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Open Mic at Wine Down Wednesday

MicrophoneAt our May 17, 2017 Wine Down Wednesday we’re hosting an Open Mic! It’s a great opportunity to perform in a fun, casual environment (and mingle with friends and neighbors while you’re at it!)

At least three of La Vita Dolce’s musically-gifted Baristas will be performing, and we have a sign up sheet in the cafe. To sign up online, email Annie at ann.habersham@gmail.com.

Learn more about Wine Down Wednesday.

Crew Member of the Week

La Vita Dolce Crew
The La Vita Dolce Crew

The most surprising aspect of running La Vita Dolce over the past 22 months has been how much the staff here have come to mean to me and how often they impress me. I learn from them every day and together we have created a culture at La Vita Dolce that I’m immensely proud of.

Their “job” is to work toward our higher purpose. Specifically, they are the ones who welcome everyone to treat themselves and feel good. And they implement La Vita Dolce’s values as they do.

We keep a Barista Book behind the counter in which our staff share about something special they did during their shift that really demonstrated our purpose and values — so they’re sharing with each other. I also get feedback from customers about our staff. Now we’ve decided to “complete the circle” by sharing with you — our customers and the community — about our staff.

Each week we’ll choose a Crew Member of the Week. This person will have done something outstanding — what we’re calling the “Dolce Moment of the Week.” We’ll share with you who we’ve chosen, a little bit about them (our crew is made up of absurdly interesting and multi-talented people), and they’ll get to pick a gelato flavor to be made by us that week. We’re leaving that wide open — so we could end up with anything from Chili Pepper Gelato to Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie Gelato.

As we start this weekly recognition and sharing, Erin (our Manager) and I are asking for your input. If you had a great experience with one of our baristas — or witnessed one of them do something particularly thoughtful, caring, welcoming or otherwise exceptional — please let us know! You can email us at lavitadolcecafe@gmail.com or message us/post on Facebook. And maybe that barista will be our next Crew Member of the Week.

Thanks for your help! And stay tuned for a new and probably pretty unique gelato flavor each week!

Paint a Pumpkin Event

Alex's Starry Night PumpkinWed. 10/26, 3-7 pm

One of our most popular events of the year! We’ll have the pumpkins and paint supplies. Come by for Halloween fun, Spiced Pumpkin Lattes, Hot Cider, pumpkin bread, Pumpkin Pie gelato & Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale for the adults!  $3.75 for a pumpkin and paint, until we sell out!

 

 

Pumpkin Revival Event

Saturday, Oct. 22, 3-5pm

La Vita Dolce

  • Pumpkin revival live musicLive rockabilly music by Vinyl Revival
  • $3 Cottonwood Pumpkin Beers
  • Spiced Pumpkin Lattes, Pumpkin gelato, Pumpkin espresso milkshakes,  and more!
  • All ages welcome for seasonal fun & flavors!

Cacao Almond Milk Mocha: Have Your Chocolate Cake & Eat It, Too

This drink has a special place in my chocolate-loving heart. And there is a lot to share about it — but I have to start by saying that you need to try it for the simple reason that it tastes amazing.

Our goal with this mocha was to create a delicious treat that you feel good about enjoying. No sacrificing the delicious part, though, which is why we had numerous recipe trials and stakeholder tastings. Treats have to taste great. Period. And this mocha is a treat.

What is the Cacao Almond Milk Mocha?

Cacao Almond Milk MochaIt’s a mocha (a chocolate latte) made with organic raw cacao, sugar, almond milk, and Streamline espresso. Compared to a typical mocha it has:

  • less sugar & fat (including less saturated fat)
  • no dairy or additives
  • more antioxidants and greater health benefits
  • more energy-boosting goodness

It’s not as sweet as a typical mocha (although we add the sugar separately and can add more or less to accommodate your taste) and has a hint of nuttiness that beautifully complements the espresso. You do NOT need to be a health nut to love the taste! In fact, many prefer the flavor to a typical mocha before even knowing the health benefits.

What’s Cacao?

The Healthy Precursor to Chocolate

Cacao Bean
By Mikkel Houmøller via Wikimedia Commons

If we trace chocolate to its origins in nature, we land on cacao beans. Cacao beans are packed with antioxidants and nutritional value.

