On the Line: Alexandra LittleJohn of Green Bliss/Cafecito Organico, Part One
Photo by Mary Pastrana
We're doing our job when Alexandra LittleJohn tells a friend that our questionnaire, "...is worse than filling out the eHarmony dating website" [Awesome!]. Our Sunday morning is spent in a hidden outdoor seating area of Kean's Newport alongside Nacho, her pup with "big dog syndrome."
While we have yet to fully immerse ourselves in some organic, fair trade, she did educate us on a few things. Like how two shots of espresso have the same amount of caffeine as one 8-ounce cup of coffee. Or how the potato defect can affect a batch of Rwandan coffee beans.
Your earliest coffee memory:
The first "coffee" memory I have is coffee flavored See's candies during a Christmas season. They were my mother's and I ate the whole box. I am pretty sure that's where the passion started.
Favorite meal growing up:
Chinese food. I loved the challenge of learning how to use chopsticks.
The Brazil Recreio from Rose Park Roasters in Long Beach. It's a smaller roaster. It really impressed me.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Espresso and the quality of milk (what brand, where is it coming from, how much it cost, etc.) used at most coffee shops. When it comes to coffee designs, the higher in protein of milk fat, the easier it is to steam.
How did you get involved in being a barista?
I was 14 or 15 and needed a job because I was an emancipated minor, living on my own. Totally Coffee was the first shop I ever worked in. It was in Costa Mesa, and the coffee was horrible, but the environment is what drew me in. I love people and the social aspect of coffee, and I got to work where all my friends were hanging out.
Tell us about the invite to Aida Batlle's farm.
Well, the invite was for a friend of mine in SF named Selina. She helped me out with about 15 pounds of coffee from Blue Bottle, when our roaster fell through on coffee for an event I was supposed to work in Las Vegas the day after SWRBC. Selina didn't even charge us for the coffee, and really saved my ass, so the owner of the Espresso catering service wanted to pay it forward and give her something special for being so selfless (another reason I love this industry.). If there is a spot open I may get to go, but really it should be for Selina. She had no idea how important it was for us to get coffee for that event, and just did it out of the kindness of her heart. Doing good does pay off.
Please explain coffee cupping.
I always like to describe cupping coffee as the math of coffee. No matter where you go - whether it be at origin, at the importer, exporter, roaster barista or customer level, it is always done the same way. 8.25 grams of coffee to 150 grams. of water (between 195 and 205 degrees - on the hotter side is better for cupping) and with a grind size that is slightly coarser than what you would grind for a paper filter. We usually do 5 cup samples of the same coffee to determine consistency and uniformity.
Cupping is used to grade the coffee, to determine which coffees to buy green if you're a roaster, or to determine what roast profiles you prefer on one particular coffee. Essentially it's the "proper" way to taste a coffee. Or the way to taste coffee for quality and profile control.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
New restaurants. I am really enjoying all the new spots that have opened recently, especially the Iron Press in Costa Mesa.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
I admit to eating it all because I am a night owl, and super busy. So anything open after midnight is fair game.
Tell me about the "Sen Saay" app:
San Saay is the child of my good friend, Alexandra Katona-Carrol. It's a social media app that allows folks to rate and share coffee houses and breweries with everyone on the app. You can view what coffees or beers they have on the offerings at different shops and rate them, make lists for what you like and scan in photos of what you want to remember or share with others. Once more shops get on board with this, it's going to be better than Yelp! And more specific to the coffee and beer enthusiasts out there! The app also allows you to read up on the coffee or beer, the story behind it, the farm, the brew, etc. Full traceability at your fingertips.
How do you like your coffee?
The same way I like my men: well-balanced, sweet and with an amazing body.
One food you can't live without:
Goat cheese. It just goes well on everything.
Where was your most recent meal?
Most recently I stopped in to Crow Burger in Newport Beach and had the triple cheeseburger. So amazing . . .way better than Umami.
Best tip for an aspiring barista:
Practice! And KNOW your coffees . . . remember we are in the SERVICE industry, not just the coffee industry. If we want to be seen as experts, we need to know our products well.
What differentiates Green Bliss/Cafecito Organico from other coffeehouses?
Well, Green Bliss is a multi-roaster location, so that makes them different from the gate. More so than anywhere else in OC, you can go in and get up to four different roaster's coffee at one time. That's amazing to a coffee person! At Cafecito Organico, we are a roaster as well as a retail location, so we get to choose and roast all of our coffees to our profiles, and serve them the way we deem best for their profiles. We also use a Piston Lever Espresso Machine by Astoria, which is by far the most manual espresso machine out there on the market. It really focuses on the barista's ability, not just how fancy the machine is.
What the two have in common is that we hand craft all the coffee, and refuse to use anything artificial in anything we make. You won't find anything in either shop that has corn syrup or anything of that nature, and we don't compromise our quality for anything. The biggest difference is that we take the TLC to train and teach our staff about coffee. Most places hire button pushers, and we hire professionals, or professionals in training.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their beverages?
I think it's awesome! And an honor when they want to take one of a bev(erage) I've served them Just hoping it doesn't get cold while they are taking pics (smiley face).
Wow. This is such a hard question. My favorites would have to be Chris Baca and Lorenzo Perkins. They are just such rad guys, and totally different - super knowledgeable and always willing to help and talk to you about coffee. Both are on BGA (Barista Guild of America) executive council.
What kinds of designs can you create in a coffee cup?
Whatever you wish. You can do almost anything with etching these days, I have done the Virgin Mary, just because I was told I couldn't.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Probably some of the sig bevs at competitions. People are really, really creative. Signature beverages have really stepped up as far as what is acceptable. It used to be flavored lattes and layered drinks. Some of them aren't delicious (but some are, like espresso poured over maple encrusted bacon from Pete Licata, 2011 US Barista Champion).
Favorite places to eat.
There's a little sandwich shop in San Pedro called the Sandwich Saloon. It's a hole in the wall, but awesome. Or. . . I love going to the Crosby in Santa Ana.
Where else do you go for coffee (besides home or work)?
Everywhere! I really love all of the shops throughout LA and OC, from Handsome, to Single Origin, Demitasse, Spring, Kean, Portola and especially my own shops. Cafecito's espresso is to die for. This past January, I took a trip and did 40 shops in 3 states in 10 days. It was stellar.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Coffee and whatever pastries are leftover from the night before. Fruit if I am not running late.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
This girl wanted to pour her own latte art. She was learning at home and couldn't get the milk right. So yeah, I let her and it was awesome!
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