Motorhead Coffee

vagabond blog: thoughts from the saddle

The Pond

With three grandchildren to buy for this year, my wife and I have already begun Christmas shopping. That experience, along with a recent blog I read about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, had me thinking about my childhood and the kind of ways my friends and I used to entertain ourselves. No matter what we were doing, or what time of year we were doing it, “it” was almost always done outdoors. As for toys, the ones we enjoyed the most were the ones we created ourselves.

Probably the most enjoyable playground in my neighborhood sat right smack in the middle of our small farm. It was a 1 acre pond, complete with fish, snapping turtles, frogs and snakes. It had a ratty old dock, a sea of cattails that we often turned into torches at night, and a small boat. What more could a handful of 10 year old boys want?6038141040484743922

Every May, as soon as school was released, we would pitch an old tent down at the pond and declare it officially “summer vacation.” The tent would stay up all summer and we spent many nights sleeping in it. Actually, we probably stayed up all night more times than we slept. We’d sit around a campfire, fishing lines in the water, hooks baited with chicken livers or stink bait, as we tried to catch the big catfish swimming in the pond. When we got bored with that, we would gig frogs. Our pond was running over with frogs. They filled the air every night with their deep harmonic rhythm. Don’t worry, we didn’t kill them just to kill them. We ate the legs. I can’t tell you how many times we carried a gunny sack of frogs down to the house, where my father would spill them out onto the carport and he and I would prepare them for a meal the next day.

Snakes, on the other hand, we killed just because. Because they are creepy, that’s why! One year in particular, the pond was absolutely swarming with snakes. You could not walk around it one time without seeing at least one snake. I’m not talking black snakes. These were mean, nasty, aggressive water snakes. And some of them were eating very well…on frogs I’m guessing.  My two neighborhood buddies and I decided to to make it our mission to rid the world of snakes…or at least the pond. We hunted snakes with frog gigs, pellet guns, pitch forks and anything we could get our hands on. Once we killed them, we hung them in a tree by the shore. I know at one point we had at least 14 snake carcasses hanging in that tree. And you thought the Internet was fun!

The three of us grew up around that pond. We saw and did just about everything you can imagine on those shores, especially when we got older. Some of those stories best not be told. I can’t really imagine any toy being more enjoyable, lasting or memorable as that old farm pond. In fact, I was just there last week, standing on my mother’s porch, looking down toward it and thinking, “I should go take a walk around the pond.” Wonder if that frog gig is still hanging in the barn?

Later,

Shep

You Can’t Go Home Again

I spent the majority of this past week with a family member in the hospital back in my home town in Indiana. Here are a few things I learned:

1. Hosptials smell. No offense. I mean, they can’t really help it; they are full of sick people doing all sorts of things sick people do. And if you are sick, you don’t really care. I spent two weeks in the hospital many years ago when a semi-truck tried to crush my car, and my head, like a beer can. I didn’t care how it smelled. I don’t even remember. I was just glad there were some kind men and women who were willing to do for me, the things I couldn’t do for myself. So, if I think it smells, imagine how they feel.

2. Home is not so much a place as a state of mind.  Wow, that sounds all 1960’s, tie dyed, acid enlightened, philosophical bull shit, doesn’t it? Here’s what I mean: I spent 51 years living in Bloomington, IN. Born and raised. Spent most of that time living on the same property I was born on. Two and a half years ago, I moved 115 miles south to Louisville, KY. Now I call Kentucky home. And I mean it. I just spent 5 days “back home” in Indiana. When I go to Bloomington, I don’t feel like I”m going home. I feel like a guest. Today, Louisville is home. If, tomorrow, I were to move to Asheville, and I’d love to, then that would be home. Same goes for Naples, Florida or anywhere else I might land. Home may be where you are from, but for me, it is where I’m at.

3. I’m very bad at sitting by bedsides. Actually, I already knew that. I go just a little bit crazy when I have to sit still for long periods of time.

4. Hotels can get old quick. They are not “home.”

5. Being a college town is a blessing and a curse. Bloomington has an interesting culture and lot of great places to eat and visit, mostly because of all that IU brings to the town. On the other hand, downtown and the surrounding area is looking more and more like “IU City” than the Bloomington I know. Student housing has taken over the entire community. Not a fan.

