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Saturday, December 11, 2004

blanche in hospital, the great unexpected

let me note that i took blanche down to the repair place where there was discussion over whether they would charge me again or no. we'll discover what the manager says on monday.

i did receive a strong lectures on sifting dark brown sugar. i usually do not; but the repair people claim that even a small nugget of hardened dark brown sugar is death to an older kitchenaid.

i don't think i had any lumps like that, but again -- i didn't sift! so i dunno, one could have been hidden in the spoonfuls when i scooped the stuff outta the bag and into the bowl on the scale. . .

comments as you see are still not functioning. i thank you again for your patience!

you know, the blogosphere never ceases to amaze me. for example, i think the controversial stuff is when i post coffee prices and slam the commercial coffee greed-heads. but no!

i guess that's progress when we all agree that p&g needs to improve its act considerably -- like, by embracing coffee purity! the controversial comment appears to be -- who'd a thunk it? -- pod machines!

those pod people! but seriously, i didn't expect the flood o' mail: i ignore the ones that begin "you b****y coffee snob," but do enjoy the most reasonable. (that's you, peter r! hiya!)

please let me remind readers that i have had pod machines in my house, the nicest of which was the spidem divina jim from 1st-line brought by for an afternoon. a pod machine and a superauto in one!

this is really a fairly high-end machine. the coffee it made was drinkable, but indeed stale -- all pre-ground coffee stales in minutes. pods, like all pre-ground coffee, just can't be truly fresh, no matter what the salesman says.

the divina pods came out of their special little package. it wasn't bitter or nasty, but did have that "flat-stale" coffee taste, altho' it didn't have the truly objectionable "cardboard-stale" taste, as if you're drinking pulverized shirt boards you've pulled from your dry cleaning.

the coffee wasn't syrupy or gravy-bodied, and the "crema" was a 1/8" skin of pale khaki froth. i've had pod-water from illy and other places as well.

i confessed long ago the illy pod-water can be superior to truly awful shots from truly bad cafes. that's not the standard to which we specialty coffee lovers aspire, though, is it?

what surprises me is how often pod people drag out this comparison -- "better than my local coffeeshop." yikes!

we accept that most non-scaa coffeeshops -- and alas a few scaa member places too -- serve undrinkable tar. this is why we joined scaa chief ted lingle's consumer program to begin with, so that we could stop complaining and start making positive change.

thus of course you can make better than coffeeshop coffee at home. you always could, even with just a US$8 thermos, a teakettle or saucepan, fresh whole-bean coffee, fresh clean water, a US$15 whirly-blade grinder, and a clean tube sock.

i guarantee that properly used the above equipment will make drip coffee much better than 99% of coffeeshops. you don't need a pricey pod machine to achieve that small goal.

look, superautos and pods have their place -- for example, if i have a small child, i probably don't want a heavy doserless commercial grinder that said child could stick its fingers into, or an exposed e61 grouphead that said child could burn itself on.

but at the same time, i won't say -- because it isn't true -- that pod machines make great espresso, good espresso, or even reasonable espresso. because they don't; they make minimally acceptable coffee with a layer of foam that isn't true espresso.

it doesn't look like espresso, taste like espresso, behave like espresso an i'm pretty sure it doesn't meet illy's scientific descriptors for espresso. (we won't go into the proper refractive index for espresso right now, ok? you can get that from illy.)

instead, these machines make something that's rather a short café suisse/café crème/schüemli. and that may be fine for you if you don't know much about coffee and intend to drink it in 18 oz. of milk.

however, i optimistically think -- no, after years of doing this for ted lingle, i know -- that people actually want more. they just don't know how to get there.

it seems so similar to the bread machine thing to me; people love fresh bread and got bread machines. but the bread quality from those machines was mostly quite poor unless you really spent a lot of time with the things tweaking the recipes all about.

and so people abandoned their bread machines. this will most likely be the fate of the pod machines as well.

as long as people understand that they are giving something up -- and what exactly they are losing -- when they "go pod," they can make that choice. but the slate article didn't make any of this clear at all, which may at bottom be my real objection to it.

let me close by once again thanking you, peter r, for writing an intelligent letter. you and i aren't going to agree on this, but i appreciate that we can discuss it like grownup people!

it's an important talk to have and work through -- just another reason i'm so bummed the comments are down!

posted by fortune | 11:14 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Friday, December 10, 2004

comments down for a bit

as you can plainly see, the comment feature is presently down, and will probably be down until monday or so, due to technical issues at the provider.

please be patient and i apologize for the inconvenience. in the meantime, feel free to email me using the link below.

tomorrow morning i still have to drag dear dead blanche to the repair shop. the forecast predicts rain.

