Cape Gazette
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The Business of Eating

Magic beans at The Point keep Rehoboth alert

By Bob Yesbek | Jul 10, 2012
Photo by: Bob Yesbek Brewmaster Sean Hixon begins the roasting process.

Do you remember the mustachioed Juan Valdez, roaming the Colombian countryside with his intrepid burro, Lana? Just about every late ‘60s and early ‘70s TV commercial break included Juan and Lana’s never-ending search for the perfect coffee bean.

The Point Coffee House and Bake Shop in Rehoboth Beach has its own version of Juan, except that (1) this guy is 100 percent Irish, (2) his search for the perfect bean begins and ends with a phone call, and (3) there’s no burro. But once those big burlap bags arrive at The Point, they’re the sole responsibility of brewmaster Sean Hixon.

Sean comes to The Point by way of the Blue Moon pastry department and Stingray, where he was the opening chef. At The Point, he started as a baker, but now he does everything coffee: the selection of the beans, roasting them under strict scientific guidelines, and blending them into his signature brews.

The roasting takes place after hours, because the process requires on-the-fly mathematics, accurate monitoring and sufficient quiet to hear the subtle sounds that signal the doneness of the roast. The enormous Probat coffee roaster dominates the front window at The Point. And it’s a lot more than decoration. It is Sean’s “baby,” though it’s about the size of a Chrysler and costs several times as much. After the last employee has gone home, Sean ignites the burners and begins the preheating process.

Depending on the variety of bean and the ambient temperature, 450 degrees marks the moment that he climbs up and empties a burlap bag into a gleaming steel hopper and the rotating drum. Juan and Lana would certainly be proud as Hixon consults his graphs and equations to monitor, record and adjust the rate of temperature increase, the change in color as the beans heat (there’s a little peephole for that purpose) and the barely audible “crack” as the shells break apart to expose the flavorful core within.

There’s a brief instant in time before which the beans are still green, and after which they are burned. As that stage approaches, Sean, calculator in hand, becomes quiet and politely suggests that I take a seat. I translate this to “Sit down and shut up,” and immediately comply. He extracts steaming samples from the hot drum, touching, sniffing and judging color. At a certain point (that’s for him to know and for us to never find out), he opens a massive gate and a tsunami of blistering hot beans surges onto a cooling tray. They’re mechanically stirred as a vacuum pump circulates cool air down through a sieve. And let me tell you how it smells in there!

It wasn’t even 10 minutes before Hixon was grinding the still-warm beans and brewing cups of can’t-get-much-fresher-than-this coffee. I could almost sense a wistful Lana watching from afar.

Sean “cups” each batch over a two-day period; filter brewing it, French pressing it and running it through an espresso machine. The results determine which roasts will be blended into The Point’s signature brews.

An avid bicyclist, Sean produced special fusions he named Pedal Faster, Boardwalk Cruiser and Junction/Breakwater Trail blends for his friends at Bike to Go in Rehoboth. (Buy a nice bike and they might even give you a bag.)

Sean’s coffees are enjoyed by diners at Victoria’s Restaurant at the Boardwalk Plaza (owners of The Point), and at Cabo, where he and Jay Caputo use organic Mexican beans for the signature coffee.

He comes up with great names. The brewing instructions for Wreckless Abandon propose: Find some inspiration. Jump in. Figure it out later. Wear a helmet.

It sounds like Sean’s philosophy of life is good to the last drop.

The roaster disgorges an avalanche of blazing hot beans eager to be cooled, ground, brewed and savored. (Photo by: Bob Yesbek)
The beans cool. Next stop: Your coffeemaker. (Photo by: Bob Yesbek)
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