Something’s Brewin’

Something’s Brewin’

Brightwater, Airship partner to offer coffee education


It wasn’t until Laurelin Van Hoose participated in Brightwater’s coffee skills program she considered offering coffee in a bar she hopes to open.

“It opened my eyes to a whole new area that I hadn’t even considered that could make my business more successful,” she said before taking her practical exam last week.

This was the first semester Brightwater began offering coffee certification in its beverage courses. The school is teaming with Airship Coffee Roasters to offer the courses, which are based on the principles of the Specialty Coffee Association’s certification program.

Rainy Bray, left, director of coffee, helps Cristiana Cooper of Springdale steam milk at Brightwater in Bentonville. Brightwater and Airship Coffee are partnering to offer specialty coffee certification in the beverage studies to help meet the demand for skilled workers in the Northwest Arkansas coffee scene as well as train students to be competitive for jobs elsewhere.

The Bentonville-based coffee roasting company offers wholesale service in Northwest Arkansas and has an online retail store.

The association is the global trade organization for coffee professionals and the official certification channel for the industry. It has thousands of members in its business and individual categories in more than 100 countries, according to its website.

Students received an introduction to coffee — its history, how it’s grown, different varieties and how those varieties affect taste — then spent eight weeks learning barista skills followed by eight weeks of brewing techniques.

Most students want to be head chef at a restaurant or open their own establishment, said Rainy Bray, course instructor and the education coordinator for Airship. It’s important, as culinary professionals, they know how to make good coffee.

There’s an “insane need” for skilled baristas in Bentonville as the culinary scene continues to grow, she said, explaining she’s seen it when training employees of Airship wholesale customers.

“All of those restaurants can afford to put an espresso machine in, and they usually do — no one knows how to use it,” Bray said.

Customers don’t want a sub-par cup of coffee after enjoying an amazing meal, she said.

Formal coffee training is an asset for anyone who works in the hospitality industry because it “adds a high-level touch to service,” but it’s not a necessity — at least not yet, said Matt McClure, executive chef at The Hive in 21c Museum Hotel.

“If we start seeing more applicants that have this under their belt, that could become the standard,” he said. It’s certainly something we’re not going to ignore if it’s on a candidate’s application, he said.

All the servers at The Hive are trained to use the espresso machine, but most of the coffee sold is a drip brew, McClure said.

Van Hoose was one of 18 in her class, which was supposed to be limited to 16 students. The spring classes are already full, Bray said.

James King, director of Brightwater’s beverage management program, said he’s pleased with the student engagement and excitement.

“Many people just think beverage is alcohol,” he said. “You can still do a lot of aspects with tea or coffee that aren’t alcohol focused to reach out to other people.”

Laurein Van Hoose of Fayetteville looks at a tasting wheel at Brightwater in Bentonville. The tasting wheel helps students put a name to a taste. Brightwater and Airship Coffee are partnering to offer specialty coffee certification in the beverage studies at the culinary art school.

Certification makes students more employable. They can pass their knowledge on to co-workers, allowing Brightwater to become a feeder system to expand coffee programs in food establishments, King said.

Van Hoose was one of several students gathered around the espresso machines in the classroom to practice before taking the exam.

Each took turns creating espresso — carefully grinding the beans, measuring the grounds and evenly tamping them before brewing. Those finished sipped their creation thoughtfully while looking over the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel determining what kind of notes they could taste.

The practical exams included creating an espresso and correctly identifying the flavor profile. The flavor wheel, used by the association, has three layers of adjectives to describe flavor notes, increasing in specificity of taste.

Van Hoose said she’s learned how much of an art espresso is.

“If you deviate from the time just by a few seconds or the weight just by a little bit or the size of the grind, you can totally change how something tastes,” she said. “Now I understand why the line is so long at coffee places. You’re measuring things and timing things. It’s very specific.”

Brightwater and Airship will partner to teach trade and consumer classes in the spring geared for restaurants who want their staff trained and individuals who are interested in improving their personal coffee skills.

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