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What is Tea Certification?

Tea CertificationYou may have heard recently that tea is rapidly increasing in popularity in America. In order to keep up with the trends, you might have considered adding tea to your cafe or store offerings, doing some research on tea to learn more about it or even taking classes to become a tea master or tea sommelier. However, since getting a tea certification is still a fairly new concept for most people, the phrases ‘tea master’ or ‘tea sommelier’ may leave you scratching your head, wondering what the programs entail or whether they are really worth the cost. To figure out what getting a tea certification is all about, we did our due diligence and took a class ourselves.

Who Should Get Certified as a Tea Master, Sommelier or Specialist?

Some of the folks that would benefit from this certification include:

  • Retailers or business owners that desire industry recognition or want themselves and/or their staff to have a deep knowledge of tea so they can increase their sales.
  • Owners of tea rooms or cafes who want advanced knowledge on how to serve tea and what to pair it with.
  • Wholesalers who are directly involved in buying or selling tea.
  • People in the food service or culinary industry, as well as those in the coffee and wine business (while they are very different beverages, there are similarities in how tea, coffee and wine are evaluated).
  • Tea growers or researchers.
  • Nutritionists, dieticians or other health care professionals who are interested in using tea to lead a healthy lifestyle.

However, getting a tea certification can also be helpful for people who are simply interested in tea or have a passion for it and would like to learn more about tea.

What is the Tea Certification Process?

Generally, the tea certification process begins by building a strong understanding of the Camellia sinensis plant and the six basic types of tea. Students learn how each type of tea is processed and produced, what differentiates each classification of tea and where and how the teas are grown. Tisanes and popular herbals like Rooibos, Yerba Mate and Honeybush are often also taught about during the class. The next step of a tea specialist’s education is usually learning about post-production processes such as naming and grading, decaffeination, blending, scenting and flavoring. The final part of becoming a tea master is discovering how to brew, taste and evaluate teas, as well as being able to create and host their own tea cuppings. Some programs also include lessons on pairing food with tea, the health benefits of tea, how to educate guests about tea or hosting specific types of tea ceremonies, while other organizations have these classes separated into additional, more advanced programs.

If you are interested in enrolling in a tea certification program, you are in luck, as there are several available in America (there are plenty of courses outside the United States as well). Depending on what program you enroll in, classes are offered either in-person, online or some combination thereof. Here are a few popular programs, and the certifications they offer:

Is Tea Certification Worth the Cost?

While there is no absolute guarantee that becoming a certified tea master or sommelier will secure you a job or increase your business, becoming more knowledgeable about the products you are selling or serving certainly can’t hurt. The more you know, the better you will be able to stock your store, pair tea with food in your cafe, educate your customers about tea and explain why it is a good option for them. If nothing else, by attending a class you will have gotten to see, learn about, taste and experiment with some new teas, and perhaps even connect with other people in the industry.

I recently attended James Nordwood Pratt’s Apprentice Tea Sommelier class at Coffee Fest, and while I thought I was decently educated about tea before, I found out there was a lot I didn’t know. I came out of the class with a greater appreciation for tea, and a head full of new fun facts, stories and information to share with my coworkers.

If you aren’t ready to shell out your hard earned cash for a tea class, you can also find a lot of written information about tea either online or in books. There are a number of tea professionals (such as James Norword Pratt, Robert J. Heiss, etc.) who have written informative books that can be found most libraries. In addition, there is a large and active online tea community with folks who are part of organizations like the Association of Tea Bloggers, who review and write about tea regularly. There are also several forums such as Steepster and Tea Trade where people can ask questions and share information with fellow tea lovers. Finally, some tea retailers like Adagio Teas have extensive information on tea that is helpful for beginners and advanced learners alike.

$20 Thrift Shop Challenge – Coffee Edition

thrift shop coffee cupsSeattle is home to the singer Macklemore and his song ‘Thrift Shop’ was the theme for a really fun and unique birthday party I attended. The birthday party activity was a thrift shop challenge: Who can find the best present at Goodwill for under $20? With a tight budget and 45 minutes to shop, it was a great reminder that it really is ‘the thought that counts.’ We spent quality time together, had fun and didn’t spend much money.

This led me to wonder: Is a twenty dollar thrift store coffee challenge possible? I studied the aisles of previously owned houseware products to see which types of coffee accoutrements are commonly found. Based on SCG experience, here are my top tips for what thrift shop coffee items to try — and, possibly more essential, which items to avoid.

