By Murray Schulman
I have the good fortune of working with a friend who owns and operates what many in our area consider to be the premier micro-coffee roastery in the region. Our relationship goes back nearly 20 years. But my story begins well over 50 years ago.
I spent my entire life working in the hospitality and food service industry. Very early in my career, I developed a taste for coffee. I wasn’t very particular about it, nor was I interested in the type of coffee or the brewing method. I just drank coffee. In the morning coffee got me up and moving after a long late shift in the kitchen. It was the go-to beverage during breaks when a little pick-me-up was in order. At night it was espresso that got me through those tough late-night shifts. Even the espresso grounds were guaranteed to eliminate those shiny wear spots on a tuxedo jacket when I filled a role that required a tux.
Even though I drank coffee all the time, I couldn’t have really liked the taste of coffee. I know this because I always loaded it up with sugar and cream. This masked the actual tasted of the coffee and made it easy to drink.
Now let’s flash forward to the early 2000s. I was the food service director for a supermarket group in Delaware. Tom was out there working hard to build his newly acquired coffee company. He called and made an appointment to come talk with me about coffee programs for the food service department in our six supermarkets. I quickly agreed. The coffee we were serving up to that point was rough at best. Plus, we were really limited in our knowledge of how to get the best results from our brewing equipment.
Tom met with me at our new flagship store. We realized that we were on the same page in terms of business from the start. He under-stood that I wanted to build the coffee business in the new café and that I was determined to promote and serve a quality cup of coffee. Keep in mind that I was no expert regarding coffee. All I knew was that people wanted it and that you had one chance to give them a brew that they would keep coming back to buy. Tom brought out his own brewer and proceeded to brew a pot of coffee. He poured a cup for me and one for him. I naturally reached for the creamer and a handful of sugar packets. Tom’s reaction surprised and shocked me. He, like a Marine drill sergeant commanded “what are you doing?”
I immediately froze in place and looked at him with a raised eyebrow and responded, “Fixing my coffee.” It was in that moment that my real coffee education began.
Who knew that there was so much involved in a simple cup of coffee? Over the years we talked about importing the finest beans from all over the world. Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the list goes on. I learned that every region produced coffee with very specific taste profiles. I discovered that tasting coffee was very much like tasting wine. Some coffee was strong with citrus flavors while other coffee had hints of currants and chocolate. Already I was fascinated, and I had just scratched the surface. I soon learned that the roasting method is a key element to making great coffee. The big-name companies must produce in volume. They roast fast and hot. The result is that harsh bitter hit on the back of the tongue. Tom on the other hand employs a Master Roaster. He hand-roasts in small batches. He can achieve the desired roast profile every time and then rapidly cools the roasted beans to avoid over-roasting. Of course, I am a novice and am only able to give you an overview. Tom’s master roaster has over 15 years of experience.
I was introduced to single origin coffee, coffee blends, and flavored coffee. Today, Tom has taken that little company, grown into Global Blends Coffee, LLC and is producing more than 40 blends and flavored coffee under his Bucks County Coffee Label, He produces a European- style coffee under his Milazzo Label, and he roasts coffee that energizes, one that is brain boost, one to aid in weight loss and one for vitality and well being under his Natures Edge brand. Yet he is adamant about staying with the methods of small-batch hand-roasting to maintain the standards that made him a success in the coffee industry.
Tom introduced me to a variety of brewing methods. There is a wide range of brewing methods used in the commercial environment. These brewing methods involve specific speed, recovery time and holding options to offer the best possible brew to the customer. At my house, I tend to drive Liz crazy with the number of gadgets that I have accumulated for the sole purpose of brewing coffee to meet my mood and style preference on any given day. I grind my coffee beans daily to maximize freshness and flavor. For example, on most weekdays, I use my Ninja drip brewer. With this brewer I can brew the perfect pot of my favorite Bucks County Owner’s Reserve coffee quickly and efficiently. On days when I want a different style of coffee, I may use my French press to brew a seasonal flavored coffee. One of my favorites in this cooler weather is Bucks County Mistletoe or the soon to be released Blueberry Cobbler flavored coffee.
When I want a real treat, usually on a day when time is not a factor, I will brew the Milazzo Santuoso coffee. This is a European style dark roast coffee with hints of black-berry and dark chocolate with a citrus finish. For this coffee I will use the pour over method. I have a long neck water pot with a built-in thermometer. I heat the water to exactly 180 degrees. I take a precise measure of the beans and grind them through my burr grinder. The ground coffee is then placed in a stainless steal cone shaped coffee filter. You must have patience for this brewing method. Once the water reaches 180 degrees, I gently wet the coffee. Moistening the ground coffee like this begins to allow the flavor to prepare to be released.
On the second pass with the water, completely soak the coffee and observe the “bloom” resulting from the release of the gasses and aromatics of the coffee. The cone shaped filter uses the water to form a tornado effect which draws all the flavor from all of the coffee. On the third pass, all the coffee is again saturated to extract every element of the coffee from the ground beans. This will yield a perfect 6-cup carafe of the smoothest, riches and most flavorful coffee imaginable. As I am sure you realize by now that I drink all my coffee black.
Like tasting a great bottle of wine, when I enjoy coffee today, I can appreciate the aroma of a particular brew, blend, or flavor. My palate identifies the nuances that make up the richness of the coffee that I am enjoying. Thanks to Tom’s teaching and my willingness to explore this amazing area of culinary completeness, I am finding new levels of pleasure in each cup I pour.
I would encourage you my friends to find the time to open your palates and your minds to the types of coffee experience that I have tried to describe. You may find a whole new perspective about coffee. Coffee is one of the pleasures that is readily available to all of us. As my friend Tom says, “life should be this simple.”