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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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Bring on Summer!

By June 22, 2014 coffee, Durham, feeding ourselves, nurturing, sandwiches, simplicity, summer veggies

Here’s a photo recap on my week leading into the beginning of summer. My sense of wonderment is overflowing right now. These pictures capture what would take me more hundreds of words than anyone may have the time to read in one sitting. I will break it all down. I will share my love of summer in recipes like mint iced tea, fresh tomato juice, chilled cucumber soup, peach and blackberry crisp, and vanilla bean ice cream. Anything else you’re particularly interested in hearing about?

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I  L – O – V – E  zinnias!

 

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Cucumber Puree with Fresh Dill for Cucumber and Buttermilk Soup

 

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Enjoying a beautiful evening in Durham with my dear friend Peter at Alley 26.

 

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First peaches, won’t be the last!

 

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Sungold tomatoes

 

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Friday night burgers – grass-fed beef and gruyere

 

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Summer = iced coffee! My first Japanese method home brew

 

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Cold beer for stocking the fridge.

 

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Summer love => BLT

Stay tuned for lots more summer food and FUN!

Lesson: My cup has been overflowing with so much appreciation for what this summer season is bringing- at the dinner table and in my life. I am moving into a new way of how I want to live my life. Without defining it, it feels exhilarating from the inside out. If you see or sense some extra exuberance, you’ll know why! I feel like I am opening up and blossoming like those zinnias I posted. Getting to this place has taken consistent focus and intention. I have been planting these seeds for as long as my feet have been on this planet. The importance of self is a life-long journey for me. If you’re wondering how I got here or where I plan on going, feel free to ask!

Where are you going? What seeds that you have planted are beginning to bloom? What seeds are you wanting to plant for the future? I would love to hear about your journey! Thanks for being here and your interest in mine!

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Serving Coffee, Creativity, and Community

By May 2, 2014 building relationships, coffee, creativity, customer service, Durham, excellence, inspired by others, local flavor, people skills, working in restaurants

One of my first outings after I moved to Durham was venturing to a place called Motorco. On Sunday’s they had a community market where artists and artisans were selling their wares. That is where I first met Areli. She had a table where she sold spices, chocolates, and coffee. While her wares were intriguing and attractive, the vibrancy of Areli’s smile and the light in her eyes were what made me interested in what she was selling.

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I continued to follow what Areli and her husband, Leon, were up to. They began selling hand ground coffee around town from a bike that they had built for their mobile coffee business called Bike Coffee. Their momentum was building with a mobile food scene happening at the time, with a number of food trucks showing up to feed people around town. Areli and Leon were in the middle of that movement.

A while later, I saw them launch a Kickstarter project for their coffee business. They were planning to build a brick and mortar space to sell their unique wares. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, they spent a lot of time building relationships with the community here in Durham. When it came time for them to launch the fund-raising campaign for their business, people were ready for them to have a larger presence in the community. They raised $32,325 dollars for their coffee shop, Cocoa Cinnamon. That is $12, 325 more than their goal. To see a video about those guys and their Kickstarter video, click HERE.

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Finally, long after my initial intention to have more than a causal conversation with Areli, we sat down in front of her coffee shop for a chat. I wanted to know what it has been like for her and Leon to get this business going. I wondered what it was like for them to work together. I wondered how they had created the magic that I experience when I go to Cocoa Cinnamon.

I feel like I could write a book about what makes Cocoa Cinnamon such an enjoyable place to hang out. I go there a couple times a week for coffee. You might remember just a moment ago when I mentioned what interested me about Areli in the first place. Extrapolate vibrancy, soulful energy, and passion from a human being, and they will create a space where people want to be. From the warm and welcoming staff behind the bar, to the creativity that spills off of the walls in their coffee shop, like attracts like.

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Areli and Leon have been incredibly thoughtful about the creation of their space, carefully choosing who they have hired to be a part of their team, and deliberately selecting what they sell in their shop. I applied to work there when they began looking for staff. While I decided to continue my journey working in the restaurant world, it is still tempting to me to go to work for Areli and Leon. Their application process is different than most. They are digging into people’s interests. Areli says that their hiring process is like casting for a Broadway musical.

The process seems to be working for them from my side of the coffee bar. I enjoy good service. Having worked in the service industry for 20 years, I appreciate businesses that put a lot of effort into how they interact with their customers and the community.

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Areli said that in their first year open that they were able to donate $5,000 to the community of Durham. That is remarkable for a first year of business. They also pay their staff a living wage. Thankfully, more thoughtful employers are into creating a long term staff. Areli said that their goal is to hire people who want to have careers with them. Having a staff that is passionate and invested in what they do for work makes a world of difference in how they perform. Most of the baristas at Cocoa Cinnamon never worked as baristas before. I made sure to tell Areli that I would have never known that before she told me.

A lot of training goes into the staff. Areli seems to be good at giving people responsibilities that fit their personal desires. One of her team members, Susie, has a culinary background. Susie creates the specials. These kinds of moves are important ones for a business owner to make. They keep the staff engaged and provide opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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As a culinary and service professional, I know that it speaks volumes when business owners can relinquish control and allow their staff to take a lead in creating menu items or implementing ideas. That is what facilitates a culture amongst a staff.

This kind of leadership that Areli and Leon are exercising is integral for a young business to thrive. Businesses like theirs are breaking the mold of the old business models. We are living in a new world. Times are changing rapidly. While Areli did not mention how successful she feels after recently celebrating a year as a brick and mortar business, she did mention how they have only just begun. I got the notion that she and Leon have a lot of ideas up their sleeves and much more creativity to unleash.

With their attitudes and passion for what they are doing, these people are not only running a coffee shop. They are creating a model for a new way of doing business, and they are creating a model for building community.

I left my chat with Areli today wanting to know more and more about her plans and ideas. I wanted to say, “Hey, when can I start?” I left wanting to be a part of what they have going on.

Lesson: Doing business in this world today calls for a different quality of service and wares. Cocoa Cinnamon is embodying a way of doing business that is a model for the entrepreneurial folks here in Durham. The way Areli and Leon are doing things inspires me to continue to pay attention to all of the ingredients in my business and in my life! Little details make large impact. What little touches do you notice about a business that make a difference in the community? What makes it so important to you and your community? 

 

 

 

 

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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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