Storage – Yes!

Whether you use whole coffee beans or ground coffee, proper storage will help your coffee stay fresher and taste better. As coffee beans age they become harder and stale, the oils oxidize and can add a bad taste to the brewed cup. The best way to store coffee is in a cool, dark and dry place. Airtight storage is ideal and while decorative ceramic canisters are easy to find, make sure to select one with a tight fitting lid. Once the coffee is opened and stored, use it within 30 days for best taste.

Cups – Oh Yes!

Cups are easy to inspect for visible damage prior to purchase and easy to clean. This is the best coffee item to find at a thrift store because it shows your individuality at home or at work. I attended a wedding where thrift store coffee mugs served as the place cards on the tables. Each mug was specially selected by the bride and groom. Mine had my home state on it, which made it a very special memento of the day.

Drip Coffee Maker – No

I purchased a ‘vintage’ mini drip coffee maker for 4.99 to see if it worked. There are two factors to consider when making a delicious cup of drip coffee: Temperature and evenness of how the coffee grounds are wet. Expensive coffee makers have boilers that ensure the water is around 200F/93C for the entire brew process, which is in the ideal temperature range. Some also have fancy shower heads to evenly wet all of the coffee grounds in the filter basket. This creates an ‘even extraction’ which is necessary for the best tasting cup of coffee possible. After using coffee care products to clean and descale the internals, the little mini drip still didn’t work great. A better value for the same price is a new manual cone dripper. These simple cones are made out of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass and require a kettle and a filter. With this method, it’s you — not the coffee maker — that makes sure the water is the right temperature and all of the coffee grounds are evenly wet. Talk about quality control!

Espresso Maker – Maybe

A very traditional style stovetop espresso maker can often be found second-hand. This is a tried and true method for making delicious espresso coffee at home. There are two pieces that screw together with a small basket and a gasket in between. Inspect the unit to make sure there are no dents, that the pieces screw together easily and the gasket is intact. Replacement gaskets are available too. Most of these stovetop espresso makers are made out of aluminum, some are made out of stainless steel and they also come in different sizes. Make sure you are getting a good deal second-hand because you can also find some for less than twenty dollars brand new. Stay away from semi-automatic and superautomatic espresso machines unless you are a repair pro and you have access to replacement parts.

Other Coffee Brewing Methods – Depends

French press, cone drippers, immersion brewers, AeroPress, cold brew pots, Turkish coffee, the list of fancy coffee brewing methods goes on and on…These are all fun (and tasty!) manual methods of making coffee and espresso. Many of these ideas are under twenty dollars new, so make sure you are check the quality before you try one second-hand.

stove top

 

Scary French Press Experiments for Halloween

experimentWith (seemingly) unlimited access to great coffee and espresso making equipment comes great responsibility. In this spirit, Seattle Coffee Gear tests out the things we hear on the gear we have, mainly so you don’t have to … Sure, we made eggs with an espresso machine steam wand.  What more? This week, the interwebs inspired us to try three more truly crazy coffee experiments. Insert mad (coffee) scientist laughter here [muah hahaha]!!!

Coffee and Beer

This is a natural partnership in the beverage world. If you enjoy beer and coffee, there are plenty of coffee porters and espresso stouts available in specialty shops. But what if you want beer-flavor coffee instead of coffee-flavored beer? This question occurred to our Instagram friend one morning when he combined Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with Starbucks Pike Place medium roast and Bailey’s hazelnut coffee creamer in a mug. Sadly, he did not find the combination delicious. So we picked up where young Mister Alves left off … oh yeah, we brewed a French press with boiling beer instead of boiling water.

The recipe: French press, 32oz Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter heated almost to boil (at boiling it goes to a huge fizzy mess so monitor the situation carefully if you try this at home and use a saucepan that will hold double your initial volume for safety sake and, heck, while you’re at it put on some Kareem Abdul Jabbar-style safety goggles) and 62 grams Velton’s Twilight blend coffee. 4 minute steep, then plunge.

The results: It tasted like warm beer, the coffee essence was not pronounced. Bummer.

Coffee and Coconut Water

If it looks like water will it perform like water? This was the rationale behind our next experiment. In truth we thought we had a fair chance that this would turn out to be a taste sensation. Some folks have experimented with heated milk or soy milk as a water substitute also but in all cases the flavor did not extract well because the proteins and sugars get in the way.

