Archive for: March 2017
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View full story with photos here.
Story by Amanda Pinney
Photos by Bryan Rolli
Homegrown and locally sourced food products line the narrow shelves of a tiny grocery store located in east Austin, Texas. Wooden picnic tables deck the front patio, where locals sip on beer and munch on sandwiches ordered from the counter inside. Just a few feet away lies the garden where the produce grows, a reminder to customers that the crunchy kale on their sandwich came directly from the earth beneath their feet.
In.gredients aims to be more than just a corner store. With a stage for live music and a playground for children, the store hopes to be a staple for residents seeking local food products as well as a spot to hangout in the neighborhood. Although the store joined the neighborhood in 2012, its existence grew threatened by rising property taxes in Austin until it was saved by a successful crowdfunding campaign in early March.
The grocery store embodies the concept of zero-waste – the idea of keeping discarded materials out of Austin’s landfills.
“We have less waste on average as a store than a residential property would per week,” said Ben Hasan, the In.gredients prep food lead. “Not only is that way better than a household, that’s far knocking it out of the park when comparing it to somebody like HEB or Whole Foods.”
The city’s movement toward zero-waste came with the adoption of the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan in 2011. The plan outlines milestones for the goal of the city becoming zero-waste by 2040, which means at least 90 percent of waste materials will be kept out of landfills.
In.gredients initially started out as a package-free establishment when it opened its doors in 2012. The challenges of functioning as such outweighed the benefits, and over the years the store moved in the zero-waste direction instead.
The transition has been successful, and the store diverts approximately 99 percent of its materials from the landfill.
“We tackle that by having upcycling with some of our vendors,” said Hasan, referring to the process in which vendors bring the store’s items in reusable packages and then take away the empty containers once the store has been restocked. When Hasan prepares food in-house, any leftover scraps are given to composting services or other organizations that will reuse them.
The efforts of remaining a zero-waste business present low conflict in terms of the grocery store’s operation. The rising cost of living in Austin, however, has In.gredients facing double the property taxes and a spike in rent.
To combat the increasing operation costs, the store launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to invoke community help in raising extra cash through slow times in the year.
“When it’s pretty slow it gets pretty hard and costs to operate keep rising,” Hasan said. “The Indiegogo is an effort to raise some money to get some major equipment and renovations done to this space.”
The renovations will focus on the outdoor space, including expansion of the playground. The store also hopes to offer expanded tap and coffee services to customers who often dine on the patio. In.gredients sees its fair share of regulars and the plans to renovate reflect things people ask about.
An In.gredients customer from the beginning, local resident Katie Stellar was originally attracted to the package-free initiative of the store, but now views the space as a connector of the community.
“The interaction of music and earth and family and waste reduction is my favorite thing about this place,” Stellar said.
A touring musician, Stellar’s band recently played a show on the patio’s stage. To Stellar, In.gredients has become a neighborhood fixture and a staple in the midst of the gentrification happening in East Austin.
“I feel like there are a lot of ways to be when you move into a neighborhood where low income people are being forced out and a new population is coming in,” Stellar said.
As the city’s population continues to grow, Stellar sees the gentrification east Manor Road has undergone.
“I think In.gredients has been a very positive force in terms of what it stands for,” Stellar said. “It meets several different layers of community needs all in one space.”
The surrounding businesses also see In.gredients as a unique part of the East Austin neighborhood. The reassurance from these local vendors plays a part in the reason the grocery store felt confident in its decision to launch the Indiegogo.
“One of the reasons we knew we wanted to, and that we could even with a property and rent hike, was that we’ve seen such an outpouring from the community,” Hasan said.
The store was rightfully confident– on March 6, the stores Indiegogo surpassed its goal, raising $30,241 for the renovations with the help of 80 donations. Some contributors gave as much as $250.
Nearby vendors and businesses helped by encouraging their own customers to support In.gredients and offering free tickets or coupons if they showed a store receipt. They provided a unique way to contribute to the campaign and initiate a sense of community among small local businesses.
“We’re all in it together,” Hasan said. “The focus on a local food economy, a zero-waste cycle and local businesses, whether it’s our food or our producers—I think it fits pretty well into the Austin city.”
Story by Selah Maya Zighelboim
Photos by Yelitza Mandujano and Selah Maya Zighelboim
Amber Bemak and Nadia Granados, two artists from the United States and Columbia, explored political and personal themes in a performance called “American Spectral History” during the third annual Outsider Fest. Using video and performance art, they presented images of aggression from North America against Latin America, violence against women and queer people and lesbian lovers.
“One thing that people said a lot to us after the show is that it made them feel turned on and disgusted at themselves for being turned on but also at what we were showing,” Bemak said. “I think that’s a good descriptor of our work, and we want people to have that visceral experience at the same time because so much of what we talk about politically has to do with sexuality and gender and sex.”
