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Saturday, January 12, 2002


as you have probably noticed, my server problems recently have been caused by the commenting feature i've been using. the coders are aware of the problems and are re-working the script. however, if they don't get the situation sorted in another day or two, i will reluctantly remove the comment feature. i'm sorry these problems have caused the page to load so slowly and to generate errors. thanks for your patience.

in the meantime, i've run into a neighbor who also owns a rancilio ms. silvia. (fun fact: the model was named for one of the rancilio daughters). like me, he is also on a constant search for a convenient source of high-quality fresh-roasted coffee. this is strangely hard to find in brooklyn!

although many of us grew up drinking pre-ground coffee in cans, we have to realize that coffee is like milk. it is fresh for only a short time, and only if kept in the proper conditions. we americans are largely used to drinking stale, low-quality, poorly made coffee, which tastes bitter. high-quality, fresh-roast, well-stored, properly made coffee is naturally delicious and requires little if any sugar. this was such a shock to me, the difference fresh coffee makes. drinking that national brand of pre-ground coffee in the can is like drinking three-week old milk: uggh!

fresh-roasted, whole-bean coffee is best if used within a week or two. pre-ground can go stale within a day or two. it may appear to keep longer (it doesn't mold or anything), but it loses more and more flavor as time goes on. after just two or three weeks, whole bean's pretty much stale, and won't taste good. longer than that, and it may be drinkable -- in the way that sour milk is drinkable. you could, but who would? imagine if all you had ever had was going-sour milk and then someone gave you fresh, pure, cool milk. what a surprise that would be! it's the same with coffee. . .

in our quest for freshness, my neighbor and i have resorted to expensive mail order coffee, with pricey express shipping. as long-time readers know, i'm a big fan of seattle's caffe d'arte. my neighbor however had ordered from boston's armeno and was kind enough to share some with me, in both caf and decaf.

he ordered the caf espresso whole-bean, and the decaf ground. with all due respect, i'm not sure why; pre-ground coffee goes stale almost instantly. perhaps he was checking out whether they knew how to grind coffee properly. he reported that the decaf was not properly ground, and i found that to be true. it was almost coarse enough for drip! brave soul that he is, he tried regrinding it (not that i recommend this) and said it made a drinkable cup. i wasn't so successful in the re-grinding and so took about 50g to work to use in the french press.

i must confess that -- for stale decaf -- the armeno possessed some real coffee flavor. i ground some of the caf this morning and did find that made for a good cup. i may however still prefer the style of the caffe d'arte firenze blend. but that's just me!

my neighbor and i could solve all of our coffee woes if we simply roasted our coffee ourselves. don't flinch! until the 1930s, coffee was usually roasted and ground at home. nowadays this fashion is making a comeback. it's possible to buy green, unroasted beans from some place like sweet maria's. unlike roasted coffee, green coffee beans can keep for more than a year. some green beans are deliberately aged using a special procedure to bring out certain flavors.

you can buy expensive home roasters, mid-priced home roasters, or inexpensive home roasters. some people even report good success using only a common hot-air popcorn popper and a cooking thermometer! but no matter how you do it, roasting coffee generates strong odors and some smoke. without a garage or back porch, this makes it hard to do in your brooklyn apartment. my neighbors would probably call the fire department!

lest you think i've lost my mind, let me point out that coffee expert kenneth davids has even written a book to teach people how to enjoy high-quality fresh coffee by roasting at home. he also runs a website that discusses the individual flavors of different coffees and makes suggestions, just as if he was talking about fine wine. if only it were possible to talk about it less pretentiously!

so until that day when someone invents a smokeless, odor-trapping home coffee roaster, i will spend my life's blood on express shipping. . .alas.

posted by fortune elkins | 6:36 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, January 11, 2002


emails are flowing in on the zen coffee meditation. i'm surprised coffee houses in berkeley and other places with a progressive clientele aren't already holding them on a weekly basis. . .i do have the exact instructions for thay's procedure, which i will post if you readers indicate interest.

but onto the chocolate front: found a website for a little artisan chocolatier in belgium who offers a great recipe. so easy! just let the raisins soak for 3 days -- then the candies take 20 mins. although i know very little about this company, i do think the new chocolate euro coins are cute. and what i most like about this site is that the price page gives you a link to the shipping information up-front.

sure -- express shipping of fresh, handmade chocolates from europe is pricey! but at least they're honest about it, instead of waiting until you've done all the ordering and clicked buy to tell you that it's gonna be US$32 for delivery. not that i'm going to be ordering any at that price!

posted by fortune elkins | 11:28 AM | top | link to this |


Thursday, January 10, 2002


server problems appear to be vanquished for the moment. . .so i'm going to publish now while i still can! i apologize if this page loads very slowly or seems to have errors -- flaky server.

spoke to whole latte love today. they are re-shipping my order today, so i do hope to see it next monday or tuesday. i definitely am anxious to have that darned tamper.

finally, let me take a moment to recommend thich nhat hanh's latest book. it's a little repetitive and not quite as charming as his others. but still a very good read, not only because he discusses the benefits of zen coffee meditation:

"one minute of practice is one minute of generating the energy of mindfulness. it doesn't come from outside of you; it comes from within. . .when you sit in a cafe, with a lot of music in the background and a lot of projects in your head, you're not really drinking your coffee. . .you're drinking your projects, your worries. you are not real and the coffee isn't real either. your . . .coffee can only reveal itself to you as a reality when you go back to your self, and produce your true presence."

then he suggests inviting friends over to enjoy a cup and each other's presence, to have a coffee meditation. such meditation is a practice:

"a practice to help us be free. if you are still bound and haunted by the past, if you are still afraid of the future, if you are carried away by your projects, your fear, your anxiety, and your anger, you are not a free person. you are not fully present in the here and the now, so life is not really available to you. . .to be really alive, to touch life deeply, you have to become free."

in this spirit, i encourage everyone to arrange a brief coffee meditation with their closest friend this weekend. i think i will try to set up one with yoga teacher nancy la nasa!

posted by fortune elkins | 10:28 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, January 09, 2002


that huge crashing sound you hear is me falling over . . .or will my server problems keep me from publishing this today??

i go to yoga classes several times a week, as you all know, and often we practice what i find to be a very difficult and frustrating pose, salamba sirsasana or headstand. it's not hard to do in and of itself, but coming up away from the wall is tricky for me. i'm fine drawing both knees into the chest with the feet of the floor, tight in a little ball. the tough part for me is from that position on -- the slight shift of the pelvis backward that lifts your legs, bringing your heels to your rear. that's the moment i fall right over backwards.

this problem nags at me a bit, so i took a private lesson where we spent some time in headstand. if the teacher put even her index finger on my sacrum, i was fine: i could lift up and balance briefly in headstand. that's when i realized my real problem wasn't my bad balance, as i had long thought. rather, it was that i had no sense of the back of my body. being upside down, i suddenly couldn't tell where i was in space; so i stuck my pelvis too far backward, leading to comical pratfalls. these repeated falls in turn lead to a slight fear of the pose.

and i suddenly understood all the emphasis yoga teachers had always placed on developing an awareness of the back body in all the poses. so, my friends, i urge all of you to start working on that back body feeling. trust me, it will make your progress in inversions much faster and combat the fear factor!

posted by fortune elkins | 12:46 PM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, January 08, 2002


man-o-manischewitz, as mr. right likes to say! i'm honored to have d. cadmus stop on by!

check out the comment on sunday's post. i personally read cadmus' site almost every day. as far as his comments go, i agree with them in general. the fair trade people should not pick on specialty retailers. the specialty/boutique coffee people are more likely to themselves share the fair traders' views, as are their customers. but if you want to get anything done, at a certain point you have to stop quarrelling with each other and let bygones be bygones, in my very humble opinion.

of course the fair trade folks ain't picketing sara lee, kraft, nestle or their ilk. it's hopeless. those guys don't care and they have the political moxie to get themselves whatever they need so they can continue to pursue their goal of low-quality coffee at the cheapest price.

these firms appear to be too short-sighted to see that coffee consumption overall in the (right click this link and save the target file to your desktop, then open the spreadsheet in your favorite program) united states, united kingdom and other countries is down from a decade ago, and will stay down for a good while, not because green tea is a fad, or because coke is it, but because the poor-quality, stale, pre-ground coffee most people are used to drinking tastes terrible.

and who wants to drink low-quality, bad-tasting stuff? and yet this is what the largest corporations pawn off on the public. if people knew the starving conditions -- living conditions they sure ain't -- of many coffee workers, that would only make them even more unhappy with the stuff they think is coffee. this is why i urgently feel that massive consumer education and better advertising to help create demand is required. but this kind of united action can be taken only when the parties involved have stopped scoring grievances.

posted by fortune elkins | 10:56 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, January 07, 2002


one thing i totally lack. . . besides the tamper. . .

is a killer recipe for brownies. i don't want any of these depression-era 2-oz-hershey-cocoa recipes either. i want an addictive, drop-dead recipe with a modern, intense chocolate taste. long-time readers, please take pity on me!

send in your recipes. will make any that arrive over the course of the next several weeks and post the very best.

posted by fortune elkins | 1:57 PM | top | link to this |


Sunday, January 06, 2002


as you long time readers may be aware, every now and then i get into one of my silly rants. . .

such as the great diatribe (here and here) on the crisis in coffee industry. there, i mentioned the fair trade system, which includes organizations like transfair, the fair trade labelling association, global exchange, and equal exchange.

donald n. schoenholt, a highly respected figure in the coffee industry, has recently written an article on this subject that i found deeply interesting. i'm not sure i agree with it. parts of it made me a little annoyed. see what you think. . .

my thought was: if in the end both sides, the specialty retailers with their little shops who are devoted to coffee and the fair trade workers, care about the fate of the coffee trade -- which clearly they do -- then they need to get over the insults, pride, hard feelings, spin, and threats. they just need to focus on offering quality coffee and consumer education!

posted by fortune elkins | 7:02 PM | top | link to this |

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