Saturday, March 18, 2006
hachez 77% with strawberry and mignonnette
i'm finally going broadband. i've resisted too long -- i just can't endure earthlink another moment, even tho' i've been a customer for 11 years.
after a difficult morning dealing between earthlink and time-warner to try to get the whole deal established -- the customer service award this morning goes most surprisingly to the cable company! -- after a comedy of errors due almost entirely to the downsides of voip -- the earthlink people were using voip and constantly screaming at me, "what? you're dropping out," which did not inspire confidence in me at all -- i just had to sit down.
so this is a long prelude to alert you, dear readers, that my email address may be changing soon. i'll update you with a new link below when and if appropriate.
and while sitting down i immediately reached for one of my favorite chocolates, the hachez 77% with dried strawberries and mignonnette (cracked green peppercorns). this mixture may come as a surprise to some of you, but it's delicious.
i'm used to fresh strawberries barely drizzled with vintage balsamic vinegar, the real 100-year-old stuff (more affordable here), and dusted with the barest pinch of fresh ground white pepper. that's a fabulous and classic presentation, if you happen to have perfect fresh little wild berries.
so this combination of chocolate, strawberries, and green pepper doesn't seem too far off the mark to me. and need i repeat it tastes fantastic?
highly recommended even when not dealing with voip and overly-elaborate phone tree options!
Friday, March 17, 2006
more on that unbreakable coffee cup. . .
and last week i got a nice letter from the students who made the wacky unbreakable coffee cup. altho' not strictly on-topic in the typical bccy vein, i found it really fascinating, maybe just because i'm a klutz who breaks a lot of stuff:
"The mugs are called a ceramic particulate composite since it contains zirconium dioxide particles dispersed in an aluminum oxide matrix. Think Jell-O mold. The fruit cocktail would be the zirconium dioxide particles and the Jell-O would be the aluminum oxide.
The mugs are as much a ceramic by definition as a 'regular' coffee mug. These mugs contain no metals whatsoever therefore do not fit the cermet category.
The aluminum oxide (called alumina by us engineers) is the main component of bauxite (aluminum ore) -- from bauxite aluminum metal can be produced by the Hall process. The Alumina used in our competition mugs is very pure and has excellent mechanical properties.
If processed correctly, alumina can have strength 10-20 times that of steel. Despite their strength, our ceramic mugs are not unbreakable as a steel one would be. Advanced ceramics are very strong (stronger than metals); however, they are very brittle. Because they are brittle, they are prone to cracking which will cause failure.
If a crack or chip in a ceramic occurs as you know, it is very easy for it to break catastrophically. Basically, our mugs won't break unless they are dropped in a way that would cause a chip or crack -- so dropping it repeatedly will probably eventually cause failure.
Dropping it onto a sharp edge could also cause failure because edges concentrate stress. The competition mugs are many, many times stronger than traditional mugs.
The other component in our mug is zirconium dioxide, or zirconia in the field. Zirconia is added to our mug to make it harder to a crack, if there is one, to move through the material. Like the alumina used, it is an advanced ceramic that is not seen in whitewares (plates, mugs, toilets, etc.)
Zirconia, in a different form can be made into a single crystal as a diamond knock-off. Zirconia is used in oxygen sensors in cars and there is much work in the ceramic engineering field to incorporate zirconia as the main material in solid oxide hydrogen fuel cells.
What a typical mug is made from:
Mugs that you drink from are what we refer to as traditional ceramics. The techniques and materials from which one makes mugs, toilets, plates, etc. have been around for centuries.
It's only recently (past 50 years) that work is being done with advanced ceramic materials as described above. Regular mugs are made from clay-based ceramics.
Different materials are incorporated with the clays (often china clays) such as feldspar and flint to make a porcelain. Bone china contains the above ingredients along with calcined bone ash -- the real stuff!!!
Traditional ceramics are also fired at lower temperatures compared to advanced ceramics. Regular mugs are typically fired to 1800 deg F whereas the mug we made was fired to almost 2900 deg F -- really hot!
