Saturday, May 07, 2005
another amazing day
and taking good advice -- which i always try to do -- i spent this saturday afternoon wandering around london doing more coffee stuff.
for example, since tim b., one of the regulars of the inn where i am staying had to take his rancilio silvia in for repair. he found she had started blowing the fuses in his house when he plugged her in.
so we lugged his own italian princess to drury coffee in london proper via the subway(!), where they promised to send it out for repair. drury is a funny little coffee and tea shop, with actually very little in the way of coffee, but a fair amount of equipment.
this included the first rancilio lucy i'd ever seen in the flesh. the lucy is a one-case espresso machine and grinder combo.
alas, she's not too attractive: her case is a little squarish and bulky.
then we walked over to a cafe in little italy -- a tiny little out of the way place -- but it wasn't serving lunch by that time, so we popped in the bar italia for a quick doppio macchiato. actually we went in mainly to see the beautiful tomato-red gaggia 4-group spring piston lever machine from 1943 (or thereabouts, according to the barista).
the bar was quite busy and it is a lovely sight to see the ballet of the levers floating up and down in a quick serve situation. after that we wandered over to the famous algerian coffee store, where they have a very nice selection of euqipment -- much nicer than drury, altho' no rancilio that i could see, mostly the innova machines and many types of cafetiéres -- and an amusing coffee list featuring many coffee i'd never seen anyway else, such the rare chinese simao mandarin!
another unusual (for me) one was the cuban turquino lavado, not to forget a burmese bourbon(!) and what they claimed was "real" old brown government java. oh, yeah before i forget they also had a tanzanian chagga and a congo arabica.
all these coffees are uncommon, if not absolutely absent, in new york. i wanted to taste a few and buy some small amounts of several, but i must say the staff at the algerian is not the most friendly and eager to help.
c'est la vie. i did make off with the coffee list for amusement, however, and i will endeavor to find a way to scan this and pop it up for you here.
on the way from there to fortnum & mason we passed another tiny italian cafe and stopped in for lunch. i must say they had excellent fresh mozzarella, that was positively still soft and creamy at the center.
yummy. terrific. what have i been saying about the food in london?
with all due respect, i found fortnum & mason a bit of a disappointment, altho' even i was shocked to see them selling an australian coffee called "punch" in a beautiful wooden cylinder at GBP55 a pound. yikes!
the atmosphere of f&m's is soooo veddy british and overly formal, i could hardly believe it. also, i really didn't see many food items i couldn't buy for less here in the bayley & sage in wimbledon, not to mention my own garden of eden gourment in bklyn.
but of course f&m is an institution and i did get to see the famous clock do its thing on the hour -- the doors open on the outside and two bewigged wooden servingmen glide out, turn their heads to the left and right, bow, pour, turn around, and then glide back inside.
the bells of st. james are lovely, lovely, as well.
so perhaps the best part of f&m was the london branch of la maison du chocolat across the street. i was sorely tempted, but at GBP4.50 (US$9!!!!!) for a slice of torte, i honestly couldn't do it.
instead we took the subway back to covent garden and walked over to monmouth coffee, where we had a great chat with the junior roastmistress rachel, who's actually an american from vermont.
we cupped a brazilian cup of excellence winner and a guatemalan estate. i had wondered how with her direct-heat roaster and no temperature-control technology on her antique machine she kept from tipping all her coffee.
and to her credit she confessed that in fact all the coffee was slightly tipped. so we cupped the coffee and tim b., who'd never formally cupped before, could really see for the first time the effect of tipping on coffee taste.
that was a great moment. i think one of the regular cashiers at monmouth wasn't too thrilled that we were taking up so much of rachel's time right before closing, but i personally was really grateful that the staff at monmouth was so devoted to consumer education and eager to speak honestly about coffee quality.
so i commend rachel and was really honored to cup with her. i think this is a woman who should join the roasters guild and has a great coffee future ahead of her.
it was just easy to see how her coffee passion re-animated itself every day. and without this commitment, you'll never make a great roaster.
but once you've got it, the sky's the limit. go rachel go!
