Saturday, October 09, 2004
jolly caffé and the best hardware store in venice
as promised, today i woke up bright and early in anticipation of robert's jolly caffé. this is one of tuscany's signature coffee blends, served at the well-known bar rivoire in florence.
(of course i have to note that while i have been to the bar rivoire lo these many years ago, i never had coffee there, since to my mind it is the place on the planet after angelina in paris for hot chocolate. . . but i digress.)
i know that single-origin espresso is currently all the rage in the coffee world, but i was feeling like i needed another moment of italy, so i leapt up to cup and brew the jolly, which is a mélange of 12 different arabica beans.
long-time readers know that this is the moment i encourage you all to grab your copy of the scaa flavor wheel and the coffee cupper's handbook.
it's the great linglese. . .i also found as i often do that the nez du café by lenoir was extremely helpful. i cupped this coffee formally, and then i brewed it as espresso, as well as making up a pot in my silver napoletana.
(speaking of napoletana's i am now officially regretting that i didn't buy the famed dalisi napoletana at a beautiful store in venice, bottega dell'acciaio, 791 san marco [041.5228509]. there signore fazzini sells the entire alessi line. the dalisi is so hard to find, and he wanted only E230!!! for it. only, only, only!)
no no no. back to the description of the coffee. where was i?
oh, the jolly contains beans roasted to different levels, as you'd expect, ranging from what i'd call city to light vienna, with dots of oil. perfectly a northern italian style roast.
an important thing to note about the jolly is that is in fact roasted in florence. after talking to robert, it seems as if the coffee was only about 16 days old by the time i received it from italy, where it had been packed in a 1-kilo, 1-way-valve, nitrogen-flushed bag.
this coffee is round and sweet, with a creamy body. the fragrance of the dry grounds was sweetly spicy -- like green cardamom mixed with bay leaves maybe -- while a good slurp revealed a pleasant toasted cereal, maple syrup, and heavy custard flavor.
tasting this coffee also revealed for me the usefulness of lenoir's "roasted coffee" vial. i'd never quite understood why it was there in the set; but the jolly enlightened me.
this coffee really does have an extra well, just-roasted-coffee aftertaste. and it instantly is reminiscent of italy. . .
i made mr. right his morning latte with it and he liked it very much! it cuts through the milk, but has no sharp edges or harshness.
in the napoletana, it was a tremendous afternoon cup, esp. when taken with a tablespoon of light cream and a pinch of turbinado sugar. the cream and sugar emphasis it's maple-y and vanilla-syrupy notes.
i'd be happy to drink the jolly. if it's this pleasant at 16 days -- a time by which i think most coffees are well past drinking -- i wonder what it would be like really fresh.
as when buying all italian coffees, however, there's that shipping problem. the world being what it is today, coffees are often held in port for a fair time.
i once heard about a shipment of lavazza stuck clearing port for nearly 30 days!
for those of you who are avid logo cup collectors, jolly also has a nice set of bar cups. the espresso cups are 2 oz. at the height of the inside logo, and are manufactured by i.p.a.
Friday, October 08, 2004
another moment on the i.c.o.
i think what makes this page different from many other coffee websites (coffee geek, etc.) is that i often chat about larger coffee issues. i know it annoys some people, but hey! coffee's a big world -- the second-most-traded commodity and all that.
when i talk about this i.c.o. situation, i know a lot of people are still a tad confused. lemme explain. . .
it does seem at first abstruse. but the bottom line is this: when you go the store and buy hamburger, you expect it to be beef. and fairly decent beef, not offal or calves' feet ground up with fat and water.
there are rules that define nationwide the general parameters of what "hamburger" can be. we consumers rely on those.
wouldn't you like the same level of certainty with the coffee you buy? you'd like to know that the stuff labeled "100% pure coffee" is just that.
but if you buy some coffee products in the supermarket, or are offered coffee in certain food-service situations, you may not be getting delicious, pure coffee, but rather junk coffee, made with defective beans, moldy beans, fermented beans, bug-chewed beans. stuff like that.
