Saturday, March 19, 2005
leavin' on a jet plane
shopping, packing, packing, shopping -- don't forget the bodum travel press, toothpaste, and is illy the best pre-ground coffee for the trip or will the little metal can cause trouble at security?
pizza stone! must pre-heat pizza stone! hair detangler! must go to bank!
Friday, March 18, 2005
regional coffee culture, part xxxiv
"coca holding international co . . . . is expanding, with plans to open a premium italian-style coffee bar chain this year."
just another banal business announcement, yes? until you realize that this company is in thailand.
this successful company is bettin' the ranch on specialty coffee in a presently tea-drinking nation -- and also dubai, china, india and vietnam! (they're a little late in bringing thai food to india -- longtime bccy pal madhu "madman" menon already has the best thai restaurant in all of india.)
again, forgive me as i pretentiously quote myself: one world under specialty coffee's passionate sway.
but in other inspiring coffee news, i was thrilled to see this piece on how improving coffee quality among growers in rwanda has been amazingly successful. it's a timely article, because the coffee quality institute is meeting today in nyc.
most coffee lovers have never heard of cqi, but it's a fascinating institution, deeply involved with the issues of the "coffee crisis," sustainability, and improving coffee quality. coffee quality is of course of primary interest to all consumers -- because we all want to drink the very best and most beautiful coffees, lovingly roasted by dedicated artisan hands.
oh, and of course cqi's run by yet another tremendous woman-in-coffee, the awesome margaret swallow!
for my own part, i made some quality turkish coffee this morning with cinnamon, using up the very last precious teeny spoonful of the 2-week-old doma ethiopian harrar.
and in a program note, i will be travelling next week for business, but i think i have revived my ancient laptop (why o why don't i have a screaming 14" sno-book yet?) enough that we will be able to continue bccy on the road.
the more daunting question: will i be able to live (shiver!) on hotel coffee?
Thursday, March 17, 2005
irish coffee & soda bread or regional coffee culture, part xxxiii
ah -- my boss at my beloved job did indeed bring in his family's irish soda bread. this is one fabulous loaf, because unlike so many breads of this ilk, it isn't dry, hard, crumbly, cheap on the currants, or overbaked.
it is yummy, tender, soft, and with a thin delicate crust like a proper scone; he makes his version with about 25% whole wheat flour.
of course to go with this, we really all should have a proper irish coffee. this too is surprisingly hard to find.
for those who are trying to avoid alcohol, lemme point you to a whisky-approximate syrup. or just go with a "peppermint paddy"; maybe even an "irish cream?"
on the regional coffee culture front, i found this article about the coffee culture in chicago of deep interest. chicago now runs ahead of new york city for the number of coffee shops, which may say as much about the dread "lake effect" snow as about nyc's long-running preference for cocktails over coffee.
nyc is slowly developing a real espresso culture, but cocktails are still a very large thing here, and new yorkers are still mostly unaware that we have possibly the worst coffee in the country, on the whole.
but i'm not giving up! we are making progress here at bccy. . .and i have to say that the advances in chicago without a doubt owe a great debt to bccy pal doug zell at intelligentsia.
politics is boring, boring
in response to several emails -- and only in response to them -- i'm briefly touching on the "skirt blogger" question. needless to say, i think all 3 esteemed chick columnists, anne applebaum, maureen dowd, and dahlia lithwick, are completely out of it.
long-time readers may recall that in a previous incarnation, i lived in that overpriced swamp called d.c. and had a capitol hill press pass. i too hung about the national press club.
wow, does that life suck. politics is booooring; with all due respect, there's nothing going on in any meaningful way within that dangerous psychological disease known as "inside the beltway."
the beltway quickly becomes a weird mental wall creating this sick cuckoo's nest, with its own crazed and sadistic social and issue hierarchy that the inmates fantasize is real. what's scary is that you don't actually have to live in the swamp to be sucked into its mindset.
those people have to run themselves into these crazy loops just to keep from turning to self-multilation out of confinement stress.
and part of the unspoken rules of the beltway reality disorder -- this should really go into the dsm v -- is that women never really count. ever.
