Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bad. Ass. Coffee.

A Coffee Maven Review

Screeeech!


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That could have been the sound of our tires as I whipped the car into the turn lane when I heard Pam utter the three magic words of this post's title. But I was traveling at moderate speed in the appropriate lane, so the approach was made with considerably less drama.

Then we waited through a long light cycle in anticipation of what Bad Ass Coffee could possibly hold in store. With a name like that, we know there had to be a story, and we were not disappointed.

Although it was in a strip mall, along a busy highway and between fast food and electronics, the atmosphere of this shop began outdoors on a broad patio where two students relaxed with their iced coffee as if they were poolside.

As soon as we entered, we were greeted by a cheerful barista who walked around to help us explore some of the merchandise near the door. She had one of those drive-up headsets that drive me crazy sometimes, but she was not using it while she was addressing us. In fact, she exhibited terrific communication skills that we find lacking in so many cafes, and her passion for the coffee and the business were clear.

She had a ready answer to my first question -- That is, she said "Our donkey!" when I asked what made the coffee so bad-ass. Just as she said it, I started to notice a distinctly Hawaiian orientation to the place, which in fact sells directly-traded coffee from Hawaii. Some of the coffee is 100 percent Hawaiian -- either Kona or the other islands, which produce equally fabulous coffee. Some of it is only 10-percent blend, but it is very clearly labeled as such. My only complaint is that the blends are not identified, but since several 100-percent coffees are offered, it is easy to avoid these.


I was delighted to find that the packaged coffees included a yellow caturra from Maui, which I snapped right up. Caturra is a sweet, chocolaty coffee that is a favorite varietal among my friends who grow coffee in Nicaragua, and the yellow sub-varietal is especially interesting, as it ripens from green to yellow instead of green to red. Special skill is required to harvest this coffee at the right time. Our guide informed us that none of the 100-percent Kona was on the shelves because the broca beetle had damaged so much of the crop.

At this point, I was still under the impression that this was a single, independent shop. I really thought it was connected to a particular farm with some kind of donkey, so I asked, goofily, "Where is your donkey?" She smiled and pointed to a small statue on the side of the cafe. Given her level of knowledge -- and correct pronunciation of Hawaiian place names, I still thought it was independent when I spoke to the franchise owner, who informed me that there were actually about 70 of these shops worldwide, with roasting for this shop being done at one of the shops in Florida.

It is perhaps counterintuitive that the scale of this enterprise is part of what gives it a key characteristic -- in my opinion -- of the most successful independent cafes. When I asked our wonderful barista whether she was from Hawaii, I had assumed she had something directly to do with the farm. No, she explained, when she was hired she got training, at a place she called coffee university. I hope to get an invitation some day, for though I am a coffee maven, I learn something new every time I meet someone in the industry. Today was no exception!

Suckers for coffee SWAG, we left with a few clever gifts, that Maui coffee, some cocoa, and a tall cup of Waialua, from the north shore of Oahu. I just finished it as I wrote this rather caffeinated post from my friend's porch above the nearby Hudson River.

Early in the post, I mentioned my relief at the barista's ability to wear the drive-through headphone without letting it distract her from the in-person customers. Pam just reminded me of the drive-through, and of what people would be missing by using it. If you see a Bad Ass Coffee shop, screech to a stop, go inside, and enjoy the experience. You'll probably learn something, too!

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