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Saturday, March 25, 2006

the problem

it's simple: the problem with going down to have your hair done at
supermodel central is that on a busy day, it can take 2. or, at least it
can feel like 2.

supermodel central has many fine features for a salon, but in general
the conversation may be a tad lacking if you're in a serious mood, which
in what this gray chilly weather had stranded me.

thus i found myself forced to read the new yorker -- when you seek
distraction in louis menand's discussion of weber and francis fukuyama,
you really have to ask yourself if the notion of "fun" has vanished from
your life.

just call me the "last woman" at the "end of history's styling session."
and then to get home hours late with the biga for the pizza still to
make. . .

another interesting new york moment was that i got to ride the so-called
hipster express, which goes from prospect park to the lower east side
and then over to billburg. that's a great subway line -- except i was
trying to get to union square.

once there i thought about going into the new nyc trader joe's to check
out the coffee, but the doorway was so mobbed, i bagged it, turned up
the coltrane on the shuffle and counted the mini-daffodils sprouting in
the park.

when i finally did return home, it was too late to even make up another
pot of andrew b's ecco sao benedito. . .

posted by fortune | 6:35 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Friday, March 24, 2006

don't forget the coffee meetup

yuppers, nyc coffee lovers, the next meetup is at juan valdez on e. 57th st. on mar. 29. that's next wednesday.

we'll be discussing brewing temperatures. run on over to r.s.v.p. and be sure to download the reading materials i've posted in the files section, unless you own the books already.

which you probably do, or you wouldn't be a meetup member.

lemme also offer a quick description of andrew b's ecco sao benedito from yesterday. i want to brew this in the chemex too before i talk a lot about it.

got your scaa flavor wheel? i found this 3-day-old, full-city coffee to hover between a sweet and soft taste; the rich bouquet offered spicy flowers, roasted almonds, vanilla, and a caramel aftertaste.

it had a pleasing, medium-weight body. but i want to experiment more with the grind before i start my full rhapsody. . .

in response to email requests, i'll digress more on yesterday's shuffle headphones. when he saw them, my husband remarked that they actually aren't wireless shuffle headphones in the normal sense; for example, the don't use bluetooth or anything.

they are actually fancy shuffle holders. but hey that works for me.

another point i want to address: sure, these brookstone babies aren't anywhere in the bose league. not even near.

but they also cost only 1/3 of what the bose 'phones do. so what would you expect?

as everyone who works with me can tell you -- they are constantly jumping up and down and waving at me to get my attention -- the bose set absolutely creates a near "cone of silence."

with the noise cancelling on, you hear zip. zilch. nothing. people can stand right next to you, talk in a normal office tone of voice and you won't hear 'em.

in my loud, open bull-pen office where the sales guys are always shouting at each other, this is a good thing. ymmv, of course.

the brookstone noise-cancelling isn't nearly as good. it seems to work at different levels. for example, normal voices at 20 ft. will vanish, while those next to you are only slightly dimmed.

traffic noise is somewhat dimmed, the subway is barely is at all dimmed and certainly not conquered, while keyboard clacking comes thru loud and clear.

this leads me to think the brookstone noise cancelling is aimed more at low-frequency, rumbling sounds. male voices are cancelled better than female ones.

another problem is that many noise-cancelling 'phones boost the volume of the music you're listening to when the cancelling is on. the brookstone don't do this.

so you have to turn the shuffle up, or just use the noise-cancelling by itself.

my husband has the sennheiser noise-cancelling 'phones, which he think has above average noise-cancelling, but they're still not quite as good as the bose. i've also tried the maxell noise-cancelling headphones, but i didn't think the earpieces were large enough to help the effect.

both my husband and i find the brookstone set comfy. if you have "prince charles" ears, you might differ, however. . .

posted by fortune | 8:07 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 3 comments

Thursday, March 23, 2006

ooh ooh ooh wireless & the sao benedito

and today guess what came in the mail? some of the most beautiful, roasted-almond smelling coffee -- from andrew b.'s ecco, the 2005 brazil c.o.e. second place, the sao benedito! with an amazing cupping score of 92.6, this should be some fantastic, super-premium brazil.