since most women are sane tomatoes, of course they steer clear of this no-win nonsense. and this is why the vast majority of women bloggers aren't of the political war blogging type, and never will be.
we're not that crazy. and we're not stupid either, unlike the talented dowd, who knows the rules of the vicious muckpool full well but today weeps that the white house won't give her a press pass because they are so mean.
sure, mo', you're witty, but really who cares? your cat?
and this is my general take on the "blogging situation" -- 62% of americans still don't know what a blog is, and among those who do, the majority still don't appear to live on the sites belonging to the self-important war bloggers.
yes, like the rest o' da 'net, where people don't read, they skim, even the blog-aware seem to half-arsedly scan thru a couple and then return from the emerald city to auntie em.
many people write to me and say, if you only wrote about this or that, you'd be an "a-list blogger." but why would i ever want to think about any of that useless, more-disconnected-from-reality-than-a-hunter-s-thompson-lsd-trip stuff?
sure, i link to altercation -- mostly because i briefly met the dr. several times in d.c., not that he would ever have cause to remember -- but half the time when i read it, my eyes go into screensaver sleep mode because it is such pointless, inside baseball. (the other half is in fact noteworthy.) the real "inside baseball" baseball would be more interesting. . .
this is why i happily write away about topics that are part of everyone's normal life. almost everyone eats bread or chocolate (or wants to)!
a huge number of americans drink coffee everyday. and coffee is fascinating -- the world's second most-traded commodity, it affects the global economic system, and the lives of more than 25 million families who produce it around the world.
it is also a beautiful, historic, passionate, and romantic fine beverage. almost every aspect of coffee rewards interest.
plus, the world of coffee welcomes women. even the most casual coffee lover enjoys talking about their favorite brew -- imagine! a jade-friendly place where people want to talk about a topic of actual real-world importance!
the obvious but profound fact: coffee is worth my time, as a twist member of the dopey -- (mo' dowd's cat coughing up a hairball sound here) -- blogosphere. while instant opinions on hr 0000 or the celebrity trial of the day serve up a swill as nauseating as nescafé.
who in their right mind wants to drink that? dowd et. al. should realize there is life outside the fetid slough, girlfriends!
we have evolved to walk on land.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
of baseball and camel milk
yoga's so popular now i guess i shouldn't be surprised at all anymore when more pros take it up. still, the entire padres team, en masse! seemed like a noteworthy moment to me.
it's even trickled down to the college varsity level.
in a bit of amusing chocolate news, i was deeply interested to read of the new middle-eastern company set up to make camel milk chocolate. since whole camel's milk apparently averages about a 4% fat content (close to whole cow's milk), i don't see why not; however the "sharp" taste it's said to have might be a tad odd in candy!
however, other reports confirms that this camel milk thing looks like an emerging trend, saying that camel milk actually tastes sweeter than cow's milk! anyone travelling to dubai care to check this stuff out and report back?
but that doesn't seem nearly as odd to me as this recipe for a bittersweet guinness stout chocolate cake!
and finally, here's a seminar i would love to take: matching wines with chocolates. . .
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
about those coffee prices. . .
the upward trend in coffee prices is definitely more than a mere blip, i think we can finally all agree on that. after nearly 5 years of the so-called "coffee crisis," whereby too-low prices bankrupted farmers, caused others to turn to growing illegal drugs to stay afloat, forced coffee workers north to cross the border illegally, and resulted in lower-quality coffee in our cups: it's about time.
but we are still months away from seeing these increases work back through the industry chain to return to farmers. in the meantime, these shocked news stories -- omigod, coffee up 12%! -- are going to keep coming.
that's because they ignore the fact that seemingly cheap coffee is really quite expensive, as i've always said, in terms of increased drug interdiction, border patrols, the need for more foreign-aid, etc. etc.
but the prices do seem set right now to waaay overcompensate. what's important to remember is that a too-high price is just as bad for us coffee lovers as a too-low price.
