TASTE | Coffee Culture
by Jo Snyder
When I was young, my maternal grandmother had what she called “tea at three” every day. Very few things were important enough to disrupt this daily ritual, and I have the fondest memories of sitting down with her to a cup of black tea with a splash of cream and some homemade scones.
For me, that feeling of ritual and a dedicated time of rest is what Fika Tea Bar brings to the people of Appleton. They have a wide selection of loose-leaf teas — all brewed with care — and several options (including build-your-own) for a Taiwanese delicacy known as Boba. “Bubble tea” as it is sometimes called, is a tea-based drink that includes chewy tapioca pearls and can include a wide range of other flavor options, from fruit to flavored syrups. Fika cooks their tapioca pearls from scratch in house, and for my money, they’re some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Boba can often be over sweetened and not taste particularly authentic, with a chalky mouth feel and sugary aftertaste. But at Fika, the size and consistency of their pearls, plus the subtle flavors that come from your choice of sweetener and other additions, makes this kind of drink a real treat.
When you walk through the doors at Fika, you’re welcomed by a calm and friendly atmosphere. Everything from the tea to the cupcakes to the throw pillows has clearly been chosen with care, and it creates a tidy and charming spot to sit and visit with a friend. Not only are their drinks enjoyable to taste, but they are lovely to look at as well. Fika Tea Bar manages to be unassuming and still pleasing to all the senses.
Shortly before Fika Tea Bar opened its doors in the summer of 2019, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the owners, Colleen Bies. Nearly two years later, it’s clear that her vision to create an environment for creativity to flourish, beauty to show itself all around, and clientele to be able to unwind and enjoy a fine cup of tea has come to pass.
My grandmother’s tea at three was a long tradition, passed to her from her mother. She didn’t usually like to stray from a classic Irish black, but I have a feeling that Fika Tea Bar would have tickled her fancy and made her branch out a bit. And I know she wouldn’t have been disappointed.
If you’re still not sure about giving Fika a try, you can browse their menu ahead of time online at fikateabar.com
by Jo Snyder
It’s probably safe to say that most of us spent the majority of our last year at home. For some of us that might have meant a lot of quiet time, others might have had a more hectic household with little minds to occupy, and still others maybe found a bit of time to start a new hobby.
If you’re still looking for a new interest to delve into, you might want to give at-home coffee brewing a try!
Before getting too deep into things, it’s important to know which kinds of coffees appeal to you most. That way you get the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Living in the greater Appleton area, we’re lucky to have so many great cafes that can provide us with a bit of insider info (courtesy of your knowledgeable baristas) and some very user-friendly equipment. If you get your brewing gear from a coffee shop, you can get some helpful hints from the staff and support local businesses all in one!
Some of my top suggestions for places to buy brewing gear would be:
Seth’s Coffee Drive Through in Appleton. They always have filters and coffee beans on hand, and the staff is happy to order brewing methods and decanters for their customers. Not to mention the baristas have a combined 40+ years of experience in the industry!
Tempest Coffee Collective in Appleton. They also supply coffee beans and filters, and you have the added bonus of being able to watch the brewing process and ask questions while your coffee is being made. They offer pour-over options of many types, so you can get a wide range of ideas.
All Seasons Coffee House, also right in Appleton! The staff is very friendly and helpful. They’ll give you easy tips to follow and can suggest some of their favorite brew methods. You can also request to have them order bags of coffee for you. Bonus: their coffees are roasted right here in Wisconsin!
In my experience, one of the easiest brewing methods for beginners – or just for those who don’t like a lot of fuss – is a Kalita Wave 185. I recommend using the metal dripper rather than glass; it’s easier to clean and much harder to break! Kalita Waves tend to offer easy brewing and satisfying results. Their filters are easy to find and they’re often less finicky about the exact grind of your coffee bean.
If you think home brewing might be for you, stop by a local cafe and do a little digging. You might find your new favorite activity can be done right in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Fall Favorites with a Twist
by Jo Snyder
In a season where people are trying to ease up on going out for drinks, dinner, or coffee with friends, it seems that many people are missing out on more than a few creature comforts.
I can’t provide you with a replacement for your weekly date night, but I can come up with a few ideas for how to still get your coffee fix from the comfort of your own home.
A pumpkin spice latte is most people’s go-to fall drink, but they can be tricky to prepare at home. Real ground spices tend to clump together, and it can be hard to get any real pumpkin into your coffee cup without that peculiar slimy residue.
Luckily, I have a few tried-and-true alternatives!
Honey and cinnamon added to a latte or a morning cup of coffee is a delicious and subtle way to get a taste of autumn. The amount of honey you’ll want to add varies based on personal preference and the size of the drink, so just sweeten to taste. Add the cinnamon into the bottom of the cup before you pour in your coffee or espresso – it blends better and doesn’t leave chunks floating at the top!
My personal favorite sweetener for coffee is maple syrup. Real maple syrup – especially when it’s local – compliments coffee wonderfully. If you don’t have a way to prepare espresso at home, a simple and quick substitute is to use instant espresso from the grocery store. Prepare as directed, sweeten with maple syrup (as much or as little as you like), and for a knock-off version of steamed milk, simply heat your milk of choice in the microwave or on the stove, then pour into a mason jar. Seal the jar with the lid and shake for about 15 seconds. You’ll have hot and lightly foamed milk in no time. Pour into your espresso and maple syrup and enjoy!
