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Saturday, December 18, 2004

kenya americanos and the almondine

as noted yesterday, awesome altie and scaa consumer member jim schulman sent me some of his home-roasted kenya, meant for a single-origin espresso. i think it's best as an americano, personally.

i pulled it as a triple (about 2.25 oz.), added 4 oz. water, a tablespoon of light cream, a pinch of splenda, and sat about with the paper. the kenya hadn't lost all its brightness, offering a little muted twinkle, so that was a good time.

today i did have to finish up the office gift-giving list, so i wandered down the hill to jacques torres, which was a zoo, filled with weird stepford people who were literally from connecticut, if the plates on the double-parked cars were to be believed. the place was packed, yet stripped barren -- invasion of the greenwich locusts -- and smelled like hot chocolate and fresh croissant.

long-time readers know that jacques has opened up a pastry place slantwise across the street, called almondine. i wandered in, even tho' early reviews of it haven't been good.

they had the usual too-frou-frou pastries -- opera, mousses, napoleons, fruit tarts, etc. etc. not a single thing new or interesting -- in a dimly lit case, and four kinds of bread. the bread: a competent-looking baguette, a flattish pain de campagne, a honey-whole-wheat-oat boule, and an olive boule.

the pain de campagne did catch my eye, altho' it was baked too dark -- the edges of the slashes actually appeared singed. i engaged the person-behind-the-counter, a listless young man in a crooked apron.

"could you tell me about the pain de campagne?" i asked. "what?" he said. "um, that flattish sourdough rye, whole wheat, and white bread in the basket." "oh, the rye country bread," he said without a trace of recognition in his face, "it's made with all organic flour."

"and it's not really sourdough," he offered after a pause. "is that a 2-pound loaf?" i asked. "can i have half?" "no," he answered, "we don't sell halves anymore."

i looked around the charmless white boxy storefront so unlike the chocolate shop across the street. "ok, how much is it?" i inquired. "lemme ask in the back," he said.

suddenly the bad reviews all gelled in my head; the place was empty but for me. "no thanks, i really only need a half," i waved goodbye as i fled back into the street. . .

why do i bake bread myself at home? why do i take all the trouble? is there any doubt?

posted by fortune | 1:14 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Friday, December 17, 2004

looking for a gift for the coffee lover who has everything?

if you need to find a gift for a hard-core coffee lover, it can be difficult. so many serious coffee drinkers already have it all -- the great brewer that disperses water in the right pattern and at the right temperature, the fantastic italian espresso machine, the highest quality grinder. . .

the answer here is: donate a gift in their name to that great charity coffee kids. lately i've been talking a lot about rising coffee prices, and retail coffee increases by major international roasters, a trend that continues with a US$0.35 rise in retail coffee prices by large roasters in europe.

this doesn't mean that the human effect of the so-called "coffee crisis" have yet ended. not by a long shot!

farmers still struggle, even as our friends in kona report coffee cherries going for US$1.50 a pound (remember it takes 5 or 6 pounds of cherry to make a pound of beans, setting a base price for kona this year at about US$8-9 a pound even before processing costs etc. come into it!).

it's hard not to read this story and nearly weep, even tho' long-time bccy pals are well aware of the situation, since i've been discussing the problems of illegal immigration, etc. here for years now.

the idea here isn't to bum you out. the idea here is to remember that we can easily help, simply by drinking the same specialty coffee we do now, as well as offering a little to coffee kids' excellent micro-lending and educational projects.

sometimes people say to me, "hey fortune, lots of people support coffee kids now. is there a smaller charity that also needs help?" and i can recommend others, like cup for education and grounds for health, as well as the faith-based lutheran coffee project. . .you can find other fair-trade oriented faith-based projects here.

this morning i opened the home-roast coffee excellent altie and scaa consumer member jim schulman sent me, a kenya he roasted for single-origin espresso. alas, i didn't have a chance to make espresso this morning. . .thanks, jim!

and finally, let me thank the awesome scaa board member mary petit for helping out with the nyc coffee meetup group issue. basically we needed a place to meet that could accomodate anywhere from 3 to 100 people on little notice, and served coffee to scaa standards.

oren suggested mary, who's with juan valdez. and sure enough, juan came thru for us!

mary and i are having coffee next wed. to finalize all arrangements. thanks to oren, mary, and all the great people at the colombian coffee federation.

