Saturday, January 28, 2006
still seeking perfect chocolate-chocolate chunk cookie
so after fortifying myself with a cup of jessica's batdorf dancing goat, i got down to the business of the day: making single-origin espresso shots of andrew b's ecco lovely hama yrg and the bolivian c.o.e. winner.
the bolivian is the far better shot, to my mind. since i know all the fantastic flavors in the hama, i find what espresso preparation does to them a trifle sad.
in silvia, the yrg's berry basket -- where you can experience each invididual fruit in turn -- gets crushed into a generic dried cherry feeling. the chocolate turns more clove, and the crema is just ok.
plus, since the hama's a winey coffee, it comes out a tad bright for what i like in an espresso. adding water to make an americano frankly just convinced me i would have been better off brewing it the cafetiére.
i also took the afternoon to research chocolate-chocolate chunk cookies. i just can't find a recipe that pleases me. i tried this one (scroll down) from alice medrich -- but i should have known better, since none of her recipes ever satisfy me.
this may be one of those cookies where the raw dough is much better than the baked object. baked, it's just: there.
they are so not divine. . . .alas.
the raw dough's fantastic, there's no doubt. i know every 1 egg in 10,000 or something has samonella (i won't get into an anti-factory farming rant here; the facts speak for themselves), but this dough does beg you to take your chance. . .
i need a truly death-by-chocolate chewy chunk monster deep dark cookie. i don't care if it's made with chocolate or cocoa.
i can't tell you how many recipes i've been through -- when o when will i find one truly worth eating? david l. must have one somewhere!
but hey, if you have a killer one, please tell me.
Friday, January 27, 2006
andrew's ecco hama, redux
andrew b. of ecco so sweetly, as noted yesterday, sent me a new bag of his prize-winning ethiopian hama yrg. long-time readers will remember this as one of the "yrgs that taste like a harrar."
i made this 4-day old coffee in the vac pot this morning at my usual 60g/2oz fresh ground coffee to 1 liter/32oz water. total brew time: 4 mins., 10 secs.
fresh, this coffee is just amazing. a yrg that tastes like a harrar and has the body of an indonesian. . .
of course, andrew's roasted it in his usual nothern-italian style, which i always call a city+ or full-city minus because the beans show no oil. they seem to have a little less sheen than his bolivian c.o.e., so i'm going say, city+ today.
so get your scaa flavor wheel handy!
the dry grounds are so sweetly floral -- they reminded me of the cherry blossoms on the washington mall -- i wanted to package them up and present them as a bouquet to someone, anyone. even as you grind them the fruit quality becomes apparent.
a blueberry perfume seeps from the hopper as the coffee's halfway finished grinding. when the water comes up top to the vac pot, the beans bloom violently, just throwing a sweet bing cherry right up into the air.
when you first sip the coffee hot, i thought at once of blueberries, and maybe something more tart, maybe blackberries. i think you just have to call this a "berry basket" of aromas -- blueberry, blackberry, sweet cherry.
beyond that first sip, there's such a strong feeling of vanilla and honey too. the aftertaste is pure deep dutch dark cocoa.
when the coffee cools, its tangy, wine-y taste becomes apparent. and even in the vac pot, which tends to diminish body, it's a thickish brew.
in the cafetiére (that's a french press to you!) this will have a blow-away, heavy, indo-type mouthfeel.
velvety would be a good word: it's as heavy as velvet. this hama is just one of my all time favorite coffees.
all of these coffees from this ethiopian auction are just incredible: the kello, the finchwa too.
the hama cupped originally at above 90, and i agree that's its a spectacular bean. we get these incredible flavors even tho' the greens from this auction, i think, must be nearly a year old.
i think they were stuck in rotterdam in shipping for months. . .and yet these are the delicious results.
highly recommended. whether it's the kello, the finchwa, or this hama, i urge all of you to get your hands on one of these coffees.
order from the roaster closest to you! fresh they are unbeatable.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
say it loud & clear
" 'too frequently, you find growers selling mercedes-benzes at toyota prices,' says charles oberbeck (on left), usaid's chief of regional development projects in central america, who encourages farmers to find specialty buyers. . ."
couldn't put it any better myself. and a very nice mention in this article of long-time bccy pal, intelligentsia!
congrats, doug zell and geoff watts.
when great minds think alike. . .
