Saturday, July 09, 2005
"the nature of time in london is mysterious. it seems not to be running continuously in one direction, but to fall backwards and to retire; it does not resemble a stream or river as much as a lava flow from some unknown source of fire. sometimes it moves steadily forward, before springing or leaping out; sometimes is slows down and, on occasion, it drifts and begins to stop altogether. there are some places in london where you would be forgiven for thinking that time has come to an end.
in medieval documents ancient london customs were declared to be 'from time out of mind, about which contrary human memory does not exist'. . .beyond the time measured by human memory there exists, therefore, sacred time invoked by the sounds of [church] bells. the visions of our lady in the church of st. bartholomew or the miracles surrounding our lady of willesden, suggest that london is also the harbour of eternity. the bells provided a sonority where sacred and secular time met.
. . .the city became famous for its clocks, from that upon st. paul's to that of 'big ben' on st. stephen's tower at westminister, and renowned for its clock-makers. . .it is almost as if london manufactured time and then distributed it to the rest of the world.
. . .with the central position of greenwich, it controls the time of the world. . .time is the essential base of humanity and history -- thus london is the true eternal city, the source, indomitable."
-- p. ackroyd, london: the biography
fun with chemex
oh, so that's what oren's been talking about. . .
gentle readers, listen to me and listern to me well: if you drink oren's coffee, you must, must, must make it in the chemex. end of story.
oren loves the chemex, and as someone who has made oren's coffee by just about every method known to mankind, it is clear that oren either consciously or un- creates his coffees for chemex brewing.
likewise, if you've tried oren's coffee and thought "eh?" then you must try them again in the chemex. your "eh?" will change to "oh!"
as i am wont to do with any new coffee pot, i approached this new chemex thru scaa chief ted lingle's famed brewing control chart. oren has sweetly given me a 10-cupper, which i measure holds 1.6 liters or about 54 oz. water up to the bottom of the wooden collar.
by the chart and by the famed lingle coffee constant, this means i would use 3 oz. or about 86 g. fresh ground coffee. naturally of course over time you experiment to find the exact amount that suits your own taste -- a little stronger, a little weaker -- but this gives us a fantastic place to start.
my trusty saeco 2002 burr grinder has 15 numbered settings, with a halfway mark between each one; oren had suggested that i try setting number 12. so i did.
the grounds smelled deliciously floral, and already the blueberry and plum tones wafted up as i scooped the grounds onto the scale to weigh them.
the fresh harrar longberry oren had given me appears to be 2 days old. this was a tad worrisome to me as i feared coffee this fresh would bloom out of control over the top of the chemex,esp. since you don't stir the coffee, which would help dissipate the bloom.
besides oren's instructions yesterday, i knew that oren kept the water kettle boiling on the stove between pours. so after pre-wetting the filter (to remove any paper-y taste and keep it from wicking up water that should go into brewing), i picked up my beautiful copper kettle and poured maybe 6 oz. water carefully around over the grounds.
kaboom! indeed, this ultra-fresh coffee did massively blossom with a lovely blueberry scented mousse.
i placed the kettle back on the flame and waited about 40 seconds. the bloom subsided only slightly.
then i resumed pouring about a bit at a time -- you have to look at the side of the chemex to see the water level thru the filter. and when you pour, you have to be careful to try to wet the coffee surface evenly.
all in all from first pour to last drip, the process took 11 mins. and 30 seconds. i have to say that while some people make fun of the chemex's scandinavian-type design -- even tho' it is in several museums -- when full of coffee it looks charming, rather like an old-fashioned religeuse.
i mean, the dark black "habit" with the monk-ish leather "belt," the brown "collar," and the pointed or peaked white filter resembling a wimple. . .while the creator of the chemex was a scientist, his device harkens back to a time when coffee was considered healing, medicinal, and even spiritual.
the chemex produces a clear coffee, with what i'd call a light-medium body. before pouring out my first cup, i gave it a gentle swirl to mix the first drips with the last.
made in the chemex, oren's longberry does display a light blueberry in the cup. instead of a dark powdery dutch cocoa aftertaste, as i would expect from a harrar made in vac pot or cafetiére, the chemex gives oren's coffee more of a dark honeyed caramel aftertaste, with a dry finish that does make your mouth water a tad.
as the coffee cooled a bit, i thought the blueberry actually became a little more pronounced. and i thought, hmm, you really need to buy the little glass lid accessory for this puppy to keep the coffee warm. . .
i think that even with the grind at "12," the coffee in the end was a teeny bit overextracted. the next pot i make will be ground at "14."
however i do feel that for the first time i began to approach the depth of flavor and the nuances oren intends in his coffee. this makes me think immediately of his famous coban, which was so superlative. . .
i wonder what hidden suprises the chemex would reveal now!
