Monday, May 31, 2004

2 down, 1 to go

and a big sigh of relief that both loaves baked so far -- even the problem loaf -- are edible. surprisingly, the troublesome one that i despaired would ever rise and which stuck to the cloche is actually the best of the two.

the sweet neighbors upstairs got 1/2 a kilo loaf of nicer-looking, very rye-tasting pain de campagne. what surprised me was how moist the loaf was when cut. it had almost a pound cake feeling in that way.

the texture was great -- perfect actually -- all huge giant holes and opalescent starch gels. the bottom crust was perfect, but the top obviously left something to be desired. . .a little thin, altho' crackly enough.

about an hour after the bread was out of the oven, it began to pour, and the bread's crust immediately began to soften. just a damned monsoon, and my poor bread soaking in the humidity. . .

both loaves taste great: light tang, strong whole-wheat flavor. but the rye really stands out; surprising, since i think each loaf has less than 1/2 cup of rye flour. . .

where did i put the rest of that goat cheese? to prevent gluttony, i sliced it all up and froze as much of it as i could while my will power was strong! the remaining loaf gets baked tomorrow night.

posted by fortune | 7:21 PM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

memorial day baking . . .

every memorial day, i remember the most poignant veteran in my family, homer kurtz.

i've written about him before. homer left the family farm in fort scott, kansas, and went over there in the big one.

where, being a relative of mine, naturally, he fell madly and passionately in love with a french mam'zelle. who alas did not return to kansas with him.

still he hoped. "how're ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen gay paree?"

he loved until despair. and then he threw himself out of the hayloft.

thus i consider homer a veteran of 2 wars: wwi and that of the urequited heart. is it clear which actually killed him?

this year my melancholy story is literally leavened by humor, however.

the "thin" loaf, which gave me so much trouble yesterday, did eventually rise about 50% on its own.

ok! so after it rose, i shoved it back in the fridge overnite to retard, woke up this morning, let it come up to room temperature, heated the oven.

i carefully turned it out on the peel, slashed it, and put the cloche bell over it.

(devoted readers may recall how the base of la cloche cracked long ago. since i have a pizza stone, i usually just bake the bread on that.)

popped into the oven and merrily enjoyed the delicious scent of baking bread.

20 minutes passed. time to remove the cloche so the top can brown in the 475 degree f. oven. i open the blazing oven, lift the cloche bell by its handle and. . .

and the loaf comes with it. that's right, the loaf has stuck to the cloche on one edge.

i will not be deterred! i place the cloche on its side on the cooling rack, hold it carefully with my oven mitt, and dementedly attack the stuck side with a butter knife.

the cat wanders into the kitchen to see my going all psycho-shower-scene on the loaf. 2 minutes and moderate crust damage later, i rush the loaf back into the oven to brown for 7 minutes.

when the interior temperature of the loaf reads 200 degrees f., it's done. i take it out. now to let it cool for an hour or two so the interior can develop its full flavor. . .

sure, it looks a little funny but you know, it could still taste terrific! i'm eating this puppy not photographing it, after all. when sliced, the tear on one side won't even be noticeable.

one loaf down, two more to go. 2? attentive readers may be asking. wait! you started out with 2 chefs, that you brought up to 2 full levains!

and right you are. but this second levain, the "thick" levain, grew so vigorously, i divided it into two. one i made up into a loaf last nite, and proofed cool in the fridge overnite.

the other i just retarded in the fridge and made up into a loaf this morning. so i will be baking 2 more loaves today several hours apart.

um, i think i'll leave the cloche out of it. . . but i may post a baking update later today.

what's interesting to note here is temperature: when brewing coffee, the water temperature should generally be between 195-205 degrees f. when baking bread, it's done when its temperature is between. . . 195-205 degrees f.

an interesting co-incidence! speaking of coffee, i think my lunch will be a slice of cracklin' fresh rustic country bread thickly spread with basil and herb-infused soft chèvre and a cup of don schoenholt's gillies famous yrgacheffe.

after this exercise, i think i'm going back to italian slack breads! ciabatta suddenly seems so much easier. . .

posted by fortune | 8:54 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Sunday, May 30, 2004

never can break the chain

i'm not flashing back to the glorious clinton-era (ah! 1993!) for nothing here. . .but merely to point out that once established, few things in life are more reliable than a natural leaven bread starter.

the caveat is that "once established."

the ones i've been working on all week are new. of the 2 i currently am nurturing, it seems like one's alive, and one's not making it.

unfortunately, the one that's dragging is the one that been made into a full dough and is sitting in a floured linen-lined colander for final proof.

this is the so-called "thin" one. it was rising like gangbusters, which might have been its problem.

when i set it in the fridge overnite for that long cool final proof before turning it out on the peel, slashing it, and slapping the bread cloche over it, it was great.

but this morning, it just didn't warm up. it looked a little lifeless. uh-oh: it may have out-grown its environment and consumed itself overnite.

sometimes a sudden halt in rise indicates poor kneading. but this dough got a good 8 minutes with the dough hook.

or it could just be really slow. some naturally leavened breads take an 8-hour proof at room temperature. . . so i'm letting this one enjoy the counter for a few more hours.

if it doesn't revive, then we go to overdrive mode! you see, in bread-making, there are few absolute failure points.

most obstacles can be overcome, which is perhaps why more bakers should adopt ganesh instead of st. pasquale as a patron being. . .in this case, we can rescue this loaf with a little trick the french call bassinage.

of course, it is a departure from purism; it is a pragmatic step.

but that's what's great about baking; it forces you to deal with reality, the situation on the ground.

i've spent a lot of time with this loaf, invested energy and expensive organic flour! i could walk away from it, chalk it up to bad conditions, etc. . .or i could accept the situation and act accordingly.

thus, the bassinage. this term refers to a technique where you gently deflate the dough, flatten it with care, sprinkle water on it, roll it up, knead it and let it rise again as if you had just mixed it.

it's often done for dough that's too stiff, or dries out, or to help develop a dough that will be slack.

in this case, i'd simply mix some commercial yeast into the water, and proceed.

sure, it's not perfection. but a new leaven is new. things like this sometimes happen.

if you're making bread for an occasion, you may really need the loaf, and not have time to start all over again. bassinage can be a lifesaver then.

i'm not in this situation. but i'll probably do it anyway and bake both loaves tomorrow morning or early afternoon.

the so-called "thick" levain has grown much more slowly than the "thin" did; but so far it appears more reliable.

more results tomorrow. what's clear is that i will be pinching off about 1/2 cup of dough to reserve in the fridge as a new base for next week's chef.

with care, this saved "old dough" will provide a reliable starter as long as i keep up with it. bits of chef like this only get nicer the longer you run with them.

they're good in the fridge for 4 or 5 days in a good tupperware. they certainly make baking once a week much easier!

note to self: henceforth, maintain chef!

of course today i still need to make pizza, pizza sauce, and arrive at yoga for my usual 5p.m. class.

so it's a yogic moment -- i just have to say, i've done what i can, here's what i will do at the right time in the future, and now, i have to be calm and one-pointedly focus on the things currently before me. ganesh can take care of the rest!

this is a great technique, and probably why so many people with serious meditation practices have taken up baking. . .

posted by fortune | 8:25 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Saturday, May 29, 2004

science run amok

so let's pick up from yesterday, hmm?

i awoke this morning with 2 chefs, or the starter bases for making the traditional french country bread, pain au levain -- one thin, which i had already begun to build ("refreshed" as the french say) towards the full levain, and one thick, which i hadn't refreshed.

obviously, i should continue with the refreshed one and just toss the other. but nope, not me.

out of some strange sense of curiousity, i refreshed 'em both to see what the difference will be, if any, in a finished loaf.

my guess is that the "unrefreshed" one made from the thick chef will be much more tangy, almost sour.

anyway, towards this end, i added to both:

  • 4 oz. volvic water
  • 3 oz. white whole-wheat flour
  • 5 oz. first clear flour

by my calculations, the "thin" batch is just about 65% hydration, while the "thick" batch is about 67%.

i prefer the bread to be between 66-68% hydrated, so i'll be adding a touch more water during the following stages to bring both up them up to 68%.

a well-hydrated loaf rises better, is easier to handle, and usually bakes up lighter. since these country breads have both whole-wheat and rye in them -- making 'em technically more pain de campagne rustique than pain au levain maybe if we wanted to be prissy about it -- we want to do everthing we can to get a lighter loaf.

no dense whole-wheat bricks here, thank you very much.

the wiggle in this situation is that the weather is a tad cool, just 68 degrees f. today. thus the once-chef-future-levain will be rising quite slowly.

i mean, like 10 hours until it doubles, probably. but in this case, that's a good thing. the wild yeasties and their all-good symbiotic pals i've been herding / growing / breeding make better-tasting bread in a slower, cooler rise.