this coffee, grown in minas gerais, appears to be a pulped natural, yellow bourbon, like andrew's other coffee, the fazenda cachoeira, which i've mentioned here before several times.

and it's a rare coffee no doubt -- only 15 bags. the farmer, antônio josé junqueira villela, received a strong price: US$7.80 per pound green.

thanks so much andrew! i can't wait to make this up in the cafetiére. . .with a roast date of march 20, it should be just perfect for brewing.

in other news, devoted readers may recall that when mr. right gave me my beloved ipod shuffle for my birthday i lamented all the wires. the most common wireless headphones for the shuffle appear to be made by logitech, but they don't have a good track record for durability.

thus i've been looking into the -- i kid you not! -- brookstone wireless headphones for the shuffle with noise cancelling. what's great about these is that the ipod itself just slides right into the earpiece.

and they're white like the shuffle, too.

the noise-cancelling technology rests in the other earpiece, so the weight is nicely balanced. the brookstone 'phones weigh just a tad more than the bose noise-cancelling ones i use at my office.

another great feature so far is that the ipod controls are exposed through the earcup, so you just press the ipod controls while wearing the 'phones. the only drawback i've experienced in my one afternoon with these babies is that to turn the ipod off you do have to slide it out of the earpiece.

but that seems like a small inconvenience to me. i went down and took a look at them -- naturally i ended up purchasing a set.

i wore the 'phones walking back from the south street seaport to my office and i thought the noise cancelling was pretty good considering that it had to battle wall st. and lowest broadway during lunch hour traffic. will update with more info as i use 'em.

posted by fortune | 7:53 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

how to build a well

long-time readers know i talk a lot about coffee farmers here. there are many schemes aimed at helping coffee farmers, who suffer in many ways from the so-called coffee crisis, as well as from living in the 3rd world generally.

i've often discussed those plans, like coffeekids or fair trade. but today i'd like to talk about an individual effort, that of long-time bccy pal and pro scaa member, oren.

devoted readers will recall that oren has been extensively involved in ethiopia recently, with his famed finchwa coffee. a few weeks ago, oren went back to visit those farmers and others.

one of the things oren saw was that fresh, clean, and safe water was hard to come by for the people at finchwa. but unfortunately, he couldn't find a water project nearby to help them.

oren did find a water project however in southern sidamo, in the dale woreda area (woreda is word with a meaning close to what we would call a "county" or "district"). the village is called salakabado.

these areas are so remote that you will have to google hard to find a map. but we'll note that the dale woreda is a place with lots of problems: flooding last year, charges of human rights abuses, homelessness, conflict.

there oren partnered with the irc to drill a well and install pumps. oren's well is now functioning -- thus offering safe, pure water to 4,000 people.

before, the residents had to walk 5 kilometers(!) for good drinking water.

while oren was there, he also drew up a new contract with the farmers who are supplying his coffee. are you ready for this?

oren offered to meet the co-op's asking price -- now this is amazing -- plus an extra 20% bonus for the farmers! oren is paying waaay over any fair-trade price.

further, he has crafted the contract with such transparency that he himself can check to make sure the farmers are paid the full amount due them, and promptly. this is what a socially-aware coffee business looks like, my friends.

there's a future for the specialty coffee business, and oren is paving the way with a new model. i have never, ever heard of a roaster/retailer of oren's size becoming so committed to partnering with farmers in this way.

this new contract is for another sidamo coffee, the garbeicho lela. this coffee should arrive in the green to oren in a few months' time. . .so unfortunately we coffee lovers will have to settle in a wait.

but it's the overall level of engagement with the farmer that i want to note here. i hope other scaa-member roasters will follow oren's example.

this is just one reason -- besides the fact of course that oren's coffee is fantastic -- that i'm so happy to be able to know oren and to recommend his excellent beans.

posted by fortune | 7:29 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 10 comments

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

tea is for old people, then?