Friday, July 08, 2005
wherein we sing the praises of oren and sue
if anyone ever doubts why the specialty coffee family is so awesome, and why i love it so, let us consider the case of oren bloostein. scion of a department-store family, he abandons a secure career in high-fashion, high-style retailing because he is driven by an entrepreneurial and perfectionistic passion for the world's finest coffees.
striking out on his own, getting up at 3 a.m. to roast coffee himself, oren toils through the years to build a 9-shop chain, with which he does battle against the mermaid's corporate mediocrity every single day.
along the way he develops the reputation as a discriminating cupper who will never compromise one whit on bean quality. and yet he also develops the reputation as a caring, funny, unegotistical, and friendly guy with an unblemished ethical record in his business dealings.
anyway, for those of you who don't know oren, here's another example of his famous generosity. . .
so oren and i were discussing one of my favorite subjects, ethiopian harrar. (dear readers, i'm sure harrar is one of your favorite subjects too!)
after raving like a fiend over the stumptown "ravishing indigo" harrar, i wanted to try oren's harrar longberry, which the fabulous genevieve felix described as having "prune" flavors. (since she's french, i think she means the english "plum" here.)
thus i got some of this harrar from oren's hipsters at his grand central station store, and rushed home to brew. unlike the stumptown, which blossoms in the vac pot, oren's harrar was a tad more challenging for me to make.
my usual vac pot ritual didn't work for it, and making it as i regularly do in the cafetiére wasn't happening for me either. then the oren-angel intervened.
oren, you see, is a big fan of the classic chemex, which he says has "the best extraction of any method." he loves the body you get from this brewer, but also the clarity and taste that comes from the special heavy, fine-grained chemex paper filters.
he also has an exacting technique that he describes so:
"you want to pre-wet the filter with hot water first. then scoop in the coffee, then pre-wet the grinds...oh, and when you pour, do it in discreet amounts.
for one liter i would wet the grinds with maybe four or five oz, then after the bloom, add water at 6 oz at a time, being sure to pour all around. until the last, then less water for a liter ha!"
notice that neither oren nor the official chemex instructions call for stirring the grounds during brewing. and for that matter, neither does tom at sweet maria.
however, i do remain concerned about the best grind for oren's harrar with my saeco 2002. oren has previously suggested i try "12," which would be medium coarse.
at any rate, today through an absolutely pounding rain -- not just dogs and cats, but wolves and tigers -- oren's angel, sue, appears with said chemex, fresh harrar, and some of his tremendous celebes kalossi/sulawesi toraja for good measure.
oren, i thank you and sue deeply. now i will finally understand what your coffee's supposed to taste like.
and also, since among my various press pots, flip pots, espresso machines, vac pots, etc. etc. possibly the only brewing method i lacked in my collection was a chemex. i feel so happy i could do cartwheels between the raindrops.
as oren says, "i love the chemex.. i think everyone should own one." now i do have a history with chemex, actually.
(cue the way-back machine sound effect, mr. peabody.) my best college buddy, hav doherty, lived in edgewood, new mexico on a nice ranch -- at one point her father kept sheep on the north forty to maintain the "lawn."
i used to love to stay at her house in edgewood, where her mother carefully made coffee every morning with a large chemex. yummy!
then hav and i would rush off in the battered red farm pickup, the local free-form public college radio station blasting its wacky mix of punk, classical, frank sinatra, john cage, jazz and ladino music, to have various adventures in alba-quirky. (this is a seriously underrated town, imvho.)
don't get me started -- even tho' i think the statue of limitations on all these things have long expired. . .
da power o' da slurp
"he expels a deep breath and then performs the telltale act of a truly refined coffee connoisseur: he slurps so hard he shrieks. . .in the realm of high-end coffee, the pitch of a taster's slurp is a badge of honor. . .
the slurp is the tool of connoisseur's trade, although [ken] davids said he has toned down his own and accomplished the same effect by breathing in through the mouth and out through the nose. grant, the mavis bank coffee processor and producer of the brand jablum, is unashamed of his flamboyant slurp, which sounds a bit like an air-wrench removing a lug nut."
