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Saturday, February 21, 2004

americanos & nairobi

some days you look around and realize that just about everyone you know is out of town. in this case, it turns out a lot of bccy pals are hanging in nairobi for the african coffee conference.

but don't worry: i'm here as always, drinking americanos, descaling my beloved italian princess, silvia, with cleancaf and planning to make pizza for the last episode of sex & the city.

while scaa chief ted lingle and transfair goddess kimberly easson et. al. wrestle with the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis, it was sobering to read the in-country news from kenya.

not only do coffee farmers struggle with the world market, but politics and corruption at the national level block the way forward. meanwhile, the quality of coffee from kenya -- the prized kenya aa beloved of coffee connoisseurs -- continues to decline. . .

will there come a point when the "specialty" kenya aa isn't actually high-quality enough to be called specialty? normally, the scaa sort-of agrees that specialty grade coffee cups about 80-90. what will we drink if this level of cup quality vanishes from the market or is available only at a terrifying price?

don schoenholt of gillies -- who by the way is also out of town, but not in kenya, as he's taken his son baby davy to guatemala to visit coffee farms there -- once told me that specialty coffee should be defined as "the best coffee of any origin you can buy that day."

naturally i was pretty appalled to hear that, since i'm always one for standards. but we are perhaps looking at a situation where that grim joke may come true. good-cupping kenya aa can sell for US$11-12 a pound retail now.

i'm trying to imagine what will happen when it retails for, oh, US$18 due to scarcity. few will buy it, and the kenya aa i suppose will just disappear. . . this is another example of how the market conditions of the crisis work to harm coffee lovers like ourselves.

to distract myself from these sad thoughts, i devoted myself to making americanos today. the beautiful thing about owning a home espresso machine is that when you want "just a cup," a quick caffé americano delivers intense flavor without the hassle of brewing a whole pot.

if your machine's been on all morning after your breakfast cappuccino, nothing's easier than making that second cup a nice americano. just wander by and quickly pull a shot of plain espresso, 1.5 oz. or so; then add 4 oz. of hot water from the machine.

wa-llah! nothing easier: 45 seconds after your hand leaves the grinder's doser lever, you've got coffee!

i like to toss in a tablespoon of light cream and a pinch of splenda or raw sugar. the americano's a handsome drink because the coffee will retain a little of the espresso's crema. . .

posted by fortune | 7:22 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, February 20, 2004

pod pod everywhere a pod

after the recent announcement by kraft of its new coffee pod system comes one by salton and the colombian coffee federation. apparently similar to the current melitta one-to-one brewer, these things seem to be flying onto the market.

but are they likewise flying off department store shelves? that remains to be seen. i've already inveighed against this method, so i won't bore myself or my long-time readers by repeating that rant.

however, i will pass along what looks like a great recipe for chocolate-espresso mascarpone mousse. now that's interesting!

this morning i delighted myself by making a cafetiére (a.k.a. press pot) of bccy pal suzanne's lions gate kona. maybe that was a crime, since kona really deserves to be made in a vac pot; that method seems to highlight a coffee's more subtle tones.

last year the weather wasn't so kind to kona coffee with a tough drought, resulting in smaller size beans, but suzanne's coffee still has that lovely, mild, delicate kona character you'd expect. . . .

posted by fortune | 10:14 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, February 19, 2004

optimism's flames, redux

"i think we are turning the corner, i want to leave a message of optimism. we can now see for the first time in six years a deficit of supply in form of demand."

so said i.c.o. chief nestor osorio at the african coffee conference. he was referring to the recent uptick in coffee prices after years of the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis, that has caused so much human misery and hardship among coffee farmers, while threatening to reduce the quality of the coffee we consumers drink.

of course if coffee farmers can't make a living, they will stop farming coffee, stop producing the beautiful, rare, specialty-quality coffee we cafénatics enjoy. then the displaced coffee workers who pick the coffee are forced to illegally cross borders. near-bankrupt coffee farmers in latin america and africa will continue to turn to growing illegal drugs to generate the income to save their family's land.

long-time readers know that i often discusss the coffee crisis here, because market conditions affect us coffee lovers. not only in harming the coffee supply, but also in generating social problems like illegal immigration and drug crime.

so in effect, we pay three times for the crisis: once in dismay at our morning beverage, a second in the widespread drug problem, and finally in our taxes!

only 2 groups can solve the coffee crisis: the farmers -- who must grow less coffee, but of higher quality -- and we coffee drinkers, who must understand that coffee is a fine beverage deserving of a slightly better price. great coffee is worth paying a fraction more! consumers and farmers must bridge the knowledge gap that divides them.

i was so privileged this morning to have this same conversation with london-based industry maven mike segal, the editor of new publication, coffeeworld. i love meeting people in the coffee industry because many are surprised to encounter consumers who understand what is happening.

thus i was pleased to tell him that the scaa has been working hard to educate its consumer membership on these important issues. mike works closely with the european equivalent, the scae, who i soon hope will start a consumer program of its own.

