Saturday, November 13, 2004
a brief yoga primer
several weeks ago i wrote a bit about carl sheusi's ashtanga class at yoga people. devoted readers will recall that what i liked so much about carl was his great statement: "lotus poses are optional. don't do a pose if it hurts your knees."
and his gentle sense of humor is a big plus too! actually, carl is just a very gentle person, which in my experience is rare in a guy ashtangi.
anyway, carl sent me his awesome ashtanga booklet in adobe acrobat format, which i'm calling a "primer." it has attributed selections from various famed ashtangis that explain the point of this sadhana.
i just think it's one of the shortest and best introductions to the practice of ashtanga i've seen recently (it's about a 5 min. download on dial-up). that's why i'm putting it up here so that those interested can download, read and comment. . .
if you get a password warning, don't worry: you can open and read the document, just not cut or paste from it. just click thru the warning and enjoy!
back to coffee tomorrow. gotta run and make pizza dough so it can rise overnight!
Friday, November 12, 2004
from the western mountains: yemen sanani
i'm deeply indebted to california food writer and long-time altie richard reynolds for informing me that james freeman of blue bottle is a former professional clarinetist. this musical background just snaps his coffees into focus, i think. . .
i've often said that you can really know a roaster's deep personality through his coffee and vice versa. james is a perfect example of this, i'm coming to believe.
this chill and rainy morning cried out for a pot of james' yemen sanani. long-time readers know i am particularly partial to yemeni coffees!
i will describe this coffee in the usual way, just as i did yesterday with his alma viva. first let me note that when i spread the roasted beans out on the table, they looked like classic yemen to me.
smallish, kinda pea-shaped, a little uneven in roast (great yemens often roast unevenly), a tad beat-up looking. i think this coffee is probably the yemen variety known as "ismaili."
james says this coffee is a medium-to-dark roast, but to my eye these beans seemed roasted a bit lighter than the alma viva yesterday. that could just be because of the wacky way yemens often take color.
let's hop right to the description, so grab your scaa flavor wheel. . .
some varities of yemen are wild, intense, crazy, almost ecstatic. james' yemen sanani is in this classic mode, but a little quieter: it's crooning to you in a slightly softer way, it seems to me, in a voice of barely restrained ardor.
i mean, this is a coffee on the verge of an emotional explosion, if you follow me. there's something about it, this passionate quality, that makes me wonder if the green beans come from erna knutsen; does she sell yemens?
this rich coffee has a barely winey taste, a soft twist-y tang. in the cafetiére (a.k.a. press pot) it offered a really fabulous slightly gelatinous body.
the fragrance of the fresh grounds filled my kitchen with pure tea rose. breaking the crust in the cup, i found a fair pinch of damp soil or earth, probably from the rooftop on which the coffee was dried.
this is what james probably means when he says this coffee is like "being tossed into a grimy manhattan snow bank." but i think that may make the cup seem wetter and dirtier than it is, altho' i do appreciate the image!
tasting the coffee -- true yemen character: vanilla, a malty, balsamic rice (like chewing brown basmati rice for a long time -- this probably comes from the beans that took the lighter roast color), and then the great chocolate-y, dark dry cocoa bomb thing. that stays and stays and stays.
when the coffee's cooler, i also detect some kind of fragrant wood, not cedar. . .i'm reaching, i'm reaching. . .sandalwood?
this coffee just makes you wanna sway on your feet, like listening to the wordless impassioned sufi singing. you might not out-n-out whirl with this sanani, but you will be moved.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
the alma viva
this morning i jumped outta bed with anticipation to sample james freeman's blue bottle "alma viva" blend. as usual, i'll be using the scaa flavor wheel, scaa chief ted lingle's cupping handbook, and j. lenoir's nez du café to describe this ultra-fresh coffee.
james intends this coffee as drip, but sadly i didn't have time this morning to cup it, make it in the vac pot, and also in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press). so i simply cupped it and pressed it to be able to get a good feel for its potential body.
this is a drum-roasted coffee, which is all good by me. why do i say this?
since the blend is based in costa rica and a mexican chiapas, you would initially expect a bright, even snappy, coffee. however, drum roasting in general mutes brightness a tad, while fluid-bed roasting generally highlights it.
long-time readers know that i'm not the biggest fan of "stings like a rubber band snap" bright coffees -- altho' i understand all the pro cuppers love this quality -- and that i have to work a little harder to appreciate them. . .
james calls this coffee a "medium" roast, but by my new york standard -- we are usually used to roasts lighter here than on the west coast -- it was surely the color of vienna, but with no visible oil. so i'm deeming it a full-city-on-the-edge here as a compromise!
and since the coffee is certified organic, i also expected it to be a little wild. in 3 cups however, i didn't find any extreme variation, so no wild here!
