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Saturday, May 18, 2002

lat night i braved the chill drizzle to make a swank event at spa, where the debut party for the new confection store chocolate bar took place. . . .

i did have a chance to talk to alison, one of the co-owners, but not her business partner matt. alison's original interest is in fact coffee, which naturally i can only applaud. i mentioned the planned opening of the chocolate bar before; but it actually threw its doors open to the public for business in the middle of last week.

the elegant alison and i found a moment to shout above the throbbing retro-disco music. our conversation went like this: "so you're featuring only new york chocolates, alison?" "yes, i want to show new yorkers the kind of fresh, world-class chocolates we have here locally." "well i guess that rules out the knipschildt truffle, then, since they're made in connecticut." "that's true, i'm sorry." the entire conversation then turned to what spectacular fellows various talented candymakers actually were.

a little chocolate groupie moment, if you will. sadly, we didn't get to talk about much about jacques torres, who she does carry, or about another of my heroes, chocolatier and pastry champion patrick coston. and we didn't get a chance to talk about coffee. alas!

in the few days she's been open, she told me, the hot sellers have been garrison's and jacques torres' chocolates. garrison is making some special flavors for her apparently, including a wasabi bon-bon. (until i sample one of these myself, i must say the idea for me ranks right up there with hevin's chocolate-covered cheeses. . . but i'm trying to have an open mind. chile and chocolate do work together rather well in the right hands. . .)

the chocolate bar is a small l-shaped space with just 12 seats. they are serving 5 kinds of hot chocolate, tea by serendiptea, and illy caffe. speaking of the illy coffee, when i dropped by the party, illy sales manager guido zoli and his compatriots were attempting to coax life out of a semi-automatic unic machine, sort of similar-looking to a diva, with a novel dual-pod grouphead. it had apparently blown a fuse. i did get a chance to have a great chat with zoli, who was quite impressive. even if you're not an illy fan, 20 minutes with zoli could shake your resolve. . .

but i did have to ask his no-nonsense girl barista what was up with the pods. she gave me a sharp look and, basically deciding i was being a pain, frankly told me that in busy restaurant situations with big staff turnover, pods were the way to go. naturally, even though i know new york city is especially espresso-challenged, this nearly made me weep hot tears. . .what will it take before we can get a real espresso in this town?

i certainly hope alison will be serving fresh coffee, not pod-water, at her place. (sorry, zoli!) still even tho' it was pod stuff, i would have loved to have had an espresso made with care by an illy-trained rep. . . by the time i had to go -- we yoginis need our rest if we're going for major chatarungas in the morning -- they had not had time to repair it. . .so perhaps i'll have a chance to test zoli's contention that fresh pods can make excellent coffee another time.

i myself plan to hop by alison's chocolate bar in the next couple of weeks after the initial shake-out. i'll report more then. . . the one thing i absolutely must have is one of their super-cute "chocolate girl" t-shirts, worn by young things standing on pedestals with trays of sample chocolates. (and maybe by that time they'll have fleshed out that website? hmm??) dear readers, if you're smart, you'll try to beat me there. . .do take the time to say hi to the awesome alison!

posted by fortune | 5:53 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, May 17, 2002

i've been rather avoiding this subject all week. . .

long-time readers know i'm a big fan of yoga teacher rodney yee. i've taken his workshop at jivamukti.

so my first reaction to this news story is just a simple, "say it ain't so." the student concerned appears to be a yoga teacher herself. of course there are charlatans in all walks of life, but i'm having a hard time thinking of rodney yee this way. brahmacharya is an important yogic principle, and the iyengar school from which rodney yee comes has adopted very strict ethical codes on this subject (see section II.4).

good people can make terrible mistakes; of course, the relationship between a yoga teacher and a student can be close, as the teacher regularly touches to make adjustments. so perhaps it's all a misunderstanding. still, i would be extremely disappointed if it were true.

posted by fortune | 6:11 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, May 16, 2002

i've been meaning to mention the coffee known as panama boquete here for a while. . .

a mild, bright coffee, grown in an almost ideal climate, it makes a relaxing drink in a vac pot or press pot. experiments with as an americano have been mixed, however. what's great about it, besides its quality and taste, is the fact that it's often shade-grown, raised under papaya and other fruit trees, which helps make it more bird-friendly.

in short, more people should know about panama coffee. . .most people would find the various panama coffees a delightful cup, although due to its mildness and calming flavors, some intense coffee fans might find it a little johnny-one-note.

finally, i've written about fair-trade coffee here before: and now we learn that fair-trade brew is a becoming a big hit in the u.k.

posted by fortune | 6:08 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

the new york times shakes my faith every day. . .

i mean, i want to believe the times is the greatest source of news. however, the errors pile up in all kinds of articles. . .computer and internet articles. . .food writing. . .and now espresso. this is odd, because as i have noted previously, times writer r.w. apple is a true connoisseur of espresso; his article last year was superb. . .

