for a brief description).
A Typical Day in the Neighborhood
One of the best things about being involved with a business like ours is talking to our frequent customers and getting to know new ones.
Bill the Fisherman informed us that Coach Bill Cowher stopped by for coffee and a muffin on Sunday. News to us. I suppose one reason we didn't know about this earlier is that Andi was managing that shift.
Andi would probably be all over David Beckham if he walked in... but she's not yet up to speed on American football. Although when Melanie asked about it, Andi said, "I thought he looked familiar."
Meantime, Bill Steigerwald comes in and sits down wtih Tom the Columnist to chat about the newspaper business and probe into the Frank Caruso taser incident two weekends ago. As Mr. Steigerwald disappeared into Caruso's Pizza to do his interview, Tom switched gears and started discussing the tax advantages of buying a home in Peters township.
RN Steve got tired of reading a book on JFK and Jackie. He was looking for political intrigue and found only gossip. After chatting up other books he's recently devoured from authors ranging from Irving to Gogol, he abandoned reading the JFK book and offered it to Melanie, who's always in the market for a good gossip tome.
We later discovered that Audrey learned about mini-basil from sitting on our back porch and wondering what smelled. She was inspired to buy and grow her own, which she now cooks with and loves because the tiny leaves offer "just the right hint" of basil for her sauces.
Throughout the day new folks stopped by to purchase AM Aldo Cards because they'd seen Melanie and Cara hawking free coffee on Washington Road last Thursday morning. The best story was from a gentleman who asked if he could get a free cup now because he was on the bus that morning and the driver just wouldn't stop despite repeated demands from passengers.
More or less a typical day in the neighborhood. And we love it.
Another Silly New Toy for the Site
We've just added an new toy to the other toys we've become addicted to on this site.
If you look at the bottom of the right sidebar, you'll note a BlogMap. Under that map is a line that says "Bloggers Nearby: 21" (the number as of 8/1/05). When you click on the "21" up pops a bigger map locating all the other bloggers who've added their blog to the BlogMap system.
Right now we're the only dot in the South Hills. And we're feeling a bit lonely...
We know there are more of you out there, based on the sheer number of blogs at www.pghbloggers.org. Let's see where you're at!
Our First Taste of Los Immortales
Today's varietal is a new one for us, Los Immortales (TM) El Salvador. These beans are exclusively offered by Intelligentsia and we're (luckily for us) the only joint in the area where you can taste them.
The coffee is delicious. Los Immortales beans are some of the highest grown coffee beans in Latin America. Intelligentsia's review states that, "The beans offer a bright yet harmoniously balanced cup with notes of ripe pear and jasmine and a compelling maple-like sweetness." And they're right on with that. Give it a full slosh around your mouth and let it hit both the front, back and sides of your tongue for the full effect.
If you're like us, the maple sweetness may hit you a bit more like brown sugar, which we like better than maple anyway.
We'll be featuring Los Immortales a couple more times in the next week before our only 5-lb. bag runs out. As it's an exclusive, we're not sure if/when we'll be getting more. Hope we do so Mel and I can bring some home with us to supplement the New Guinea.
August Panini Menu Changes
We've made some changes to panini and salad menu effective August 1 (today).
- many new customers have requested this, so we've added a small "side salad" of field greens with tomato, olives and artichoke, no meat.
- our Tuesday special "Hanover St. Giardino" panino will now be served on onion ciabattina instead of wheat bread. The ciabattina a better textural and tastier match for the roasted, grilled and marinated veggies inside.
- prices for many of the half paninis have gone up to better reflect our actual costs. We regret having to do this, but on some of the specials (tuna, club and prosciutto) we were barely covering costs.
- however, you'll also note that prices for many of our whole panini have actually gone down. Where we could pass along savings, we did.
We're also working on "real" printed menus as it looks like we'll be sticking with this one for awhile. A catering menu is coming as well.
About Those Parking Violations...
As many of you know, there was a bit of an altercation across the street last Saturday involving our neighbor Frank Caruso, his wife Josephine, three local police officers and a discharged taser gun.
Apparently the initial cause of the problem was that Frank was alleged to have used the sidewalk cutout in front of Molly's to park so he could pick up his wife. In interviews about the altercation, Frank indicated that many people use the cutout for temporary parking.
There were no police in sight, however. We can only hope that the officer parked there for the purpose of enjoying a couple of slices of Caruso pizza.
PSA: Hot Weather Tips
In the interest of keeping our customers and friends both cool and sexy, we'd like to share this set of beauty tips designed for surviving hot weather in style.
At least we should be thankful we're not in Tuscon.
Aldo would also like to ensure your pets are safe and comfortable, so here's a list for them.
We'd also like to remind you that we've got plenty of refreshing, cold drinks on hand for days like today:
- More than two dozen flavored syrups to make your own fosfato (Italian soda).
- Iced coffees and teas
- Fresh squeezed lemonade
- Coffee frappes
- Fruit smoothies
- We've even been experimenting with some "virgin" smoothies, like pina coladas, mojitos, daiquiris and margaritas that we can create on request. They're a perfect "happy hour" alternative!
And if you're looking for the ultimate Italian cooler you can make at home, try a nice cold Sgropin:
2 oz. grappa (or vodka or rakia)
2 oz. light cream
1 oz. Cointreau
Big scoop lemon ice (granita)
Mint leaves for garnish.
Pour into champagne flute and enjoy!
If we could serve them here, we would...
We Now Have Amenties Offered By Some of the Top Hotels
Recently we read this post from Seth Godin about the W Hotel in San Francisco. We know that the W is cool and San Francisco is cool, therefore the idea must be cool.
So now we too have our own Etch-a-Sketch for your doodling pleasure.
San Francisco has nothing on Mt. Lebanon.
Btw, if you'd like to get serious about your Etch-a-Sketch art, here's a site with some pretty amazing doodling.
For you technophobes, we now have dominoes, too.
How Do You Really Feel About Mt. Lebanon?
Mr. Madison is a law professor at Pitt and has been in town about seven years. Which is about twice as long as your favorite panini guy (moi). While the subhead of the Pittsblog site reads: "Optimism in and around Pittsburgh", it appears the definition of "optimism" seems stretched at times.
Melanie and I aren't the type to use our store as a platform for politics (other than support for Fair Trade) but then again, we're a coffeehouse. And coffeehouses were created to facilitate discussion and debate. So why not embrace our legacy.
Plus, in his screed, Michael was kind enough to call Aldo Coffee Co. "hands-down the most interesting coffeehouse in town" (see his point #2), for which we thank him profusely.
To show our thanks, we'd like to show Michael how interesting we - rather, you, our customers - are.
Who knows, maybe we can start some regular roundtable discussions on topics like this.
Now, if only the author, Steven Baker, had actually mentioned us by name so Google and Yahoo! would know it was us... Maybe if we send him a pound of Black Cat ? Thanks Stephen for changing the post and mentioning us by name. Editing this post also gave me an opportunity to spell your name correctly!
On second thought, maybe we should send Sue the Black Cat?
What's With All Those Buttons on the Right?
You don't need any geekiness to get daily Aldo Coffee Co. news fed right into your MSN or Yahoo! welcome screen.
If you're an MSN user, just click the "My MSN" button. If you're a Yahoo! user, click the "Add to My Yahoo!" button.
For those of you still somewhat unfamiliar with blogging, there's a technology called "RSS" (Really Simple Syndication) that we - and most other blogs - use to send each individual post to an "aggregator".
Some users prefer to visit specific aggregator sites, like Bloglines or Newsgator, which is why we've included buttons for those too. In fact, Newsgator can feed our posts right to your Outlook inbox.
But most of you are more familiar with the MSN and Yahoo! welcome screens that give your weather and news headlines. So now you can add Aldo Coffee Co. to the news you'll receive. We assume AOL will allow this feature at some point, but for now, AOL users can either keep visiting our website, or you can subscribe to Bloglines or Newsgator and get Aldo Coffee Co. posts along with whatever other blogs you wish to subscribe to.
Now you can be the coolest espresso drinker on your block!
A Great First Friday Night and a Goodbye
Washington Ave. was the place to be last night for Mt. Lebanon's second "First Friday" of the summer. Jazz and blues bands stretched from the post office up to the T garage while buskers entertained the kids and their parents. The heat and humidity let up a bit as well which made last night even more spectacular.