For those of you who want to try something a little different, or who just aren’t satisfied with your at-home results, coffee whipped cream added to a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is a great way to have that coffee flavor without needing to be your family’s barista.
The simplest version of coffee whipped cream is a mixture of heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and instant coffee granules. There are many other recipes to be found online and you should pick the one that suits your taste the best!
But for a simple and easy recipe:
2 cups of heavy cream
½ cup of powdered sugar
2 tsp instant coffee granules – or more for a stronger flavor
This works best if you chill your mixing bowl before whipping, and if you can sift your powdered sugar beforehand. Simply chill a metal mixing bowl for about 15 minutes in the freezer, then mix all with an electric mixer for 4-5 minutes. It’s lovely on pumpkin pie!
And for all the mocha lovers out there, a dollop on top of a classic hot chocolate is a great way to end the day. Cheers!
On Common Ground
by Jo Snyder
“Coffee really brings people together,” says Dan Gould of Uncommon Grounds. I was fortunate enough to speak with him in August about the history and passion of his specialty roastery.
Dan has worked in coffee since 2001, when he owned a coffee shop in Neenah. Roasting was always more his speed, so after a few years at his cafe, he decided to move on and has been roasting his own coffee since 2013. Uncommon Grounds roasted coffees first hit retail shelves at a local Festival Foods.
Dan is happy to say that you can now find his coffee in over a dozen locations, from New London to Egg Harbor! His roastery is in Appleton, but Dan is “all about the source,” he says. “Coffees from different regions have such distinct flavors.” He hopes that’s reflected in each of his roasts.
When I asked Dan what his favorite aspect of roasting was, he couldn’t decide. When roasting, Dan says he especially enjoys the sensory aspect and really focuses on the subtle flavor nuances.
“I try to highlight each coffee’s unique characteristic,” he explained. After all, a coffee from Ethiopia is not the same as a coffee from Central America, and he tries to let each part of the world have their say in his coffees.
There are many differences between working in a roastery and working in a cafe, but Dan says one of the main things he misses about coffee shop work is the day-to-day interaction with customers. Roasting is where his heart is, but he did enjoy the social aspect of owning his own cafe.
One of his biggest concerns in roasting is where his coffee comes from. Dan orders his green (un-roasted) coffee beans from an importer that focuses on sustainably grown coffees. He says he was able to go to Colombia in 2017 with his importer and he hopes to see more coffee farms in the future.
I asked Dan about the inspiration for his roastery, and he said he feels the name Uncommon Grounds is sort of a double-entendre. “I try to be uncommon with my roasting practices, but coffee is also a common ground for so many of us.”
He says his best seller is his Harmony Roast, and he chose that name because coffee can bring harmony into our lives. Dan can’t decide if he has a favorite of his own. “I like to try a new coffee every week. I like to taste variations on the same beans, and it’s just so hard to choose one I like best.”
If you haven’t given Uncommon Grounds a try, check out their retail locations. Visit uncommongroundsspecialtyroaster.com
Filter Coffee, Not People
by Jo Snyder
This month I’d like to give you the scoop on an essential coffee basic: the filter.
Unless you like it Turkish style, most of us use filters when we brew our coffee, whether that’s with a machine or as a pour over. Filters seem like they should be the simplest choice you have in the coffee-brewing process, but then again, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Filters come in all different shapes and sizes, but also materials, and then there’s the great debate: bleached or unbleached.
Let’s deal with the last two. We’ve all stood in a grocery store with a pack of brown filters in one hand and white filters in the other, wondering what difference it really makes – or at least I have. So, let’s break those differences down. What are bleached filters, anyway? They’re a paper filter that has undergone a bleaching process to make them appear white. As most of us know, natural paper is brown to start with. This bleaching process mainly uses either chlorine or oxygen to turn the filters white. Chlorine is commonly used to whiten filters, but it’s considered the lower-quality form of bleaching and is also not as good for the environment. For one thing, there’s an added step in the manufacturing process. And these filters can be a pollutant when they’re disposed of. If bleached filters are your preference, look for the filters whitened with oxygen-based bleach as it’s a bit eco-friendlier.
Unbleached filters are usually the same price, perhaps a little less, and they’re probably the best option for eco-friendly paper filters. Some people find that using these filters results in their coffee having a “papery” taste when it’s done brewing, but that is very easy to avoid. Before you add coffee grounds to your filter, simply wet it and then dispose of any excess water before you begin the brewing process. I recommend wetting paper filters, no matter what, as it seems to always improve the flavor of coffee.
These days you also have the option of using metal filters for pour overs, even if you aren’t using a French press. Metal filters cost much more up front, but it’s usually a one-time purchase and you get what you pay for. There are a few things to note if you’re interested in metal filters. They will result in a cup of coffee that tastes very different from coffee made with paper filters. Metal filters don’t absorb the oils that are naturally present in coffee the way paper does, so your coffee will have a very different mouthfeel and seem more full-bodied, like a French press. And there is also more cleanup involved. A paper filter requires almost no cleanup; you simply lift and throw it away. Metal filters must be emptied and cleaned between each use, and periodically need a good washing cycle in a sink or dishwasher to make sure they’re squeaky clean and ready to use. If you’re interested in giving metal filters a try, I recommend getting an Osaka Coffee Stainless Steel Cone Filter.
For more coffee filter know-how, visit roastycoffee.com