The recipe: French press, plus we gurgled a 32oz carton of Vita Coco coconut water into a saucepan and brought it to a boil. Then we added 62 grams Velton’s Twilight blend coffee. 4 minute steep, then plunge.

The results: When refrigerated, coconut water doesn’t have a very distinctive taste, but heated, regrettably, it turned very sweet. The coffee flavor was barely there, it was as if someone had spilled the whole sugar bowl into a single cup of coffee.

Coffee and Chicken Broth

Ripped from the headlines! The single cup coffee brewer market is being taken by storm and by chicken noodle soup capsules. I took an informal survey of friends and family members who admitted to owning Keurigs, and my suspicions were confirmed: Not one of them had ever cleaned or descaled their little dudes. Why does their coffee taste bad? Many reasons, and now chicken soup is one. So to drive home the point that it doesn’t matter how you make your coffee, you have to keep your equipment clean, I made a French press with boiling chicken stock instead of boiling water.

The recipe: French press, 32oz Pacific Natural Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Broth heated to a simmer, 62 grams Velton’s Twilight blend coffee. 4 minute steep, then plunge.

The results: This approach was too concentrated. The chicken flavor predominated the combination and it was so strong it was hard to try even one sip. Gross!

Conclusion

After three failed experiments in a row, did I give up? No! In a stroke of genius inspired by too many episodes of the televised cooking contest Chopped, I combined all three results into one carafe. Surprisingly, this created a very wacky yet drinkable cup. In fact, it may already be invented and available for sale in an international vending machine somewhere. If it is not, feel free to pitch the idea yourself — now you have the recipe!

PS. Because Bunny would kill me if I wasted all of that nice Velton’s Coffee, I browned some ground pork, added some beans and New Mexico green chile and made a delicious chili con carne for dinner.

coffee beer chili with coconut water and chicken broth

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Remedy Teas Review

Remedy TeasWith fog lingering in the air, and Halloween just around the corner, what better time than the present to stop by Capitol Hill’s Remedy Teas, which is styled like a trendy science lab? Upon entering, you’ll find five rows of good-sized white canisters, numbered from 1 to 150 in black print behind the counter, which contain the cafe’s selection of organic loose-leaf teas (which can be brewed by teapot, to go, iced or purchased in bulk). To the right, along one of the store’s walls, you will find a long row of test tubes (each also numbered) that provides customers with the opportunity to smell and see each tea up close.

In keeping with the apothecary feel, there are flasks scattered around the store filled with flowers and various potions. There is plenty of seating as well, with white ottomans, several wood tables and a bar area. Anthony, one of the store’s owners, said the design was inspired by the desire to create a shop that combined the elements of a traditional cafe and tea store where “the focus is on the tea and the customer.”

However, the store’s menus are not to be outdone by its design — there is not one, but two menus! One menu is dedicated entirely to the store’s tea selection and includes a detailed description of each tea’s ingredients and flavors. With too many tantalizing teas to try in one visit (yes, I will be going back!), my mouth was watering from just looking at the menu. The second menu is the food and mixed drink menu, featuring tea smoothies, tea lattes, tea sandwiches, soups, salads and even full tea services if you want to partake in “high tea.”

After pouring over the menu, I selected a teapot of a flavored white tea blend called the “Blue Hawaii,” which is described as, “A sinfully good blend of white teas, coconut, natural essences, vanilla pieces and blue cornflowers. It’s aloha in your cup.” Prior to my visit, Anthony had mentioned that one of the store’s most popular foods was the Apple Pie tea sandwich. The Cucumber Classic tea sandwich also caught my eye, so I decided to round out my order with half of a unique apple sandwich, and half of a more traditional cucumber one.

My order arrived in a cute personal glass teapot that was kept warm by a tea light candle, a pre-set timer for my tea (which flashed when the tea was done steeping), a metal holder for the tea filter and a Bodum double wall glass. This glass also happens to be one of my favorite tea cups at work since it allows me to make my tea as hot as I want without burning my fingers. It also keeps my tea hotter, longer, because of its double-walled insulation.

The tea produced a light yellow liquor that smelled and tasted heavenly, like vanilla and coconut. Both the sandwiches were tasty as well. The Apple Pie sandwich (apple butter, melted cheddar cheese and butter spread served on cinnamon bread dusted with cinnamon) was sweet and slightly salty, while the Cucumber Classic sandwich (cucumbers, chive cream cheese and butter spread on whole grain bread garnished with chives) was zesty and creamy. As Anthony had mentioned, you really can’t go wrong with the food here and it’s no wonder all the teas are popular.

