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beverage junkie

Coffee and Tea: From a Server’s Point of View

By August 17, 2014 attention to detail, beverage junkie, coffee, customer service, having flexibility, practice, working in restaurants

Imagine running 100 miles a minute, having a list of 40 things to do next, and having to stop in the midst of it all to pull together an after dinner drink ensemble for five people. All of the 40 things I am about to orchestrate are going to be put on hold. It is time to make coffee!

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To some restaurant servers- as many as I know – serving coffee and tea can put a kink in our flow. We have to leave our sections (what we call where all of our guests are sitting) for more time than we really like to, and we often have to run around the restaurant to gather ingredients that are not within arms’ reach. It really takes a lot of time to put together an assortment of after dinner drinks for five people, unless they all decide to have the same thing – and that doesn’t happen often. People have individual preferences, don’t you know! And we want to be respected for those preferences!

Living in the wonderful world of customization, people have a lot of choices when it comes to what they will be drinking after dinner. It no longer comes down to “I’ll have regular or decaf.” People have at least 10 options when thinking about how they want their coffee. There are a variety of espresso drinks, with or without steamed milk, foam, whole milk, skim milk, etc. There’s drip coffee. At some places you can get French pressed beans or pour overs. Again, you have all of the dairy options, and don’t forget the non-dairy options: almond, rice, or soy milk.

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Then there is the sweetener option, a whole different debate for some people. Which is better to offer for guests? There’s straight white sugar, sugar cubes (a bit more elegant in appearance and less messy), less-processed sugar in the raw, honey, and stevia. Then there are the artificial sweetener choices. I could write an entire post about the “yellow, pink, and blue stuff” that people still ask for.

There are also many options for tea drinkers. Do you want honey, sugar, perhaps lemon? If you really want to get technical – which I do when I am at home – there are varying degrees of water temperature that one should be thinking about when serving tea, especially if you are having green tea.

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Thankfully for me, and for my guests, who I do not want to burden with too many choices, the place where I work only offers coffee and tea. We serve simple and well-crafted food, and our coffee and tea list matches the rest of the menu in simplicity. That means I do not have to run all over God’s green earth to gather ingredients for after dinner drinks (although it seems that way sometimes). I just have to go away from the place where I can visually monitor what the guests in my section are doing. I have to put everything I am doing on pause for 5 or 10 minutes to prepare some delicious espresso drinks and tea for my guests. Just as I do, they appreciate the way good coffee complements their dessert and wraps up their dining experience in a ritualistic way.

Lesson: Working as a server, and in life, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. Sometimes focusing on the bigger picture can make all the difference in a dining experience. When is looking at the bigger picture helpful to you in your life? 

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What Do I Do with a Mushy Cantaloupe?

By July 28, 2014 beverage junkie, creativity, having flexibility, practice, recipes, summer

There are few things more disappointing to me than picking a fruit that has an undesirable texture. Come on, you know what I am talking about. How many tomatoes, peaches, plums, apples, or melons have you sunk your teeth into with disappointment?

In the summer I can eat a cantaloupe a day. There’s nothing quite like that subtle musky, juicy, refreshing melon experience. What is hard to swallow is when I pick a melon with a mushy texture. Who’s with me here?

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As usual, I went to the Durham Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I have been buying three cantaloupes from Brinkley Farms each Saturday. I have to admit, for as long as I have been eating cantaloupes this summer, my run on really good one’s has been mind-blowing!

Today was the first time that I sliced open that wonderfully musky fragranced melon to discover a mushy texture. The flavor, on the other hand, was perfect. What was I going to do?

I grabbed my Vitamix blender and scooped out the flesh of the melon straight into the blender pitcher. Once I had all of the melon scooped out, I put the lid on the blender and turned it on low. In seconds I had a refreshing juice. That was an incredibly easy solution!

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One thing to note is that after it sits, this juice will thicken. I did not strain out any of the pulp. You can thin it by adding some coconut water until you get the consistency that you want.

Another option would be to transform the juice into a shrub. Click here to learn more about shrubs and shrub making. I haven’t tried that yet, but will check it out and get back to you. You could also make a soda with your juice by adding sparkling water to it. Play with the ratios to get the flavor and texture you like. It is better to add a little bit of soda at a time. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away after you mix with your juice.  Let me know how you like it!

