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Saturday, March 08, 2003

chocolate meets yoga hairstyles

ok, so the hair clip forming an integral part of my usual yoga hairstyle broke, which necessitated a quick trip up to hair toy paradise, alexandre de paris. it's a little jewel-box of a store, selling only hair accessories. (note to self: why does such a classy place have a zero-class web presence?)

there a lovely rhinestone-edged resin clip -- of the highest quality, made in france, with beautiful tortoise-shell like colors and graceful, elegant shapes -- will run you a mere US$200. which is why i went next door to zitomer's; huge selection on the second floor. and next month when they expand the store, the selection will double, the staff told me today.

at zitomer's i found the requisite replacement, and stumbled onto two interesting things: a cool hair object possible useful for yoga and a chocolate sample! it's my day. . .

let's start with the chocolate sample. at zitomer's they were handing out squares of some kind of sugar-free chocolate called "delite" something or other, i didn't get a wrapper. "it's luxurious european chocolate, and tastes like luxurious european chocolate," the chirpy sample-girl said, "but without the calories from sugar!"

it was said to be pure belgian dark chocolate sweetened with splenda and something called malitol.

hey, i'll eat almost anything chocolate. so i thoughtfully chewed a square. the sample piece had no shine, which is a bad sign, but since it was given to me unwrapped, well, maybe it got banged up a bit. the aroma wasn't poor -- but not as good as a lindt bar. and that's bad. . .

the real problem came in the mouth. the texture was really odd. the square felt a bit gritty on the tongue and then immediately dissolved into strange gummy strings. it tasted kind of like a lindt bar tho'. needless to say, i didn't like it.

but what i did like was the hair wrap. very cute. if only you could see for yourself. . .but the url they gave on the packaging appears to be down. also, some wonderful hand-carved wooden hair toys, for those who like an elegant artistic touch!

posted by fortune | 5:21 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, March 07, 2003

insurance yoga?

nope i'm not making this up. mr. right received in the mail a high-style cheerful come-on for oxford health's insurance program, which includes payments for yoga.

imagine that -- discount yoga as part of your health care. but these bean-counters wouldn't be into it unless it saved them money somehow, right?

the bright and friendly pamphlet notes that "yoga has been proven to help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even help insomnia. yoga may help with depressions, migraines, heart disorders, obesity."

sounds great until you see how much the alternative health option costs unless you get it through your job! still, oxford has a great search engine for yoga teachers.

the teachers in manhattan and brooklyn seemed to be mostly kripalu and integral certified. . .

posted by fortune | 6:50 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, March 06, 2003

more pro baseball

mets pitcher al leiter has definitely started a trend in pro baseball -- it's called yoga. marlin's pitcher carl pavano is the latest pro yogi.

"pavano started looking for a new off-season training program on the internet and settled on yoga. . . .manager jeff torborg has already noticed a change. 'he's is in outstanding shape,' torborg said."

pavano's career was threatened by injuries; elbow problems were killing his game. but after only 6 weeks of yoga, he's meeting his goals and making his manager happy.

now we just have to get pavano to work on his attitude towards his fellow yoginis: "the women have their legs wrapped around their heads and are walking on their hands,'' he said. i don't think i'll ever get there. it hasn't made me eccentric. you meet a lot of eccentric people in that place.'' it's a pretty funny piece, actually.

all changes come with time, carl. you too can walk on your hands if you want. what do you expect in just 6 weeks?