6. Upland Brewing Co is still my single most favorite place in Bloomington. Love that joint. I would gladly ride my bike 230 miles round trip to go there…and I have. Good food, good beer, good people.DSC00395

7. My old coffee customers still love me! And want me to come home.

8. My wife does not like it when I go without shaving. Makes me look, “old” she says! Well, guess what? I am.IMG_0008

Later,

Shep

The Written Word

Truman Capote once said, “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make,” I have been writing for my own personal pleasure for many years. I’ve never really worried about whether I was particularly good at it or not; I write because my head is filled with words that want to come out. Sounds kind of like a disorder, doesn’t it? In an attempt to find places to put all these words I have turned daily work reports into mini blogs, school thesis assignments into storied fables and created blogs on the Web that have no real purpose other than to house my thoughts. I even wrote a monthly family newsletter for a while called the Hensonburg Times, and mailed it out. It was well-received right up until I offended someone with my frivolity. I retired it then and there.

I’ve started several blogs, most of which you have never seen. I wrote a blog when I owned B-town Beans, but never really kept up with it. I tried to revive the Hensonburg Times in a blog, a less sarcastic version, but I just couldn’t commit to it. I also launched a blog called The Ramblings of Reverend Ex. When I “fell from the pulpit,” my co-workers nicknamed me “Reverend Ex.” I thought it was catchy so I used it. Don’t think I ever wrote a single blog. I don’t even know what I was going to write about.

I don’t remember when I started writing Motorhead Coffee. It has always been about whatever was on my mind at the time. I have not been as regular with it as I would have liked, but somehow I have kept it going for a while now. I’m launching a new website this coming week for my coffee roasting business, also named Motorhead Coffee. In that site, there will be a blog page. I will attempt to keep that blog focused on coffee and the business. Even if you don’t want to buy coffee, you may enjoy the blog on that page…or not. I plan to launch it on 10/17. It will have a new look, new coffees and a monthly subscription option.

I plan to continue with this blog too until I’ve used up all those escaping words. It will continue to be about whatever is really on my mind. Not censored. Not sanitized. My mind. My thoughts. My reality. The editing is light; first pass. Sometimes things are better if they are a little rough around the edges. I will talk coffee, bikes, road trips, foolishness and frivolity. Love it or hate it. Read it or not. As Mr. Capote said, it’s not so much about the content as it is the rhythm of the words.

I will leave you with some thoughts from one of my favorite wordsmiths:

Later,

Shep

Change

I spent the majority of my working life as a blue collar laborer on an assembly line. While I am the first to admit that those days were very good to me, it was also a monotonous way to live. Some people enjoy the sameness, the known of the routine. I drives me crazy. I tend to thrive in uncertain chaos. It pushes me. Forces me to act. Keeps me tuned in. I found myself desperate for change.  A few years ago I got my wish. I changed positions, moving to management, and I changed locations, trading my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana for Louisville, Kentucky.

While change frightens many, it is not only inevitable, it is essential. Nothing stands still. Not the day, not society…and certainly not business. In the motorcycle industry, technology is constantly evolving and demonstrating itself in new features and performance standards. At this year’s Intermot, Kawasaki once again shared its desire to be the horsepower king with the introduction of the H2R, a supercharged racing version of the upcoming H2. The bike is said to make 300hp. Did you catch that? And you thought your Hayabusa was powerful. It was…but that was yesterday.

hr2photo5Small business is not exempt from the need to change. That includes the coffee roasting industry, and more specifically, my business. Here are just a few of the things we are toying with changing right now:

1. A new look to the website. Hopefully a more “buy friendly” site. And a renewed effort to make buying as convenient as checking the mailbox. As you can guess, I have trouble keeping my personality out of the things I do. This includes websites, which I always build myself. Yes, I know…it shows. I’m no web builder, but I’m too tight to pay someone else to do it. I’d rather spend that money on coffee equipment. Here is just a sneak peak of a portion of the home page…I don’t expect it to go live for another couple weeks.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 7.38.19 PM2. If I have my way, a new roaster. Or maybe an old roaster…time will tell.IMG_0572

3. Even better coffees. I’m working hard to source the best beans I can get my hands on. And I’m working just as hard to find the proper roast profile for those beans. Expect it. You deserve it. You don’t need more mediocre roasters with mediocre coffee. It’s up to me to deliver…I don’t plan to disappoint.DSC_0007

Later,

Shep

 

 

No Surrender

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you already know I’m a dreamer. You would think that at my age, the dreaming would have come to an end. I should be all grown up by now, the realities of life having long since extinguished the romancer inside. Well, that hasn’t happened…and I’m pretty sure it never will. I’m not giving in to Lazy Boys & talk shows, Ben Gay & conversations about how it used to be.