10 hours seems like a long while, but hey, i began this adventure last monday so i'm not in any hurry. you really can't hurry this bread anyway.

however, long-time readers are aware that sunday here at bccy is the sacred pizza day.

how will i manage 2 one-kilo loaves and 2 14-inch pizzas at the same time in my bklyn apartment kitchen?

those who have seen my vintage magic chef oven (not much larger than a deluxe ez-bake, compared to the monster stainless steel models everyone has nowadays) know this will be a deeply strategic question. . .

umm, i'm still thinking that one thru. if worse comes to worse, i'll simply pop one levain into the fridge for a day. that allows me to put off making it into dough and baking it until monday.

this obviously doesn't solve all of my problems, however. 2 kilos of bread is alot for my house, even tho' we all remember that bread freezes quite well.

the entire planet knows my freezer is always filled with delicious fresh coffee. this week, gillies yrgacheffe occupies just about every bit of it.

i love that winey, floral, lemon-caramel-candy coffee! thus the second loaf will probably go to the sweet people in apartment 7C!

unless it turns out, you know, whack.

posted by fortune | 12:07 PM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Friday, May 28, 2004

how to stay alive

"they don't come here because we are the only coffee shop in downtown bloomington, but because we smile and we take the time to get to know them. it's more than just a coffee shop."

and this is how the coffee hound will survive the mermaid's arrival -- with great customer service, high-quality coffee, careful beverage presentation, and a welcoming atmosphere. this article outlines the attitude independent retailers need to nourish if they intend to stave off the chains.

because they do intend to open a shop with larger signage on every corner, sweetheart; preferably upstream of your foot-traffic so they can siphon it all off. . .

speaking of survival, the thinner, pancake-batter-type chef i started yesterday is most definitely alive! i awoke this morning to find it all frothy on top.

those little yeasties are hungry critters, so i spooned out 2 tablespoons of them into a new, clean glass bowl, and added:

  • 5 oz. volvic water
  • 2.5 oz. white whole-wheat flour

2 tablespoons of yeasties is enough to get this levain started strong, while leaving most of the lactic acid and alcohol in the original chef behind.

reducing the acid and alcohol load like this not only makes a more friendly environment for the yeasties as they continue to grow, but also makes a less sour-tasting bread. i'm after the light tang of rustic french country bread here; not the intense san francisco sourdough experience!

on the chocolate front, i ran up to dean & deluca yesterday with my colleagues who wanted to pick up some paté for lunch. so i bought some chocolate.

everytime i buy chocolate there, i always swear i'll never do it again. and it was no different this time; when will i learn?

they take miserable care of the chocolate at dean & deluca. every bar i've ever opened there showed ugly, ugly bloom.

in coffee, we want bloom, but in chocolate bloom refers to that nasty whitish cast on the bar as the cocoa butter rises to the surface, separating out of the candy. it's a clear sign of bad storage and handling.

but i was tempted to try some spanish blanxart 62% dark chocolate with almonds, as well as the unusual sicilian antica dolceria bonajuto.

the bonajuto isn't an eating chocolate, to my mind. i think it's best used for making hot and cold chocolate drinks, because it contains large, crunchy, grainy sugar crystals. . .

i bought both the vanilla and cinnamon bars: i think i'll use it somehow in a summer frozen hot chocolate thing. just melt these bars into the cream and go from there!

i have to say i can't recommend the blanxart at all. strange gooey texture and a stale taste; but that could be a storage or age issue in this case.

posted by fortune | 11:27 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Thursday, May 27, 2004

this space for you, robert nelson!

recently i ran across a white paper on the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis from liberal economist and consultant james s. henry, perhaps best known as a friend of sen. bill bradley.

despite its obvious perspective, i found it unusually interesting, so i shipped the link off to scaa chief ted lingle to see what he thought. regular bccy readers have been downloading lingle's coffee whitepaper for a while now.

ted wrote me some interesting emails that just have to be reprinted in full. no amount of comment or explanation could reduplicate ted's unique tone and point of view. the notes and links i've added are mine, to help readers newer to the issue:

"Dear Fortune:

Thanks - I had not seen this particular white paper. Henry's got it about right! The only points he missed are: 1) Starbucks is not purchasing [note: robusta] coffee from Vietnam, so it is a bit unfair to link them with Nestle, Kraft, Sara Lee, P&G [note: the so-called "big four" multi-national coffee roasters responsible for the stuff in the supermarket cans] and Tchibo who are; and 2) Vietnamese quality is so bad that the Europeans actually steam clean it before roasting ~ the American firms probably consider their customers' taste buds as dead, so this step is unnecessary for them.

I do agree with his conclusions that World Bank interference in the coffee market through large loans was the real source of the coffee crisis. If Vietnam had been required to expand its coffee production through its coffee earnings (the free market model), we would have a much different supply/demand balance in coffee today.



naturally that "probably consider their taste buds as dead" comment had me laughing my casadei mules off. when i wrote ted to ask if i could quote this, he replied:

"Dear Fortune:

Yes, you can use my comments. Perhaps you can also get a quote from Robert Nelson [note: chief of the nca, the trade group for the "big four"] on why the Europeans feel a need to steam clean the Vietnamese Robustas while the U.S. trade does not.

Good luck,


and i'm taking ted's advice: robert nelson, this space is yours. please explain why your members do not clean the robusta they are using in their mass-market blends, household brand names known to people everywhere, famous marques americans rely on for what they believe should be quality and purity.

please rest assured i will print your reply in full without comment. coffee lovers everywhere await your reply!

but before we leave the wonderful world of lingle, he also commented on the recent action of the u.s.a. to re-join the i.c.o. since ted was actually at that meeting himself, his perspective is helpful:

"Dear Fortune:

While the ICO Resolution on Coffee Purity remained 'in play,' the original implementing language (but not standards) was modified to accommodate US interests [note: think "big four"]. Here is the photo that depicts the difference between specialty, ICO and US coffee standards. The message for consumers: 'Buy [note: whole] beans.'



we couldn't say it better ourselves. . .

if i were the type who believed in re-incarnation, last night's results with my chef (the starter for the pain au levain) i began on monday would have cheered my heart.

i returned home from corporate bowling to discover my bubbling chef completely covered in graceful, delicate, long-haired mold, as if a silvery-white persian cat had poked its nose under the plastic wrap.

uh-oh. someone's karma got worked out here. . .

the yeasties had lost their darwinian struggle to the beasties. the truly brave would have scraped off the mold and gone on with the starter, convinced that in the next go-round the yeasties would in fact create enough alcohol and lactic acid to fend off such predators.

and actually this assumption is often correct. metabolizing the starch in the flour is difficult to do and not many critters can manage it successfully for long. (note to dougie: wait! are we talking about your atkins thing again here?)

i don't generally plunge bravely on, however; i just began again. obviously i hadn't caught enough yeasties. or perhaps conditions were too damp, too favorable to the beasties.

thus i tossed that batch and started again -- but with a difference. i made 2 chefs this morning, of slightly different compositions. one was more like pancake batter:

  • 1 oz. organic rye flour
  • 1 oz. white whole-wheat flour
  • 4 oz. volvic water

beat this well, cover with plastic wrap and begin the experience. the second was stiff and rather dry:

  • 1 oz. organic rye flour
  • 1.75 oz. white whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 oz. volvic water

the idea here is that if conditions were too damp for the yeasties, they might thrive in the drier chef. on the other hand, if the chef is quite wet, the mold sometimes has trouble settling in, while the yeasties can still do well in this type of situation.

