Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Additions to Plowshares

After two fun years of establishing Plowshares, I have decided it is high time to get some help and open a new chapter for this young company. Plowshares is proud to announce the arrival of two great additions.

First up is John Battaglia who will take over as head roaster and green buyer for Plowshares Coffee.

John Battaglia began his career in coffee as a barista in 2001 at a small town cafe, while attending college. When he moved back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2002, he began working for Alterra Coffee Roasters.

In his time with Alterra, John was a barista, a wholesale delivery driver, and in 2006, began his training as a roaster. It was this opportunity that opened up his perspectives on coffee. After attending several industry events and having the honor to visit coffee growing regions, John knew he was a part of something special. His time with Alterra from 2002-2009 was what fostered his passions and solidified his direction in the coffee industry.

In 2009, John moved to Seattle, Washington and began his barista training with Zoka Coffee Roaster & Tea Company. Within months, John was offered the great opportunity of serving as Zoka's head roaster and green buyer.

After a long drive from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Northeast, John now finds himself roasting coffee with Plowshares Coffee Roasters. Presented with another great opportunity at a great company, John is very excited to be here.

Elicia Picciurro

Elicia’s taste for coffee began in 2002 with the start of her career at Alterra Coffee Roasters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While at Alterra, Elicia worked with an amazing group of people and acquired an extensive amount of knowledge during her 6 years at Alterra.

Elicia's interest in coffee continued with a move to New York City working with Gimme! Coffee. Similar to her experience at Alterra, several talented baristas at Gimme! Coffee guided her further into the world of coffee. It was at Gimme when Elicia truly realized that teaching others about espresso, both as an art and science, and wanting to achieve a concise and current understanding of the wonderful variables involved from seed to cup was her calling.

Following her stay at Gimme, Elicia headed west moving to Seattle, WA where she worked for Zoka Coffee Roasters and Tea managing two of Zoka's high volume cafes. Elicia was also part of the team selected to open their Kirkland café. After moving on from Zoka, Elicia's excitement for great coffee continued while managing Mighty-O Donuts in Seattle, WA where she oversaw the improvement of their coffee program.

Once again Elicia has found the draw of New York City too much to resist joining Plowshares Coffee Roasters as head of their wholesale training and customer service and outreach. Elicia's goal is to continue to develop her passion for coffee, excelling in great customer service, and being a valuable contributor to the industry. She is very happy to be a part of an amazing company and to provide her experience to the continuing growth at Plowshares Coffee Roasters.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Next Big/Small Brand Contest

Back around Thanksgiving I received an e-mail from Tasting Table describing a new contest sponsored by The Rooster Design Group, the branding and marketing design brains behind the successful launches of Early Bird Granola and Salvatore BKLYN. The contest was an effort to discover other artisan food producers/processors in the NY area who they could partner with and help get to the next level. The winner would receive free branding and design services. Realizing the incredible opportunity before me, and with nothing to lose, I decided to go for it.

The initial contest entry requirements, a 500 word product description and pictures and/or a YouTube video seemed easy enough. With little expectations but a great deal of enthusiasm I put together a plan to create a little bio/film for Plowshares. I enlisted the aid of my wife's cousin Cassi Glisper, who was visiting for Thanksgiving and happens to be a very talented film-maker as well as great all around person!! We quickly set into action and came up with a quick 5 minute video that I think captures some of the essence and life of a small specialty coffee roaster:

With video and essay and hand I sent my entry off to Rooster and waited patiently to hear back. A few days later I received an e-mail saying I had been selected as one of the top 10 semi-finalist from over 140 entries and that I needed to come in and do a product pitch for the principals and staff at Rooster to determine my overall product viability and a chance for the finals. Armed with freshly roasted coffee, water kettles, grinder and press-pots along with examples of packaging and marketing materials I went to prove why I should be a contender. Much to my delight, they agreed and I was awarded a spot in the finals to take place January 12th at iCi in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Wow, this was getting serious - and fun!

After a few agonizingly long weeks January 12th finally arrived and took my show to Brooklyn to try to bring home the crown. The other finalist were a great group and I knew it would be a long shot at best. These included Catskill Confections, a line of bon-bons made by Beth Kimmerle, Bklyn Batch Craft Jerky, jerky made with local grass-fed beef from Fleisher's; Better Butters, compound butters made by two young women who run the Jonas White catering company and Kombucha Brooklyn, Eric Childs's Greenpoint-based kombucha tea company. The panel of esteemed judges included:

Food Consultant Karen Karp, President, Karp Resources
Brooklyn Flea - co founder Eric Demby
Deputy Editor Carla Lalli Music, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Magazine
Ricotta Sensation Betsy Devine, Salvatore BKLYN Ricotta
Pr Guru Jennifer Baum, President, Bullfrog & Baum
Regional Buyer Kara Rubin, Whole Foods
THE ROOSTER DESIGN GROUP Principals, Fran Gaitanaros & Fernando Music

The atmosphere upstairs at iCi was intimate but there was definitely and underlying tension of healthy and good spirited competitiveness in the air as the hungry and determined finalists made their final pitches and product demos for the judges and invited guests. In the end it was Kombucha Brooklyn that took the evenings top spot and took home the prize. They really have a great product and I think they will go very far with the help of Fran and Fernando at Rooster. Despite the fact Plowshares didn't secure the win, I was happy and proud to just make it to the finals. The contest was a brilliant idea, tremendously executed and really highlighted the great work of people who are pursuing their passion. Congrats to Kombucha Brooklyn and the other finalists and much thanks to Fran and Fernando.

