Friday, June 5, 2009

Smell that Coffee. Intelligentsia Roasting Works Tour

The roaster's and barista's job is to bring the natural flavors of the coffee beans to the customers, without messing up the steps in between. This was (rephrased per my memory) what Nick Griffith from Intelligentsia (also recent Western Regional Barista Champion) told us during our tour of their roasting facility in Glassell Park.

Thanks to blogger friend Mattatouille, I was able to tag along on this tour with other foodbloggers Choisauce, Diglounge, LA&OC Foodie, and Teenage Glutster. If Los Angeles is having any sort of 'coffee movement', Intelligentsia is undoubtedly in the forefront. If it isn't, Intelligentsia is definitely working hard to change that.

The roasting facility is pretty noticeable with the Intelligentsia logo painted on the wall and their trucks parked outside.
Naturally our initial focus is drawn to their roaster - a beautiful vintage (from the mid-century) contraption attached to a giant vacuum (to suck out nails or whatever else that might've accidentally made their way into your beans).
Even though it's a vintage, it's been outfitted with modern technology to fit their needs here at Intelligentsia. It can roast up to 40 kg of coffee.
The roasting machine, along with many other things there, is decorated with the Intelligentsia logo.

Right near the roasters were the green coffee beans that Intelligentsia uses for its Black Cat Espresso blend, which now has become a standard for espressos at many restaurants and establishments.
The Black Cat blend is not a fixed blend of beans - they are modified depending on what high quality ingredients are available (since all produce is seasonal!) at the time to ensure high standards.

We also got a sneak peek at the individual barista's "station" which will be operational at the new Intelligentsia Venice on Abbott Kinney.
The idea behind these stations are individualized attention for each customer, and Nick Griffith likened it to choosing your hair stylist when you go get a hair cut. The stations have adjustable height to accommodate each barista. I'm definitely excited about checking this out when they open - I just hope this doesn't make the wait even longer :P

The tour ended in their training room a.k.a the lab, which is equipped with a La Marzocco espresso machine from the 1970's. La Marzocco has been producing handmade espresso machines since 1927, and while as of late there are quality competition entering the market, this Florence-made machines have pretty much been regarded as the top-of-the-line (at a price, unfortunately. Their home machine, the GS3, runs around $7500 ... ).
Trainees and also the baristas who are preparing for regional/national competition practice here. This Marzocco machine has a programmable water temperature to ensure proper brewing of different types of coffee blend - how fancy! I wish I can afford one (and know how to use it properly).

At the very end we huddled around a white board where they have left a graph of roasting temperature - you have to modulate the temperature properly so as not to bring out the best flavors. The conversation at this point became quite scientific (starch break-down, acid, caramelization, etc). We'll leave it to the experts here at Intelligentsia to do the proper roasting and brewing :)

I'm pretty much a coffee amateur but this tour was very interesting and educational. I can see why Intelligentsia has the reputation that it does. Thank you Nick Griffith for taking the time to show us around!

3 comments:

mattatouille

nice review, good point to make that the stations were like going to a hair salon. i'm a guy so I didn't think that was important :)

Pinkfoodie

What a wonderful tour. I would have loved to be part of the roasting temperature conversation.

Rumela

The coffee processing method is usually the single largest contributor to the coffee flavor. The differences between a washed and dry-processed Brazilian coffee from Sul de Minas will generally be more distinct than the differences between two wet-processed coffees from two different regions. thank you for shearing your post.

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