Saturday, September 11, 2004
siena and the 3rd
of course while i'm soon to leave for italy, i'm also aware that today is the 3rd anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy. this is being well-covered in the corporate news and since this year, unlike in the past, i'm not a direct eye-witness to events, i will only note the occasion with sorrow and respect.
my previous coverage and links to it all can be found here. the links do still go to the old earthlink page, which may redirect you back here.
if you substitute the bccy.blogspot.com for the home.earthlink.net/~frelkins, you will find the articles in otherwise the same place here. i'm sorry that i still don't have all these old links sorted out.
it's on my to-do list, i promise!
lemme thank new reader and coffee lover robert for a lead on a coffee bar in siena, bar acquacalda, which was suggested to me as an alternative for the well-known nannini (pix, including the now-illegal [thanks, e.u. bureaucrats!] sugar bowls, here).
the bei & nannini espresso is a regional brand throughout tuscany that has its own cafes and also sells to other cafes.
Friday, September 10, 2004
coffee code of conduct
of course the big coffee news today is the fantastic public relations move by most of the so-called "big-four + one" multi-national coffee roasters, those charming sharks responsible for the low-quality, near-trash, brown vegetable fiber you see on the supermarket shelves in cans and jars.
"swiss-based food giant nestlé and three other major coffee companies have agreed a code of conduct with producers in a bid to improve standards across the industry.
the agreement -- signed by coffee giants nestlé, tchibo, sara lee and kraft -- aims to end the use of child and forced labour."
"the pact also calls for closer ties with growers of the best coffee beans to ensure they get the highest price."
har-de-har-har. excuse me while i pick my body parts up off the floor and take 'em to the plastic surgeon to be re-attached: the day these executives care about farmers or us consumers is a long way away. . .
they are strictly bottom-line guys, trained by pavlovian technique to salivate at ever-lower prices to farmers, ever-lower quality and ever-growing markups.
but gosh, why was p&g absent from this party? i know, those executives probably didn't make it off the golf course in time to appear for the photo op.
or maybe their p.r. team was still trying to explain to them what the coffee crisis is so they could fake concern for the benefit of the press. . .
the important bit in this story is what the economist said: "the only way to get prices back up is to cut supply." well, that's partly true.
however, not only do we have to reduce the supply of low-quality coffee sloshing around the world markets, depressing prices and driving farmers into bankruptcy, drug-growing, and illegal immigration, we also have to encourage consumption.
but to convince people to drink coffee at all, or to enjoy just a little more of the world's most passionate and intellectual beverage, we have to improve the quality of coffee in the future. no one wants to drink bad coffee.
and that stuff in the supermarket is pretty bad; make no mistake about it. this is where we, the average coffee-drinkers, come into play.
it's no secret to say that these large multi-nationals don't care about coffee, farmers, or us, their supposed customers. obviously, they love only their stock price.
so while they run around inventing new raspberry-hazelnut-mandarin-mocha pod instant microwave products and push 'em with glossy "calgon-take-me-away!" advertising in an effort to convince someone -- anyone -- to drink that stuff, we consumers who truly love coffee have other options.
we can take a new look at that cup on our desk with a mindful attitude. we can realize that we are linked more closely to coffee farmers and workers than with any other commodity.
the coffee farmer's literally at our elbow every day, sitting with us in our cars, beside us at our desks, near as we sip our morning latte on our couches at home. he is not some distant, unknowable and shadowy being.
as i've said before the best thing -- and the easiest thing! -- consumers can do is simply support specialty coffee. buy your coffee from your local independent coffeehouse (with trained professional baristas!), roaster, or bean retailer.
abandon the big four! just forget about 'em!
and as you enjoy your fresh, better-tasting, better-quality coffee, you can awake to the appreciation of java as a fine beverage. you can grow in your understanding of the great variety of enchanting flavors available in the coffees from different regions.
and when you're ready to do that, the scaa consumer membership program is here. and i'm happy to help you!
long-time readers know i volunteer for the scaa's consumer program, holding events at the annual conference, helping with the newsletter, and arranging cuppings and events (fabulous pix here) throughout the year.
it's fun. come slurp with us!