After the street acts packed up for the evening, RJ Zimmerman and Alex Kaufman kept the night alive with some virtuoso guitar work. The jazz duo is gaining a strong following and we're glad they've chosen us as their home base for First Fridays.
Sadly, we also said goodbye to Jenny, who's been with us from the start. Jenny is headed to mean old Manhattan on a grant to attend NYU. We wish her the best of luck and will miss her perspective from having been a teacher in Guatemala and Honduras whose students included many children from coffee plantations.
Free Water to Good Dogs
It's been a very popular "watering hole" this week with the heat.
Aldo Sez: This is a popular time for buying puppies. Please remember that new puppies under three months old shouldn't be out and about on the street for long stretches, especially in the heat of summer.
When Good Ideas Go Bad
Seems a few people were upset at the Open Amp Night a week ago last Friday. We're still learning about details, but it sort of goes like this...
-We labeled the evening "Open Amp Night, Hosted by Mark Shuttleworth". We agreed that Mark would be in charge of the event, including confirming all acts before the evening's performance.
-Posters were on display in the store with instructions to call Mark if you were interested in performing.
-Somebody came into the store and asked about playing, apparently figuring that "Open Amp" implied "just show up", not unlike what the Coffee Den was doing. One of our staff incorrectly assumed that was the case and told this person, a guitarist, to "just show up."
-Friday night rolls around and Mark has several acts ready to go, figuring he's done his job and is all set. He's got everyone on a tight schedule.
-The person who was told to "just show up" just showed up. And Mark had no place to put him on the bill without reworking everything. To complicate matters, the unconfirmed guitarist had brought his family to watch.
-Somewhere along the Mark allegedly expressed frustration and said something that was taken by the guitarist as an insult.
-The result was bad feelings about Aldo Coffee Co.
What's disappointing to us is that we didn't learn about this until after the fact. The evening was supposed to be enjoyable for everyone involved and for several people it wasn't.
We take full responsibility. We should have made it clearer to our staff that those interested in perfoming had to call Mark first. We will also rename future "Open Amp" nights to something else that doesn't imply "just show up".
And we should have been monitoring the situation instead of leaving it up to Mark, who was put in an awkward situation because we had hired him specifically to do quality control on the acts prior to allowing them to perform.
A better solution could have been achieved.
Unfortunately we don't have the guitarist's name or contact info. So we don't know who to apologize to. If you know the person, please let us know how to contact him.
Came across a relatively new Pittsburgh blog last night: Pittsburgh Dish.
It's urbane, funny, edgy and provides a look at what's really going on around here. Sort of everything you like about CityPaper without the whining and windmill-tilting.
And they were even kind enough to feature us today. So we're returning the favor. Thanks, Joe & Colleen.
Now With Flickr Slideshow
We added a new toy... a slideshow on Flickr. We'll be changing photos from time to time, but for now you'll find the link in the upper right.
Flickr is an amazing tool, allowing you to share photos not just with friends and family, but with the whole world. If you haven't already, check it out.
Eventually we'd like to put a photo album or some thumbnails up here too, but we'll wait for now... it's getting pretty crowded on this front page and a site redesign isn't in the works for awhile yet.
Defending Your Right to Great Espresso
A little intimidating ya think?
Anyway, lots of people out viewing the antique cars, despite 90-degree heat.
Here are a few other photos...
Traffic gets back to normal at 6pm. Hope to see you later this evening for dessert.
Car Show Tomorrow. Washington Road Closed to Traffic.
Remember, Washington Road will be closed from 8am-6pm tomorrow (Saturday) for the Car Show. The show itself will run from 10am-4pm.
There will be access to both parking garages from side roads, but no traffic will be allowed on Washington Road itself.
We'll be open as usual, 7:30-11:00pm. Not sure if we'll be able to have seating outside, but we'll be here with the air conditioners running.
Bring the family. We've got fresh lemonade and brewed iced tea in addition to espresso, panini, cannoli and pastries.
Heroes & Legends
We've added a set of links at the bottom right for our customers who travel.
It's a list of the most respected independent espresso shops and small chains in major metro areas throughout the country. These shops represent the best owners, roasters and baristas in the business, based on opinions of other owners, roasters, baristas and espresso enthusiasts.
It's a short list at the moment, but one we hope to build on as the demand for remarkable coffee experiences expands beyond the Northwest, Northeast and Chicago.
Hopefully you'll have a chance to meet the award-winning roasters, owners and baristas from these shops during your travels. At the very least, because of the ingrained quality at these shops, you know you'll have an excellent espresso, cappuccino or macchiato regardless who's doing the pouring.
And if you do visit, please let us know what you enjoyed about your experiences. We can't get to all of these shops ourselves, so your observations will help us get better.
Our goal is to offer espresso, service and amenities at least as good as the best in the business. It's a very high bar and one we may never reach, but we'll never stop trying.
Today Washington Road. Tomorrow...
Baristas Gone Wild
Andi, Lois and Therese just returned from Chicago where they participated in some Latte Art training at our roaster, Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters. The training was led by the wonderful and talented Ellie Matusak, first runner-up in the US National Barista competition. They are back and making some nice looking lattes (The rest of us make... err... abstract art, at this point.) We missed them but are glad they participated.
Aldo's Back Porch Now Open
There's still some final painting touches to do, but we finally opened our back porch area (a.k.a. "il Portico Aldo") last night.
It's cozy - only three tables and eight chairs, but if you're looking for a more-or-less authentic al fresco experience (or just need a smoke), you can now go out back for some fresh air. In addition to some flowers, we've got basil, marjoram and sage growing back there, which we hope will become more fragrant as the weather gets warmer.
The patio will open at 10am daily and will close one hour before the store closing time.
New Panini Menu... and Salads, Too!
We've revised our lunch menu.
The major changes are that you'll find our four most popular panini every day along with one daily special panino each day. The Mozz, Tuna and Hanover are still on the menu on different days and we've added our version of a turkey club (with prosciutto instead of bacon) along with a traditional prosciutto and mozzarella panini.
And we've added a couple of salads. Many of you have asked for chicken salad without bread, so we've designed a salad around a big scoop of our Bloomfield chicken salad. We've also added a salad creation that Rich has served many times to friends and family that features pears, prosciutto, walnuts, gorgozola and mesclun.
We hope you enjoy the new offerings.
Seth Godin Just Insulted You
Seth Godin is a highly respected author, speaker and marketer. He's had numerous best-selling business books and is an internet icon.
Like all marketers, he also overreaches on occasion to make a point. In his "Liar's Blog", he posted that at a recent seminar he hosted, attendees had a choice of selecting coffee brewed in one of two coffee machines, a regular old Mr. Coffee and a fancy Capresso.
He had put, in his own words, "decaffeinated swill" in the Mr. Coffee. And since everyone chose coffee from the Capresso, Seth jumps to the conclusion that people don't really care what's being brewed as long as it comes from a fancy schmancy machine with lots of buttons.
But you know better than that. You know it's about the coffee. And had Seth brewed up some fresh Nicarguan Mira Flor instead of the "swill", the smart folks would've been lining up for the Mr. Coffee.
Many of you brew your Black Cat in a simple French press that has neither cord nor "on" button. And we know from custom grinding beans for customers that most of you use drip pots for our house blend and varietals. You don't need a $1,300 sleek machine to enjoy Aldo Coffee at home.
To Seth... since you've got the pocket change to buy a Capresso, why not go all the way and get the La Marzocco Linea we use here in the store. It's a mere $10,000 and has more buttons. And it's the right machine for getting the best espresso shots from our beans. Who cares about having to take out a bank loan when you're talking buttons and knobs, right? Of course you'd have to buy the right grinder to go with it...
Anyway, we've decided to send Seth a couple of bags of Aldo Coffee so he can put that old Mr. Coffee back to work doing what it was meant to do.
Things we hear about the weather
OK, something is wrong in Pittsburgh. Two weeks of gorgeous weather? In April? We Pittsburghers are an odd bunch when it comes to the weather, and Aldo Coffee Co. customers have plenty of things to say.
The top ten things people are saying about the weather:
10) The world must be ending.
9) We are going to pay for this.