part of re-joining the i.c.o. originally would have encouraged or even required the u.s.a. to update its coffee standards to protect consumers against this stuff by changing labelling laws so that this low-grade, poor-quality stuff would have to be called "coffee by-products."
just as dog food is labelled "meat by-products." and this is why the i.c.o. issue really matters to us normal coffee drinkers: otherwise millions of consumers think they are buying coffee "hamburger," yet are instead getting the coffee equivalent of "dog food!"
but commercial coffee -- those big multi-nationals responsible for the um, "coffee" you see in the cans and jars in the supermarkets, firms like p&g, sara lee, kraft, nestle, and i probably should mention tchibo -- resisted this labelling effort.
for probably obvious reasons. just as the scaa represents your local high-quality, specialty neighborhood roaster and coffeeshops, the nca represents these huge firms above, with their chief lobbyist being robert nelson.
the scaa and your local specialty roasters, retailers, and coffeeshop owners supported the so-called "coffee purity" labelling rules. they understand that we average coffee lovers will turn away from java unless it's high-quality and good-tasting.
while i was away, of course there was another i.c.o. meeting in london, about which scaa chief ted lingle so kindly posted. please see here for more background on this issue.
what was interesting was to read a little later on that week the news release that the nca's own robert nelson offered the planet, which somehow seemed not to mention lingle or the involvement of specialty coffee at all.
you'da thunk that the push to re-join the i.c.o. was completely the idea of commercial coffee! and naturally no mention was made of the purity or labelling rules.
that's because commercial coffee fought to ensure the labelling rules wouldn't really ever be implemented. now the purity effort is merely voluntary, unenforceable.
you don't have to be a raging cynic to know where that will lead -- nowhere. let me pause for a moment to note that actually i'm not against commercial coffee per se, and i still pray robert nelson finds his soul.
what i'm specifically against as a coffee drinker, what ted lingle is against as a coffee professional, what your local independent coffee guy is against as part of the passion of the livelihood, is the high level of defective beans in commercial coffee.
we all know commercial coffee used to be better; the red and blue cans used to be better; and with a commitment to higher quality, they can be better again.
so what did the u.s.a., and more specifically, the american coffee consumer gain by our re-joining the i.c.o.? see ted's post. . .
we know now at least america is part of the framework to help stabilize the coffee market and alleviate the worst effects of the world-price depression known as the "coffee crisis." the crisis harms the american consumer by also reducing the quality of the coffee we drink over time, not to mention the suffering it causes among coffee farmers and workers!
of course, when asked about these price issues, and thus the poverty and suffering in many coffee-growing communities, apparently robert nelson mouthed a sound bite about the market. . .the same market that is currently failing both farmer and consumer alike. and he said nothing about improving quality.
but in the absence of these purity rules, consumers have only once way to ensure that they are getting good coffee -- buy whole beans from your local independent roaster, retailer, coffeehouse or bean store, from people you can know and trust.
anyway, enough of this rant for this week. robert of jolly cafe has kindly sent me some his coffee -- the tuscan brand i couldn't seem to catch up with in italy -- and i'll be talking about that tomorrow!
Thursday, October 07, 2004
ok, ok, the wine already
after a blizzard of email from the wine crowd, i'll report on a couple of the wines i found and liked in italy as i travelled about. even tho', of course, wine is rather outside my charter.
please note that getting wine information for many of italy's flirty stuffs can be difficult. some of the best meals are in little local places that serve charming -- and this just isn't the so-called "vacation glow" speaking -- local table wines made by members of the extended family or by neighbors.
thus when you ask what the wine is and where it comes from you are likely to hear that the owner's wife's second cousin's family has been making wine for umpteen years, that it's grown "around here," and maybe you can get the name of the grape.