Some of my dreams are simple; some more complex. Here are just a few things that, at 54, I still plan to accomplish:

1. Ride the 49 States of the Continental US. I’m only about half way there right now.

2. Ride coast to coast…North Carolina to California and back.

3. Return to my roots and take a dual sport trip, riding backroads, gravel and dirt.

4. Leave Corporate American behind for the last time. Don’t get me wrong, it has been good to my family and I. But I’m ready to leave it in my rearview mirror and move on, not to some easy chair retirement, but to the greatest adventures of my life.

5. Write something permanent. Maybe not profound. Maybe not even very good, but something real.

6. Devote all my “work” time to the craft of roasting coffee. Build a meaningful, successful shop that is an asset to whatever community it resides in. Just like motorcycles, it’s in my blood and it’s not going anywhere. I will quit roasting coffee about the time I quit riding.

One of my roasting shop dreams is to be in an old abandoned gas station like this one:DSC00402 DSC00400 DSC00396Someday…before I’m out of “somedays.” Until then, I’m going to keep on dreaming.

Later,

Shep

 

Brewing, Biking & Logic

I don’t have a drip coffee maker in my home. I do have a Technivorm drip machine on my desk at work, but at the house I only have manual brew methods at my disposal. And I don’t mean a few. I have dozens; probably 100 or more. Yeah, I know, I have a problem. I have multiple french presses, Hario V60 drip cones, Kalita Waves, a Beehouse drip, a couple other drip cones that I forget the name of as well. I also have two Hario drip stations. I have 4-5 vacuum pots, a turkish pot, moka pots, Aeropresses, half a dozen Chemex’s, a few Clever Coffee Drippers, about 5 different kettles (one of them costs about as much as an iPhone 6) and I don’t even remember what else. I use different methods to make my coffee depending on the day and my mood.DSCN0028

Some days, I will admit, I would rather just pour water and coffee into a drip machine, push the button and walk away. There has been some discussion lately about how reliable and repeatable many of the manual methods are when used in a coffee shop environment. I can tell you that in the Motorhead shop (ie, my kitchen), they do not have a lot of quality control behind them. There are many variables to the process, making me tend to side with the quality drip machine camp as possibly the better approach for a retail environment…maybe for my house too.

There are a couple interesting drip machines that just hit the market, so I took a big risk, asked my wife to go to the mall with me, and checked them out at Williams Sonoma. The risk was not the possibility of spending money on another machine I don’t need; it was accompanying my wife to the mall! She has the layout of every mall in the country mapped out in her head…shopping is her field of expertise. Fortunately, she had mercy on me and didn’t take me on too many side trips.

Back to the machines. Technivorm just came out with a new single cup auto drip machine. That caught my attention because, being the only coffee drinker in the house, I like the single serving approach. I also like my coffee very hot. The only problem with the machine is, well, it’s a Technivorm, which means its expensive…$229…to brew a single, 10 oz cup. Does that make sense, especially when I can brew a single cup with a $29 Aeropress or a $30 Hario?IMG_3482

The other machine is the Wilfa Precision Brewer. It retails for…ready? $329. At least it brews a full pot. And it is absolutely beautiful. It is the kind of machine that my fashion forward wife would approve of on her countertop. Of course, I can brew a full pot in my $36 Chemex.IMG_3481

These machines are not very logical choices when comparing them to other, less expensive pieces of equipment. It kind of reminds me of bikes. Motorcycles come in all sizes and prices. I just took a trip on a very practical, affordable Suzuki Vstrom. That may seen quite normal to you, but I came to the Strom from a long string of ownership of expensive, exotic European bikes: Beemers, Ducs and Triumphs. Going to the Vstrom from those bikes was kind of like going from filet mignon to bologna. Sure, they’re both meat (I think), but they are worlds apart. Or are they really? I put 2,000 miles on the Strom in 6 days, no big feat, but a decent test of the machine. I put 1,000 miles on it before I left. I came home from the trip saying, “Damn fine bike. Does everything I need it to do.” No complaints. I’m actually very happy with it. It may be the most comfortable bike I’ve owned in years.

The Suzuki is like the $30 Aeropress; makes a good cup of joe, only downfall is it looks like it came from a late night Ron Popeil infomertial. The expensive coffee makers don’t really make any more sense than paying $20,000 for a bike when a $5,000 bike will do the same thing.DSC00293ducati_multistrada_1200_redSo, does that mean I’m not going to buy a Wilfa for my kitchen? Well, it’s about as likely as it is for me to some day add another Ducati, KTM or Triumph to the garage. Logic is for the logical; cool stuff is for the passionate!

Later,

Shep

Day 6: Too Much: Not Enough

Too many biscuit, too much beer. Not enough time. I could stop right there and call that my trip summary. But we all know that I’m not going to do that. I’ve never been accused of being a man of too few words. In reality, I didn’t have nearly enough biscuits. Okay, I had six total. Three of them came from one meal at Biscuit Head. When you order their biscuits and gravy, they do not skimp on the biscuits. The other two biscuits were Cheddar Scallion Ham, Egg & Cheese biscuit sandwiches from the City Bakery. All yummy.