"americans are now drinking as much coffee as they do soft drinks. according to research by the national coffee association, 56 percent of american consumers drink coffee every day, that's up from 53 percent last year, and 49 percent in 2004.

fewer people are drinking soft drinks these days with 57 percent of consumers saying they drink soda each day. according to the data, 25 to 39-year-olds are most likely to drink a daily cup of joe."

and there we have it. what this survey misses, i think, is that many older teens and college students also drink more coffee than soda nowadays -- senior high school girls and college-age women have in other surveys reported drinking coffee daily.

about 25% of them report having at least one vanilla latte daily, for example. . .

posted by fortune | 7:51 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Monday, March 20, 2006

everything's better upside down

yesterday san francisco-trained leigh evans (note to self: why are so many yoga teachers also butoh dancers?) led a very nice inversions workshop in the pure rodney yee style. this means that the concepts were grounded in iyengar yoga, but lacked the rigidity of technique often associated with that style.

for example, as you would expect from an iyengar basis, leigh began with prep exercises that emphasized how to find and engage the latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, and iliopsoas.

as most yoga students know, the first two muscles are important to engage to find upper-body support when enjoying life upside down. the third helps you plug your legs into the center of your body, allowing you to find a nice straight line and balance when performing inversions in the center of the room.

all of these muscles meet towards the body's core, so that learning to find and direct these muscles from the middle of the body allows you to experience grace and control in poses like headstand, handstand, forearm stand, and shoulderstand. as well as, of course, to learn to do these poses safely.

this 3pm workshop was one of those rare experiences where time just flew. the class was set to end at 5, but we went on until nearly 6pm!

i had thought this would be an intermediate-advanced workshop; however many people who attended were newbies with inversions, so it quickly became a fun basics playroom. it's true i didn't get to practice pressing up into handstand from down dog as i had wanted, but actually i had tons of laughs, so i left happy.

even tho' the class ran so late, we never got to shoulderstand -- clearly leigh needs to have a second part to this workshop. she's a fun and knowledgeable teacher who can give the benefits of the precise iyengar knowledge without the dry and punishing ballet-master air so often associated with the technique.

as long-time readers recall, i am a big fan of being upside down, even tho' like most people i originally began with a crippling fear of falling. my eye surgery last year however limited my inversion practice for a while, so i took this workshop just to get back into the swing and lightness these poses can bring.

as each student desribed their feeling about inversions at the beginning of the workshop, the word fear came up over and over again. it's a shame leigh didn't have time to address this.

one of the most interesting things about a steady yoga practice is that it allows you to practice thought and behavior, and to demystify yourself to yourself, "to get out of your own way," as i often say.

when it came time to do partner exercises for half-handstand against the wall, i asked the woman i was working with why she was afraid of the pose. "i just know i'll crash down on my nose," she said.

at first this seems like a sound fear, don't you agree? however, i pointed out to her that she actually couldn't fall from her current position at all: her hands were pressing down into the ground firmly to support her, and her feet were strongly planted with all her might on the wall.

which did she not trust? i asked her. her arms or her feet?

oh my entire self, she said. i found this a very illuminating reply.

here her fear of handstand is telling her something about her whole life and her attitude towards her own being. likewise later, when she was in a tight downdog near the wall ready to practice hopping up with one leg, she again gasped with terror.

what caused her fear then? i inquired. oh i'm going to fall, she said. but you have only one leg off the ground, i said -- you are only in a downdog split.

i know i'll just fall and won't be able to get up, she said. so obviously i helped her up and there she was with her feet and back against the wall, her body against the side wall in sort of a little corner.

are you still afraid? i asked. absolutely, she answered. why? i had to ask. you are obviously perfectly fine right now, completely upside down. there's nowhere for you to fall.

i could fall down back into down dog, she said. and i said, yes, but would that hurt you? downdog is a safe place to end up.

i'm afraid, she repeated. of down dog? i asked. no, she said, i just can't trust myself up here.

and there we were again. i think it's a social thing, myself: many women are just taught, beaten down even, with this belief that they are at war with an uncontrollable body they can't rely on, a body that will betray and hurt them, and that even if the body were to co-operate, they cannot trust and believe in themselves.