Chocolate is made by roasting and processing cacao beans. Roasting cacao beans at high temperatures to make cocoa or chocolate changes the structure of the food, causing it to lose much of its nutritional value. Chocolate processing also adds milk and lots of sugar to roasted cacao.

Articles reporting the wonderful health benefits of chocolate are often actually referencing the health benefits of the flavanoids in cacao, which are present in relatively small amounts in most chocolate.

With the Cacao Almond Milk Mocha, we wanted to have our chocolate cake and eat it too. So we went back to the original source of chocolate: raw cacao that’s still packed with flavanoids.

Raw cacao, which we use in the Cacao Almond Milk Mocha, is NOT roasted or processed, so it maintains its naturally occurring health benefits. It has about 4-8 times the antioxidant content of dark chocolate.

What’s so great about cacao?

  • Antioxidants: Cacao is full of flavanoids (antioxidant nutrients). Raw cacao has more antioxidants per gram than almost any other food! More than blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, etc. We know. It’s crazy.
  • Energy: In addition to caffeine, cacao has theobromine, which provides energy
  • Other nutrients such as magnesium, fiber, and iron are also found in cacao

Studies show that the flavanoids in cacao can help the heart & brain.

Heart Health

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Prevent blood clots
  • Lower insulin resistance

http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/chocolate-pros-and-cons-of-this-sweet-treat

Brain Health

  • Improve attention, executive function, and memory

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cocoa-sweet-treat-brain-201502057676

Why Almond Milk?

Almonds
By jules / stonesoup via Wikimedia Commons

The Cacao Almond Milk Mocha is made to order so we can use soy milk, whole milk, or skim milk if you’d like. We chose almond milk as the default for this drink for a few reasons:

  1. We love the flavor of almond milk with the cacao and Streamline espresso!
  2. The jury is out on whether cow’s milk prevents our bodies from absorbing nutrients in cacao. Some studies indicate that milk does inhibit nutrient absorption, others indicate that it does not. By using almond milk, we’re steering clear of dairy altogether.
  3. Like cow’s milk, almond milk has calcium, but it has less sugar and saturated fat. Compared to cow’s milk, almond milk has:
  • Just as much calcium & vitamin D
  • Fewer calories
  • No saturated fat (cow’s milk has 5g saturated fat per serving)
  • No sugar and less carbohydrates
  • Vitamin E (cow’s milk has no Vitamin E)
  • More fiber (cow’s milk has no fiber)
  • More Iron (cow’s milk has no Iron)

But really, taste it.

If you’re hesitant — because how is cacao really going to taste? —  come in on a Monday or Friday morning when I’m at the cafe and ask me to try one. I’ll be happy to make you one. And talk your ear off about it.

 

A Brief History of Coffee

In honor of National Coffee Day, I’ve put together a very brief history of coffee. Note that this post absolutely gives undue weight-in-word-count to the more entertaining aspects of our favorite drink’s past.

Thank the Goats

The histoGoatry of that rejuvenating elixir of life you drink every morning (and afternoon, and night for some of us) begins in Ethiopia, where coffee originated. And you can thank the goats.

According to legend, a goat herder named Kaldi noticed that when his goats ate the berries from the Coffea plant, they seemed to have an extra pep in their step. Kaldi tried the berries himself and experienced the same boost. Excited, Kaldi took the berries to a neighboring Islamic monastery. The monks did not share Kaldi’s enthusiasm and threw the berries into the fire. The coffee beans, now roasted, were salvaged from the fire, and the world had its first cup of coffee.

Or maybe it was the birds. Another legend tells of a Yemenite Sufi mystic who, while on a trip to Ethiopia, noticed that the birds eating Coffea plant berries were a bit chirpier than their peers. The mystic tried the berries himself, and discovered the wonders of coffee.

What we know for sure is that by the 15th century, people knew about coffee, which had made its way from Ethiopia to Sufi monasteries in Yemen. By the next century, Persia, Egypt, Turkey and Syria were all caffeinating, and coffee houses were established.

Music, Politics, and Hopscotch

From the beginning, coffee houses were community hubs — places to gather and socialize over cups of brew. Information was exchanged, stories were told, and connections were made. There was news, music, and politics.

And hopscotch. Obviously.