8) My parents are visiting and wonder why I always complain about Pittsburgh weather.
7) It's a great night for a ballgame. Too bad we don't have a team.
6) I'm still cold -- can we close the door?
5) It's too hot -- can we open the door?
4) Isn't it nice to see what all the new babies actually look like?
3) It figures the weather is good when I have to stay inside and do taxes.
2) The Penguins would be playing golf about now, anyway.
And the number one thng we hear:
1) We only get 30 days of this a year and we are using them all up now.
Enjoy it while we can!
UPDATE: We're now paying for it. Snow today (April 23) and eight straight days of rain forecasted through next weekend.
Soccer Saturdays at Aldo
Go to just about any coffeehouse in Europe on a Saturday and you'll find one thing in common: the football game is on. Maybe it's a small black and white TV or just the radio, but every Saturday, it's game time.
Following that Euro tradition, we'll have games from the Premiership and other leagues on each and every Saturday morning.
10:00am: Bayern Munich v. M'Gladbach
12:00noon: Manchester United. v. Norwich City
What is it about opening day?
That wonderful feeling of optimism: maybe this will be a great season? The start of spring and the realization that summer is coming (at last)?
Today is the day here in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates will take on the Brewers at PNC Park. And not a cloud in the sky. We can only hope the season would be as bright for our Pirates.
Our pinch-hitter panini maker, Cara, is building some great Pirate Club panini for lunch today. Take one out to the ball game!
The Sign Has Arrived!
After three months of operation, we finally have our sign!
Socially Responsible Investment Fund Drops Starbucks
We found this interesting.
A mutual fund company that invests only in businesses it deems socially responsible has dropped Starbucks Corp., citing the coffee giant's launch of a java liqueur with whiskey maker Jim Beam.
Pax World Funds, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based fund family, steers clear of companies involved in defense or weapons, tobacco, liquor or gambling. It sold 375,000 shares of Starbucks worth an estimated $23.4 million, about 1.6 percent of its Pax World Balanced Fund portfolio, the fund said in a statement released Wednesday.
Starbucks and Jim Beam? The thought of it sounds just awful. Now had it been Bushmills or Jameson's, maybe you'd have something.
Good News, Bad News
Good news: Our sign is supposed to go up today, finally.
Bad news: It's going to be almost 70 degrees and we can't put any tables outside because our sign is going up today.
Hopefully the sign guys get done early so we can offer at least a couple of hours of al fresco sipping and noshing later today.
UPDATE: Sign is now going up tomorrow (if it doesn't rain). So enjoy an outside table while you sip away!
Excuse the Music for a Few Days
Our CD changer is "defective", according to Bose. If you've been the past week, you probably noticed every CD we tried skipped in all five slots of the changer.
The "defective" one is being shipped out today via FedEx and we hope to have a replacement from Bose by end of week. In the meantime, we're relying on the local jazz stations for background music.
Another Catastrophe for Sumatra
An 8.2 quake occured just off Sumatra a couple of hours ago. The quake could be felt from Singapore to Malaysia.
This is the same area of the world that was devastated by the tsmuamis back on December 26 after another quake hit the region.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Sumatra during this time.
Sumatra is one of the world's most important coffee-growing regions. We will keep you apprised of relief efforts being conducted by Coffee Kids and others who direct aid and support to the region in times of need.
For Those Who Like Dark Roasts
And it seems there are a fair number of you... we will now have a featured dark roast coffee each day.
Which means we'll be eliminating flavored coffee on weekdays (we'll still offer it on weekends). We've tried all sorts of flavors, but other than Jamaican Me Crazy, none were big sellers. Dark roasts outsold the flavors every single time.
Also, offering a dark roast everyday allows us to experiment with a broader selection of varietals so you can become familiar with the uniquen tastes of each growing region.
As our Aldo House Blend is more of a medium roast, you'll now find medium roast, dark roast and a selected varietal each day. And on weekends, flavored coffee as well.
Dessert Season Back On
Lent is officially over. For those of you who gave up desserts (and we know who you are!) you can indulge again.
Since you've been avoiding our dessert case, next time you visit you'll find a ridiculously rich chocolate cake, an assortment of lemon and fruit tartlettes and an apricot torte have joined the cheesecakes, cannoli, sfogliatelle and other desserts that have been pining for you in your absence.
If you listen closely, you can hear them calling for you...
Such A Bargain
They say one of the best reasons to live in Pittsburgh is the cost of living.
We did a Google search on sfogliatelle just to see where we came up in the listings (we're currently #10, bottom of first page, not bad!) and we were interested in some of the listings ahead of us.
The first listing was for a small Philadelphia pastry shop chain. We took a look at their online catalog. And we were stunned.
In other words, a half dozen sfogliatelle would cost you at least $45.00. Or as much as $60.00.
That's $7.50 - $10.00 each. Granted there's shipping and packing involved. But $10.00 for a sfogliatelle?
Of course, because you live here, you can feast all the sfogliatelle or cannoli you can eat for a mere $1.50 apiece. Just come by.
There you go. Another reason to live in Pittsburgh.
As Rich was just down in Alexandria and brought a few sfogliatelle down for a client meeting, we're now wondering if we should've charged for delivery!
Cara to Become Panini Gal This Week
Rich (a.k.a. the panini guy) has to go out of town for a few days for his consulting business, so Cara will be preparing the panini from Tues-Thurs this week.
Let her know how well she's doing. We practiced on the chicken salad last week and she got great reviews from customers.
As Rich will be out for a good part of April and May attending trade shows for his clients and association board meetings, we hope Cara is willing to be around quite a bit more.
If she does really well, maybe we can even think about a vacation...
The Mate Laboratory
Last night Ernesto and Julieta came by to help us figure out the best way of volume-brewing mate, which both Ernesto, from Argentina, and Julieta, from Uruguay, drink on a regular basis.
It was an interesting couple of hours trying to get the right color and taste. We tried brewing it in pots, then through one of the drip coffee brewers, and then adding condensed milk as a sweetener for an ersatz "mate latte". It took us about a half a bag of mate to even get the proportions close.
Ernesto promised he would work on this over the weekend at home until he could give us precise measurements.
We wanted to experiment with mate in order to give a more authentic flavor to upcoming "Tango Nights" we're planning. But, in all likelihood, mates are something we may add to the regular menu - provided we can talk Melanie into going with it. Since Jenny and Katie have both lived in Latin America, both are already on board with the idea.
Once Ernesto figures out the exact recipe for brewing quantities for our air pots, we'll experiment with mate lattes using traditional foamed milk instead of the condensed.
It's also served like ice tea in southern South America. And apparently it has health benefits in addition to being a pick-me-up.
Spring Entertainment and Other News
We haven't been able to spend as much time as we'd like on working out our entertainment calendar, but a few things are happening.
First, it looks like we'll be hosting R.J. Zimmerman and Jay Weaver on Friday, March 25 for an evening of acoustic jazz. We'll have more details on that in the next couple of days.
We'll also be talking to Tangueros de Ley about a once-a-month Tango night. Additionally we expect to book additional acts from Peru and Brazil later this spring. We're still looking for some traditional Italian acts.
We were even approached by a steel drum ensemble which we're considering, although we imagine that might be louder than our upstairs neighbors might like. We'll have to see about that one.
One of these performances will be coupled with a fundraiser to help build and furnish a home for a Honduran family of coffee growers that Jenny had met when she was teaching English in one of the many plantation communities in Honduras.
Before we announce any dates we will need to synch with the Mt. Lebanon community calendar so we're not going head-to-head with the street fairs this summer.
On a sad note, we said goodbye to Amy and Conrad, although Conrad has indicated he'll be back in April. Amy's husband received a promotion (good) but has to work Saturdays (bad) and Amy will now be at home with her three children on weekends instead of managing our place. We'll be training a new weekend manager starting this Saturday, so look for her photo here soon.
57 Degrees Today - But It's Just a Tease
The rapidly changing weather reminds us of a Lewis Black routine, which unfortunately we can't reprint on a family-oriented site.
We'll put a table outside today. At least until the rain starts.
Our tulips are already breaking through. We hope they live through tonight when the forecasted springlike showers turn to snow. And tomorrow, when the high temperature will reach all of 24 degrees.
Enjoy the warm weather while you can.
