It’s cloudy and gray on this Friday morning, but the students from Western High school are excited to be at Heine Brothers headquarters. They each doctor up their own cup of coffee; some take theirs black, while others add caramel and milk. After the students are settled in their seats, Alec Risch, the Head Roaster and Director of Coffee, starts talking about the coffee plant.
Coffee trees can look like stout bushes that bare a red fruit. The coffee cherries look berry like, but despite their appearance they taste bitter. There are only two seasons in coffee harvesting: wet and dry. After the constant rain of wet season the plants are triggered to bloom by the beginning of the dry season. The blooms are quite fragrant and smell of honeysuckle. From these blooms we get the cherry, and each cherry contains two coffee beans. These beans are what it is all about!
Generally coffee plants are grown in high altitudes and can be harvested in differing regions. Alec shows a map of all the places we have sourced our coffee from. The students ask questions about the culture and lives of coffee farmers. Since Heine Brothers’ works so closely with the farmers, Alec is able to share lots of pictures and stories from trips to the coffee farms.
Alec then talks about all the steps it takes to process the beans. Beans can be processed using several different methods: washed, wet, semi-washed, honeyed, unwashed, natural, and dry. Each method can drastically change the flavor and essence of the blend. Behind each method that is chosen are the growers who are required to execute it.
Coffee growers are extremely knowledgeable about the type of bean they are looking for. After looking at the photos of our farmers processing the beans, Lakot, one of the students, asked, “So they hand sort every single bean?”. All the students gasped when Alec answered “Yes!”. He told them that along with the hand sorting, each coffee must be tasted by a “Cupper”. That means that the Cupper must taste up to 150 coffees a day.
“All day? So it’s nonstop?”, asks Jamontry.
Alec replies, “Well they slurp it and have a spit cup, but yes they have to taste every coffee”.
Alec then shifts the conversation towards Fair Trade and what exactly that means for both the farmers and our business. He explains that even though small farmers can produce a large amount of coffee that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to make a living wage. By being a part of a co-op, we are able to purchase beans in bulk and in turn support these farmers. It is also extremely important that we make our practices sustainable. There are several ways we can implement this: soil fertility, composting, reforestation, carbon capture, R&D or resistant coffee cultivators. We do this so the farmers can thrive and produce a good product, while also taking care of our environment.
We end our day in the training cafe where Joe Dininger, Training Manager, shares a different coffee than the week prior. Today we are trying Congo. The students’ progress is quite impressive; they are now able to identify different flavor notes as well as the acidity and body of the blend.
After this the students are introduced to espresso! Though a single shot might look simple in nature, the process in which it’s assembled is much more nuanced. The students are taught how to properly grind, groom, tamp, and pull each shot. The students are asked to taste good shots comparatively to bad ones. Both shots are “extremely bitter”, according to one student, but are vastly different in taste.
The students learned a lot today, but most importantly they are gaining the building blocks to become a great barista!
From the outside it is hard to tell just how ingenious and creative Monica Mahoney’s home is. When entering you can feel the warmth from a crackling fire while a small cat named “biggie” brushes against your legs. The floor plan is completely open and full of small details. I was surprised when Monica revealed to me that the home used to be a general store for the neighborhood. Pictures are hung in the hallway of the store and as you turn to see the space before you it is delightfully shocking. What used to be rows and rows of shelves and countertops, has now become a warm and inviting home, full of art, life, and spirit.
Monica lead me to the back of the house, to a portion she had recently added on. It is hard not to notice the juxtaposed material used in each space. Monica pointed to each one, telling me their origin: bricks from Phoenix Hill, windows from old factories, and vintage tools that had been collected. Though we stood in this singular place it felt more of an accumulation of the city so many of us have come to love.
We walk to the back of the property where Monica has her studio. We talk for awhile about her process and where she finds inspiration. Just like her house, Monica likes to have meaning behind the materials and subjects she uses for each piece. For example the large painting hanging on her living room wall depicts two women walking across a plaza away from a group of onlooking girls. At first glance you notice the facial expressions and vague feelings of the characters, but after Monica explains the reasoning for lines within the painting and the history between the characters, life is breathed into the piece and it becomes something so much bigger.
In the same way, Monica’s painting of the K&I Bridge for HB-State Street took time and research. Monica learned the history behind the bridge and what makes it so important to our community. In her studio hangs a picture taken after the bridge’s completion. Hundreds of workers dangling from its cross beams reminds you of the people who came before and created the staples of our skyline.
In front of us lies the bits and pieces of an art piece Monica is working on for HB-Longest Avenue. She wanted to make something that would capture the Highlands, and what better than its heart, Cherokee Park. Monica loves the fact that the park belongs to everyone and it has been such a big part of so many peoples’ lives in the community. Her piece consists of layers of wood that create a bright topographical map of the park. This vuja de affect allows the viewer to see something quite familiar in a completely different way.
Monica has a true talent for capturing our community, and we are so honored to house some of her amazing work.
It’s 9am on a Friday when six Western High School students file into Heine Brothers’ Headquarters. The sky is cloudy and construction seems to patter on outside as the groggy students find their way to their seat. Toni McDowell, Store Operations Manager, starts the day by breaking down what exactly these next couple of weeks are going to entail.
Western is not your normal high school; the students participate in programs where they can learn different skills and trades. These students are part of the culinary program and have chosen Heine Brothers’ as their out of school experience . Over the next few weeks they will learn everything they need to know to run a coffee shop, from the sourcing of the beans to handing a customer their drink.
Nathan Veneman, our Roastery Operations Manager, talks to the students about what it takes to keep our company running. Supplies have to be ordered, employees need to be paid, overhead and repairs have to be managed; there are hundreds of variables that need to be monitored everyday. Nathan makes sure that the students are aware of all the “behind the scenes” work that goes into running a business.
The students get to see each department of the business during the tour of Headquarters. We walk through our training cafe, the offices, and finally the roasting floor. The students are asking great questions. Tameira, one of the students, asks, “Can women be coffee roasters?”. Nathan ensures her that we have had several women roasters in the past and they have played an integral part of our business.
After a short break, we convene in our training cafe. Today we are brewing our Bolivia coffee. Joe Diniger, our Training & Quality Control Manager, talks about the process of cupping. He explains to the kids that cupping is a systematic approach to analyzing a coffee’s tastes and aromas. Though we will not be performing an entire cupping process today, the kids are still asked to smell and sip the coffee. We use the flavor wheel to evaluate the notes within the brew.
Most everyone agreed that the Bolivia blend had notes of nut flavor within it. To better illustrate his point about flavors, Joe encouraged the students to try some of our teas. In particular, our Mango India has strong mango and fruit flavors that can be easily detected among the more bitter black tea notes.
As we approach the end of today’s class Mike Mays, the co-owner/President of the company, stops by to tell the students about his story and how he started the business.
These days there seems to be coffee shops on every corner, so the students were surprised when they heard about the complete absence of them in the early 90’s. Mike describes a time when people doubted his “contemporary” ideas of selling coffee. Mike held onto his vision and gained traction within the Louisville market. Though he found success, he made it a point to involve his work with the community. As we wrapped up today’s session Mike told the students that doing the right thing and helping your community should be an essential part of running a good business!