Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cupping The Barefoot

Jeremy, Ilenia, Lamarie and Nikki cup samples from Barefoot Coffee.

As we grind closer to the opening of project hampden, the crazies at Barefoot Coffee were excited to send us some samples. I've known Andy Newbom, owner of Barefooot, since I really started getting into the business in 2004. He's a crazy guy with whom I haven't always seen eye-to-eye with (mainly when we served on the Barista Guild of America's Executive Council). Regardless I've always liked the guy and have always respected his passion and the company he's worked so hard to create, which is why it's now an honor to work with Barefoot for project hampden.

If you ever have the chance to visit their original cafe in Santa Clarita, I think you'll find a remarkable place. Dab smack in the middle of a very suburban strip mall is Barefoot - an urban oasis of bohemian coffee amongst soccer moms and technology wizards. The first time I visited in 2004, Andy was just getting started and it wasn't too radically different than most Third Wave shops at the time. When I stopped by again last December, I was amazed at the transformation. That it was possible to create an urban oasis in the middle of suburban hell.

When I went to visit Barefoot again during my brief four-hour stopover in San Francisco this past August (on the way home from the Western Canadian Regionals), I found Andy and company in a mission-style mansion not too far from downtown Santa Clara where everything was churning along. Since it's forty minutes each way, I only had about fifteen minutes to stop in for a chat and a quick tour. After meeting much of the crew and chilling with Andy, I was on my way back to SFO.

Like I said, Andy is a crazy guy. To my mind, there is no one coffee professional in our generation crazier than Andy Newbom. The guy is completely psycho about coffee and creating a rock culture of passionate coffee people. Which should have prepared me for the day that our Barefoot account rep Tony Serrano came-a-calling.

There was Tony, on the phone and just as crazy passionate about coffee as Andy. He was hyper excited about coffee and working with us, which in turn made me even more excited about working with them. Speaking through the phone, across America, in a high-speed, rapid-fire staccato about sending us an assortment of coffees to try. I was so swept up in his enthusiasm, how could anyone say no?

Not that I wanted to say "no" but I wasn't sure if now was the right time to start bringing in coffees for operational evaluation. We don't have a firm opening day yet.

Needless to say, the coffees started arriving and we started cupping. Many of the roasters we work with provide tasting notes with their coffees and Barefoot does the same. However, I think it's important for our baristas to know the coffees so, instead of memorizing the note cards and giving rote recitations of the descriptions, I have them cup the coffees, identify the characteristics and develop a description of the coffee based on their own tasting notes.

I tend to withhold the roasters' tasting notes until they are finished with the descriptions so as not to color their interpretations of the coffees. And while the differences can be starkly different, the commonalities are what I find most interesting. Here's Ilenia's description of Barefoot's Sumatra Gayoland Water Processed Decaf Coffee:

Barefoot Coffee's Sumatra Gayoland Decaf delivers a delicious cup of coffee with milk chocolate flavors and hints of fresh-cut honeysuckle. This crisp, yet thick but never heavy cup leaves a lasting aftertaste that will leave a spritely punch of rich, dark chocolate notes."

Now, here's Barefoot's description:

"Deep and earthy, heavy body and low bass notes heavy chocolate, rich nuttiness, loamy power creamy cherimoya and hints of tropicals."