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UMaine Today Magazine

The X factor
Back to Pleasing Palates-]

Paul Kalenian of X Cafe
Paul Kalenian of X Cafe

Even when the highest quality Arabica coffee beans are roasted and shipped fresh to the finest restaurants in the world, there is no guarantee of a great cup of coffee. That's because of human error during both brewing and handling - "brewing and handling coffee are the weak links," says Portland's coffee entrepreneur Paul Kalenian.

"Even at white linen table cloth restaurants, the coffee can be nondescript," he says. "Also there are certain venues (like convention centers, sports stadiums, and fast food restaurants) where serving fresh coffee is actually impossible. Brewed coffee needs to be ready and waiting when 30 or 3000, or 30,000 people all come in and want coffee at the same time.

"How do you do that? If the coffee's already made and has been sitting, it will taste stale." 'If it is already brewed and you don't sell it all, that's a big financial loss."

Too much or too little coffee, it's all lost sales.  How do you deal with these problems with a freshness sensitive beverage like coffee?

Consistent quality is critical to all modern food; you would not go to a restaurant with inconsistent food quality.  With coffee especially, the first cup must be as good as the last, Kalenian contends. Inconsistent beverage quality was the dilemma soda companies like Coca-Cola faced in the 1950s when Coke syrup and seltzer water were hand mixed by a "soda jerk" at a soda fountain. Coca Cola saved itself from human error induced inconsistency by inventing the cola "post mix" system.

At X Café we have taken the inconsistency out of coffee, by eliminating what we refer to as the "coffee jerk" - the person who inconsistently makes the coffee. We developed a coffee extract that has all the flavor and aroma of fresh brewed coffee, and we made it shelf stable. Then we went to Bunn-O-Matic to invent a dispenser like Coca Cola's to accurately dispense coffee with a "post mix" system.

Restaurants can now accurately dispense a measured amount of filtered water (30 parts) and coffee extract (1 part) (therefore a 30:1 ratio) automatically to produce a flavorful, aromatic cup of coffee with tremendous clarity and great consistency, cup after cup" says Kalenian. "Whether you want five cups or 500 cups, the result is consistent, fresh coffee."

Kalenian's coffee extraction process is now patented worldwide. Most people don't realize that 80% of a coffee bean is wood fiber! Our process focuses on extracting the 20 percent of the coffee bean where the flavor and fragrance are bound up; the remaining 80 percent of the bean's woody fiber (dry coffee grind) is left behind and is recycled into electricity at one on Maine's numerous bio mass energy power plants.

X Café's liquid coffee extract is made into a ready-to-dispense product having a non-refrigerated shelf life of four months. X Café coffee extract is available in half-gallon and gallon bag-in-box dispensers for the food service industry. (One gallon makes 500 eight oz. cups) High-volume users, include convention centers, sports arenas and convenience stores - even the military. Among its clients is SYSCO Corp. X Café also packages its product in 1,000-liter totes for ready to drink canned and bottled beverages and in portion packs, for a cup or a pot at a time.

"We've taken modern processing methods and combined them with the world's most popular beverage," says Kalenian.

Kalenian and his wife, Cathy, launched X Café in 2000 as an offshoot of their company, Armeno Coffee Roasters, serving the greater Boston area.

Kalenian, an engineer and inventor like his father, built a small extractor in his basement and started making coffee extracts, first as an ingredient for coffee ice cream. Then he went to work using the extracts to create a consistently good cup of coffee.

Kalenian first packaged single-serve packets of extract with the help of Schlotterbeck & Foss, a longtime specialty food manufacturer and distributor in Portland, Maine. To install an extraction system, and legally sell a food product in the US, Kalenian consulted University of Maine food scientist Al Bushway.

"The challenge was to create an extract that tasted as good as fresh-brewed coffee made under ideal conditions, and Al Bushway was instrumental in guiding that," says Kalenian. "Everybody who competes against us has to freeze their extract product because they haven't discovered coffees' secret antimicrobial properties. Over time, we figured out coffee's secrets as well as how to make our product taste consistently good."

For example all city water (like Portland's) contains chlorine to control the low levels of bacteria making it safe for drinking, but simple city water cannot be bottled without purification.

The catch-22 for X Café was how to be rid of the water's bacteria with out use of chlorine that competes with the coffee extract's flavor. Al Bushway offered his expertise, and also referred Kalenian to scientists at Cornell and other universities.  " Al dispelled a lot of the confusion and anxiety about microbiology and replaced it with a lot of scientific order," Kalenian says. "By the same token, he offered a heavy dose of scare-the-hell-out-of-me facts about microbes that are everywhere and you can't see. I learned there's no such thing as sterile, the vast majority of microbial activity is not harmful and that which is harmful is traceable and avoidable. Bushway also went to bat for us as a processing authority with the FDA."

One of Bushway's suggestions was to install a reverse-osmosis water purification system, which "dramatically improved the taste of the coffee," Kalenian says.

Today, X Café is located in the former First National Food distribution warehouse on Read St in Portland. X Café's state-of-the-art production facility can produce 4,000-plus gallons of liquid coffee extract per 10 hour shift - the equivalent of 2 million cups of coffee – made from the extract of freshly roasted coffee beans and city of Portland water. "What's nice about Portland's water supply from Sebago Lake is that it is so clean compared to other cities," Kalenian says. "Not only is Maine a great place to do business because of UMaine's Al Bushway, but the government has been wonderful to us, actually helping X Café grow our business. Our employees are passionate and hard working. In six years, we have become Maine's largest coffee roaster.

"That's a Maine success story where the University of Maine helped the people of Maine grow a business."


UMaine Today Magazine
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