just by patiently reading this yourself, you have become cognizant of the situation. and your actions count: even walking down to your local independent coffeehouse to buy a half-pound of fresh-roasted specialty beans to brew at home or buying a latte at starbucks marks you as someone contributing to the solution!

i hope we can all work together to promote better coffee for everyone. consumers win, farmers win, the coffee industry wins, and even market-makers like hedge-fund genius serge cantacuzene -- perhaps the first to predict the price increase -- win!

once again i swear the new tag-line here should be "one world under specialty coffee's passionate sway!"

posted by fortune | 11:24 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

weeping gnashing weeping gnashing, part iv

"try power yoga for an invigorating workout!"

articles like this make me wanna cry.

not only does this um, fitness trainer, not appear to understand what so-called hot yoga is, i'm not sure she understands the purpose of the "heat" (sanskrit: tapas) either. that she conflates hot yoga, power yoga, and ashtanga yoga, is likewise pretty scary, tho' to be honest, baron baptiste has apparently started heating power yoga rooms to 95 degrees f and calling that "hot."

let me try to sort out the most common usage of these terms:

  • hot yoga: in general, a phrase adopted by those teaching basically bikram yoga, but who want to avoid paying bikram fees to honor his supposed "trademark." the room is going to be about 105 degrees f, and there usually is a set, limited sequence of poses;
  • power yoga: at its best, baron baptiste's vinyasa yoga, otherwise, the dreaded gym yoga -- mere calisthentics tarted up with sanskrit;
  • ashtanga yoga: the set of sequences taught by renowned mysore teacher sri k.p. jois, and popularized by his students such as david swenson and richard freeman.

if you wanna "work out," please take my advice: go to a step aerobics or spinning class. you'll get faster "work out" type results from those cardio activities.

the benefits of yoga are elsewhere. yoga will give you a great body, no doubt, by really, it's rather a side-effect, not the main deal, and it takes a couple of years. . .trust me on this one, ok?

posted by fortune | 11:31 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

only in the u.s.a.

the endless bikram copyright court battle continues. . . personally, i don't understand how you can trademark poses or a sequence that has been in the public domain for thousands of years.

to all the yoga hyper-marketing, i say, enough! it's probably good the US$400 designer yoga bag is going out of production.

and i guess i shouldn't be surprised as even pizza is touched by this trend. . .but hey i suppose if it works for you, it works for you, right?

finally, while we hope geneticists do breed cocoa plants that are more resistant to disease, we also hope they don't make the common agronomists' error of breeding resistant, high-yielding plants that produce flavorless fruit.

we don't want the chocolate equivalent of those horrible supermarket tomatoes, do we?

posted by fortune | 11:31 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, February 16, 2004

regional coffee culture, part xix

i guess i've spent the better part of last week ragging on the quality of office coffee, so i ought to note today's article on the rather highly developed and somewhat quality-oriented office coffee culture in south florida.

this allows me to move smoothly on to a few coffee beverage recipes released today by bccy pals at the scaa.

long-time readers may note that i've remarked several times on the southern trend of melting candy bars into coffee to make specialty drinks. i thought this trend was gonna break out big.

and here in these recipes released today, we see one in which peppermint patties(!) are melted into coffee. now, i don't advise this; i wouldn't like it. and i'm not sure any without a raging sweet tooth would.

but hey! there are coffee lovers out there who would probably drink these every sunday morning. . . .the malted-banana coffee drink seems like it would be a hit with teens!

mostly these recipes seem a nice way to remind the general public of the upcoming coffee convention in atlanta in april. yours truly will be teaching several sessions there, actually.

i encourage everyone to come! plane tickets to atlanta are quite inexpensive, and hotel rooms can be reasonably cheap on the 'net. so become an scaa consumer member today and introduce yourself to me in person at the conference!

posted by fortune | 1:43 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, February 15, 2004

pearl mountain

today finds a little article on indian coffees. many people don't understand that india grows coffee, or that it can sometimes be very fine.

as i learned in last year's cupping with ken davids at the ever-wonderful dallis coffee, indian coffees have an inherent disadvantage here in the u.s.a. due simply to the shipping distance and cost.

but consumers and some specialty greenies and roasters do work with these charming mild coffees. perhaps the best known indian coffee is pearl mountain, which i've had as part of a pleasant blend.

also well-known is the moonsoned malabar, made famous to coffee lovers by dr. john in his josuma brand malabar gold espresso blend, which includes the controversial robusta, kaapi royale.

dr. illy has also shown interest in indian coffees, recently holding a cupping prize to encourage quality.

one thing about the article worries me, in that it seems to believe removing workers' benefits is a good idea. i must disagree; it's a short-term outlook.

india should compete on the quality of its coffee, not its low prices. it should work on putting sustainable and environmental programs in place, too. vietnam is not a good model for india to follow.

keeping worker benefits in place will help sell the coffee to western europe, whose populace believes in worker rights and environmentalism. it will aid in marking indian coffees as an upscale alternative at a time when the coffee market is moving heavily in that direction.

i myself dream of creating 2 blends with indian coffee for eddie stern's tea and should-be coffee stall: one, the ganesha blend; the other, the decaf mooshika blend. . .

posted by fortune | 11:25 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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