Saturday, May 03, 2003
coffee & friendship
just when i thought i was off my scaa boston convention coffee cloud 9 and had transitioned safely back to normal reality -- when i had adjusted to the fact that the magic was over and back in the box for another year -- the delightful altie and scaa charter e-member andy s. and his lovely helga blew into town to see matisse picasso (flash required).
what do alties do? we throw coffee parties! so i put together as many alties as i could on a few hours' notice. after pulling some shots here we moved on down to kudo beans to chat up steve schulman.
steve, like all dallis coffee people, is just the greatest greatest guy. he put together a tremendous press pot for us, his so-called european blend. just a smooth, rich, full-bodied coffee -- like a vintage port.
amazing. it had to have a big indonesian for its syrupy body, plus some african for a balanced brightness. and i swear there was a central american (or two?) for that mild smoothness, to tie the blend together.
we sat in the pleasant corner table of kudo talking about coffee, the poetry of coffee, and to toronto poets about coffee. i kid you not. this coffee was so delicious and rich tasting i had to see how it stood up to milk. i mean, that's how most new yorkers will drink it.
and it stood up so well i couldn't stop complimenting steve. he just ducked his head, gave a sly smile and said, "i know. i know. i created this coffee, remember?" i am so stupid sometimes!
if you happen to find yourself wandering around the corner from hell's angels hq in the east village sometime, stop in at 49-1/2 1st ave. have a press pot of steve's top-notch blend. better yet, go in some saturday afternoon before the rush and ask steve to make it for you himself. . .or heck, go at 3am. he's usually open still. . .
talk to steve. he knows so much about coffee, and talks about it with such articulate passion. you'll be converted. you'll want to be an scaa e-member too. you'll be eager to join us alties and e-members at the next coffee party.
and you know what? since coffee is the social beverage, we can't wait. we want to meet you. we all want to talk about coffee together.
to share the friendship, the magic, the passionate spirit. . .which never has to stop, even tho' the convention happens but once a year.
Friday, May 02, 2003
cup of excellence awarded tomorrow
and since we're rolling on the coffee -- right now, and since the 30th, the tasting for the so-called "cup of excellence" has been going on in nicaragua. several dozen coffees were chosen out of hundreds for the competition: only 1 will win.
and the winner will certainly sell for a hefty premium! so let's all watch the website to find out what the winning coffee will be. however, it doesn't seem as if the winning coffee actually goes to market for sale until july.
further, i wanted to take this opportunity to point out an article about the coffee crisis that i should have mentioned long ago. it's by the towering coffee genuis don s. schoenholdt of gillies coffee. (lately he's taken to calling himself the "coffee convict.") it's short but to the point.
Thursday, May 01, 2003
ok, back now to the all-important coffee. one of the great things about the scca convention in boston was the big group taste.
while it's not really possible to taste successfully in a big group, it was still fun to compare notes with the pros. even if the size of the group meant paper cups and fetco air pots.
what's wrong with this setup is that it makes it more difficult to judge the aroma component correctly -- you end up smelling the wax of the cup and get a papery taste. but why complain? why not enjoy?
so with a coffee buyer from peets, we tasted 5 coffees, a thru e. the goal was to guess the origin, as well as to judge overall balance and flavor notes. we judged from 1 (barely detectable) to 5 (prominent) on aroma, acidity, body (thickness or feel in the mouth), and flavor.
due to the paper scene, you just had to give most of the coffees a 2 or 3 on aroma. coffee c's aroma however managed to survive handily: i gave it a 4. so lemme give you the overall rundown: i got 3 of the 5 completely right!
i correctly caught that coffee d was a sumatra, because it just had huge body. syrupy almost, and nice earthy flavor. 5 and 4 respectively for coffee d. also, it had very little acidity (or brightness, that sparkling feeling against the roof of your mouth you also feel on the sides of the tongue toward the back). had to be sumatra.