The final product has a complex microstructure which causes it to have relatively poor mechanical properties (Bad for mug enthusiasts). The structure and material makeup of these ceramics on a microscopic level allows the strength as well as the thermal conductivity of the traditional mug to be poor.
This is why it's hard to get burned by a regular mug. The alumina mug we make for competition conducts heat almost as well as steel(!) making it really hard to enjoy hot coffee.
We really haven't talked to any companies that produce mugs for the public. Our mug really isn't suitable for consumers mainly because they would be so expensive.
Due to the processing hurdles and material costs, if mugs exactly like ours were commercially produced they would probably cost well over $100/ea!
I also hope that the above information will shed some light on ceramics in general for yourself and you fellow [coffee] mug-enthusiasts. Feel free to ask me anything.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
the passionate spell of specialty coffee continues, redux
"coffee consumption in india, russia and china, traditionally considered to be tea lovers, is going up with the younger generation getting hooked to the beverage, a top official of tata tea ltd said today.
while in india, the consumption of coffee has jumped from 60,000 tonnes about one and half years ago to the present 70,000 tonnes, russians, especially the youngsters were preferring coffee to tea, according to hamid ashraff, managing director, tata tea ltd, the largest coffee plantation company in asia.
coffee consumption in russia is growing at the rate of 15 per cent year-by-year, ashraff said. about 5000 tonnes of instant coffee was sold in russia last year, he said.
china is also slowly shifting to coffee like india and russia, he claimed."
what a wonderful article, one that warms the cockles of my coffee cup. i so often run into these dead-leaf people who explain to me -- with their pinkies extended of course! -- in tones as if i were a retarded child, how tea will take over the world.
and while i have nothing against tea in particular, seeing as i love a nice cup of gen ma chai ara as much as the next person, i do have to politely remind them that the consumption trends are against them.
they've already basically lost japan itself -- now the world's third largest coffee-importing country, right after the u.s.a. and germany -- i mean, why do you think paul bassett started his chain of coffee shops in the ginza? -- and it looks as if other major asian nations are following suit.
more to the point, this is the trend that will finally end the so-called coffee crisis. now, while consumer preferences are developing in these 3 major countries, we coffee lovers and the professionals we adore need to work with these newbie java lovers to move their tastes from instant and soluble coffees to specialty and whole-bean.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
the passionate spell of specialty coffee continues
"the [specialty beverage] market experienced 157% growth between 2000 (US$3,258m) and 2005 to reach some US$8,372m and despite being a maturing market coffee shops are set to continue full steam ahead. over the next five years sales are expected to grow by a further 125% to reach an impressive US$18,839m by 2010.
this is phenomenal growth for such an established market and is well over twice the growth rate seen in the much younger british coffee shops market.
the total number of coffee shops in the usa increased by 70% between 2000 and 2005, bringing the total to a staggering 21,400 or one coffee house for every 14,000 Americans. mintel believes that the number of shops could well continue to rise until there is a coffee shop for every 10,000 americans."
a very interesting article here. as long-time readers know, i've long argued that america is a coffee-lovin' nation, with a deep-seated coffee culture.
consumption did fall for decades as dissatisfied american coffee lovers turned to soft drinks, sports drinks, and tea, but last year coffee consumption showed the first sign of picking up positive growth. in short, if this trend continues as the market research above predicts, americans will be on the path to return to their historic and traditional affection for coffee.
but it won't happen on auto-pilot. the entire specialty coffee industry, i think, now realizes that we can continue this rapid growth only by maintaining and improving quality -- high quality in the bean, high quality in roasting, and high quality in retail beverage service.
because it's important to note that none of this explosive growth is happening in the commercial supermarket-can sector. that portion of the market is shriveling.
of course, strong specialty growth and continued quality is what's best for coffee farmers, roasters, retailers, and the average coffee lover. this can truly be a win-win situation for us all.
i think it's an amusing coincidence that this study comes out today when the mermaid and dunkin are having duelling promotions: the mermaid's giving away coffee, while dunkin's giving away cab rides.
oh please. skip the gimmicks, guys: just start by roast-dating your bagged whole-bean coffee, ok?