this was my experience at da tonnino, where i had rabbit crepes with a truly pleasant red, displaying all the best characteristics of the aglianico grape: fruity, a little chocolatey, a tiny hint of leather like a new coach bag.
when i asked about the wine, the waiter said only, "it's aglianico, grown here in campania."
i asked to see the label on the bottle, and recieved a blank look -- the bottles had no labels, he said, since they were made by the usual long chain of relations. it was made by family who produced table wine especially for restaurants.
i'm not sure i believed this -- no labels? -- but for the time being, let's take that at face value. . .this wine, like many from the region, was probably a mix of aglianico and piedrosso, maybe 70-30.
the piedrosso grape was probably responsible for the wine's lovely, velvety color, since it's grown in a soil heavy in volcanic ash. but i'm not sure; wine is largely outside my purview. anyway a gazillion nice but not d.o.c. wines in campania are made along this general formula.
in siena we ate at what i think is a well-known and excellent restaurant, taverna di san giuseppe. there the "honest," local wine had a label: pagni, rosso del borgo, castelnuovo berardenga, siena.
of all the non-dessert wines i had in italy, this was my favorite: you know, a supple chianti. need i say more? the waiter also attributed this non-d.o.c. wine to "old neighbors."
long-time readers know i have a seriously unfashionable attraction to dessert wines, especially those that are great with chocolate. forgive me, i can't help myself.
in venice i enjoyed a marvelous glass of sicilian malvasia -- at the no-secret la zucca, which despite what people say is a snap to find; but then, i was never lost in venice, not once, since landmarks are everywhere, tho' i did take a couple of brief wrong turns -- as well as several glasses of local, lightly sparkling, lightly blushed fragolino, from vicenza.
the latter i personally believe, might be good with dark chocolate, due to its strawberry flavor. it's a wine that connoisseurs appear to disdain intensely, if not actually loathe.
i had two glasses of this around venice that weren't "foxy," but were just pleasant and gently sweet, no musk, earth, or concord grape juice. maybe i just got lucky because what i had seemed little different than a nice prosecco with a deep berry lilt; or maybe i've just again revealed i know nothing about wine. . .
but the malvasia, was well, malvasia: perfumed, apricot-almondy, and nearly as thick as port.
at the time, i sitting near the canal, when an american gentleman with a certain age, who reminded me of gore vidal, that literary type who took his inheritance and fled for europe long, long ago, deeply ambivalent about returning, leaned over to ask me what i was drinking.
"malvasia," i answered. "what is that?" he asked his partner. "malmsey," the other gentleman, who seemed to be british, sniffed.
after some discussion, they recommended to me a swiss wine -- they live now in switzerland -- dol heldenblut, or "blood of the heroes." they said it was a kind of pinot noir.
i know nothing about this wine; i've never had any, and there's zero info about it on google. so i won't comment further.
lemme close by mentioning 2 passitos i also enjoyed: from campania, the corte normanna, porta dell'olmo, d.o.c., falanghina passito 2002, with its notable diamond-shaped label; and from sicily, from the little island of pantelleria, duca di castelmonte, d.o.c., 2003.
the campania passito was an intense essence of vanilla, honey, and applesauce. all the best things about apples, everything you think of when you summon sweet apples to mind; i was wild about this glass, frankly.
the pantelleria passito was a little different, vanilla, honey, and the small intense cantaloupes i know as cavaillon. it was like having a bowl of melon, but the best melon ever. . .