not only do our favorite, beautiful specialty coffees increase in price -- already we are used to paying US$10 to 15 a pound, and we need to brace ourselves for US$15 to 18 -- but many of our most beloved coffeehouses, roasters, and retailers may not be able to make their budgets work in this new up-market world.
because it's tough to increase already high-end prices when the gas station down the street keeps selling the same trash coffee at their usual price. even tho' lovely specialty coffees are so much better than that junk, many people will take a step back to economize, forcing many retailers to make some painful decisions.
also, if the price rushes too high too quickly, farmers not in coffee will be tempted to jump in and try to sell any quality coffee they can rustle up. this kind of over-production not only ironically further lowers quality, but leads to the next crash.
in this way it's easy to see that actually the coffee crisis is continuing -- we are still in an unstable and unsustainable market structure. as scaa chief ted lingle has long argued, coffee shouldn't be a commodity at all, because it's not really fungible, but has a strong hedonic component.
i mean, when you buy oil, you buy oil; all "light sweet crude" is the basically the same. no one buys light sweet crude for it's distinctive blueberry notes, or because it comes from ethiopia or guatemala, and you don't get more pleasure from mexican oil as opposed to russian oil.
the gas pump just says "regular" or "premium." you've never seen a sign saying "venezuelan superpremium, a medium-bodied fuel with a charateristic chocolate-y note" -- nor will you ever.
there are many other ways in a market-oriented fashion to sell coffee. the only way to achieve real sustainability -- decent prices on which farmers can live and which encourages them to grow high-quality, delicious coffee, decent prices on which roasters and retailers can prosper, decent prices that we coffee drinkers find acceptable -- is to reform or regulate the market we have now, if not to work towards new models altogether. . .
another thing that's going to make life more painful for our retailer friends is that, of course, the "big four" -- sara lee, nestle, kraft, p&g -- have finally seen the handwriting on the wall. they will soon be ready to outbid specialty roasters for the same shrinking pool of high-quality, specialty coffee.
this is also a real threat to us as consumers, because the big four have zero, zero, zero commitment to delivering truly fresh coffee. thus i encourage you, dear readers, to continue buying your whole beans from your local independent retailer: they need you now more than ever.
Monday, March 14, 2005
of course it doesn't take long reading this article about phuong tran's victory in the usbc to ask yourself: "why lately have the usbc winners all been female?"
heather perry, bronwen serna, now phuong.
it's just another example of why i so often say that specialty coffee is the best industry for women; we are in the top echelon of the specialty world in all areas: retailing (colleen of santa cruz, linda smithers of susan's, etc.), green buying (erna knutsen of knutsen coffee, karen ceberos of elan), cupping (lindsay bolger of green mountain), roasting (trish of taylormaid), producing (maireya jones of finca dos marias), and management (mary petitt of juan valdez), etc.
sometimes memory plays tricks on you, you know? and i was prepared for that today when i made my morning cappuccino with mark's taylormaid espresso a-go-go.
but guess what? i wasn't fooled -- this blend has to be the best dark "west coast" style espresso ever. . .
i second that emotion! highly recommended. why is this fantastic coffee so little known?
Sunday, March 13, 2005
and the new u.s. barista champion is: phuong tran (seen here preparing drinks in last year's competition) of lava java in washington state! congrats to her; she's earned her triumph.
however let me personally say that i was rooting for bccy pal chris deferio of gimme coffee. never mind, i'm sure he'll take it next year. . .
i have to say i was a bit surprised to see 3 of doug zell's intelligentsia baristi in the finals. that's quite an impressive number!
obviously doug's got a great team and a fantastic training program going there. . .that's noteworthy in and of itself.
i spent my day doing exactly the usual. having finished the ruby blue, i turned to jessica's fresh batdorf dancing goat for our morning cappuccini, and then went on to make pizza, and go to yoga as always.
the pleasures of a little day doing familiar things around home, you know? i do have the fresh espresso a-go-go here, and i can't wait to open that tomorrow morning. . .
finally, i did register for scaa conference in seattle today. i hope you all have too, because i am definitely looking foreward to seeing you all at the consumer member track workshops!