Saturday, October 02, 2004
the pain in spain is getting on the plane
yes, the worst part of flying from venice to new york is that mandatory plane change in madrid. but rather than complain about the practical shortcomings of the stylish-looking but functionally difficult madrid terminal a, let me thank those bccy pals who filled in during my absence: jim schulman on just about everything, dougie cadmus, oren bloostein on the coffee market, and of course, scaa chief ted lingle himself from the i.c.o. meeting in london.
you guys are the best, and i owe ya. tons. your posts were all fantastic; they generated great comments and offered intriguing ideas. in fact, there's no need to stop if you all still have bees in your bonnets. . .
naturally i have tons to post on all subjects: the discovery of new chocolates, such as the white chocolate bar with poppy seeds and 70% dark chocolate with intense cinnamon by stainer, handmade artisanal chocolate at andrea pansa, and the famed cuba venchi bar with 5% real absinthe (for licorice lovers only!); the amazing traditional, handmade breads at rome's renowned panarella on via meraluna; coffee at bologne's caffé degli orefici and venice's caffé del doge, where i did get to speak briefly to italian coffee genius and scae member bernardo della mea; and finally, scoped out yoga schools in siena and venice (future yoga, why is your website down? did the shin-deep acqua alta drag it into the lagoon?).
thanks to a long-considered purchase of a canon elph by mr. right, i at last can offer digital pix of some of these treasures. the one i'd like to start with is the incredible etching by the baristi at the orefici, which uses coffee by 14 luglio -- an amazing, amazing espresso blend.
etching is different than latte art, in that while latte art is steamed milk designs poured straight from the pitcher into your cappuccino, etching is made by drawing in the microfoam with a small stick after the milk is poured into the cup.
nowadays it's common even to see all kinds of fancy etching; in some baristi use things that look like plastic templates almost, or stencils, to draw through, and they may highlight the designs with an artful shake of cocoa or cinnamon to create multi-toned or shadow effects.
the baristi at the orefici did none of these. rather they etched whimsical, customized, and, umm, slightly racy cartoon designs in the blink of an eye for every customer.
for example, i received a charming soft heart with long hair, inside which smiled a cute cartoon of my own face, with a dot for the diamond in my nose. mr. right, on the other hand received the etching you see here. . . .click the thumbnail for a larger image.
and the coffee was delicious -- perfect northern italian taste, fluffy soft microfoam. it may have been the best coffee of the whole trip, a tie right up there with that served by bernardo's baristi near the rialto in venice!
and let me say, that would be an enormous feat, since many people are beginning to say that bernardo currently has the best specialty coffee in all of italy. . .
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
U.S. to rejoin the ICO
The U.S. government has announced its intent to rejoin the International Coffee Organization (ICO). After an 11-year absence by the world's largest coffee consuming nation, this decision puts the United States back on the international stage as a positive force in fostering economic stability for the producing world and a sustainable future for the worldwide coffee economy.
The government's announcement was made at a Washington, DC press conference led by Assistant Secretary of State E. Anthony Wayne, who was joined at the podium by ICO Executive Director Nestor Osorio, SCAA Executive Director Ted Lingle, NCA President Robert Nelson, and other officials and dignitaries. The event was also attended by ambassadors to the United States from producing countries, including Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua.
"We look forward to working with members of the Government in developing and expanding programs within the ICO that will further SCAA's existing efforts to bring meaningful change to the coffee industry, which includes working with USAID in executing programs that will increase the competitiveness of the coffee sector in Central America and East Africa, working with USDA in creating programs that will catalog and maintain coffee's germplasm, and working with USGS in developing a geo-reference system that will improve sourcing and traceability in coffee commerce," said Ted Lingle. "On behalf of the officers and directors, and particularly the 3,000 members of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, I would like to express our deep appreciation to the members of the State Department, the members of the Administration, and the members of Congress who have worked to make this day possible."
The ICO, headquartered in London, is the main intergovernmental organization for coffee, bringing together producing and consuming nations to address the issues facing the world coffee industry through international cooperation. SCAA has been participating in the ICO meetings since 1992, and was instrumental in the formation of the Priate Sector Consultative Board that connects this intergovernmental body with the private sector.
