There is an art to good coffee. From the elevation of where it is grown to the shape of the bean and how many times it cracks when it’s being roasted, all can make a huge difference in how it tastes. As he lets a few green, raw coffee beans drop through his fingers, Ryan Virgil loves to talk about what he thinks is the best coffee in the world. “Personally, I love African coffees,” Virgil says, “People often say that God put coffee in Ethiopia first and then it went to other places in the world from there.” He will be talking about coffee, from crop to cup, during the upcoming Ladies Lunch Out program to be held Thursday, January 12th at Northeastern Junior College.
Virgil, who is first and foremost a chef, is also a coffee barista who plans to provide some insightful information to those who join him for this educational dining event. Registration for this Ladies Lunch Out must be made by Tuesday, January 10th. The luncheon menu will include an entrée and dessert that are prepared with the incorporation of coffee. Roasting coffee transforms the chemical and physical properties of green coffee beans into roasted coffee products. The roasting process is what produces the characteristic flavor of coffee by causing the green coffee beans to expand and to change in color, taste, smell, and density.
Virgil plans to roast some coffees from East Africa, South America, Indonesia, Nicaragua, and Sumatra for the event. He shows off a few sacks of raw, green coffee beans, which incidentally smell nothing like coffee in their unroasted state—the aroma only comes when the heat is applied.
While he has a nice coffee roaster now, he says he started experimenting with a modified popcorn popper and did his coffee that way for many years. Well, let’s clarify that. He discovered coffee when he was 25 years old, just 9 years ago. “I bought a coffee maker for my parents. Until then, I hadn’t drank much coffee, but I discovered that I liked it,” Virgil says. “I began reading about it and researching coffee roasting and brewing. Many chefs will find some area of specialty that they like to focus on and I guess I chose coffee.”
A 1996 graduate of Sterling High School, Virgil attended the Johnson and Wales Culinary School for two years. He spent several years working at private clubs, preferred hotels and on yachts, primarily in the Bay Harbor in northern Michigan. He returned back to northeastern Colorado and for a couple of years he and a partner ran a local coffee house. He was happily pursuing his passion, but like many entrepreneurs find, running your own business is tough and doesn’t always last. He went to work for The Living Center here for several years. “I was just waiting for an opportunity like this chef job here at NJC to come open,” he said, indicating a delight in now cooking on such a large scale. Virgil is responsible for overseeing the preparation of an average of 8,000 meals per week for college students and managing a staff of 35.
While cooking is his focus, on January 12th, he’ll be up to his nose in coffee. He says there is a real process to getting a good cup of joe. You roast it, rest it, grind it, brew it and drink it. All coffee, he says, should be drank within a week of roasting. With the exception, he clarified, of some types of coffee that actually aged in warehouses, specifically with the goal of getting a certain flavor. Every coffee is different and some of it is best handled with a wet process and some with a dry process. When it is roasted, coffee pops. The produces a chaff as well. Sometimes you are hoping for a single crack when roasting, sometimes you want a second crack for the most perfect flavor. “Espresso is an extraction method,” Virgil explains, “contrary to what many think, there is not a specific espresso bean that grows. Various kinds of coffee make good espresso, depending upon how the extraction is done. “
All coffee is grown along what we call the bean belt, Virgil explains, “This is an area that is 20 degrees north of the Equator and 20 degrees south of the Equator. The higher it’s grown in elevation, the harder the bean becomes and the harder the bean, the better the coffee.”
Coffee beans are actually green and the fruit that they come out of is called “cherries” by those that grow them. In most coffee cherries, there are two beans growing and together they form one round bean. Picture the shape and look of a pecan with two halves meeting in the middle, except on a much smaller scale. In peaberry coffee, only one bean grows in the center of the berry and it becomes round on its own. Some coffee growers belief peaberry beans are the best because all the goodness is wrapped into one.
Virgil could talk all day about coffee. He also loves to talk about the work he is doing on campus every day. “I love to write menus and I’m getting to do quite a bit of that here now,” he explains. “I am very committed to giving some consistency of quality of product and food varieties, within budget, to the students here. I like to think I have a decent management philosophy and my hope is to really work well with the Sodexo staff to provide a good food experience to the students and others.”
Virgil has worked the high end of culinary arts and knows how to design and prepare food at its very best and he hopes to work with various groups in Sterling to help them with their special events when they are held on campus. “I look forward to showing clients how they can get something exceptional regardless what their budget might be.” Sodexo continues to offer food services for banquets, weddings, meetings and other gatherings held on campus.
The Ladies Lunch Out event is co-sponsored by the Extended Studies Department at NJC and the Logan County Chamber of Commerce. The cost of the luncheon, which includes a meal and coffee sampling is $15. Registrations must be made by January 10th. To save your spot for this coffee-focused event, call 521-6900. The event begins at 11:30 a.m. with registration and networking . The actual presentation will take place at 12 noon and ends by 12:45 p.m. in order for working individuals to be back to their offices by 1 p.m. The event is open to all coffee lovers—including those of the male species.