Last week, an email was sent my way courtesy of David Alan at The Tipsy Texan. In it, he described a new tour for Austinites: the Up & Down Tour, a behind-the-scenes look at the production of craft beer and craft coffee, taking place in both a coffee roaster and brewery who also happen to neighbors in South Austin. It was described as “Austin’s first harvest-to-home, grain-to-glass educational experience highlighting the arts of coffee roasting and beer brewing from raw material to finished product.”
So, consume coffee and reach amazing heights, then douse them in delicious alcohol, I (Megan) thought as I read the description.
I replied to David with, “OH HELL YAAAH!” (Swedish accent.)
AE photographer Nicki and I arrived at Casa Brasil Saturday morning and were greeted by an excited staff and smiling volunteers.
Rex, one of the volunteers, was the happiest to be there, it seemed. He was smiling the entire time.
And, he had a hand in creating the space: the coffee bar, where lessons are held, was built by him.
We introduced ourselves and lingered while the staff buzzed around, getting ready.
Rex asked if I was getting antsy to drink some coffee. I had to break it to someone here eventually, so I started with him: “I’m weird. I like coffee ice cream, but not coffee the liquid,” I explained.
He then mused aloud that perhaps I would prefer beer with my pastries instead. I said I wouldn’t object to that at all.
It was soon time to start class, led by Casa Brasil owner Joel Shuler with help from his team, including his wife, Lisiane. The goal? To show how cheap good coffee can be.
(A little history: Casa Brasil started as a cultural center in 2005 with the mission of:
1. Providing a place to touch and learn about Brazil.
2. Helping Brazilians living in Central Texas.
3. Promoting Brazilian culture.
It was through the cultural center that CB began to focus on coffee, and importing the best Brazilian coffee available. “As the coffee business grew, we decided that a better way to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish was through a direct trade win-win
business model,” says Joel.)
The CB team
Once the coffee tour started, it was clear: this guy meant business. He was prepared — he had a slideshow! “Growing coffee is as difficult and complex as wine,” he began.
A presentation followed with a history of coffee itself, including visuals like maps and illustrations and interesting anecdotes that Joel found during his research. We learned everything from cultivation (even examining the beans themselves) and harvesting to
It was informative and funny — Joel is engaging and a passionate advocate of the artisanal side of coffee cultivation and consumption.
We took a tour, where Joel showed us their roaster. In fact, he willingly ruined a batch just to explain the process step-by-step.
Everything, EVERYTHING in Casa Brasil is done by hand, and done with incredible thought and care.
Lisiane hand paints every single bag.
Canning is done by hand, too.
According to Joel, canning by hand is fun “until you get to number 200.”
For the first part of our four-part tasting, little cups were placed in front of us containing Defect, Robust, Commercial, and Specialty samples.
Everybody here hates what they do.
Joel instructed us on how to determine the acidity, body, and nuances in each sip and noted that by the end of the tour, our tongues would be able to elicit such levels on our own, in addition to instantly recognizing a bad cup from a good cup, and a good cup from
a great one — just by its scent.
Bowing to his coffee gods.
We tried four different roast levels, followed by several different brewing methods. The air around me started crackling: people were actually consuming their entire samples and raising their adrenaline levels in violent, immediate spurts. Do you know how much caffeine that was in such a short time? If it had been alcohol, we would have been sitting around a cracked plywood coffee table in some dorm room playing Power Hour with tequila. It was simply reckless, I tell you.
Clearly, a defect sample.
By the time Ryan started to demonstrate how to brew a hand-made cup of coffee, I was crouched on the edge my chair like a gargoyle. I could have bench-pressed one of the trucks parked outside. This was the high I had been hoping for.
Barista Ryan Hall uses a Chemex, an all-glass brew device that allows you to see the entire process and make any changes necessary for your customized cup.
The entire team over at Casa Brasil is devoted to not just craft production but education as well. And their reach extends beyond coffee drinkers: Lisiane heads up “Sabor e Progresso Initiative,” where she helps Casa Brasil to empower coffee communities in her native Brazil, through programs like Casa Brasil’s Merit Scholarship Program for the children of coffee producers and English classes for coffee communities.
After lunch, which I digested through my rapidly beating heart alone, it was time to enjoy some beer, so we vibrated across the parking lot to the South Austin Brewing Company. It officially opened in February, and specializes in Belgian beer only.
Interesting fact: Austin’s water is the closest to Belgium’s, enzymatically speaking. Lake Travis has “superior minerals” according to brewmaster Jordan Weeks, due to the way it percolates through limestone caves. (And if something sounds scientifically wrong with that sentence, remember that I was scribbling these notes while in the midst of playing roulette with my adrenal system.)
Jordan uncorked a bottle and we held our breath as the top went sailing in an arc over our heads, and then laughed with relief when it hit the back wall. Then everyone else laughed when it bounced off the wall and hit my cheekbone. I wrote down the names of everyone I saw laughing.
Chris Oglesby, event director, who told me about “Groovy Sunday”: from 3-7pm each week, SABC hosts an open house with bands, foodtrucks, and games led by the Austin Jaycees.
Jordan led us through the brewery and let us peek into the hot, steamy machines.
He described the entire process from malting to mashing to boiling to hop additions to fermentation.
Jordan also taught us about bottle conditioning and proper serving. (Interesting/depressing fact: The imported Belgian beers we love so much don’t come close to tasting what they should actually taste like after being transported for weeks on cargo and trucks that are not temperature-regulated. Which just means that we all have to go to Belgium.)
And oh, how we sampled.
We tried the Golden Ale (light, bright and refreshing) and the Saison D’Austin (bold, peppery, with citrus notes).
They were wonderful. South Austin Brewing Company grew out of Jordan’s love for Belgian Ale, which is quite evident — he’s relaxed, he’s happy to be in his element, he welcomes questions.
And alas, it was time for the tour to end.
Nicki and I toasting to our Saturday.
All in all, a great experience and quite heartening to meet such dynamic people who are committed to craft, community, and education.
Some quick facts:
The Up & Down Tours — which premiere this Saturday, August 11 — will take place from 10am to 2pm on the second Saturday of every month. You can register online here.
Classes take place at Casa Brasil and South Austin Brewing Company, located at 415 East St. Elmo Road, Austin, TX 78745.
Ticket price of $75 includes a Casa Brasil or South Austin t-shirt, one pound of fresh coffee, a South Austin Brewing glass, breakfast pastries, and lunch catered by prominent local restaurants and bakeries.