Saturday, February 26, 2005
regional coffee culture, part xxxiv, or strange colonial nostalgia
"drunk by the fastidious, [tea] still carries memories of a glorious raj legacy. . ."
wow. rare is it to hear one from the subcontinent argue in favor of the colonialist oppression of the raj!
but here it is, a polite anti-americanism dressed up as an ode to tea. i never thought of tea or coffee in this way, as political foils for east vs. west.
i guess that's because i know -- and have so often written here about -- how quickly the so-called "east" is embracing the specialty coffee lifestyle.
i was majorly (grey?) suprised to see the swipe at coffee as "euro-american," "cowboy," (everybody knows where i stand -- hey i live in indigo blue new york!), "everyman's drink," but really! in the choice between the class-decadent fastidious and the democratic everyman, i'm voting everyman. . .sorry.
but notice also how the author also makes tea feminine, while presenting coffee as masculine.
in this, i might argue, she is being what e. said called "orientalist:" that is she assumes an unspoken, seemingly obvious "east" in contradistinction to the "euro-american" west, gives it qualities (tea-drinking), and then identifies these qualities as feminine ("graceful," "blue veined alabaster" [meaning i think hands] set off by a tiny . . .pearl ring," "lace-covered") thus justifying oppression and a sexualized view of these countries as harems for the great powers.
all the while extolling the raj. as if the author somehow forgot who expanded the production of coffee on the subcontinent to begin with?
or that the as-english-as-it-gets institution lloyd's of london began as a coffeehouse?
or for that matter that english coffee consumption itself is currently skyrocketing?
another interesting trope she employs is the english-tea-as-civilized-culture while "euro-american" coffee must in contrast be a form of barbarism where people "favor an out of doors lifestyle" as nomads or something.
as perhaps a muslim herself, the writer forgets coffee's storied sufi past. . . and the fact that in history, coffee was once a marker of islam -- christians drank wine in their religious ceremonies; devout muslims abjured alcohol for coffee.
alas, ms. shahzad is building castles of soap bubbles in a false and imaginary past. i would expect better from a dean of the liberal arts!
but enough: politics is boring, while coffee isn't. politics divides, while coffee unites.
and speaking of unity, i want to thank whole latte love for donating a gaggia espresso machine and a grinder for the upcoming nyc coffee meetup!
Friday, February 25, 2005
retailers take note: your baristi are your business
once again the importance of the trained pro barista struck me as i read this charming little love letter to a barista in the student newspaper. in this case, the barista is clearly that business; the students go there to see a guy they obviously all think is really cool.
the time of the celebrity barista is really dawning, as you can tell from tim wendelboe's situation. and i think it's a great move for independent retailers to finally realize the value of real baristi to them.
my office is surrounded by mermaid outlets -- there's literally one out the front door and another out the back -- and many of my colleagues run in for a drink. but not a single one goes there because of any of the people-behind-the-counter.
they will choose one location or another based simply on which has the shortest line, since heaven knows it's ridiculously easy enough to walk back thru the lobby to the other side!
in other news, if i may digress, yesterday i had a very lovely dinner in the back room of the gramercy tavern. snowstorm? what snowstorm?
however once there i realized i had a double problem: a coffee problem and a wine problem.
i'm not often in a place where the wine and the menu seem truly well-thought out for pairing, you know? i often find that a surprising number of fine restaurants don't always offer the best wine to actually go with the food they serve.
i too often just see wine lists stocked up with well-reviewed, cult, or more popular wines, some of which might actually be a-clash with the specials that evening. i've never understood that.
i ran into that last night with the first course. everyone knows i have a serious foie gras addiction; i'm not proud of it, but it's true; i often really have to struggle to resist ordering it.
yesterday i gave in but was immediately faced with the wine problem. there was nothing on the per-glass wine list that would bridge from the foie gras to the second course, rabbit stew. (this is a winter menu we're discussing, after all.)
of course you could always follow the maxim that "champagne goes with everything," but actually the sparklers they had wouldn't have done the bridge well. (what is it with all this austrian sparkling wine that's all over town suddenly, anyway?)
i finally consulted with the waiter who suddenly produced another wine list, the dessert wine list -- i hate the practice of separating the wine list like this for just this reason, sweet wines can have other uses, you know! -- where i found a lovely wine that was better for the foie gras with sour cherries.
i ended up with a half glass of vin santo del chianti classico, san niccolo, castellare, d.o.c., which i found really pleasant with its strong aromas of vanilla, banana and pear.
another thing that made this a good choice was that i was then free to have a half glass of light red with the rabbit. i was thinking "oregon," but the waiter came at me with a classic connection from the southern rhone i might not have made myself, beaumes-de-venise, chateau redortier, 1998.