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
outclick blog dada
so my husband, seeing me remark on the outclick situation this morning,
suggested a blog dada experiment: write a post as normal, add all the
usual links, etc. and then delete all text, leaving only the links.
in the comments readers would guess, from travelling to the links alone,
what the subject of the post was. this strikes me as pretty funny,
please excuse the formatting, i'm mailing this puppy fast!
examining the outclick
" 'swami satchidananda said, 'the truth is one, the paths are many.' therefore, people of any faith or belief can practice yoga. even if a practioner of yoga does not believe in any form of divinity, this does not present a problem."
and here's a nice article by jivamukti teacher alanna, who ironically i last saw at her workshop in sydney, when i was in oz last year! that was a case of travel round the world, meet the girl next door.
ad long-time readers know, i had a little surgery last year before i went to australia. as a result, i have been taking it very easy with headstand -- in fact, i've pretty much been skipping it.
now however, i'm good to go with it, but i have to get myself back into the neuromuscular pattern of it -- it's amazing how you can forget it. to help me out with this, i've been taking a pilates mat class once a week to help improve my nice straight alignment in inversions.
thus by april i hope to begin working towards lifting myself from a half-downward dog right into forearm stand, and then gently into headstand, just like i used to.
spring is slowly coming to nyc -- we even seem to have entered the april showers portion of our weather a tad early -- and that's so helpful. winter doesn't suit my yoga practice at all; i'm always cold and stiff.
it's been especially hard since there seems lately to have been a city-wide trend towards reducing or eliminating sun salutations from classes. no matter where i go or who's teaching, everyone lately really seems to be cutting back on the sun salutation vinyasa.
oh, that's hard for me in the winter! i really like a good 10 or 15 sets.
so this new thing of doing oh, 3 "a" sets, and "2" b sets just has not been working for me at all. (i even love it when teachers toss in a set of 5 of the sivananda version, which some people call the "c" series!)
why oh why do teachers skip these?
i shouldn't ask, i know: most nyc yoga students are lazy and want to hurry up and spend class time on "cool" or "fancy" poses. but if they're not warm enough for them, they're going to get hurt!
i've seen some of my yoga pals suffer injuries this winter, but what can you do? shake a teacher down?
those poor yoga students trapped in classes with me know that if the teacher asks for requests i'm there in the back of the room (where it tends to be warmer!) begging for an extra round of sun. to my mind, the sun salutations are like playing scales.
the most famous jazz players and classical musicians always begin rehearsal every day by playing scales. it's just part of the discipline of rehearsal.
and i guess that's how i feel about the sun salutations. they're your scales -- do them diligently every practice, in whatever form suits your body that day. . .imvho.
oh, and about that outclick -- it's interesting to see what links here prove the most popular. this week for some reason, most people have been clicking on nancy la nasa's link on the left.
bravo! i love nancy's yoga -- it's a shame she seems to have truly moved to florida for good now, and has stopped commuting between nyc and the beach. i learned so much from her when we had our private lessons, and i really miss her!
Monday, March 13, 2006
why fair trade advocates drive me crazy
"we need a development agenda for coffee coffee farmers to help them win more of the value available from a bag of coffee sold. . . why don't we have coffee farmers process and package the product they are growing, stick their own trademark on it and then sell it direct to western supermarkets? we also need to help farmers to mechanise as much as possible to increase their productivity, helping living standards to rise."
you see, this is a well-meaning statement by a well-meaning yanqui who has zero coffee knowledge. it sounds great at first, right?
but the problem -- as so often happens with right-minded liberal white people who live far away from the issue and don't understand the reality of coffee agriculture -- is that it's completely the wrong way to go.
for several reasons: 1 - it's not practical, since rural central/south america(!) isn't rural england or sweden; 2 - it will result in more stale, low-quality coffee, which will depress consumption; and 3 - mechanization does not better coffee make, which again will depress consumption, and also cause rural disruption and illegal immigration.
