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Saturday, July 05, 2003

espresso, pizza, curtains of fire that reveal the soul

naturally, here at bccy we spent the holiday eating pizza and watching the fireworks from our roof.

i'll never understand the people who leave new york for holidays. that's when new york is at its best! the town is empty and becomes the scenery for your private theater.

once upon a time i was driving on a beautiful summer's evening through a warehouse-y part of queens, a corner of long island city.

it was a warm but pleasant, slightly hazy evening, with a distant moon. the streetlights, headlights, and dim moonlight caught the corners of the warehouses at the mortar's white seams.

the mortar sparkled gently, so that every ugly squat building with an overflowing dumpster suddenly was ruled with quietly pearlescing patterns of light.

it was subtle, and lovely, and i couldn't help remarking on its beauty. the driver of the car treated me in scorn: "this is horrible!"

what do you do with people like this? at that moment the true nature of new york shone out, but they couldn't see it. this is heart-breaking when it happens. i wanted to grab the driver's hand and never let it go, hold it tight and will them to see all the beauty there was.

but they are driving; how can you do that? to pull the hand off the stylish german wheel. . .the secret bliss of everything is suddenly revealed and yet you cannot say a word about it. you cannot redirect attention to it. . .

when the champagne-silver fireworks hang like burning curtains over wall street, then the beauty of new york is easy to see. but new york is always present, at any moment in any light the numinous is ready to peek out at you.

of course, the pizza always helps. earlier i spoke of my new flour mix for the crust, and here it is, by weight as usual:

7.5 oz. first clear flour
3.25 oz. durum wheat flour
4 oz. king arthur's sir lancelot high-gluten flour
9 oz. water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon saf yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

this results in a dough with 61-2% hydration.

(yesterday was quite humid, so that should probably be noted and maybe count for "extra" water as i'm sure the flour was absorbing moisture from the air; so if 9 oz doesn't give you slightly slack, tacky, sleek supple dough due to dry conditions on the day you try, maybe add a touch mo' water. . . what do i mean by tacky? the kneaded dough clung a bit to the side of the kitchen aid mixer bowl, but didn't stick like glue to the hands. . .)

then i went on with my usual process. it was 95 degrees and so humid -- perfect weather for the yeast. the dough rose quickly for me -- 1-1/2 hrs.

but mr. right thought this was the best crust ever. after baking on parchment on the pizza stone at 450 degrees for 8 minutes, he tossed his back in straight on the stone for another 30 seconds, just to give the thinnest layer of extra crunch to the crust.

meanwhile i was sniffing every jar of herb and spice in house (quite a few!) in an effort to more closely describe the fragrance of don schoenholdt's gillies just-for-me espresso.

it was sort of like the ground coriander i get from sahadi's, but with an, um, roasty thing happening, and it was kind of like the chinese 5-spice powder but without the overwhelming sweetness of the cinnamon.

what i needed was a descriptor for a barely sweet, roasty, dark molasses-y, fennel/licorice/anise thing. so i settled on that hard black dutch licorice. you know what i mean.

thus i ate pizza and watched the fireworks with turmeric spotted along the ridge of my nose. no wonder the people in my building refuse to talk to me in the elevator...

posted by fortune | 9:22 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, July 04, 2003

another coffee crisis article

and thanks to bccy reader james severin, here's a link to a nice article on the coffee crisis. it even quotes our great pal mark prince.

thanks for the heads up, j! we here at bccy are otherwise celebrating the bright but somewhat hazy day with espresso. after spending the morning on the promenade reading the ny times, i had to notice that i just couldn't focus.

the allure of the charming mix of ferries, tugs, private sailboats, and occasional majestic schooner (yeah, yeah "my she was yar") plying the water against the panorama of new york from the verrazano bridge to the chrysler building keeps drawing the attention away from the dull newsprint.

it is amazing that the papers even bother anymore; the difference between their understanding and the amazing beauty of the actual new york is now so huge you'd think they'd just admit defeat and haul off to connecticut. but new york needs no eclogues from me. . . .

after all this view is basically what i see from my living room window every day, and it makes a fine backdrop for the fireworks this evening. we'll be standing on the roof of our historic building as usual to see the golden peonies of fire cascade over 70 pine.

and the whole time i will probably still be pondering my internal vision -- a kind of anatomy of melancholy, but about coffee. . .to filch from don schoenholdt of gillies, we could call it some about coffee!

posted by fortune | 8:18 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, July 03, 2003

pix of nyc scaa consumer membership event

yuppers, here they are, thanks to montreal's own owen egan. glorious color documents of the event itself!

i particularly like this one, where i am gracefully holding out a paper cup to david westebbe of boston to spit in during our cupping exercise. glamorous, aren't i?

also seen in this pic, from left to right, maddy page of philadelphia, matthias and delia konzett of connecticut, david, myself, new yorker steven bookman's belt buckle, and of course the genial host of this incredible event, david dallis, wearing his sensitive & thoughtful "i am chewing my coffee" cupping expression.

