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The wide world of coffee

by KTNA Staff ~ May 7th, 2012

It’s the fuel that revs the engines of most talkeetna residents- and most of the world.  Coffee is a drink that many of

us take  for granted as a vital part of our daily lives; though, in reality, it’s a luxury.  Recently, Talkeetna’s Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe hosted a coffee tasting for the community as well as training their own employees in the delicacies and intricacies of the specialty coffee world.  Amanda Randles followed the aroma to the source to learn more, and has this story:

Latte Art. Photo Courtesy Gina Randles

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Michael McGuire obsesses over coffee. Photo courtesy Gina Randles

It’s not just Colombian in a can anymore; the days of a quick cup of joe have evolved to dozens of choices – espresso, latte, cappuccino, macchiato.  And, if you wish, you can delve further – fair trade beans from Costa Rica; shade-grown Brazilian beans, Yirga-cheffe from Ethiopia.  So many decisions!

Michael McGuire of K-Bay coffee roastery out of Homer knows his Bolivian from his Balinese, and has dedicated his life towards the pursuit of the perfect cup – as well as using coffee as a medium for making change in the world.  He says if people in our part of the world learn to appreciate quality – and pay for it – it leads to a better quality of life for those growers in far off places, who then work towards delivering a better and better product.  what it takes is educating the palates of the consumers – a mission McGuire seems to take great pleasure in doing.

On Saturday, visitors to the Flying Squirrel were greeted by free samples of a variety of different coffees.  They also were able to learn about different brewing styles, different ways the coffees are grown, even who does the growing.  And behind this fragrant display was McGuire with a ready smile and loads of information – a passionate missionary for the world of specialty coffees.

cut 0:38 “it’s amazing, really, to be the source…to make some positive change.”

McGuire has been in specialty coffee since 1982. He founded K-Bay Cafe in 1998 in Homer –   the same year McGuire won the the award for national barista of the year.  He began roasting his own coffee in 2004, after it became too challenging to ship the best coffee from all over the world, and have it delivered fresh.  So McGuire became his own roaster.

cut 0:34 “coffee as the second largest…. people who are doing the work.”

McGuire says for his roastery, all coffee is initially chosen on a base-line of organic – after that, he chooses between different cooperatives and companies who provide for such things as the best working conditions – but the final deciding factor is always taste.  Because the consumers, on our end, want quality flavor first:

cut 0:30 “that cup of coffee….a treat”

McGuire says the next step is the story behind the bean:

cut 0:24 “when you can provide them a product… love for what you’re doing”

McGuire believes there is still a place in the world for “diner coffee” – most of that coffee has a higher caffeine content than specialty coffees, providing a necessary kick to the senses when needed.  There’s also a place for the very American stop and go giant fancy coffees.  But McGuire says there is another place for coffee lovers:

cut 0:27 “the cafe scene…large variety of people”

McGuire says the big, milk-based grab-and-go coffee franchises such as Starbucks have grown out of that, but there is still room for the espresso-based, specialty coffee world in small cafes that focus on quality coffee from all over the world.

For the personal connoisseur, McGuire says preparing the best quality coffee at home is not a matter of one, simple answer.

cut 0:30 “to get the best flavor out….bring that body out.”

McGuire says cold brewing a concentrate is also a good option, though time consuming.  And, he says, the automatic drip, mister coffee style – is not always a bad thing.  the best water temperature for brewing is between 109 and 202 degrees Fahrenheit.  A newer automatic drip coffee machine can do that.  the problem is with most home coffee machines is that they brew at the right temperature, but the heating element often fails within a year, the temperature is not longer as exact, and the quality then goes down.  The best brewing style, according to McGuire, is espresso, though that’s not often an option for home brewing.

After a day of training the palates of coffee connoisseurs in Talkeetna – and getting everyone hopped up on more than just spring sunshine – McGuire headed back to his cafe and roastery in Homer – to roast some more beans from far off, exotic places, and leaving local coffee fans a little more informed – and -alert – than before.

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