the idea is raise consumption. if people only drank an average of 2 more cups of coffee a day, the usaid once estimated, the so-called coffee crisis would be moot.
everyone knows, for example, that americans used to drink a lot more coffee than they do now. why did coffee consumption habits change in the late 60s and early 70s?
the commercial coffee industry -- folgers, et. al. -- will say that it's the savvy youth marketing of soft drinks that stole america's coffee drinkers away. uh-uh.
i won't let you off the hook so easily, guys! consumer habits are supposedly tough to create and even harder to change, that's the whole point of advertising, right?
so how did the soft drink firms undo the decades of intense ad spending of the commercial coffee companies so easily?
are coffee consumers less fixed in their habits than other consumers? were they easily seduced away from decades of daily habit and the overall american coffee culture by "the pepsi generation" marketing?
or isn't what happened is that commercial coffee quality declined dramatically, beginning about that time, and is continuing downward to this very day? no one wants to drink bad coffee, so the coffee-drinking audience began to look around for an alternative.
and that's when the soft drink marketing caught them. scaa chief ted lingle has many times talked about the need to maintain quality if we are to restore or even maintain current coffee consumption levels.
we won't be helping farmers if we set up a situation whereby they grow and create lesser-quality, stale coffee no one wants to drink. that will only lead them to disaster!
let's look at my objections, point by point.
first, mechanization. the best, highest-quality, and most valuable coffee is grown at a high altitude on what are generally extremely steep mountain slopes, in underdeveloped rural areas in 3rd world countries.
most of the farmers who require the greatest help are small-holders, who have less than 5 hectacres (15 acres), and often even grow their coffee in an almost garden-type setting, in remote villages.
these people have no roads, or often at best dirt ones that tend to wash out, no electricity, and endure a situation where fuel is costly and scarce. exactly how are impoverished farmers to buy these coffee-picking machines, and then to get them to these villages?
and how are these large, bulky machines going to navigate erratic, steep slopes? the best coffee is planted not in wide rows like corn on level ground, after all, except in brazil, whose sun-grown practices we don't want to emulate.
(why not? full-sun coffee on the whole doesn't taste as good as shade coffee. and of course, don't forget the songbirds.)
the best coffee tends to be grown on mountain sides under the shade of larger trees. how are you going to get the giant mechanical harvesters under the shading mango trees?
look, due to the terrain alone, juan valdez' donkey is often the best transport in the coffee field. and "donkey fuel" costs a lot less than gasoline or kerosene!
also, when we mechanize, what will happen to the coffee pickers? they are human beings too, and frankly, the poorest, most vulnerable people.
coffee picking is a skilled task, believe it! dougie himself learned this when he tried to pick coffee in guatemala.
hand coffee-picking is preferable, because the machine just strips all the beans from the branches, not able to discern ripe from unripe, bug-chewed from healthy. as long-time readers know, the best coffee varietals don't always ripen uniformly.
a skilled picker can take only the good beans at the correct ripeness, but can also do so with great speed, and without any harm to the tree. altho' no matter how carefully coffee is picked, some leaves etc. end up in the basket anyway. . .
so to help the farmers, we have to throw the coffee pickers out of work and cause rural economic chaos and instability as they all head north to cross the rio grande in search of agricultural work?
foment massive illegal immigration to solve the coffee crisis? good solution -- not.
mechanization requires farmers at great expense -- when they don't have the money to begin with -- to adopt "modern" brazil-like practices that lower coffee quality, and force them to uproot older, better-tasting varieties for inferior-tasting ones that are hybridized to ripen all at once. and it tosses the coffee pickers to the wind.
now let's take up the processing, roasting, and packaging issue. again, i'm struggling to understand how farmers are supposed to do this themselves?
as is so often the case, the right-minded liberal above glosses over what "processing" means. i'm going to assume they mean something like washing and sorting, and not other types of handling and roasting.
just take a look at those links above. washing requires machinery, which is usually housed at a central, mill location. getting the coffee there can be tough -- because roads are lacking, transport is lacking!
