Saturday, October 22, 2016

A "look Inside" at the Swiss Water Plant - Vancouver, BC

October 22, 2016
Yesterday I had the great honor to have a personalized tour of the Swiss Water plant. After checking out Roscanini and 49th Parallel roasters in the Vancouver area in the morning, I was already stoked about the high quality of coffee (decaf even) that folks in the area seem to demand. It's no wonder that Swiss Water chose to locate their North American headquarters in this beautiful city -- and conveniently right next to the elevated train-line, the SkyTrain. (They like to boast they are the only decaffeination plant with their own SkyTrain station!)

Barry Close, VP Operations and Andrea Piccolo, Marketing, were wonderful hosts. We started in the lab and Mike Strumpf's office space. Barry began the tour explaining Swiss Water's "conversion to full commitment to quality" back in 2007 - almost 10 years ago. Barry was hired that year (from the paper industry) to bring his lean management knowledge and implement "21st century" process control and waste elimination methods. I saw many signs that they have implemented very well.

After the tour I was treated to a cupping in the lab with the famous Mike Strumpf! It was a mock-evaluation, like the ones they do after every production run at SWDCC. They cup the decaffeinated coffee vs. the "pre-decaf" and evaluate the "damage-done" so-to-speak. The data collected from these sessions is used by Barry to continuously tweak and improve the processes, to minimize the damage.

As impressive as the plant tour and cupping lab experiences were, I think Andrea saved the best for last, because "last" was the marketing presentation. Sitting in a conference room is not exciting, but the depth of information Swiss Water has on their customer base is awesome. They are connecting customer (consumer and roaster) demand to technology needs, and process requirements in their plant. Barry demonstrated how they are using his chemistry and process knowledge on a microscopic level to improve the quality of finished decaf beans.

Thank you, Swiss Water, for such an enjoyable and educational tour!
Burnaby, BC visitor!

Barry Close, VP Operations & Andrea Piccolo, Marketing
 - six barrel sample roaster in background.

Photos from the plant tour:

Great care is taken to monitor moisture levels.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)
- the machine that tests the level of caffeine.
"Flight deck" for continuous quality monitoring and control throughout the plant.

Photos from the cupping session:

Mike has the best map of Brazil I've seen. Swiss water knows where to find good coffee!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

LA Stays Calm - without Caffeine

October 20, 2016

Culver City was the destination for today, Day 3 of my caffeine-less crawl through coffee shops of LA.

Conservatory Coffee - decaf double espresso
I was excited to finally see the cafe owned and run by AJ Barish. One of Artisan's earliest customers. He is passionate about offering taste in all of his coffees, even the decaf. I love the crowd at this cafe in Culver City! It was the most diverse population I
AJ Barish - Conservatory Coffee
had seen in any cafe in LA so far. People of different races, all different ages, very posch and proper, to sweat pants and a t-shirt. And LOTS of people. It was mid-morning on a sunny, warm Friday and it seemed like everyone was stopping in. All the tiny round tables were taken the whole time I was there. I was lucky to grab one, and I was luck AJ could break away for a few minutes to talk to me! The espresso was great!
Relaxed vibe at Conservatory Coffee

After Conservatory, I popped in at Cognoscenti. What a complete 180 degree difference in ambiance!Conservatory is like the old TV hit, "Cheers." When I arrived in Cognoscenti I was the only one in the store except for the baristas. This was great, as I got to learn a lot about Cognoscenti, but it was eerie, too. Eventually other customers were coming in at what seemed like more of a 'normal' pace for a cafe on a busy LA street.
Cognoscenti baristas

Cognoscenti sign

Bar Nine is in a space that is a converted warehouse kind of look and feel. They have done a good job preserving the bare, roomy feel in the loft. The baristas were super friendly - both with ties to Michigan (again!)  My friends and I took our drinks to one of the many open bar areas, that were all light and airy, usually looking over a lake or mountains.
Bar Nine Outside

Bar Nine Inside

Airport... long waits, crowds, Starbucks on the plane.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day 2 - Coffee Crawl - WITHOUT Caffeine

Bodhi Leaf Retail, in Orange, CA
Oct. 19, 2016
On day 2 of my "LA coffee tour" I headed south to Orange and the new cafe and warehouse of Bodhi Leaf Coffee Trading. I know owner Steve Sims from my first Q Grader cupping class. It was great fun to see him again, full red beard and as much devotion to things Buddhist as ever. He gave me the first class tour, starting at the espresso bar in the front, walking back past the impeccable cupping lab to the warehouse. A thing to behold! Coffee stacked floor to ceiling in the high-bay, but well-lit and cheerful, unlike some warehouses I've been to. Steve explained this is his second (or third?) location. He started in a small warehouse space 7 - 8 years ago. He has had to diversify much more than he imagined, as small batch importing alone doesn't make much, but when its your passion, you also can't let it go.

