Consistency and Creativity; A Method to the Coffee Madness at Recreational Coffee, Long Beach
Quick Coffee and Slow Coffee.
I stared at the menu again, "Quick Coffee and Slow Coffee" I thought to myself. It really was a very simple concept. But given the fact that I've had had “No Coffee” my focus was on waking up before delving into any matter.
One espresso machiatto, Affogato, Sea Salt Affogato, a Caffeinated Kitchen Churro doughnut (we meet again) and one hour later I was well stirred up, thanks to owner and founder of Recreational Coffee, Bobby Hernandez.
I overheard Bobby talking with Portola Coffee Lab roaster, Adam, the day prior about the latest batch of coffee purchased from them and I couldn't help but eavesdrop. I’d eventually invite myself to check out his coffee shop - where I would evidently gain 150 lbs.
"I don't see why you have to have a crappy coffee and quick service,” Bobby says as I try to sneak in a little slurp of the Sea Salt Affogato that is now a sad cream and espresso puddle in front of me.
"We realize our business population is on the go,” he continues. "It's not that our customers don't want to go - they have to go. They’d stay if they could. I really believed we could put some systems into place to serve them good coffee in a quick way."
Those "systems" were methods to brew "Quick" coffee without sacrificing the hard-earned quality. (Especially at a place where they blind test the coffees in selecting them - but we’ll get to that later.)
"We have our Slow Coffee - and people can’t get mad when you buy something called slow coffee," he says as we both laugh. It’s great when something as simple as a label says it all, leaving zero room for interpretation.
"And the Quick Coffee," he continues, "we batch brew via French Press. A lot of coffee shop owners that come here are always surprised because it tastes like a drip - but it is a French Press. It's very low maintenance."
But batch brewing was no easy feat.
"We have a dual filtration on it so it prevents any grinds getting in, which also leads to a quicker extraction and less time, but it tastes really good," he explains.
"I just worked at it like crazy, setting-wise, constantly adjusting until I perfected it."
Bobby, naturally a laid back individual with a welcoming and warm personality, is very serious about analyzing the outcomes and is one if his own harshest critics. It would take him years to truly believe in his own work.
Bobby came into the coffee scene straight from his kitchen.
"I got really interested in the coffee making process," he says after trying his first cup of good, black coffee - no sugar, no cream. (I think we all have that coffee moment.) And it literally would change his life.
"I started to figure out what I needed to do and end up making what I thought might be really good coffee - but then my friends, family and even people who weren't related to me would think so too."
He'd attend barista competitions before he ever worked behind a real bar. While other competitors would be introduced with their name and coffee shop, he'd be introduced as "Bobby, The VA Hospital," where he had previously been a recreational therapist. (You can imagine the lack of coffee gear behind those counters.)
"It was a timing thing," he says about starting the business. "I wasn't feeling fulfilled [at the VA Hospital]. My wife and I always wanted to own our own business anyway. So then we analyzed the crap out of it."
They would move from farmer's markets, to pop-up shops through out Los Angeles and Orange County and eventually land here, this brick mortar property, right in the heart of Downtown Long Beach.
“We blind evaluate everything,” he says. They (himself and the Recreational baristas) sample from roasters all over the country. He selects roasters that literally go to the coffee farm to buy the lot directly from the farmer; like Costa Mesa’s Portola Coffee Lab and Case Coffee Roasters from Ashland, OR.
Recreational builds very close relationships with their roasters. So much so he admits that when it comes time to blind evaluating, he’s hoping his taste buds will choose (forgive the pun) his buds - or roaster amigos.
“They like our feedback because it can be encouraging to them. Tim from Case Coffee in Oregon texts us all the time asking us how was this roast or that roast,” he explains. He then adds that he has chosen Portola because they truly prove to be one of the most consistent roasters time and time again.
But Bobby emphasizes on the importance of his team. When asked what is his favorite experience that coffee has given him, he immediately answers without hesitation, "The shop."
"That's the really cool part. I'm not the only one associated with the shop anymore. The people, like the baristas, are following the recipes I put forth. They are making things that before I was the only one who knew how to make it, but now...watching it replicate itself, watching people making it and [the result] looking like I made it," he pauses then laughs, "its like my little clones!"
Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. It's the reappearing theme in Bobby's editorial.
Zealand barista gal chimes in from behind the counter, “Yeah, we cup once a week, if not more.” She pauses, then adds, “It’s stuff you can really be proud of. And that’s cool."
And that’s why everything really does taste so damn good.
( had to hold the good stuff for the end - just so you can stick with me on this lengthy piece)
Clearly, anything you order at Recreational is fantastic. But you can be sure that it will be fantastic again and again.
"We measure the concentration, we use our scales to measure our flow rate and how we are pouring. We want consistency in our coffee - as an owner thats what I want to focus on for my customers. There’s nothing worse when you bring friends and you tell them it's amazing! And then you don't have that same experience you did before."
The coffee network in Long Beach is unique. The competition is friendly and the camaraderie is fierce among the local coffee roasters and cafes. They all help eachother out in times of need and are all pushing to put Long Beach on the map for a coffee destination.
"I see more places opening up in Long Beach. Tierra Mia is opening up soon," Bobby says in describing Long Beach's future role. "There's just a lot of really cool things locally, it's going to be a huge destination - a new kind of Portland or something," give or take a few Palm Trees here and there.
Aside from the city's growth and growing coffee scene, Bobby just tries to focus on what he can control, the things he can work on and is constantly tinkering around with new recipes and gathers inspiration from you - his customers.
"It's the coolest thing because even when I’m not there - people are enjoying it, and again it comes form a point where you think people are just telling you its good and you’re not really believing it."
It's hard to believe years later, after all of this success, Bobby is still his harshest critic, met with uncertainty. It's a humble self-doubt that constantly drives him to dig deeper and deliver the best he possibly can - which is of course is why he's so damn good at what he does.
The Coffee Nomad