(on a side note, i personally can do a little "hand-walking" but my legs are still stuck behind my shoulders. the full yoganidrasana is aways off in my personal future. i guess we can all agree already that i probably count as "eccentric!"

but i must hasten to add that i also think paying grown men 10s of millions of dollars to spit tobacco and scratch themselves in public is beyond eccentric. ok, i'm a grump -- the glory days of baseball probably ended with either ty cobb or jackie robinson, i'm not sure which. . .)

posted by fortune | 5:41 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

more info

to go along with yesterday's big-idea piece on the merits of the u.s.a. rejoining the i.c.o., i have some more documents to post, which i encourage all coffee lovers to peruse at their leisure.

these docs are all in word 2000 format. you'll find below the current standard by which the fda grades coffee, a proposed bill to congress on increasing coffee purity in line with i.c.o. recommendations, and a sense of the senate resolution, as well as scaa head honcho ted lingle's statement before congress last summer.

i know many long-time readers are scratching their heads over this series of postings. but look, we coffee lovers can't pretend we live in a vaccuum. the specialty, high-quality (not folgers or maxwell house!) coffee we love -- the kind of coffee served by starbucks, peets, and your dedicated local independent roaster/coffeehouse -- needs a little help.

that coffee we love is grown and picked by real human beings who due to the current world-depression in coffee prices are suffering. we don't have to give anything up here. we don't have to do anything difficult. we just need to educate ourselves, and drink more coffee!

changing the rules to increase coffee purity would give consumers a better cup of joe and will help out coffee farmers. it's that simple. this is a cluetrain we can all catch.

well, if you felt like it, you could donate money to coffeekids or even find and write your representative in congress. . .but that's asking a lot. maybe i should stick to simply: drink and serve more specialty coffee!

posted by fortune | 7:42 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

as promised

long-time readers know i've lately been pondering whether the u.s.a. should step up and re-join the i.c.o. as part of the effort to stem the world-price depression in coffee known as the "coffee crisis," and thus alleviate the human misery that accompanies it.

the first part of re-joining the i.c.o. would be to get the government to tighten import standards, to increase the quality level and purity of the coffee that can be imported to the u.s.a.

this means fewer moldy beans, stones, insect parts, twigs, and other defective or inferior beans would appear in america's java. and struggling coffee farmers could get a better price for their high-quality beans.

i've had the privilege to correspond with renowned coffee expert and scaa chief ted lingle. he wrote me some very nice replies to basic questions i had about the current specialty coffee market and the i.c.o. in his reply he refers to some documents, which i will link to at the end for easy downloading. it's long, but it's good:

Dear Fortune:

Thank you for your interest in the coffee purity issue. I have attempted to provide you with a brief answer to your questions and have attached some background information for your further review.

1- how does the coffee crisis affect specialty coffee? isn't coffee in the specialty category getting a much-higher price than the "c" [standard commodity market contract price]? aren't coffee farmers who grow specialty coffee therefore immune to the current problems?

80% of coffee production comes from small holder farmers - individuals who own less than 5 acres of land and are producing fewer than 10 bags of coffee. Their economic livelyhood is tied directly to the average price they receive for the coffee beans they sell to millers, regardless of quality, as the millers must sort through 10 bags of coffee to produce 3 bags of specialty coffee. The price paid to small holder farmers is determined by the international commodity price for green beans, as they do not receive the price premiums paid for the specialty coffee beans sorted out from their coffee harvests. Of the 20% of coffee output produced on large farms, the farmers usually operate their own mills and are able to take advantage of the specialty coffee premiums through direct marketing programs.

2- how much of a farm/plantation/finca's growth is usually rated as specialty? even if i grow only some specialty coffee, isn't that enough to carry my whole farm?

Depending on the care used during harvesting, the altitude of the farms, the pruning and fertilization, and the available rainfall, approximately 30% of a farmer's output would qualify by cup and bean size as specialty coffee. It is simply not enough to economically carry a farm or plantation, regardless of size. To be economically viable for the farmer, his average price for all of his grades needs to remain above his costs of production, not just the amount he can sell for a specialty coffee premium price.

3- even if 90% of specialty growers are forced into bankruptcy, won't the coffee market be unchanged? we'll just pay slightly higher prices for the varieties etc. we love, right? so actually, the farmers of our favorite coffees will only benefit from the crisis, won't they?