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
why espresso parts rules
just in case there's any doubt, there's one simple reason why espresso parts rules: brian, brian, brian.
lemme explain. upon my recent return from italy, mr. right -- who frankly prefers diet coke but will on the weekend deign to take a batdorf dancing goat latte -- had asked for a latte. he did in fact drink a cappuccino every morning in italy.
thus when i presented him with the usual latte, he thrilled my little chiming heart by casually asking "could i get another shot in this?" but lo and behold, he was already drinking a cup made with a doppio (double) ristretto.
that's correct: mr. right had asked to step up to the triple ristretto! now long-time readers will recall that kevin, mike, and chris of gimme coffee had coverted me this summer to the triple ristretto espresso.
thus i was looking for an excuse to buy a la marzocco triple basket. and how neatly mr. right dropped it in my lap!
i placed my order with espresso parts. i couldn't for the life of me find the part searching, so i called the sales office, which kindly gave me the part number: mz.108.
then i went on my merry way to yoga class, thinking of it no more. long-time readers know i possess both a rancilio silvia espresso machine and an expobar office control, the famed carlos.
this afternoon i received a phone call from brian d. of espresso parts. "hey," he said in that awesome laid-back voice of his, "i was getting ready to ship your order when i noticed you have a rancilio commercial portafilter. you know, the triple basket is 58mm wide, but it's too tall for your portafilter."
"ok," i said, "i guess i need a new portafilter. but since i have an expobar, can i get one that will fit both?"
now this is a daunting question, since as devoted espresso fanatics know, the so-called "ear patterns" of silvia and carlos are completely different. the "ear pattern" is the shape and arrangement of the 2 little flanges on the sides of the portafilter that lock it inside the grouphead.
and what does awesome brian say? he says: yes! "i can make one that will fit both," he says. yes!
my heart melted into my tod's driving loafers. brian knows how to make a girl happy!
repeat after me: espresso parts rules! thank you, owner terry z.!
but i had to get brian off the phone before i impulsively ordered a wega lyra. . .
struggling to get to bread and chocolate
i need to spend more time drinking coffee with friends. . .
just as i think i'm going to catch up with bread and chocolate notes from my recent trip to italy -- and yes, for those emailed inquiries, i will make a few remarks about wine and fall fashions as well -- along comes a great moment from a person i must confess i have completely ignored but who probably should be best known for her devotion to breast-cancer charities.
popular actress r. zellweger gives the charming "coffee with friends" line above. which certainly shows us all that she's a bccy-kinda coffee-lovin' gal after all!
because let's face it, we all need to spend more time having our friends over for coffee, don't we?
and finally, let's note the mermaid increases her prices slightly today. i don't for a second believe the price of the coffee has anything to do with it.
the price of milk -- which remains shocking, but i ranted on that last year and people thought me a little odd -- always the punishment for being ahead of one's time! -- and certainly, the price of offering health care:
those reasons i'd believe!
(let me also offer a quick rebuttal to daniel gross here: people pay a lot for the mermaid because of the perceived atmosphere, their liking for the flavors of the "coffee" drinks, and because it's still trendy to carry about a starbies cup on the street. this has been proven by customer surveys, and is also obvious to anyone who's ever been in a starbucks.
gross tries to argue that it's because people are "addicted" to the mermaid's supposedly high caffeine levels. however, that study seems to have been flawed, as our hero scaa chief ted lingle noted soon after it came out. . .
and he also questioned whether most people generally develop this supposed "dependency" in actuality.)
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
short yoga break and feature note
first let me say that while i was away, atomz, who hosts my search feature, decided to incorporate ads into the search results. they just appeared one day.
this is completely horrible. i don't get to choose the ads -- many of which i consider inappropriate -- nor do i gain any benefit from them.
i have been offered many times the "opportunity" to carry various ads or get certain kinds of sponsorship for this site, all of which i have refused. gotta be independent, after all, right?
thus, sometime this week when i have a moment, i will be temporarily disabling the search altogether. sadly, there is not currently a good search feature for blogs that is reasonably priced.
i will probably be replacing atomz with some flavor of google search, altho' i will end up featuring their ads if i do this. i am not sure how to keep bccy ad-free at this point in time and offer a good search feature without moving the site from blogspot, which would be quite disruptive.
in this light, some have suggested that i sign up for the google "adsense" program, whereby if i have to show google ads, i at least get some benefit from them. however, i still hesitate.
