One of the many great things about Austin, TX are the many opportunities to learn and become involved in the local products that are made here, such as coffee and beer. I was very excited to get the chance to review the Up and Down Tour. The Up and Down tour consisted of a learning tour of Casa Brasil direct trade Brazilian coffee company (the Up portion) and a tour of South Austin Brewery (the Down portion).
The tour began at 10:00 am at the Casa Brasil home base in South Austin. Included in this excursion is breakfast and lunch, catered locally. Breakfast was from Foreign & Domestic restaurant, an array of pastries and sweets to accompany the coffee provided by Casa Brasil.
Starting the tour we learned about the company and its founders. Casa Brasil was originally started as a Brazilian Cultural Center in 2005, and in 2006 the coffee project began. And after a lot of testing, cupping and planning, in 2009 the first container of coffee beans were imported. One of the interesting things from Casa Brasil is that they purchase directly from growers / coops and roast to order. I will tell you that I came into this journey as a coffee novice, knowing almost nothing about it besides that it is what adults drink before going to work, possibly paired with donuts.
We were given a history of Brazilian coffee and how it came to be. Learned about coffee “defects” and how to tell a good quality coffee from an average cup of joe. Defects are any beans that contain foreign material, blacks, sours or unripes. Believe me, you CAN tell when you have a cup of coffee with defects in it. Now I must say that our instructor and guide for the tour, Joel Shuler , was very passionate and well informed about anything and everything coffee. I was very impressed with the amount of knowledge he has about coffee and how he was able to convey it to us in such an informative and interactive way.
We walked through the coffee house past the bags of beans and into the roasting and packaging area. Remember I mentioned that their beans are roasted to order? We were shown that process as well. I never knew how much detail and steps go into roasting coffee. The difference between coffee beans that are roasted and stopped at first crack, or continued to second crack and so forth.
Casa Brasil roasts to order and does their packaging hands on and with a home made feel to it. They paint on a brush stroke of color, allow to dry and then stamp on the bag’s information. This is done with every bag they send out, how neat is that?
From there, we went to a demonstration of a few different methods for brewing coffee, the cold brew method, Chemex, French Press and Vacuum pot. Set out before us was a selection of the same coffee beans that were ground and brewed in each different method. I was skeptical as to how much of a difference the brew method would make, but it did indeed make a difference. My favorite was the Vacuum Pot method. Not only do you get to look amazingly cool using a chem lab set up, but it is quick and makes for a smooth brew as well.
Lunch was catered by The Noble Pig and was absolutely delicious. They provided us with a selection of gourmet sandwiches to choose from. I chose the Smoked Duck Pastrami with Russian dressing and rye pickles. I also was able to sample the Thai Chicken with jalepeno-cabbage slaw and cilantro sandwich, another delicious sandwich. Both sandwiches were tender and so flavorful, I was very impressed. Sandwiches were served with kettle style baked chips and Mexican Coke.
Now for the “Down” part of the tour, we trekked across the parking lot to the South Austin Brewery. As we walked in, owner and brewmaster Jordan Weeks was standing behind a table with an array of ingredients for brewing. His knowledge of beer and what goes into making a delicious batch of beer was quite impressive, as well as that of his partner Chris Oglesby. I personally have never been a huge fan of beer, mainly because of the “bite” and lack of flavor all the mainstream beers seem to have. The primary styles of beer that their brewery produces is Belgian beer, a Golden Ale and Saison D’Austin. I preferred the Golden Ale and the light fruity flavor it had. The Saison was rich and citric with black pepper tones, also very tasty.
Belgian beer dates back to the age of the first crusades, under Catholic church permission, local French and Flemish abbeys brewed and distributed beer as a fund raising method. The relatively low-alcohol beer of that time was preferred as a sanitary option to available drinking water. Monks had an additional reason to prefer beer in that it provided a degree of nutrition during the Lenten and other fasts. One of the many stories that was shared as how influential this type of beer has been through history.
After a brief tour of the brewery and the process of making beer, we all enjoyed a round table sort of tasting of the different varieties of beer. We compared a good quality beer to mainstream beers. How much of a taste difference a “fresh” beer tastes compared to an aged beer. Unlike wine, beer is best consumed quickly and not to let age. Another thing that surprised me, I had no clue that beer from the tap would taste different from bottled beer. I think the carbonation and the added extras to bottled beer is why I had such a distaste for beer in general.
Over all, this outing was very informative and opened my eyes on quite a few things. I am still a novice of sorts about beer and coffee, but I now know a lot more than I did walking into the tour. Highly recommend this tour to anyone who would like to learn and experience new flavors.
For additional pictures from this excursion, please click here.
Casa Brasil website
Casa Brasil on Facebook
Follow Casa Brasil on Twitter
South Austin Brewery Website
South Austin Brewery on Facebook
Follow South Austin Brewery on Twitter