Jean Chardin, a French traveler to Persia in the 17th century, reportedly described the coffee house scene this way:

Coffee House
By William Holland (1789) via Wikimedia Commons

People engage in conversation, for it is there that news is communicated and where those interested in politics criticize the government in all freedom and without being fearful, since the government does not heed what the people say. Innocent games… resembling checkers, hopscotch, and chess, are played. In addition, mollas, dervishes, and poets take turns telling stories in verse or in prose… 

By the 17th century, coffee was being served in Europe, and coffee houses had become popular in countries across the West.

Ask the Pope

It wasn’t all happy brewing, though. Various religious organizations and governments questioned, and even banned coffee. Such bans were often relatively short-lived, at times because religious and political leaders themselves wanted to enjoy their brew.

When coffee came to Italy in the 17th century, local clergy were skeptical and some wanted to prohibit its consumption. To resolve the matter, they turned to the pope. Pope Clement VIII’s response after tasting coffee?

Two thumbs up.

Toss the Tea, Give Me the Beans

Coffee made its way to the Americas, but initially took a back seat to tea. Then there was that tax and that party, and tea was no longer the beverage of choice for good, patriotic Americans.

Enter coffee with new popularity. (Today, coffee makes up about 83% of the total hot beverage market.)

Martinique
Martinique

The coffee plant laid roots in the Americas circa 1720, when a French naval officer brought a seedling to Martinique in the Caribbean. This seedling eventually led to a booming coffee industry in the Caribbean, Central and South America. (The beans in the house blend served at La Vita Dolce are quite possibly from plant descendants of the Martinique seedling.)

The Portuguese, who had colonized Brazil, also wanted in what had become quite the money-making plant. So the King of Portugal sent Francisco de Melo Palheta to get his hands on seeds from French Guinea. While he initially had a hard time of it, Francisco eventually charmed the French Governor’s wife, who provided the seeds that started the Brazilian coffee industry. By the mid nineteenth century, Brazil was the world’s largest coffee producer, building its coffee economy primarily on slave labor. When slavery was abolished in Brazil in the late nineteenth century, the country continued to dominate global coffee exports.

And We’re Still in Love

Coffee BeansToday, over 75% of U.S. adults drink coffee, and 58% report drinking coffee daily. The specialty coffee movement and corresponding availability of better beans and more conscientious brewing methods has led many to view their cup of coffee not as a commodity, but as a drink that can have a spectrum of flavors and bodies. At La Vita Dolce, we spent months brewing and tasting coffees from around the world before selecting what would become our house blend.

Coffee in the cup comes to the consumer after being touched by many different stakeholders — from farmers to importers to roasters and baristas. Appreciation for this chain of supply and the amazing end cups it can produce when care is present throughout the process has shifted how many think about and value their coffee.

Teacher Discount on All Purchases

La Vita Dolce Coffee Tumbler at SchoolLa Vita Dolce is now offering a 10% discount on all purchases, all the time, to public school teachers and administrators. We’ve seen what you put into your work and we value what you do. So whether it’s with a morning latte and bagel, an afternoon affogato, or a Frozen Lemon Vinho after work, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to treat yourself — you deserve it!

Community Steam: The STEAM Lab Community Partnership

In April, when writing about our first year as the “new” La Vita Dolce, I listed several areas of focus for us in Year One. “Community Involvement” was one.

During a brief interview several weeks ago, I was asked how being in Southern Village affects La Vita Dolce. This question again brought up the idea of community, and what that means to us at La Vita Dolce.

So, I thought I’d write about it.

Rather than list the ways La Vita Dolce tries to participate in the community, I thought it might be more meaningful – and hopefully more interesting – to share about a relatively recent community partnership.

Scroggs Frogs

Scroggs Elementary

Mary Scroggs Elementary School is located just down the street from La Vita Dolce; it takes about 5 minutes to walk there from our front door.

Shortly after coming to La Vita Dolce, I got to know several people involved in the Scroggs PTA as they came to the café for coffee and meetings, and were very welcoming to me as a new member of their local community.

One of those people was Lynn Hirsch.

Several months back, Lynn started ordering breakfast or lunch to go for two people. I learned that she and Jen Lee, another customer and member of the Scroggs PTA, were turning an unused trailer into a STEAM Lab at the school (STEAM standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). Lynn was taking food back to the school where she and Jen were working to create the Lab.