Naming Our Panini
Since we started, a number of people - including most of our staff - have asked why we name our panini for neighborhoods or streets.
There are a couple of reasons. First, it gives us options to add new panino and keep things straight. We now have three veggie panini. So you don't have to ask for the one with eggplant and artichoke vs. the one with eggplant and mozzarella. Just say, Hanover St. or Mulberry St. And if we want something different, like a turkey club, it'll have a name different than the existing turkey panino (the Federal Hill).
Second, Rich is a geography buff. He was the first person in UConn history to get a perfect score on the university's geography test for prospective journalists. And he's been to most of the "Little Italy's" in the country (except for "The Hill" in St. Louis).
Here's the map. We encourage you to visit these Italian neighborhoods. Some are close to Rich's heart - for five years he worked just blocks from Arthur Ave.. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, he lived only 10 minutes from Boston's North End. And growing up he used to drive the 45 minutes from his hometown of Stamford to Wooster St. in New Haven for Frank Pepe and Sally's pizza whenever he had the urge for the best pizza in the country.
A Missed Opportunity
As a side note to our Tango Night experience, during one of our busiest rushes, a man came up to the counter and in heavily-accented English said the following:
"This is the best espresso I've had in your country."
We love hearing comments like that. And it's a tribute to Andi and Jenny who were keeping the La Marzocca beast tuned to that magical 20-23 seconds per shot all night long, despite the record crowds (for us) and the room getting alternately warmer and colder all evening.
As it was the first time this gentleman had been in, we didn't have his name on file. And with the line at counter we couldn't take the time to find out more. On a different day, we would've considered getting a release to use his testimonial for marketing.
But as it was, we'll simply have to settle for pleasing a new customer whom we hope will be back.
"Tango Night" Draws Great Crowd
The place was hopping Friday night for Tangueros de Ley and our first "Tango Night".
At one point we were up to 70 people, more than we've ever hosted at one time to date. Many were content to simply sit and enjoy the music, although there were a few extremely talented dancers who showed us all how the "close embrace" dance was performed.
One of those dancers was none other than Daniel Lapadula, who happened to be here on a visit with the PA Tango Society. Daniel is a world-renown teacher whose talents have been seen on TV and film, including the Harrison Ford film, "Random Hearts."
Julieta Ugartemendia (clarinet and vocals), Ernesto Contenti (accordion and vocals - and who knew he could sing like that?), Jeremy Sment (bass) and Anastasia Storer (violin), gave us a two hour soundtrack of Argentine passion while Daniel and other dancers displayed the intricate moves that makes Tango both fascinating to watch and somewhat intimidating to try.
We will be talking to Julieta and others about possibly offering some lessons as part of future performances here.
We hope to be working with Tangueros de Ley for future events here, perhaps even a monthly Tango Night.
More photos of Tango Night will be in next month's Mt. Lebanon Magazine, as they had sent a photographer over to see what was going on. There was also a video crew taping the show for a future DVD project.
While the evening was a hit on all accounts, we learned a few things about putting on a Tango event.
- We had a lot of requests for Coke. So we'll have some next time.
- We will also move the bandstand closer to the bar, which will allow more people on the other side to see the band and open up dancing areas on both sides of the store.
- Although we'd expected to have some Yerba Mate prior to the performance, we didn't obtain it. But we've bought some to have on hand.
-And we're going to get some additional chairs. Unfortunately some folks who'd come from Greensburg and Bellvue left shortly after finding there were no seats available.
Our Vertical Neighborhood
Aldo Coffee Co. is located on the retail level of a three-story building here on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon, PA. One of the nicest surprises about moving in here are our delightful upstairs neighbors.
Ellen is the previous tenant of this retail space, having owned Kushner's Office Supply and has an apartment upstairs with her son, Conrad (who's briefly left us, but is expected to return to barista duty soon). For those of you who still come in here looking for your calendars, pens, and personal office supply service, Ellen joined Sufrin Supplies and will still take care of your needs.
Ellen could be the mayor of Mount Lebanon (if we had a mayor); she knows everyone and everyone knows and likes Ellen. She has been the most congenial and helpful neighbor, customer, friend. She didn't complain when the dumpster filled the small tenant parking lot out back, when our electricians were drilling at 7 am, or when we hauled all kinds of stuff through her side of the basement. To repay her, we pretend we don't see her when she tiptoes downsairs to get her morning paper in her PJ's.
Dorothy McCall is one of the dearest and talented people we have met here. She runs her psychological therapy practice and Kingsbury Fragrances on the second floor, right above us. While we haven't (yet) patronized her psychological services, Melanie just loves her richly and lovingly developed high-quality soaps and fragrances. In fact, Rich was directed upstairs for Valentine's day shopping.
If you are in the neighborhood on Friday evening or Saturday, Dorothy opens her retail fragrance store upstairs for retail browsing and shopping. You won't regret the short climb up the stairs.
Know Your Tango
In anticipation of tonight's performance by Tangueros de Ley, we thought we'd offer some background into the cultural and historical significance of Tango. So here are a few links to get you acquianted:
Sergio's site also offers some great information on "how to" tango:
Hope to see you tonight... and on the dance floor!
Breaking news: Sledding in Pittsburgh
We were watching the late news on one of the local channels and the lead story was about sledding accidents.
We'll say that again: Sledding accidents. Someone even hurt their leg.
Pittsburgh is still a metropolis of 1.6 million people. A couple of people getting cuts and bruises while sledding shouldn't make the evening news at all, let alone be the lead story. This story wouldn't have made the news in Rutland, VT or Fargo, ND.
Many of us have had accidents doing silly things in the snow. We'd build jumps on a sleigh hills that acted more like walls than launch pads when we hit them. We'd see if we could control a cardboard box on ice. Who among us didn't take risks on our Flexible Flyers, toboggans and disks and anything else we could find that slid?
It's hard - if not impossible - to grow up well-adjusted without taking bumps and bruises along the way. An ill-advised trip on a carhood is something to learn from, not be chastised about to an entire city.
But you know what - getting towed at a decent clip through the snow sounded like fun, didn't it.
So maybe the story should have been that you need to know geometry before towing a sled so these things wouldn't happen. Show a couple of graphs on arcs and we could have created more responsible ATV operators.
Our advice to our local news teams is to stop trying to take the fun out of winter. Go take your kids sledding. Make a snowman. Build a fort with tunnels. Make a nice, firm snowball and whack your news director in the butt with it.
Go have fun. And go find some actual "news".
(and when you're done, stop by for a hot cocoa!)
Molly's Expected to Drive Business
Melanie is quoted in this article from the Trib on Molly Brannigans, which will be opening in Mt. Lebanon in the next few days.
The Irish carpentry crew which had been putting in the finishing touches has mostly left, having done a masterful job of bringing a touch of Dublin to Mount Lebanon. But that didn't stop them from calling us this morning to to say hello from Yonkers, NY, where they're working on a new project. We will miss their páirt and it's nice to know they miss us.
Speaking of Irish, one of Rich's favorite bands from his hometown area - Black 47 - is at the Rex on Friday. Of course, that's also Tango Night here at Aldo Coffee Co. But for anyone - and particularly you lads still working over at Molly's - who'd rather go reeling and rocking than tango, Larry Kirwan and band put on an awesome good time. Hoist a pint for us.
Coca-Cola Japan to Be Powered By Coffee & Tea
Their culture has a long history of finding ways to use everything at their disposal for greater purpose. And now Japanese innovators have figured out a way to use coffee and tea residue as an energy source for Coca-Cola.
As Pittsburgh is one of the leading US cities in per capita coffee consumption and we have great university research capabilities - along with an urgent need to find new industries to bolster regional employment - something like this might be an opportunity to jump on.
Or maybe we could start selling our used grounds to the Japanese on eBay?
Coffee Good for Your Liver
Now you have another reason to drink coffee. It reduces your risk of liver cancer.
We'll add that the study was done in Japan where few people drink drinks decaf. And caffeine has been proven to have antioxidant characteristics. So this may mean that only caffienated coffee offers the health benefits.
But, we're happy with any news that something so good is actually good for you.
What Price Fair Trade?
