What do the highlands of Ethiopia, Sarah Buzzell’s Highland Park Pies & Café, Alexander Butler, Spanish Explorers and my morning ritual have in common… COFFEE!
I walked next door, in my cute little Martin Drive neighborhood on Milwaukee’s Westside, to Highland Park Pies & Café [soon to be renamed Birdie’s] to have a conversation with Alexander Butler of Johnson Brothers Coffee Roasters, Inc. I had met him one night at the café where I was asked to come and enjoy a coffee and food pairing. I couldn’t help but notice how eloquently he spoke of coffee while he was going through the process of using a French press, bottled water, building a crust, breaking the crust and so on. I was intrigued by his knowledge so I did what I always do. I asked questions – lots of them. As Alex explained how to make the ultimate cup of coffee and why this coffee was a perfect pairing with that food, I knew that I had to interview him for my blog. After all it is all about sharing the good stuff, right? Afterwards I asked Alex if we could meet so I could write an article on coffee.
For me, coffee is a wonderful thing that I developed a taste at a very young age. See, my father would load up his morning brew with tons of sugar and milk, [that is how all the Filipinos do it,] and at the tender age of 3, I would get my chance at the last little bit in the bottom of that great big coffee mug! That was “my treat!”
I first asked Alex what was the single most important thing which sets JBCRoasters coffee apart from their competitors. Alex said that their process of light roasting coffee gives it a distinct enzymatic quality and nuances that other coffees lose from over roasting. He basically informed me that many darker roasts are actually burned. During roasting, caramelizeation occurs as the intense heat breaks down starches in the bean changing them into simple sugars which begin to brown adding color to the beans. Sucrose is lost rapidly during the roasting process. In darker roasts it may disappear completely. Aromatic oils, acids, and caffeine weaken during the roasting process. However, other oils start to develop like caffeol which is largely responsible for coffees aroma and flavor. Lighter roasts have stronger flavors due to the retention of those aromatic oil and acids.
When asked how JBCRoasters got started Alex tells a story about a man, Michael Johnson, and his coffee cart selling one of the world’s most major commodities at the Dane County Farmers Market and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fifteen, years later it is clear to me why JBCRoasters is recognized as one of the nation’s top roasters for quality. One taste and you will certainly understand why!
I had done some research before talking to Alex and I learned that in recent years there are growing concerns about the way some coffees are grown. Originally, coffee farming was done in the shade of trees, which provides habitat for many animals and insects. Sun cultivation requires the clearing of trees and increases use of fertilizers and pesticides. Opponents of sun cultivation say environmental problems such as deforestation, pesticide pollution, habitat destruction, and soil and water degradation are the side effects of these practices. Alex assured me that JBCRoasters builds close relationships with their suppliers and brokers by visiting and meeting the owners and the growers at the actual coffee farms they purchase from, most of which are sustainably harvested. He went on to tell me that it is of utmost concern that they provide not only a superior product but, that the means that which it exist is done under responsible practices.
“The best product is a direct result of the coffee roasters ability to manipulate flavors.” Alex went on to say that his brother Nick Butler, the master roaster for JBCRoasters, carefully tends to each batch of beans personally checking the coffee every minute during the roasting process. The instincts of a great coffee roaster are vital to the success of an artisan coffee roaster like Johnson Brothers Coffee Roasters. The superlative quality of this coffee is unmistakable and I urge each and every one of you, locally in Milwaukee, to stop by and see Sarah at the coffee shop so you can try it for yourself. You can purchase the coffee there at the café while you have lunch. If you do not live in Milwaukee you can check out Johnson Brothers Coffee Roasters by accessing them through my links on my side bar at the right. Check-out Michael’s blog at: killerbeesmakethemostdelicioushoney.blogspot.com or on my side bar for information on the café.
Sitting on the sofa next to the fireplace with Alex, I began asking questions and I would later realize that our two-plus hour conversation was merely a micro-scratch on the surface.
Now, as an adult, it seems that “my treat” is something that I still look forward with the same child-like enthusiasm.
If you are interested in taking part in a coffee and food pairing, Sarah and Alex will be hosting one at the café on Friday, April 3 at 6:00pm. I recommend you put the sioree on your list of things to do because this is "the best" coffee and coffee house in the city! Great food and great people and great coffee… what more could you ask for? If you have any questions regarding the pairing please call my friend Sarah and she will be glad to fill in the details.
Highland Park Pies & Café [Birdie‘s] is located at: 4110 West Martin Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53208. Telephone: 4140.933.9303
**For more information and a complete listing of coffee ratings you can visit “COFFEE REVIEW” at: http://www.coffeereview.com/
**Check out the current issue of Women’s Health Magazine featuring Johnson Brothers Coffee Roasters, Inc.