Friday, May 06, 2005
one of the best things about having a blog is getting the related email, which is usually quite amusing. for example today i got a nice one signed "a. crank" who demanded to know why i don't update this more often.
ok, ok, so i guess some people aren't interested in coffee. if so, this is undoubtedly the wrong blog for you! but the best thing about the blogosphere is that there's a blog for everyone, even if you're a japanese teenager who collects sparkly stickers for your hello kitty cellphone.
so, mr. crank, i encourage you to find a nice tea blog somewhere: good luck and god speed to whatever heaven where the dead leaves lay about in heaping piles! go ahead and throw yourself in!
in other email, several people have sent me different versions of this article, the first being long-time bccy pal oren. i thank you all.
the line in this article that caught my attention of course is this from the bp gas station spokesman: "we're finding that customers really do want a good quality cup of coffee."
amen! quality, specialty-grade coffee is what everyone wants!
and i hope that bp and our friend spencer turer of hess will create a specialty coffee revolution at that important gas station level.
and further that other business are beginning finally to realize -- after we here at bccy and other consumer coffee blogs have been talking about this for 5 years now -- how quickly consumers adopt and reward quality coffee is also an important turn of events.
speaking of consumer coffee blogs, has anyone else noted that since the recent scaa conference in seattle, dougie cadmus' blog has just been on fire?
finally, it looks like my stay here in london has been extended another week. coming up: a visit to fortnum & mason! this also means i may yet get myself to an english yoga class. . .
Thursday, May 05, 2005
the best rabbit ever
so last night i ventured into the midst of the regulars at the inn where i am staying in wimbledon. it turns out they were all going out to dinner at an italian place a little down the way in the next village.
they invited me along, and having nothing else much better to at 9pm, said ok. the restaurant is enoteca turi, which recently won an award for the quality of its wine cellar.
the food was, with all due respect, as fine if not finer as any of the best italian restaurants in new york. i started with a lovely dish of asparagus tips over asparagus puree flavored with prosecco, broiled with a light coating of fresh cheese.
it being spring here, the asparagus was fresh and flavorful. the dish was simply prepared and just a delight.
the chef and his family hail from puglia, so the majority of menu is pugliese, altho' he does feature some dishes from the veneto.
following the starter, i order one of my favorites, rabbit. and i must say it was the best rabbit ever, tender, pink, juicy. not the all-white and needs-a-lot-of-sauce rabbit i often see in new york.
it was served on a bed of fresh broccoli rabe with a light olive sauce. yummy. yummy.
for dessert of course i ordered my favorite, a passito from pantilleria, with lovely vanilla and rich apricot flavors.
the wine award was given to this place partially based on the quality of the wine notes, which i will confess, were among some of the best i have ever seen.
again this myth that london has miserable food has been laid to rest. . .and thank heavens they were kind enough to treat me, because believe me, the bill with all the wines -- the chef choose an all-white list to go through the courses for us -- was waaay outta my per diem. . .
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
milk chocolate ganache truffle hearts
the weather in london has returned to normal for this time of year: seattle. that makes the bright red foil covering these milk chocolate ganache-filled hearts particularly pleasant to see.
these hearts were a gift to me from the regulars at the inn where i'm staying, which was quite a surprise. they sort of gave me these hearts and then vanished; i haven't run into one since!
when i came over to london i was told to remember that it's hard sometimes to make real friends with english people. the person who told me this is actually a french person by birth who went to school at harrow, so i trust his understanding of the english mind.
he explained the english attitude about foreigners, even americans: basically, you're always going to be one, no matter how long you stay in england, and further they are always going to be somewhat self-conscious around you because you are one.
plus you have that natural british reserve and the sense o' humor -- which sometimes seems to serve as a protective distancing mechanism -- to get over.
this is of course different than in new york, where the second you show up, we're like, "great! glad to see ya! now help pay these darn taxes already, will ya? and hey, get outta my way, i gotta catch this train!"
in fact i still truly think that in new york 80% of people don't care at bottom if you're legal or illegal as long as you're paying taxes and working somehow. 'cuz lawd luv a green-eyed duck, we need all the help covering the state budget deficit we can get!
but back to these charming chocolates. that the english inn regulars did give these to me indicates that they wanna be pals, but that they've since vamoosed, i think may be this whole shyness about foreigners.
or possibly the regulars are just weird. . .
anyway, these hearts are handmade by the well-known and loved linden lady firm, which has been making upscale chocolates since the 30's.
since they are milk chocolate, which isn't my favorite, i'm going to say that they are still quite lovely. the milk chocolate heart-shaped shell isn't too waxy, but does seem a tad thick and overly sweet to me.
the chocolate ganache interiors are rather liquid and nicely creamy, if a tiny bit grainy. what i mean by this is that if i dab a bit of ganache on my tongue and rub it against the roof of my mouth, i feel as if the sugar or something likewise crystalline is noticably present.
so if you're a milk chocolate fan, i think you'd enjoy these english classics.
but be warned: i repeat, they are incredibly, incredibly sweet! one definitely goes a long way. . .