It is clear that Anthony and Andrea (Anthony’s partner at Remedy Teas) truly love their tea and want to share that passion and knowledge with their customers. Anthony explained that the first teas he ever drank were “terrible bagged black tea, poorly prepared and over-brewed. Hence, one of the reasons we created Remedy Teas. [We wanted to provide people with] excellent organic loose leaf teas of every kind, [that are] well prepared, good for you and tasty.”

Remedy TeasThis November will mark the seventh year the café has been in business, and based on how busy the store was when I visited, they certainly have met Anthony’s goal of “tak[ing] the fussy out of tea and present[ing] tea to [people] in a modern approachable way.” While I was in their shop, Andrea came over with a huge smile and pointed out a toddler who had tried and enjoyed her first cup of tea (which was very cute). According to Andrea, moments like this one, where she gets to interact with the happy, creative and fun clientele of Capitol Hill, are the best part of running the store.

Anthony and Andrea have created the perfect venue to escape the standard black teas and try a variety of healthful teas. Anthony says he now “prefer[s] a fine Japanese green tea, but every member of the team tends to drink different teas throughout the day depending on whatever [they’re] craving; traditional tea or something non-traditional, caffeinated or non caffeinated, something to settle your tummy or help you sleep, something spicy or floral, something calming or energizing — it’s tea time all the time honestly.”

Barista Snapshot: Cort Kern aka Barista Maniac

cortkernWho: Cort Kern, Professional Barista/Consultant

Where: Head Barista, Christ Church Of Oak Brook

What is a coffee consultant?

Someone who steps in to guide and restructure a current or new coffee shop. I provide training at a professional level to increase sales and run an effective business custom tailored for each shop owner.

What was the first coffee drink you remember tasting? Did you like it?

It was an Americano. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but to be honest with you I just saw The Talented Mr. Ripley in the theatre that day and loved the song Americano. So it inspired me to order it. The barista behind the counter was singing the song without knowing I just saw the film.

What kind of coffee do you drink at home?

A black cup of coffee, no cream, no sugar. I use many different brewing methods at home including Chemex, Hario V60 dripper, Bodum siphon, AeroPress and Bunn Trifecta. I’m glad to have these at my disposal in the morning.

What kind of coffee do you drink at work, if different?

At work in the morning, I enjoy making myself a Cortado. Yes! Yes! Yes! My name is Cort. Many people at the church probably think I named the drink after me … I wish.

If you could teach people one thing about coffee, what would it be?

There are still quite a handful of people out there using drip coffee brewers. My first pour over coffee brewer was the Clever coffee dripper. I thought it was a unique way of brewing and it’s not very complicated. I’d gladly teach anyone how to use the Clever dripper effectively and by doing so it might open them up to try other delicious brewing options.

What’s cool about your local coffee scene?

The suburbs of Chicago are getting much better about coffee. There are some tiny hole-in-the wall places nearby, but the real meat and potatoes is in the city. I love Caffe Streets and Gaslight Coffee Roasters. So many independent markets are beginning to carry single origin coffees and fantastic cold brew options as well. I find it quite unique that I have the opportunity to serve professional espresso drinks at a church on Sundays.

As a barista, what are your thoughts on coffee skills versus customer service skills?

If you live in the suburbs, you need to do both to the best of your ability. But in Chicago I’ve dealt with nasty service and still had the most amazing cup. Personally, I like quality and great service and I try to share that philosophy as a coffee consultant.

Do you ever judge people by the drink they order?

Not at all. To each his own.

Whose espresso shots are better than yours?

On a Rancilio Epoca and a Faema X1 Granditalia Auto Steam, I got my dad beat. But at home his craft coffee and drink-making skills surpass mine. He finds it amazing what I can do with coffee and espresso these days though.

You can find Cort in his free time blogging about coffee and posting impressions on his website at www.baristamaniac.com and Twitter @BaristaManiac

photo by Ethan Paulson's Photography
photos by Ethan Paulson’s Photography

The Reluctant Barista Dials in a Coffee Grinder on the Last Frontier

IMG_1796Lots of Seattle Coffee Gear fans watch our YouTube videos to learn more about coffee and espresso with our hands-on tutorials. But what if you don’t have internet or wireless service available? This summer, I carefully hand-carried a Rancilio Rocky Coffee Grinder to Homer, Alaska, a location often highlighted as part of the current ‘Alaskan Reality TV Show’ craze. Let me tell you about the reality I faced as I tried to help my family dial in their new coffee grinder without the SCG Crew there to help me.

