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More technical issues

...but not with any of the equipment this time. We started the hiring process the day Jim finished up his work installing all of the brew equipment. We had almost 50 people apply for barista positions in response to an ad in the student newspaper. By Saturday we had narrowed it down to 17 that we wanted to bring in for extended interviews. Against all expectations (and not really realizing how exhausting the process would be for us), we were able to schedule all 17 for extended interviews over Saturday and Sunday. Janet and I were floored by the quality of the people that we were able to interview; given a choice, we would have been happy to have any of them on staff. We made some difficult cuts and made offers to five people on Monday. All accepted, and training began first thing Tuesday morning with Alexandra Switzer and Chris Clements from Intelligentsia.

The training absolutely rocked. The best moment: when one of the new hires tried pulling her first shots on the GB5, she looked like she was getting frustrated with dosing and tamping problems. After tasting a few of her under- and overextracted shots of Blackcat, she absolutely nailed it with a perfect shot. With a big grin on her face, she looks at Alexandra and asks, "is it really supposed to taste like this? Can coffee really taste like when you first bite into a ripe Rainier cherry?" On Wednesday we had our first staff cupping. After spending a few hours building a common flavor vocabulary to describe all of the coffees that we'll open with, we moved over to the Clover and spent the afternoon experimenting with dosing, grinding, and dwell time variables. Our target was to dial in the Clover to best match what we found during the cupping. We had a few happy accidents-- by shortening the dwell time by two seconds on the El Salvador Finca Matalapa, I found that it picked up a barley malt syrup-and-fresh baked bread overtone that was unexpected and amazing. Two seconds longer and 2 grams more coffee (as in ~8 coffee beans) and the profile was transformed completely to more closely match the notes from the cupping.

Unfortunately, I was so busy with staff and guests that I didn't realize that both of my cameras were out of commission. On Tuesday I discovered that I'd left the Pentax turned on over the last few days and had flat-lined the battery. The backup Lumix had a corrupted SD card and ended up scrambling all but a few of the photos. On the second day of training I had charged the batteries for the Pentax but didn't notice that I'd left the SD card sitting at home. It has been that kind of a week. I've been spending so much time at the shop that my own dog hardly recognizes me.

Technical Issues

The first real moment of truth was a week ago today when all of the machines were unboxed, plumbed in, and turned on for the first time. First problem was with the Cirqua water conditioning system. A broken float in the mixing tank resulted in us flooding the floors a few times. Lucky for us, Jim Karr was down from Intelligentsia to help with the install of our machines. Not only was he able to troubleshoot and fix the Cirqua, he was on hand when we discovered that the Clover had taken a massive hit (either before or during shipping, although the box was undamaged...). The stainless base to the Clover was bent and bowed by at least a quarter inch; the drain tray wouldn't fit, water lines were pinched internally, and the machine was screaming like a banshee. After a round of frantic phone calls to Seattle and Chicago, the crew at Clover was able to overnight a new base and Jim set about to attempt his first ever Clover heart-lung-brain transplant.

Four hours of surgery, and patient Clover 205(b) is now alive and cranking out cup after cup of amazing microlot coffee. I probably aged a few years over two days, but we have all of our equipment in place and working flawlessly. Fredrik's work crews are plumbing in the last of the sinks today and are already making headway on the final trim and finish. Full steam ahead.

Closer, Still

Yep, the Rancillio grinder sticks out like a sore thumb, but decaf customers get no special treatment...


The Cirqua water system is up and running, and tomorrow the GB5, Clover, and all of the grinders are installed. Over 40 people submitted applications; it is an amazingly diverse and interesting group that we are lucky to be deciding among.

Know Your Coffee!

Final Stretch

Fredrik and his crew are really putting an amazing effort to get the shop ready for the Intelli team at the end of the week. Here's a peak at the foundation of the casework, all in place.

From the SE corner, looking over the end bar, the counter for the pastry case, and the lowered casework for the POS and the Clover

From the NE corner, focusing on the coffee station. The GB5 sits on the stair-stepped case; we'll use the shelving to market whole bean coffee. The under-counter fridge goes between the GB5 and the Clover, which sits on the lowered case on the left side of the photo.

Stepping back to show the new soffits that drop down from the exposed concrete ceiling. We have lighting embedded to the right; the lights will shine through sail cloth stretched across the openings. This view also shows the custom lights that Stephen Bender designed and Justin and Fredrik attached to the concrete. We like that they look like props from a 50's scifi movie.

Help Wanted

We placed our first ad in the Alligator last week and will be reviewing the first 25 applications over the next few days. If anyone out there wants to be considered for a job, send a request to and I'll reply with an application...

We hope to have a number of people hired by the 9th so that we can keep Alex from Intelligentsia busy when she comes to town for training.

Not a lot of photos because much of the case work is being done off site. The deadline is to have enough done by Tuesday that the Cirqua, GB5, and Clover will be set up later in the week. Looks like we're going to make it.

Casing the joint

More progress today. We're using Ikea bases as the foundation of our case work-- the fronts will be clad in stained concrete and stainless steel; the counters are black granite polystone. The spaces between these standing bases are being built from a skeleton of iron pipe and clad in concrete and rip-stop sail cloth.

concrete and tin

Before we had signed a lease on our space, we found these large marquee letters that we wanted to use as our sign. The only real disappointment of our lease with the city is that we can't attach any outdoor sign to the building-- we are restricted to inside the windows, paint or application to the outside of the windows, or screened letters on an awning. Even with the huge bay windows, the letters are too tall to stack vertically on the interior walls where they can be seen from the street.

We need a plan "B"

The first name that we almost used for Volta was Cafe 'pataphysique. The second was Cabaret Voltaire. So, we turn to our spiritual forefathers Tristan Tzara and Richard Huelsenbeck for ideas about how to play with the letters in our alphabet soup to turn Volta into a spatial construct as well as a recognizable word.

Cleans up nicely.

We're finally moving on to finish work. Just a few more days of subcontractors taking care of final wiring issues. Case work is in production and will be on site next week, and furniture is arriving now. Intelligentsia will have folks down to help with machine installation and training the first and second week of April.

We're shooting for a soft opening the week of April 12, with a "grand opening" of April 19...

As a point of reference, here's the "before" shot:

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