Coffee Talk

by Jennifer Burns
Once thought to have more harmful than healthy effects on the body, recent studies have shown that coffee can actually help prevent certain conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, liver disease, gallstones, kidney stones, and headaches. "Coffee is rich in antioxidants," said Susan Crisler, owner of Joe Brews Espresso. "Additionally, new studies are emerging that support the idea that these antioxidants actually help our livers function better. Those who have an average of three cups of coffee a day have fewer liver enzymes in their blood stream than non-coffee drinkers. What this means is that [coffee drinkers'] livers are acting as better filters for their bodies in regards to reducing toxins in their bloodstream—nicotine, alcohol, etc."

Crisler started Joe Brews in April 2005 after noticing the need for a good coffee shop in Germantown Hills. "We, among many others in our community, always commented on how Germantown needed a coffee shop," Crisler said. "After saying it so many times, I finally began doing research on the coffee industry. (Thankfully, we were both coffee lovers.) It didn't take long to realize the boom this industry was going through and what a prime opportunity it would be for us to open a café."

Another locally-owned coffee shop is the Daily Buzz, located in downtown Peoria, the Heights, and East Peoria. Teresa Clementz, aka Mama Buzz, is owner and president of the shop. She and her husband are strong advocators for the locally-owned coffee shop. "Even when my husband or colleagues are on the road, we always look for coffee shops or roasters in the middle of town," Clementz said. We search out the hometown shops, just because we want to give them a chance. We feel like they'll do a better job; they're friendlier, more cost-effective. It's just a cozier atmosphere."

In order to have a truly great java experience, everything must be perfect from the very beginning. "Producing a great cup of coffee is the last step in a long series of events, all of which must be perfect to produce that perfect cup," said Lori McCombs, owner and president of Leaves-N-Beans Roasting Co. "The coffee [bean] must be grown in correct weather conditions, free of diseases, and harvested at just the right time. It must be dried and processed properly, and shipped in a timely fashion. From there, the coffee must be roasted to reveal that coffee's distinct character. Then the coffee must be brewed with fresh, high-quality coffee beans and good water. Failure in any of these processes can detract from the coffee."

While anyone can purchase store-brand coffee fairly easily off the shelf, ordering a beverage at a coffee shop or café can seem like a somewhat daunting task. There are so many varieties of flavors, blends, roasts, and preparation types that one almost needs to learn a new language just to get a good cuppa joe. Don't be afraid to ask the barista (one who works at the counter of a coffee shop) for help with your order.

"At our shops we try and make our customer's ordering experience as least intimidating as possible," Crisler said. "From the start when they walk up to our counter, we ask a series of questions to determine what they really like. For those first-timers willing to try a latte or cappuccino, we break the drink down to its basic components so all they need to tell us is what kind of milk they prefer, what kind of sweetener or syrup they like, how big, etc. Finally, once the drink is complete, we then tell them their official drink name was a skinny decaf tall mocha latte, hold the whip, for example."

Once you learn the combination you like best, ordering will be a breeze and you'll feel like a coffee expert. If you still have trouble ordering, most shops have a signature drink or one that's more popular than others. At Joe Brews, customers can pick up Joe's Mocha Caramel Delight, which is made with Ghirardelli chocolate and caramel sauce and can be prepared as a latte or cappuccino, hot or cold. At the Daily Buzz, you can't go wrong with their JT Mocha or an iced cappuccino. And at Leaves-N-Beans, nothing beats a white mocha. "But most times, anything mocha will do!" McCombs said.

For those who don't particularly like coffee, but are adventurous types who just like the atmosphere of the local coffee shop, a barista can set you up with a specialty drink that almost completely masks the flavor. "If I have a customer who isn't fond of coffee, I still attempt one of our milk-based flavored lattes—and most often it works," Clementz said. "There's just something about espresso, a good flavored syrup, steamed milk, and a bit of foam that no one can resist. However, if that still doesn't convince them, I'll whip up a nice chai tea latte or a Fruit Tea Smooth Blast."

