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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

08/01/2013 - Reflections and Forecasts

Slow Living Radio welcomes you to the New Year with two of our favorite topics (and beverages), wine and coffee.  We'll speak to some experts about some highlights of the past year and look forward to what's on the horizon for the New Year. So, pour yourself a glass or a cup and sit back and enjoy the show with us!

Jeff Prather 
Certified Master of the Obvious
Oxbow Wine Merchant

With decades of experience in the food and wine business, Jeff Prather shares his wealth of knowledge through engaging, and often amusing, wine content for the website and wine shop. Having been an actor in his earlier years, Jeff is a natural as one of our entertaining tasting class instructors.

After opening the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley in 1995 as the Restaurant Director and Cellar Master, Jeff served as Director of Wine Education at Shafer Vineyards, Flora Springs Winery, as well as the historic Beaulieu Vineyard. After serving as Senior Wine Merchant for the original with Peter Granoff and Bo Thompson, Jeff was the managing Director of Azalea Springs Winery.

Jeff became known for his decade of work as Wine Director for Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle which merited him several awards, including four James Beard Award nominations, Restaurant Hospitality Magazine’s Best American Wine List, Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence, and Restaurant Wine Magazine’s Wine Marketer of the Year nominee.

Jeff judges at wine competitions and is a frequent speaker and guest sommelier at national wine events. As a writer, he has been published in several magazines, was a correspondent for the Microsoft Online Network (MSN), a contributor to Oz Clark’s Microsoft Wine Guide CD-ROM and is co-author of the book “Northwest Wines.”

Jeff currently divides his time between Oxbow Wine Merchant and private consulting.

Ritual Coffee Roasters, Oxbow Public Market, Napa

Chris Casassa
Coffee Educator

Born just near Napa, Chris was never taken to coffee, turning down his parent’s offer for their usual drip coffee.
Maggie Johnson and Chris Casassa

In fact, it wasn’t until 4 years ago, when a co-worker began a job at Ritual Coffee Roasters in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, that Chris even entertained the thought of a cup of the black brew. 

It just took one sip for this moment to be life-changing for Chris and lead to a personal, and now career-long mission.  It was on this moment that he first became aware of coffee’s delectable nuances and the hook caught his passion (and time) with a firm hold.  Within days, Chris became consumed with finding out all he could about coffee, haunting Ritual Coffee for supplier details, contacting growers around the world for samples that he’d taste in the wee hours on his French Press or take to Ritual for them to discover with him.

He’d find baristas around the country who impressed him and urge them for secrets and details of their beans’ origins and roasting style, equipment and anything else that could help develop ‘the perfect’ cup.  It became to Chris like a winemakers mission to develop a wine with the complexity and quality of their dreams.

It didn’t take long for the owners of Ritual to notice this young man’s pursuits, discerning palate and unfathomable curiosity, and they wisely offered Chris a job. Of course he eagerly accepted!

Now the official Coffee Educator for the store, Chris, has the enviable position of being paid to live his passion, to do what he loves and be excited to continue to learn and grow in his coffee expertise!  We celebrate people like Chris Casassa and Ritual for employing and training really well!

Maggie Johnson

Maggie was born in Nashville, and raised in Louisville, Colorado.  Unlike Chris, Maggie’s coffee palate began to develop at a young age, sipping on cups of drip coffee with her mother, though not quite “getting it”.

Maggie in action

Her palate started to blossom when she was 13 with the opening of her mother’s own café, serving good coffee, smoothies and other fare, and where Maggie worked 2 hours a week.  Maggie thrived on the social atmosphere more than the coffee itself, preferring the more milky options of Lattes.

Over the years, into high school and college, Maggie’s coffee tastes gradually evolved and developed, and she found herself discriminatingly seeking out “fringe” coffee shops that served more specialty drinks and took their art seriously.  She began to realize that “drip” was only good if it was ground and brewed to order, and not just a quick fix or nameless hot black beverage.

Her judicious coffee sense didn’t take long to sniff out Ritual, where Maggie now happily hones her skills alongside Chris in marvelous harmony.

A few questions:

What do you find most underappreciated or unknown aspect of the world of coffee?

Chris:  How unique each individual coffee can be – its body, fruit, aromatics, acidity and tactility.

Maggie:  How much passion and training it takes to be a really good barista, much like a winemaker.

What frustrates you about the coffee industry?

Chris:  The public perception that it’s “just a drink”, not realizing its complexity and science.

Maggie:  The perception brought on by large scale chains that put quantity and price above quality.

What excited you the most about coffee in 2012?

Chris and Maggie:  The accessibility of specialty coffee in an increasing amount of unexpected areas, being able to get really good coffee if you’re willing to go looking most places.

Goals and wishes for 2013? 

Chris:  Aside from his own personal mission of immersion, that more and more people will become aware of coffee’s great potential.

Maggie:  That Ritual (and other serious and dedicated coffee houses) can find a way to give good quality speedily to those who want to “grab-and-run”, while still being able to allow those willing to embrace the whole experience, talk, sip, enjoy in ceramic and explore to do so at their own pace.

(On a personal author’s note, I would add to that – a wish that less and less people will want to “grab and run”, slow down and savor the moment.)

By Slow Living’s Simply Sally!

The Perfect Ritual Cappuccino

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