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Lesson: When things don’t go quite the way we planned or even assumed that they would, we can feel disappointed or even frustrated. These feelings often show up when we have expectations of a particular outcome. Who doesn’t want  to eat a perfect melon?

I always do my best to come up with alternate options that will work just as well as the outcome that I had hoped for in the kitchen and in life. This cantaloupe juice is a good example of that. What do you do to have flexibility when things don’t turn out as you had hoped?

 

 

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Breakfast at Barista Parlor

By April 25, 2014 beverage junkie, coffee, excellence, in the South, local flavor, Nashville, simplicity

Imagine walking into a room full of beautifully crafted wood tables, with vintage industrial light pendants hanging from the ceiling above the tables. They look handmade. People are busy chatting with colleagues, friends, or sitting with their headphones on their ears and plugged into their laptops. In the center of the room there is the center of reason – the reason that some people get out of bed in the morning – COFFEE.

Because I am nerdy and diligent about keeping up with food and drink focused businesses in various cities, I had been anxiously awaiting a visit to Barista Parlor in the East Nashville neighborhood of Nashville, TN for months. I had already carefully mapped the walking distance between where I stayed during my recent Nashville visit to this “more than a coffee shop” before my feet ever left the soils of North Carolina.

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I went into the Barista Parlor wide-eyed at all of the artisanal details. I knew that I was in a place that serves the best of what’s around. The counter was lined with beautifully wrapped chocolates. In the glass cases, which were also the order counter, you could find little macaroons in different flavors along with those old-fashioned no-bake oatmeal chocolate cookies. I knew either was a lovely pairing for coffee.

I had read a few online reviews that had deemed this little gem of a shop to be a bit pretentious and snobby about their coffee. I can appreciate a bit of coffee snobbery. What does that imply to me? It simply implies that I am going to get a really good cup of coffee. And I certainly did!

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Let’s get down to business, though. I also came here for the biscuits! This is the kind of place where you would not even fathom that the biscuits were anything other than homemade.

At the counter, I found handmade wooden menus listing the breakfast and coffee offerings. Buttermilk biscuits were offered on one side. Coffee options were offered on the other. I was very entranced in the biscuit options, so I regret that I cannot tell you what coffee options were beyond the standouts.

I chose the buttermilk biscuit with farm eggs and Kenny’s Farmhouse Jalapeno Cheddar cheese that is made in Kentucky. The biscuit was served to me on a beautifully made artisan wooden board, along with a navy blue bandana for a napkin. The biscuit was tender. The scrambled eggs were flavorful. The cheese added just the right amount of contrast between the biscuit and the egg. The flavor of the jalapeno was a bonus!

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I had an iced coffee to drink. I am not sure what kind of coffee I drank, but it was amazing. It was brewed in a Japanese method used for cold brewed coffee. Barista Parlor offers a handful of well-known coffee roasters from all over the country, such as Counter Culture from Durham, NC; Stumptown, from Portland, OR; Intelligentsia from Chicago, IL – the best of what’s around. My coffee was poured over perfectly cubed ice cubes in a handled Mason jar.  For iced coffee, Barista Parlor uses ice cubes that are mostly seen in craft cocktails these days. The benefit of such a detail is that the coffee doesn’t get watered down with quick melting ice. The coffee was so smoothly flavored and well brewed that I didn’t even need the shot of half and half that usually adorns my coffee. That was a first!

For some reason, I took a sip of the black coffee before adding my usual cream. It was perfect all on its own. Perhaps I just knew that it would be because of all the other seemingly perfect high quality products in that environment.

Did I mention how cool I thought it was to sit at that beautiful table on that handmade wooden stool enjoying my carefully crafted breakfast while listening to Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits spinning on the turntable? It was my perfect first stop on my first day returning to Nashville.

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I am a Southern Gal at heart. I grew up listening to classic country music. I grew up eating homemade buttermilk biscuits. You know, the simple things were what made people happy. The simple things still make me the happiest. I think when people take the time, they realize that that’s what makes them the happiest, too.

I figure that the reason for the surge in popularity of businesses like Barista Parlor is because people like to be connected to the good ol’ days. I find a lot of wonder in having the best of what’s around. It’s simple. It’s satisfying.