Thursday, September 09, 2004
i love you, elizabeth l. whoever you are.
nothing makes me happier than to read a passionate defense of coffee written by a true coffee romantic. thus, my joy in discovering elizabeth today.
she's my kinda tomato, as she argues with her fellow students on the health benefits of coffee.
also, reading about this emergency yemen coffee conference struck a noive, as we'd say here in bklyn.
but alas, summoning all the agronomists and other specialists on the planet won't help you, poor yemeni coffee farmers! the coffee crisis is a global problem that affects us all.
the same market forces that are sucking the livelihood of all coffee farmers down also act to generally harm the quality of coffee for us consumers! this is why i constantly argue that farmers and coffee drinkers are in the same boat.
our fates are closely linked, and those of us who appreciate high-quality specialty coffee must be more aware of the crisis. it is in our interest to make sure specialty coffee and its farmers survive. . .
this is part of reason i am so engaged with the scaa's consumer membership program. by working with the scaa, we coffee lovers can contribute to a positive solution!
and what's the easiest way to address the crisis as a consumer? just keep on doin' what we're already doing: buying and drinking more specialty coffee.
support your local independent coffeehouse, roaster, or retailer by buying some fresh specialty coffee today! or to quote elizabeth: embrace coffee.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
the origin of oz
devoted readers will recall that recently i had the opportunity to sample the rare and exotic coffee of nepal, which grows only a few hundred bags a year.
ever since i read that this year's world barista champion, tim wendelboe, had won his match using australian coffee as the base of his espresso, i've been looking to taste this origin myself.
i haven't had any luck finding a local supplier of this bean. readers may remember that i don't home-roast, so i'm looking for a relatively near-by quality specialty roaster who carries it!
if anyone has any leads, don't hesitate to comment below so i can follow up when i return from italy!
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
new york city coffee meetup disappointment
among my many coffee activities is the new york city coffee meetup group. i have to say, i find the situation a tad frustrating.
for example, after several months of there not being enough people r.s.v.p.'ing to meet, we finally get an email saying the meetup is on. the place: 88 orchard st., one of the many indifferent coffee shops here.
but hey, i always try to have a positive attitude: maybe the owner will be interested in the scaa! maybe there'll be a new barista trained in a previous job who can pour great latte art. . . there's always hope, right?
no. the meetup.com people had apparently failed to inform 88 orchard we were coming, so they closed early. i got there to set up the meetup just as they were locking the door.
i begged an audience with the owner, a bored woman who laid out her non-devotion to coffee right on the line: "basically," she said, "i just focus on making money."
no words make my blood boil more than these. of course she has to turn a profit to stay open, but if coffee's just a cash-cow to her, why not sell brassieres? or liquor? or mercedes?
i could not detect any passion for coffee under her exterior nor any dedication to the concept of coffee as a fine beverage.
in a fit of something -- maybe that yoga is paying off -- i managed not to lose my temper and begged her to stay open until at least 7:15pm, just to see how many/if any showed up.
she declined. thus i had the pleasure of racing home in cab to quickly send an email apologizing to all nyc coffee meetup members for the situation.
that wasn't the kind of coffee party i was hoping for! and of course, i'll be italy for the october meeting, alas.
but i swear on my saeco 2002 burr grinder that this group will be working smoothly by november! and i pray the group votes to meet elsewhere. . .but if not, i will persist!
all coffee shop owners must know that we coffee lovers care deeply about the product and will never settle for an inferior beverage!
