Monthly Archives: April 2010

Shoot Yourself In The (Bare)Foot

A good day down the tubes... (photo by wm. christman)

A good day down the tubes… (photo by wm. christman)

I like coffee houses with attitude. I especially like those that reflect that attitude through the clever design to their menus and interiors, and how they handle and treat their customers. Usually, those type of places have folks running them that are very knowledgeable but not arrogantly so. And because these places usually have a rabid interest in serving kick-ass (delicious) coffee beverages, their coffee and roasting skills also reflect the care and attitude.

However, attitude alone is not substitute for good service. And attitude for the sake of having one or trying to prove that you are somehow “hipper” than everyone else by being arrogant, treating your new customers like shit, and generally acting like idiots because you “know better” is even worse. Enter San Jose’s Barefoot Coffee Roasters.

Barefoot Coffee Roasters have been around for several years and have become one of the better independent coffee roasters in the Bay Area. I drink their coffee through three or four different, and not affiliated, coffee houses. Their coffee has been consistently good so I have no particular beef with that. In fact, I support businesses like this but find myself less inclined to do so after the treatment I received this morning at their store on Stevens Creek Blvd. in San Jose.

The day started out pretty good for me. There was a huge clump of traffic between me and where I work so I decided to pay Barefoot a visit while I was taking city streets to work. There was a line (there usually is) when I went into the store but they had some nice morning, beat-filled music going on so that was no big deal. The array of BFCR cups and knick-knacks provided decent distraction. I snagged a menu as they don’t really have any signage for their drinks. I guess it keeps their coffee house vibe true. So far, no problem.

My drink of choice every morning is an Americano (espresso with hot water). I didn’t see that on the menu but there was a thing called a “Romano” which was espresso and hot water. Hmmm. There was no size info so I assumed (yeah, yeah…) that 1) it was literally an “Americano” and 2) it was between 12-16 ounces large. So assuming away…it was settled, a Romano it would be.

I got up to the person at the counter and ordered the Romano. “Will that be for here or to-go?”, the person asked. “To go, please”, I said. “OK, that’ll be $2.73”, she replied. “Um wait, but its to-go and you’re still charging me tax on that??”, I asked. “We just got audited, so ‘yes'”, was the response.

Stupified, I wondered why exactly this was MY problem? In California, to-go food and drink is usually NOT taxed (forgive me for not being up on the complete rip-off California tax laws that extort money from businesses because THEY can’t balance their books. Ever.). I didn’t want to make a big deal of it so I paid.

“Jeez, that’s the most expensive Americano ever”, I said as I handed her the money. “Well, it’ll be the best one you’ve ever had,” she shot back. “And if you don’t think so, you can go across the street and buy coffee there…”

Um, EXCUSE me? The reason that I’m AT Barefoot, you arrogant fuck-wit, is because I don’t frequent Starbucks so why pull out the crap attitude? Especially on someone who you’ve never seen before. The whole idea is to keep customers, not drive them away no matter how much you think you’re the coolest, most bitchin’ coffee house employee in the fucking world!

Now, to her credit, she apologized a minute later saying “I shouldn’t have said that, sorry…” but the damage was already done. But…if the first thing that comes out of your mouth after someone questions your charging tax for a to-go item and then quippingnicely about the cost of said drink is some sorta attitude-filled, cryptic dribble about “if I don’t like it I can go to Starbucks…” then what the fuck is your real problem?

So now my day has just gone from pretty good to right in the shitter because of this idiot being, well… idiot, then the barista calls out and says that my Romano is ready. I look and see what she has set down and it’s this teeny-tiny white cup (~8 oz.) of espresso and water. She notices the slight askance look when I see it. Then I asked if that was really the size of the Romano? “Yes, we don’t add too much water so the espresso is stronger…” Er, ok.

So, I guess that’s fine but there’s not word ONE on the menu as to how big the drink is – just a flowery description on how the addition of hot water will make the espresso “smoother”. There’s nothing like making your customers guess what their drinks are. I kind of felt like I just walked into the Las Vegas of coffee houses. I put my money down. And I hope I win something!

“I guess I should have asked for an ‘Americano” then but it wasn’t on your menu.”, I said. The response I got was even more maddening: “Oh, that [the Americano] is on our ‘secret’ menu…here’s your drink…” Stunning.

At that point, I realized that I should have just walked out at being charged tax on a to-go drink. But I had faith that Barefoot coffee was good enough to maybe put up with the gaffe. But what transpired after that point was just one of the worst examples of arrogance in a coffee house I have even had the misfortune to experience. Ever.

So now, was that Romano the “best one that I have ever had”? Eh, honestly it really wasn’t. (Oh horrors! Now I’ll HAVE to go to Starbucks! Or plunge six-inch needles into my eyes! Decisions, decisions.) It was good but not great. But the taste was clearly overshadowed but the ridiculous ordeal that I had to go through to get that coffee to my lips.

The nagging question now is: does Barefoot have good coffee? I believe they do and the evidence is in the previous cups I have had at the places that use their coffee. However….will I frequent the Barefoot store again? Probably not. Would I recommend other people go there? Definitely not to anyone I like or care for. As for anyone else, unless you’d like an equal cup of completely shitty and totally unnecessary attitude to go with your coffee, knock yourself out.

Pull your head out of your collective ass, Barefoot. The arrogant twits that work at your store will KILL your reputation – may I suggest a customer service seminar or class for all of them?

