Saturday, May 07, 2005

another amazing day

and taking good advice -- which i always try to do -- i spent this saturday afternoon wandering around london doing more coffee stuff.

for example, since tim b., one of the regulars of the inn where i am staying had to take his rancilio silvia in for repair. he found she had started blowing the fuses in his house when he plugged her in.

so we lugged his own italian princess to drury coffee in london proper via the subway(!), where they promised to send it out for repair. drury is a funny little coffee and tea shop, with actually very little in the way of coffee, but a fair amount of equipment.

this included the first rancilio lucy i'd ever seen in the flesh. the lucy is a one-case espresso machine and grinder combo.

alas, she's not too attractive: her case is a little squarish and bulky.

then we walked over to a cafe in little italy -- a tiny little out of the way place -- but it wasn't serving lunch by that time, so we popped in the bar italia for a quick doppio macchiato. actually we went in mainly to see the beautiful tomato-red gaggia 4-group spring piston lever machine from 1943 (or thereabouts, according to the barista).

the bar was quite busy and it is a lovely sight to see the ballet of the levers floating up and down in a quick serve situation. after that we wandered over to the famous algerian coffee store, where they have a very nice selection of euqipment -- much nicer than drury, altho' no rancilio that i could see, mostly the innova machines and many types of cafetiéres -- and an amusing coffee list featuring many coffee i'd never seen anyway else, such the rare chinese simao mandarin!

another unusual (for me) one was the cuban turquino lavado, not to forget a burmese bourbon(!) and what they claimed was "real" old brown government java. oh, yeah before i forget they also had a tanzanian chagga and a congo arabica.

all these coffees are uncommon, if not absolutely absent, in new york. i wanted to taste a few and buy some small amounts of several, but i must say the staff at the algerian is not the most friendly and eager to help.

c'est la vie. i did make off with the coffee list for amusement, however, and i will endeavor to find a way to scan this and pop it up for you here.

on the way from there to fortnum & mason we passed another tiny italian cafe and stopped in for lunch. i must say they had excellent fresh mozzarella, that was positively still soft and creamy at the center.

yummy. terrific. what have i been saying about the food in london?

with all due respect, i found fortnum & mason a bit of a disappointment, altho' even i was shocked to see them selling an australian coffee called "punch" in a beautiful wooden cylinder at GBP55 a pound. yikes!

the atmosphere of f&m's is soooo veddy british and overly formal, i could hardly believe it. also, i really didn't see many food items i couldn't buy for less here in the bayley & sage in wimbledon, not to mention my own garden of eden gourment in bklyn.

but of course f&m is an institution and i did get to see the famous clock do its thing on the hour -- the doors open on the outside and two bewigged wooden servingmen glide out, turn their heads to the left and right, bow, pour, turn around, and then glide back inside.

the bells of st. james are lovely, lovely, as well.

so perhaps the best part of f&m was the london branch of la maison du chocolat across the street. i was sorely tempted, but at GBP4.50 (US$9!!!!!) for a slice of torte, i honestly couldn't do it.

instead we took the subway back to covent garden and walked over to monmouth coffee, where we had a great chat with the junior roastmistress rachel, who's actually an american from vermont.

we cupped a brazilian cup of excellence winner and a guatemalan estate. i had wondered how with her direct-heat roaster and no temperature-control technology on her antique machine she kept from tipping all her coffee.

and to her credit she confessed that in fact all the coffee was slightly tipped. so we cupped the coffee and tim b., who'd never formally cupped before, could really see for the first time the effect of tipping on coffee taste.

that was a great moment. i think one of the regular cashiers at monmouth wasn't too thrilled that we were taking up so much of rachel's time right before closing, but i personally was really grateful that the staff at monmouth was so devoted to consumer education and eager to speak honestly about coffee quality.

so i commend rachel and was really honored to cup with her. i think this is a woman who should join the roasters guild and has a great coffee future ahead of her.

it was just easy to see how her coffee passion re-animated itself every day. and without this commitment, you'll never make a great roaster.

but once you've got it, the sky's the limit. go rachel go!

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