Read more here:




Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coffee Strong Enough to Fight Poverty

When I first began dreaming about starting my own coffee roasting business, one of the driving forces was the desire to use coffee as a tool to foster and support both local communities and help coffee growers. I decided early on that I would use coffee as a fundraiser for select partners that I felt were making a tangible difference in peoples lives or for the greater environment. Nearly a year passed and I had a few inquiries, but I never felt like I had the right partner to move forward with. I am a patient person and I feel that my patience has been rewarded tenfold as I am proud to announce the launch of Workforce Blend to help support the work of the Henry Street Settlement Workforce Division.

The Henry Street Settlement (HSS) is a non profit organization that has over a 100 year legacy of providing valuable social services and arts programming to New Yorkers in need. It is particularly focused on the needs of the Lower East Side community. Founded in 1893 by social work pioneer Lillian Wald, HSS helps over 100,000 New Yorkers each year. The Workforce Development Center is a branch of HSS dedicated specifically to combat urban poverty by providing valuable vocational and job training enabling unemployed residents to enter or reenter the workforce. Plowshares has pledged to help support these efforts further by contributing $1.00 from the sale of each retail bag or wholesale lb. of Workforce Blend sold.

Workforce Blend is a custom blend or Rainforest Alliance Coffee and seasonally rotating small producer coffees that is beautifully represented both in the press pot or pulled as an espresso. My hope is that this will be an attractive offering to cafes and even office coffee programs that want to enjoy delicious sustainable coffee that helps support local efforts to combat the issues surrounding urban poverty. Buy Plowshares Workforce Blend online today or locally at Bklyn Larder on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. To inquire about wholesale opportunities, please email (akurutz at plowsharescoffee dot com) .

Friday, October 9, 2009

Water Quality

Over the past couple of weeks I have found myself obsessing about water quality as it relates to coffee preparation. Most students of coffee already know that coffee is over 98% water and well as the saying goes.....garbage in garbage out.

All to often I find water filtration is not properly addressed, if addressed at all. NYC which boasts endlessly about the quality of it's drinking water has very soft water, but very salty water as well. This is great for making pizza dough, but not so much for espresso. At the roastery in Rockland County the water is very hard and I have seen TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) levels rising and realized it was time to swap out the filters for my Cirqua system so that I can maintain my target 150ppm TDS level. I also have some new wholesale customers that needed to beef up their water filtration so I have been researching cost effective solutions for them. All said, I have been giving google a workout lately with searches relating to water filtration.

I must admit, as a self professed equipment geek I have relished the opportunity to delve into a new subject matter to research, but as I dug deeper it also began to occur to me that I was taking something very basic and fundamental for granted. That something is the simple privilege to open up the tap and drink from it. I started to think about my travels in the third world and bouts of dysentary I have suffered through. I began to think about how huge of an issue access to clean water is for coffee farmers around the world. Suddenly I was reminded of a good friend who was doing some work with a new charity that was addressing this very issue. I recalled that he was very excited to be a part of a dynamic and transparent organization that raises money to drill wells in Ethiopia, Kenya and throughout the third world in an effort to bring clean drinking water to those who need it. My next google search went to Charity Water and as I clicked on to their website I was immediately impressed. It was obvious that they were on to something special that was making an immediate and tangible impact in many lives around the globe and the best part was that they created a medium and toolset for others to easily participate and make a difference as well. Click through to contribute to Plowshares 90 day build a well campaign: mycharity: water

Please take an opportunity to make a difference today and donate to this campaign and help Plowshares and Charity Water build a well for those who need it most. $50+ donations will get you a free bag of delicious Plowshares Coffee delivered to your door.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Great Taste Debate - Press Pot or Chemex

Great Tast Debate
Originally uploaded by AKurutz
On Tuesday September 15th, Plowshares Coffee Roasters participated in the Great Taste Debates Party sponsored by Patron Social Club and Tasting Table at Hill Country Restaurant.

Over 250 people payed $25 per ticket to participate in this epicurean showdown which took on some of today's more pressing culinary questions in a fun filled format at an entertaining venue. Prosciutto di Parma or Jamón Ibérico, Beef or Pork Ribs, Mac n Cheese or Corn Pudding, East Coast vs. West Coast Oysters were just a few of the examples put to the test of the attendees discerning palates who tasted, chewed, sipped and then voted for their favorite.

Plowshares hosted the coffee debate which was entitled: Press Pot or Chemex. Newly transplanted NYC coffee professional Katie Duris formerly of Murky Coffee and Chinatown Coffee Company in Washington D.C. stepped in for the assist as we prepared an endless stream of Press Pots and Chemexes of the wonderfully sweet and heavily fruited Ethiopian Amaro Gayo naturally processed coffee for attendees to sip and ponder.

And the winner you ask? Press Pot by a nearly 3 to 1 margin. Before a firestorm is set off in the coffee blogosphere over the merits and validity of comparing these two brewing methods, or the lack of scientific control, I must freely qualify that I prepared the Chemex while Katie handled Press Pots and this more than any other factor probably dictated the results! It was definitely a fun evening and the coffee was very well recieved by an enthusiastic and curious audience.