. . .they think about baking scales. m.b. emailed me to note the new well-priced 1 g./decimal oz. scale over at king arthur.
and it just so happens that i had been pondering that page of the catalogue myself earlier in the day.
why is this scale of interest? because the standard salter scale with similar capabilities costs nearly double.
on the other hand, salter objects endure: i've had my current salter scale for nigh on 7 years, and of course it works great. so even tho' i'd love to upgrade to this new inexpensive 1-gram increment scale, i'm having problems justifying why i should chuck my present one.
really, the only complaint i have about it is that it doesn't measure down to the 1-gram level. which however can be crucial when re-sizing bread and chocolate recipes or trying to precisely weigh your coffee. . .
excuse me while i wrestle with myself here.
many people are familiar with the scale review from cooking for engineers. however, since what are probably the most popular brands of scales aren't mentioned, i've never put much stock in that particular page myself.
but that's just me, who's famously not an engineer, and can't play one on the internet!
not only do i want to thank everyone who came to yesterday's coffee meetup, i want to thank don schoenholt of gillies for speaking at the last minute. a kind deed on his behalf.
the next meetup will be in late march-ish sometime. please stay tuned for details.
not matter how busy the day, i can't forget to thank andrew b. of ecco enough; not only has he been so kind with his bolivian c.o.e., but he was also sweet enough today to send more of his ethiopian auction winner, the hama yrg.
this is one of those yrgs that actually appear to be a fine harrar. amazing.
devoted readers may recall my comments about my recent time in oz with paul bassett and paul geshos, the latter of the deserves-global-fame-shop mecca. one of the things i mentioned at that time was paul's discussion of the so-called "updosing" barista technique.
this technique was explained at some length this fall in barista by oz coffee personality george sabados. and various enlightened coffee people are still discussing it.
i think i've tossed my few bits of knowledge on the stage floor, so i'll be watching to see how the situation develops. dropping in on others' attempts to wrestle with the technique -- not to single anyone out unfairly -- does however justify sabados' claim that few are grokking what he's trying to teach.
i think sabados may want to write a barista a clarifying letter after tim wendelboe's response appears in the upcoming feb./march issue.
finally, i want to thank readers (you know who you are) for the thoughtful mail on yesterday's post. yes, the new president of bolivia may be the head of the first blatant narco-government.
or maybe he just defended coca cultivation as a wedge issue with indigenous voters. but we can all agree that if bolivian farmers could get good prices growing quality coffee, they would largely avoid the hassles of joining an underground economy for easier, legal profits.
while growing coca for drugs pays well, it puts you under the thumb of the drug overlords, who are quite unpleasant characters to deal with. and the late juan de dios blanco's experience certainly demonstrates the possibility that coffee can also offer huge rewards, no?
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
coffee = thought
while drinking a cup of the late juan de dios blanco's 1st-place bolivian c.o.e. winner from andrew of ecco this morning (brewed in a chemex -- yum!), i took to thinking about this recent post on alt.coffee.
why? because that screed seems more wrong to me every day. what is haunting me this morning is this statement:
"likewise, if you want to help coffee farmers and their kids, maybe the worst thing you could do is something that keeps them clinging to their unmechanized farm one generation longer. markets send 'signals' and you ignore those signals at your own peril."
if the market was working, this might be true. but the tragic case of juan de dios blanco i think proves exactly that the market is misfiring in coffee.
i'm not sure those "signals" can be trusted.
juan de dios blanco was apparently growing fantastic world-class quality coffee for a little while. in his acceptance speech to the c.o.e., he says that he couldn't participate last year because he didn't have the "possibilities."
he also states that this year, inspired by his neighbors who did compete, he improved his processing, and so he won. in short, he was a responsible entrepreneur -- he saw what his neighbors were doing to be competitive, and he matched their efforts to arrive and surpass their level.
so why haven't we heard of juan's coffee before? why was it "mistakenly" grouped with lesser-quality coffee?
i would argue it's a clear sign that in the coffee sector, the current market structure is failing big time.
if i may massively over-simplify, the job of the market and its "invisible hand" is to match buyers and sellers, to transparently allow them to discover a price/value, and to maintain the law of supply and demand. or so most economists say.
but the current coffee market lacked the mechanism to "find" juan's fantastic beans and value them properly. it took an extra-market program to do that, the cup of excellence.