frankly, i'm taking a lincoln town car rather than fuss with a kitchenaid mixer on the subway during a downpour! will report more tomorrow.

posted by fortune | 7:55 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

would be laughable if it weren't so sad

i hate to sound like an obnoxious coffee snot, but slate knows nothing about espresso machines. this is frankly the worst review ever, and leaves me with new-found respect for the merely off-base consumer reports.

by the errors in the article, the "reviewer" clearly makes a total ignorance of espresso known. the writer clearly demonstrates no knowledge of espresso preparation, which completely explains why the article recommends what is objectively the worst machine.

an espresso machine is an expensive and long-lasting purchase. it's complicated just to learn what the features you should loook for are and why a reasonable person would choose one over the other.

all discussions of these machines have to include mentions of espresso grinders -- you need one! -- and the fact that it takes about 2 weeks of clueful practice to learn to pull a minimally acceptable espresso properly.

since the author obviously never learned anything about coffee, the article ends up recommending the one machine that doesn't actually make real espresso, but is no doubt the "easiest" to use.

further, his second recommendation is a poor machine, but one that looks cool (the francis! francis!). what appears to be his third recommendation (the gaggia) is actually probably the best machine for most people of all those mentioned.

while the appearance of the machine is important in your kitchen, no doubt, it is far from the most important aspect in a machine choice.

i'm still stunned that the piece fails to explain the basic categories or technologies of machines, why anyone would choose among them, and never mentions crucial things like the boiler (how many? what size?), milk steaming capacity, quality of parts, heat exchanger or not?, etc.

the author did so little legwork these factors were not even discovered, much less discussed. the slate editors should be demanding their money back.

dear readers, ignore this piece of junk. if you're seeking reasonable and knowledgeable advice on an espresso machine purchase, i highly recommend you rush over to and make your request there.

explain how many cups of espresso or cappuccino you expect to make in a day, whether you already have an espresso grinder, what your tolerance for learning to make espresso yourself is, your general budget, etc.

this will allow us alties and scaa consumer members to offer you a list of sensible choices and vendors. you can also give yourself a quick pre-education by checking out the reviews at coffeegeek.

as an scaa consumer liasion, i would love to see slate correct and improve this article to disseminate better information about espresso machine choices to its readers.

posted by fortune | 10:19 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Thursday, December 09, 2004

what's in those cans, part iv

"folgers, citing rising green coffee prices, announced thursday it will boost the price of its roast-and-ground coffee by 14 percent. . ."

reuters helpfully informs us this is the first time since 2002 they have increased prices.

but now that we have a better idea of what's in those cans, would you drink that stuff even if they weren't dumping a massive price hike on you? 14%, hmm, i think that's US$0.28 or so a can, roughly US$0.022 an oz., about US$0.35 a pound.

i do find this pricing confusing, because while the news story says the new list price is US$2.28 a can, cans of folgers in new york cost way more. i thought it might just be a city thing, but walgreen's says a 13 oz. can of folgers is US$2.99 -- i think walgreens' a pretty standard store across the whole country -- which means a 14% increase takes that 13 oz. to US$3.40, or US$4.18 a pound, roughly.

scaa chief ted lingle says that thru november, the price rise folgers has endured in actual coffee cost averaged about US$0.09 [red highlight in far right column mine], or 3% of that can. (chart © 2004 coffee publications, inc.) somebody check my math ok?

i guess that extra 11%'s for the company christmas party? or as lingle says: "cost is a fact, price is a policy."

i've talked about the rising coffee prices here already. if i know that price increase is somehow getting back to the farmer, even a few pennies, then i don't mind. but why do i doubt any of p&g's hike is going anywhere but to fund the corporate golf tournament?

(on this note, we can't help but mention that the commercial coffee sector's little 2005 annual clubby get-together will be at fairmount turnberry isle. after the "big four" -- sara lee, nestle, p&g, kraft -- executives vie for spa facials and good tee times, they can ride their little putt-putt carts along the "gracefully sculpted bunkers" discussing more ways to peddle their defect-filled products, thus shafting farmers and consumers alike.

i have a thought: instead of wasting all that cash they've made on the backs of the serfs, excuse me farmers, like russian aristocrats, why don't they hold a smaller party and send the cash difference to fund more health clinics or schools at origin? you'll notice mostly specialty coffee names on that grounds for health supporters page, names you've also seen here on bccy, like gillies, dallis, counterculture, atlantic, interamerican, paragon, coffee holding, green mountain. . .

but i am too hard on those big four executives -- after all "getting pampered is hard work!")

this was the main reason i was rather calm about the mermaid raising her prices earlier this year. she at least buys a fair amount of her coffee through farmer relationships, which means i feel that the farmers have already and will in the future derive some benefit.

but to peddle junk coffee-by-products and then rake in more cash claiming it's all due to recent market increases. . .hooey.