i'll describe the alma viva as a rich coffee, with a medium body. the fragrance of the dry grounds was decidedly floral, a tad spicy, like a paperwhite narcissus.
this fragrance reminded a little of the coffee i cupped with peter g. of counterculture in our famous phone cupping. since that coffee has a mexican component, i'm venturing that this floral-spicy fragrance may have come from the chiapas in this blend.
on to the rest of the bouquet: the coffee offered what seemed to me a citrus-peel oil sensation, that zing you get when you crush say a grapefruit or orange peel between your fingers and hold the resulting oil under your nose. that gave way to a vanilla and caramel character, which james relates to toasted almonds, but i thought was maybe a little more towards honeyed.
finally, i believe i detected a faint wood-spice note before a nice finish that left my mouth watering. this wood-spice note may perhaps come from the costa rica component,as probably does the citrus.
no doubt the coffee tastes sweet, medium-bright, nippy not snappy. the lack of full snap, as i speculated above, may be due to the drum roasting.
in the french press, with a tablespoon of light cream and raw sugar, this coffee presented other characteristics, most notably a fairly thick and pleasing body. this surprised me a bit, since often mexican coffees, esp. those from chiapas, which is close to huehuetenango in guatemala, can share the lighter body of guatemala coffees.
james says milk mutes this coffee, but with all due respect, i might not agree with this.
true, the citrus and bright feeling are both reduced. however, i thought the milk accentuated the wood-spice note and turned it into that kind of soft cinnamon, not the hot cinnamon used in candies.
further, the vanilla aspect just leapt to the fore, with a toasty/roasty feeling. this toasty/roasting is what i think james was talking about when he mentioned roasted almonds.
and the touch of sugar naturally strengthened that honeyed thing going on. in the end, i believe that if you like it black, the alma viva is a bright, citrus cup, not overly bright, but pleasantly so.
but for those who like a little milk and sugar in your coffee, the alma viva is also a treat: sweet, vanilla-sugary, soft cinnamon, toasty/roasty -- yuppers, it's like the sweet cinnamon toast your granny served you as child for breakfast.
all good, either way! if these characteristics i'm trying to describe sound appealing to you, i think you'd enjoy this blend.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
riches in abundance
and a huge bccy thank you to james freeman of oakland's cult artisan roaster, blue bottle coffee. this was recently judged the best coffee in the entire bay area.
which is saying a lot, because in many ways, san francisco has long been a coffee mecca. james is of course famous for his passionate love of fine coffee. . .something we here at bccy appreciate and truly share.
james kindly sent several of his signature coffees: the bright alma viva; the wild yemen sanani; the giant steps (this is the coffee i have heard the most about after the espressos); the moka/java bella donovan; and finally his two espressos, the roman and the temescal.
if memory serves, i believe long-time bccy pal bruce cole of sautewednesday is addicted to the roman blend. . .
they've woken up and smelled the coffee!
"highlighted . . .was the extent to which the general public are embracing coffee as a social beverage."
well, duh. haven't we here at bccy been discussing the increases in consumption and the social roles of coffee for nearly 5 years now? i can't count how many posts here have been about teen coffee drinking and the renewed global culture of the coffeehouse; can you?
but the most recent commercial coffee survey by our, umm, pals at the nca -- always so eager to push the stuff in the red and blue cans at us coffee-lovers no matter how low the product quality is -- are finally beginning to catch on.
better late than never, i say. but notice what segment is growing:
"this year's survey demonstrates the long-term success of the gourmet coffee sector. . ."
that's us here in specialty coffee land, we normal coffee lovers who are devoted to premium-quality coffees.
and after reading about the increasing victories of fine coffee, i was of course amused at the latest ny times coffee article on pod & superautomatic machines. yuppers, the times has finally discovered long-time bccy pal kenny nye at 9th st. espresso, formerly higher grounds.
i was however impressed to note that the writer, william grimes, a long-time fan of dr. illy, did take the time to note that one of the problems with all these machines is that the coffee is too cold.
in italy, standard espresso is brewed at 190-5 degrees f to reach about 155 degrees f in the cup, which is the temperature that results if the machine brews hot enough to extract all the delicious natural sugars and other good-tasting things from fresh-ground coffee.
many north american artisan coffeehouses brew espresso at somewhat higher temperatures, even. and the scaa standard for drip coffee as set out in ted lingle's coffee brewing handbook would be higher too.
these too-low temperatures grimes documents don't bring out all the best flavors in the coffee. look, superautomatics have a place for the house-proud, or those with very small children, who need to avoid the hot portafilters of the conventional espresso machine.
and pod/capsule machines -- while an expensive way to drink weak, stale coffee -- might be useful in a fractured household or a college dorm suite.
but i agree with grimes when he concludes that the lower quality of coffee these machines offer isn't worth the high prices of the machines themselves or the stale pods.
where i disagree is his conclusion that coffee is best left to "professionals." i completely support baristi and their craft; they are in fact professionals worthy of respect!
but in two weeks with a decent grinder, fresh coffee, and a good machine, anyone can learn to pour great coffee, even if you never manage the highest forms of latte art. maybe we can't all be chris deferio of gimme, pouring innovative and beautiful lattes, like the 5-strand laurel wreath shown here.
but we can still enjoy making great coffee at home for family and friends (and for a lot less than grime's stated US$4 a cup!). that's what we here at bccy and the scaa consumer member program are all about!
