When I moved from Portland to Richmond, I was worried about leaving the fabulous culinary culture of the Pacific Northwest. To my pleasant surprise, I quickly fell in love with Richmond's diverse, independent scene where creativity is rewarded by loyal customers.
While some things are very similar to Portland, e.g. the river and running culture, the climate is very different. I don't miss the gray winters but wouldn't mind some 75 degree summer days amidst the 95+ degree stretches! Most people I knew in Portland, including myself, didn't have air-conditioning. I couldn't imagine living here without it.
Richmond also has a similar feel from a hipster culture, though it's much more balanced. People don't seem to try new things here just to be different and counter-culture, there seems to be a greater sense of intention behind why it needs to be done different.
The one thing I found that was missing here was consistently good coffee, especially espresso-based drinks, in a convenient format. While there are some great independent shops, there is room to help Richmond develop its coffee palate to match its sophisticated food knowledge.
It begins with properly sourced beans. Coffee is an organic crop, where even the slightest differences in growing conditions have a dramatic impact on quality, similar to wine. Once picked, the beans are then processed and dried to remove the fruit and parchment, leaving behind green coffee beans.
The next major step is roasting. Through this process, the natural sugars in the beans caramelize and other flavor components are created. This is one of the most crucial steps and when done wrong (usually over-roasting), years of labor and love can be ruined.
We buy our espresso blend from Blanchard's Coffee and our drip blend from Counter Culture Coffee. We strongly endorse both of these roasters, both through their sourcing practices, as well as their roasting techniques.
From here, it's up to the barista. Clean, well-maintained equipment and properly filtered water are critical. Coffee beans secrete oils which, if not cleaned from the equipment, can turn rancid, eliminating the subtle flavors and aromas that we're trying to extract. Proper grinds, measurements and brewing methods help to extract the magical flavors from the beans without exposing some of their harsher tasting notes.
This last step is where the "Alchemy" of coffee happens. While there are repeatable, finely measured steps to achieve a perfect cup, there remains an artisan-like process in using those steps to then make subtle adjustments through intuitive reasoning. As an example, for espresso, we always use 19 grams of coffee for each "double" shot and pass the water through the grounds at 9bar of pressure. What does change is the grind setting following careful sensual observation. The grind setting must be adjusted throughout the day as the grinding and brewing equipment is constantly changing form from temperature and barometric changes.