(note to self: actually what i wanna "ask juan" is what's conchita's a.k.a. lola's shoe size?) but seriously, now let's hope people show up on jan. 12, 2005, 7pm, at the juan valdez cafe, 140 e. 57th near lex. . .(hint!)

p.s.: for how long now have i been telling you, dear readers, to eat your 100g or 3.5oz bars of dark chocolate? why not add another 5 or 6 years?

posted by fortune | 9:43 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Thursday, December 16, 2004

holiday chocolate gifts to make yourself

it's time, if you haven't started already, to make your holiday chocolate truffles and cookies. since children often want to be involved, i'm particularly fond of no-bake chocolate cookies like these, with coconut (use bugmenot).

easy to make bunches of to give away or send off as gifts to school. homemade truffles don't keep very long, so you should start making and giving them away this weekend!

long-time readers know i particularly recommend donnelly's truffle recipe. fresh candies taste great, so don't worry that you can't do them justice; homemade truffles are simple and lovely, when given in a pretty box.

since they are ultra-fresh, they taste extra good! everyone appreciates them, and it's not difficult to make dozens and dozens at a time.

i myself would make these no-bakes above, adding coffee instead of water, but my dear blanche is still the shop and the repair people aren't returning my messages. . .doesn't look good, does it?

i consoled myself this morning by making up a cafetiére (press pot to you!) of barry j.'s rileys own decatur st. blend.

i may personally like this better in the press than as brewed espresso. i know, i'm odd -- or perhaps i was pulling my shots too hot, as barry thinks this coffee is best with water measuring 195 degrees at the espresso machine's showerhead or in the press.

barry says this year's model of the blend may be a little fruitier than in the past. in the cafetiére i think that fruitiness in his sumatra stands out a little more, and of course you benefit from the great body. . .

if you're a fan of straight-ahead dark-roast coffee in the morning, you might really like barry's dsb!

finally, several readers sent me this total diss of a california coffee chain (thanks esp. to marshall and ruggie). ouch -- no one wants to be known as the "dirtiest cafe!"

posted by fortune | 10:48 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

challah baking, a trend?

maybe it was just the recent holiday, but i think signs are pointing to a groundswell in home challah baking generally. that glezer could put out a big semi-glossy book on it is a marker as well.

i note that a rather low-volume, greasy-looking and overly dark challah, wrapped in uninspiring plastic, has suddenly appeared in my local garden of eden as well. . .

speaking of baking, i really have to offer a shout-out to mary beth at orientation. while i was a tad confused about hamelman's sourdough instructions and how to store the puppy after you make it, mary beth had no such qualms; she just went for it.

fortes fortuna adjuvat, that's what i say.

even tho' she too-modestly noted that she lacked the "organic chemistry" skills to do this, she then appears to successfully have started a bubbling, sweet-smelling culture, which she is keeping toasty in her oven with an ingenious warm water/aquarium heater-pump setup.

hamelman tells us we want our starter at 70 degrees to favor the right acetic acid/lactic acid balance. i can only admire mary beth's total commitment to good baking practice here.

of course, after folgers raised its prices, the other "big four" commercial coffee roasters are following suit. thanks to scaa chief ted lingle, we coffee lovers know their excuses are flimsy; it's mostly profiteering, as usual. . .

posted by fortune | 8:15 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

noodles & the dsb

last night i decided to brave my way over and down to noodle yoga near my house in the section of brooklyn waterfront known as dumbo. i've asked people i know about noodle before and they all told me the same thing "i live in dumbo, but i can't ever find the place!"

here's the secret: it's on washington st., catty-corner from the bank and next door to the cancer society. buzz, go up the lobby stairs, enter thru the left steel door, not the right.

walk up 3 sets of stairs and enter the steel door on the landing. you'll be faced with a scary blank hallway; turn left, follow the corridor to the right, and go thru the steel door on the left.

ta-da! noodle yoga! it's a lovely, high, airy space, with exposed brick walls (not so good for handstand practice!), beautiful floors, gauzy cushions and curtains.

let me pause for a moment to discuss an unusual feature of noodle: its spa-like ladies' room. one of the nicest public restrooms in all new york, honestly -- the granite countertop is stocked with elegant toiletries on a tray and fresh flowers.

a zen rock arrangement surrounds and highlights the nickel taps. the subtle tile pattern soothes with relaxing shadowy blues and taupes. it offers a full bath with shower, and most civilized, a bidet.

of course, it is spotlessly clean. go back out into the lobby and they are serving organic chai. the changing rooms are a perhaps a tad small, but do offer plush ottomans and a solid door.

i took elizabeth's basic class, in what i would personally call a gentle yoga style. elizabeth has been teaching for 5 years, and considers her teachers to be dana flynn (of laughing lotus) and rodney yee, altho' her formal teacher training comes from ganga white at white lotus.

the back yoga room we used is brightly lit, with just one exposed brick wall. the main wall features a charming mural of the mahattan and brooklyn bridges, under which a lotus blooms.

