Redefining Coffee – Plate 21

****updated 6/15/13

There is a paucity of coffee connoisseurs in Northwest Ohio, and the mission behind Plate 21 in South Toledo is to redefine this identity. Consumers in this part of Ohio are often oblivious to coffee of the highest quality. Starbucks quantifies gourmet. A fresh brew from Mr. Coffee is a treat. The darker the coffee the stronger it’ll be.

The cup I had at Plate 21 reminded me of my first surreal coffee experience with Merritt Lear the morning after a night out at a Los Angeles bar. I wore pajamas to a trendy place called LA Mill Coffee. We were ignored for maybe ten minutes, but the wait seemed reasonable – I looked like a bum, and Merritt and I weren’t a couple, holding hands or even particularly close to each other.

We ordered coffee and light fare, and while I ate an amazing breakfast sandwich of peanut butter and dark chocolate, Merritt exclaimed, “this coffee is good,” emphasis on the ooh. My cup reminded me of a savory micro-brew beer, crisp finish, striking tannins. My taste buds were focused on its nuances to the extent that the caffeine didn’t kick in until I was almost done.

Plate 21’s baristas might be the best trained coffee aficionados in Toledo. An employee works the counter for three months before they are allowed to make a drink, a training method borrowed from Intelligentsia’s in southern California.

I thought baristas flaired like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, but instead of bartenders flipping bottles of booze in the air, the baristas at Plate 21 show their art through latte drawings. However, the most important characteristic of any good barista is their technical knowledge.

One technicality is the way Starbucks psychologically trained male customers to demand dark coffee, creating a trend in which most coffee producers offer some sort of dark variety. Such hits as Café Verona, Sumatra, and Pike Place may taste strong, but contain diluted caffeine levels. Light roasts are most caffeinated.

The coffee at Plate 21 is light, but not weak. The caffeine feels clean and present. My heart rate didn’t increase, nor was there a restless anxiety. In fact, this coffee should be taken black to taste all its characteristics.

Plate 21 has redefined the essence of freshness. In theory, the coffee beans at grocery stores are well over the recommended three week fresh period. This means that the wild blueberry K-Cups at the bottom of the organizer are solely decorative, and all coffee, whether as whole beans or ground, refrigerated or kept in the basement, loses freshness after three weeks.

The new trend in small business is the quest for sustainability and zero waste. Say Plate 21 orders fifteen pounds of coffee for every day orders, twenty pounds left whole for customers buying bulk. In keeping with the three week freshness window, Plate 21 easily goes through the fifteen pounds in a week, and then uses bulk coffee for every day orders. In short, the coffee here is generally less than two weeks old.

You can taste the freshness, even when the coffee is lukewarm. At the height of my coffee addiction in 2008, I could drink the reserves at the Oklahoma State English department often eight hours after initial brew. I drink the coffee at Plate 21 not because of a compulsive need. I care about taste now and Plate 21 matches my pickiness.

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