results will be probably not be available until friday. please stay tuned.

posted by fortune | 6:26 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

herding or agriculture?

with this unusual weather we are having, i realized on monday that conditions were perfect for starting a natural levain. so i did!

this is either herding or agriculture, i'm not sure which. i suppose it depends on whether you feel as if you are "capturing" the free wild yeasties from the environment and "corralling" them in the starter, or whether you are patiently "growing" them in the happy-warm-moist conditions they prefer.

as always:

just mix this into a soft dough with your hands, drape with a damp paper towel, cover that with a bit of plastic wrap, and secure with a rubber band.

pop that puppy into a comfy, draft-free place, like the middle shelf of your oven. moisten the towel a couple of times a day.

depending on the weather, you'll see bubbly activity in 36-72 hours. it's alive!

while i wait for the yeasties to survive the darwinian struggle in all that flour (i mean, this is new york we're discussing -- there's gotta be a lot of wacky tough beasties fighting for existence in there until the yeasties overwhelm them all with lactic acid, the stuff that adds the delicious tang to breads like this), i decided to take my own life in my hands.

by repeating yesterday's blooming harrar and vac pot setup, but this time i left the lid on! good girl. great coffee. . .

finally, phrase of the day: touchy-feely flapdoodle. hilarious. as usual with these stories, the editors should just headline it: author gets judgemental butt thoroughly kicked.

posted by fortune | 6:55 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

over bloom, or i surprise myself

you know i often worry that complicated posts like yesterday's on the i.c.o. may confuse coffee lovers who are just looking for a really great ethiopian to brew up at home.

but i really have to stop underestimating you, dear readers. that post, whose topic at first seems so removed from our daily cup, actually received more views than any other this entire month: my urchin sez nearly 2,500 hits, plus about another 1,200 calls to the post in its plain-text, syndicated rss format.

i also need to thank scaa chief ted lingle for the standards pic i posted yesterday. whenever i need a document to support or explain what's going on, he always comes through, which tells you why i basically sleep with the coffee cupper's handbook under my pillow. . .

speaking of that ethiopian, i was given some fresh harrar from batdorf. looking to enhance its subtle flavors, i awoke this morning to make it in the vac pot.

vac pots work best when making a full -- or at least 2/3s full -- pot, so i filled the base of the bodum santos with a liter (about 33 oz.) of water and set it to boil. as i ground the coffee, it just smelled heavenly.

i weighed out 55 grams (about 1.9 oz., call it 2 for those with less accurate scales at home) of harrar in the top globe. when the water was boiling furiously, i turned the flame down low, and popped the top globe into the base.

the usual vac pot drama -- the water rises from the base to the top globe with a glorious turbulent foam. but i saw a small patch of coffee that wasn't quite wet along one side of the glass.

i took the lid off, picked up my wooden chopstick to stir, when boom! fresh coffee did its thing.

fresh coffee has a delightful bloom, and the batdorf was so very fresh it overflowed the top globe in a thick puffy stream. imagine a fabulous blueberry-scented coffee bath of bubbles. oops.

i snatched the pot from the flame and set it on a trivet. naturally the coffee began its descent back to the bottom globe.

too fast! aargh! but fortunately for me the coffee stalled. i let it hang there for about 3 minutes to get some brew time, placed it briefy back on a low flame to get it flowing again and wa-llah!

perhaps not ideal, but still delicious harrar. completely worth the hassle. . .

note to self: bloom. fresh coffee blooms. very fresh coffee blooms very!

(p.s.: of course, none of this is news to us scaa consumer members; dr. joe square dance pretty much covered it all in our recent member e-newsletter.

become a c-member yourself and get cool coffee health and brewing info months ahead of everyone else!)

posted by fortune | 7:09 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Monday, May 24, 2004

yes! after all this time. . .

long-time readers have patiently endured my rants on the importance of the u.s.a. re-joining the i.c.o. as one step towards ending the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis.

and last week, we did. what was the reason given?

to prevent the growing influence of the narco-economy in latin america. devoted readers may recall that i've been talking about this subject for literally years (and here).

and despite the article written by one of my dearest, dearest coffee friends in tea and coffee recently, this move shows my concern is valid.

readers with elephantine memories will also recall that part of the reason i was so interested in this subject was that with re-joining the i.c.o., the u.s.a. would also improve the import standard for what could be called pure coffee.

that is, the u.s. would supposedly adopt new rules on coffee purity, rules barring the import and sale of low-quality, trash coffee in this country without changing the labelling to say "coffee-by-products."

everyone wants to drink higher-quality, better coffee, don't they? no one wants to drink mere "coffee-by-products."

alas the powers-that-be (i think this means you, robert nelson and the so-called "big four," those multi-nationals responsible for the stuff in the supermarket cans: sara lee, nestle, kraft, p&g!) appear to have vitiated this requirement. and the government pled that it lacked the manpower to enforce stricter standards at this time.

what does this mean for consumers, for the average coffee lover? unfortunately, it means the american consumer is stuck with the current unsatisfactory import quality standard.

a standard that allows way too many blackened, moldy, bug-chewed, defective beans to end up in the coffee americans drink! the present standard allows a whopping 610 of these defects in a sample of green unroasted beans; the proposed i.c.o standard would have reduced this to 86.

to my mind, that was still too many, as this word document shows (less than a 120 second download on 56k). the scaa advocates only 5 such uglies in a batch.

it means that the best way to ensure you are drinking only high-quality coffee -- no junk coffee, no moldy coffee with "insect parts," or coffee-by-products -- is to buy fresh, whole beans from your local independent specialty roaster/retailer, coffeehouse, or bean store and grind them yourself in your own home.

despite this major compromise, re-joining will remain an important, useful step towards alleviating the poverty and suffering of 125 million human beings -- about 25 million families -- in 50 countries around the world. and that's the good news!

posted by fortune | 12:22 PM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Sunday, May 23, 2004

survey sez

107 million adults in the u.s.a. drink coffee every day -- this is probably oh, what about 50-55% ? of all those over 18 -- of whom 29 million drink "gourmet" beverages, by which i assume this study means cappuccino and flavored lattes.

we know from previous surveys that teens and students in the u.s.a. also drink coffee; a little over 1 in 4 teen girls has a vanilla latte every day.

"consumers seem to want more than 'just a cup of coffee,' " the report says. duh! i certainly don't want the standard "cup" of supermarket canned yuck.

i find market studies like this interesting, but also obtuse. the firm responsible for above survey, mintel, divides the u.s. market into 3 groups:

  1. lazy lattes -- those who always drink coffee out
  2. java snobs -- afflulent and well-educated "to-go" drinkers from whom quality is paramount
  3. caffeinated cultured -- middle-income singletons who go hang out at the local coffeehouse for the ambiance and of course to bump into other available singletons

nowhere in this group do i find anyone i myself know. hello, marketeers?? what about us quality-lovin' coffee drinkers who adore the coffee we make ourselves in our own charming kitchens?

despite the fact that ken davids' books on making and roasting coffee at home sell pretty well (25,000 isn't a bad sales rank at all for what at first seems like a narrow niche category), these researchers insist on the decline of home consumption. of course to some extent home consumption of nearly all things -- except perhaps video games and internet porn -- is in decline, as people stop making meals at home.

surprising as it may seem, many americans view coffee-making as "cooking." also we have to face the total decline of the family breakfast.

everyone alive has realized this fact: almost no 2 people in any household are at home at the same time in morning and/or have the ability to eat together. this is why all the appliance manufacturers have lately come out with new "1-cup" brewing devices.

instead of mother brewing up a pot of coffee, the various age groups at home are going to sequentially wander into the kitchen and make their own cup at different times. (except for teens/students and rushing moms, who are going to stop by a chain coffeehouse on the way to school or work.)

but the point is all these companies like melitta and keurig wouldn't be peddling these 1-cuppers if they didn't understand that people still want to drink coffee at home; they just don't need 8, 10, or 12 cups at a time any more.