A number of our customers ask about Fair Trade Certified coffees we offer. Many of the varietals we offer by the cup are Fair Trade Certified, although not all are. All coffees we have for retail sale with the word "Organic" on the label are also Fair Trade Certified.
Among the Fair Trade Certified coffees you'll find on sale here are:
- La Perla de Oaxaca (TM) Organic Mexico
- Organic French Roast
- Organic Nicaraguan "Mira Flor"
- Organic Sumatra Gayoland
- Nepenthe Organic Blend
Last year, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting article about how some retailers jack up the price of Fair Trade goods.
We don't charge more for Fair Trade Certified beans. The different beans we carry for retail sale cost us different amounts - some varietals are 10%-20% more expensive than others. But the price to you is the same regardless what it costs us.
There are numerous sites which offer more information on the definitions and guidelines for earning the Fair Trade Certified label. We think the Global Exchange explanation is an accessible place to start if you're interested in learning more on the subject.
Pitchers and Catchers Report
Both Melanie and I look forward to Opening Day each year. And while the Pirates' fortunes haven't been all that great recently, the current team is fun to watch and PNC Park is still the best ballpark in the country.
Since the Steelers lost before we could launch our "Alan Fanecannoli" and there's no hockey, we were thinking of potential tie-ins to the Pirates. But the Pirates' players names don't really fit in with anything we're offering.
The best we could come up with was renaming the Sfogliatelle the "Josh Foggliatelle".
(P.S. Submitting "J.R. House Blend Coffee" doesn't count. He's on IR for the year.)
Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils Front Page News in Riyadh
Our local Blue Devils merited two mentions on the front page of Arab World News on February 20, 2005.
Note: it's a cached page on a third party site, so link may not work soon.
If you're going to be here awhile and your meter is running out and you don't have any change, we're happy to help out.
There are only four spots directly in front of the store. That should mean that four cars can park there. (Or six Mini-Coopers.)
For the record, this wasn't one of OUR customers.
And his/her meter was up. Too bad our usually dependable meter maid wasn't on duty for the holiday.
Aldo Go Bragh
Molly Brannigans, an authentic Irish pub, is almost ready to open across the street from Aldo Coffee Co. here in Mount Lebanon, PA. We are very excited, because we have seen the inside of it and it is fantastic. Lots of people will be coming to Mt. Lebanon to enjoy the pub, much of materials for which were imported here directly from Ireland.
We will miss the Irish construction workers, though. Good folks who brightened many a cold, snowy morning in Aldo Coffee Co. They are big tea drinkers, especially our organic herbals.
We learn a lot from the many Europeans and other immigrants who have found our store and tried our coffees and teas. The "culture" of coffee and tea is so different from country to country that you can't help but glean appreciation from each encounter. (And who knew there were so many Europeans in the South Hills of Pittsburgh?)
R.J. Becomes First to Free Drink
R.J. teaches music across the street and will be playing here soon.
The Parallel Parking Poodle
From the photos, the pup is proficient at parallel parking.
If you must let your dog drive, please make sure all the necessary and appropriate operational controls are located right on the steering column within easy reach.
Today only for Valentine's Day: Pink mini cannoli. Just $0.99.
Bring some home to share with your sweetie.
Of course you'll also need a better gift than just the cannoli.
Googling Aldo. Or Not.
If you've tried our "Google Aldo" button and found it's not generating results, that's because Google is taking its sweet time indexing the site.
We had been keeping the blog private for the first few weeks until we got it where we wanted it. But that meant Google couldn't find us. We've tried to push this along since going public with the blog and we hope it's only a matter of a few days before it's all working fine.
We apologize for the temporary inconvenience.
CoffeeGeek Wonders Why the Coffee Business Doesn't Market Like Wines
We thought we'd share it with you as it's an interesting look into the marketing side of the business.
Mark Prince over at Coffee Geek has a gripe. After looking at various consumer magazines for food and wine and even cigars, he's annoyed that there's no similar consumer mag for coffee, there are only trade publications. He thinks it's time for our own dedicated magazine. It's an interesting read from someone who's obsession with coffee knows no limits.
But he might be right. And he also notes many other failings of coffee marketing, including in-store marketing.
We're already planning on doing "cuppings" here at Aldo in the near future with the help of our friends at Intelligentsia, perhaps as soon as March. And many of you already know that you can sample any of our drip coffees if you're not familiar with them. We don't advertise that, but perhaps we should.
Mark is right about one thing for certain. Like wine, the more familiar you become with the nuances and the differences in regional harvests, the more equipped you are to appreciate each - and the more demanding you may become in deciding what you'll drink.
Sy Syms, the NYC clothing store magnate used to use a line in all his advertising: "An educated consumer is our best customer."
Too bad that slogan is copyrighted. Otherwise we might use it ourselves.
Sumatra, the Tsunami and Aldo
You'll often see Sumatra and Sulawesi offered at Aldo Coffee Co., they're two of our favorite varietals. More important, they're two customer favorites. We've also served Gayoland, a distinctive Fair Trade Certified coffee grown in the Gayo region of Sumatra.
Although the coffee fields themselves seem to be fine, support of Fair Trade Certified coffees is one of the best ways to assist the region. As has been noted by many others, commerce is as important as charity in helping this region rebuild.
We've already made a donation to tsunami relief through Coffee Kids. As a single-store independent coffee shop, it would be a fairly empty gesture for us to make a donation based solely on your purchases of bags of Sumatran coffee like the big chains do.
Instead, we will donate $2.00 to CoffeeKids for EVERY bag of ANY Free Trade Certified coffee purchased through the end of March in addition to our private contributions.
We'll also be offering more Sumatran and Sulawesi on a regular basis, as well as coffees from other affected regions, such as Tanzania. Although some of these coffees are in short supply, we'll be working with Intelligentsia to acquire as much as we can over the next few weeks, including more of their Fair Trade Certified coffees, like Gayoland and Nepenthe, which is a blend of Indonesian and Central American beans.
Somebody Doesn't Like Us
Apparently someone felt a bit destructive yesterday and broke off the plastic menu holders from our sandwich board.
It's disappointing that would happen around here.
We'll get new ones this weekend. We're also shopping around for a better sandwich board anyway. The one we're using is actually Dorothy's from Kingsbury Fragrances upstairs who inherited it from the previous tenants.
This Photo Post Dedicated to Dan Cole
I finally remembered to bring the camera in. With batteries that work.
This is where Rich usually works from. He likes the "bar" side... that's where the regulars usually hang and he can chat them up from this seat.
If you come in the North entrance, Tom's 'office' is the second table on left. Here he's getting organized.
Another view of the Tuscan mural. In the original plan the lighting was to change from light to dark depending on the hour. The electrician decided installing flourescents was easier. Through the camera lens looks sort of like "Close Encounters". It looks better in person.
From the South entrance you come into the "family area". During the day, this area is usually full of moms, babies and couples having a panini or dessert.
From the North entrance, you come into the "bar" area. In the day - and sometimes well into the evening - this is where you'll find the folks banging away at their laptops. It's also where the "big" table is - the preferred area for having meetings of three or more.
We paid nothing for the sandwich board. Can you tell? If you're walking South, you'll see the panini menu. If you're walking North you'll see the featured coffees of the day and any other specials. In the summer expect there to be couple of tables out front.
Whatever panini doesn't get bought today becomes staff lunch tomorrow. Or Mel and Rich's dinner tonight. Jared from Subway has nothing on us. Notice we're sold out of brownies, down to a couple sfogliatelle and it appears we'll need to replenish cheesecake tomorrow. This thing is usually full each morning.
So, for Dan and everyone else, the photos only tell part of the story. Unfortunately we can't upload aromas. If we could, you'd be here.
Steve Starts. Our Thoughts On Wireless.
Winter is back.
Not that we're blaming Steve, our newest barista-in-training. In addition to working at Aldo Coffee Co., Steve is also a graphic designer. So we'll be putting him to work on improving the look of this blog.
While it wasn't really cold out, the wet made it pretty miserable. And we're looking at more cold and wet tomorrow.
It's warm inside though. And it seems every day there's someone new who's logging on and hanging out. When Rich arrived this morning to start making the panini, Tom (whose "office" is the second table from front by the north door) had been joined by two other folks who were checking email and surfing.