In retrospect, Lynn might regret that she told me what they were doing as from that point on, she got 20 questions from me every time she came in. I loved the idea of a space that encouraged students to create, and asked for updates on how the project was progressing. She always took time to fill me in.

The STEAM Lab

I learned that the PTA had worked with the principal to develop the idea of a STEAM Lab open to everyone at the school, and that Lynn and Jen had written a grant proposal for funding to make it happen. They won the grant, and the project was a go.

But the trailer that was to be transformed into the STEAM Lab wasn’t just sitting there, vacant. It was full, wall-to-wall, to the ceiling in some places, with what I can only describe as “stuff.” Lynn showed me pictures of the trailer when she came in for coffee or lunch. Their first task: empty out this stuff.

So. Get a truck. Load it up. Drive it out. Poof! Empty trailer.

Oh, no.

The “stuff” wasn’t just trash. There was usable “stuff.” There was, for example, perfectly functional furniture. So for months Lynn and Jen took inventory of what was in the trailer, moved things from the trailer to classrooms at Scroggs, and even coordinated with other schools to find homes for furniture and equipment.

As she got Chicken Salad Wraps to go, Lynn also told me about their vision for the STEAM Lab. They wanted a LEGO wall, allowing kids to build out rather than just up; a green screen and blackout blinds to create a filming environment; and an entire white board wall where students could draw, plan, and design.

The more I heard about the STEAM Lab, the more I became interested in the opportunity they were creating for students –a place where kids could imagine and create. Lynn’s enthusiasm and dedication were contagious.

80’s Prom

The grant money helped, but the PTA needed additional funds to create the Lab.

At the end of 2015, I had met another Scroggs PTA member, Erin McElligott, who was also a La Vita Dolce customer. In early 2016, Erin told me about plans for a new PTA fundraiser: an 80’s Prom for adults on the Southern Village Green.

It was a totally new event, but from Erin’s description – big hair, fishnets, The Breakfast Club soundtrack – I saw potential for a knockout fundraiser. And from what I knew about Erin, if she was behind it, it had an even better chance of being a success.

Funds raised at the event would largely go to support STEAM Lab development.

I got interested and wanted in on the 80’s fun. I worked with Erin and several other PTA members to figure out how La Vita Dolce could contribute in the most productive way – and how I could finally go to a party where my tutu would actually be considered an acceptable outfit choice.

La Vita Dolce donated the Our Bartenderswine and beer for the event, and offered Poker Night and Patio Pre-Party packages in the silent auction. We also provided the bartending – in huge hoop earrings, fishnet gloves, and, of course a tutu.

The event was pulled off beautifully and the PTA raised over $17,000. It was recently covered in Chapel Hill Magazine.

STEAM Lab Launch

On May 13, Scroggs opened the doors to the STEAM Lab.

Dolce Nitro at the STEAM LabLa Vita Dolce set up a Dolce Nitro keg at the Open House, and handed out our nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee to parents, teachers, and others as they came in to see the Lab.

I also got to see the space for the first time in-person, and learn more about how it all happened.

STEAM Lab Leaders
Jen & Lynn on left, grant donors on right.

The dingy carpet in the trailer had been replaced with clean, modern hardwood vinyl, the euphemistically described “lavender wallpaper” had been taken down and the far wall of the trailer was now a huge white board space. Another wall was lined with dozens of cubbies housing a variety of supplies and the LEGO wall was even partially installed.

That’s Community

The STEAM Lab experience is an example of why it’s so rewarding to be invested in your community.

Because now I know what several of our customers look like in acid wash and scrunchies.

Truly, though, working with the Scroggs PTA allowed us to get to know many of our customers and other locals on a deeper and more personal level. It created connections based on shared purpose.

When I finally got to see the STEAM Lab about a weeks ago, I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew how much work, time, and resources so many people had dedicated to make it happen.

When they came to see the Lab, the grant donors said that the concept for the Lab had been among the most ambitious projects proposed. But the concept came to life because people came together – because they saw that this would be a great environment for students.

Working with others in the community toward a vision that will make the community better builds relationships, connections, and support that will go on – even beyond the STEAM Lab – to have an impact in our schools, our neighborhoods, our businesses and our town.