right now, people want to drink a little less, but much higher-quality, fresher coffee. (altho', i contend, if the taste and quality of decaf continues to improve, many people will be tempted to have an extra cup, thus increasing consumption!)

that people are willing to pay more for improved coffee is clear by the fact that americans have so far accepted the very high price -- from US$0.27 to US$0.56 per cup -- of the pods and capsules these new machines require.

these surveys all remark that specialty coffee is only a part of the market now. small, but vociferous and growing! we become more mainstream every day, as we educate people to the fact that fresh, specialty coffee is fabulous stuff, that it can be appreciated as a fine beverage, and that there are so many kinds of coffee nearly anyone can discover an origin or espresso blend that appeals to them.

in europe, more than 80% of the population in germany, france, spain and the u.k. are coffee lovers, studies suggest. to my surprise, of this group, the germans drink the most/spend the most on coffee, although there has recently been a small decline in german consumption, compared to past years.

i would have thought surely the italians drank the most! but consumption in italy appears to be on the rise slightly, as it in in france, spain, and the u.k. altho' alas the british seem to be drinking more instant or "soluble" stuff. . .the idea of "super-premium" instant causes me confusion, i must confess!

it's generally accepted that of all europeans, the finnish drink the most coffee per capita.

a survey i would love to see is one supporting the trend long-time readers have seen me document from newspapers and business travelers: the rise of coffee in asia, in places like taiwan, india, singapore, and malaysia. there is apparently the beginning of a coffee boomlet in eastern europe and russia as well.

australia and new zealand are in the midst of an intense coffee renaissance, as is scandanavia generally. this can be seen from the entrants and winners of the world barista championship. these baristas wouldn't be competing if there wasn't the customer base to support the development of a high-level coffee cuisine.

posted by fortune | 12:23 PM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Saturday, May 22, 2004

wanted: the real russian coffee cake

i've spent weeks now off and on searching everywhere for a recipe for the real russian coffee cake.

this is a yeast-raised, sour-cream object with spirit-macerated dried fruit and almonds, possibly walnuts as well. it appears native only to a small area of the upper west side of manhattan, west of broadway, between 72nd and 80th st.

oh, i've seen lots of fake recipes. as far as i can tell, the real russian coffee cake resides at only 3 locations: the royale kosher bakery, sometimes at fairway, and on occasion at zabar's.

i believe the authentic recipe's soul comes from that base of sour cream, boiling honey, and possibly the use of tea as part of the liquid, along with light cream. a little bird suggests that don schoenholt of gillies may have once also been a purveyor of this delight.

speaking of soul and coffee, i've been thinking about this piece, exact and particular, at left this is an audio post - click to play a lot recently, by edwin denby. i'm thinking that, along with frank o'hara and ted berrigan, he remains an absolute best descriptor of the emotional new york.

oh you gloomy, prissy e.b. white, eat your heart out. not that denby, as the piece here shows, can't be sad, but like whitman he loves the average people of new york, i think, much more than white.

certainly denby has a better understanding of the city's essential cadences. . .

what i need is to bake the perfect russian coffee cake, brew up some of gillies' yrg, and try to understand why the compression of these modern sonnets are so effectively, perfectively, noo yawk.

if you have that coffee cake recipe, send it to me please!

posted by fortune | 11:37 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Friday, May 21, 2004

useful coffee tasting glossary

devoted readers know i often discuss and describe coffee as a fine beverage, using the linglese terminology and the jean le noir nez du café.

so i was happy today to see a nice glossary -- a little more accurate, i think, -- than many you see on the 'net -- and i'm just gonna quote some of it right here, right now for future reference:

  • Bitter: Refers to the basic taste sensation perceived primarily at the back of the tongue.
    (note: as in dark chocolate and stout, bitter in coffee should be a light, pleasing kind of bitterness. a nasty, gagging kind of bitterness is a flavor fault, and actually there are several perjorative terms used to describe bad bitterness in coffee. good bitter in coffee usually can be attributed to a darker roast.)
  • Bright: A coffee that has a tangy acidity is often described as "bright."
  • Buttery: A smooth, rich flavor and texture, found in some Indonesian coffees
    (note: this is a term describing body/mouthfeel, meaning the brew has a lot of delicious caffeol and natural oils. i'd say this term is more likely to describe espresso. you might also hear terms like heavy, thick, creamy or syrupy. heavy, thick, and syrupy can describe non-espresso coffees, to my mind, although certainly great espresso is syrupy like gravy or even motor oil. bean fibers and sediment also can contribute to body).
  • Clean: A characteristic of high-quality coffees that have a distinct taste, as opposed to muddied impressions of flavor.
    (note: most commonly used to mean defect-free or low-defect coffee. a clean cup as opposed to a dirty cup.)
  • Crisp: A clean coffee with bright acidity can be described as crisp.
    (note: there's sort of a range here, from brisk, to nippy to crisp to snappy to piquant. . .some informal order, having to do with the way the natural properties of the coffee interact to heighten this sensation. remember, these terms are aiming to describe the feelings we receive from compounds that actually exist in the coffee; it's not a rorschach test.)
  • Earthy: Refers to the herbal-musty-mushroom range of flavors characteristic of Indonesian coffees.
    (note: this often derives from the fact that some coffee is actually dried on the ground; the natural fats in the coffee absorb a little flavor from the soil. a touch of this is acceptable in some coffees, but too much and the coffee is deemed "groundy" or "dirty," which is definitely an all-bad flavor taint. usually "earthy" is felt in the aftertaste, but sometimes appears in the aroma as well.)
  • Fruity: Coffees that have a berry or tropical fruit-like flavor or aroma are referred to as being fruity. Kenya, Ethiopia Harrar, and Ethiopia Sidamo are a few examples.
    (note: these flavors are wide-ranging, and can include feelings of lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, apple, apricot, blueberry, and raspberry. usually this is sensed towards the front of the bouquet. see here for my super-post on the parts of the coffee bouquet.)
  • Mouthfeel: The sensation or weight you feel inside your mouth when tasting coffee
    (note: a.k.a. "body").
  • Nutty: An aroma or flavor that is reminiscent of nuts. Colombia and Mexico are examples of nutty coffees.
    (note: well, i don't quite agree with this, since roast color has a lot to do with this quality as well, imvho! the compounds creating the feeling have to be in the beans, of course, but this feeling could be highlighted or buried by the roast level.)
  • Soft: Low-acid (note: a.k.a. "low-brightness"), mild-flavored coffees are referred to as soft.
  • Smooth: A coffee that has no edges and leaves a pleasant mouthfeel.
    (note: this term describes the body of a coffee with a medium or moderate amount of coffee oils. compare to buttery.)
  • Spicy: An aroma or flavor reminiscent of a particular spice. Aged coffees are often called spicy.
    (note: the "sweetly spicy" sensations in coffee are usually perceived in the fragrance of the dry grounds and are often referrd to as "cardamom," "caraway," "anise", "sweet basil," etc. while the "woody spicy" feelings usually develop later on the coffee and tend to include "clove," "cinnamon," "allspice," "mace," "nutmeg." again, i think roast level has a lot to do with this: in that while the spicy-feeling components have to be in the coffee, the roast level can help bring this out, or can obscure it. woody spicy feelings are often towards the back of the coffee's bouquet.)
  • Sparkling: This term describes a coffee with a bright acidity that dances on your tongue before it quickly dissipates.
  • Stale: Coffee exposed to oxygen for extended periods of time loses acidity and becomes flat and cardboard-tasting. This is the taste of stale.
    (note: any coffee poorly stored will stale from attack by environmental factors such as light, heat, humidity, and plain old age. pre-ground coffee stales within an hour, if not minutes, which is why you should always buy whole-bean coffees and grind just before brewing. most coffee is "fresh" for only a short time, maybe 14 days, unless technologies like nitrogen-flushing and special packaging are used to help extend freshness. but even these technologies, to my mind, preserve a coffee's life span only a few days/weeks, no matter what the expiration date on the supermarket coffee says!)
  • Sweet: Sweet is a positive coffee description that is associated with a pleasant flavor and mouthfeel.
    (note: i mostly disagree with this. sweet is a basic taste, and coffees judged sweet usually have a certain kind of amino acids present in them. how other compounds -- such as natural mineral salts, etc. -- combine with these determines whether we judge the coffee mellow or bright, a.k.a. "acidy." see the scaa flavor wheel for categories of sweet and acidy. sweet in coffee is generally a feeling of sweetness similar to that sweet sensation you get when you chew a cracker slowly for a long time.)
  • Syrupy: A thick coffee with a lot of body that leaves a lingering aftertaste.
    (note: i personally don't think syrupy necessarily includes an aftertaste perception, per se.)
  • Tangy: A lingering acidity is often described as tangy.
    (note: in the great linglese, tangy is a subcategory of winey, where the winey-feeling compounds have combined with sweeter-feeling ones to modify the basic winey sensation.)
  • Wild: Exotic flavors with extreme characteristics are described as wild. There is good wild - bursting blueberry in an ethiopian say - and bad wild. Don't confuse the two, except of course, the term's confusing! Welcome to the antique charm of coffee vocabulary.
    (note: see my previous post on this term.)
  • Winey: A taste similar to that of red wine or having a fruit quality is called winey.
    (note: ethiopian coffees like djimma, sidamo, or yrg are often examples of winey.)