What's at risk today for the specialty coffee industry is all of the specialty coffee origins whose costs of production are above current world prices. As you can see from the attached spreadsheet, these countries include Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Arabica production in Indonesia. This production represents only 20% of the world market but accounts for 95% of specialty coffee output, so if they are forced into bankruptcy, we lose the entiremarket. As these countries shift to more economically viable crops,the prices for the "varieties we love" will move into the Kona and Jamaica Blue Mountain price range, if they are available at all.

4- what are defects? do they affect roasting or cup quality? what do defects mean to the home roaster? the starbucks drinker? the independent roaster/coffee shop owner? the folgers drinker? the home espresso lover?

Defects are impurities in coffee that do not "transform" (carmelize) during roasting because their chemical make up is different than normal coffee beans. Basically they are black, unripe, and fermented coffee beans ...the sick, dying, and dead beans that are "triaged" from the sound beans during milling. Defects also include non-coffee material, such as sticks, stones, and husks, that are usually removed before and after roasting. For the drinker, these triage coffees represent "bitter and sour" tastes, which is why millers receive premiums for their removal. To be tendered against the New York "C" contract, coffee lots can not contain more than 13 defects per 300 grams. Specialty coffees have virtually 0 defects, which is why this is a difficult issue for specialty coffee users to understand.

5- what levels of defects are now allowed into the united states under the current import rules? what new standards would the proposed rules impose?

Current FDA regulations, "Grade 8," allow for up to 610 defects per 375 gram sample before the coffee lot can be detained by the inspectors. Back in the 1980's when FDA was actually making inspections, more than 27,000,000 lbs. were detained in a single 12 month period. We are proposing that this regulation be changed to "Grade 5," 86 defects per 375 gram sample, which will be consistent with the new ICO standards of purity for coffee.

6- how will changing regulations to reduce the allowed level of defects help specialty coffee? doesn't the specialty grade already far exceed the defect levels allowed under the present rules?

Changing the regulations will help lift green coffee prices for coffee farmers worldwide. A recent ICO study suggests that this would amount to 2 cents per pound for each 1 million bags of triage coffees eliminated. Based on our estimates (see spreadsheet) this would result in an approximate 20 cents per pound worldwide. This would help keep the specialty coffee growers from shifting to other crops, which is what the current market is telling them to do now.

7- won't the big four [major corporate roasters like nestle, sara lee, kraft, and p&g] just manipulate any defect rules so that they can import cheaper coffee anyway?

The major roasters follow the law - the risks in not doing so are way too high. Therefore, the opposition to any change in the current rules is quite high - a "standard so low that it's no standard at all" fits their needs in keeping the commodity price as low as possible. There will always be "bottom feeders," and so the basic question is how low should the bottom be allowed to drop before the consequences extract too high a price from everyone else. Our view is that we have passed that point in coffee.

8- can't we just advertise so that everyday american coffee drinkers learn about specialty coffee? isn't that better than trying to regulate the overall market?

As this change is occuring now, we don't even need to advertise. The problem is that it is not going to happen fast enough to keep important specialty coffee origins in business. The reason the market cannot respond quickly enough is that there is "asymmetry of information" between the roasters who buy coffee by grade, paying steep discounts for defective coffee, and the consumers who buy coffee by brand, paying normal prices for sound coffee beans. If the coffee was labeled correctly, "coffee" versus "coffee by-products," the rate of change by consumers would keep pace with blend changes made by roasters. Free markets are based on "many buyers and many sellers" as well as "open transparancy" of product type and grades, but both conditions do not exist in today's coffee market.

9- won't the tighter standard prevent unusual-looking but good-cupping varieties from reaching the market? won't the strange-looking monsooned malabar, for example, be banned? wouldn't peaberries (sometimes labelled a defect) be banned?

Not at all! Defect standards have nothing to do with unusual-looking or odd shaped beans. They have everything to do with impurities that do not convert to normal coffee beans during roasting. Everyone in the trade knows what they are, which is why they sell for 20 cents on the dollar. No one sells good tasting coffee at a discount, regardless of its visual appearance; it is always just the reverse.

