Saturday, May 17, 2003
perhaps few things in life are as relaxing as sitting in the golden sunlight pouring through the large windows of one's brooklyn living room, listening to arto lindsay singing to himself in brazilian portuguese on o corpo sutil while reading about coffee.
it's just a day to be surrounded by books and sumatra. not only the sumatra lintong in the gillies espresso blend from yesterday, but also in the 2 kilos of sumatra blue batak sitting in my closet.
it's a disparate mix for a day both warm and cool, depending on how the clouds come over you. on the left, swami lakshmanjoo's kashmir shaivism:the secret supreme arrived in the mail.
this is so much less than i hoped: yet another indic collection of the 20 supposed states of various consciousness, tattvas by the dozen, the 7 processes of the 7 preceivers; really, it's like reading aristotle all over again. after a while i feel trapped in these endless categories of being.
nowhere there is the beauty of actually walking into the nelson-atkins gallery of fine art and standing before the glorious bronze shiva nataraja that so fascinated me in my youth.
on the right, lingle's coffee cuppers' handbook, another book of lists and categories: 12 secondary tastes, 4 combinations with bitter.
in the middle i'm sitting with a cup of lukewarm espresso. "sometimes you just make up your mind," arto murmurs.
or as the father of yoga teacher ori munson whispered laughingly to me, taking my hand as we walked down the restaurant tabla's slate steps, "all you need is yourself."
but then again, i'm partial to what lingle says when he writes: that which neither evaporates nor dissolves we can feel only with our mouths.
Friday, May 16, 2003
my new best friend?
today i have the greatest pleasure of drinking a blend don schoenholdt of gillies put together. i asked for something in the northern italian style and he kindly labelled it "hicks st. espresso." so who knows what he usually calls it?
as a lovely doppio, it's sweet, mellow, smooth with a juicy finish. (that is, it makes your mouth water when you swallow, water a lot.) it's a little too cool to stick my head out the window and pant, a la a. delazzer, so i won't go on. . . and this coffee is so laid-back, i really won't paw thru my lingle cupping handbook for terms. forgive me.
drinking this espresso is effortless -- like reminiscing with a childhood friend. you could drink it all day, with everything... you automagically wander into the kitchen to pull another without thinking: where am i going?
it's not assertive, not difficult, not overly intense, doesn't make you furrow your brow to identify flavors. it's comforting. a very relaxing cup. like sometimes you meet people and they are so easy to be with you spend all afternoon with them before you notice it's dark. in fact, i think i'll have another right now. . .
ok i'm back. maybe 3 doppios at 10:30pm isn't a good idea. . .
since don s. proudly has nothing to hide -- secrets are for folgers, i believe he said -- he wrote the formula down in a practical but fluid block hand on the back of his commercial order form ("check here for freight free delivery when you order 120 lbs. coffee minimum"):
2/3 sumatra lintong
"kuda mas" (golden pouy)
triple picked (graded)
1/3 brazil cerrado
when i opened his white valve bag, i saw beans with patches of oil, what i believe the scaa calls "medium dark brown."
i popped these into the mazzer and ground 'em at four indents to the left of the arrow decal, but i might have been able to go a wee finer.
if this personable, frankly amiable coffee sounds appealing to your current mood, well, you know where to get it!
Thursday, May 15, 2003
dunkin donuts to use fair-trade espresso
yes, coffee drinkers, look for that dunkin donuts near you to start serving fair trade espresso. we here at bccy naturally approve. they are the first very large coffee company to really commit to fair-trade (here and here and here) in this way.
but even so, fair-trade will probably only amount to about 2% of their coffee business. also, you'd have to admit that dunkin donuts has little espresso preparation experience. will they be able to train and retain a skilled and qualified staff of baristas to make their coffee?
using high-quality fair-trade specialty coffee won't be enough. it won't be successful unless they can focus on quality preparation and drink delivery too. . .
here's an early reminder: set your vcr for a crucial documentary segment on the coffee crisis. called bitter grounds, this pbs frontline documentary will be airing thursday, may 22nd at 9pm est on your local public television station.
check out the website for the time and station nearest you. interested in a sneak preview? look here. . .
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
focus on sustainability
long-time readers have heard me go on and on about the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis and the human misery it brings to those who grow and pick coffee, even as we here are paying more and more for the supermarket can coffees and upscale starbucks frou-frou.
obviously such a difficult situation can only call for a multi-prong solution on many levels. one of those levels is aiming coffee agriculture at sustainable development, and getting the so-called big four global coffee companies -- kraft, sara lee, p&g, nestle -- to help. and obviously, this is not something they will be easily persuaded to do.
thus i was deeply interested to see today's article in the financial times in which a kraft representative appeared to hop on this bandwagon. or is it just saavy marketing? the problem is that those guys have a credibility gap deeper than the marianas trench.
since it's hard to read the full-text of ft stuff online, i've actually uploaded this article on my site. it's in adobe acrobat format, and will frankly take most people about 3 minutes to download (it has big pictures). still, it's an interesting read, and i highly recommend it.
speaking of starbucks, i had the great privilege today to stop by the starbucks at ground zero with the esteemed head of the scaa, ted lingle. his book on cupping coffee is it. he was kind enough to share a barely drinkable cappucino with me in all politeness in the middle of a super-busy whirlwind morning.