you can see the full story for yourself here.

posted by fortune | 9:53 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Thursday, May 20, 2004

rainforest alliance gala

and today i owe a huge, huge thank you very much! to rothfos for inviting me to the annual stunning rainforest alliance event. they are wonderful supporters of the scaa consumer member program.

by the time my coach turned into a pumpkin, the gala had already raised nearly a million u.s. dollars, and i'm sure once the auction got underway, much more went to support the cause.

i was so fortunate to see many of bccy's long-time coffee pals and scaa members: karen gordon of coffeeholding, women in coffee, and cup for education; roaster's guild guy spencer turer, where he will bring specialty to the convenience store landscape in short order i'm sure; lindsey bolger of green mountain; former scaa prez steve colten and many folks from atlantic; and of course r.a.'s own marketing director, sabrina vigilante herself.

i also was privileged to meet some new coffee people: allen byrd from tembec, who apparently make most of the coffee filters on the planet; john demuria from volcafe; and both the charming president barbara roth and c.f.o. paul lawer of 8 o'clock.

paul was very interesting; he's new to the coffee industry, and so we talked alot about coffee history, specialty coffee, espresso, the importance of cupping, and how to increase coffee consumption.

i'm afraid he pronounced me "terrifying." but as someone new to coffee, and unfamiliar with specialty, he was perhaps taken aback by the passion inherent in all scaa people. i hope i politely disabused him of the notion that consumers "don't care" about coffee.

maybe that statement from the day before yesterday should be tattooed around the ankles of coffee executives too. . .on the other hand, i was heartened to hear that he is the proud owner of a saeco superauto!

he too is a coffee lover. like all of us, he is ready to begin the journey towards the premium coffee experience, to truly learn how to appreciate our favorite brew as a fine beverage!

ah! the highlight from the event: clearly, the aerialist (and another here). she was beautiful, elegant, eloquent, and amazing.

dressed in white and silver, with her slender white ribbons suspending her in space, it seemed to me her piece described freedom and longing. . .

posted by fortune | 8:50 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

new look & wily e. coffee

i'm no christian dior, but welcome to the new look of bccy. we're taking another step here towards modernity: xhtml, css, web standards, and valid code.

web hacks are for, well -- web hacks.

lemme note:

  • comments will be down for a day or two while i get the comment code up to xhtml compliance;
  • the advanced search page will then match the rest of the new design;
  • still tweaking the link styles -- this idea that the visited links should be larger, not just a different color, was suggested to me, but i'm not sure i'm liking it;
  • a small style tweak to my images is also needed for full xhtml compliance;
  • have finally abandoned old browsers, as well as those that represent less than 3% of my audience. sorry. i used the code in the old design for about a year (thanks, al sparber!) to support several older browsers, but now the time has come to say "farewell, netscape 4.79!"
  • please note i haven't fully tested this site on macintosh internet explorer versions. more tweaks may come from that experience.

otherwise i feel like i'm almost good to go here.

responses to the new design so far have been mixed: one person really likes the look; others have deemed it "too new age-y." one diplomatic soul said politely, "i hate to be a stick-in-the-mud, but. . ."

please email me over the next few days to register your feeling. if everyone truly despises this new design, i'm open to going back.

usability arguments will help bolster your opinions on this, no doubt (hint)! i don't think the present design weighs 8 pounds, or offends feminist sensibilities. . .

(note: as a post-feminist myself, those who know me are well aware i still derive great joy from referring to my friends as "skirts" or "twists." if i really admire you, i'll call you a "tomato." please accept this all in the humorous spirit in which it is intended.)

and while everyone knows i won't be a part of any revolution where you can't dance (no, not that one; this one!) or eat chocolate, on a more serious note:

"in the morning mist, peruvian farmers come down from the mountains on horseback to sell their coffee beans to local intermediary buyers, willing to take whatever price they are offered."

these "intermediary buyers" are often the local lyin', cheatin' coyotes, the bane of many a struggling coffee farmer's existence. but in remote rural areas with little transport and bad roads, uneducated farmers are reduced to dealing with these coercive hoodlums.

as if the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis wasn't bad enough, the corruption and intimidation many of these coyotes employ towards coffee farmers should be a crime.

as an article today states, not only do the "intermediate buyers" rip off the farmers, but they ruin the quality of the coffee by carelessly mixing bad beans with good. now however, some farmers are organizing, trying to fight back. . .

posted by fortune | 8:42 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

not to be simplistic. . .

but it appears that coffee may prevent liver disease, while soft drinks may encourage throat cancer, according to two new studies.

"the study found an inverse correlation between coffee. . .and liver injury," we learn today.

apparently drinking too much soda may increase the chance of acid reflux disease, which may lead to throat and esophagal cancer. while no doctor, i personally suspect all those groovy anti-oxidants in coffee are what prevent liver damage, not the caffeine itself.

"you have to be passionate about the product."

everyone considering opening a coffeehouse should have this tattoed around their ankle, to my mind.

i also had a great bit of correspondence with a bccy reader on compass pose (surya yantrasana, actually "sundial pose"). it's one of my favorites, even tho' i don't personally have that leg behind the shoulder completely straight yet. . .

posted by fortune | 9:06 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Monday, May 17, 2004

eternity & a fish tail

"oxfam plans to set up 20 commercial espresso bars within three years in a partnership with disadvantaged coffee growers under the brand name progreso."

since matthew algie has proven itself a pal of bccy, we certainly hope this plan to open a chain of coffeehouses works! however, they will find the mermaid a tough-as-scales competitor.

as one local independent roaster/retailer who is successfully holding that diadem of stars at bay remarks: while the fish-babe looks sweet, she's nimble, wily, determined, and well-financed -- "insidious," was in fact the word. . .

our friends at matthew algie have to be prepared with a top-notch business strategy if they want to avoid being slapped by both sides of her tail!

recently i've been sampling these belgian new tree chocolate bars. they are advertising themselves as so-called "functional" bars, with herbal ingredients aimed to have physical or mood-altering properties.

i've tried both the milk chocolate lavender-and-lime-flower "relax" and the 73% dark chocolate black-currant "eternity" or "youth" bars.

the milk chocolate bar was creamy, had a good finish and nice snap; i actually rather enjoyed the flavor, but it soon became monotonous. the chocolate isn't the best quality, but it may be slightly better than lindt.

i actually lived on the eternity bar all weekend during the recent scaa coffee conference in atlanta. so maybe there's something to it. again, pleasant but dull after a square or two. . .

posted by fortune | 9:03 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Sunday, May 16, 2004

40 is the new 20. . .

. . .proclaims the fashion magazine on the moderne glass coffee table at the eyebrow artist's salon.