There was an interesting - if poorly researched - article in the PG yesterday about free wireless. What the authors didn't mention is that there are reasons business owners work through ISPs like Telerama. Security and service being the most important. Yes, we could buy a box on our own and set it up to serve free wireless. But then we'd have to maintain it. And if someone decides they want to use us a base for spamming or denial of service attacks or whatever, we'd be responsible. Why would we want that?
We could also hire an IT person. But we're not in that business.
The other thing is that Telerama charged us a start up fee of $300 and a reasonable ongoing flat monthly fee if we offered paid Internet. However, if we decided to offer it for free through them, our monthly fees would triple. We're not at the point where customers using wireless would cover those costs. We're not even recouping costs of offering it on the paid model. But we decided we needed access here regardless so Rich could do his client work and maintain the blog and Melanie can use it for Aldo email and whatnot.
Is giving away free wireless connectivity "good customer service" as the PG article suggests? You could make that case. And if that's the case, then giving away free food would be great customer service. But not everyone is doing that, are they?
If we were in Oakland and our customers were mostly students, we'd likely be offering free wireless because it would make good business sense. But we're not. When the time comes that wireless is a true commodity and we can offer it for free for the right reasons, we'll do it.
Katie joined us today. She'll be working a couple nights a week. Tonight she teamed up with Conrad, the first time we've paired up a team born in the 80s. They did fine. Both are responsible and care about what they're doing. And Conrad is becoming quite the salesperson.
Many of you know Katie's mom, Mame Bradley, who is the economic development officer for Mt. Lebanon. So Katie has some extra incentive to not only be a good ambassador for Aldo Coffee Co. but for the town itself.
We're getting great feedback on the Cheesecake Aldo which we introduced last week. It's the chocolate one with the caramel and walnuts on it that you see in the case. It's about as rich and gooey as cheesecakes come. Even our most svelte customers don't leave any on their plates.
So if you're thinking of giving chocolate for Valentine's Day, why not come in a buy your love some Cheesecake Aldo?
A Hint of Spring
True to his word, Bobby came back this morning for more coffee and to do some work and to talk to Melanie. Unfortunately, neither of us got in early. Amy and Andi have things under control on Sundays so we had a rare morning to sort of “roll in to the day” instead of racing up the store at dawn.
It was a very pleasant day for February. We actually put a table outside this afternoon. And people used it. It's great for folks walking their dogs who want to stop by.
We hope to eventually put two or three tables outside in front when it's warm. Only challenge is working with the slope of the street. It's probably a good 4 or 5 degrees of slope, not enough to have things slide off the table, but it could be disconcerting. We'll have the patio in back open once we get the railings up to code. Hopefully that'll happen sooner than later.
We sold out the fruit brunch panini today for the first time. Most of our customers have never had a “sandwich” with fruit before and once they try it, they wonder why they'd never seen one before. Trust us, it sounds weird – nectarine, honey and mascarpone, dusted with sugar – but fruit on bread is fairly common in the Italian countryside.
Just for fun we took the case of mini cannoli shells we use for testing fillings and we colored up the last of the current batch of traditional filling in red and blue for the Patriots and green for the Eagles, then put out a day-glo sign on the sandwich board for “Game Day” cannoli. We sold most of them and gave the rest away to a guy who said we had great espresso – and who also happens to work for a chain coffee shop near CMU.
Another record day for sales. It was Jenny's first day on the job. We'll get into more on Jenny in future posts. Suffice it to say for now that Jenny has spent part of the past decade teaching English in Central America to the children of coffee workers. Having lived in the culture, she knows first-hand what that life is like. We think she'll bring a unique perspective to the shop.
We fingured out a new use for the panini grill - “roasting” eggplant. We've wanted to use eggplant since day one, but since we didn't want to go through the hassles of installing and cleaning the grease traps that would necessarily accompany a broiler or grilltop, we didn't have a conventional way of cooking eggplant.
So we tried the panini grill just to see if it would work. Then we tested some panino combinations with the staff. They liked two of them, so we'll be adding one or two eggplant panini shortly, probably when we decide to retire the Federal Hill turkey. Plus, it gives us a potential vegan option which we don't have right now.
Bobby from Cafe de Troit – a coffeeshop in downtown Motor City – came in this evening with friends. His wife is from Upper St. Clair so he visits Pittsburgh a couple of times each year. Interestingly, Cafe Detroit also uses Intelligentsia as their primary supplier, although the “re-brand” the coffee under a house label. Bobby and Melanie talked for probably an hour on anything and everything regarding the business. He said he'd be back whenever in town, possibly as early as tomorrow.
We stayed open until 10pm tonight because we had a pretty full house. We're still at the point of being appreciative and don't want to tell anyone to leave when they're having a good time. With luck we'll always stay this appreciative.
Open Late Saturdays Starting This Weekend.
With recent staff additions we've had enough help to stay open later during the week. Finally we'll be able to do so on Saturdays, starting this weekend. We'll be open until 9pm. Although, truth be told if we're still busy, we'll keep the doors open.
So stop by after dinner!
Our new hours have been posted on the home page banner above.
Wet or Dry?
Choice is good. But sometimes too much choice can get confusing. Even offputting. And in the coffee business - with different shops making their own versions of what should be a standard drink - communicating what means what becomes increasingly important.
It's our aim to always give you exactly what you want at a minimum. We'll always try to exceed your expectations.
Which brings us to cappuccino.
There are basically three ways to do cappuccino.
1. The classic Italian way is roughly equal parts espresso and frothed milk. This is similar to our espresso macchiato. It is also known as "scuro" or "dry". It's what most of our foreign-born customers request when they're not having straight espresso.
2. The second way is "wet" or "chiaro", with more steamed milk than froth. It's almost latte-like in texture, but with less milk. We don't get many requests for this.
3. The third way is more traditional here in the U.S. It is one third espresso, one third steamed milk and one third frothed milk. This is our standard cappuccino pour.
If we don't know how you like your cappuccino, we'll generally ask if you prefer wet or dry. Now you'll know what we mean.
Our Excitement Was Premature
The CD changer came in today. It's not one of those 200-cd jobs. It's only a 5-disc changer. But it's Bose and it works with the Bose Wave.
At least we thought it was supposed to. Turns out it's designed for the Acoustic Wave, not the regular Wave. So we have to play with two remotes.
We're figuring out whether to keep it or not. We kept the box.
The Irish blokes working over at Molly's have become regulars. Sometimes several times a day. They're telling us three weeks till opening. But we keep hearing that the owner is saying St. Patrick's Day. Maybe a case of underpromise/overdeliver. Either way we can't wait. It'll be a nice addition. And they'll have real fish & chips.
Grand Opening or Not?
Today was Melanie's last day at her job. She'll now be in the store full time. Which means we'll no longer have to keep calling her to figure out where she put things.
We'd been waiting for her to be here full time before we launched our Grand Opening. Which was supposed to start tomorrow. Yet we still don't have a sign, any marketing and not even simple printed menus that people ask for every day. The email we're promoting on the web site doesn't even work (although you can still reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, just not at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
So we're discussing whether we should hold off on any kind of a Grand Opening until we have these fairly basic requirements taken care of. Meantime, we're still decorating just in case.
Our Aldo Presley is finally catching on. It's one of the four Brunch Panini we've been offering the last couple of Sundays. We sold out of them for the first time.
We learned that at 10:30am on Sunday, we're the only place on the road with anything remotely resembling a sandwich. Even if it is peanut butter, chocolate and banana. Apparently skiiers like them, since we sold out to a couple of groups headed out for a day on the slopes.
Forgot to mention on Friday that we've added a white mocha latte and a couple of new teas, including 1st Flush Darjeeling, which we're happy to get since there's only a limited supply.
By day, Ernesto manages a medical records service up the street. By night, he's part of an Argentine tango band. He came in today and talked with Rich about bringing the band by to play occasionally once the weather gets warmer.
We've always thought we'd be doing some evening entertaining here, although we're still figuring out when and how. But a tango band seems right up our alley.
The cold spell broke and we benefitted. Today was our best day so far. Constantly busy. Unfortunately we're still looking for Saturday staff, so Rich, who came in to make the panini and then do some painting and prep work for next week's grand opening, ended up spending the entire day behind the counter helping Melanie.
We're still hiring... especially for Saturdays!
