Saturday, April 09, 2005
the ecco espresso
i have to dash off to have my eyebrows done, but i do want to say that i spent this charming spring morning with some real coffee, andrew's ecco northern-italian espresso. it's an excellent coffee, well worth mail ordering.
and speaking of coffee, i'm awaiting next week some very interesting java from stumptown, including the 2005 mao harrar horse! this is already a coffee with a large word of mouth as having the best blueberry note anyone's smelled in several years.
oh, how i love a blueberry harrar! i'm on pins and needles already. . .
Friday, April 08, 2005
ted lingle's right again, or the day i feel sorry for oren's & folgers
once a long, long time ago, scaa chief ted lingle said to me "people prefer what they remember." and i saw this so clearly today at the abc news 20/20 coffee "taste test" at the steinhardt center on w. 67th.
this is to appear on the 22nd with john stossel. i have no idea how the event will be edited, so the "reality i blog" may not appear as the "reality they air." and i further have to say that i couldn't really take notes, so i hope i remember everything correctly. . . .
i first heard of this event from r. badgett, and then i received an email from mike ferguson of scaa. 20/20 was going to disprove the food "myth" that more "expensive coffee tastes better than cheap coffee," as it was billed.
needless to say, we were all afraid that they were going to stack the cards against specialty and in favor of supermarket coffee. so i applied to go and be a tester.
out i sailed on my lunch hour to check it out. the steinhardt center i was familiar with from my former life on riverside drive, so i quickly settled in on the posh and comfy patterned sofas with one of the forwards waiting on the coffee table.
the first person who caught my eye was a tall, elegant man who looked immediately to me like a coffee pro, maybe a taster -- he had that air. and i was completely correct, as he turned out to be richard bertagna, who described himself as the roastmaster for millstone.
the other average "coffee lovers" there were mostly women, some from staten island; only 2 men put in an appearance. however, coffee being a small, small world, i also saw the prize-winning paul perry from long-time bccy pals bunn -- there to set up the brewing equipment and the bunn ts airpots (made by zojirushi) -- and one of my favorite people ever, genevieve felix from oren's.
also present as the consulting coffee expert was one kevin sinnott, who i'd never met in person before. ok, so after some waiting we were herded into a black room with 2 tables, each of which had 3 airpots, numbered 1 to 6.
the sound guy wandered around with his boom. we had no idea what the coffees were; it was a truly blind tasting.
we were given a simple "cupping form" with check boxes -- bad, average, great -- and also a box to choose our favorite of the 6. the cups were waxy paper, and really smelled like plastic. . .
so the 12 or so of us start milling about. because the cups smelled so bad -- like when you tear open those plastic dry-cleaning bags, you know? -- i actually used my scaa silver cupping spoon to sample from them.
the first coffee was moderately bright, with some caramel and vanilla. but it was, to my lights, brewed quite weak. without a doubt, no 55-60g per liter here!
and others in the room also commented on how weak the coffees all looked just from seeing it in the column of the airpots. anyway, i thought number one had to oren's immediately, because it was the only one with any spectrum of flavors.
but i am of course familiar with his coffees!
the second coffee was bright and had a harsh aftertaste, also weak. it tasted like millstone to me -- it had the not-quite-fresh, central-y taste that always says, well, millstone. i found the third coffee a massively, displeasingly bright brew, a little ashy, and weak.
coffee number 4 immediately smelled like dead skunk mixed with hot tar: it was obviously instant, probably nescafe. it was so gross i couldn't even drink it; both genevieve and i tossed it in the trash.
coffee number 5 was also obviously starbucks. it had that flat, burnt, turpeny taste that's just the mermaid all over. i was stunned that this character carried through even when brewed weakly.
number 6 was a stale, bland, commercial coffee with a short aftertaste; or maybe i was just tasting the paper cup. i had no idea what it was.
half-n-half and sugar were provided and a fair number of "tasters" sampled the coffees that way.
so the producers took the ballots, i talked to kevin s. some, and then we were all led upstairs to a little studio where stossel did his little thing. what struck me was that there were people in the audience who i didn't see doing tasting.
some of these appeared to be news interns, shipped in to boost the numbers for the camera. a couple of these appeared to be ringers -- they described themselves as "not really coffee drinkers." one insisted he drank street coffee from the quilted metal carts, because he liked it weak like tea.
this was immediately suspicious, as i didn't see this guy actually tasting, and further, the street coffee from the classic nyc metal cart isn't usually overly weak. it is many bad things, but not usually really weak. . .
ok, so the results were read: starbucks was the most popular. not surprising, given ted's statement above: the mermaid has the most memorable taste.
after that came sam's club (coffee number 6, with that bland taste that goes so well when drowned in cream), then oren's, then ironically nescafe, then millstone, and in last place, the neon-bright coffee number 3, dean & deluca.
