Barista Mike Raynor adds bright note to customers’ day
At 7:20 a.m. on a foggy summer morning, a dark green Mini Cooper pulls into Rooster Brother. A tall, lean man, clasping a black travel mug, climbs out. A few more cars join his in the parking lot overlooking the Union River.
Several minutes later, Mike Raynor emerges from the lofty, Victorian building, at the foot of Bridge Hill, and plants the store’s “Open” sign as he has for about a decade. The regular customers, seeking their fix of freshly made Sumatra or a custom-brewed cappuccino to jumpstart their day, troop in.
Coffee is mostly Mike’s domain. At Rooster Brother, he grinds coffee beans roasted in-house by staffer Gene Pellerano. Mike, Gene and store co-owner George Elias conduct tastings or “cupping” sessions of Ethiopia’s Yirgacheffe and other newly arrived coffee beans from around the world. He also fills orders for mail-order customers from across the nation.
Mike, though, performs another service not advertised on the store’s espresso drinks menu. His genuine interest and quiet deference to customers make the ground floor a busy place in the early morning. His cheerful demeanor and parting smile send folks off on a bright note.
Barbara Seura of Ellsworth has frequented Rooster Brother for seven years. First, it was the house-roasted coffee beans that lured her. Since then, her Easter candies, toaster oven, coffee pot and French press all have come from under the same roof.
“There’s a good sense of community here, even though it’s flooded with tourists all the time,” the pediatric nurse reflects while Mike prepares an iced café latte for her. “They know the locals, they know who comes in and that’s nice.”
Seura, who works for Home, Hope & Healing, which provides skilled pediatric and adult nursing care throughout Maine, recalls forgetting to bring her purse one time.
“This is the man who said, ‘You can pay me tomorrow,’” the nurse declared. “You probably don’t even remember it.”
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2012, Rooster Brother caters to cooks “and those who love them.” The culinary emporium carries products ranging from kitchen brooms and Le Creuset cookware to McVitie’s Milk Chocolate Digestive Biscuits and Hacienda La Minita coffee.
For Mike and other staffers, selling and brewing coffee has meant a continuing education about what distinguishes the different coffees and how best to prepare and serve them among other things.
Mike, himself, prefers the acidity and snap of medium-roasted beans like those from Hacienda La Minita in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. Shortly after joining the store in 1999, he traveled to La Minita, where he stayed and helped harvest ripe yellow and red coffee cherry.
“It’s good to see where the product you’re selling comes from,” he remarks.
Monsooned Malabar, Mike will tell you, is coffee unique to India’s Malabar Coast and the southern states of Kerala and Karnataka.
“The beans are called Malabar gold,” he explains, noting the beans’ pale gold color. It’s a dark-roasted coffee with a chocolaty bitterness and very low acidity.
Six years ago, Rooster Brother installed its La Marzocco espresso machine, which meant lessons and much practice in the fine art of espresso-making for Mike and the other baristas.
First, ground espresso beans are scooped into the portafilter, the handled component, through which hot water runs, while the espresso is brewing. The shot button is pressed for a second or two to “presoak the coffee and equally saturate it.” After a couple seconds, the button is pushed again to dispense the dark, thick drink.
Wands, located on the sleek machine’s sides, are used to steam and froth milk.
“It adds lightness, airiness and makes it sweeter,” Mike notes.
In the European style, some customers drink a quick shot standing at the counter. Others take their espresso drinks to go. Mike may not know all the people by name, but is well acquainted with many of their orders.
In fact, when he spots certain customers walking across the parking lot, he knows to reach for the decaffeinated coffee for a latte or scoop ground beans for an espresso so the drinks are ready when they walk through the door.
“Haven’t seen a face all morning that I didn’t recognize,” Mike said.
Once the a.m. crowd thins, Raynor takes a moment to check his company emails at the back of the store.
“You thought you were going to sit for a while, didn’t you!” a woman chimes from up front. The voice belongs to Hospice Volunteers of Hancock County Director Jody Wolford-Tucker. She orders her favorite decaffeinated latte.
“Mike’s consistent in making me a perfect coffee every morning,” she related. “Makes any other choice of drink pale in comparison.”