First of all, my family lives on twenty acres located ten miles outside of town. Fair to say, it is a little remote. Tom Bodett calls Homer The End of the Road: Electricity is a new arrival at the house and my mom still cooks on a wood stove. Internet comes via satellite service, which is comparable to the dial-up systems of yore in terms of both speed and reliability. My step-dad unpacked this nice hand-built Italian grinder on the coffee table and fished around inside the box for instructions. I laughed a little at the old-fashioned notion of reading a user manual and pulled out my smartphone. The joke was on me when I had no cell reception and such limited wi-fi that I could navigate to YouTube, but not play a video! Then, the joke was on him because the poorly translated Italian-to-English instructions left us scratching our heads.

I love the Rancilio Rocky grinder. It is a home grinder, but it’s made with commercial parts, so I knew it would be the right grinder to reliably produce the daily espresso needed to make my folks an Americano and a cappuccino. I reached deep into my memory bank to help set up this burr grinder. The one thing I clearly recalled was to make sure beans are ground through it as the burrs are adjusted lower so they do not grind against each other and cause damage. I wish I had seen Teri’s excellent video on how to dial in a Rocky before I left Seattle. We did find a written blog post by Kat years ago and used it to guide our efforts.

The part that frustrated me most about dialing in the new grinder was not the physical adjustment, but rather the amount of espresso beans used and time it took. Compared to the Baratza Virtuoso I have at home in Seattle, the process was night and day. By the time I ran through the recommended ¼ pound of beans on the Baratza I found my grind. With the Rocky, it took a full bag of beans plus the stopwatch app on my phone and multiple taste tests that left us all wired. The Rancilio instructions say that this process will never need to be repeated but I know from watching Kat and Gail’s videos that any time you get new beans or a new machine, re-calibration is required.

The Rancilio Rocky grinder is an excellent coffee grinder and the fuss of a more temperamental set up is rewarded with an ideal home espresso grind. My parents wanted a grinder that could be carefully maintained and serviced to last many years. In the greater scheme of things, an evening spent hopped-up on espresso shots was family bonding time and not actually wasted. Plus each morning thereafter was like Christmas as we raced to see who would get to use the new grinder first.

What is the takeaway from this cautionary tale? A) Don’t count on modern technology to work in the wilderness B) Be more patient than I am C) We put a great effort into creating the perfect home espresso station while there’s still no thought of indoor plumbing. And that is the reality of life on the Last Frontier.

 

The Reluctant Barista: Baratza Grinder Groove

baratzaThere are many reasons why I remain a reluctant barista. Over the past year, my caffeinated knowledge has greatly improved and my skills have marginally improved but there remains a hole in my espresso education: Coffee grinders have me particularly perplexed. I understand the working parts, I have even taken them apart (and put them back together again) for cleaning purposes. However, when I see a fluffy pile of fresh coffee grounds and compare it to another pile, it all looks the same to me. Sure I can tell French press coarse from Turkish fine but the micro-adjustments have me stumped.

So, here I stand with the full line of Baratza coffee grinders in front of me. This is a quality coffee problem to have, except I only know how to use the Encore grinder! It is a sturdy little workhorse that pairs well with my Technivorm coffee maker. Instead of regurgitating RPMs and clump tests — which really isn’t my style — let’s start with what’s in it for you — which really is my style. How will you get your groove on with a Baratza coffee grinder?

Entry level/Drip Coffee = Encore. This is my not-so-secret weapon for successful office coffee. The Encore has an on/off knob, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. This is great for coffee preps like drip, pour-over, AeroPress, French press, Siphon and Chemex. It can also be adjusted finer for espresso grind if you are using a pressurized portafilter.

Mid-level/Multiple Brew Preps = Virtuoso. The Virtuoso is very consistent. It has an on/off knob, a timer, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. The particle size uniformity makes it well suited for coffee preps like espresso in addition to drip and manual brewing methods. This versatility is great for anyone who enjoys multiple brew preps.

