Saturday, March 11, 2006
excuse me while i interrupt. . .
or, now for something completely different. of course, it's not really completely different, because i'm enjoying one of my all-time-favorite coffees, don schoenholt's gillies famed sumatra lintong "kuda mas," the triple-picked, japanese prep bean that's fantastic in the french press.
i'm mailing this in today, so just google the blog for historical info on this coffee, or just run over to gilliescoffee.com and get ready to enjoy. which i'm doing now, as a luscious americano.
yesterday being just a gorgeous june-type day, i ran out on a fast errand to one of the best and least known places in all of nyc, the famed aedes de venusta, the cult perfume store.
long-time readers know i've spent the last few years cupping a lot of coffee, which has required me to pretty much keep the scents light and infrequent. but boy howdy do i love perfume.
in fact, i'm quite the 'fume fancier, and i love the perfume blogs like nowsmellthis. many people are surprised when i tell them these are my favorite blogs -- they expect me to say some food blog or something.
but no -- foodies have a different sensibility than we coffee people do. the 'fumies are like us javaheads: passionate, sensual, romantic, discriminating, elegant, articulate, even nearly decadent in our love for the rarest and the finest.
the vocabulary of coffee is often compared to wine, and shares many of the same bases, but actually, i find its usage and spirit closer to that of perfume. as scaa chief ted lingle often remarks, "coffee cupping is a test of olfaction, while wine tasting is an exercise in gustation."
see -- it's all about the nose.
anyway, i found myself out of all scent and went into the gorgeous little diana-vreeland hell that is aedes -- if you don't recognize this as the highest level of compliment, you're not an aedes-type person -- played with the dogs, talked to robert (who drifted by like beau brummel in his impeccable black summer cashmere), said hi to miguel (does he ever take that baseball cap off?), and then had an audience with karl.
karl is a very special person, who radiates sweetness and a deep love of scent. he has the amazing ability to talk to you, stand next to you, sniff your hand, and then confidently but gently recommend perfumes that prove to wear better on you than you would most likely choose yourself.
anyway, karl and i were talking about what would be a close substitute for some 'fumes i've long worn but which have been discontinued. karl knows i have a weakness for tuberose, and he showed me the shalini, in the amazing gorgeous lalique bottle he's keeping in a special case.
oh, it's ineffable.
of course, it's also US$900, but as miguel remarked, you apparently get most of that back and sometimes more by selling the empty bottle to the crazed collectors on ebay.
anyway, thank goodness i love karl and am happy to give him my money, because i left with serge lutens' sa majeste la rose and fleurs d'oranger, also l'artisan perfumeur's delicate and bewitching safran troublant, as well as montale's vanille, and le prince jardinier bouton de rose.
it was the talk of the perfume bottles actually that made my thoughtful. i have quite a few, much to my husband's consternation.
ok, not quite 40. well, if you count those little guerlain gilt-lozenge purse atomizers, maybe just 45. but i don't think any are particularly rare!
Friday, March 10, 2006
lemme disagree with the i.c.o. here
"the world's 2006/07 coffee supply and demand are near a balance. . ."
and i think that's a good thing. so sorry, nestor, i disagree with you.
after too many years of there simply being too much coffee -- and most of that pretty low quality -- thus driving down prices and causing all the ills of the so-called coffee crisis -- an end to the glut would be the best thing for farmers and consumers both.
farmers could see better return on their coffee, and so could afford to improve its quality rapidly. and of course high quality coffee is what we specialty coffee lovers seek -- that's what we're willing to pay top dollar for.
we could then begin to enter the famous cycle of which former scaa prez steve colten speaks, a place where "price begets quality begets price." in short, i want coffee prices to rise!
coffee, even the gorgeous prize-winning coffees of which i so often write here, is just about the cheapest beverage you can buy. i know many people i talk to hesitate when i recommend coffees of US$17 a pound.
that is amazingly cheap when you do the math. a pound of coffee brews about 40 6-oz. cups.
so we're talking about US$0.43 a serving for these luxury, world-class coffees. try getting a can of diet coke for that price; if i buy it at my local grocery here in nyc, it comes to US$0.50 a can.
even if you could get your hands on that recent prize-winning brazil that sold for US$50 a pound in the green -- let's say that's US$75 roasted retail? -- we're only discussing US$1.88 a cup.
i think you pay only slightly less for the indifferent swill at most fast-food joints. the mermaid i think averages about US$1.50 for a small drip coffee; the new mcdonalds offering will be US$1.20.
i hope this just drives home how sensible it is to buy the finest coffees you can get your hands on and make them yourself at home or in the office!