one woman unknowingly chose nescafe as her number one coffee. when this was pointed out to her, she said that she was from the town in which it was made: ted's rule in action! nescafe is obviously her "base" childhood coffee memory.
please note that richard from millstone didn't taste.
he cited my hair perfume/body lotion as the reason why -- i always wear as little plain vanilla as possible when dealing with coffee because even many "unscented" products are actually scented with a masking aroma, as oren once informed me when my unscented hand lotion bothered him -- but it was a wise move, in retrospect. clearly richard had been down this road before and was wise to the set-up.
stossel immediately started in with the slant: he read the prices of the different coffees and encouraged audience reaction at the "high" prices. "US$12 a pound!" he exclaimed. "can you believe it? that's what the dean & deluca costs!"
i managed not to interject that i would happily pay much more for a beautiful cup of excellence or kona coffee.
after taking a quick inventory of how we each felt about coffee -- i said only "it is the most passionate and romantic beverage" -- stossel immediately went to town on poor genevieve.
"why does your coffee cost so much?" he demanded of genevieve. she attempted to explain that she and oren buy only on quality, and that top quality costs top dollar. but the colombia from oren we "tasted" there retails for only US$8.99 -- a far cry from the dean & deluca, or even oren's more expensive coffees.
that's when it became clear that stossel had it in for the coffee pros. i suddenly understood why the mermaid and the other firms didn't send anyone to represent them.
he hounded genevieve with what seemed to me a rather sarcastic tone: "so why does your coffee cost so much when it only came in third in the test?"
i would have broken into tears, personally. but spunky french genevieve fought back. "hey, these coffees were pretty weak," she said. "at oren's we brew them correctly, more richly, and the full flavor comes out."
stossel turned to richard: "and your coffee, it came in second to last. yet it costs nearly US$6 a pound. how do you explain that?" richard had a good answer, probably from a p.r. firm: "folgers is the number one coffee in america, based on taste and value. americans vote with their cups at home every day."
and no matter how hard stossel poked at him, richard didn't budge from that reply. but of course his dark-roasted french coffee wasn't going to be popular among a bunch of light-roast lovin' new yorkers, now was it? not to mention, that it is, after all, folgers.
this was the first moment i have ever felt sorry for a "big four" firm. write it down. . .
one fellow taster mentioned that he liked scaa roasters guild member raven's brew, and another woman, long-time bccy pal green mountain. but she was ignored by stossel because the raven's brew guy was pretty loud, a "live wire," as stossel said.
the last segment they taped was poor genevieve discussing the brew strength with kevin s. he claims he brewed it with 3.25 oz. ground coffee to 64 oz. water.
but i doubt it. i really really doubt it, altho' i did see him carrying around a flat black object that looked like a salter kitchen scale.
if so, then the brewing water was definitely too cold, or the grind off, because that, my friends, was weak, underextracted coffee. paul perry told me later he didn't bring a tds meter with him, so we couldn't prove anything.
depending on how they edit this piece of bad faith, it could be really harsh on poor genevieve. i immediately called oren as soon as it was over.
genevieve was in good spirits, however, and went back to work. she's definitely a "better man than i, gunga din!"
Thursday, April 07, 2005
so here's what i got in the mail today from the fabulous tim fleming of caffé d'arte:
Hope all is well, I would like to invite your readers who will be attending the SCAA show to stop by Caffe D'arte's booth. If your readers tell me that they are a part of your circulation, I will give them a 1/2-LB sample of our wood roasted espresso or wood roasted drip, or any one of our other Award Winning Coffees.
See you next week,
ok, you long-time readers know i don't get any money from anyone, take no advertising, etc. so tim's just interested in giving away as much coffee as he can, i guess.
go for it! i've been fond of the velletri for years now, as everyone knows.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
regional coffee culture, part xxxviii
"to save money, though, most teens drank their coffee at home, even if they made it themselves. while all except one preferred flavored coffee, teens spruced up their homemade coffee with cream, sugar and sometimes flavored cream."
we all know that the olsen twins have popularized the mermaid among teens just as they have set the trend for the so-called "ashcan chic." (which, btw, they did not invent, and was popular in paris last year, altho' it traces it's roots back to "haute hippie" in the '60s.)
and this piece today is an interesting reflection of teen fashion. naturally, i'm glad to see that teens like coffee, and i encourage them -- in moderation!
in fact, some argue that coffee drinking is important to teen girls, who without their large vanilla lattes, may not otherwise be getting adequate calcium in their diets. it's crucial to remember a mermaid venti latte has only a couple oz. of coffee and is overwhelmingly made of healthy skim milk.
