Saturday, July 26, 2003
on a hot day nothing's quite as perfect as the jacques frost cold chocolate smoothie from jacques torres. highly recommended.
i went there with colombian coffee federation cupper and keeper of the juan valdez flame patrick spillman. he's a visionary; he gets it.
obviously we discussed our plans for world domination, specialty coffee appreciation, and how to further the scaa's new consumer membership program.
no brand of coffee is by itself as well known as the juan valdez colombian coffee gig. sorry, folgers, but it's true. everyone knows juan and his cute little donkey conchita. they just do.
now what we need to do is take that consumer recognition and put it with specialty coffee. there is specialty colombian coffee, like the andeano gold i've mentioned before.
and because people know juan, we need to get that logo on cuppings and events; one way to help evangelize specialty coffee is through a concept people already know -- juan valdez. . . .
Friday, July 25, 2003
the spoon & i, part iii
long-time readers know i am fascinated by cupping spoons, those deep-bowled beauties professional coffee tasters use to sample coffee.
for example, stuart allan's battered antique hawaiian cupping spoon. . .
(he did indeed send me the pic as requested! thank you for keeping your promises promptly, stuart. i respect that highly!)
there are what? maybe 50 people in the world who are known as truly expert cuppers, so collecting pictures of all their favorite spoons shouldn't be too hard.
the fuzzy beauty in this pic is an antique cupping spoon, possibly more than 100 years old, given by the president of brazil to former scaa prez steve colten's father, who cupped for the famous old coffee firm j. aron.
faithful readers may recall that i also encountered colten's travel spoon. obviously he needs a travel spoon, as his ornately worked piece of history is too precious to carry about.
the hand is colten's own, and i believe the background is the terrazzo cupping table at his office.
some cuppers are uninterested in spoons. they pride themselves on grasping whatever piece of pressed tin flatware that's lying about.
but i prefer the aesthetic ritual, even as don schoenholt (on the right, front, side angle, in suit jacket) of gillies coffee -- himself a famed cupper -- delights in gloomy eeyore-like predictions of cupping's demise.
"cupping coffee is an art," he sighs, "an art of tasting in an age when the scientists of flavor are winning." of course he traces his cupping lineage back to coffeemen who learned to cup from the inventor of cupping. . .
i've asked don for a pic of his cupping spoons, to which he retorted, "nonsense and piffle." this led me to inquire puckishly if his spoons were ugly.
"i find them of a somewhat plain but handsome design," he replied in a tone as frosty as his sugar-rimmed iced coffee glasses. oh well. on the other hand, he did describe for me his unique design for a robusta-tasting spoon: a strainer with a fancy handle. . .
in the meantime, i will remind readers of my own regulation scaa cupping spoon given to me by ted lingle (center, holding document here).
next spoon on my list: that of lindsay bolger. . .
Thursday, July 24, 2003
reduce your asthma, bag the medication
yup, i'm talking about yoga. the not-always-trustworthy consumer reports offers a story on the medical benefits of yoga.
the one that caught my eye the most: "several other trials have found that yoga may help control high blood pressure almost as effectively as medication would."
forget your too-expensive designer drugs -- try standing on your head 5-6 times a week!
a dear friend of mine suffers from asthma. and the story reports that some clinical trials indicate that yoga could also lessen asthma.
personally, i find yoga lessens stress, anxiety, grief. i feel less separated, more connected, with my loved one after yoga. it offers solace.
not only does a vigorous regular yoga practice give you the famed "yoga butt," shaped legs, a trim waist, toned tummy, and broad shoulders, more importantly it offers the value of meditative presence.
after a challenging set of fast-paced sun salutations, standing poses, and inversions, the more inward forward bends and savasana allow you to lose one-by-one all the bits o' baggage weighing you down.
as erich schiffmann says, "love is what's left when you let go of everything you don't need." once you feel that, you're in ted lingle land.
by which i mean -- dispense your love freely. as scaa head lingle has told me more than once, "you only get to keep what you give away."
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
more on that ico & coffee purity thing. . .
yesterday (and long before, here too) i mentioned that i believe the u.s.a. should rejoin the i.c.o. in an effort to help stabilize the coffee market, as well as improve the quality of coffee in this country.
part of rejoining the i.c.o. means that the u.s.a. would have to tighten the rules governing what grades of coffee can be imported into this country.
since this topic has come alive again on alt.coffee, the ever-fabulous mike ferguson of the scaa has sent me a largish pic of 2 pots of coffee. on the right is the horrendous so-called "grade 8," right now the lowest level of stuff importable.
nice happy high-quality green coffee beans are a lovely light silvery-sagey green. if you look at the right pot, you'll see many -- even mostly perhaps -- nasty beans.