Amber Bemak performing “American Spectral History”.
Like many other performances at Outsider Fest, “American Spectral History” touches on topics of queerness and intersectionality. Outsider Fest, an LGBT art festival that ran from Thursday, Feb. 16 to Sunday, Feb. 19, featured spoken word, concerts, films and theatrical performances. According to Curran Nault, the festival’s founder and organizer, the goal of Outsider Fest is to facilitate conversations between different groups of people — between artists and academics, different kinds of artists and different races, ethnicities and classes.
“What’s kind of important to me is the name ‘Outsider’ itself,” Nault said. “It’s meant to evoke, obviously, sexuality, as being out, being queer, but also all of the different ways that people can feel marginalized, outside of the norm, outside of power.”
Use this interactive map to explore the different venues used during (Out)sider
Map and captions by Julie Gomez
This year’s theme was ‘Into the Wild,’ which Nault said is meant to express the idea of reconnecting with nature to solidify community and re-emerge, ready to fight. According to Nault, one show that touched on this theme was “Promised Land” by Rudy Ramirez. In the show, Ramirez goes on a personal journey to find self-acceptance, at one point traveling and camping in the woods.
Ramirez said he created his show, “Promised Land,” with a specific kind of audience member in mind, a young queer Latino who needed confirmation that his feelings and experiences were legitimate. Ramirez wanted “Promised Land” to be the validation he needed when he was younger.
“I was queer in my head before, but when I saw this world, I was queer in my heart after that,” he said. “It was a feeling that this world is possible, we can get there. It’s not something that’s just imaginary. It can be real, and it makes it so much more worth fighting for.”
Lilia Rosas (left), Irene Lara Silva (center left), Paige Schilt (center right), and Trystan Cotton (right) during “Conference on the Couch”.
Besides art shows like “American Spectral History” and “Promised Land,” Outsider Fest also included panels. Most days of the festival began with a Conference on the Couch, where attendees could gather in Nault’s living room with a panel of academics, who sat on couches and chairs with attendees to discuss their work. These panels covered art activism, transgenderism and queer publishing.
For Nault, who is radio-television-film lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, taking academia from its “ivory tower” and bringing it to the community is an important aspect of the festival.
“The fact that we’re literally welcoming you into our living room sets a tone for what the festival is really about, that is that there’s no separation,” Nault said. “There’s no separation between the people making the festival and attending the festival. We’re all together in this family setting.”
According to Nault, art’s emotional resonance makes it unique as a tool for community-building and activism. This resonance allows it to stay with its audience in a way that something like a pamphlet, which only hits on an intellectual level, cannot.
“Art creates new worlds,” he said. “There’s something that points to a utopian impulse or an imaginary impulse. It creates new visions beyond our current state. It creates a yearning for something different.”
Video by Elise Cardenas, Selah Maya Zighelboim, and Yelitza Mandujano
Photos by Noelle Darilek
Audio by Armando Maese
Text by Courtney Runn
“These events are like coming home,” says Alexandra LittleJohn, as she tinkers with a glass container. “It’s a family reunion of sorts.”
Her table resembles a high school chemistry lab with a hot plate and glass beaker-like containers. Two beakers are stacked on top of each other, each feeding into the other, like an hourglass. She’s about to begin another presentation.
“The heat has to go somewhere so it’s going to go up,” she explains. “Once all of the water is in the top chamber, I’m going to add the coffee to it.”
The handful of people watching lean in to see the coffee travel between the upper and lower glass chambers. The technique relies on vapor pressure and vacuum to brew the coffee.
She passes out small paper cups so everyone can try it. The rich, bitter scent of coffee rushes the senses. The crowd fades and moves on to other tables, drawn to where there is applause.
LittleJohn has been in the coffee community for the past 17 years and currently works as the director of wholesale for Equator Coffees and Teas in California and serves on the executive council of the Barista Guild of America. She is one of many who traveled to Austin for the CoffeeChamp on February 11 and 12, one of two opportunities to qualify for the national coffee competition in Seattle in April.
The coffee community has been coming together to battle it out over espresso and cappuccinos since 2002, when the first North American Barista Championship was organized. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) sponsors the event and offers four competition categories: Barista Championship, Brewers Cup Championship, Roast Championship, and Cup Tasters Championship.
Competitors pay a fee of $195 if they belong to SCAA ($350 for non-members), a price that they have to pay out of pocket unless a coffee shop sponsors them.
The rules and regulations are complex. The championships are as much a science as they are an art. Baristas not only make a cup of coffee but simultaneously put on a show, spinning together personal stories, the history of coffee, geographical information on the beans they’re using, and an explanation of their brewing methods.