"coffee growing nations lap up only about $5-$6 billion in earnings, while retail sales in the coffee consuming world total some $70-$80 billion," said i.c.o.'s chief nestor osorio yesterday at a speech here in new york at the harvard club.

the big four really do have an enormous fountain of cash. that's the forest level: on the tree level, osorio's famous for saying that of that US$3+ latte you just bought, the farmer received US$0.04 or less.

"while coffee futures for march delivery in new york were quoted more than US$1 a lb on wednesday and on dec. 2, the highest level in more than four years, the recent depreciation of the U.S. currency nullified those gains," as reuters quotes osorio.

in the meantime, what can average coffee lovers do? keep on keepin' on -- just continue to enjoy the premium specialty coffee you buy from your local independent neighborhood roaster/retailer or coffeehouse.

abjure the low-quality "coffee" the big four offers in those supermarket cans and jars! as more consumers make the switch, they'll have to respond with better quality and better treatment of coffee farmers.

posted by fortune | 7:48 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

how to be assaulted in the state of new york

take 1 full bag of oren's holiday candies to an all-girl yoga class. when it's all over, you will be requesting restraining orders againt ladies you believed to be the soul of etiquette and discretion.

or as one yogini said to her neighbor while standing on her head with her legs wrapped like a pretzel, "i know she won't mind if we have some more of those chocolate-covered espresso beans. . ."

what was i supposed to do? fall out of my own pose into chatarunga, and then spring up into warrior two to defend the goodies? i have to say i didn't mind about the espresso beans so much as i had by that time become deeply enamored of the coffee-flavored white-chocolate-covered roasted almonds.

i comforted myself this morning with a pot of oren's celebes kalossi (a.k.a. sulawesi toraja). this is a coffee that cries out to be made in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press).

this full, heavy-bodied (i mean, heavy, like near espresso!) coffee was roasted to what i would call low-medium-vienna, showing pinpricks of oil.

got your scaa flavor wheel ready?

the fragrance of the dry grounds seemed floral to me, and as i stirred the steeping pot, whiffs of an herby scent reminiscent of fresh basil came wafting up. it had a warm, lightly chocolately finish, leaving the mouth a little dry.

those coffee lovers familiar with sumatra coffees are often surprised by sulawesi. they sometimes expect a similarly mellow, low-toned coffee, but sulawesis can be bright.

and oren's is a bright one! not razory, not snappy, but definitely nippy.

in fact, i think it was the brightest sulawesi i've had all year. oren says this may be his own personal favorite coffee.

as you'd expect with any coffee possessing such a thick body, it's a natural. and by the time i had it, possibly as much as 6 days old -- but still, it bloomed very strongly in the press!

highly recommended.

posted by fortune | 1:24 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

and the word of the day was

brutta. which is how you say "nasty weather" in italian.

however, despite the truly miserable freezing wind, endless icy drizzle, general grayness, etc. etc. today is not brutta. why?

  1. mr. right got out some of his mysterious guyworld plier-type objects and with a quick twist & crimp fixed my broken brazil cafetiére (french press), at least temporarily, which then meant that. . .
  2. i began the morning with a fantastic press pot of gillies' enchanting yemen, a floral, winey, nutty, chocolate-y, thick cup o' heaven
  3. the marvelous oren himself dropped off a holiday care package filled with his famed beowulf espresso, celebes kalossi (a.k.a. sulawesi toraja), and lots of his completely addictive extra-large chocolate-covered dried cherries and double-chocolate-covered malt balls
  4. solomon's appliance repair said they would take a look at poor blanche on saturday, since i found the receipt

so despite the weather, today is an excellent, sunshiny day!

back to that holiday. the chocolate association here has to do with the chocolate gold coins that usually form a feature of this time.

i still haven't found any chocolate coins that are particularly worth eating. however, if i had time, i'd make 'em myself. . .with these molds!

however, then i have to ask myself: while making the coins would be a party, would all the wrapping 'em in gold foil prove as amusing?

posted by fortune | 10:29 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Monday, December 06, 2004

sudden death, part ii

when things fall apart. in this case, the bodum brazil cafetiére (a.k.a. french press) that may have been mr. right's very first gift to me lo those years ago.

you see, he immediately understood me from the beginning. . .coffee.

after many years of use, the screw threads and little collar that hold the screens onto the bottom of the plunger appear to have stripped. meaning when i pressed this morning, the plunger went down but the screens did not!