i found this article amusing more for its examination of the folkways of the pro coffee cupper than for its discussion of jamaican blue mountain coffee.
i will say from my own experience cupping with pros that the article is largely spot on, however i wouldn't describe the sound a "shriek." rather, a deep thunderclap slurp is the hallmark of the pros.
in fact the most authoritative, dare i say macho, slurps i have witnessed belong to exchange cuppers steve colten (a former prez of the scaa, whose slurp could wake the dead, and when he's in full cupping mode is executed with the rapidity of a machine gun); john stefenson (of the green coffee association); and of course juan valdez' petite and charming mary petitt herself (now 2nd vp of scaa).
long-time bccy pal oren of oren's, himself a renowned cupper, notes that the barrage reflects the effort to get an even coating of coffee across the tongue:
"it isn't the sound, it is the coverage. the idea is to 'atomize' the liquid and spray it all over the palate & the aromatics up the nasal passage -- takes some force."
ken d. is a rather soft and quiet guy, so i imagine he is perhaps attempting to moderate his slurp to fit his personality?
Thursday, July 07, 2005
remember: nyc coffee meetup july 10 at fancy food
this event is in 2 parts! the actual meetup has been moved to coincide with the july 11 scaa annual membership reception, a cocktail party (business casual at least, please!) at our old stomping grounds, the juan valdez cafe at e. 57th & lex, from 6-8pm.
there we will mix & mingle with professional coffee people. it's a great time for you to meet the pros and for the pros to meet consumers, as well as each other!
further, we will be meeting the day before, july 10, at noon to tour the floor of the fancy food show at the javits center. we are planning to meet on the corner of 34th and 11th, the northwest corner.
you will need to buy your own ticket, which can be had for just US$35 if you buy by tomorrow, july 8 on their website. tickets purchased now have to be picked up at the door, so go 15 mins. early to do that.
please register as "scaa" and choose coffee as the category. dallis coffee's steve schulman will be leading us as we work our way thru the fancy food show, with an emphasis of course on the italian coffee pavilion!
wear comfy shoes and bring your cell phone, please. it is very easy to become lost and separated at this giant show; with cell phones we can call each other and rescue the misplaced!
please run on over, get your fancy food tickets and don't forget to r.s.v.p.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
regional coffee culture, part xxxxvi
"i was having a lunch of prawn mee and kalamansi lime juice with seeoth, a food-mad friend, and discussing what this futuristic city-state lacked. listing coffee culture along with live music and art, i watched as his eyes opened wide in disbelief -- and fury.
within seconds we arranged to meet at a 'kopi tiam,' a neighborhood coffee shop, in the red-light district of geylang the next morning."
the author of this fascinating article should know: wherever islam has touched, there has been a coffee tradition. and islam first touched singapore in the 13th century, remaining to this day a notable cultural force, since about 15 percent of singaporeans consider themselves muslim.
so doubtless as coffee-drinking rose in the muslim world in the late 15th century, it inevitably came to singapore.
but in ultra-exciting news, i received today a completely surprise package from dream coffee hero andrew barnett of ecco caffe. and it contained a pound of his new edition northern italian espresso, based in daterra's 2004 special reserve super-premium brazil.
long-time readers recall that i was at the daterra cupping here in new york earlier this year and met the pascoals personally. the coffee andrew is using in this espresso is on organic production land, which is soon slated to be certified (the organic certification process takes years, as you gentle readers know).
i can't wait to brew this up, not at all. thank you so much, andrew!
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
more on that tipping point: the ethiopian auction
"i think it's huge. it's a tenuous toe-hold on the continent, but it's gotta start somewhere... and "quality=dollars" is the best equation going. i'm frankly surprised that the bidding didn't reach higher." -- dougie cadmus, coffee odyssey and gmcr
i'm still surprised i don't see more talk about the wonders of the recent ethiopian internet coffee auction. what's also interesting is the consumers, alties, c-members, however you wanna call 'em now actually participated: bob y. of the green coffee co-op and dougie both bid.
those of us who are long-time alties etc. could never have forseen how increased interaction with the professional community would take us to this point. our values -- that specialty coffee is all about rewarding farmers for quality without compromise -- are triumphing now.
we consumers are finally at long last beginning to close the loop in the right way.
just in case you happen to be starved for even more 24/7/365 coffee talk, let me note the new coffeed forum. good luck to you guys!
