Saturday, December 17, 2005
the continuing tassie saga
it's true: i'm waking every morning and saying to myself "girl, you're not just down under, you're in freaking tas-mania." how often can one say that you're, um, enjoying, the benefits of a cappuccino made in a cheerful rancilio s-27 in an internet cafe in northwest tassie?
as the amazing aussie barista judge paul haddon warned me, here in rural oz, you will often find that the coffee is made by carefully tamping nescafe in the portafilter before giving it a nice 10-second run. then they sweetly steam the milk mermaid-stiff.
the tasmanians have hearts of gold, being salt-of-the-earth miners, herders, fruit-growers, and fisherfolk. they really work hard to tamp the instant nicely!
it's just that they honestly don't know better; my suggestion is when in rural north tassie to stick to a beer and a chat over a package of nobby's porky bits. i hope you like waylon.
this is the hard part for me, as frankly, i've always been more of a willie person. . . (see? i'm learning aussie humor!) imagine if all of tennessee were blue-state people. . .in tassie it's true!
but the advantage here is that you can see a wider spectrum of the ozzie soul than in sydney, which i'm reliably informed by my new friends in strahan is just too flash to be truly australian.
tasmania can be ineffably beautiful and green; as i said before, think boulder, co., but with the weather of seattle. the bccy lifestyle isn't widespread here, unlike in sydney, so i don't have any chocolate or yoga news to report to you today.
i have seen many iconic animals in the wild -- the tasmanian devil, the echidna, the bennett's or red-necked wallaby, the sneak-thief currawong who will streak off with anything remotely edible if you set it down, kookaburras (they really do laugh), and huge wombats that resemble teddy bears, if your teddy bear happens to be the size of a dishwasher. these animals are so docile they just wander past you without fear.
we even saw the wake of a wild platypus in dove lake. the vegetation is a mix of tree ferns, grey gums, pepper trees, tea tees, small juniper, a striking red moss that grows on the white quartzite rocks. . .quite beautiful and so different than sydney.
i return to sydney in a few days after a short stay in hobart, where i have a date with oomph coffee. tassies describe hobart as a mini-vancouver, b.c., with an artsy, bohemian san francisco feel.
but it will be great to return to paul bassett's for a nice long black made from his fantastic rio harrar. . .then it's off to port douglas after a few days. . .
Thursday, December 15, 2005
live from tasmania!
after a quick but fantastic morning cappuccino from paul at mecca (barista alex kum poured an lovely delicate leaf), i hopped a virgin blue flight to launceston, tasmania and dashed through red angus/shorn sheep land up to cradle mountain.
on the way we stopped at an old-fashioned pie shop for a roast lamb pie with gravy and mint jelly. actually, the pastry was fairly delicate; it was surprisingly tasty.
and we stopped along the topmost slopes -- which sort of resemble parts of boulder, colo. mixed with parts of northern california, those piney woods clothed in ferns on the way to say, sebastopol? -- when we saw an actual wild echidna waddling along the road, its funnel-like snout rooting about the gravel.
as soon we approached of course, it put up its prickles and buried its face in a bush. . .at dusk we expect to hear the dulcet tones of the famed tasmanian devil. (this is australian sarcasm -- devils actually have the most horrid, strangled cry like a cross between fingernails on a blackboard and squealing brakes.)
tasmania is just one of those places you don't really expect to ever get to, you know? but suddenly one day i'm standing on the edge of a green cool streambank in the mountains thinking "wow! from brooklyn to tasmania!"
i'm pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which is why it's astonishing that the hotel has such fantastic internet access! alas, the coffee here is only coffex.
it'll be a rough morning tomorrow: and to think yesterday paul of mecca, paul haddon, alex kum and i were tasting the panmaria panama geisha in the vac pot, as an americano (i.e. "long black"), and a single espresso. . .we all decided that we preferred it as an americano.
none of the fruit tones, however, that i found when i made the batdorf geisha previously seemed to come through. as paul haddon said, this one seemed more "toffee;" i would have called it "dark caramel."