luckily the metal rod hitting the bottom of the pot didn't crack the glass. this is why, chi'll'un, one should always press one's pot slowly and with care.

also luckily, i have about 4 other bodum pots of various sizes, and will simply bring my big chambord back home from work. or, of course, i could ponder the value of an alessi (but the handle is uncomfy!). . .or a thermal carafe (but they don't really make sense as you need to decant the coffee as soon as you press it to fully stop brewing thru the screen). . .

nope, no alessi stylin' for me. the recent re-death of blanche has me facing the possibility of an electrolux magic mill expense (or a bosch! or a viking)!

and to make the entire experience complete, i've also finally worn a spot into my beloved black transformer mat. time to get a new manduka. . .these are said to last "about a century."

hah! how many times a week do these people jump back to chatarunga?

posted by fortune | 10:00 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Sunday, December 05, 2004

regional bread culture, part i & a holiday blend

long-time readers recall that i regularly post bits about global regional coffee cultures -- that's a truly fascinating subject. i mean, who would have thought that the middle-east is currently in the thrall of dulce de leche flavored lattes? but when you think about traditional honey-laden and cooked milk sweets eaten in the region, it suddenly makes sense. . .

thus today i'm thrilled to post verbatim a report on something many of us home bakers might not think of: regional bread cultures. this eyewitness report is brought to us by the fabulous joyce goldman, who has the pleasure of living in japan, and has done so for many years, working as a translator.

and you thought japan was a only a rice culture? ho, apparently that's as dated as thinking it's still a tea culture:

  1. (Ginza1-chome (main street,Ginza)
  2. Le Notre (basement of Seibu, Ikebukuro Station)

No. 1 is the Japanese branch of Dalloyau. Their white bread with sesames is like cake! And their candy displays are not to be believed, particularly at Easter. Dalloyau is also really convenient, as it is in the heart of Ginza.

No. 2 is for anyone traveling through Ikebukuro Station, which is like something out of the Matrix! Corridors appear and then vanish again. Hands pop out of doors in walls --- the whole bit. Luckily, Le Notre is in the basement of the station, providing nourishment for the whole Ikebukuro experience. Their orange bread with glazed topping is addictive.

Almost every houseguest I have had has later written to say that their stay was nice, but that bread was memorable! They also have very nice walnut bread. When school lets out in the summer, they often make a huge bread tortoise they keep under glass (so it won?t go after the orange bread???), and I admit making more than one detour through the station just to visit it.

No. 3 is the most decadent of all --- a 'cake house' located in Shizuoka, an hour from Tokyo on the bullet train but well worth making that trip! The 'Master,' as they call him, trained in France and does not water-down his confections for Japanese tastes. How good is Zoree? Well, Akihiro and I once pulled out of a funeral procession and into their parking lot. I don't remember exactly who had died, but I will remember the peanut butter-chocolate torte forever!"

her story above just makes me think of j. itami's famous comedy, the funeral.

this weekend's weak winter sunshine was augmented by the arrival of jessica's batdorf holiday blend. not that i'm trying to imply it's a bright coffee, because it's not.

making some up this afternoon in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press) with the usual 32 oz. water, 55g of fresh ground coffee and a 4-min. steep-time, i have to say i liked it! long-time readers know i'm going point 'em to the scaa flavor wheel here. . .

jessica's holiday blend is now 4 days old, which is just as well, because these batdorf coffees bloom like mad in the press. so to prevent massive overflow, i always a day or so after i receive it to prevent unseemly foam accidents that require extensive kitchen clean up.

the coffee appears to me to be what i would call technically a mélange, comprised of different coffees roasted separately and then mixed together. i think it's made up of 3(?) different beans: some of which are roasted in the manner familiar to lovers of their dancing goat, and the rest darker, with about a quarter of the bean surface covered in oil.

this full coffee offers a flowery, fragrant, green-spicy feeling in the dry grounds, what i would call nearer coriander than cardamom. when i broke the crust of this coffee, i was immediately enveloped with a honeyed roasted-nut sensation from the steam -- and maybe a pinch of wet earth?

due to the dark roast some of the beans carry, there's a certain pungent, turpeny feeling in the aftertaste, with a long finish that dries out the back of your mouth and calls for a sip of water.

the press gives the coffee a wonderful thick body, which i very much enjoy personally. it's a low-toned, mellow blend that i believe a lot of people would like for breakfast.

with cream and sugar, a slight cocoa flavor emerged. if i have time tomorrow i'm going to make this in the vac pot, before going on to my stash of gillies fresh yemen. . .

posted by fortune | 10:55 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

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