Long and Short
I have a mental block. I have had the specifics of the CS&CE (otherwise known as the New York Coffee, Sugar & Cocoa Exchange) explained to me by brokers, an MBA equipped coffee exporter, even a member of the Exchange who trades on the floor. I still cannot tell you what "short" or "long" means with any assurance. Fortunately I do not trade coffee. I roast coffee and sell it in my shops here in NYC. The coffees I buy have little in common with "exchange" coffee in either quality or price. Yet the Exchange, the CS&CE, has a tremendous effect on all coffee. My rough estimate is that a one penny move on the exchange is worth about $190 million in real coffee this year. The current coffee contract dropped about five cents yesterday after about a twelve cent run up in the last week. Some people made money. I doubt many farmers did.
What does this have to do with the fabulous specialty coffees we all know and love? Specialty coffees are not traded on the CS&CS, are they? How did this clod get access to this otherwise wonderful blog? The answers are: a lot, no, and blame Fortune. Virtually all coffee is affected by what happens on the Exchange. Only a relative handful of farmers can sell their coffee independent of the Exchange with regard to price. Everyone else makes more when the price is up, less when it is down. Not for a day or a week. But the market has to live for a while at a level for its effect to be felt throughout the coffee chain. The Exchange is around 30 cents higher than the historic lows of 3 years ago. But it is still not high enough for many farmers to make a living. As a retailer this may seem counterintuitive, but I want to pay more for coffee. (I just don't want to be the only one). Lower prices do not help me. Lower prices mean lower quality. It was tough to find great coffee last year. This year the coffee is just awful. When I say awful, I mean not specialty grade (ok, some was really just horrible stuff that anyone would spit out).
What we know so far: I have learning issues, I selfishly wish the price of coffee were higher, if you have read this far you are a glutton for punishment. So, in general, for farmers to get more for their beans the CS&CE price for coffee has to go up. In my more than casual observation over the last 19 years I have noticed something about the price of coffee on the CS&CE. Aside from short term aberrations, when there is less coffee the price is higher and when there is more coffee the price is lower. Of course, you say. That is obvious, you say. Yet for 5 out of the last 6 crop years coffee production far exceeded consumption resulting in terribly low prices. What to do? Brazil expands production, Viet Nam is producing 16+million bags in the coming crop, and even Colombia is expanding production by adding 40,000 hectares of coffee (500,000 to 1 million bags). I have a mental block.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
I talk about coffee more than I drink it; and that changes the way it tastes. What? I'm not saying I talk **to** the coffee. I've tried hexes, orisons, and mantras; but they don't work, at least for me. No spell I know of will turn a bad cup good. But between about 1930 and 1980, talk about coffee turned American coffee from some of the best in the world into some of the worst. Since then, other people's talk has improved things in places. Here's how this magic works.
I do most of my coffee talking via email and internet sites like alt.coffee and the Coffeegeek forum. This has some straightforward consequences: news travels fast, and there's a lot of envy and expense as we keep up with Jone's latest coffee acquisitions. But there's a more subtle consequence too: a general attitude forms which admits some coffee projects and excludes others. We internet coffeenuts are generally in pursuit of the "godshot" or "godcup," a coffee eperience like no other. When some new bean, technique, or device comes down the road, all we want to know is whether this will produce blow-me-away coffee.
Things were different for the large coffee roasters in the NCA. Their main coffee customer was the office manager who got a fat bonus for cutting costs each year. Pretty soon, the only thing they were talking about is how to cut costs while still producing an "acceptable cup." 50 years of talk about the cheapest "acceptable cup" has made it an experience one fervently desires to miss.
The victims of acceptable cups, people at work, decided they didn't even want one for free, and instead paid a few dollars for something that was mildly stimulating and soothed the stress of the day. 25 years ago, they started going to the then newest retail fashion, small cafes and artisan roasters. And most of the small cafe owners started talking about how to make their coffee into a comfort food that lures office workers. This hasn't been all that wonderful for coffee purists either; bubble chai caramel latte smoothie anyone? A walk down the annual SCAA convention's exhibition floor will get you the most amazing confections, but not much coffee.
The most interesting group are the coffee people Fortune most frequently mentions in her blogs. These are the pioneers of the specialty coffee movement who have to deal with a lot of different publics and pressures. They have to make a living too, and sell coffee to people needing boredom and stress relief during their working days. But they also have a public of coffee purist; they even talk to us godshot nuts. They're on the most interesting quest of all: creating great coffee that even somebody who's never had a cup of coffee before would love. Here's hoping they succeed.