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
paul: the trinity thereof
paul, paul, and paul. let's keep them straight by saying, barista judge paul; barista champion paul; and barista retailer paul (scroll down hih-ya to mecca).
this morning i took the ferry to manly to meet paul bassett, and once again wonder why i don't rename this site "the paul bassett experience." paul had his namesake sunbeam machine set up there all ready to go for me.
this machine is basically explained on alan frew's site here and discussed on coffeegeek. paul indicated to me that the next model would fix the various issues found in the present one, as well as reducing the noise a bit.
he didn't have the matching doserless grinder handy, but i saw it in the myer department store -- it has a conical burr set in a plastic carrier. it seems like a fine "starter" home grinder to me.
i enjoyed several of the little features on the sunbeam machine, such as the pop-up red button that tells you when the drip tray is full. i didn't make coffee on it myself -- you'd be an idiot to do so when paul himself is patiently willing to pull shots for you -- but it seems to me that when the new version comes out, it will be an competitive home machine for beginning coffee lovers.
unlike alan's review, i thought the gauge was actually functioning well. of course the 2 thermoblocks are there for a reason: price point, ease of care at home, and something approaching temperature stability.
plus with no boiler, and no fragile home boiler seals, you can safely backflush it without fear (i know many people do backflush silvia, but i also know 2 people who aren't dolts who have blown their boiler seals so doing -- ymmv). while the sides did grow uncomfortably warm, i don't think you can actually burn yourself on this machine, making it useful for those who love espresso at home but have small children.
paul made fine coffee on it and i was pleased to drink a single-origin espresso he pulled on it from a delicate harrar roasted by tony of rio in adelaide. but of course, like barista queen sherri johns, paul could make perfect coffee with nothing but a radiator and a tire hose.
from paul's terrace he has a view of both the north and south heads of sydney harbor (to which photos cannot do justice), a little marina, a pretty beach, and what seems like all the wild cockatoos in new south wales. as he says, it's magic.
as paul and i drove to the new and charming shop lattecino on victoria in concord, run by former aussie barista champ maccio, with a clean, minimalist atmosphere that frankly gave me serious "bologna" vibes, he and i talked about what's next for paul, the entrepreneur.
and it's called a shop in the ginza. that's right: paul's doing it in japan, and i think his world-class, italian approach will take the entire pacific by storm.
despite the crush of business involved in this, paul sweetly spent the entire morning with me talking about coffee and his philosophy. after lattecino, we went to see the third paul at his 5-month old shop, mecca, on king & york streets in downtown sydney.
this is a fascinating shop where we tasted the panama geisha again. but more on this later. . .i just loved mecca coffee and its baristi!
chocolate hazel. . .
this morning amazing aussie barista judge paul haddon, despite his incipient cold, ran all about sydney in pursuit of chocolate and coffee. this took us to gavin's single origin, belle fleur for some fine aussie flavored wattleseed and lemon myrtle bon-bons (lemon myrtle! yummy), and then to kimberley for some quandong and kakadu plum chocolates.
after that we stopped by aussie barista champ hazel de los reyes' secret hideout where she is holed up practicing her signature drink for the upcoming barista competition sunday. alas i will be tasmania by that time and so will most sadly miss what is surely to be her stellar performance! hazel is just the sweetest human being ever, no?
we all wish her the best of luck, i'm sure.
Monday, December 12, 2005
dim sum & elizabeth bay
as a new yorker, i have a certain dysfunctional relationship with chinese food. it's no secret that the chinese food much beloved in nyc is actually quite terrible; there are probably only 3 decent chinese places around.