What I really mean is that I ate too much good food. Normally when I take a bike trip, I’m likely to lose weight because I just ride. I rarely stop for anything except gas, and when I do, I normally just grab a protein bar and a bottle of water or cup of coffee and call that lunch. By staying in Asheville all week, I was exposed to way too much good food.

As for the beer, I really didn’t have much of that either. I’m a one and done sort of guy anyway, especially when on the bike, but a couple days I didn’t have any. And there are so many good breweries in the area. I hate that I was only able to sample a few. My favorite was probably the Green Man Harvester Ale, their version of an Octoberfest, a style I really enjoy. I also liked the Pisgah Pale Ale and the Foothills Jade IPA. The bartender at the Thirsty Monk was kind enough to let me sample the Monk’s new Porter, which was also tasty. I did manage to sneak home a few Catawba White Zombies as well.

Day 6 was a mixed bag. I rode a couple hundred miles, but nowhere remarkable. The day before I had gone to Charlotte and found myself wishing that I did not have a room back in Asheville waiting on me. The coast was calling and I really wanted to keep going toward Wilmington and the Outer Banks. I was really beginning to appreciate the VStrom for its comfort and ability to travel distances and would like to have pushed it to the extreme a bit, maybe even all the way to New England. But It was too late to cancel the room, so back I came. I was starting to realize by day 6 that I had overstayed my welcome. Not that I don’t love the city, because I really do, but I was growing restless. My friend Dan said he was surprised that I was going to stay in one place all week, and especially a place that I had been before. He knows I like to move around and see new things. He was right, I should have kept my original reservation of 3 nights and then moved on. Lesson learned for next year.

The other thing I didn’t get enough of was time. Yes, I miss my wife and can’t wait to see her. But for the oddballs like me who love the road and enjoy the adventure of travel, you can never get enough. Every time I take a bike trip it starts out the same. The first few hours I am hit with a feeling of guilt. Guilt that I am leaving my wife home; guilt that I am about to spend money on myself, when I’d much rather share with her. Guilt that I”m leaving responsibilities behind. Then, sometime later in the day, it is like the big rubber band of guilt just stretches as far as it can, and it snaps. Pow! The pull to return is replaced with the adrenaline of the journey. From there it becomes an insatiable desire, never completely fulfilled.

At any rate, another great day. I’m already thinking about the 2015 Beer and Biscuit Run and how I will do it differently. First, 3 nights, 4 max in Asheville. Second, although I always ride alone, I think I might like company next year. Well, time to pack up and hit the road. Better get out, “before they make me run.”

Later,

Shep

Day 5: Guzzi’s & Other Oddities

I took a road trip from my road trip on day 5. There is a Moto Guzzi dealership south of Charlotte, so I pointed the bike East and headed out. I've been fortunate enought to own several unique European bikes over the years, but I've never owned a Moto Guzzi. Never even ridden one. Same is true for KTM, although I have ridden a few of those. At any rate, those two bikes are high on my list of “need to own,” sooner or later.

Guzzi's are unique machines. Here's a little eye candy for you.

Speaking of oddities, no shortage of them around here. I thought about walking around town and taking some photos to demonstrate the eclectic nature of this community, but I just don't have the patience for that. I'd rather ride. Where most cities have a street or neighborhood of starving artists, vagabonds, runaways and aging hippies, Asheville is “all that, everywhere, all the time!” But, since I fit all those categories at least a little, it works for me. I think it would drive most people my age nuts.

Other random notes from the road:

1. I can't tell you how many times people have asked me if I'm hot in this suit. What do you think? Yes, I'm hot, but I didn't get to this point in my riding career by taking needless chances.

2. The more I sample other people' coffee, the more I think I should quit my job and go 100%. Not saying they are bad or that mine is better, but it sure as Helll is just as good.

3. I can't stand to be around people who have conversations speaking into their phone so that all the world can hear. If you do that, stop it!

4. I can't stand that I have so many feakin' electronic gadgets to charge that I can't keep track of the cords!

5. I'd like to ride home, pick up my wife and spend the rest of my life traveling. Anyone want to finance that for me?

Later,

Shep

 

Day 4: This Road I’m On

I've been riding motorcycles since 1967. Day 4 was all about why I still ride today. I spent the entire day riding backroads, mostly north and east of Asheville, some 250+ miles worth. These roads are absolutely a blast to ride on a motorcycle. I can only imagine they are a pain in the ass in a car…especially in the winter. In fact, it seems the car of choice for this region, based totally on my random observation, is a Subaru XV Crosstrek.