You’ve got a good thing going on being a local coffee roaster that has some really great skills. And there are many reasons that I don’t frequent Starbucks and you’re one of them. Don’t blatantly chase away customers that value that merely because your employees think they ‘know it all’.

What You Don’t Need

I’m not a fan of chain restaurants, in either diner or fast food varieties, so maybe this is just me pissing in the wind. HOWEVER…..

Of all the dumbshit food combos that have blanketed the news lately (A KFC Double Down, anyone? Your delicious heart attack is just moments away!), this one struck some sort of nerve enough to wonder if the aim of all of this is to try and turn us all into (even more) dumb beasts.

What I’m referring to is IHOP’s new “Pancake Stackers” that are “delightfully layered with creamy cheesecake…” Yeesh. Why? Aren’t pancakes with some maple syrup and a side of bacon or sausage ENOUGH anymore?

Apparently not because IHOP’s press release states that they’e topped [their pancakes with] “with one of America’s favorite flavors — cheesecake”. Jesus, what’s next? A deep fried, beer’n’salt battered slab of back bacon to go with IHOP’s take on what makes America’s taste buds tick?

Let’s take a look at the IHOP scoreboard: Taste Buds 1 , Still Beating Heart 0. Way to go IHOP!

(Thanks to slashfood for the article link for this post.)

Just One Day

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

This rather stuffed bread rack was the result of just one day of bread production in the CIA’s test kitchen. The light next to the enormous deck ovens is already dark-ish in the daytime and even more at 8:30 in the evening when this shot was snapped.

(Although you really can’t see them, the cool hand-written script on the masking tape labels for each of the bread is courtesy of the super-cool Melissa Landa…)

Baguettes 101

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

Remember those crispy, crackly, loaded-with-holes-inside baguettes that your local baker turns out by the bushel full? Yeah, me neither. There are very few bakeries that really turn them out like that. Granted, some are better than others, and some are really awful.

There are so many factors that go into the making of a truly great baguette that it is a difficult thing to pull off. Since I’m right in the middle of an artisan bread class at the Culinary Institute of America and starting to recognize the difference in preparation of dough for baguettes, it is truly stunning just how much thinking needs to go into producing a baguette that you and others will crave to eat.

So far, we have made baguettes for three straight days (among a large set of other breads) while playing with yeast and hydration levels, the number of “folds” – what used to be known as “punching” the dough – over the course of a few hours of fermentation, and the method of shaping and proofing (and skinning).

It turns out that higher yeast levels give a great rise but add way too much of “yeasty” taste (a slightly astringent, “feety” scent and taste) and it really tends to homogenize the “crumb” (the internal texture of the bread). Baking off the baguettes shows the higher yeast content as well with the slashes, cuts made in the top of the dough to get that final baguette “ears” shape, tearing out of their narrow position in the very 1/2″ middle of the top of the loaf. (BTW, the French say you should be able to pick up a baguette but it’s “ears” after it is baked.)

The first two days had both straight yeast and yeast and sourdough starter varieties of baguettes. And both versions showed signs of over-yeasting. The bread itself was passable but ultimately disappointing. That led directly to the baguettes in production on day three that had a drastic reduction in leavener.


crusty top with slashed ridge “ears” (photo by wm. christman)

Sam, one of the students in the class who also works in the CIA’s Greystone Wine Spectator Restaurant, was tasked with the baguettes this day. He reduced the yeast by 50%, and instead of using the entire amount of sourdough starter, he made a “poolish” the day before (a poolish is a slurry of flour and water with a tiny amount of yeast and stored at around 75° overnight) and used that in a 50-50 ratio with the sourdough starter to make up the total amount of flavored “starter”.

Due to the reduced leavener, the dough was slower to rise, a bit more difficult to shape, and slower to proof. You might think that this would be a bad thing but bread baking is all about timing. And waiting and judging exactly “when” a dough is ready is key to great bread.

baguette-style crumb - the texture inside the bread (photo by wm. christman)

baguette-style crumb – the texture inside the bread (photo by wm. christman)

The results of all this tinkering with the formula for the baguettes? Much, much closer to that crusty/crunchy thin crust with a treasure trove of air holes in the crumb inside. You can see from the pictures (above) the crumb and crust structures.

And the taste? Taste-wise, this was more dead-on baguette-like for me. So much so that I got to take two of this day’s baguettes with me to have something to show in this posting. Let’s be frank though, I was all about eating these baguettes for breakfast and lunch the next day, they were that good…the photos were just a bonus.

Back in The Fire

“Man, that’s a lot of bread…”

This was Chef Aaron Brown’s comment during last night’s evaluation on the second day of the CIA’s The Art and Science of Artisan Bread Baking course, in session this week in St. Helena, California.

Although there are no visuals this time around (no cellphones in the test kitchen, please…), there was a seven-shelf, steel rolling Metro shelving unit (6 feet tall, 10 feet long) that had every shelf filled with ciabatta, pugliese, boule, and baguette. The 100+ loaf baking frenzy started at about 4pm and ended three and a half hours later, each loaf crackling as it hit the 72° kitchen air.

It was a day of experimentation with what is known as “baker’s percentage” and varying hydrations for starters. If you haven’t already caught on, this is the “science” part of bread baking.

The “art” is how and what you use for flour (of the myriad of varieties), what your dough looks and feels like when you “fold” it and when it is “proofing”, how you shape it, and how you bake it off. It all adds up to one heck of a lot of bread.