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
"the world has been empty since the romans"
yesterday being a "bank holiday" i went to the new tate. from where i am it's very easy, just walk down the hill, and there's the wimbledon train station. it's only 3 stops to waterloo, and from there you can walk down a beautiful park path along the thames to the tate and shakespeare's globe theater both.
the tate is directly across the river from st. paul's cathedral in an old power plant. they've obviously stripped the plant down to its steel girders and brick walls, which gives it a really new york feel.
they've planted a nice lawn in front of the museum with birch trees -- so you walk past this lovely white birch border into the old turbine room. the girders have been painted black, the walls are still red brick, the remainder of the space is painted dark graphite with highlights of a pale robin's egg blue, almost a tiffany kind of blue.
as you walk down the main ramp into the turbine room, a bruce naumann installation murmurs "thank you, thank you, thank you." then you're at the base of the escalators to go up to the 4 exhibit floors.
the place is huge but almost half of it is given over to money makers like a fancy restaurant -- to maximize the view -- smaller cafes, auditoriums, etc.
it's true that the pictures are arranged by theme: history, the body, monumentality, the art of engagement, interiority. at first i thought this was going to be annoying, because i wanted to see all what they had -- what picassos, what matisses, etc.
but some of the theme rooms work ok; most don't work at all. so it's a mixed bag.
they seem to date "modern" from monet's waterlilies, of which they show one panel. in fact, this is in a room with a morris louis, etc. which they liken in terms of pure space and use of light to waterlilies.
i'm not sure i agree with this. but they do seem to view the monet as being all about flat surface, not even shallow space, and pure light/color instead of any form. that's why the morris louis makes sense to them as an heir of monet.
they have a lot of silly conceptual art left over from the 60s, as well as too much surrealism, but they do have many paintings i particularly thought mr. right would like. for example, they have an entire room of lovely eggplant and maroon rothkos that i've never seen before and are so fantastic they alone might be worth the trip.
one the picasso front, the have the famous blue period "young girl," a piece of early analystical cubism called "fruit, violin, bottle" from 1914, a head of marie-therese walter both as a painting and as a sculpture, and a dora maar "weeping woman" pic. the blue period piece we new yorkers saw at the moma in queens during the matisse/picasso show.
also they have an entire room of those hilarious soviet posters with that trademark bold and inventive graphic design. my two favorites had taglines like: "i will vote for the candidate block of communists and non party members!" in really great russian type under the usual yearning, beaming face of a blonde girl staring into the coming glorious socialist dawn. (nina vatolina, election poster, 1946)
another one i liked a lot showed men swarming around a really streamlined, futuristic train. "the train has come from far away with precious gifts! hurry, comrades, the train won't stop for long. intelligent and truthful reading of lenin's precious words will light your way in the struggle for a better future!" (agitprop train, 1924)
on the matisse front, they have surprisingly little, only 3 that i saw, and only one "inattentive reader" was new to me. of the famous modernists, i would say in general they have only 1 minor example -- for instance they have a big but not very important rauschenberg, or in another example, 3 small and quite minor richters.
so in one sense, it's kind of a museum like the one in st. petersburg fla., -- one miniscule example of most major textbook modernist names -- but they do have some really nice pieces by newer artists that i'd never seen before.
for example, m. balka's "dawn," 1995, which might be the most beautiful piece of rust you've ever seen. it looks rather like a fireplace screen in basic form, but on a monumental and really great scale. it's transcendant, actually.
there's also a nice dan flavin in white called "monument," and since you know my love of light and glass, naturally i'm going to like that.
another piece i'd never seen before was great: "light dynamo," 1963, by heinz mack, a mechanical optical painting that results in an effect like a shimmering mercury lake. it's mesmerizing.
they do alas give waaay too much space to naumann's video work and other lesser video pieces. plus they rather fill up space with, to my mind, what are questionable light-weight brits like gilbert and george.
after all that art i stopped off at the espresso bar for a real illy cappuccino, not illy pod-water, and sat on the outside balcony watching the lovely fluffy spring clouds pass behind st. paul's dome.
the illy would have been quite good -- the person-behind-the-counter ground the shot fresh on a mazzer super jolly and pulled a 30-second shot on a beautiful fire-engine-red 3-group la marzocco -- if only the pbtc hadn't scorched the milk!
Monday, May 02, 2005
one of the interesting things about being in england is the great variety of newspapers. i'm reading a different one every day, which is how i came across the observer.
the observer has a sunday magazine rather like that of the ny times, but i think with better food writing -- certainly the wine writing is very accessible, upbeat, and unpretentious, even when attempting to explain something as technical as brett.
at any rate, yesterday it had a nice little article on home coffee machines. the writer, some ian tucker, ranted about his love-hate relationship with ikea, and then offered his capsule reviews of several coffeemakers, including the kitchenaid dual-boiler artisan espresso machine.
since this section is called "interiors plus," i wasn't expecting a lot of coffee knowledge here. but he does allude to the advantages of the dual boiler system, gives it the best review, and deems it the "king" of home espresso.
his flip, closing "plus it makes all the right coffeehouse noises" i think is just the mandatory english humor, since to appear earnest or enthusiastic here about anything appears to be a social faux pas worse than, oh, first-degree manslaughter.
lemme note that the GBP499 price of the kitchenaid is not that far out of line from the u.s.a., where it's often seen for about US$950. however, i personally have to say that everyone i know who has bought a kitchenaid machine has returned it, mostly because they seem to feel it's underpowered in the steaming department.
the article goes on to approve of the alessi "geo" pour-over drip pot by medini, which with its little face on the filter cone, straight sideways "ear" handles, and a pointed "hat" through the water reservoir, looks rather like a cross between a kachina doll and pinocchio.
this gets a good review for whimsy and function from the author. in a more minimal style, tucker also likes a pot i've never seen in the states, a white and silver auto-drip cube by rowenta that appears to me to be a missing piece of the 2001 space odyssey set decor.
finally he offers tepid praise for a simple bodum-style drip pour-over from habitat, the "kenya" model. from this piece, and the fact that i see the eva "solo" for sale in upscale kitchen stores about wimbledon, i'm gathering that we are witnessing the birth of a more serious home coffee culture here in england.
as always, however, i must regret that the article doesn't mention brewing temperatures for the auto-drips at all. since so many don't brew hot enough, i always have a difficult time recommending them.
on the other hand, i will note that the article does use the term cafetiére correctly. which makes my day.
this being a so-called "bank holiday," i'm off not to work but to the tate modern after lunch. i'll be taking the subway, which is just fantastic, as are the buses.
i can't help marvelling at how clean, bright and comfy the underground here is. in fact, it's much nicer than an american amtrak business class train car!
how do they keep the plush upholstery fresh and clean?
Sunday, May 01, 2005
unusual english day
i began this morning with a cafetiére of monmouth yrgacheffe, bought yesterday. it's a little different than my usual yrg, from gillies in new york. while it's extremely floral, as you'd expect, it doesn't have much of the citrus i'm used to in the gillies, which as long-time bccy readers know is markedly lemony.
pressing it does give it a great body. so that's fantastic.
i meandered down the big hill to main wimbledon to buy some fruit, hoping to find a nice english apple or something. i wandered through several stores -- tesco, sainsbury, the marks & spencer -- but all the fruit seemed to come from new zealand.
ah! it's a modern world everywhere. long-time readers know i'm fond of heirloom apples, but the best i saw was a nice stripey cox.
in the end i bought a real poilane pain de siegle and a dutch "conference" pear to go with the wigmore cheese from yesterday's expedition to the borough market.
as i came back up the hill i was enjoying the nice warm weather. i'd say it was about 70 degrees, maybe 75, just a gorgeous day with a light breeze.
however, this is rather warm for an english spring day, and around me the charming regulars at the local were just melting. it being sunday, they had all arrived for their standard english roast beef lunch.
the regulars here at little inn in the village proper where i'm staying are quite characters. it's like being in your own bbc show; they're just adorable, wonderful people who depend on each other with a certain warm but reserved english friendship.
by new york standards they scarcely know each other -- they aren't even always sure what each other do for a living -- but yet they see each other every day and constantly run little neighborly errands on each other's behalf.
for example, tim b. will drive mahmoud's car for him here or there on occasion; and when we went to borough market we couldn't forget to pick up a piece of cheese for tom o.
things like that. when we see mark's girlfriend mary on the street, she sits down outside the inn and talks to everyone for 20 mins. before going on about her daily business: that's the kind of little world it is.
nichola's the manager of the inn, and she went to the cotswolds for the day -- several of the regulars came out to help her pack her car for the trip. as a new yorker, this all seems like a dream to me, like a wormhole into a vanished, nearly 19th cent. world.
as they pass each other every day, they remain secure in the knowledge that they'll all see each other again in the evening at the bar, as they gradually filter in between 7:30 and 9:30. and then they'll proceed to making the joking small talk over guinness that seems a hallmark here. . .
myself, i'll be in my room washing my hair and talking to my teddy bear.