today the august restaurant critic william grimes does an article on espresso and gets major, important details wrong. however, he does manage to come to the conclusion that drove me to begin this website over a year ago. . .there's no great espresso in mall-hattan. there is semi-decent espresso sporadically available in brooklyn. for good espresso, you have to make it yourself at home.

however, grimes seems unaware of life outside mall-hattan. he does not mention any place in brooklyn at all; it appears that he is completely unaware of coffee developments here in brooklyn. while he deems the undrinkable swill at dean and deluca as acceptable, i have to say it's not worth using even as paint thinner.

let's start with grimes' discussion of crema, which he calls a khaki-colored cream. but crema this light is a sure indicator that the espresso machine is at the wrong temperature! "khaki" would indicate a sour-tasting espresso, because the machine wasn't warm enough to dissolve the natural sugars out of the coffee. if sour, mouth-puckering stuff is what grimes calls espresso, i'm weeping hot tears. . .

we all know that perfect crema is very dark reddish-brown, the color of a hazelnut with the skin on; wet red clay; mexican floor tiles; or as i say, "pompeii red," the color so often used as the background of roman frescoes. heck, just look at the pic on the cover of andrea illy's book here. or here.

compare that carefully to the picture of the espresso from the quadronna in grimes' article. notice how light the via quadronno crema is; also look carefully to see the "white" spot in the crema. this whitish spot is the proof that the espresso is over-extracted. the barista ran too much water through the coffee. that whitish stuff is bitter, nasty and ruins the drink. a good barista who knows the machine and the coffee well times shots and stops the machine before any of that whitish liquid appears to mar the cup. perfect espresso has a uniformly dark reddish crema, and may even have slightly darker red "tiger stripes" in the surface. this is the visual proof of perfect espresso.

i could nitpick some more, but i won't. even i can only grouse for so long! what also shocks me is that grimes doesn't even appear to know that you can make espresso at home; at least, he doesn't mention it. but you can make superb espresso at home, fully equal to that of the storied cafes of rome, trieste, and naples. . .interested? wanna learn how? contact 1st-line, whole latte love, the daily grind or espresso parts northwest. . .

posted by fortune | 5:13 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

since this site's about coffee and chocolate, you'd think i'd write more about cafe-tasse. . .

and you're right, i should. i especially love the noir, which is about 59%. it's great with coffee, but also great on its own. everytime i eat it i seem to get an almost coconut aftertaste. . .delicious. . .just a lovely fun eating chocolate. and they have fun links too!

even if i'm not on the list. . .

posted by fortune | 5:28 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, May 13, 2002

brazilian coffee. . .

when you think of coffee and brazil, the concept "best" doesn't always leap to mind. but there's some good coffee produced in brazil. and in a great story today, the vieira family, owners of the monte alegra/monte belo estate, have set aside some of their property in an experiment to drastically improve their production and raise quality standards. in this age of declining coffee consumption, will enough people notice?

`"we need a similar seal of quality like the appelation controlee in the french wine business,'' said vieira. `"brazilian coffee, when it's good, is the equivalent of a good bordeaux wine.'' that may be true. but once the quality is there, once the control and regulation is in place to keep standards high, how will average consumers find out about this great coffee?

to my mind this is the shortfall in all the marvelous new schemes for supporting the specialty coffee industry. how do they plan to get the word out, to get the public -- which after years of drinking the horrid and still-getting-worse supermarket coffee brand x is switching to other beverages -- interested again in that most sociable drink, superb coffee?

posted by fortune | 5:05 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, May 12, 2002

you may remember my high-protein flour pizza crust recipe. . .

i didn't manage to make ciabatta this weekend -- soon, tho, i promise, soon, and then i'll post the recipe! -- but i did make a fortuituous substitution in my standard high-protein recipe above. . .

i think a perfect pizza crust should be not too thin, not too thick, with a delicious taste, and plenty of chew. if it has so much air that the crust bubbles up while baking, that's perfection.

and i made such a crust, using my standard recipe above, but replacing 5 oz. of the king arthur sir lancelot flour with first clear flour. what is clear flour? in one sense, it's grade b flour, a product made after the more generally desirable flour like cake, bread or all-purpose flour (known among bakers as "patent flour") is taken from the ground wheat. what this means is that it has a lot of gluten -- for chew -- and a lot of minerals (ash) for great flavor.

first clear is a darker beige color, and has a deeper wheaty taste, than patent flours. it's traditionally used in rye breads, to give rye the gluten it needs for good loft and lovely toothsomeness. what's left after the patent and first clear is gone is a tough, lower-quality stuff known as "second clear," which is used for things like dog biscuits.

common first clear flours are iron duke by general mills and what i use, king arthur's first clear flour.

i loved this pizza crust so much, i may add first clear flour into it from now on. it seemed to add almost a flakiness to the deeply brown-baked edges of the crust, as well as huge flavor and great texture. plus its darker color made the pizza look more appetizing, more like a brick oven product.

note well however: first clear flour is stretchy and chewy -- you may find it makes the pizza a tad more difficult to roll out as the first clear flour increases the tendency of the dough to spring back when rolled. but the end result is well worth it, i'm finding. . .

posted by fortune | 7:35 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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