what do you all think? if i host ads, am i selling out? i could sell little banner ads myself, as mark prince does on coffeegeek, but then i get into a whole situation in terms of not really being a pure consumer in the coffee industry.
difficult! i hope you readers will take a moment to advise me on what direction you would prefer. . .
on a lighter (heavier?) note, i took a complete break from yoga while in italy. the first couple of classes have been a little tough; my flexibility did retreat a bit.
for example, i can't just flop over and kiss my knees with my palms flat on the floor! my balance isn't quite as sure; yesterday's bending tree (like regular tree, but where you put one arm along the top of the bent leg and bend towards that side) was a bit wobbly at the ankle.
but i'm not worried. i expect to be back where i was in about 2 weeks, feeling light and floating thru the surya namaskar as always!
while gazing at a starry sky is lovely, i must say nothing replaces the gentle, peaceful, flying feeling of a great sun salutation. . .
Monday, October 04, 2004
coffee in amalfi etc.
my first real day back is kinda crazy, as you might expect, so i'm just going to quickly note a few facts about coffee slightly south of naples, on the famed amalfi coast.
surprise -- it's not all naples-staple, caffé kimbo! unsuprise -- it's mostly la cimbali machines!
i had coffee in 2 places in the main square in amalfi: the bar francese, which uses caffé sombrero, a smaller neapolitan brand with more arabica than the standard kimbo blend used by most coffee bars, and andrea pansa, which uses illy.
this is a case in which i was pulling for the illy, frankly, and wasn't disappointed. but the sombrero is interesting to try.
in positano, there's no doubt: the best coffee is the bar internazionale, which is the favorite of locals. it's at the very top, and is just the local bar, newsstand, wine stop, etc. where the real residents of positano enjoy themselves.
luckily, the little positano interno bus stops right there, so you can save your knees. while surely other americans must drop by, i never saw any when i was there.
after this brief coffee-stop south i trained back to rome, on my way north to siena, a.k.a. bei & naninni land. i did try to find a place serving jolly, but couldn't find one that was open -- the bar acquacalda was closed for a couple of days.
i'll have to get a can of jolly and try it here state-side. . .
the weather in siena was unseasonably cold and brutta ("nasty"). we enjoyed -- that's not really the right term -- the first fall rain two weeks early.
thus it was a great pleasure to hang about with the sienese in the grand nannini cafe and dunk a slab of torta ghibelline into my cappuccino. the torta ghibelline is a species of chocolate panaforte -- sometimes called "sienese fruitcake" -- but made with only hazelnuts and candied orange rind, no other nuts or dried fruit.
the nannini boasts a large flat-screen tv, which was always turned to the italian news-and-weather channel. so those with even a smattering of italian could observe and eavesdrop on the real italian perspective, as the sienese commented freely on what they saw. . .
Sunday, October 03, 2004
hit the ground drinking
ok, so a twist like me touches italian tarmac, and naturally the first thing i do is take a deep breath at the dispiriting worthlessness of the u.s. dollar (henceforth known as "doesn't even make a decent tissue") against the euro. i kept hoping if i double-clicked it like a thumbnail pic, it would grow larger, but alas. . .
then of course i hop into a taxi and tell the driver we're going to the tazza d'oro. devoted readers and all coffee lovers know this hallowed coffee bar near the pantheon in rome.
some feel it serves the best coffee in all of italy. and no one can deny the silkiness of those cappuccini. . .
but the real roman beauty is lurking in a bakery, panarella, on via meraluna, not five blocks from the santa maria maggiore. this place is famous for its handmade, traditional italian breads. all those rare and lovely loaves you've read about in carol fields' "italian baker" can be seen here in person.
panarella is basically a dean & deluca just for bread and pastries. but with worse attitude. i entered to see the 8 kinds of heritage flatbreads you can't get anywhere else in italy anymore.
what's interesting is that the near-vanished "contadina" loaf, a focaccia-like bread made of whole dark grains, is a very reasonable E1.80. but the pizza bianca with prosciutto crudo and fresh figs -- a roman staple for snacking -- was E35 a kilo!