Why Doesn’t My Coffee Taste Like Cafe Coffee?

freshly brewed coffee

You love the coffee at your local café, but you feel obligated to be at least 50% coherent and not wearing pajamas to go there. And some mornings, showers and sentences are just not happening before your first cup. To be prepared, you buy beans from the café for at-home-in-your-nighty brewing.

Problem solved. You thought.

But when you make the same coffee at home, it isn’t as good.

Listed below are what I’ve found to be “The Culprits” – the reasons why the same beans might not taste as good when brewed at home. The good news is that those cute pajamas you wear have nothing to do with it. They can stay.

The other good news: The Culprits are just variables at play in the coffee brewing process, and you can control them to brew great coffee at home any time.

The Culprits

  1. Coffee-to-Water Ratio

    Many underestimate the extent to which varying coffee-to-water ratios can change the flavor and body – not just the “strength” – of a cup.

There’s no “right” ratio. The ideal ratio can also vary with your brew method but in general, 1 gram of coffee to 16 grams of water is a good starting point. Find the ratio you like, and be intentional in achieving it each time.

To be precise, I use a scale to measure both my coffee and water. You can measure in other ways (e.g. 2 tablespoons of coffee for each 6 fluid ounces of water) as long as your method has sufficient precision to achieve your sweet spot ratio every time.

  1. Freshness of Beans

When you buy beans from a specialty coffee shop, they should be freshly roasted (you can ask for the roast date if it’s not on the packaging). It’s best to brew within a few weeks of the roast date. If you’re not using your beans by the three-week mark, try buying in smaller amounts so your coffee is fresh.

  1. The Grind

This variable may hurt at-home cups the most.

You GOT to grind just before brewing. You GOT to have a good grinder. And you GOT to have that grinder on the right setting.

So this is actually 3 variables related to grinding:

Minimize time between grinding and brewing

Grind your beans at home, just before brewing. So yes, you should really have a grinder at home. (They make great birthday presents. To yourself. Six months early…)

Use a good grinder

 

Coffee GrinderBefore you go birthday shopping, make sure you’re buying a good grinder. Good grinders produce grounds that are consistent in size. Bad grinders produce grounds of different sizes. When grounds are different sizes, different amounts of surface area are exposed to the water, which leads to inconsistent extraction (and less than ideal taste). To maintain even extraction across particles, we need consistency in ground size.

Burr grinders (as opposed to blade grinders) are your best bet. At La Vita Dolce, we use Mahlkonig grinders. They’re beautiful, highly professional machines. They would also be overkill at home. At home, I use a smaller Baratza grinder. There are other good options out there – but by “good option” I do not mean a standard drip brewer that comes with a little built in grinding compartment thing. Don’t do it.

Set to the appropriate grind setting

The best grind setting depends on your brew method. Different brew methods have different dwell times (the period during which water is in contact with the grounds). The longer the dwell time, the coarser the grind needed.

Espresso calls for a fine grind, drip brewing calls for a coarser grind, French Press calls for an even coarser grind. You can Google your brand of grinder and brew method to find a suggested grind setting and go from there.

  1. Operation of Your Brew Gadgets

Pour Over Brew MethodNo matter how you brew your coffee, it’s important to use your brew gadgets properly. At home, I typically use the pour over method, which is a type of drip brewing. My equipment: scale, Baratza grinder, Chemex coffeemaker, filter, kettle. Simple, but I still need to operate my gadgets correctly (e.g. saturate grounds evenly when pouring water, don’t pour too much water at once). Ask Siri for tips on how to use your preferred equipment.

  1. Water

Again, here we actually have two factors that I combined into one to make this list look shorter and get you to read this far.

Bad water = bad coffee

Ever made coffee using tap water at the beach? Not so pleasant. At La Vita Dolce, we have multiple filtration systems that are regularly changed. At home, you can use bottled water or filtered tap water (assuming you remember the last time you changed that water filter…).

Temperature affects extraction

You want your water to be just below boiling at 195-205 degrees F when brewing. Unless you’re cold brewing to make Dolce Nitro

And there we have it: how you can make coffee that tastes like it was brewed in your favorite café, all while avoiding human interaction and normal clothes. Dreams do come true.

Keep in mind that if you’re using a different brew method than used at the café, your coffee is probably going to taste different. But the ins and outs of various brew methods we will save for another time…