 

Lesson: My experience at Barista Parlor emphasized my love for simple things done really well. If you’re going to do something, can you give it your very best? It will certainly make a difference in how you feel about what you do every day! What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Intro to (Loving) Good Coffee

By April 17, 2014 beverage junkie, coffee, Durham, inspired by others, integrity, local flavor, so much to learn

I have wanted to dedicate some writing time to coffee for a while now. I have the pleasure of living in an area where we have many local coffee roasters who focus on quality and sustainability. This article will be one of many because there are so many facets of the coffee world to learn about. As I learn more, I will share!!!

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To give you some history, let’s go back to when I first began my love affair with good coffee. I had just begun to enjoy and appreciate coffee on a regular basis while living in Nashville in 2007. I was working at a restaurant called City House. We were serving Drew’s Brews coffee to our patrons. I had so many people comment about how it was the best coffee that they had ever had at a restaurant. The quality of the coffee was in alignment with the quality of the food we served.

In the fall of 2008, I decided that I was going to move to North Carolina. I had gone through a list of all the foodie-things that I loved and could only get in Nashville. Coffee was certainly on the list, Drew’s coffee that is. So I was going to have to have a chat with Drew. I was going to have to arrange a regular delivery of coffee beans to my new apartment in North Carolina. I needed to arrange how that could work out. I was not about to give up my newfound love and appreciation for stellar coffee.

Drew was in the bar one evening. It was time for me to have this chat with him. I had assumed that he would be overjoyed that I would want to carry 100lbs of his coffee with me to North Carolina. It was a funny thing that happened during that conversation with Mr. Drew Parks. I realized a couple of cool things about myself and about him. His response to me was that there was lots of good coffee where I was headed. He would gladly pack me up with enough of his to last me a bit. splash

He wanted me to support my own local coffee culture. At the time, that was an interesting perspective for me to look at in the moment of that conversation. I had already assumed that he was a man of good character and integrity. I knew that he cared about quality. His response was powerful to me. Over the last 5 years, I have remembered his words and his suggestion to nurture and support my own coffee community.

I have certainly been supporting my own local coffee community. Today I am in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. I call Durham home. This community is filled with food and beverage enthusiasts. Aren’t I lucky? I have found myself in another community that cares about food and drink. I have access to really good coffee here. Drew knew what he was talking about.

I have got some more research to do about the coffee production here. From what I have been able to tell so far, Counter Culture Coffee is the largest producer in NC. Durham is the home of nationally known, Counter Culture Coffee. Counter Culture has a learning center here that teaches the science of brewing coffee and many other facets of being a coffee professional. While I have no intention of being a coffee professional, I am looking forward to taking some of their classes.

Counter Culture also develops blends for various restaurant businesses in the area. I used to work at Magnolia Grill here in Durham before they closed at the end of May 2012. We served a house blend of regular and decaf. Counter Culture also bags and sells the Magnolia Grill blend to the public. I have heard through the grapevine that it is one of their most popular blends. Needless to say, people appreciated the good coffee that we served there.

There are a handful of additional local roasters that I would also like to mention – Larry’s Beans, Jo Van Gogh, and Carrboro Coffee Roasters are currently the largest operations in the triangle that I know about. I have had the pleasure of enjoying many of their coffees. I intend to learn more about each of these operations. I promise to share my discoveries with you guys. From the bit of research that I have done, I know each of these businesses has a unique story to tell.

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With more research, I am learning about even smaller local roasters. I am beginning to learn about classes being offered as well. So stay tuned. I am going to have a lot to share with you about my coffee-learning journey! I have also been drinking some wonderful coffees that coffee shops have been bringing in from out of town roasters. I have some enjoyable work cut out for me!

If you are in Nashville, TN – go see Drew. He’s a good guy. You can buy his coffee at Whole Foods Market, Marche Artisan Foods, Imogene and Willie, The Turnip Truck Natural Market, or enjoy it after a wonderful dinner at City House. You can also order it at Drew’s Online Store. I am sure he wouldn’t mind you being curious about a coffee outside of your local community!

Lesson: You never know how a person is going to touch your life and make you think about something in a different way. Drew Parks made me think about being a small  business person in a very different way. There is enough love to go around for us all (using the word “love” literally and figuratively.) Who has touched your life and made you see something important that you might not have seen otherwise?

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