Bodhi Leaf - I had a simple decaf double shot (decaf Colombia) and later a decaf cappucino. Both delicious!

The next stop was down in Costa Mesa, Portola Coffee Lab. I had the pleasure of meeting Adam Rizzo, the roaster who works hard, constantly moving, while customers sit at the horse-shoe bar surrounding him, sipping amazing coffee and tapping on laptops. Adam is from Michigan! (Yea for the mitten!)  Later, Jeff Duggan, the owner came out. It was a pleasure to meet him and learn how his passion for chemistry has led him to not only be a master-roaster, but he also brews beer and makes wine at home! Portola is also opening their 6th cafe in the coming weeks and will be renovating the space in Costa Mesa.

Portola - enjoyed a cup of regular Burundi Gahoro. (Sorry decaf fans, I couldn't resist!)

Last stop of the day was Rose Park Roasters in Long Beach. Quaint on the outside with vintage-style windows and doors, and a classy bike rack. When you walk in, the massive sign on the wall "WELCOME TO THE PROCESS" is just the start of the very cool, modern vibe you get. I ask barista Ronny what it means as he pours a decaf iced latter for me. "A great cup o fcoffee is a miracle. So many things can go wrong, " is the quote Ronny tells me he learned from his boss, Andrew Phillips. So meticulously following a process is the only way to try to get close to that perfect cup. I love it because this is heart of "lean thinking" at the far end of the value chain from where I teach lean!

Rose Park Roasters - decaf iced latte. Colombian. Delicious. (Unfortunately, did not take good flavor notes on exactly what I was drinking. I just enjoyed!)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

LA Cafe Crawl - Day 1 - Swiss Water Pop-up

Oct. 18, 2017
Today was "day 1" of a three-day exploration of specialty coffee culture of greater metro-Los Angeles.  I'm looking forward to this opportunity to taste and see if they still are the "hottest coffee city" on the Left Coast.

I spent most of the day on Abbot Kinney road in Venice, drawn there by the pop-up by Swiss Water that is there for this week! The storefront is nestled between the street's top restaurants (Gjelina), Intelligentsia and across the street is a Warby Parker store and a boutique sock shop, (boutique socks?!)  As I walked up a friendly barista was serving up cold-brew Colombian (without caffeine) with creamy nitro foam from a pull handle that looks like a beer tap. OK - I've lived in Rwanda the last year so I'm not embarrassed to admit this was my first "cold brew on tap." Delicious! I definitely see how this type of drink will take-off in places where non-alcoholic beverages are preferred, but the cool factor must not be lost. A hot coffee would simply not be the right vibe in social, evening settings, but this would!

Enjoying LA: Mike Strumpf (R), buyer for Swiss Water and Brian Speckman from InterAmerican.

SO EXCITED to have a double shot decaf KENYAN! My favorite...
Next, I was delighted to order a KENYAN Mubuni Estate (near Ryiru) doulbe shot espresso. Then on to the Chemex version of the same coffee. There was also an excellent traceable Colombian on offer. All FREE. All expertly prepared and there were free roasted whole bean samples to take home.

There was a good buzz throughout the morning and late afternoon when I was there. I even conducted a consumer intercept survey with one customer. He's a 'born in the 60s' LA resident who has a routine of coming down Abbot Kinney with his wife to get a gourmet take-away snack and then a coffee at Intelligentsia. He's "self-employed" in the health care field and regularly drinks decaffeinated coffee, typically as a pour-over. He never brews his coffee at home, which isn't surprising since he falls on the 'low consumption' side, drinking an average of 1 cup a day. He doesn't look for certifications or any special roast degree, nor any particular story about origin. He just likes a great cup of coffee, and he pays $4-5 per cup.

Read more on the Oct. 19 Daily Coffee News blog - click here.

See the next 2 posts on this blog for more adventures in "the hottest coffee city"...

More photos of the pop-up:

David Kastle chats with "Tiny Glacier" founder