(here we are, back to the endless discussion, mermaid: good or evil? sigh.)
since people argue that consumer preferences are hard to change after youth, which is why the teen market is so sought after, the trend for teens to drink coffee and make it at home bodes well for the specialty coffee industry. we definitely need to increase teen outreach pronto!
but back to my espresso. which this week is andrew barnett's ecco northern-italian roast, based in bruno souza's superpremium brazil from fazenda cafezinho.
this is just a sweet and heavy coffee. it's heavenly. heavenly. heavenly.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
" 'without this," says weeks, pointing to his coffee bean grinder, then turning to a shiny espresso machine, 'this basically produces garbage.' "
completely true! i was so happy to read how much this article got right, considering most general press articles get coffee completely wrong.
there are a couple of barista schools in the u.s.a. right now, but in this area we still lag well behind australia, europe, and new zealand. with the world barista championship coming up at scaa's seattle conference, the head start given those countries' coffee cultures by a longer training tradition may play a decisive factor against the u.s.a. champion, phuong tran.
steam, phuong, steam! we're rooting for you here!
i do wish however the article would have further mentioned that the also-shiny grinder is likewise useless without freshly roasted whole-bean coffee. . .
speaking of fresh coffee, i took another try at making andrew's ecco bolivian coe coffee in the cafetiére.
as you would expect in a press, the coffee develops a beautiful, velvety body/mouthfeel. however, the delicate nuances of the fruit are present only at the moment the water hits the grounds.
enjoy that dried cherry feeling wafting towards wou while you stir the slurry with your wooden chopstick. because, i fear, you probably won't sense it again. . .
and so i'm slowly concluding that this coffee truly reveals its charm in the vac pot. i have some of the beans left over, and i might try tinkering with the grind a tad more.
but i just think the elusive cherry is a fragile, fleeing thing here. . .
i really do have to move on to andrew's beautiful espresso! and i'm definitely looking forward to that. . .
Monday, April 04, 2005
regional coffee culture, part xxxvii
first of all, lemme say that i don't find the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press) with 60g of coffee to 1 liter (about 33 oz.) water does much good for andrew's ecco bolivian coe.
i'll try it again with 55g, but i'm leaning towards making a pronouncement that vac pot's the only way to go for this beauty.
onto the regional coffee culture. . .
"we love coffee, chocolate, playing computer games and more than two thirds of australians say they routinely ignore chores to do something more fun."
at last i understand why i have so many readers from down under! that is, when they're not at the beach.
and today finds a fantastic article on the diversification of copenhagen's cafe culture.
and in our still-continuing discussion of the mermaid, we see here that howard himself truly refuses to say die. israel's the only country where his chain has failed; so naturally, he's trying again.
israelis apparently prefer turkish-style coffee. . .perhaps the mermaid's italian-based coffee cuisine just doesn't appeal to them?
and in response to my comment about the difference between california and new york yoga styles, awesome scaa member marshall fuss (he's gone pro!) sends this amusing piece!
Sunday, April 03, 2005
the annual obligatory & ridiculous pro-forma advisory
yuppers, less than 2 weeks to conference in seattle -- still plenty of time to make arrangments to attend, coffee lovers! -- and i'm here to post the usual obligatory & ridiculous advisory notice about altie/c-member/coffeegeek behavior on the show floor and at the show.
- please remember that while we are members, it still behooves us to behave as ultra-polite guests at all times when interacting with pro members
- when on the floor whether on the tour or no, please be ultra-polite and don't provoke any difficult conversations with pro members: don't, for example, remark how any monkey with a home bbq can roast better coffee than any member of the roasters guild. instead, enthuse about the joys of first crack as you both experience them
- except during monday's official consumer exhibit floor tour, the pros on the show floor are there for business, not for our education. if you catch a consumer-friendly pro member at their booth during a slow moment, they will probably be happy to speak to you briefly. i.d. yourself as a consumer, so they know who they're dealing with. but at the first sign of a real commercial customer, bow out and step aside. please allow the pros to do business first. and please don't importune them for schwag. if they don't seem too interested in talking with you even at a slow moment, please thank them anyway and just quickly move on. if the booth is busy, please let the pro members do business and go on your merry way
- please attend all our consumer workshops, if possible. a good turnout shows the association that we support the program and will encourage more workshops for us in 2006
- please remember that that pro you are talking to could be a board member, a current committee member, a past president, a barista guild director, or a roasters guild director, etc. you are representing all consumers at every moment. therefore, please keep all comments about the scaa and the specialty coffee industry in the generally positive direction. conference is a lovefest. share your passion and love for specialty coffee freely! but don't act like a "fanboy."
- if you have problems or questions, track me down or go to the membership booth and try to find maria curiel, wendy jensen, or mike ferguson. let us help run interference so we won't have any misunderstandings or negative miscommunications.
this stupid schoolmarmish post is completely unncessary, i know. it's a purely pro-forma c.y.a. kinda thing.
i am completely assured that all consumer attendees will be on their very best behavior! or else the cosmic powers will stuff all your karma into the mazzer robur of life.
conference is fun! be happy and enjoy it!