"the international coffee organisation called on monday for leaders of the rich world to address the trade barriers and market imbalances that aggravate poverty in many commodity-dependent developing countries."
and this is a very important news item! hey g-8, tackle the coffee crisis!
i myself spent the morning attempting to make oren's longberry harrar in the cafetiére (that's a french press to you!). what made this tricky is that it was very fresh, leading to massive bloom, and also due to the unique the way oren roasts his coffee, you have to grind even coarser than you normally would. . .
Monday, July 04, 2005
update: splenda brownies, take iii
so returning from the roof of my building where we all gloried in the holiday fireworks, i cut some more brownies.
generally, the brownie recipe i make does improve the longer you allow the brownies to sit, up to overnight. with time, the moisture and flavors in the recipe tend to even out somehow.
i'm calculating that using the splenda baking mix reduced the calories from regular granulated sugar (i left the confectioner's sugar untouched) in the recipe from about 1050 to about 575. since i cut the pan into 12 brownies, the full sugar version has about 90 calories from sugar per brownie; the splenda mix version, about 48.
the brownies had sat for about 6 hours by the time the fireworks were over. and they were less dry by that time, true.
however, i think you'd still need to serve 'em with ice cream or something. . .maybe sprinkle 'em with sugar-free da vinci white chocolate syrup. . .
what surprised me most is how muted the chocolate flavor was. i'm not sure why regular sugar seems to bring out the full chocolate flavor more.
mr. right, tasting the reduced flavor, as well as observing the reduced volume, thought saving
50 calories per brownie wasn't worth it. but if he eats half the pan, that's 300 calories over the week!
that's a difficult cost-benefit decision. i will ponder more how to improve this recipe before completely surrendering.
but let me note the splenda baking mix is plenty pricey.
it contains the "sweetening power" of 4 pounds of sugar. 5 pounds of regular store-brand granulated white sugar would cost me about US$4.75 here at my local key food grocery.
the equivalent amount of this splenda baking mix was US$8.50. if i can't get a product mr. right will happily eat with some enjoyment, then it's certainly a big waste of money too!
splenda brownies, take ii
as promised, i assayed my killer brownie recipe with the new splenda baking mix, which promises in its ad copy that you can get great baking results with about a 45% reduction in calories from sugar. ok!
lemme summarize the changes you make to recipe with this splenda product: first, you use only half the amount of splenda mix than sugar. the recipe calls for 1-1/2 c. sugar, so i used only 3/4 c. splenda mix.
second, you must reduce baking time at least 5 mins. i might argue for lowering the oven 25 degrees too, or lessening baking time 8 mins.
the brownies that emerged, instead of my usual fudgy monsters, were cake-type brownies. they weren't too dry, but were on the dry side. and since i had less volume of batter, they didn't fill the pan as nicely or rise as high.
thus next time i make these i would: reduce oven 25 degrees and start checking for doneness at 17 mins.; add an extra tablespoon of water to combat dryness; and add more chocolate chips or coconut or walnuts, what have you, to make up for that lost 3/4 c. volume.
however the results are to my mind edible. let's see what mr. right thinks in a little bit.
unlike my previous splenda disaster with this recipe, the results here are edible and probably can be improved.
also on the chocolate front i saw a new brand in my local garden of eden and snapped it up: isis, a 70% blended belgian chocolate. i was interested in it because it contained no lecithin and only real, pure vanilla.
the bar had a great snap, nice finish, good sheen, very creamy in the mouth with a long, long satisfying chocolate aftertaste. i liked it!
Sunday, July 03, 2005
fashion meets performance art
i've been fascinated by the whole gently down thing.
is it fashion, x-trem performance art, or a wearable pilgrimage relic, like crossed palm fronds from the middle ages, as we all ride to compostela?
i have to say i love the 'gator. . .the whole endeavor's just amazing, i think.
on the subject of yoga, here's a nice article comparing yoga and pilates. it has some valid points, but doesn't i think mention what i find confusing about taking both yoga and pilates mat classes at the same time, which is the massive difference in breathing.
however, i do think some pilates moves could be helpful with your handstand and other yoga inversions. which is why i'm experimenting with a few classes once a week.
i bet if i mentioned this to my viniyoga teacher, carl "upsidedown" horowitz, we could get a good rant going on his new yogascope blog!