but this rather deep and painful issue, altho' at first seemingly unrelated to handstand, is exposed by it. and this is one of the most interesting things that yoga can do for you over time.

i myself completely understood her emotional situation, because boy howdy had i been there. it takes time and a calm, regular practice to model the thought and behavior you desire through prep poses.

some people will manage it in 6 months -- others may take 6 years. whatever. it doesn't matter at all, this length of time.

what matters is that you practice the prep pose regularly, breathe, and while you're breathing there, ask yourself: what is going on? what am i feeling here and why?

then, i can tell you from personal experience, you will gradually lose your fear of inversions and come to appreciate life in reverse!

because one day you will ask yourself, what am i feeling? and you will realize that your fear is completely useless.

you aren't falling now, and you aren't likely to fall. your fear of falling is unnecessary, and you can discard it.

at that illuminating moment, it will tear itself apart at its invisible seams and drop away of its own accord, like a tattered plastic garbage bag that blows down the street.

posted by fortune | 8:02 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 2 comments

Sunday, March 19, 2006

a topic in the air?

doubtless to mention this will get me more hatemail from outraged members of the ultra-politically correct, who keep forgetting that i personally support fair trade and drink a lot of fair-trade coffee, but lately articles questioning fair trade seem to be everywhere.

i find it interesting that just a few days after i post my bit pondering the current direction of fair-trade, the
ny times does a similar piece too
. for once the times appears to get it pretty much correct.

it also gives nice quotes from long-time bccy pal, coffeekids board member and scaa prez rick peyser of gmcr. yay, rick!

my main comment on the times piece regards the quote by allegro coffee that they found farmers involved in fair-trade sometimes received only US$0.80 of that promised US$1.26. yikes! that's worse than even my most pessimistic calculations of US$1.

no wonder last year when the market was up so many farmers sold their coffee twice. long-time readers will recall the famous technoserve report that disclosed how much it costs to grow coffee in various countries. for example, at that time --2003 -- it cost US$0.90 a pound for a farmer to grow high-quality arabica in guatemala, due to the amount of hand-labor involved in producing great beans.

to have gone fair-trade and still lose US$0.10 -- yikes! no wonder the farmers backed out.

and that 90-cent estimate was before the recent high costs of fuel due to the global situation. fair trade aims correctly to eliminate unnecessary layers of middle-men, but that does no good if the producer fees, co-op management fees, and required re-investment take an even bigger chunk than they would have.

my respect for bill fishbein, who believes in the moral agency of coffee farmers at the local level, in people choosing their own priorities and managing their own structures, grows every day. but he is a very rare character among the "development" set, who mostly seem to have these antique "white experts know better in their technocratic offices in large cities far away" mentalities.

bill's not naive -- economists have done much work that seems to show how 2 of the best ways to help people lift themselves from poverty is 1 - to empower and educate women and 2- to then give them access to micro-credit. a large number of coffeekid programs seem to follow this model with great success.

to my mind, the bottom line remains: quality is the best way to help farmers and us average coffee-lovers alike. coffees from programs like the c.o.e. and the famed ethiopian internet auction do this.

but of course, these too need to be expanded. . .

also, many specialty coffee roaster/retailers i know, such as oren, already buy coffee of such high quality that they pay more than US$2 a pound for most of their beans. if you shop at one of these independents, you may actually already be doing more to help farmers than the average fair-trade coffee.

so ask the owner; inform yourself. i'm sure most specialty owners, like oren, know their situation towards the farmers who supply their coffee, and are happy to tell you.

and if they don't, encourage them to find out!

in other news, i read these beverage recommendations with interest; the scientists involved have unquestionable reputations and credentials. but 40 oz. of coffee a day for men?

that seems high to me. some studies have shown some health benefits for men who drank 4 or even 5 6-oz cups of coffee a day (think prostate). that still comes to only 30 oz. max.

i do think women of child-bearing age should stick to 3 6-oz cups a day, and men to 4, personally, when you take all the other things new studies seem to suggest into account.

later today i'm off to a yoga inversion workshop. let's see how that goes!

posted by fortune | 10:11 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

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