Early Close Today
Had to close at 4pm today because Melanie had other obligations and Cara, our neighbor and usual Friday afternoon barista, sprained her ankle and is laid up for a couple of days.
Our apologies for the inconvenience and get well soon, Cara.
Meetings at Aldo
We've noticed more and more meetings being held here. Our big table seems to be in use daily, with different groups spreading out architectural plans or business briefs and staying for a couple of hours or more.
If you've got a small meeting, we've got the coffee, food and a very comfortable atmosphere for business discussions.
Rich had a meeting in the store today with one of the media reps he's using for the lubrication conference he's promoting (Rich is a marketing consultant/speaker/columnist/blogger in the trade show industry in addition to making panini and cannoli). Obviously the media rep wanted to make a good impression on Rich. He bought coffee, desserts, lunch and giftware, resulting in the largest single customer purchase to date. And all to get a couple of third-page ad placements.
If only we could get more of Rich's suppliers to come to Pittsburgh and have meetings over here!
Our Panini Are Too Big?
We've had a few people come in who wanted a sandwich and have either said, “That's too much bread,” or “These things are HUGE. I can't eat all that!”.
While some places around town would wear those complaints like a badge of honor, we can't. We made a mistaken assumption that you had to offer belly-buster sandwiches to make it in this town. Not so apparently. So we're going to change our menu starting next week. We'll be using thinner breads – farm bread, sesame semolina and ciabattinas (small ciabattas) and offering a half panino in addition to whole panino.
But we won't skimp on the fillings.
Yes, we know it's been Photoshopped. But it's still funny.
We're debating whether to add a card for translating Starbuckese to English so that our customers who are SBUX regulars know what to order. And so our staff knows that a “tall” is a “small”.
Maybe Next Year
So much for the Fanecannoli idea.
Steelers lost. Too bad because we had plans to ship a bunch of cannoli to Alan Faneca down in Jacksonville. Can't really name a cannoli after Chevy Troutman, who's now the toast of the town (did we mention Rich is also a UConn alumna?). Although we wouldn't be surprised if some place like Benkovitz offers a Chevy Trout sandwich after seeing the success of the Roethlisburger.
We'd still like to ask Alan to come down and read children's stories some Saturday during the offseason. Assuming his agent will accept payment in cannoli.
Amy Unleashes Hidden Tea Knowledge and Steelers Cannoli Introduced.
Amy knows tea. During a slow period a customer walked in and asked about “white tea” vs. “green tea.” Amy expounded for several minutes on the differences, as authoritatively as Robert Parker might discuss the difference between a Sangiovese and Zinfadel.
Needless to say, Melanie and I were very impressed. We thought we hired her because of her bartending and customer relations skills. And there was a tea expert hiding inside.
We introduced our Steelers cannoli late in the day. We made a dozen and sold almost all of them.
Even though the filling is almost banana yellow, there's no banana, lemon or other “yellow” flavoring. It's only food color. We dress them with chocolate chips and a sprinkle of crushed pistachio. And we suit them up in home (chocolate) and away (regular) cannoli shells.
Since there's the “Roethlisburger”, maybe we should call these the (Alan) Fanecannolis.
The threat of a huge snowstorm gave us some brisk morning business. As the snow turned to freezing rain, everything stopped; outside traffic – both car and foot - was nil.
After the freezing rain changed back to snow, a few hardy souls came back out on the streets. As we were the only shop open on our end of the street, we were happy to provide some shelter. Many of our customers today spent an hour or more here, which we like as it gives us a chance to talk with them and get to know them.
A mother and her daughter, Bulgarians, came in late in the afternoon. As Rich had spent several weeks in Sofia last year, he went over with a hearty, “Dobre dan,” (good day) and spent the next hour talking about Bulgarian culture, economic development, Bulgarian Merlots (they're amazing and she later sent us a link for ordering since the LCB doesn't carry anything but jug wine from the region), and Dunkin Donuts, which has an outlet on Vitosha Blvd., the main drag in downtown Sofia.
A nice bit of warmth on a cold, snowy day.
R.I.P. Hanover Street
We said goodbye to the first version of our “Hanover St.” today. It was 3/4 lb. of genoa, hot capicola and prosciutto with mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil on ciabatta slathered with garlic aioli.
We've made a couple almost every day this month. We sold three. Rich noted that back in his old stomping grounds of Stamford, CT and Quincy, MA these things would've sold faster than we could make them.
As with most days, the Hanover St. sandwiches we made today will be our staff's lunch tomorrow. While the chicken salad salad and tuna salad are selling out most days, and turkey and roast beef sales are rising, for some reason we can't sell an Italian meat sandwich in an Italian coffee shop.
So much for our opinion that big meat sandwiches would work.
We're still working on the new “small” panini menu for the start of February.
Jim came in as usual for his Ninth St. Beef panino. As we're looking to get some old photos of Mt. Lebanon to hang and as Jim's mom used to own the building we're in before Joe Kushner did, why not ask Jim if he has any old photos we could scan.
Turns out Jim and his mother were involved in the publication of “The Way We Were”, a softcover historical photo book about Mt. Lebanon. We'll be adding a copy of the book for customers to relax with.
We hope to be adding some historical photos of the area to go along with the photos of our trips to Italy which we're currently having enlarged. Sort of a "Rome wasn't built in a day" theme.
New Cheesecakes and Desserts
We have a new local baker who is making our regular and chocolate cheesecakes to specification. We're also adding brownies, an unbelievably moist carrot cake and a gooey turtle cheesecake.
We were considering doing our desserts in-house but there's simply not enough room in our kitchen, storage in our refrigerators nor enough time to do what we wanted, considering we're baking muffins, cinnamon rolls and sfogliatelle first thing every morning, doing panini right after that and then mixing fresh cannoli filling on a regular basis.
But for the record, Rich can turn out a mean authentic ricotta pie. We just don't think we could work that into our routine at this time. So it makes sense to find someone really good who we trust to do the baking outside the store. Even if we're not making them ourselves, the cakes are fresh and unique to our store.
We should have kept a chart on this for scientific credibility, but observations over the past couple of weeks has led us to believe that it has to be at least 23 degrees F with negligible wind chill for there to be measurable street traffic. Any colder than that, you're not coming out, even to get a great cup of hot coffee.
Melanie was born and raised here. Rich is from New England. He thinks yinz don't know cold.
Read the NYTimes Daily With Your Espresso
We've added the NY Times to the PG for your daily reading. We'll be adding more newspapers going forward, but it appears that many are difficult to come by.
Even the Borders in Norman Center doesn't carry daily papers from major cities like Borders in other cities do, apparently because of a local sourcing problem. They do have several international papers from last week and the current Washington Post, but that's about it.
We've been asking for the Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer so we could follow coverage on this weekend's game. No luck. We've been told we have to go dahntahn if we want those papers.
So the PG and NYTimes is what we'll have. For now.
Steelers Live Another Week
Thankfully for Steelers fans, the Black and Gold pulled out the game last night. Even Rich – who grew up 40 miles from Shea Stadium and is a lifelong Jets fan - was content with the outcome, noting that Steelers Nation wouldn't be out and about – and buying coffee this morning – had they lost to the wild-card Jets at home.
We had a few people in this afternoon who stayed and watched the Eagles game. So far the Steelers pre-game and Eagles game are the only two times we've played the TV with sound. And that seems to be just fine with customers.
Playoffs On Our New TV
Game day. The Terrible Towel is on the wall. And Rich is wearing his Jets cap. You can take the boy out of NY, but you can't take the NY out of the boy. But the cap was a good conversation starter. And he wore it up to The Saloon after we closed.
We bought the TV mostly for important breaking news stories, storm reports and games like this one. Espresso bars, as the sacred “third place”, aren't usually places where you find Steelers games on TV. But we've always looked at Aldo as a typical Italian-style neighborhood joint, not a sacred “third place”. And when you're sipping espresso at the corner cafe in Bologna or Verona or Rome during the World Cup, you can bet there will be a TV on. Sometimes TV does bring people together. Even Rich will admit, there is no escaping the draw of the Steelers.
And there were a handful of folks who were watching the game until closing time.