Mad (coffee) Scientist/Espresso = Preciso. More fine-tuning options and a little bit faster output make the Preciso a conical burr home grinder with commercial functionality. There are 40 step adjustments multiplied by 11 micro-adjustments within each setting. I can’t even do the math or my brain will explode! Suffice it to say, if you enjoy playing around with different coffee and espresso blends, then this grinder is optimized for your caffeinated brewing adventures.

Pro Version/Multiple Brew Preps = Vario. So where does this grinder fit? The 54mm ceramic flat burrs provide accurate, fast-grinding performance. This is a professional-grade machine with optimal consistency within a very small footprint. It has 230 distinct grind settings from fine grind for espresso to coarse grind for French press. With a digital timer and three programmable buttons, the Vario has accurate one-touch dosing. Small cafes and roasters report a solid track record with the Vario and the Vario-W model, which adds weight-based functionality.

Cafe Version/All Purpose = Forte AP. While the Vario does a great job, the brand new Forte models are bigger, beefier and have digital touch screens. The AP features 54mm ceramic flat burrs which stay accurate longer than metal burrs and grind finer. The weight and time based functionality provides repeatable grinding results. Designed for long lasting cafe use and abuse, the AP shines for espresso and can grind for coarser settings also.

Cafe Version/Pour Over Preps = Forte BG. This model features 54mm flat steel burrs. Why offer a choice of burr sets when ceramic lasts longer and grinds finer? Metal burrs reduce ‘fines’ in the mid to coarse range of grinds. Pour over preps require particle consistency, which is harder to achieve in the coarser grind settings. The Forte BG is a specific solution to a problem that high end/Third Wave coffee bars have had — they demanded the highest quality burr grinder available for everything but espresso. The BG can still technically ‘do espresso’ but it has been designed to tackle mid-range particle quality and quantity.

forte grindsOnce you have selected a grinder for your intended usage, then you can dial it in. This had — up to now — been my downfall, then I realized I was rushing it. It takes time, patience and a pound of beans … and that’s asking a lot from an impatient person like myself. I tried the Forte AP since it is new and fancy (and I love new and fancy) and I paired it with the Pasquini Livia G4 Automatic espresso machine because that is also new and fancy. The process involves picking an initial setting and noting the results with each incremental change. Instead of visually inspecting the grind, this is a combination of timing the espresso shots and tasting the results. Word to the wise: Just sip — otherwise you are in for a sleepless night! I filled a frothing pitcher with discarded espresso shots before I felt comfortable with the right setting for particle size and dosage.

One final note before I leave you up to your elbows in coffee grounds … Sadly for me, this process needs to be repeated if you change your beans or the machine you are using. Grinders are not universally calibrated so there is no cheat-sheet to tell you what number or setting will be optimal. This is a situation where trial and error, er I mean to say, highly scientific methodology is the only way to help any grinder find its groove.

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Tea Republik Review

Tea RepublikOne of the best parts about living in Seattle is the opportunity to explore a variety of different foods and drinks due to the abundance of cultures found in the city. Recently, my quest to try new teas and coffees lead me to Tea Republik, which is located on the Ave (45th Street) in the heart of the U-District. Curious to find out the story behind the teahouse with the unique name, I chatted with the store’s owner, Anton Lim, to learn more.

According to Lim, ‘Republik means people in Bashasa [Lim’s native language], so Tea Republik means people of tea.’ Lim went on to explain that after coming to United States from South East Asia as a student in 1998, he was inspired to provide people who love the natural flavor of tea with something new — fusion tea. As Lim states, ‘Tea does not have to [always] be served traditionally because there is so much more potential for tea blending. In my opinion, each tea has its own natural flavor that can be enhanced and used [to] complement other flavors once you know how to blend them; it can make something unique and delicious.’ Thus, in January of 2012, Tea Republik was born.

Even the design of the store itself is distinctive. Stalks of bamboo line the walls, beautiful and brightly colored flower lanterns hang from the ceiling and there is a bamboo canopy over the cash register (causing it to resemble a Tiki hut). Lim explained that his goal was to create ‘an outdoor experience in an indoor space [so that customers will feel like they are in the outdoors] when sipping our teas.’

What is more impressive is the wall of glass jars filled with tea that line the hallway to the back of the store. Lim says that they have ‘more than 100 loose leaf teas [including] traditional teas, natural flavor teas, herbal teas and decaf teas such as fruit tea. We are not limited to green, black and oolong teas but also have some South African teas (Rooibos).’