with only 4 people in the class, it was hardly crowded, and quite relaxing. elizabeth did a short, simple sun salutation and went on to the basic standing poses, seated forward bends, shoulderstand, and supported goddess pose.

the room was a tad chilly and it's true you could hear the subway over the bridge. but it didn't seem to matter; elizabeth gives precise and personalized alignment instructions in a soothing voice.

the staff and owners are immensely friendly and welcoming. in short, noodle yoga's worth the effort to find -- don't let the stairs put you off.

today's our first truly wintry day, and woke up eager to turn on silvia. long-time readers are familiar with scaa pro member, roasters guild member, and friend to scaa consumer members and alties alike, barry jarrett of rileys coffee.

in memory of a dear altie, madeleine, i ordered a pound of his long popular decatur st. blend. alas i didn't have time to cup it this morning, but simply drank it as brewed espresso.

it ground easily, at the usual mazzer setting, just like the batdorf dancing goat. it's a darker roast than what i usually have, what i'd call a full espresso roast -- the entire bean is covered in a light sheen of oil.

barry calls it "black velvet." i'd say it's a sweet, mellow coffee, whose dry grounds smell like green spices.

it's maybe also a bit maple-syrupy and a little turpeny, with a pungent taste, and long, dry finish.

there's no doubt it's a creamy, syrupy coffee, that coats the back of a spoon like thick thanksgiving gravy. i believe the bag i have is now 5 days old, but when i pulled a 30-second triple shot, there was no shortage of abundant, thick crema.

it's an interesting coffee that barry says develops as it's brewed various ways. will report more later. . .

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

Monday, December 13, 2004

a view too awesome to bury in the comments, part iv

yuppers, it's all about pods & pod people. peter r's comments in italics, my responses interspersed and all added links are mine:

Why people like me find the Nespresso pod coffee better than our local coffee shops is a serious issue.

oh i most completely agree. moaning about this fact is a serious part of my life's purpose, and certainly one of the founding reasons for this very site.

I am very sensitive to stale coffee. I remember when Starbucks first came to our area in the 80's. As a recent migrant from the Left Coast, I was looking forward to some decent coffee. Alas, I almost spat out the first cup, it was so stale. I believe they had distribution problems at first. I wouldn't touch their coffee for years. One of our local roasters, La Colombe, seems to be having the same problem, along with inconsistent roasts.

once people realize that the "flattish" bland yeah-it's-coffee-but-i'm-not-attracted-to-it taste is a form of staleness, as well as the completely "why does this taste like wet carboard in my mouth?" sensation, they will be in for a shock as to how much stale coffee they have been drinking.

However, I drink nearly all my coffee and espresso black and without sugar, and that may be significant. I've noticed that people who drink coffee like I do often prefer a sweeter roast and will accept a darker roast for this at the expense of nuance.

forgive me, p.r., but i don't understand this at all. darker roasts, in general, increase a coffee's bitterness. or are you trying to find a way to discuss sugar carmelization at the roast level?

So maybe this is the problem. I expect my sense of taste is poorer, also, and that is why I like it black. I need a stronger coffee sensation to get the same effect as people with more refined tastebuds.

no, almost everyone can learn to taste coffee with practice unless they have some smell impairment. it only requires time and effort, although some people do have more of a knack for it than others. all coffee is cupped black, but at a relatively light roast so the roast products don't hide the beans' inherent flavors.

So maybe I'm unable to taste the defects in the pod coffee.

more likely it's that you are not yet quite aware of what the range of defects are, you know? this is why the scaa has decided to reach out more into consumer education.

there are a few coffee sensations that are non-optimal, and you might not totally be alert to more than a couple of the most obvious. the majority of people aren't -- hopefully we can begin to change that!

I know that isn't true for these commercial pod systems that are popping up everywhere to make "drip" style coffee. Gad! Talk about undrinkable. They start with bad coffee and then brew it poorly.

i think a problem too is that the brew is often too weak, because it seems in some brewers that the machine runs too much water through the pod/capsule, even if the water temperature is in the proper range.

Anyway, back to the coffee house issue. I find that Starbucks often pulls an OK shot, but their coffee is horribly roasted, close to burnt.

since they have largely switched to superautomatic machines, there's little doubt the espresso at the mermaid has greatly improved overall. which is sad in one sense, because they have demeaned the important role of the barista.

Many of my local shops use La Colombe, which has problems.

long-time readers know i am no fan of la colombe, (for just one example, here!) even though i am totally down with the scaa and the roasters guild. but just being a member isn't enough -- ya gotta walk the walk and offer the highest quality coffee.