Our New TV Is Here
Installed the TV last night. For a screen that was so light (about 60 lbs.) it was a bear to mount. The mount that we were “assured” would support it, does not. The monitor just sort of droops like it has E.D. But we jury-rigged a support so as long as we don't need to swivel it, it's good enough for all of you to watch from most of the seats.
Just in time for the Jets-Steelers playoff game, of course.
Met with Nick Ambeliotis, owner/baker for Mediterra Bakehouse today. Nick has an interesting story. He was in foodservice sales and tiring of the travel and the job. One day he was introduced to Michael London, a baker in New York whom a contact called, “the best baker in the country.” Nick was skeptical, but upon trying the breads, he agreed. In fact, Nick was so impressed he asked London to teach him what he knew. Mediterra was the result.
We've tried Breadworks and occasionally some other breads. But it seems whenever we use Mediterra we get compliments on the bread. So we've decided to use Mediterra exclusively.
Even though we don't do a lot of bread volume, Nick is going to work with us on deliveries direct from the bakery. That'll save us a few bucks but also eliminates a morning trip to Uncommon Market or the MarketPlace to get Nick's bread.
And now he's doing genuine East Coast water bagels - boiled, not steamed. So we'll be adding those in February. With mascarpone cream cheese.
You can visit Mediterra's retail store front. It's Bldg #8 on Glass Road off the Campbell's Run exit on Parkway West. He also has a store in the Strip on 19th and Penn open on Fridays and Saturdays.
More on the sfogliatelle... we did some research on the internet and found that a plain Einstein's bagel with plain cream cheese is about 400 calories.
A sfogliatelle is only 390 calories. And, since it has bits of orange in it and some vitamin C, we believe it's a better better healthy breakfast choice than that bagel.
Not to mention it's tastier!
New Signage and Sfogliatelle
New temporary signs came in, so we can take down the homemade signage. Still, we're having a difficult time getting our decals and above-the-awning signage sourced. We have bids out but vendor follow-up has been poor. So we're hesitating picking a source. If they're not motivated enough to follow-up on orders, what kinds of signage will they deliver? And when?
We began offering sfogliatelle today. An immediate hit. Dr. Good, the orthodontist next door, keeps quizzing us on exactly where we get them. All we'll say for now is North Jersey, where most Italian pastries are about as authentic as they come. They shells come in weekly and we bake them here.
If you've never had a sfogliatelle, it's a phyllo-type flaky dough surrounding a ball of sweet ricotta flavored with orange. You'll find bits of orange inside the cheese. Try one and we think you'll be hooked.
Finally, A Chalkboard Menu
We hung the beverage menu chalkboards last night. Rich did the lettering. The result was that this morning customers started asking for a greater variety of drinks over and above the standard lattes and cappucinos most have been ordering since we opened. Megan, Andi and Lois are right on top every request.
What to Do On Sundays?
Sundays don't appear to be a good sandwich day. For the second Sunday in a row we ended up putting all the panini back into the fridge so the staff can have them tomorrow.
Surely Mt. Lebanon eats on Sundays. We just have to figure out what.
We're thinking about doing something different just for Sundays. Maybe some type of a Euro brunch featuring fruit and dessert-type panini.
Other news... Rich bought a TV for the store today. A 30” flat screen HDTV-ready monitor. We're going to put it up in the corner to the left of the counter so everyone waiting to be served can follow the headline scrolls on CNBC or CNN.
Usually the sound will be off, unless there's a important breaking news story or weather report (or Steelers game). We'll still be playing opera or jazz or classical or Mediterranean music all day long. No soap operas or game shows.
Official Grand Opening Set
We've decided that the “Grand Opening” will be first week of February. We think operations will have smoothed out by then and we'll have everything in place. In addition to hiring and training more staff, there is still much to do regarding decoration, signage, finalizing the menu and prices, etc.
Of course if the Steelers are in the Super Bowl, we might move the official opening back a week. No point celebrating your opening on a weekend when everyone will be in front of their TVs.
More and more people are asking us to stay open later. And we will, once we hire additional help during the evenings. Eventually our goal is to be open at least until 9:00pm on weekdays. We're still interviewing.
If you're interested in working here, please stop by for an application. We're primarily looking for people who can work nights (closing at 9pm then cleaning until 10pm or so) and weekends. We're already set for most day shifts.
Steve Loves Jazz
We have our second "regular" in Steve, an RN who is somewhat of a tea connosieur and jazz aficianado.
He was impressed we were playing Stephane Grappelli and talked about his own favorites which include the famous Grappelli/Django Rheinhart performances in 1930s Paris. We'll be adding more of both to the CD collection soon.
It's only been a week and already some of the staff is tiring of Andrea Bocelli, which has been in “high rotation” on the Wave radio. Customers, however, love it, so Andrea is staying.
Of course when there are only a dozen CDs in the drawer, everything is in high rotation. We'll be bringing in more tomorrow - including some jazz. We've been doing only opera and classical so far.
Ed Leyden came in today to put some finishing touches on things. Which reminded me that we should offer some credits here.
Just about everyone familiar with the old Kushner's Office Supply building can't believe what the new space looks like. Although we did have one old-timer come in today asking for copier paper and a calendar.
Anyway, we owe a lot to our contractors for getting the place together, even if it took a few weeks longer than planned.
General Contractor and Carpentry: John (Jay) Leyden
Painting (ceilings, counters, trim, wall base coat): Ed Leyden
Sponging: Natalie Boone (Melanie's sister)
Floors: Chris McGee and crew.
Plumbing: Tom O'Donnell and assistants.
Electrical: Howard Burkhart and "The King".
And a thanks also to Lou at Penn Fixtures for working around our schedules for equipment deliveries.
Here are some photos along the way. Wish we'd taken some right from the start. We'll have to see if Joe Kushner has any of the original space.
Cannoli Bar Now Open
As was mentioned in the Mt. Lebanon magazine article, we've opened our Cannoli Bar. You can now make your very own personal cannoli.
Aldo's Cannoli Bar: How It Works
- Pick your shell (traditional or chocolate-coated)
- Pick your filling (traditional white ricotta, chocolate, or pistachio)
- Pick your topping (chocolate chips, crushed almonds, coconut, candied cherries, crusched pistachio or Oreo® crumbs)
- Pick your dusting (powdered sugar or espresso dust, or a drizzle of creme de menthe)
Voila, you have your own personal cannoli!
Note: We make our own traditional and pistachio fillings from locally-produced fresh ricotta in the style of the famous cannoli in Boston's North End. Our shells also come from Boston's North End. We use a well-known East Coast cannoli shop for our chocolate filling simply because it's creamier and more chocolaty than what we could produce. When we figure out how to get our chocolate to dissolve more smoothly in the ricotta, we'll make the chocolate in-house too.
Happy New Year!
You know you own your own business when for New Year's Eve you're in bed by 8pm. First night either Melanie or I got a full eight hours since September.
We're the only ones on the street open this morning. And it's a pretty nice day out. Bocelli is cranking on the Wave radio and the place is filling up. Happy New Year indeed!
A few glitches here and there, but hey, we're still practicing. Megan, Andi and Lois are doing fine at the La Marzocco and making drinks to order. But we're still figuring out where all the touchpad buttons are on the cash register. We'll smooth that out going forward.
Great reviews on the espresso. Great reviews on the panini, especially the bread. And we already have one customer acting as our ambassador. He's going up and down the street telling the other businesses to visit. Can't beat that kind of advertising!
Open for Business
Limited hours for the first few weeks while we fill in some shifts and practice.
Schedule for now:
And... 1/2 price espresso drinks through January 5!
Come in and give us a try!
We're just about there... the espresso machine gets hooked up this weekend and staff training from the kind folks Intelligentsia will follow on Monday. Here are some construction photos from mid-week.
We had our first team meeting last night as a group. We believe we've got a great crew who will strive to ensure your satisfaction.
There won't be a "grand opening" until the new year. A few finishing touches still need to be added - sound system, tv, our big corner booth, and the Telerama wireless, which should be online end of next week.
So we'll be having what they call a "soft opening". And the first person in each morning gets a free coffee.
We look forward to seeing you later next week.
- Melanie, Rich and the Aldo Coffee Team.
This is a bit of a technical thing, but since we're using blog software to do this site, we're pre-dating our menus so they won't interfere with other "Goings On" posts.
If you blog, you'll understand the rationale.