These are the kind of roads that make my light and nimble Triumph Street Triple seem big and cumbersome. So, imagine how the Vstrom feels. Actually, it did quite well. Some corners are so tight and twisted that you almost have to put your foot down and pivot! I'm not joking. I've said it before, if I lived here my weapon of choice would be a KTM Duke 690.

I talked with three different groups of riders yesterday. The first group was 5 men traveling from Quebec. I was able to understand one of them…a little. The other 4 spoke some cross between French and English. They were headed for the Cherhola Skyway and, of course, the Dragon. They were all close to my age, maybe a bit younger.

The second group was also Canadian, this time Ontario, and much easier to converse with. I told them that I had ran into the group from Quebec and the one rider piped up and said, “Yeah, they wanted to separate from us!” Bazinga! Friendly guys, headed to Cherokee.

The third group was a handful of what some people might call, “hoodlums.” 4 young guys, wearing flashy leather jackets, hanging out at a local gas station, all riding supermotos. I stopped and admired the bikes and chatted with them a bit. Obviously locals, they knew exactly what kind of bike rules these roads. Some of the most insane street riding I have ever seen was done by a handful of guys on supermotos.

I mounted my Gopro on my crashbar and set it to shoot a photo every 60 seconds. I let it run until the battery died. I don't know how many photos I have, but I'm sure there are some goods ones…if I can ever find them! My iPad does not want to accept them, so when I get home I will see what I have and post them up. I have a couple photos here, but frankly, the best roads I was on, the wicked, twisted ones, make these look like a straight line.

 
Later,

Shep

 

 

Day 3: Heavy, Man, Heavy

There are at least 2 things my mother is famous for: her homemade pies and her biscuits. She has been baking pies for friends, family and strangers for years. She even has a photo of former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels with one of her pies. She can make any kind, but blackberry is a specialty. It doesn't hurt that she has her own blackberry patch that yields as much as 60 gallons of big, juicy berries a year. At 88 she may have slowed down some, but she can still crank out a killer pie that would embarass most bakeries and grocers.

The other thing she is known for is her biscuits. From the time that I was a kid until I was in my late 20's, my mother always made a big Sunday morning breakfast. We would have eggs, fried potatos, ham or bacon or sometimes even pork chops. We would also have gravy and homeade biscuits. I'm not talking about flat, lifeless baking powder bisciuts like you buy in a can or get from the local restaurant. I'm talking about big, light, fluffy, melt in your mouth biscuits. Some people called them Sunday morning bisucits, because that's when Mom made them. We called them “Two-story biscuits,” because they were so tall.

Her biscuits were so good that my uncles would always come to visit on Sunday afternoon, just hoping for leftover biscuits! Her secret was to make the biscuits in the style of “angel” biscuits, that is, she used a little bit of yeast to help them rise more than a normal baking powder biscuit. Then, because Dad liked a crispy crust, she added oil to the pan before placing the biscuits in it, to make the crust harder.

I'm a fan of good biscuits, and all home-baked breads really. I can crank out some pretty good bread myself…and pie for that matter. Breakfast is my favorite meal and biscuits rank as an essential to a good breakfast. So, when I prepared to make my annual bike trip to Asheville, I was not only out to enjoy the many local, craft brews, I was also looking to enjoy some good biscuits. The Asheville City Bakery has a very nice Cheddar Scallion biscuit sandwich that I've had every time I visit.

But, there is a new player in town. And, after all, who should have better biscuits than a southern cook? Particlularly if you name your restaurant “Biscuit Head.”

But how would they compare to my mothers? Well, only one way to find out. On day 3, I had my first biscuit of the trip at Biscuit Head in West Asheville. So as to not bore you with a lengthy discourse, let me just say that these biscuist were very reminiscent of my mothers. I give Biscuit Head an A+ for their tall, light & tasty biscuits. I sampled a gravy “flight,” of fried chicken gravy, sausage gravy and red eye gravy. All good. I also sampled the jam bar, having pinneaple and strawberry orange jam. I have pretty high standards for jam as well. I was raised on a farm that used to be an orchard. I grew up on homeade jam. My mother's blackberry and strawberry jam can only be matched by…mine! Too bad I never make any these days. I went away stuffed. True to the Asheville funk and vibe, Biscuit Head biscuits were “heavy, man, heavy.” I didn't eat the rest of the day!

 

When I get back I'm going to have to visit my mother and make some biscuits together…just to see who the real biscuit king is!

Later,

Shep

 

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