"grace kelly-look-a-like leaves harrison-ford-double for jabba-the-hut's doppelganger!" screams a tabloid on the subway.

meanwhile i serenely absorb scaa chief ted lingle's
basics of brewing coffee, all the while wishing i actually had the full-blown handbook.

what's caught my eye today specifically is table 7, which shows how the brewing water's temperature affects coffee sweetness.

that's right: coffee, like most fruits, naturally contains yummy sugars. it also contains some bitter compounds, like caffeine and chlorogenic acid.

(long-time readers may recall that scientists suspect chlorogenic acid to be one of the main healthy anti-oxidants in coffee. . .)

what's fascinating is that the correct water temperature when brewing coffee will bring out more of coffee's natural sugar sweetness and less of the bitter agents!

for those of us who make a lot of coffee in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press), this is vital information. with the same grind and 5-min. steep time, 200 degree f. (94 degree c) water will "wash out" up to 50% more natural sugars than brewing with too cold water (in the table, the too cold sample was 160 degrees f., about 70 degrees c.)!

bccy regulars know i usually brew with 198 degree f. water. but i'm going to try to pre-heat my bodum a little longer to bump the temperature up that extra bit.

let me note that dark-roast beans, say, french or italian, might be a little better off with water at 195 degrees f. (about 91 degrees c.), due to the chemical changes in the coffee caused by the longer roast time.

you french-press coffee lovers might feel a tad odd wielding your instant-read kitchen thermometer while making coffee, but! but!

we have the scientific information to prove that it's worth it and does make a difference. . . your coffee will taste better!

it's ultra-warm today, so i brewed up the remainder of k.'s famous sidamo and froze it into java ice cubes. i'll be having iced coffee with sidamo cubes all june!

that left me with a just a touch of oren's tremendous coffee. why waste it?

i made it into an americano, which i sipped while nibbling a bit of dagoba's new moon 74% chocolate bar. look, i could be doing far worse!

next week i'll be going back to don schoenholt's gillies storied yrg. . .no need to pity me at all.

posted by fortune | 10:53 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Saturday, May 15, 2004

satsang & sidamo

i received an uplifting email today:

"I am writing because I feel pretty inspired by the Yoga Sutras Discussion Group that happened lasted night. We started by talking about the original context of an oral tradition and how there is a certain amount of the philosophy of Yoga contained in the process of transmission from teacher to student

This is the result of the process of learning to chant the Sutras. A great deal of focused concentration is necessary to accurately listen and attempt to reproduce the sound from the teacher exactly how you have heard it

Subtleties in pronunciation like the length of a vowel or the place in the palate where a sound is produced make all the difference, but you must be attentive to be able to hear the sound that is actually being produced rather than relying your idea of how a word is supposed to be pronounced based on past experience

After a brief discussion that included a little background about the Yoga Sutras and some theories about the origins of Yoga we decided that we were at a point in the process that we have been working on in the Sutra Discussion Groups where it would be beneficial to go back to the beginning of the text. We did this and chanted the first four Sutras

We went through the process of learning and coming to be able to chant each Sutra through a process resembling and based on the way this text was traditionally transmitted from teacher to student. Then we had a discussion which lasted over two hours where we went into great detail about the meaning and the possible implications of these first four Sutras. "

you can be there too! what: Yoga Sutras and Yoga Philosophy Discussion and Study Group; who: Andy Sugerman and Carl Horowitz; when: Friday June 18th 8:00PM; where: The Breathing Project 15 West 26th Street 10th Floor, Just west of Broadway; cost: the event is Free but donations will be accepted.

for more information: upsidedowncarl or 917-301-1616.

everyone who knows me undertstands i hold promises fairly sacred. i work hard to keep them 130%!

so i spent the morning keeping my promise: to vac pot up k's ethiopian sidamo. again, i remain completely amazed at how a different brewing method highlights new aspects of a coffee.

vac pots generally bring out the delicate aromatic nuances of a coffee; however, they do tend to lighten the body a tad. and today was no exception.

one sniff in the cup discovered a wonderful berry fragrance somewhere between raspberry and black cherry. the coffee was more winey, and a slightly smoky, spicy-clove thing appeared.

the light smoke probably comes from the roast. . .the vanilla and rose haven't disappeared, but the dried apricot faded quite a bit and fell into the tartness of the winey taste.

long-time readers know exactly what i mean. passers-by, don't despair: i'm talking about the coffee flavors from the scaa flavor wheel.

there's no doubt the vac pot does the sidamo more justice than the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press). check it out for yourself.

i used the classic formula: 32 oz. (by volume) water x 0.057 (that mysterious, omnipresent coffee figure, which i call the "lingle brewing constant") = 1.8 oz. coffee (by weight). my kitchen scale is more accurate in grams: so i weighed out 50g. sidamo.

again, i highly recommend you try some sidamo in a vac pot at home. the basic bodum santos vac pot is relatively inexpensive, easy to use, makes great coffee, and there's a lot of online guidance to help you brew correctly!

trust me on this one: you won't regret it!

posted by fortune | 11:00 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Friday, May 14, 2004

goat rock panorama

like my 107-odd million compatriots in the u.s.a, and 80% of europeans, i began my morning with coffee: a cup of mark inman of taylormaid's organic goat rock blend.

i know it sounds silly, but i really did feel excited popping the top and peeling back the puffed foil lining on his sweet little yellow can.

the artwork on these cans reminds me so much of kandinsky in his jugendstil/symbolist woodcut period, tho' others find the sharp, jaggy sunrise a little soviet. but enough aesthetics. how was the coffee?

no doubt this is darkest coffee i've had in a long time: truly full oil, what i'd call dark french roast. i think mark means it as a breakfast coffee in the west-coast style.

despite this, the roast didn't dominate the sweetly spicy fragrance of the dry grounds as much as i feared. the fragrance was interesting, a soft hint of fresh bay leaves, and something that reminded me of ajowain seed (sometimes this member of the angelica family's called "love parsley").

the dark roast gave this blend a spicy, pungent, clove-y, and smoky character. it had a dry, bittersweet finish that for some inexplicable reason reminded me of an organic nicaraguan coffee i had some time ago.

i wonder if this blend has some nicaraguan in it? roasting coffee this dark mutes the brightness, so i'm calling the goat rock a mellow cup.

very darkly roasted coffees can thin out in the body, but this blend isn't in that category. it's a smooth sip of java.

coffee lovers who seek out this style of cup will be pleased to wake up with inman's blend.

posted by fortune | 10:25 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Thursday, May 13, 2004

all about coffee

"you're all about coffee," a pro cupper of my acquaintance once said. i wish.

i can think about few subjects that are so broad: coffee as a fine beverage; coffee as a market; coffee as an artisanal craft for roaster and barista; coffee as agriculture; coffee as ecology; coffee as social justice. . .i needn't go on. really, it would take until the next yuga to truly be all about coffee.

yesterday i made reference to ukers' famed tome, "all about coffee," linking to the website where it can be purchased. "pricey book!," one reader complained in an email.

for those who are impoverished in cash, but rich in bandwidth, you can download the entire volume, all 71 mgs. of it, as an adobe acrobat document.

further, i'm still obsessed with k's ethiopian sidamo. this is joining my list of favorite drip coffees, along with oren's jaw-dropping cobán, as well as don shoenholt of gillies famous lemon-caramel-candy yrg and sumatra "kuda mas." and i shouldn't forget former scaa prez steve colten's kenya aa kirinyaga.

for many coffees, vac pot brewing is the best way to bring out all its fine nuances. but it's hard sometimes in a busy morning to find the time to fuss with the vac pot.

i may have to wait until saturday afternoon to vac up the sidamo. and then it's on full-tilt to mark inman of taylormaid's goat rock blend in his cute little cans.

i applaud the idea that coffee cans are more easily recycled than standard multi-layer or mylar coffee bags. . .