Striking decorations aside, the true highlight of Tea Republik are their special teas. These are tea blends that have milk or creme added for volume, or are mixed with fresh fruit and juices. Lim says the most popular teas are the ‘Lavender Creme Earl Grey special tea, [which] has lavender herbal tea blended with Earl Grey black tea [and is sweetened] with soy or creme’ and the Tropical Rainforest, which is ‘a fruity iced lemon tea with lemon, key lime, passion fruit and apples slices.’

After hearing about their special teas, I had to try one. At the counter, I poured over their tea menu (which is actually more like a book) and ended up going with an iced Chocolate Chimp Chai (a chocolate and banana flavored chai). The drink had a strong chocolate flavor, followed by the spicy and creamy flavor of traditional Chai tea — a definite winner. While there, I also tried their ‘Healing Tea,’ which was served in a cute personal tea pot and came with a caddy for my spent tea bag. The server at the counter said this sweet tasting peppermint tea is great for upset stomachs, which was great news since peppermint tea has always been my go-to when I have a stomach ache.

If for some reason you can’t find a tea that appeals to you on the menu (which seems virtually impossible with the huge selection of traditional and blended teas they offer!) you are not entirely out of luck. The staff at Tea Republik strives to create new special teas every day and customers also have the ability to create their own tea blends. The teahouse also rewards loyal customers with knowledge of their secret menu (a la In and Out) that features an even larger selection of specialty teas. No wonder this shop has become so popular with students and locals alike.

Specialty Coffee for $20 or less?

Coffee Power, Activated!Time, counter space and budget may all be concerns, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a delicious cup of coffee. Fresh, locally roasted whole bean coffee is a step up from capsule coffee and miles above instant. If you take the time to find a specialty coffee blend that you like, then by all means take the time to properly store and brew it! You will notice your coffee tastes better, without spending extra money. Here are some tips.

Storage

Coffee is best stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Any freezer bag or airtight canister you already have in the pantry will do. After the bag of coffee is opened, use it within 30 days. Try not to buy more than a 30-day supply, even if it is on sale. ‘Waste not, want not.’ The beans harden and eventually become bitter as they go stale. Darker roasts don’t keep as well as lighter roasts because the oilier beans are quicker to oxidize.

Coffee Grinder

If you do not already have a coffee grinder in your arsenal, it is okay to ask the roaster to open the bag and grind it for you. This saves a large investment. Blade grinders are inexpensive but they are not able to make consistent size coffee grounds. An uneven extraction of the coffee can give it a strange taste. Burr grinders are more expensive, but you can always use someone else’s — the grocery store’s, a friend’s or your roaster’s — until your coffee budget increases. Just make sure to mention how you are brewing the coffee because the size of the grind varies for the following preparations.

Cone Shaped Dripper

This style is also called ‘pour over style’ coffee and brand names such as Melitta, Hario and Kelita have become synonymous. The cone can be made of plastic, ceramic, glass or metal. Hot water is poured gently and evenly over the ground coffee in the cone repeatedly until your preferred coffee to water ratio is attained. This method requires hot water, the dripper, a filter, ground coffee (fine drip) and a cup or carafe. Prices start at $3 plus the other necessary items.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Easy clean up. Most models make 1-2 cups.
  • Cons: Some models require a very careful directional method of pouring the hot water over the ground coffee to make sure the extraction is even. It will taste watery if this is not done with care. And it only makes a little bit of coffee at a time.

Immersion Dripper

This style is also called the Clever Dripper although there are other brands of immersion style brewing devices available. Instead of pouring the water over the bed of ground coffee and letting it drip through, this cone shaped dripper is filled, stirred and steeps like a French press. Then a lever is released and gravity flows brewed coffee into a cup or carafe. This method requires hot water, the dripper, a filter, ground coffee (fine drip) and a cup or carafe. Prices start at $18 plus the other necessary items.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Easy clean up. Most models make 1-2 cups.
  • Cons: Some, but not all, coffees taste better with this method as the coffee grounds are allowed to stay in contact with the water longer as they brew.

French Press

This is also called a press pot, cafetiere, coffee press or coffee plunger. It has a long and interesting history if coffee history is your jam! Of these budget brew preps, the French press tends to be the most forgiving and easiest to learn. Prices start around $7 and it only requires the addition of ground coffee (coarser than drip) and hot water.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Available in larger sizes.
  • Cons: Kind of a pain to clean up afterwards. Some people do not like that the filter allows coffee sediment through.

