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Shine Coffee's Christiaan Blok on the Perfect Espresso Pull and Coffee Creativity

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You might remember Shine Coffee as an airstream trailer coffee spot outside of farmers markets around town, but since April of last year, the shop has had a brick and mortar location with a detached lounge area located off of Central Avenue just south of Thomas Road. Since then, Christiaan Blok and his wife Laryn have sold the vintage airstream to focus efforts on the coffee stand, its living room, and the park space in between.

While juggling all of that, Blok says his main mission is to ensure his coffee shop serves up a one-of-a-kind experience through unique drinks, smooth espresso, and a variety of roasts.

See Also: Moka: The Closest Thing You'll Get to Espresso at Home for Under $50

Christiaan Blok and his wife started Shine Coffee, combining their love of espresso and airstream trailers, after the recession hit their businesses hard. Layrn worked as a naturopathic doctor while Christiaan worked as a photographer. However, Christiaan began his coffee education growing up in Europe.

He says a lot of Europeans like to look down on the stereotypical American pot of diner coffee with endless top-offs, but he always saw the experience as romantic. Furthermore, he sees the next wave of espresso and coffee culture emanating from the western United States, with roasters like Four Barrel, Intelligentsia, and Stumptown leading the way.

Blok likes to experiment with different local roasters in his shop to get a blend he feels offers a robust, chocolatey, and nutty flavor with undertones of blueberry and even lavender. In the past, Blok has used Cartel coffees, but currently he's using a Press-roasted blend of Ethiopian, Brazilian, and Indonesian coffees.

"I don't want to commit to one particular roaster," he explains "I want to offer my customers a different experience."

Starting off with a good roast is important, but Blok tirelessly ensures his espresso is being pulled properly in the shop. He says the key to this is constant tasting and adjusting on the part of his baristas. Every little detail, from the grinder heating up during rushes to barometric pressure on any particular day, can change the way espresso is brewed. However, Blok says one of the biggest mistakes he sees made is brewing espresso too hot, causing the final product to taste overly bitter and acidic.

Blok uses his smooth espresso base as the start to many of his more culinary-inspired drinks. While most shops offer either standard, unflavored options or over-sweetened and artificial syrupy drinks, Blok is creating drinks like a Mayan-inspired mocha, a roast cognac latte, and cardamom cold brew, using La Bella Terre sugars.

The Mokaya is one of Shine's most popular drinks. The blend of chocolate, cayenne pepper, milk, and espresso might sound like it would be intense, but each flavor is much more subtle than you might expect. It's only lightly sweet with dark chocolate and mild espresso flavors. The cayenne adds a light kick at the end of each sip.

Drinks like the Mokaya pair well with Shine's pastries, baked by nutritionist Theresa Hansen. Both the coffee drinks and the pastries feature creative flavors, like the orange blossom shortbread, and both Blok and Hansen are always working on creating new flavor experiences for Shine customers.

However, in the end, Blok knows a coffee shop is only as good as the experience it provides. While he's constantly tweaking his concept, thinking of new and better ways to draw people into his space and keep them coming back for more, though he admits his coffee stand with the detached lounge is confusing for some people.

While he cites benefits and drawbacks to his current set-up, he's looking forward to making changes in the future that will help customers feel welcome and at home.

"I want to let customers know they can come into the living room," he says. "People can get coffee anywhere, but I want the experience of my coffee shop to make them say that they really want to come here."

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