(hint: il forno tucked away in a far corner on the campo di fiori has this same fabulous snack, but with san daniele ham, and at only E3 for a giant portion. it's even better than the panarella pizza bianca and costs about 150% less!)
but what i found unexpectedly was an incredible, sexy, gorgeous, gleaming chrome 100-year-old-and-didn't-look-a-day-past-new vittoria arduino espresso machine. i thought i was gonna faint dead away.
of course, i had to have a cup of coffee. unfortunately, the uniformed barista felt i just wasn't up to his standards, even tho' i was wearing a big-city dress, acting like a grown-up and even speaking decent italian. maybe he objected to my walking shoes, i dunno. . .
but after a lot of sighing and some eye-rolling, i did in fact manage to get a ristretto. it went like this: "potrebbe darmi un caffé per favore?" (may i have a coffee please?) to which he responded with an eyebrow and a sigh: "cappuccino."
as it was past noon, well beyond normal cappuccino time, i nicely corrected him: "mi dispiace, un ristretto, per piacere." (i'm sorry, a ristretto, please.) and then he asked me in english if i was english.
this is when i learned that i apparently speak italian with what is perceived as a british accent; this dogged me all over italy, north and south.
anyway, i got my coffee, and it was terrible, frankly, as you can see from this candid moment. . . beautiful machine, but really he did butcher the illy. . .
knowing me as you do, dear readers, it won't surprise you in the least when i tell you i bought eurostar train tickets to naples purely for the pleasure of drinking coffee there as well. well that's not exactly true: i think naples is fantastic.
in naples i always try to make it to the famed caffé gambrinus, caffé del professore, bar mexico, and of course pastry heaven, scaturchio. i did take some time out to pick up a bottle of the wonderful and delicate cologne by acqua parma, the iris nobile.
how i love its blend of iris, orris root, ambrette, star anise, and vanilla. . . sorry. back to the coffee. . .i do agree that fame has lowered the quality of gambrinus a tad. but that still means it's damn fine coffee, made with a wonderful old-fashioned four-group lever machine.
plus the baristi in gambrinus are always pleasant and a joy to watch work. they too wear uniforms, honored by time, and take themselves with a great, charming seriousness.
i also stopped in at the professore for one of their special "caffé del professore" drinks. this is espresso in a wide-mouthed tumbler served with chocolate sauce, hazelnut sauce, hazelnut liqueur, and cream. yummy.
it may be the only flavored coffee drink anywhere that's actually worth drinking. sadly mr. right didn't get a picture of this concotion; you'll have to go to naples yourself and order two.
however, he did manage to get a snap of the bar mexico across from piazza dante, which is much changed now that they have finished the subway construction there. after lunch i sauntered down the via port'alba past all the student bookstores and picked up a nice, basic workbook for myself, "l'italiano per amico, un corso di italiano per stranieri." (friendly italian, a course for foreigners).
this is a great workbook, used by the national program aimed at assimilating refugees into italian life. all the characters in the book are named abdullah, habeba, wang ching. . .very helpful in helping pass the time during the dull parts of train journeys. . .
at the mexico they serve a 100% arabica blend, "harem," which you can see in the background of the pic. the mexico's a place where you can meet all naples: students, shopkeepers, business people, cab drivers, just everyone.
and of course the coffee's wonderful, widely thought now to be the best in naples. i also recommend their second location across from the train station and just 3 blocks from that neapolitan institution, mimi's, a restaurant whose fame has been long-trumpted everywhere but which has maintained its high standards and great food.
then finally scaturchio. i have a picture here somewhere. . .i'll find it in a bit. ah, here it is; can you imagine my sorrow when it was time to leave the gorgeous city of naples?
of course i managed not to do until i had a pizza margherita d.o.c., the certified pizza verace napoletana, at trianon. . .more on that later. . .