this picture definitely reveals something i hadn't seen in myself before; those yoga arms and shoulders. good heavens! one friend remarked that i am fast turning into serena williams. . .to which i have to say, she's got about an inch on me. . .

in another pic, where i am leaning backwards to avoid some steam while preparing to pull a shot on my dream machine, the faema (flash required) e61 legend, is another example. i was stunned to see the contrast between my wrists, upper arms, and shoulders.

those who keep claiming that yoga isn't exercise and doesn't reshape your body need to think again. . .yoga works!

another pic i like a lot is this one with steve schulman and david dallis examining a yrgacheffe just after quenching from the roaster.

notice they are wearing their coffeekids buttons. . .

posted by fortune | 10:57 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

how to talk about coffee. . .

after recent events in new york i have a pile of fresh coffee i'm tasting.

and so we pick up with my stupid obsession on the language of coffee. i'm writing this to help clarify my own confusion and i hope it may help 1 or 2 of you others here. because i know i'm not alone in my interest in learning to taste and discuss coffee. . .

to aid in this discussion, please check out the scaa flavor wheel and my jpg on the components of coffee bouquet.

my thanks to ted lingle for allowing me to alter his diagram in a way that i hope clarifies it and helps my dumb mind wrap around it. i hope it is helpful to all.

you should look at the jpg before you turn to the flavor wheel. i will be talking *only* about the right-hand side of the flavor wheel right now.

my apologies to those of you for whom this is elementary, and my double-apologies to those of you who believe talking about coffee this way equal to scribbling with crayons over an original mozart score. (you know who you are!)

i'm just trying this out, ok? i therefore beg your indulgence. consider me already beaten with a stick. finally, these terms aren't absolute, right?

coffee, as we all know, is quite a pile of chemistry. it is made of various stuffs that we experience in different ways, at different times, and in different places in our mouth. as ted lingle likes to say "that which does not dissolve or become a gas can only be felt in the mouth."

this statement is the basis for the parts of coffee we talk about: the body (what you feel in the mouth); the bouquet (gases & vapors); the taste (the solubles). all of these form the flavor of coffee.

i'm going to focus on *bouquet*. now let's look at that jpg. there you will see the 4 components of the bouquet: the fragrance, which comes from the fresh grounds; the aroma, which comes from pouring water over the coffee (what's happening when you break the crust in a formal cupping); the nose, when the coffee hits the back of your mouth (ted always uses the term "retro-nasal" here); and the aftertaste, which i think we can all figure out.

note that each of the 4 parts belong to 1 of 3 sets. these sets correspond to the root terms on the right-hand side of the flavor wheel, the part labelled aromas. for our purposes, it perhaps should also be labelled bouquet, because these terms are the bouquet descriptors.

the 3 sets are set one, enzymatic and its derived terms, jasmine, blackberry etc. set two, sugar browning, and its terms like almond, honey, etc. set three, dry distallation, and its terms, nutmeg, tarry, etc. note that in the bouquet diagram set two is the largest, having the most components.

so when we talk about the fragrance of coffee, the smell of the fresh grounds, we are unlikely to use a descriptor from set two, like chocolate-ly.

this is because the compounds in coffee that give the chocolate feeling are not likely to be experienced until later on in the coffee. and likewise, we probably wouldn't describe the aftertaste of a coffee as floral.

ok. so now we know what terms make more sense when. we also have some modifiers, like rich, full or flat, that i won't talk about now.

but another important term to note is the roast level of the coffee. when doing this, we should avoid the wacky but traditional, french, italian, etc.

we should try out the scaa terms, which most of us know from ken davids' "coffee" book. i mean, light, medium-dark, etc. together all of this will give us a 4 or 5 term descriptor for a coffee's bouquet.

for example, let's take that yrg, roasted to what i think is scaa medium. of this coffee we could say: lemony (actually to me it was more like grapefruit, but hey, we're still talking citrus here). that's set one.

then after breaking and doing the big thunderous hilarious slurp (just a little liquid in the spoon please!), i would add: nutty (again, i thought more hazelnut, but now you're with me, right?); and finally after wandering around (not sticking my head out the window) a bit, spicy (in specific, i would say cinnamon or allspice personally.)

talking this way gives us a more concise vocabulary for discussing coffee -- no need for prose poems here -- and one that we all can understand. a great help. it does also have the comfort of being somewhat scientifically based on the actual compounds in the coffee. all good!

so after plowing through all of this, i'm hoping that you all will take a look at the bouquet jpg and the flavor wheel and offer your thoughts in the comments below.

then later maybe i'll continue to annoy everyone by rambling on about the taste triangle and the left-hand side of the flavor wheel. . . .

posted by fortune | 1:29 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

nyc scaa membership event day 3: cocktail party

that i didn't really return in a state to blog last night should perhaps tell you volumes about the success of the party.

our thanks to stacie stringfellow and surf-babe wendy jensen (that girl charges waves!) of the scaa for such a successful evening.

let me also thank the consumer members who appeared to allow the pro members to meet us and see that we don't have 3 heads -- delia konzett and her charming husband mattias; richard freilich; steve bookman.

