I stop most mornings for my cup of “Joe” at the Alder Crossing Starbucks in South Surrey, British Columbia. It is not so much an addicted habit (OK it is), but a break from routine, to touch base with friends, a search for fun, or to work quietly on Soitsfun. It is a great job traveling around discovering where, and for what, people come together for social.
There also is the added pleasurable side effect of “people watching” as they come and go from places unknown. Some stop longer than others creating cultural mini-worlds that embraces a widening circle as nods become acquaintances, or friends, in the daily ritual of tea, coffee and food.
The shop is small by some standards but it’s glass walls provide a transparent interior as well as a window on the huge outdoor patio. The patio provides an urban space and haven to stop for a casual break or business networking. It is free from the maddening life of pedestrian traffic and main street sidewalks.
Novelists, tutors, students, presidents, vloggers and job interviewers continue to use their inexpensive offices (the technical term is rental in perpetuity, or Gold Card). It is a place for the loved as well as the lovelorn. Those frustrated at their inability to get a seat have little choice but to remain patient. Stand in line long enough and you will meet other kindred souls in front or behind you. Drinking decaf after may help a bit too - Soitsfun.
It is almost like Trafalgar Square in it’s round-about of daily life represented by different backgrounds and cultures. No wars here; only conversation and community. After all, we live or pass through communities many times, but life only once. It reminds me that we are all palatable neighbor’s in our search for that communal coffee break.
Everyone who walks through the door is happily greeted, and often by first name if it is your second time. Barista Kelly’s smile is always a big winner. Her "fifties-sixties" flowered headbands, a reminder of happy days and simpler times, make Alder Crossing Starbucks a place to relax and enjoy.
The pleasant, professional and efficient approach of Barista Sayomie instantly builds a customer rapport that speaks to the expectation of that perfect pour.
There are many more team members, full and part time, who help make this eclectic neighbourhood by day or night and contribute to the community spirit as well as the perfect pour.
It leaves little doubt in my mind of the personalized training that goes in to preparing a barista for the personalized service required for each and every customer. It does require immense skill, training, and ability to adapt to the nuance of each batch of coffee for day's weather, drinker's preferences, etc. It is more than just machines that are "super-automatic," requiring no more than the loading of whole beans and the push of a button. It is here that knowing your community and applying Howard Schultz’s brainwave in making the café a home-away-from-home was an enlightened moment.
On this day I lucked out with staff training. Tables were laid with tasting cups lined up beside timers and various brewing pots. Store manager Cho guan Ng was conducting a training session for food pairing with different coffees. It was an opportune time to listen and learn as he explained the sensory process and methods of tasting coffee.
"I think what we really focus on is trying to bring out the inherent qualities of the palette, letting the coffees and food express themselves," Cho said. “From there it is no secret why the British and Italians dunked their cookies and Biscotti in their hot drinks.” Today it was with vanilla and chocolate biscuits.
Like any community, it was not long before customers were invited to join him with staff in learning of the Hario Coffee Siphon, Press, Expresso, and Clover brewing methods. The feature coffee here was the introduction to samples of Willow Blend coffee. Willow Blend is Starbucks new Blond coffee which means “Light” roasted and produces a mellower, easy drinking coffee.
Cho first gave a background to the types of beans, roasting and blending, as well as brewing methods to be used in the different pots. It was not left without the importance of a four minute timer, placed front and center, was to play in this event. He said, "It's not really about actual preparation technique. You can make good coffee on most of them, you just need good beans, a grinder and to learn how.”
- Light roast reveals more of a coffee's aromas, he explains, and is best served black and slightly cooled, so that "the sweetness comes through."
- Medium roasted coffees are medium brown in color with more body than light roasts. Like the lighter roasts, they have no oil on the bean surfaces. However, medium roasts lack the grainy taste of the light roasts, exhibiting more balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity.
- Dark roasted coffees are dark brown in color, like chocolate, or sometimes almost black. They have a sheen of oil on the surface, which is usually evident in the cup when the dark roast coffee is brewed. The coffee will generally have a bitter and smoky or even burnt taste. The amount of caffeine is substantially decreased.
So there you have it — a short guide to the common coffee roasts from light to dark. To summarize the differences, in addition to the color gradations:
As coffee roasts get darker, they lose the origin flavors of the beans and take on more flavor from the roasting process.
- The body of the coffee gets heavier, until the second crack, where the body again thins.
- Lighter roasts have more acidity than darker roasts.
- Light roasted beans are dry, while darker roasts develop oil on the bean surface.
- The caffeine level decreases as the roast gets darker.
"We're learning more and more about what it is that makes coffee smell good and taste good and feel good in our mouths,"Cho said. "And because we have so much focus on making it smell, taste and feel great, we're experimenting more, taking more risks, paying more attention to the details."
Ultimately, it’s all about the taste, the flavor, the aroma. You may prefer a lighter roast in the morning (with more caffeine) and a darker one later in the day. Coffee, including the optimal roast level, is a personal preference. What’s yours? Just ask your Barista for guidance.