i drank sumatra in a press pot for years so i would have been ashamed to have missed this one. i also guessed coffee c correctly because i really didn't like it. not at all. it was too bright, like drinking strong, slightly sour citrus juice. 5 on acidity from me.
and it frankly had a grapefruit aftertaste. but it didn't leave your mouth feeling dry -- rather, it left you salivating a little, which is what coffee experts call "juicy." the body was just thin, almost like plain water. to my mind, these are all the hallmarks of an african coffee, usually a kenyan. i just can't get into these coffees.
so i id'd one because i liked it and the other because i didn't. then came coffee e. this was also a fairly bright coffee, with an vaguely nutmeg or spicy aroma that survived the paper cup a little.
it tasted like light molasses -- a heavy brown sugar-y type taste -- and on the back of the tongue it came through like a shot -- blueberries. to me, blueberries = ethiopian harrar. so i was immediately suspicious that it was harrar, and again i was correct.
back to coffee a. it was a mild coffee, no doubt. it had medium-to-light body, medium maybe nutty and apple cider flavor, medium brightness. nothing was wrong with it. it was complex, nicely balanced and most people would have loved it.
i recognized it was good. but for some reason it didn't make my soul sing. nothing stood out.
i like coffee to be like perfume -- to have something idiosyncratic about it, something almost inexplicable, something that settles into your soul and sticks to you. actually, that's how i feel about people too. . .there has to be an indefinable unique spirit. . . maybe even a flaw.
this reminds me of what an old teacher of mine, poet charles greenleaf bell once said: "we love people for their faults, not despite them."
i guessed it was a central american but i had no idea from where. the answer: costa rica. actually this was apparently a prize-winning coffee!
this left me with coffee b, which frankly had me a bit stumped. it had a medium body, slightly strong citrus flavor, low acidity. hmmm -- a citrus flavor might send me back to africa, but the lack of acidity confused me. i gave up. and it turned out to be a fair-trade organic coffee from nicaragua.
live and learn, which is what i long to do. . .if you thought i was passionate about coffee before the convention, fuggedaboudit. i'm so much more into coffee now that i think i'm beginning to frighten the horses. . .it's all i've been thinking about for days. . .
but i will also note that drinking so much espresso had made me forget a bit about the joys of the special single origin coffee. i was glad to be reminded of those; they're important.
you have to remember to appreciate them. it's not always about rockin' out to the intensity of espresso, like listening to nothing but p.j. harvey. sometimes it has to be about lovely thunder. . .
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
love & neurons: more on chocolate
let me briefly interrupt the coffee story to bring you a nice plain english discussion of how chocolate affects our neurons in its very good way.
we owe all the emotional benefits of chocolate to the action of a cute little phytochemical called phenylethylamine or p.e.a. for short. as the article states: "being in love is usually great for your health. while we're searching for that special partner, we eat chocolate."
but what about those of us who have found our special partner? i gotta tell ya, mr. right is wonderful, but i still adore my chocolate. . .
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
back from scaa
i wish someone had told me that one of the requirements of going to the scaa's coffee convention in boston was the ability to party all night, stay up for breakfast, give your presentations with a hangover -- and then do it again for a couple of days straight. it would have helped!
frankly, i personally saw as much champagne as coffee in boston. . .but maybe i was simply dazed. i'm sure embarrassing photos including myself will soon appear on line.
of course, i have to thank mike ferguson of the scaa as well as jim munson, steve schulman, and david dallis of dallis coffee. they are the greatest. coffee people just rock.
i also owe a shout-out to mark "the coffeekid" prince. meeting all the people i knew only from alt.coffee was an incredible experience. anyway, i'll be writing more about what happened over the next few days.
i certainly learned a lot while i was there, and came home loaded with schwag including: a 5-lb. bag of sumatra from allegro; various dallis coffee items, including t-shirt, shot glasses, and travel french press; a copy of bramah's big book; an engraved silver coffee-tasting spoon.