10- why should the u.s.a. move to institute the i.c.o. international standard anyway? why should we bother with a cartel? isn't the i.c.o. anti-consumer and anti-free market?

The ICO was never a cartel - it was an administrator of an international trade agreement based on quotas, just like the U.S. uses quotas to regulate imports of other agricultural products such as sugar. Today without economic provisions (quotas are no longer part of the agreement) the ICO serves as a coordinating body between nations on matters of coffee policy, such as what level of purity defines "coffee." The international coffee community, as reflected in ICO Resolution 407, believes the coffee crisis can be effectively addressed through implementation of standards of purity on what can be labeled as "coffee." Other agricultural industries do this routinely for the benefit of consumers, such as in wine or dairy products.

11- what is the connection, if any, between the w.t.o. and the i.c.o.?

The WTO sets rules of trade among all nations for all products. Most of the WTO rules on coffee, particularly definitions such as green, soluble, and roasted coffee grew out of agreements on coffee reached at the ICO jointly by producing and consuming coffee nations.

12- you say that without the new rules, vietnam and brazil will further dominate the market and we will lose many of the varieties we now enjoy. how could that happen?

If the only rule regarding the sale for processed (roasted & ground or instant) coffee is "caveat emptor" (without a warranty the buyer takes the risk), then coffee reverts to the level of a commodity and the low cost providers will end up the sole providers in the market. In effect bad coffee will end up driving good coffee out of the market place under the guise of "efficient producers." Consumers have too many other beverage choices to expect them to become discriminating coffee experts - this is what the industry professionals should be doing on their behalf. If we fail to act on their behalf, we will lose their confidence AND their dollar votes. The question for the trade is can we learn to operate with a "code of ethics" or do we continue to operate with a "code of silence."

Thanks again for your interest - it's not a simple story nor a pretty picture.


posted by fortune | 7:41 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, March 03, 2003

dream job!

what coffee lover wouldn't love being a taster, roaster or buyer? unlike baking bread, this is a job that can pay a living wage!

today there's a great article detailing the adventurous and coffee-filled lives of these lucky folks. where do i sign up?

posted by fortune | 5:04 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, March 02, 2003


had a most beautiful day of classic orientialism, if i do say so myself. and naturally, it involved bread, coffee, and matisse. . .

the picasso-matisse exhibit now at the moma in queens is a fantastic show. we had an afternoon ticket and so fancied going up to queens for a great lunch before our entrance time.

mr. right -- the ultimate restaurant expert -- did his research (he can find out more stuff on the 'net than even willow, wiccan google queen!) and came up with a great turkish restaurant. so appropriate before an afternoon of odalisques! (ok, ok, so matisse's babes were all north african. . .)

for as picasso said after matisse's death on why he chose to paint a series based on delacroix's women of algiers: "when matisse died he left me his odalisques as a legacy."

hemsin is a surprisingly cute restaurant with an amazing set of ovens. the bread they bake on site there is simply outstanding; and the canoe-shaped "turkish pizza" comes in 7 varieties.

their "pita" -- so unlike most pita you've ever had! it's a 2-inch thick flatbread, round like a traditional focaccia, taken to a dark crusty brown and painted with egg wash, sesame seeds both black and white. . .no pocket, but a solid, soft supple crumb filled with beautiful large airy holes, whose cell structure display the glistening translucence of the perfectly baked loaf.

when you sit down, you see the waitresses grabbing your hot loaf from the massive ovens with a huge pair of tongs. in one motion they expertly use the tongs to fold the pita in half, drop it in a basket. . .it arrives your table hot, steaming. . .delicious.

of course after a delicious turkish meal comes the turkish coffee. i must confess i've never had a decent turkish coffee, and so haven't developed the proper appreciation for this classic cup. since the rest of the food at hemsin was so fantastic and reasonably priced, i had high hopes for the coffee. . .

which alas went unmet, although they made my thimbleful in the largest ibrik i've ever seen. . .after that it was a quick walk 6 blocks to the glorious odalisques of both picasso and matisse!

posted by fortune | 7:30 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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