Thursday, March 09, 2006
yoga in the schools, now
"the government wants to tackle obesity and this is one way this school is going about that. the children get physical benefits and all of them can get involved in yoga, which is not competitive."
it's quite encouraging to see this welsh school taking the initiative to introduce yoga as an option for students. with luck this will spread throughout the u.k.
long-time readers know i've written here before about a scattering of schools in the u.s.a. that have made yoga available to children in the fight against the obesity epidemic. often these are after-school programs.
now we see u.s.a. school consider yoga from another angle -- to relieve test anxiety. since the so-called no child left behind law has made high-stakes, one-shot testing crucial to a student's and school district's future, test anxiety has proven to be a big issue:
"teachers long have provided students a steady diet of practice exams and refresher classes as test preparation, but now stress reduction -- even yoga -- has been added to the menu, said judy bowers, past president of the american school counselor association."
it's a fascinating article on how these intensely pressured tests are changing american education. it's just an interesting example of how multi-facted and useful a yoga practice can be.
as punk-rock yoga teacher j. brown is found of saying, the core of yoga is not only the physical practice with its physical benefits, but also to realize that the practice can be used to help you create positive models for thought and behavior.
there are some very small and preliminary scientific studies that indicate yoga may indeed be quite effective at controlling moderate anxiety and contribute to controlling some anxiety disorders. of course those of us who do yoga know it works great for anxiety, over time.
i think it would be fascinating to do a study where some students do yoga before a test and others don't. then after the test, compare the scores of the 2 groups -- i expect there will be a difference favoring the calmer students who have taken yoga, but i would like to see how much difference it might make!
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
scare stories, old news
"people carrying a common variation in a certain gene could be worsening their risk of a heart attack simply by drinking several cups of coffee per day."
yes, everyone has been writing me for a couple of days about the latest coffee scare story. and my answer, like so much in the field of coffee and health, is ho-hum.
old news. i know articles like the above are all over the 'net right now, saying "coffee could increase your risk of heart attack -- and you wouldn't even know if you were in danger!"
long-time readers may recall that i've written before about people who are sensitive to caffeine. some people are born with genetic variations in their liver enzymes that causes them to metabolize caffeine and many other common drugs differently than most people.
these are the people who appear to be the most sensitive to caffeine -- they metabolize it slowly and incompletely, so it hangs around for them a very long time and affects them more deeply than the majority.
the gene that produces these particular enzymes is called cyp1a2. it is part of a group of genes called cytochrome p450s, a collection of 50 genes that express themselves in different parts of the body, such as the liver and the intestines.
if you have the genetic variant that makes you a slow metabolizer, you probably actually know it, despite what the scary articles try to claim.
the articles say, oh there's no genetic test! we could all be at risk. again, nonsense.
people with this gene variation also don't really metabolize other things well, either, such as ibuprofen (motrin) and acetominophen (tylenol)!
what i'm trying to say here is simply this: do you feel like you're unusually sensitive to caffeine? does even a half cup of half-caf give you jitters?
does coffee that doesn't seem to bother others make your tummy ache or give you intestinal issues?
do you find tylenol and motrin, for example, either don't seem work well for you at all -- the pain comes back really fast, the effect seems to fade in just 2 hours or so -- or do they last a really long time -- so that you need maybe only 1 when other people take 2?
or if you take these medicines at the standard dose do you feel weird, like you're having some kind of bearable but slightly adverse reaction?
for example, does even motrin or tylenol bother your tummy a little? make you a tiny bit nauseous? make your heart race a tad? do you turn a little pale?
if any of these sound familiar to you, dear readers, then you are most likely the dreaded slow metabolizer. you should drink the best decaf you can get your hands on, and no more than 2 cups a day of that.
but unless you're a real type-a, refuse-to-let-the-discomfort-get-to-me personality, you've already learned to avoid much coffee and have probably switched to herb tea.
revel in your status as mutant. read x-men comics.