With over 100 flavors offered at the Daily Buzz, ranging from fuzzy peach to pecan sticky bun, there's sure to be a flavor for everyone. Buying specialty coffee can get just as complicated as ordering a venti skinny half-caf hazelnut latte, hold the foam. The secret to deciphering the different types of coffee beans lies in understanding the roasting process. "In theory, roasting coffee is relatively simple: apply a certain amount of heat to raw coffee beans for a certain duration of time until the coffee reaches the desired roast," McCombs said. "The art is determining exactly how much heat, applying it at what times during the roast, and identifying what roast level brings out the best flavor profiles for that particular coffee. Roasting times can vary between 12 minutes for lighter roasts and up to 18 minutes for darker roasts. We roast on a new custom-built Diedrich IR-12 roaster, which can roast as little as one lb. or up to 30 lbs. of coffee per roast cycle."

Leaves-N-Beans Roasting Co. has been in the specialty coffee business for more than 20 years, and the company has been roasting on-site for more than 10 years. The roasting process is more than just letting the beans "cook" on a random automatic setting; it's an intricate process that requires skill and experience to perfect, using the right equipment. However, the best equipment isn't always the most advanced in the roasting business. "Our Royal No. 5 is more than 100 years old, and is one of the few remaining Royals still in operation today," McCombs said. "While lacking the sophistication of our Diedrich, it produces fantastic coffees that rely on the roastmaster's senses: sight—to judge the color and appearance of the beans; sound—to hear where the beans are in the roasting process; taste—to taste the beans and ensure that they're roasted to bring out the ultimate flavor of a particular coffee; and smell—again to judge where they are in the roast process."

Clementz, who buys her wholesale coffee from Leaves-N-Beans, agrees that good coffee must come from a good roaster. "It all starts with your roaster," she said. "Get to know your roaster. Here's my philosophy: the coffee bean is one of Mother Nature's truly gourmet items. This little bean can't just grow anywhere; conditions must be just right for coffee to grow. This little bean can't just be roasted anywhere; again, roasting is an art—not just anyone can roast a coffee bean. Why on earth would you buy this little bean the same place you buy your toilet bowl cleaner? Look for a small, local roaster and check them out. Look for whole beans, never splintered, damaged beans. Make sure the site is clean and the beans are a beautiful, dark color. Smell them; sample the coffee; ‘sip and spit.' If your roaster won't let you watch them or won't let you sip and spit, find a new one."

Currently roasters and consumers have taken to organically grown and fair trade coffees. When buying a fair trade coffee, consumers can trust their coffee was grown by workers paid fair and equitable wages, which makes every sip that much more enjoyable. Consumers will also enjoy the wide variety of roasts and flavors Leaves-N-Beans offers. There are over 80 varieties of coffee available at the shop, with the most popular flavored coffee being Jamaican Me Crazy, the ultimate blend of Kahlua, caramel, and vanilla.

Roasters often recommend coffee drinkers buy their own grinder, as coffee will stay fresh longer as a whole bean. After grinding, coffee will last up to three weeks.

"Air is the archenemy of fresh coffee," McCombs said. "We recommend customers only purchase as much coffee as can be consumed within a three-week time period. Whole-bean coffee will keep much longer than ground coffee. We recommend coffee be kept in an airtight container. If you will have your coffee longer than three weeks, we recommend you place your coffee in an airtight plastic bag and put it in the freezer. To be honest, most folks drink our coffee faster than that."

Joe Brews Espresso is located at 361 Old Germantown Road in Germantown Hills and OSF's Center for Health; contact them at 383-2253. The Daily Buzz has three locations: at 300 Hamilton Blvd. in downtown Peoria, 1001 E. War Memorial Drive in Peoria Heights, and 1094 N. Main in East Peoria. Leaves-N-Beans Roasting Co. is located at 4800 N. Prospect Road in Peoria Heights and can be contacted at 688-7685.