"the hope is that the release of endorphins triggered by eating chocolate will reduce aggression."

frankly, this had me falling outta my driving loafers laughing.

posted by fortune | 12:55 PM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

sidamo, the original coffee

who needs to brush your hair in the morning when you have the chance to cup coffee? especially when the coffee is k.'s ethiopian sidamo.

sidamo is said to be the original home of coffee, and the people have tended coffee trees since before 900 c.e., although most credit the yemeni with first growing coffee for commerce. ukers says that early ethiopians blended coffee cherries with tallow into a paste for yummy snacks, as well as fermented them into a wine.

devoted readers may recall that when this coffee was a few hours out of the roaster, i happened to toss it into my yoga bag and carry it to my normal vinyasa class. at which point i was surrounded by yoginis (including 2 who are genuine, fearsome-type new york lawyers!) demanding beans.

luckily it was after class, so the clamor was pleasant and mellow; the lawyers had fortunately already stowed their shark teeth dentures in their purses. this clearly came about because the sidamo has the purest "fresh coffee" scent i've smelled in a long time. simply mouth-watering.

i'm going to declare the roast on this washed, grade 2, euro prep coffee medium-viennese. and after the usual cupping procedure, i'm ready to call this rich, scrumptious coffee. it's a hummingbird.

not a standard linglese term i know. but i want to describe how this smooth-bodied sidamo hovers between piquant when hot and tangy when cooler.

it darts around the edge between blushingly bright and lightly winey. the fragrance of the dry grounds was all about rose, rose, rose. in fact, i rather felt as if i'd been sent a dozen bulgarian stems, the kind that grow only in one valley on the whole earth. . .

the sniff-n-slurp registered unsulphured dry turkish apricot, maple syrup, as well as that subset of the chocolate-y vanilla thing lingle calls "swiss," which reminds me of a delicate créme caramel.

sometimes you'll find a lemon/grapefruit/ mandarin/pineapple feeling in ethiopians; or a berry sensation. i myself found roses, apricots, vanilla. who could complain?

one roaster of my acquaintance says he thinks of sidamo as mostly a blending coffee. but k's sidamo is a fine coffee on its own: no dramatic citrus; rather an enticing little gift.

just as wonderful and romantic as a pair of pearl earrings in a robin's-egg blue box adorned with a wide soft satin white bow. . .

posted by fortune | 10:42 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

sulawesi, where the people live in ships. . .

despite the fact that k's fresh ethiopian poured its delicious, intoxicating perfume out into the atmosphere so strongly women from my yoga class were begging me to surrender the beans lest they mug me at mat-point, i decided to be fair and review oren's sulawesi today.

it's about 2 or 3 days older than k's sidamo, so i felt i had to get to it while still fresh. i must begin with a disclaimer: i have a long-time, built-in prejudice in favor of sulawesi.

this is the first specialty coffee i ever drank, from peets, made for me by the late zenshin and poet philip whalen. not everyone likes it; many regard it as inferior to the more sophisticated sumatras.

or as a long-time bccy pal remarks: "oh. . . sulawesi? nice island. wasn't there a fad for that in berzerkley in the 70s?" long-time readers can guess that actually i'm rather fond of the charming folk in the old people's republic, not that it's actually like that anymore.

i used to love to go to the park and fly hand-built kites, which were made by a crazed russian with a penchant for pushkin. (i've lost track of him; however, i think you can still find hand-built kites here.)

but back to this "natural" sulawesi toraja, double-picked, grade 1. coffee. focus!

once again, despite my best intentions, life overwhelmed me and i didn't get to formally cup this "full city-plus" coffee in the morning.

nevertheless, this coffee comes out the cafetiére (as per yesterday) an ultra-sweet, mellow, low-brightness coffee (but with perhaps a touch more going on here than yesterday's sumatra), with a voluptuous body. it's naturally so "sticky" that when some drips on the saucer, the cup glues to the plate!

i had to wash 'em in hot water to separate the cup and fit it in the dishwasher. . .

as for the bouquet, this full sulawesi just smelled perfectly like sulawesi, giving me the entire proust-type experience. the dry grounds remind me exactly of thai opal basil.

then the whole caramelly, syrupy, chocolate-y, dutch dark cocoa thing runs over you. . .in fact, i really can't talk about this cup very well.

all i can think of is how the kite looked like a stained glass window in the sky. and the first poem whalen ever read to me:


She says she's funny-looking
She can't decide on hair nor clothes.
There are too many shoes to wear.
Almost every downtown corner
Displays crippled, sick and dirty people
Beat and tromped on. Others look
For what to look at, watch to see
If they are noticed
Where to spend all this money.



Too many shoes
Those are not the ones.

in the end, i gave up half of the sidamo to my friends the yoginis. as k himself says, "gotta share the wealth."

posted by fortune | 7:58 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Monday, May 10, 2004

the great coffee sea

i'm talking about sailing on oren's sumatra. . . .i didn't have time to cup it formally this morning.

this job thing pays the mortgage but really ruins the important events in life!

so i ground oren's baby up, tossed 60g into a pre-heated cafetiére, poured 1 liter of 198-degree f water into it, and pressed it after 4 min.

it's a sumatra mandheling "paiwanee," double-picked, natural (a.k.a. "dry process") coffee, courtesy of knutsen. i'd call the roast light viennese, since some beans have patches of oil. i think oren himself calls this "full city plus."

and surprisingly different than my usual sumatra, the gillies' lintong "kuda mas," triple-picked grade 1, japanese prep.

this is definitely a sweet, mild coffee, full, smooth-bodied. it's not quite as heavy in body as the kuda mas. oren roasts this a little darker than don schoenholt treats the kuda mas.

i thought the dry grounds of this paiwanee offered an anise fragrance, and i found the cup to be nutty, malty. . .a rather clean cup for an indonesian. alas! time dictated that i had to drink it fairly fast.

thus i added my usual spoonful of light cream and pinch of turbinado sugar. ah! sumatra!

i know some people -- many pro coffee lovers, in fact -- feel that sumatras should be more, um, ugly. bug-chewed and groundy, even.

they say this makes an "interesting cup." while i can appreciate it a pinch of earth in a sumatra (an aged one is a different story!), i find as a consumer that i'm coming to appreciate quality more.

an "interesting" but dirty or dead cup is perhaps moving me less and less. . . again, aged is its own zebu. . .

i hope to do more justice to oren's sulawesi!

as i'm pondering how to tack with the wind on this tremendous body of coffee, what should arrive? 2 pounds of scaa board member mark inman's organic, shade-grown taylormaid in those cute little cans!

i received the "doña isadora tres generaciones" and his "goat rock" blend. ooh ooh!

and while i'm tossing the white styrofoam packing peanuts into the air with glee -- the people at my office are used to my wacky ways, thank goodness -- what appears with mr. fed ex?

k's promised and fantastic whole-bean ethiopian sidamo! i have total respect for people who keep their promises and in short order!

props to you, k; this is one reason you are an awesome person and a superior greenie! he swears this is great stuff. ack! what to cup tomorrow?

with styrofoam bits sticking to my alexia admor dress and shipping tape tatters adhering in my hair, i was then dragged by a fellow cube farmer to the newest downtown coffee bar, mocca express.

this place looks great, with a dedicated polish barista whose name i think is spelled "mitzja," and a lovely nuova simonelli 3-group superauto. nice seating, good atmosphere, bright.

alas, the coffee's no more than barrie house's bacio. . .so i can't recommend it; just the opposite. but what do i care?

i danced back up church street and reboarded my excursion cup to re-embark on the fabulous specialty ocean.

posted by fortune | 10:20 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Sunday, May 09, 2004

cobán, part ii

naturally after yesterday's fantastic coffee experience, i had to make oren's guatemalan cobán in a vac pot. so often the vac pot brings out nuances in fine coffees you might lose in the cafetiére.

so i whipped out my old trusty stove-top bodum santos, added 900g (about 31.5 oz.) water and 51 grams (about 1.8 oz.) coffee, in keeping with david haddock of counterculture's magic number: the sacred 0.057.

the coffee was subtly different. the vac pot turned the basmati rice quality more into a toasty thing; the coffee became a little brighter; and the body thinned a tiny bit.

someday i must upgrade my vac pot to a cona d or even a lovely royal copper & crystal syphon. . .the picture scarcely does it justice. . someday. . .someday. . .

oren also sweetly sent me some sumatra and sulawesi (celebes). must cup tomorrow!

posted by fortune | 12:05 PM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Saturday, May 08, 2004

o. . . my. . . heavens. . .

yes, friends, perfection is possible. i've fallen off the horse. that glowing light in the sky isn't metatron.

