Sean Wang is Fort Wayne’s coffee Yoda.
The owner of Trionfale Espresso, 2910 E. Dupont Road – who is nearing the opening of his second store, Fortezza on Calhoun Street downtown – not only sells coffee, he sells coffee.
It is his passion, and he loves sharing his knowledge of what makes the delicious roasted beans so great and how to make a great cup of coffee from them. I mean, seriously, I don’t know anyone else in the area that breaks out glass beakers to brew a cup.
I am trying to promote coffee like they do in other cities, like Chicago, Wang said.
Full of beans
Wang gets his beans from Counter Culture, a group that goes in and buys beans directly from growers to ensure it gets the perfect specimens. You may have heard of fair-trade coffee, which many big-chain coffeehouses boast as their preference. Fair-trade coffee is certified as being to a certain set of standards when it comes to acquisition at production. The movement also helped give fair prices to farmers.
Direct-trade coffee, like Wang sells, cuts out the middle buyers and sellers and the organizations that certify beans, so there is less trickle down and farmers benefit even more.
With this method, Counter Culture can not only pick which region and variety of coffee it offers, but specifically which farmer and which part of the region they come from.
Wang offers several heirloom varieties that range from $14 to $16 for a 12-ounce bag, but he also has had some high-end brews that cost quite a bit more.
He had a rare variety that cost $40 for an 8-ounce bag or $8 cup, and late last year he offered an Aida’s Gran Reserve blend that was $45 for 12 ounces whole bean or $7 cup.
Our market here in Fort Wayne was not ready for that yet, he admitted. I don’t know when we will have them again.
At Trionfale, making coffee is not a simple endeavor.
Wang treats his product with the exactness of a chemist.
He does single-pour brews and advises against adding cream or sweetener to get the optimal flavor of the beans. And more is not better.
We limit our cup sizes to 8 ounces and 12 ounces; we won’t brew any bigger, he said. It is a smaller size than Starbucks.
Even how the water is poured is a project.
We wet it to see how (the coffee) blooms and it looks like a cupcake in the filter, he said. Hot water goes into the grounds and lets the coffee release its carbon dioxide. The coffee is actually breathing, opening up air pockets. We do it in a circular motion trying to get it as evenly as possible in a slow, steady stream.
The whole process, from brewing to finish, takes anywhere from 3 1/2 to four minutes.
The method plays a role, too. French presses, single-cup pour-overs (Wang’s preference) or siphoning all bring out different flavors.
And it doesn’t end with the brewing.
The size and shape of the cup can change complexion of coffee, Wang said, adding that he uses only 5-ounce cups for his cappuccinos, for example.
Temperature also plays a big role. Brewing coffee too hot can also negatively affect the flavor. Time changes things, too, Wang said. Different flavor notes come out as the coffee cools in the cup.
Want some cream with that coffee? Yep, there is a whole different set of rules for cappuccinos and lattes, too.
With milk, right now in the industry, we are promoting heating milk between 160 or 165 (degrees) and some places only heat it to 145 (degrees), Wang said. (160 to 165 degrees) is what we find optimal for steamed milk because of the fat content and protein content. That makes the milk naturally smoother.
The older way was to heat it to 200 (degrees) and what you are doing there is scalding the milk and it becomes drier and bitter.
Make it your own
Although he marvels at Wang’s scientific approach to coffee and follows some of the same principles, Mike Woodruff, owner of Old Crown Coffee Roasters, takes a much more layman’s approach when asked what it takes to make a good cup of coffee.
It’s your palate, Woodruff said. I can tell you what I think or others think about how you should make it, but it really comes down to your palate and what you like.
Woodruff, who now uses an Aeropress style French press for his personal coffee, doesn’t usually tell customers how to grind their beans, what temperature to use, etc. He keeps it simple.
Follow your recipe and work from there, Woodruff said he tells folks who are buying new styles of coffee from him. If you usually use one tablespoon of grounds for each cup, just do that and adjust it as needed.
He also warns that if you find that your gourmet coffee is too bitter, don’t be quick to use fewer grounds and more water, which seems logical. Sometimes you need more coffee to get the proper extraction. With enough experimentation, you will find the right flavor for you, he said.
And if that flavor is weak, if it includes adding cream and sugar or whatever else you want, that is fine. It is your cup of coffee, after all.
I admire the exacting science, Woodruff said. However, being a realist and after being in business 14 years; hey, if you want to put potato chips on your peanut butter sandwich, hey, put potato chips on your peanut butter sandwich. Do what you like.
I don’t want to tell you how it needs to be; I want you to tell me how it needs to be, and we will get there together.