a light, fruity, wine with a little pepper feeling suited the stew nicely. it was just a very pleasant wine to drink, no doubt.
dessert was a simple warm chocolate cake, and long-time readers know i think the best wine with chocolate is banyuls. purists are probably going to be horrified at the amount of sweet wine i had; so what?
i really had no other choice because it was with dessert that i met the coffee problem: they were serving the yrgacheffee with cardamom and cinnamon in a cafetiére. i'm a new fan of carefully made turkish coffee, true -- newsflash: turkish coffee doesn't have to be bitter, burnt, and horrible -- but to take a lovely yrg and brew it with these spices?
i mean, if they wanted to serve a spiced turkish coffee, um, why not serve a spiced turkish coffee? hmmm?
everyone knows that yrg is one of my favorite coffees, and i just wasn't sure what the point was of adding these spices in this case. . .so i ended up enjoying a clos chatart banyuls 1993 gran cru, roussillon.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
tsunami relief update from the scaa
this press release from the scaa is so awesome, i'm just reposting it here:
"Here's a simple way for specialty coffee drinkers to help make a difference with the tsunami relief effort. According to Long Beach, Calif.-based Specialty Coffee Association of America, the world's largest coffee trade association, numerous coffee companies are contributing a portion of proceeds every time a cup or pound of coffee is purchased.
The next time you're making a specialty coffee purchase, take note of these specialty coffee companies.
Bellatazza will donate 100 percent of its Tsunami Relief Blend coffee sales to Direct Relief, until further notice.
Caribou Coffee has pledged to donate a minimum of US$100,000 to the Coffee Kids "Sumatra Relief Fund" on the one-month anniversary of the tsunami disaster. [note: devoted readers will recall i wrote about this already.]
Coffee Bean International will donate US$2 for every pound of coffee sold to retailers through July to Mercy Corps for humanitarian relief efforts to coffee-growing families affected by the disaster in East Timor.
Coffee Fest will donate 10 percent of its onsite registration proceeds from all three Coffee Fest shows in 2005 to the Coffee Kids Sumatra Relief Fund.
Counter Culture Coffee will donate US$1 for every pound sold of their Aceh Relief Blend, which they plan to promote until April 1.
Fonte Coffee Roasters will donate US$2 for every pound of Sumatra Mandheling purchased on their website to the Red Cross International Response Fund specifically for Tsunami assistance(until further notice).
Taylor Maid Farms is donating 10 percent of sales from its Sumatra Gayoland, Sonoma Roast, Rise and Shine and Rainforest Blend (all of which contain coffee from Aceh) to ForesTrade/PPKGO to assist in rebuilding efforts.
Tully's will donate one hundred percent of the net proceeds of the Tully's Coffee World Vision Tsunami Response coffees (while supplies last) to World Vision for its earthquake/tsunami disaster response currently underway in eight countries.
Here are some other ways to make a contribution. Coffee Kids is an international non-profit organization established to improve the quality of life for children and families who live in coffee growing communities around the world.
They are providing relief to Sumatra. One hundred percent of contributions are sent to the Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association (PPKGO) in Aceh Province and other reputable organizations.
The PPKGO is delivering food, clothing and other essentials to people in the region affected by the Tsunami. Also, the Cafe Femenino Foundation is accepting donations to assist in relief efforts on the battered island of Sumatra, Indonesia.
The Foundation is a not for profit 501(c)3 corporation, and donations are tax deductible.
Several other specialty coffee companies contributed to the tsunami relief effort this year, including: Arnold's Coffee Cafe; Batdorf & Bronson; Caffe Pronto Coffee Roastery; Crescent Moon Coffee & Tea; It's a Grind; MoonBean's Coffee; Peet's Coffee & Tea; Starbucks; and Victor Allen's Coffees."
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
weeping, weeping, weeping, part ii
". . .did the 'love potion latte' cast a deep spell or fail to reach rose's heart? the delicious concoction didn't quite capture the food reporter's heart or sweet tooth. the white chocolate and raspberry flavorings mingled with espresso and a few other ingredients were tasty enough to satisfy her tastebuds, but she felt it was a little bitter and could have been a little sweeter, more gooey or decadent . . . "
please, someone, hand me a cyberhanky and help me up off the floor. the food reporter downgraded the shop's specialty coffee drink because -- drumroll -- it tasted like coffee!
it wasn't completely a hot super-sweet milkshake! imagine: an espresso drink that tastes like espresso. . .
would this reporter likewise downgrade the iron horse because it might recognizably taste like it came from, well, fruit? once again you see why i believe "food reporters" know nothing about coffee.
