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Milk Matters

by Kari Guddeck @ Barista Pro Shop

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Ask a coffee shop owner about milk and you're bound to hear that they never knew they were going into the dairy business when they opened a café. After coffee, milk might just be the most used ingredient in a coffee shop. Even if a customer orders a drip/brewed coffee or an espresso, the odds are pretty high that they will add half and half or some other kind of milk product. That being said, I was curious to hear what shop owners/managers, roasters, and dairies would have to say about the topic.

Milk is getting expensive, and in a grandé sized world, that can mean big bucks spent on dairy for shop owners. When I started asking around about milk habits, I thought that I'd find quite a few people buying at their local discount store in an effort to keep costs down. I was wrong. My sampling was small (12), but only two people told me that they sometimes buy milk at a discount store. These two both elaborated to say they only supplement with store bought milk when they only needed a couple of gallons or had run out between deliveries. That's right, delivery was the most popular mode of acquiring milk. Kim Schatz, owner of Loveland Coffee (Loveland, CO), loves her local dairy provider (Morning Fresh Dairy) and their products. "They offer high quality products and service…..have you tasted their eggnog? They make it fresh!" I have tasted their eggnog, and it is good, but it's also kind of pricey. When I ask Kim about this, she says "I know, but it just tastes better". Kim also explained that her barista training includes strict rules about milk waste in an effort to keep cost down.

Morning Fresh also got the thumbs up approval of Michael and Heidi Thrash; owners of The Coffee Tree in Loveland, CO. The couple had considered buying cheaper milk, but the taste just didn't compete. So, just who are these Morning Fresh Dairy people and what's so special about their milk? Morning Fresh is a family run dairy that has been delivering natural milk products since 1894. All Natural means "no artificial hormones, no pesticides, and no preservatives. From our cows to your doorstep in 24 hours," according to owner Robert L. Graves. Morning Fresh is 3 years away from organic certification and their milk is only pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized, to retain the best tasting product possible. What's the difference? 'Farmer Rob' says "Ultra-pasteurized milk (UHT) has been flash-heated with steam to 280°F and then vacuum chilled rapidly back down to 38°F. This temperature variation kills more microorganisms than regular pasteurization. The result is milk with a longer shelf life. We do not do this as it changes the flavor and consistency of milk. Milk that is ultra-pasteurized can be packaged and stored unrefrigerated for long periods of time. We pasteurize our milk which involves flash heating it to 165-168 degrees f then immediately cooling it back to 34 degrees f."

Flavor and consistency are pretty big factors for a shop known for great foam and latté art, like The Coffee Tree. Robin Burnett, manager of The Tattered Cover Café on Colfax in Denver, agrees. The Tattered Cover Cafés use Diamond D Dairy (Longmont, CO) to support local business, but also for customer satisfaction. Robin says "baristas from other shops come here for drinks just because we use Diamond D". Diamond D is another family run dairy whose focus is on "cow selection, nutrition, and humane and natural management practices which have allowed (them) to produce high quality milk". The Docheff family is proud to state that they are "the only milk processers in the state of Colorado to live on the dairy with (their) animals giving (them) the ability to manage every aspect of the operation in great detail".

Quality and great tasting products, natural practices, and a 'go local' mentality were the running themes of importance from the folks I asked about milk. Gerra Harrigan of New Harvest Coffee Roasters (Providence, RI) states that Rhody Fresh is "our favorite locally produced milk that we use exclusively in our training lab and strongly encourage our wholesale customers to use." Rhody Fresh is a collaborative of local dairy farmers that banned together rather than lose their individual farms to hard times. "Their milk is by far the best around. It is a very sweet milk with great body; not too creamy, still light in texture even in the whole milk. When steamed the texture becomes silky and is incredibly uniform. We buy by the gallon and have it delivered weekly. Some of our busier cafes use their 'udder' system where 5 gallon bags are hung inside refrigerated metal dispensers," says Harrigan.

Rhody Fresh was also a popular choice amongst competing baristas in the North East Regional Barista Competition. Harrigan says they tested several brands of milk in their lab, including big chains, but Rhody Fresh's taste and texture was most complimentary to their espresso. "During competition season, a lot of our Boston friends would bring down High Lawn and Oakhurst brands which I really liked. Oakhurst is very creamy and almost overly nutty when hot. Great for some applications and coffee pairings but sometimes clashed with overly fruity espresso."

Lucy Valena, owner of Voltage Coffee Catering and soon to be open Voltage Coffee and Art shop in Boston, admits that when catering for smaller events it's easier for her to pick up a couple of gallons of milk from the local 7-11. However, now that she's opening a shop, she plans on visiting and building a relationship with High Lawn Farm in western MA. "I don't know a huge amount about milk (but) many people agree that Jersey cows produce the most lovely microfoam, etc. What I do know is that working with local vendors is extremely important to me and my brand, as is understanding as much as possible about the chain of events that ends when I serve a delicious latté to a customer," states Valena.

The specialty coffee industry was born out of a desire for quality beans, drinks, and preparation. It should come as no surprise then, that one of the key components to a successful coffee based business should also meet quality standards. Lucy Valena just about sums up the milk issue, "I think that in our industry, respect and reverence for the ingredients we use and the people who produce them is only getting more important every day. That is why I selected the roaster I did, why I'm supporting local bakeries, and will be getting as much local produce as possible….and I can say that people WILL look at you funny when you leave a convenience store with three (or more) gallons of milk."