Mallory Leicht, a coffee trainer for Blue Bottle Coffee, never competed but has judged the competitions for six years and specializes in the Barista Competition. She judged at the Austin qualifying champ and will judge in Seattle as well. Just like the competitors, judges have to qualify for each higher level of judging.
For the Barista Competition category, there are three types of judges: sensory, technical, and head. Sensory judges evaluate drinks based on tangible factors, including if the taste measures up to how the barista described it. They’re also watching for communication skills and professionalism. Technical judges watch the barista’s efficiency and behind-the-bar skills. The head judge observes all aspects of competition and holds the other judges accountable to accuracy and consistency.
“[Competition] helped me as a barista really develop sensory and technical skills. When you’re a tech judge, you become very mindful about the way you use the cafe space,” said Leicht. “There’s just so much opportunity to learn from others what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, what they’re excited about, what kind of equipment they have. It’s kind of like an ongoing conference or ongoing trade show.”
For Lorenzo Perkins, co-owner of Austin coffeeshop Fleet, he owes competition his career. Before he opened Fleet in 2016, he worked at Cafe Medici where he was attracted to their competition-winning baristas. He competed himself for the first time in 2009 and has advanced to nationals five times. This year, at the Austin CoffeeChamp, he placed sixth in the Barista Championship and will be moving on to nationals.
For his signature drink, he made espresso with Demerara simple sugar syrup. He stirred the drink with cascara ice cubes and strained it into coup spritzed with orange blossom water. He topped it all off with shaken cinnamon cream. To connect with the judges, he told a story about his mom, remembering the coffee she made him that consisted of more cream than coffee.
While competition has provided Perkins with significant training and practice, he said he knows at the end of the day it’s just a game and does not necessarily reflect skill. In competition, he said, you’re interacting with “the four best guests you will ever have,” so while it’s an outlet for creativity, success in competition does not always directly correlate with success in real life.
The real test of a barista happens everyday, far away from the scribbling of judges and limits of a clock. And the real judges can be much harsher, rushing in and out, hardly tasting or appreciating the coffee keeping them caffeinated.
Perkins said there’s no “great secret or mystery to making a cup of coffee,” but constant pursuit of what’s next, attention to detail, and basic hospitality can separate the good from the great.
Paul Henry, who oversees all of the Austin Houndstooth locations, appreciates the potential in competition but thinks sending his staff overseas to learn about coffee can be a better financial investment than sponsoring them to compete.
When hiring baristas, Henry looks for intelligence, professionalism, and hospitality. He’s willing to hire someone brand new and often sees his baristas move on to other career paths, but rarely to other coffee shops in Austin.
“Texas baristas are great…because there’s this kind of natural hospitality to Texas,” said Henry. “The MO of baristas is they’re difficult, they’re uptight, they’re pretentious and I haven’t found that to be the case almost all the time in Austin.”
As coffee has grown in popularity, it has found a thriving home in Austin. Perkins describes the growth of coffee culture as happening in three waves. The birth of brands like Folgers marks the first wave, an appeal to the masses. The advent of Starbucks introduced the US to a second wave of coffee. This wave ushered in a European cafe culture and focused on specific flavors. It introduced espresso culture to the average American. The third wave pushed even further, focusing on the precision, preparation, and craft of coffee. This wave does not just highlight certain bean-producing countries but looks to the single farmer lots. Many of Austin’s coffee shops could be categorized in this third wave of coffee.
“Austin is a city full of people who desire to be fascinated,” said Perkins. “They might not know as much about a particular topic as someone else but they’re in to the fact that you’re in to it…From tech to food to dogs to whatever it is, if you’re in to it, other people are into you being into it.”
Coffee is the popular drink right now, but trends will change. Henry isn’t worried, though. While he thinks Austin is headed for a pattern of cafe closures, “the cream rises to the top” and he’s confident that the businesses built on excellence and hospitality will outlast any trendiness surrounding the coffee community.
Leicht can still remember where she was standing when she tasted her first cup of good coffee. Ryan Wilbur, a past competitor and current judge, found third wave coffee early and clung to it, dropping out of college to pursue that taste.
“I often tell people the biggest difference between Starbucks and your local small batch roaster is….like a national chain based restaurant and a celebrity local chef,” said Wilbur. “It’s pretty wonderful you can go to Morton’s The Steakhouse or Ruth’s Chris in most major cities in the US. You’re going to get a very curated and well cared for experience but you’re not going to get a taste of what that city is all about.”
The community of coffee goes deeper than using fancy brewing methods and fading trends. It truly is a family for many of these baristas and judges and coffee enthusiasts. One common factor in all of their desires to make coffee a career was tasting excellent coffee. Once they got a taste of that coffee, that community, that potential to pursue excellence in a cup, they couldn’t go back.