li'l ol' me, the upscale specialty coffee consumer; andrew b., the artisan microroaster; and juan, the specialty coffee grower were all seeking each other. but we couldn't find each other, because the market isn't working for us.
once the cup of excellence allowed us all to finally find ourselves in an open auction space, juan and andrew discovered their price/value -- which was an astonishing US$12.55 a pound green for those 16 bags -- and now andrew and consumers like myself can engage in a retail transaction.
i believe a standard coffee bag in bolivia contains 70 k/154 lbs. of coffee. this means juan made about US$31,000 for his crop.
in impoverished bolivia -- it's 113 on the so-called "human development index" -- where the average income is just US$900 a year -- juan's US$31,000 was a significant sum.
with this mind, i absolutely have to disagree that keeping juan "clinging" to his land, as the comment above puts it, is a bad thing. if he and his family had left their farm for la paz in hopes of finding one of the scarcely-existent jobs in the capital, how would they have been better off?
the comment above assumes the inevitable obsolescence of juan and his unmechanized 4.5 hectacre farm. when in fact, it's producing competitive, world-class coffee.
it's just that for the first time that elements of a real, functioning market have been extended to juan, andrew, and myself. the obvious question is how many other juans are out there?
i bet many, many more. it's in everyone's interest -- including the middlemen who dictate the parameters of the current coffee market and who missed out on their chance to take a chunk of juan's deal -- to institute serious reform now.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
today i promised to tell you about yesterday's c.o.e. bolivia winner, since we had just made the acquaintance of the farmer, juan de dios blanco. and i still will describe it for you today.
but first i want you to remember juan's beautiful words from yesterday and keep them in mind. because alas it's with the deepest shock and regret that i must tell you what i have just learned this morning -- that juan was killed last week in a tragic car accident.
susie spindler of the c.o.e. is currently in central america, and we hope that when she returns she will post more information on the c.o.e. website. at that time, we also hope she will have details as to how we can help the blanco family -- his widow, his poor children.
drinking his beautiful coffee is the only connection we have with him right now. surely his family remains in all our prayers.
andrew roasted this pound of juan's coffee on jan. 19. so this morning it was 5 days old; as is usual with andrew's ecco, it is roasted in his usual northern-italain style.
the beans display a light sheen, but show no visible oil. what i'd call a full city+ roast.
i brewed this in the vac pot as usual: 60g./2.1 oz. fresh ground coffee to 1 liter/33 oz. water. total brew time was about 4 mins. 30 secs.
got your scaa flavor wheel? here goes!
the dry grounds presented the most lovely sweet floral scent, one with what reminded me strongly of orange-flower water. alas, i couldn't get this delicate note into the cup; maybe i need to experiment with the grind a little more.
my first sip of this coffee gave me a very strong caramel-y, syrupy, butterscotch-y impression. the aftertaste was definitely lightly chocolate.
i found this to be sweet and full, hovering on the edge of nippy in taste. altho' the vac pot tends to diminish body by its nature, i thought it had a fair body when i swirled my spoon through it in mary p's venetian-gondola motion.
what needs to be emphasized is how clean this cup is, and how nicely balanced.
i have no doubt this high clean-'n-balanced character is why the coffee was given a 93.5 by the professional tasting jury.
by the end of breakfast, i decided that actually i might prefer this coffee with a pinch of raw sugar. i thought it enhanced that butterscotch note.
with a splash of light cream, the hovering nippiness was reduced, but the aftertaste became a bit more pronounced.
so i think this is just a gorgeous coffee to drink black, with sugar, or with cream and sugar. highly recommended!
Monday, January 23, 2006
bolivia c.o.e. in da house
andrew b. of ecco just sent me his new c.o.e. bolivia, the 1st prize agricabv bv calama marka!
this is hitting the vac pot first thing tomorrow morning; thank you, andrew. i'm very grateful.
to read the words of juan de dios blanco, the farmer himself, is so touching:
" 'i have 4 children; 3 of them in school. the oldest is 15 years old. all of my children help me to pre-select, but it is my wife who sacrifices the most; she told me that it is the fruit of my work; she is the one that deserves the award. it was a dream for my family to participate, as well as for me, and at the end a very big surprise.' "
meet juan and his family. they are the smallholder coffee farmers who sit every morning at your elbow, at your breakfast table, at your computer.
your specialty coffee isn't an abstract, fungible commodity on an exchange. it's the hopes and dreams of real human beings who love it as much as you do.