we were supposed to talk about our plans to help don schoenholdt of gillies coffee survive the ridiculous persecution gillies is experiencing from the city of new york, whose environmental division has claimed the perfume of fresh coffee -- that delicious scent coiling lazily from your cup -- is a horrible unhealthy pollutant morally equal to oh, gosh, the west nile virus or something.
what will the city protect us from next? the aroma of fresh-baked croissants wafting from jacques torres on a sunny spring morning? that horrid health hazard posed by the scent of roses drifting from the florists' shops?
but -- and this is another one of those signs about how great the coffee business really is -- our conversation soon moved into a meditation on love and compassion. ted lingle, a somewhat reserved man who went to west point, looked me straight in the eye: "you only get to keep what you give away," he said softly.
it was a pure erich schiffmann moment -- "love is what's left when you let go of everything you don't need," i replied. this is why i love coffee.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
more regional coffee culture
long-time readers know i'm deeply interested in everybody's coffee culture. here even in the united states there are still definite regional differences.
national differences obviously exist as well. . .so today here's an article from the pacific that just fascinates me on coffee culture in the philippines.
as in many asian contexts -- and even still in some areas of england -- coffee is usually made from instant. only recently has the starbucks-style culture arrived in urban areas, and a real appreciation for the true italian beverage will undoubtedly soon be on its way. or maybe not.
maybe a new purely filipino habit will arise. . .anyway, it's a good article, worth the wait. clearly the possibilities are great that we could slowly experience a sea-change as asia moves from tea to coffee. . .
Monday, May 12, 2003
i want to comment a little more about an in-depth discussion on alt.coffee having to do with cupping and tasting. long-time readers remember that i had the great privilege to attend a pro cupping at the ever-wonderful dallis coffee recently.
whereupon i learned that i really suck at it right now and need to strive hard to try to develop a serious palate. not that the pros weren't nice to me; because they were. that's just how the coffee business is.
but you have to study, study, study and work like a dog in this situation. coffee's not like wine: not some rarefied mystery inaccessible to normal humans. in coffee the complex flavors are more obvious and standardized. this doesn't make them less complex!
you just have to commit yourself to studying them and humbly practicing in order to learn. coffee is accessible to all who approach with a beginner's mind and a willingness to work. of course, it's not necessary to go to these extreme lengths to simply enjoy your coffee.
but once you've been drinking our favorite magical elixir for a bit, once you've seen the wide range available in high-quality specialty coffees and espressos, it's natural to be tempted to learn more. . .
so a well-respected independent roaster, barry jarret of riley's coffee, cupped some indian robusta and offered his own thoughts on alt.coffee. i responded with basically the same info i provided here in the cupping posts.
in sum, robusta -- even suppposedly nicer ones -- tastes like asphalt/ hot tar / ash / burning plastic to me. except for the monsooned beans -- those left to age in the humid winds of the indian monsoon. they have a distinct note that pushes the yuck to the back.
these monsooned beans are featured in the espressos of some notable independent quality roasters, perhaps most famously dr. john's cult espresso, the josuma malabar gold.
after noting this, fans of malabar gold immediately assailed me; they accused me of being some kind of super-tasting coffee goddess whose tongue was too sensitive to rely upon. since they love malabar gold, and taste nothing untoward, i had to be some kind of wacky anomaly.
this struck me as odd. for surely the reason they taste nothing untoward has everything to do with the skill of dr. john himself, no? it is a testament to him, not the tastebuds of his fans, that he can carefully choose, blend, and roast an espresso with a certain robusta and have it add to the coffee, not detract.
read the thread yourself here. this whole thing wigs me out, because -- as i so painfully learned recently -- i can barely taste coffee at all in comparison to the truly educated palate!
herein lies the cautionary tale: we consumers of upscale coffees need to remember that what we drink is the pinnacle of the art; near-perfect beans blended with skill and roasted with finesse by experts. to start from this base -- we're frankly spoiled -- and then claim we are connoiseurs is just posing.
we need to admit what has to be learned about coffee. and then we have to go do it. only then will we have the proper and humbled understanding to share what we have learned. . .
Sunday, May 11, 2003
tip the hat to alt.coffee
"guys like david, they really look at it from the other angle. they say, Ďiím not going to punish the customer by serving him as fast as possible. iím going to ask for a little bit more of his time, but Iím going to reward him with a really excellent cup of coffee."
long-time readers know that i've been through my david schomer espresso vivace phase. i think all coffee lovers experience a frisson when they meet or read schomer for the first time. some in the coffee industry think he's in left-field; others worship him.
wherever you stand on the schomer issue, he's an interesting and noteworthy figure if only for his passion and utter devotion to quality.
in a time when many coffee roasters and bar owners are apathetic and have concluded that the customer can't be educated, david still strongly believes in us, the general public. that we can develop the patience and love of true espresso, of real coffee. this fact alone would be enough to earn my respect.
that's what makes this msnbc article noted on alt.coffee a worthwhile read. and i do encourage everyone to at least check out schomer's writings. don't give up on us, david! we need you. . .