it's the gentle warmth emanating from what may be a flawless cup of coffee, oren's guatemalan cobán. and dear long-time readers, you know from patient reading i don't even like central american coffees.

that's why i'm describing this as your basic conversion experience. let's roll the linglese from the scaa flavor wheel and the nez du café.

unfortunately this coffee isn't labelled with an estate. so all i can tell you is that it's a cobán shb, but i'm assuming it's oren's usual one you can buy in his store.

from the bloom in cupping it, i think it's about 4 days old. i'd call this bean a full-city roast, with a light sheen, but no actual dots or pinpricks of oil.

it's a rich, smooth-bodied coffee, of amazing beauty and complexity. the fragrance from the dry grounds smells like heaven. ok, cardamom and jasmine/tea-rose.

then we get into the flavors of basmati rice and honey, modulating into a lovely dark caramel and intense vanilla syrup thing. . .

hot, the cup seemed sweet and mild. cool, the light & pleasing brightness (a.k.a. acidy) became more apparent. i'd call it the nicest kind of nippy.

i was just stunned at the loveliness of this coffee. it smelled so good mr. right, who drinks only lattes, and then only on the weekend, actually considered having a cup! imagine: the diet coke drinker -- pondering a cup of real coffee!

i would say this coffee equals my two absolute favorite drip coffees, the yrg and sumatra from don schoenholt's gillies.

i rushed to make this in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press). my kitchen filled with an intoxicating lovely fresh coffee scent.

i poured myself a cup, added the standard tablespoon of light cream and a demitasse spoon of turbinado sugar. now, that was heavenly.

the turbinado sugar and milk brought out the candy quality in the coffee and i had 2 cups. i don't like central american coffee. . .will someone catch that darned horse?

or as don schoenholt himself says: "i consider oren's daily roast to be a treasure of new york's coffee bar culture."

posted by fortune | 6:34 PM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Friday, May 07, 2004

vive la conference

just when you thought the specialty coffee conference was over, it's time to start again! that's right, we're in the thick of planning scaa seattle 2005!

coffee lovers, mark your calendars now! the last week of april 2005 in seattle.

here's the program the consumer marketing committee is looking at:

  • 1 2 hr. hands-on cupping lab, run by lindsay bolger of green mountain and a cupper to be named later;

  • 1 2 hr hands-on espresso lab focusing on latte art, run by dr. joseph john of josuma, and mike white of gimme;

  • 1 2 hr. hands-on drip coffee brewing lab, run by david haddock of counterculture;

  • 1 2 hr. hands-on home coffee roasting lab, with a focus on blending and roasting for espresso at home, run by ken davids;

  • 1 tour of the show floor, to be conducted by a roaster to be named later, maybe chuck jones;

  • 1 meet-the-authors session, to include scaa chief ted lingle, mark prendergast, and tentatively, ian bersten;

  • 1 ethiopian coffee ceremony;

  • 1 formal zen coffee meditation, repeated on 2 days, 1 on sat. and 1 on sun. (this is actually for all tracks, just as it was this year);

  • 1 seminar on water quality for coffee, hopefully to be hosted by david beeman of cirqua;

  • 1 seminar on le nez du cafe with ted lingle;

  • 1 seminar on coffee philanthropy, with grounds for health, coffeekids, and cup for education;

  • 1 official scaa c-member reception.

this is a fairly ambitious load. i'm sure not all of these will make the cut! but hey, we can try. . .and now i hope you see why planning all of this takes an entire year!

posted by fortune | 11:35 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Thursday, May 06, 2004

wasabi, again

after the ny times article, you'd expect a big upsurge of interest in vosges haut chocolat in soho. and thus today i wasn't the least bit surprised to see a colleague wander in with one of their well-known black pearl bars.

wasabi, again. i know the mixing of east & west in flavors has been the trend for several years now, but to my mind, this wasabi gig in chocolate's a serious case of confusion cooking. so many try it, and nobody seems to make it work. . .

of these vosges bars, i guess i personally prefer the red fire dark chocolate bar. but the candy i'm waiting to get my hands on is of course the absinthe truffle, which i think will be very reminiscent
of richard donnelly's chinese 5 spice bar.

except that donnelly -- as i believe coston -- uses only valrhona, not vosges' belgian chocolate.

everyone knows that conchita (a.k.a. lana) is practically my best friend and i'd never go shoe shopping without her, but really, they've been announcing this for what? 2 years now?

i'll believe it when i see it. . .i just hope the coffee will be truly specialty quality!

finally, articles like this always strike me as odd. every now and then the press decides that men have discovered yoga.

my yoga classes have been oh usually 30-40% guys for a couple of years now -- and african-american, asian-american, and latino guys are now regulars in at least 1 of the classes i take regularly. it really shouldn't be surprising.

after all, yoga classes are filled with lithe, limber ladies wearing practically nothing while they bend every which way. . .and in partner yoga, they thank you when you put your hands all over them!

posted by fortune | 10:45 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

um, i wanna disagree here. . .

"caffeine intake by teenagers is associated with increased blood pressure in some adolescents."

naturally my inbox is overflowing with reports of this study. thank you, dear readers, for thinking of me. however, i wouldn't be so concerned.

as the headline on the most common version of this story is rather alarmist, we think the headline editor unfairly targets coffee over the real problem: sugar-water peddled by anorexic pop stars in too little clothing.

yes, a large number of students and teens enjoy a vanilla latte (which they can easily have as decaf) at their local coffeehouse. and for teen girls, it's a blessing, because it may be their only daily source of milk and hence calcium, which is so important to prevent osteoporosis in later life.

however, the one or two ounces of coffee in those lattes do not come near introducing the amount of caffeine you find in the endless 42oz.(!) super-sized sodas many americans, children, teens and adults alike, carry with them constantly.

[let's say 10oz. of that super-size thing is ice. that's 32oz. soft drink at about 45mg. of caffeine per 12 oz., or about 120 mg caffeine. teen boys drink about 2.5 such servings day, according to some authorities.

your properly-made 6 oz. cup of coffee, meanwhile, only averages about 105 mg., making it at worst an even draw with soft drinks, unlike what the above upi headline and story would lead you to believe. we won't even mention the sugar issue here. . .]

as one expert says: "many teens are drowning in soda pop. it's become their main beverage, providing many with 15% to 20% of all their calories and squeezing out more-nutritious foods and beverages from their diets."

while sugar-free, decaf soda can be found at the supermarket, it's not commonly seen in the fast-food places, quick-marts, or vending machines where many teens purchase beverages.

not to mention that the effects of caffeine on hypertension/blood pressue definitely appear overstated in this latest report; previous studies have found no such dire outcomes (please see question 2 here).

we here at bccy still encourage moderation in coffee drinking. altho' science has shown some benefit for men in drinking larger amounts of coffee, i still firmly believe most women and teenagers should stick to 2 or 3 6-oz. cups of coffee a day.

in fact, since decaf coffee taste quality continues to slowly improve, i would even suggest having 2 cups with breakfast, and a nice cup of decaf in the afternoon or after dinner.

the key there is nice. why do people consume soda endlessly? a nervous habit? thirst? isn't it rather, i argue, a lack of satisfaction? these soft drinks offer you nothing satisfying, just empty calories.

i truly believe anyone would be more satisfied with two 5 or 6-oz. cups of perfect, fresh, specialty coffee, properly brewed, and served with 2 teaspoonfuls of light cream and a pinch of turbinado sugar than with a titanic silo of overly sweetened fizz.

try running over to your local neigborhood independent coffeehouse, roaster/retailer, or bean store, and asking for some european (a.k.a. "direct method") decaf for afternoon drinking. or consider asking for decaf in your latte.

you might surprised at how much you like it! and if you're really concerned about how much caffeine your family members drink, try slowly phasing in more decaf. . .the fabulous oren suggests blending european decaf sumatra with european decaf colombian for a satisfying cup!

"try 1/3 sumatra and 2/3 colombian, or 50/50 if you like more body," he recommends. since we here at bccy love body, we'd start with that. . .

posted by fortune | 10:53 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments