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Friday, May 13, 2005

regional coffee culture, part xxxix

"although retail coffee prices have gone up significantly in recent months, consumption is unlikely to decline as the demand is inelastic. traditionally, coffee consumption is confined to southern indian states. average coffee consumption in india is low, at 10 cups per person annually.

the recent spread of the coffee-shop culture throughout major cities is supporting higher consumption, although the volume of coffee use by these chains is relatively small. currently, there are several large companies offering a wide array of coffee preparations, which are increasingly popular among the growing number of high-income consumers, especially affluent young people."

so many things are fascinating, from a coffee point of view, about this little business article. not only does it document the rise of specialty coffee culture in india in recent years among the young -- which i hope means coffee consumption should grow in india in the future, as the bean becomes associated with an upscale lifestyle and spreads in fashion -- but also has an interesting thing to say about prices.

because, as of course all long-time readers know, india is a coffee-producing country.

i just don't understand the farmers' strategy of holding back coffee for higher prices -- because of course while a very few will benefit, once they start to sell en masse, the price will then nosedive as suddenly all this coffee appears at once. and if too much coffee appears at one go, wouldn't it possibly drive the price down even lower than if they had sold at the normal time and in the normal way?

so if you're the farmer, isn't this just a plan to risk reducing your own income? it's just another behaviorial thing that reminds us all how the coffee market we have now is neither rational nor sustainable. there just has to be a better way. . .

and i must say that i completely understand what drove this man. there are many times i have felt the same way myself. . .

let me note, dear readers, that i'm leaving london tomorrow to return to new york. farewell monmouth and godspeed!

i also want to deeply thank all the great british people who i've met on this merry journey of coffee, chocolate, cheese, and wine in london! you're the best!

posted by fortune | 5:12 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Thursday, May 12, 2005

more scaa seattle pix

"coffee drinkers around the world could be helping to save what is left of the threatened wildlife of el salvador."

this excellent story today reminds us that the simple coffee choices we make every day can have profound and far-reaching effects. . .

and for those of you who like myself just can't stop sighing fondly when recalling how fantastic the recent scaa conference in seattle was, there are even more pix! courtesy of awesome long-time bccy pal and total surf-babe wendy j., scaa staffer extraordinaire!

yes, that's me you'll see staring into space if you dig through the gallery long enough. that's what i look like after 4 days and nights of not eating and not sleeping. woo-hoo! conference rules.

i can't wait to do it all again. . .and i certainly hope to see you all there. . .

posted by fortune | 7:26 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

our little secret

i suppose by now i shouldn't be surprised to spend so much time here in london talking about wine. after all former scae chairman alf kramer bluntly informed the other day that 80% of english coffee consumption is still soluble (that's "instant" to you!), to which another scae member's cheeky reply was, is that all?

long-time bccy readers know that i'm consistently fond of these planeta wines. life being as it is, i had only sampled various of their reds until yesterday, when the regulars at the inn where i'm staying decided they needed to fill out a table at dinner after they received an unexpected cancellation.

i'm always happy to benefit from an unexpected dinner invitation -- esp. since my formerly almighty dollars are now worth less than, oh, cabbage leaves -- and doubly so since i was assured that this place had a pleasant wine list.

once we arrived i discovered it was restaurant best known for its seafood, so everyone wanted white. beggars can't be choosers usually but i jumped on this opportunity to recommend the planeta la segreta bianco 2003.

yummy. and i'm not really a white wine person, you know? actually this wine's citrus and brightness in some ways reminded me of an ethiopian yrg. . . .

posted by fortune | 4:41 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

where alf kramer breaks my little heart

yesterday being the general meeting of the scae, i was all eager to rendezvous afterwards with various board members and talk about how we could work together to expand the scaa consumer membership program, develop education programs, all that.

thus i rushed out the door at 7pm down to an elegant pub on newman st., the blue posts, where various european coffeemen were assembled behind the royal mail. i was fortunate to catch such luminaries as mike segal of coffeeworld, colin smith of the natural coffee company, of course said alf kramer himself (former scae chairman), charles prager who edits the scae newsletter cafe europa, etc. etc.

i was, as they say here, "right chuffed" to chat with colin smith, whose ideas on consumer coffee education and the promotion of consumption completely dovetail with my own. however, they all took pains to stress the difficulties of consumer education in europe, due to language barriers and differences in regional coffee culture and coffee drinking styles.

sure, that's true. but to my mind that's the opportunity. we just gotta start somewhere, you know?

after a long talk most of the others had gone, and i was left with mike segal, alf kramer, and a glass of merlot. alf of course is a famous charmer, who spent most of the evening alternately decrying the myths he felt specialty coffee labored under and how they hurt farmers and then praising long-time bccy pal don schoenholt of gillies.

for example, he noted how various agencies such as cqi and usaid spent a great effort demanding that a farmer "sell his second daughter because he sold his first last year" to make quality improvements in his coffee, only to find there's still a lack of market support.

this of course brought me near to tears. but i do adore alf -- who wouldn't? it was fantastic meeting the scae folk. . .and then i returned to wimbledon by train. . .

my great regret is that scaa chief ted lingle won't arrive in london until monday -- and of course, i alas leave on saturday! fate, you are unfair!

posted by fortune | 5:06 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Monday, May 09, 2005

the franke ecolino

so here in my temporary office in wimbledon they have a little employee cafeteria, which features an interesting super-auto coffee machine, a big franke ecolino. after eyeing it with concern lo these several days, i finally decided to try it out.

so i plunked down my GBP0.50 (US$1) and pushed the magic "single cappuccino" button. in theory if well-tuned and maintained this puppy should be able to make coffee every bit as acceptable as the super-autos used by the mermaid's counter monkeys (we really can't call them "baristi," you know).

the very nice lady at the cash register told me that the whole beans -- visible in the hopper poking its head outta the machine -- probably came from coffee republic (btw, i'm terrified that this website says absolutely nothing about their coffees but does find space to mention their bankers!) and was a fair-trade espresso blend. the econolino does contain a grinder, and so the machine whirred for a second while it ground my shot.

then out poured some vaguely warm milk for about 5 seconds, after that came about 5 seconds of watery "coffee," and finally out hissed about 5 seconds of giant soap-bubble milk "foam," with huge bubbles suitable perhaps for a child's bath. no microfoam here; definitely what david schomer derisively calls "sea foam."

hmm. it looked rather dodgy, as they say here, this 10-oz.-or-so, 15-second drink. yuppers, thin and watery, with an oily, turpeny taste.

yuck. not even drinkable. sigh.

someone call the franke repairman. . .the milk surely wasn't hot enough, but i don't see a faq for simply "makes poor espresso," do you?

in short, i'm nearly ready to trade my blogger password for a latte voucher, how about you? (just kidding of course. wild horses couldn't drag my password outta me. . .)

posted by fortune | 5:46 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Sunday, May 08, 2005

tinderbox smoulders

let's start out by noting several things about london i don't think you can hear often enough:

  • london has the most beautiful fluffy low-lying clouds with subtle purple-gray shadows as they drift over the thames and mill about the spire of big ben
  • how the warm spring light makes the intricate gothic lace of westminster appear to float against the sky so that it's nearly impossible to believe the building is made of actual heavy stone
  • the organ acoustics at st. paul's for the 6pm service are not to be believed; you must witness them yourself
  • lilacs and wisteria, then more lilacs and wisteria; coral and fuschia azeleas riot; the popular color for tulips appears to be fuschia this year
  • the thai buddhist temple in wimbledon is an absolutely unknown gem oasis with possibly the most beautiful italian garden and duck pond crossed by two tiny arched wooden bridges
  • the delicate wrought-iron tracery and charming pink sides of the prince albert bridge by the albert gate of battersea park is incredibly lovely

after this mandatory note, lemme go to the objective today, which is the tinderbox coffeehouse in islington.

this should be a london coffee heaven, as it boasts not one but two incredibly beautiful elektra barluma machines from about 1964 with real rosewood or mahogany handles on the portafilters, knobs and levettas. it also enjoys an authentic matching period elektra grinder as well as a modern mazzer robur.

the coffee's provided by long-time bccy pals matthew algie, who so kindly have always provided their excellent biscotti for the zen coffee meditations at scaa conference. the decor is great: very early '60s italian eggshell and chinese red with a strong use of blond wood for design accent.

i also love the vintage leather business class airplane seats and the real vespa in the back! in short, the whole place looks like it was lifted right outta bologna. . .

alas, the tindberbox never really catches fire. why not? it has all the elements of espresso success -- even fantastic retro cakes like at nyc's own magnolia or mary's on jane -- except the baristi.

it's true the baristi pour latte art; when i was there i saw one skirt barista pour a beautiful rosetta, and got a decent apple on my own latte. but, but, but!

these gorgeous old elektras really require that you work with the machine to get a great temperature for the coffee. admittedly i visited in a total sunday rush chaotic crazy fast bar situation; the place was packed and the line was constantly 5 people deep.

i tried a latte (which i ordered as a cappuccino, so either the barista made a mistake or the drinks are regrettably supersized) and a doppio espresso both. and both drinks were burnt.

the barista just had no control over the machine temperature. i know with these old machines that require control by running water, etc. it can be hard to do when the bar's nuts.

but hey that's what i expect of a pro barista, you know? and with all due respect, the baristi there are a surly lot.

i tried to respect the fast bar flow there by waiting until there was a little gap in the line as i was on my way out the door to ask a question or two. but i still got a total stiff arm.

ouch! let's contrast this with the super people at monmouth who always make time for customers.

the doppio espresso was also alas quite thin-bodied -- while pulled at about the right time, say in that 25-second ballpark -- it was a 3 oz. coffee with some of the blondest crema i've seen outside of nicole kidman's hair.

it wasn't a good thing, i'm saying here. you know a fantastic espresso should have the consistency of cough syrup or even motor oil.

and alas while the m. algie coffee was fresh enough, the baristi just weren't really detail-oriented in their job.

again, the bar was totally blasted nonstop, so i'm willing to make some allowances for the crush. but! but! but! my heart was weeping because that could have been a truly world-class espresso situation. . .

posted by fortune | 11:25 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

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