Cold Brew

This method is gaining popularity in the US and is already big in Japan. The benefit to this method is that it produces a cup of coffee with little to no acidity. As the name implies, it is cold brewed and served cold. This is a great budget option for warm weather climates. All you need is a cold brew filter pitcher, ground coffee (medium drip) and cold water. Pitcher prices vary, from about $18.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Easy to make. Available in larger sizes.
  • Cons: Requires 12-24 hours so you have to plan ahead! Some people do not like that the filter allows fine coffee sediment through. This method requires you to use a larger proportion of ground coffee than hot brews, but the result is concentrated and can be diluted with additional water.

Stove Top Espresso

Say you are in the mood for something stronger, darker and bolder…You can afford an espresso maker! A stove top espresso maker is where most people start their love affair with homemade espresso coffee. These affordable devices are intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is a very consistent and easily repeatable process. Prices start around $8 and all you need is ground coffee (espresso fine), water and a stove.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Homemade espresso!!
  • Cons: Tricky to learn at first. Also the espresso coffee grind size has to be very fine and consistent, not a job for a blade grinder.

Barista Snapshot: Jake at SteamDot Coffee

Jake SchmutzlerWho: Jake Schmutzler, Barista

Where: SteamDot Coffee Company, Anchorage, Alaska

What was the first coffee drink you remember tasting, did you like it?

I remember loving the smell and the sounds of my dad’s morning coffee ritual: stoking the wood-stove, boiling water in the brass kettle, grinding K-Bay beans by hand with his Spong while I stayed in bed and the wood-stove heat and steamy coffee wafted up to my loft. But I hated the taste of the stuff.

What do you drink now at home?

I actually don’t make coffee at home. I live half a mile from my shop and coffee is a great incentive to get out of the house in the morning. During the summer, when I’m not in Anchorage, my French press is hard at work every day.

What do you drink at work, if different?

I open the shop 4 days a week so my first coffee is usually tasting the house espresso blend and our single origin espresso of the day. Mostly I like a cortado or a Chemex of whatever we have fresh. Our Columbia La Virgen is pretty fantastic right now. Sometimes I’ll go for a small Americano with a dash of heavy cream, but just a dash.

If you could teach people one thing about coffee, what would it be?

Every step matters. There isn’t a ‘darkest roast’ or a ‘strongest coffee.’ Good coffees are roasted just enough to bring out their inherent positive flavors. They’re roasted so you don’t need to mask negative flavors with cream and subdue bitterness with sugar. Certainly there is a spectrum of coffee flavors, but within that there is a world of subtleties to explore. Black coffee is not one flavor.

What’s cool about the Anchorage coffee scene?

Haha nothing. Well, us.

Nooo, in Alaska there isn’t much of a coffee culture. Kaladi’s has been the biggest thing going for quite awhile [since 1986] but they really offer a different product and cater to a different crowd than SteamDot. It’s exciting to see people come into our shop for the first time and watch their face as they sip a Chemex brew and they realize why we don’t have brewed coffee waiting out all day. Anchorage is unique because we get to give a lot of folks their first single origin, or their first real cappuccino or macchiato.

As a barista what are your thoughts on coffee skills versus customer service skills?

Anytime you go out to a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop you’re paying for an experience. Part of that experience is the food, the booze, the coffee, part is the service, part is the place; it’s a mosaic. While each aspect takes more or less energy, the whole picture is ruined if any one piece is missing. Which aspect is the most important is going to depend on each customer and what experience they’re after. But why not be a decent person and try every time to pull a damn fine shot? I love coffee and I love talking about it, being rude just makes people go away; I try hard to be inclusive and informative.

Do you ever judge people by the drink they order?

We’re all here to enjoy our own beverages, some folks are more excited about drinks with coffee in them, while others are stoked to enjoy and explore the spectrums of flavors coffee has to offer on its own. I can’t fault someone for enjoying espresso covered in 16 ounces of scalded milk and stiff foam, white chocolate, raspberry and caramel sauce.

Are the espresso shots your dad pulls better than yours?

On our 3-group Strada? Hell yes mine are better. On his La Pavoni? Nope, his mad 2-stroke mechanic skills got me beat on the manual machine. But I taught him everything he knows about espresso!

SteamDot Coffee roasts coffee and espresso fresh in Anchorage, Alaska and operates two ‘slow’ coffee bars there.

photo by Tehben Dean
photo by Tehben Dean