when you hold these coffee beans, you hold juan's hands. the hands of his wife and children.
literally, as they tell you themselves, they have touched every single bean.
juan has 3 children in school. buying this coffee will not only get you a delicious, world-class cup to enjoy at home, it will also send juan's 4th child to school.
you will effortlessly and without charity be making a tremendous difference in the life of someone you now know. this isn't maudlin romanticism, either -- it's frankly and most practically true.
i'm overwhelmed that andrew found this beautiful coffee and helped make it available to us. his roasting artistry will display juan's beans in their best light and reveal their full potential to us in the cup.
of that, i'm sure!
don schoenholt at nyc coffee meetup!
after a lot of situations, i'm happy to remind you all that the nyc coffee meetup with be at juan valdez this wed. at 7pm. alas our hostess mary pettit, 2nd vp of the scaa, won't be able to join us, due to a family matter.
however, in her place, we'll have the famed don schoenholt of gillies coffee fame, a globally recognized coffee expert, and a co-founder of the scaa.
for those of you who've never met don, you'll be thrilled! don will be speaking about colombian coffee, in honor of mary.
another marker of how coffee set the stage for modernity
"coffee was only one commodity, albeit an increasingly important one, in the cornucopia of goods that american merchants traded, but it is a lens through which to see the development of north america, not as a neighbor of the caribbean, but as a fully integrated member of a transnational atlantic world.
'the discovery of coffee,' wrote theodore bourban, a french philosopher and medical doctor in 1820, 'has enlarged the realm of illusion and given more promise to hope.'
in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these illusions and hopes drew north america and the different empires of the west indies together in the creation and promotion of a coffee culture that persists to this day."
this has to be one of the most fascinating pieces on the history of coffee i've seen in a long, long time.
devoted readers are well aware how coffee has served as the stage for many structures that define the modern world. how coffee houses became stock exchanges, insurance companies, fledgling corporations, informal banks -- institutions that begat modern captialism.
how coffee house broadsheets became daily newspapers, which invented the idea of freedom of the press.
how coffee houses served as the first political stages for middle-class merchants to organize for their interests at a time when politics belonged almost exclusively to the nobility, and how modern political parties developed from that.
still, the long history of coffee as a commodity has seen its day. the concept, while crucial to global trade even now, must end, with a complete market reform.
as scaa chief ted lingle has so persuasively argued, coffee absolutely should not be a commodity, just as wine is not.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
mailing it in. . .
aarrrgh! another day when blogger thinks i don't have cookies enabled --
but i do, i do! -- and won't let me log in. i have no idea why this
issue sporadically happens with them.
i love you blogger, but please hire a better beagle, because your
current sniffer ain't working so well. . .
as a result, i'm mailing this puppy in, which means the formatting will
be spindled, folded, and mutilated. sigh.
also it means i can't moderate comments right now, so if you have a
comment waiting, let me thank you for your patience and support.
as devoted readers may recall, i have recently repaired my dishwasher,
acquired a new fancy fridge, and believed my kitchen troubles were over.
the aged delta swivel faucet now leaks perpetually, despite the best
attempts to fix the gasket or reseat and clean the little ball-thing
inside. double sigh.
so i went internet shopping for a new faucet and nearly flipped out when
i discovered a decent one to equal what i have now would be US$350!
a nice kohler would of course cost more, much more. . .and would include
features such a computer setting to ensure the water remains at a set
temperature. so if get the faucet to lukewarm water, turn it off, and
then turn it back on, this little computer chip would remember that and
give me water at exactly the same temp.
is this a feature i really need? do i have to worry about crashing my
"sorry, i can't you a glass of water now, i have to reboot the faucet."
on the chocolate front, today's nytimes magazine contains 3 recipes for
chocolate chip cookies, which serve as a nice comparison study on how
different ingredients produce different results.
baking soda alone vs. baking soda and baking powder together. how many
eggs. what kind of flour.
studying these recipes would be very enlightening to those of you who,
like myself, think the perfect chocolate chip cookie is an ultimate food
group in and of itself.
so i recommend you all check that out.
finally, you may recall i've set up a trial account with spam arrest.
apparently one of things this software does (or did) was go through my
entire address book and send out whitemail reply queries for some really
if you get or got one of these, i'm sorry. i don't think it was supposed
to do that.