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
an eye on kenya coffees
"the raging coffee crisis in nyeri district has taken an unprecedented direction following a declaration by a section of farmers not to pick their produce.
in kirinyaga, 20,000 members of the giant kabare co-operative society have resolved to forcefully take over the management of mukengeria factory."
the continuing upheaval in kenya's best coffee growing districts is certainly a cause for concern among all those who love high-quality kenya coffee. kenya is considered by coffee lovers to be one of the world's most-prized types.
fine kenya is complex, winey, and can have striking fruity berry or citrus flavors, with a long finish, medium body, and few defects (this is known in coffee-talk as a "clean cup").
these problems are due of course to a mixture of the global coffee crisis and corrupt situations local to kenya. the farmers are attempting to preserve some level of independence against what seem like frankly crony-ist and self-dealing government schemes.
those close to the government do appear to be nakedly trying to rip off the farmers and pocket coffee export profits for themselves. and it seems sometimes as if the management of the coffee processing plants are also corrupt and cheat the farmers.
thus some farmers are trying to sell their coffee outside the official government-sponsored systems, which results in their arrest and other deep unpleasantness. the sorrow in this is that the coffee harvest is being held hostage, even as actual violence ensues.
at the cupping yesterday the overall feeling was that the kenya coffee is somewhat disappointing this year (kenya being a component in oren's beowulf espresso). the coffee quality appears to be suffering from this complex and disturbing situation. . .
once again it's a reminder that if you think the struggles of some very poor people who live on the slopes of a mountain far, far away was of no concern to you, look deep into the cup sitting at your elbow right now. do you what what beans are in that blend?
the coffee you are drinking right now could have been touched by these farmers' own hands, or picked by their children. . .they and their aspirations for a decent life are not distant from you at all.
Monday, November 08, 2004
the cupping, as it was
"Dear Ted, Mike & Kimberly:
I'm writing you with great happiness about today's cupping at the Exchange for the SCAA program with New York magazine. I think it went nicely, considering the short notice: we put this together in a week.
As you may remember, the reporter called me to include a cupping in a larger life-style piece. And of course with the invaluable and gracious aid of the Exchange, former SCAA president Steve Colten, Oren Bloostein and Genevieve, Don and David Schoenholt, and the incredible devotion of consumer member, home-roaster, and famous folk musician Bob Yellin -- who flew from Vermont for this occasion -- we were able to advance the goals of the association's pro and consumer members.
In general we followed the general protocol of last June's event, cupping commercial components, and then moving to specialty. At the reporter's request, we focused on espresso.
I cannot thank Steve Colten of Atlantic enough for the enormous amount of effort he put forward this morning to block time for us at the Exchange, set up the entire commercial table, discuss the basics of coffee, and guide the reporter. I am endlessly grateful; he is always exceptional, an individual who performs even more than he promises.
Oren and Genevieve also offered their wonderful skills and the lovely Beowulf espresso. And they were willing to come and not only present the coffee, but also help mentor the reporter and photographer thru the cupping. As you know, not only are they both cuppers of the first caliber, but their belief in our program and commitment this morning goes beyond all bounds.
Also, Don and David Schoenholt helped me carry a semi-commercial one-group espresso machine, shop grinder, water, tampers, portafilters, etc. etc. from Brooklyn to the Exchange and back. Dealing with equipment is always difficult, but Don was kind enough to ferry all of it and myself around New York.
Naturally I also cannot help but acknowledge the delicious Deluxe Dark III espresso they contributed to the event, as well as the engaging coffee lore only Don can relate. As always, his passion and precision are incomparable.
Finally, I cannot forget the generosity of the Exchange in its willingness to allow us to use their facilities. I do hope this event helps raise their public recognition as well.
The reporter seemed engaged; so I am hopeful we will soon see the kind of coffee story that can only aid our efforts. Once again, I can only be honored to be able to rely on the dedication and passion of our friends. I never tire of the privilege I have in working with them on these special events.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
and i think i'm going to drag my lame carcass down to the exchange with carlos expobar and the mazzer mini to play barista?
i love todd of whole latte love more than ever right now; to him, i owe dear carlos in the first place. while as long-time readers recall, the mazzer came from jim p. at 1st-line.
who am i kidding? excuse me, would you like a double or triple ristretto. . .