Monday, September 06, 2004
after spending the morning brushing up on italian coffee culture and its customs, i turned my attention to the third of mark inman's taylor maid espresso blends.
today i had the time to do a proper cupping, but then i realized that since i hadn't cupped the a-go-go or the occidental, it wouldn't be fair to cup just this one. so i sampled it as brewed espresso as i had the others.
once again, i'm going to ask all you readers to arm yourselves with the scaa flavor wheel, your copy of scaa chief ted lingle's cupping handbook, and if possible, your nez du café. i am going to be speaking the great linglese. . .
the espresso "organic panic!" is a shade-grown, certified organic blend. it's not quite as darkly roasted as mark's other blends -- looking at this one with care, instead of being full oil, the beans exhibit large patches of oil.
so i'm calling this high vienna to low espresso, or a dark medium-dark roast. it's important up front to note that this blend, unlike the others, contains robusta.
many people like robusta in their espresso; in general, i do not -- actually i'm rather strongly anti-robusta. however, it is a common addition, esp. in italy.
adding robusta to espresso not only increases its caffeine content, but also changes its properties as a drink. robusta offers a different particle-size distribution than does arabica when ground, which affects how the coffee packs in the portafilter and how it pours.
robusta also increases the crema of the espresso and makes it last longer. another interesting point about robusta is that some claim robusta prefers a slightly different temperature range for brewing than does arabica.
unfortunately however, most robustas are poorly grown and possess negative off-flavors. i have also been told that even high-quality robusta naturally contains more bitter-type compounds than arabica.
a small percentage of high-quality robusta can be added to espresso without harming the flavor noticeably and will offer benefits to the drink's body and crema, its fans say.
the robusta vs. arabica argument is a hot one, and i can't settle it here. i just want to note that the panic! contains robusta and continue with the description. . . .
let's start with the bouquet. the panic! offers a bay leaf or coriander seed fragrance in its dry grounds, along with what i thought was a slight earthy note. i checked this bit of earth against the nez du café to make sure.
when slurped as a brewed espresso, the panic! also presented flavors of black-strap molasses, a turpeny, basalmic thing i'm going to call juniper berry, and a little hint of smoke.
as a dark roast coffee, it does offer a pleasantly pungent bitter taste, like a dark stout. i'm dubbing it more alkaline than creosol.
no doubt the panic is a rich coffee, with an intensely syrupy body, very buttery. it coated the back of demitasse spoon thickly and didn't drip off at all.
as you would expect of a robusta espresso, the crema was thick, dark, and abundant. it nearly overflowed my shot glass and lasted on its own a good 15 mins.!
in this way it reminded me very much of the famed cult espresso, dr. john's josuma coffee malabar gold. except of course the malabar gold has an aged woody quality absent in the panic!
mark inman told me he made this high-octane espresso for his edgy friends who race bicycles as an extreme sport. if you know mark at all, you understand he loves bikes.
if you're a fan of the highly jazzed lavazza super crema and such, you'll definitely prefer the organic panic! it's a superior coffee.
even i found that i could indeed drink this espresso without sugar, which surprised me. . .but the caffeine hit! look out!
Sunday, September 05, 2004
specialty coffee in siena, hachez with sparkle
regular readers know that next week i take off for italy and a sporadic host of interesting guest bloggers will fill this space as the mood strikes 'em. in that regard, i'm finalizing my line-up for great specialty coffee in italy.
i have everywhere worked out except for siena and bologna. in bologna, i have 2 recommendations so far: caffé orefici, a coffee roaster and wine bar in the street of the same name, and the famed caffé zanarini in piazza galvani.
for siena, i'm still blank. so dear readers, if you have any experience, don't hesitate to offer a name. . .
also, this study arguing that yoga is not an effective exercise is making the rounds. my problem here is that the texas researcher doesn't say what kind of yoga she studied.
i could well believe 30 mins. of gentle, iyengar beginner-level yoga doesn't do much for ya. 30 mins. of vigorous, fast-paced sun salutations in the ashtanga style, which moves as quickly as step-aerobics, probably does a lot, esp. since an ashtanga class is usually at least 1-1/2 hrs. long!
my own personal experience is that yoga is fantastic exercise, but of course, people and yoga styles do differ. . .
finally we celebrated mr. right's homecoming with that great sparkling red italian dessert wine, the banfi rosa regale 2002 brachetto d'acqui, said to marry well with dark chocolate. i had it with some hachez 77% "arriba" that was lying about.
for those of you who haven't had the rosa regale, think of a prosecco with a pronounced raspberry flavor. i have to confess that i prefer a syrupy banyuls with chocolate however, personally. . .