One of the shops uses Illy, which I find acceptable (the stale thing again?)

a very important thing to understand is that the big brown commercial cans of illy you see teetering as the "head" of so many coffeeshop grinders are often much better than the little silver puppies in the supermarket, due to handling, age, and storage/shipping issues.

long-time readers know i worship dr. illy, although his coffee taste isn't always as exciting as i might like. it has a certain caramel note that can really be delicious and is always uniquely, instantly identifiably illy.

but I have to guide the teenagers who operate the machine in pulling a shot and they still get it wrong.

yes, coffeeshops need to employ and train baristi, not mere people-behind-the-counter. the pbtc know nothing about coffee and might as well be flipping burgers; as such they can rarely deliver a superior beverage service experience in an espresso context.

this is why we scaa consumer members totally support the barista's guild and the wbc!

Plus, nearly all these shops pour the coffee into a paper cup after pulling the shot!

thus wasting all the crema. i hear ya, i hear ya.

I suppose for me, I'll just have to explain to my wife how I'll recover the cost of a $450-on-up machine plus a burr grinder in a year or so.

1 silvia and 1 rocky, for example, are a lifelong investment that, for even the average coffeehouse espresso drinker, pays for itself with surprising rapidity (those US$4 coffee drinks do add up fast!). plus the convenience of just walking into your kitchen to make your own coffee, and the ability to find or create blends to your own taste.

But I will miss the pleasant atmosphere of several of my local coffee houses.

this is surely what a good coffeehouse excels at, no doubt. but what are you paying for at bottom, you as a coffee lover? the company or the coffee? we americans may in fact tend to be a lonely people, for the most part, so i know the answer for many is in fact the company!

heaven knows, i do love an unique coffeehouse with an exciting, stimulating atmosphere -- even if it's a bookish one. but unless it's accompanied by proper beverage service, i'm not going in more than once, i'm afraid!

- Peter Rosenfeld

thanks for writing!

posted by fortune | 9:53 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

worth noting

in the sunday nytimes, a chocolate travel story that mentions all our favorite french chocolatiers!

and in the latimes, a very good story on the cup of excellence and one reason why increased coffee prices for farmers are so important!

my only quibble with the cup of excellence is model is that it highlights the tendency of the industry to find a "fad" coffee one year, and then move on. this might not always be good for the farmers, who often need continuing, long-run help to keep their coffee quality high, even after they've won the prize.

also sometimes farmers and co-ops aren't used to being "abandoned" by the industry as it moves on to the next year. a few farmers with less understanding of the world market are said to be confused when the crowd rushes over to the latest "it" coffee.

but i'm not criticizing the program; it's a very positive force, one part of the multi-pronged solution to the (hopefully receding!) coffee crisis.

now that comments are back -- at least as i post this -- i really want to respond to some of peter r's pod comments, as soon as he gives me permission to reprint his remarks in full!

posted by fortune | 7:08 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Sunday, December 12, 2004

where did the day go?

so busy today i scarcely had time to drink another cup of batdorf's fun holiday blend. i'd intended to press up a pot and watch this interview with the holy hamelman.

but the day flew like the wind, what with the pizza dough, yoga, washing my hair. . .at least with the holiday blend i did get to savor one of oren's dark chocolate-covered graham crackers. how did o. know that these are one of my favorite guilty treats?

what i like about his is that the cracker inside is extra crunchy and not too sweet. of course it went great with the coffee.

then i did have to run off to yoga, where dave charles from yogaworks subbed again. i just love his sequences, very intelligent! the poses actually go together towards a goal, or theme, instead of just running through all the usual poses in some random order.

i know not everyone likes the yogaworks approach; for years that class was a very fast-moving jivamukti class that went through the "usual list" at high speed and not always with awareness.

despite its breakneck pace and supposedly challenging poses, it really was a simple class because a body could just throw themselves into the ride on pure momentum, which to my mind is little different than, say, step aerobics. yoga's easy if you cheat, as om teacher jennifer brilliant used to say.

but when you "cheat" at yoga, you're the one that's losing. what's the use of even going to class then? i never understand the point of that. . .

one girl actually left when it became apparent that today we weren't going to do shoulderstand. well, you don't have to do shoulderstand every class; it may not fit with the class direction that particular day.

it's a shame dave won't be able to take that particular class permanently. . . .he gives very practical advice, and good adjustments, but with just the right touch. not too strong, not too light!

i asked him a question about mulabanda and he offered a most excellent answer: "you worry first about your breathing, then your feet. do that for 10 years and we'll talk about mulabanda!"

and he has a point -- in hatha yoga we start with what we know, the breath and the body. and we let 'em take us where we can go.

when we know what they have to tell us, that is the time to move on to these other things; except of course by that time our own personal experience has answered most of our questions for us!

posted by fortune | 6:51 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

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