this only strengthens my resolve to go about and educate people on proper coffee tasting and appreciation. one could devote one's life to teaching ted lingle's scaa flavor wheel and the nez du café.
when i win the lottery, that's what i will do! and maybe next year at conference i will propose that ted lingle and i hold a coffee-tasting-wheel session for the press that normally cover the show.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
i'll take mine with cream, sugar & mice?
if i may be so bold, the problem here -- with nasty health-code violations at a surprising number of large chain coffeeshops here in nyc -- is that these mere people-behind-the-counter (pbtc) they hire simply don't care.
they don't care about coffee beverage quality, they don't care about what they are doing, and so why should we expect them to care about hygiene? and why should they care; what incentive has been put in place for them to do so?
they have no career path, are part of no profession, and are mostly just marking time until the end of their shift.
let's contrast this with quality shops, like gimme coffee in bklyn: those guys are serious pro baristi. they care about every single detail of making perfect coffee, one of which is impeccable cleanliness.
if your machine isn't perfectly clean, the built-up oils ruin the shots. if the grinder isn't clean the stale coffee ruins the shots. thus they are constantly cleaning, and this attitude is conveyed throughout the whole store, the entire chain of operation.
i actually called gimme before i wrote this and confirmed that they have no violations, no problems. none. nada. zip.
not only is the coffee fantastic, but the atmosphere is clean, yet fun and funky. go drink the amazing gimme coffee in full knowledge that you won't be sharing the cup with any of nyc's rodent citizens.
let's also discuss, for example, our friend oren. i talked to kevin, the manager of the 79th st. store, which of course, is cleaner than a whistle.
(long-time readers may recall that oren is so fanatical about cleanliness that he himself once washed my grinder hopper out between blends so that no dust or oil from one batch of coffee would touch another.)
what's great about oren's is that he posts the health code certificate right in the window. when i called kevin, he said, "i can read the paper to you right now. it's there for you to see. it's in the window."
again, not only does oren have lovely single-origin beans for sale and fresh hot coffee ready for you, you can go there without a second thought.
let's face it: many of new york's building are old; they have settled and cracked. if you keep a perfect shop, the people next to you might not.
you can't necessarily control what creeps through the fissures in the foundation, especially since -- it's not a secret -- the four-tiny-legs-and-a-naked-tail population appears to be shaking their whiskers and roaming as freely as in the 70s.
reliable estimates say that for every human new yorker, there are now 12 rodent new yorkers, or 96 million rats in our fair city.
but even with these challenges, i can easily recommend these fine specialty coffee stores to you for great coffee -- and food safety!
and finally, congrats to heather perry, who won the western barista championship over the weekend. she gets to go to the u.s.a. nationals at scaa conference and attempt to take her old title back!
super-finally, the results from the first colombian cup of excellence are in. consumers can hope to start seeing these coffees in may, probably.
both stumptown and intelligentsia are pretty good about buying c.o.e. coffees and making them available at retail.
Monday, February 21, 2005
i'm sure many long-time readers will be shocked to hear me say that i've never personally made turkish coffee at home before. and the reason was that i'd never had a good cup of turkish coffee out, even in the nicest upscale turkish restaurants here in new york.
plus i had a certain theoretical problem: the primary rule of specialty coffee is never boil coffee. and you do boil, albeit briefly, the turkish coffee.
so i thought to myself: that's why it's always bad, it's been boiled. it is an inherently flawed method, it seemed to me.
but i was talking last week to one of my colleagues, an extremely intelligent and sensitive gentleman, a turk born in a wealthy suburb of istanbul and educated at the london school of economics.
he's quite dashing in his bespoke charvet shirts -- actually everyone i know lately is wearing charvet -- i prefer hilditch & key or even turnbull & asser, but i'm strange -- yet he can chant a ghazal from hafiz so beautifully, and then in heartbeat say "this line reminds me of a line from shakespeare!" and immediately quote a bit of a sonnet that does in fact have a certain resonance.
and naturally when we talk about coffee, he talks about turkish coffee. in fact, he extols turkish coffee.
thus, i trotted down through the remnants of the snow to see mr. sahadi. because sahadi's sells nice turkish coffee pots, or ibriks, quite reasonably.
in fact, i picked up a lovely egyptian 2-cup copper one with a wooden handle and a hook for hanging at just US$6.99! thank you, mr. sahadi.
now for the coffee itself. of course, i intended to use the gillies yemen mocha sanani don schoenholt had sent me just last week.
yemen is i think most traditional coffee to use here, altho' ken davids says that any winy coffee will do, such as a good ethiopian harrar, yrg, etc. he suggests that even a kenya aa blended with a little sumatra would work.
i also already had the necessary raw, turbinado, or demerara sugar. and i'm never without green cardamom in the house.
i felt i was all set, but i called don schoenholt of gillies for advice. he suggested that for my size pot i use 3 oz. brita-filtered water, 2 teaspoons demerara sugar, and 7g (1 regular coffee scoop) fresh coffee, ground of course turkishly, to a face-powder fineness.
don said he himself dislikes cardamom in coffee, and recommended leaving it out. i however am crazy for cardamom, plus it's traditional, so i decided to use it, adding a literal pinch, maybe 1/16 teaspoon.
i got out my saeco 2002 grinder, which is perfect for this application. setting it to the "1" notch on the dial caused a bean to jam, so i had to take the hopper off and pull it out.