it's now i think a historical fact that my moment of infamy did involve spilling red wine on jose gavina, the charming guy whose rep had given me a pound of espresso the day before.

i know how to thank my friends, don't i?

another high point for me personally was meeting karen gordon of coffee holding, who is also involved in women in coffee. she talked to me about her new coffee charity, one focused on education for children at origin.

she is also one funny, dynamic, and totally with it person. i believe she is still incorporating her endeavor into a non-profit. once this happens, watch this space! long-time readers know that we at bccy are devoted to charity.

i am also indebted to joshua dick of urnex (remember readers, dirty machines make terrible, rancid-tasting coffee!), and patrick spillman, the coffee taster for the colombian coffee federation.

besides patrick's many other merits, he alone was able to answer the burning question: what is the name of the donkey? actually, i should pose the question to you all, readers, and i will offer a dallis/bodum coffee travel press to the first person to drop the correct answer into the comment field below.

i have to say i love patrick's card, bearing the tagline "no sugar, no cream," and being deliberately covered in coffee stains. he has a beautiful cupping lab, which he kindly consented to show me. i hope to go cup some coffee with him in the very near future.

finally, i must offer a nod to what frankly had to be the coolest group at the reception -- the people from torani. all of us girls with diamonds in our noses should hang with them.

those torani people are sweet, friendly, hip, and have beautiful body jewelry. we somehow managed to control our alcohol consumption enough that we didn't all start lifting our dresses to compare navel rings.

let's just say however that it was scary how much we're alike. and we were even all pretty in pink as well? it was waay deja vú. did i mention they have great vanilla syrup?

at 8pm alas this fun time was over, and marked the end to our scaa extravaganza. those of you who missed it, however, needn't despair.

i am already working on a series of somewhat less arduous events. once again, all coffee lovers and caffénauts invited! check this space for more details in the future.

for those interested in reading the entire history of this 3-day event -- which i believe may be the first scaa consumer member event outside of the boston convention -- please see:

those of you in california or the general west coast should consider checking out an even more awesome series of scaa consumer membership coffee activities this july.

posted by fortune | 8:41 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, June 29, 2003

nyc scaa membership event day 2: fancy food

arose bright and cheery and raced off to the javits center to meet up with the scaa consumer members for day 2, our tour of the fancy food show. don schoenholdt of gillies laughed and laughed when i naively described my plans for this day to him last week. and now i know why.

you cannot do fancy food in one day, even just the coffee portion. the fancy food show is so tremendously huge, you need 2 days. the 6 people who came and went could not possibly visit and taste the coffee at every exhibitor there. the place is a sea of coffee; and ocean of food.

when the tide moved, you were deluged with the flow of people, and we at several point resorted to using cell phones to try to find each other; you could become lost in a moment. in fact, we never did find steve bookman again.

i believe he was kidnapped by the beautiful women in the foods of switzerland section, although perhaps he is actually being held by that gorgeous turkish woman who gave him a bag for his loot. . .my cell phone battery died eventually, and i may have missed the ransom call.

those captors holding steve bookman please email me and i will redeem him. . .

since alas maddy page couldn't make it, we did enjoy the company of steve schulman and periodically jeff of kudo beans; richard freilich; and owen egan of montreal and his liz and william.

of all the coffee exhibitors there, the one i most enjoyed meeting was the rep from palombini espresso. this all-arabica italian line is just now launching itself in the u.s.a., starting with better restaurants.

frederic courteau is just the kind of passionate espresso advocate i'm used to meeting. he's also apparently working on a line of lovely collectible espresso cups.

an idealist to the core, however, he is compromising with the reality of the restaurant market by offering pods. "america will never have a barista culture, unfortunately," he reluctantly confessed. well, frederic, i know some people who are at work trying to change that. please help us!

i sampled more espressos than i perhaps knew existed: 3 from brazil; 4 or 5 from italy, including danesi; probably 8 american shops from around the country, including places like scaa members crimson cup, which heralded itself as coffee for independent thinkers.

i also had a unique experience at allann bros. coffee, whose teasingly combative owner told me he didn't care what i thought of his coffee and then dared me to cup it. so i did. i ground some, borrowed his battered silver hawaiian cupping spoon, and went through the whole procedure.

actually, i made him take a photograph of me with the spoon. you know i love the spoons pros cup with. . .he'd better keep his promise and email me the pic. hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!

i also had an enlightening chat with a technician from IPM about the expobar series. he described a problem owners sometimes have with the 3-way solenoid valve, which can only be prevented by scrupulous back-flushing after every espresso session.

and then he kindly gave me a kilo of gavina old havana espresso.

throughout the show steve schulman was incredible company, as in fact was the constantly drifting mix of scaa consumer members. it was an exhausting fun time.

finally, i got to meet some local coffee people from new york: our local illy rep; the white house coffee people; hena coffee; and of course i bumped into the delightful oren bloostein of oren's daily roast. . . .

but our event is not over! all scaa consumer members still have yet to convene at the colombian coffee federation tomorrow evening at 6pm for the cocktail party!

posted by fortune | 3:08 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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