this is why the so-called "coyotes" come by and offer to pay farmers for their coffee on the spot. because the farmers often can't afford to pay the cost to transport their coffee to the mill, or lack the means (a big truck) to do so on their own.
as i said, rural bolivia isn't rural sweden. there often aren't roads, cell-phone service to call the trucking company, no trucking company to call anyway, and no effective government aid to help you get any of this done.
in fact, the government officials would only be happy to rob you of your coffee and sell it themselves, if the coyotes don't do it first. the coyotes know farmers can't get their coffee to the mill or market on their own, and so force them to accept an artificially low price, sometimes at gun point.
it's just not a pretty sight, and one that above white liberal dreaming away in placid surrey or wherever doesn't really have a solution for.
but ok, let's say the farmer can get his coffee to the mill. there it is processed by the co-op to which he belongs (if he is so lucky) or by an independent processor.
his connection to the coffee is ended. the washing and sorting is done by the mill, mostly.
but now the fair-trade proponent above thinks somehow farmers should be able to afford a sortex?
look, in some places crude de-pulping equipment is run by men on modified bicycles who drive the machines by pedalling! i have seen pictures myself of such setups; one that comes to mind was, iirc, in indonesia.
the coffee is sorted by women in a shed, who spend day and kerosene-lit night picking over the coffee 2 and 3 times.
why? because remote rural areas in the 3rd world tend to lack electricity! hello, english right-minder! he-ll-oooo!
even if usaid dropped a sortex on these people's doorstep, they probably couldn't use it. well -- actually they probably would figure out a way to use pedal-power to do so, because if my recitation above has proved anything, it's that the local coffee people are ingenious, courageous in the face of organized crime and corruption, and self-reliant.
let's move to the roasting and packaging issue. here we come to coffee freshness, one of the most pressing isssues for coffee consumers after basic quality and purity.
high-quality but stale coffee isn't desirable. coffee has a limited freshness life-cycle, which is especially tight for espresso.
light, heat, age, and humidity are the enemies of roasted coffee. to be fresh and maintain quality, coffee has to be roasted, bagged within a few hours, and promptly shipped for quick purchase.
i'm struggling to understand how coffee roasted in say, kenya, which then sits on the dock for 30 days to be loaded, sits again for 6 weeks in the container as it crosses the water(s), waits another 2 weeks to be unloaded at the american port, and then still has to be shipped to the distribution point, shipped again to the retail location, and sit there to be stocked and sold, could ever possibly be fresh. or properly handled along the way to avoid the deadly light, heat, and humidity.
and exactly how are the illiterate farmers of the 3rd world with their 15 acres of coffee going to market directly to western supermarkets? is the wife of the late juan de dios blanco supposed to call safeway or tesco hq to do a sales presentation?
do farmers have the ability to do the logistics of shipping coffee by containers and insuring it? of handling the business risk?
what does our nice liberal friend think coffee importers do? and we haven't even talked about the financial situation -- are the farmers supposed to enter the commodities market?
do their own futures and hedging on ameritrade to manage their capital and risk?
actually, i suspect our fair-trade friend knows that his dream is impractical. what he really hopes is that fair trade groups or other nice white liberal people will do all this for the farmers, while charging them a nice "producers fee."
in short, the nice white liberals who "know better" will become the new coffee brokers, marketers, and distributors, charging fat fees along the way. isn't this patronizing exploitation of another sort?
don't you just want to call bill fishbein of coffee kids right now? bill, who always talks about setting the coffee farmers up with good structures, teaching them to run them on their own, and watching as the farmers build their own futures with a new-found autonomy and independence?
this is one thing that seems so odd to me about fair trade right now, if i may be frank. if we are into helping coffee growers with this fair-trade plan, why are we charging them to do so?
the subjects of our charity have to pay us first to receive our aid? isn't that weird?
i won't keep on ranting about this. devoted readers know that i am in general a fair-trade supporter.
fair trade can do good. it is part of the solution.
but it is not perfect, and some of its problematic goals, assumptions, and limits of knowledge are pointed out by the article above!