5 minutes later, i was back on track. following don's instructions, i added the sugar, the cardamom, the coffee, and finally the water. i gave it a quick stir and popped it on a medium-high flame.
in less than 2 mins. it did begin to bubble around the edges, and the ground coffee rose to create a crust at the top.
i was boiling coffee, and it felt so wrong. but i hung on, waiting until the coffee began to foam.
which it suddenly did, explosively, all at once! the coffee slurry had filled the ibrik just a little more than halfway, and the quick-flash foam leapt up the narrowing neck and side spout to the very top of the pot.
in fact it was just about to boil over -- this is the crucial moment! -- at just this dangerous point -- when you pull it off the flame. now ken davids says you bring the coffee to this point only once.
don disagrees, saying you should replace the pot on the flame once the foam subsides and bring it back to the fearful edge twice more, a total of 3 times in all.
don explained that you want some of this foam to persist in the coffee and float on the surface when you serve it. he said that foaming it 3 times would allow the sugar to caramelize into the coffee oils and bubble adequately to create a stiff foam capable of lasting long enough to pour and serve.
i was so freaked out by the sudden rocket-like rise of the foam, i followed ken davids' advice and poured it right away after only one foam. however, i think don is right here, because the foam didn't persist.
note to self: listen to don. there is a reason he is globally considered a coffee genius.
i poured the coffee into a 3-oz. demitasse, filling it about 2/3s, which did use up about half the pot. so you do in fact get 2 2-oz. cups of turkish coffee from it.
having just boiled the coffee, i was convinced it would be horrible. but no! it was in fact amazingly delicious.
my turkish colleague ahmet was correct. it was a thick, syrupy joy to drink.
the chocolate-y tones of the gillies yemen melded nicely with the cardamom. because the gillies isn't a dark roast, the coffee didn't have any burnt flavor, and there wasn't a speck of bitterness.
mr. right took a suspicious sniff. he didn't like the way it smelled -- he's not a cardamom fan either, it turns out.
he had a sip and grudgingly admitted it was good. he of course would have wanted it even sweeter -- which of course you can do!
i drank both cups myself. but i had to remember to leave the last bits in the demitasse: there is a good layer of sludge at the bottom.
that's just the nature of turkish coffee, after all. i have to say now that i love turkish coffee.
it's wonderful, quick and very easy to prepare, barely 3 mins. altogether.
don't make my mistake, dear readers! don't waste another day without this romantic luxury!
Sunday, February 20, 2005
this is defnitely the computer game for me! in coffee tycoon you too can practice world domination à la the mermaid.
but actually i'd personally rather have a sweet, small deal like oren myself. if i have my dates right, o is actually in africa, judging a coffee competition right now.
we'll be sure to get the news on that first thing. sunday here at bccy went as usual: morning cappucini with batdorf dancing goat, pizza later.
i have switched olive oils briefly for brushing on the pizza. when i used to live in paris -- many years ago, during the so-called cohabitation of mitterand and chirac -- i was on the ile de st. louis, at 14 rue le regrattier, and not too far from berthillon. also not far from the olive oil store, à l'olivier.
(ironically, i have never since lived in the luxury i had when i was young and poor, in the best real estate in paris, half a shout from madame pompidou, altho' i never did get to accompany her to her seat on the front row along the chanel catwalk. i'm not sure how that worked out for me. . .)
for the first time in ages i saw their delicious oil for sale in its charming stoneware bottle, sealed with the trademark red wax. yes, i was young and poor and we lived on the stuff, which we used to cook everything in elizabeth david's french book.
ah! memories of youth. i had to buy it, altho' the value of the euro made the price much much steeper than i remember. . . .
and i attended my usual yoga class with mary beth. it was interesting as i saw the old teacher's husband, michael hewett, on the subway. he was on his way to do his sanskrit homework for geshe-la's class on the 3rd pada, or chapter, of patanjali's yoga sutras.
another nice memory -- i used to love it when he subbed; michael really is a very sweet person and an excellent yoga teacher. not to mention that guitar thing he's got going. . .