(and no, for you obnoxious chowhounds, i don't mean your favorite "authentic" immigrant places in flushing where the cockroaches are large enough to be on the menu along with the dried sea cucumbers and fried duck beaks.)
so this afternoon i wandered down george st. to market city for some dim sum, which here in sydney is called yum cha. i dropped a mere A$14 for plates and plates of steamed chicken buns, steamed shrimp dumplings, fried squid balls, and baby bok choy.
the carts contained a lot of fresh sea food, as you would expect: mussels in black bean sauce, crawfish in spicy sauce, etc. along with more standard teahouse items and roast duck.
personally, i think the dim sum capital of the u.s.a. is probably oakland, ca. there's good stuff there.
the yum cha i had today was far superior to any in nyc, but maybe not quite as good as that in oakland. . .on the other hand, i think the best thai food in the u.s.a. is probably in la-la land at a certain section of sunset.
and the thai food in sydney is superior to that. so let's call it a draw in the thai-chinese division!
after the yum cha experience i ambled over to potts point/elizabeth bay to check out some cafes. one spring espresso had been recommended to me for the latte art only.
and the barista, mario, is an excellent latte artist, with some unique designs i hadn't seen before. in general this area reminds me of san francisco's pacific heights for some reason, in overall architecture, people watching, and shop style.
i mean, you can buy a lot of acqua di parma and fornasetti everything, if that makes sense to you. . .
yesterday i wandered over to the world's easiest led ashtanga class at lotus. lotus is probably the most stylin' yoga studio in sydney that i've seen so far; actually, it may be more of a pilates studio that offers some ashtanga.
while the place looks great, it features the seemingly-standard sydney concrete floor, albeit covered in thin indoor-outdoor carpet. plus, the place is massively air-conditioned.
sigh. ashtanga is hard enough -- ashtanga in a refrigerator is double hard. however, the teacher led the sequence at a sleep-walking pace, which made it to my mind triple hard.
no way was i getting warm enough to kiss my shins in those seated forward bends. however, i can't be too harsh on lotus -- they also sell chocolate, albeit not-my-fave green & blacks.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
the coastal walk
yesterday i availed myself of the clean, cheap and efficient sydney bus system to head out to world-famous bondi beach to take the lovely coastal walk thru tamarama down to bronte. i know the aussies reading this are in laughter over my description of their public transit, but i gotta remind 'em: you ain't been to noo yawk, mates, so you have absolutely no idea how good you have it!
only 35 mins. on a beautiful and busy sunday afternoon brings you to bondi from downtown sydney -- that's easier than getting to coney island, for sure. it was a beautiful sunny day but a bit windy, so bondi was fairly empty.
i really enjoyed walking along the beach, washing my toes in the tasman sea. i would have hopped into the designated swimming area, but the number of large blue bottles (what i would call portuguese men-o'-war) washed up on the beach made me think twice.
by large, i mean breakfast-plate size, with 6-ft. stinging tentacles! the surfers in their full bodysuits were undeterred, however.
i'd already been to palm and avalon beaches, which many aussies think nicer than bondi, but i did want to take the famous cliff-side walk. . .
this morning i once again hopped the bus to the balmain district to try the levain baguette at victoire. note that this isn't wood-oven bread, due the urban location of the bakery.
once again, the baguette showed the crust bubbles from cold retarding, but these were much smaller than in the previous sydney breads i'd tried. the crust was a little thick and chewy -- this seems to be common style in most artisan breads here in sydney.
the crumb was nice with irregular holes, and had a good creamy color. however, i once again thought the bread a tad too sour for authentic baguette.
while many sydneysiders will argue that victoire makes the best baguette in town, i'm still sticking with the bourke street bakery as my bread choice. however, let me say that the viennoiserie -- such as the marscapone-strawberry napoleon -- is absolutely amazing.
and i could rave for quite awhile about the individual quiche lorraines, which boast a delicous creamy interior. too many quiches have too hard and almost rubbery fillings, to my view. the paté brisée crust was also light delicate, with decorative handkerchief ruffles at the edges.
that, along with a local white nectarine and some local organic baby lolla rossa, made an excellent lunch on the bus bench as i made my way back downtown. . .