on the other hand, if tylenol and motrin relieve pain without any side effects but only last for what seems like a short time, then you, dear reader, are a likely super-fast metabolizer, which is also apparently not in the majority.
you are probably also the person who can drink 5 cups of coffee a day, 2 triple espressi before bedtime, and sleep like a baby. "coffee doesn't affect me at all," you say, "what are these wimps complaining about?"
you are a different kind of mutant! read philip k. dick novels.
if you, dear reader are in the solid majority of people who have only normal coffee experiences, i repeat my standard advice: women shouldn't drink more than 3 6-oz. cups of regular coffee a day; men, no more than 4.
some women also find that starting birth-contol pills may change how coffee affects them. this also is due to the liver; the pill can affect how your liver processes caffeine.
if you find yourself in this category, switch to half-caf or decaf, or even try another kind of pill. everyone should always drink coffee in moderation.
which is the reason to only drink the best coffee, properly prepared. and that usually means making it at home -- which is of course the entire purpose of our lives here at bccy, to evangelize home coffee making with the highest quality specialty beans!
for you yoga students, you are no doubt remarking that this also isn't news to you; the yogic tradition of ayurveda has long argued that caffeine is ok for some constitutions and absolutely bad for others. long-time readers know bccy has dealt with before, for example, here.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
don't drop that coffee cup, it might break -- the floor
"the winning coffee cup, made of a tough ceramic composite by students from the university of missouri-rolla, left a dent in the pavement."
i loved this wacky tale. and i could completely relate to the concept, having in my time broken several truly beloved coffee cups.
one was a horrible, tacky vintage-1950s souvenir mug from florida, with a grinning alligator for the handle. my husband and i used to have an ironic joke about this cup -- when we wanted to use it, we'd say, "gimme da gator, baby!"
we also used this phrase ironically whenever one of us got something we didn't need, or want, or which later proved to be a pain. but alas, like nearly all things ceramic, the mug eventually broke into many shards.
and i know many other coffee lovers have lost cups that were near and dear to their hearts too. let's face it, most java fans have a favorite coffee cup, which becomes a very personal object and holds a lot of sentimental value.
breaking or losing it hurts more than little! but clearly if you drop this mug the engineering students have built, it's the floor that's in danger!
while obviously this competition is an exercise in materials science aimed at pushing people to explore new kinds of foodsafe ceramics, i think it's interesting that the winning coffee cup appears to be actually made of aluminum oxide, the basis of the metal aluminum, and zirconium, the stuff they make fake diamonds with.
that is, i wonder if it isn't really a sneaky form of metal. is this more akin to say a stainless steel travel mug?
should this count as a real coffee cup at all? i mean, it doesn't sound very much like elegant porcelain or bone china!
in fact i suppose it is exactly what scientists call cer-met or cera-mel, to denote a mixture of metal and ceramic. very hi-tech.
on the other hand, now at least i understand why the thing's so darn solid! and finally, of course, i wonder how feasible the thing would be to actually mass produce?
i know many coffee shop owners who tell me that cup breakage is a serious expense for them, which is why they serve coffee in those nasty paper cups, even tho' they understand that a true china cup does better service to their beverages!
Monday, March 06, 2006
regional coffee culture, part many
"last month, consumers international, a consumer rights monitoring organisation, concluded that of all the ethical-certification schemes that companies have adopted, fairtrade offers the most tangible benefits for growers."
and here's an interesting piece describing how fair-trade coffee is catching on in the u.k. long-time readers know my main concern about fair-trade has to do with quality -- how high quality is this coffee?
we aren't doing farmers any favors by encouraging and supporting them to grow middle-level coffee that's actually non-competitive in the long run. the fair-trade program has to focus more on coffee quality, imvho.
and the second issue i have with fair-trade as currently implemented is the small number of farmers that can participate. the rules are too restrictive, too expensive, and the paperwork burden is large, especially when we are considering the plight of peasant farmers in the distant misty mountains who may be nearly illiterate.
finally, this burden may be too high on independent roasters as well. i would like to see the entire fair-trade system streamlined, opened up to more people, and for the paperwork and cost barriers to be substantially reduced.
i also received a nice phone call today from edward bramah, of the bramah coffee museum. his new book should be arriving fresh from the printing presses in just a couple of weeks.
of course, his coffee makers: 300 years of art & design is a coffee lovers classic!