those blackened, weird ferment-y brown, yellow-y and insect-chewed beans are not what quality coffee should look like. this yucky stuff is known in the coffee trade as defects.
you are looking at trash coffee. it shouldn't even be allowed to be called coffee, much more less used in making stuff to drink, although this not-quality coffee is often used for instant international house of hazelnut delight or whatever. . .after mega-heavy processing and lots of added flavors, perfumes, whiteners, other weird stuff that real coffee doesn't need.
in the left pot, you see some better beans that still have questionable characters mixed in. this is the level of coffee that meets the proposed i.c.o. standard.
and this should be the minimum that americans drink. (actually, looking at it closely, maybe we should mandate even better than that. . .)
coffee lovers, you may not think you care about coffee standards. it seems really arcane. take another look at that right-hand pot. do you really wanna drink that stuff?
but without knowing you probably have; maybe even today. . .maybe when someone pawned off a cup of brand x instant on ya. . .i don't think they even dare serve that kinda junk in prison!
here at bccy we are lovers of the so-called specialty coffee, coffee that has basically zero, zip, nada, 0 defects. this is the delicious premium coffee, often labelled by its country of origin, that most people nowadays think of as coffee.
you know, the stuff you roast at home, buy from your local independent coffeehouse/roaster, or pick up at starbucks or peets.
that grade 8 stuff should be called coffee by-products. at best. i mean, look at it! in the coffee trade it is often called triage coffee.
wouldn't you like to know whether you are getting good coffee or grade 8 when you're making a purchase? don't you think you the consumer has a right to know? i sure do!
and this in fact is what our friends at the scaa hope will happen, that the u.s.a. will adopt these new standards, force manufacturers to label that stuff as coffee by-products, and alert consumers as to what's really in the can or jar.
then we can re-join the i.c.o., help stabilize the world coffee market, aid our friends the coffee farmers, and enjoy higher-quality coffee even at the lowest end of the coffee spectrum!
isn't this all good? boy howdy, yes it is! that's what so cool about the grounds for action website mentioned yesterday. you can go there to send your little email demanding better coffee for us all. . .
who is hans geller?
he's the man with the perfect job.
and in the same vein:
"my tongue soon became thick with honeyed anaesthetic and i nearly started talking to the rearing horse sculpture in my delirium."
i understand this woman completely. she's one of us. . .
for those seeking a stroll down memory lane -- this is what we got at otto's diner when i was wee chil' in kansas if we was lucky. . .
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
disenheartening but somehow strangely life-saving
despite the anticipated 8-10% decline in 2003-04 world coffee production, prices in june fell to their lowest levels since the start of 2003.
threats of a frost in brazil retreated, and so the price has dropped.
the ico composite indicator average price for the month was a low, low US$0.49 cents per pound.
i've written here pretty endlessly about the human suffering caused by this world-price depression known as the coffee crisis.
the question is how we consumers can help struggling farmers continue to produce the best quality coffee, which isn't the stuff the "big four" has been pushing us all these years and hope to continue pushing in their shiny new plastic containers. . .
(note to the big four: the reason people are drinking less of your umm, product, isn't because they dislike wrestling with the can opener, guys! it's because your product is inferior!
it used to be better, and we've noticed the difference! which is why starbucks and other local, independent specialty roasters/coffeehouses continue to pop up everywhere like mushrooms after the rain. . .why we are roasting at home. . .why we are buying fancy espresso machines faster than you can shake a stick. . .)
again, the best way to show one's love, as ted lingle of the scaa says, is to ask "how can i help?" one way to help is to support that worthy charity, coffee kids, and aid the farmers, workers, and their families directly with great microcredit programs.
another proposed solution is to consider buying fair-trade coffee. our friends at equal exchange (here's a shout-out to you, beth ann!) have launched a great educational website about fair trade and why the u.s.a. should rejoin the i.c.o., grounds for action.
equal exchange and i both advocate that the u.s.a. return to the i.c.o., an action that should help stabilize the coffee market over time.
doubtless, dear readers, unless you've been with me here on bccy for a long time, you're finding this whole topic quite confusing. long-time readers know this rejoining the i.c.o. thing has been a bee in my bonnet for quite some time.
all i can say is that we normal, average coffee drinkers need to care about coffee prices. low coffee prices have not benefited us coffee lovers, on the whole.
low prices mean that the farmers who produce the best premium coffees are increasingly discouraged. this leaves us fewer options for better coffee now and in the future.
for those of you yet to discover the joys of specialty coffee either locally or by mail-order, you may have noticed that despite these historic low prices, what you pay for your can of supermarket brand x has not declined. thus the fateful question: where does your coffee dollar go?
yes, since we here at bccy are not interested in drinking steamed, perfumed and highly processed cheap robusta, but only the highest quality coffees, the price depresssion isn't helping us a bit.
apart from our self-interest, there is also the inconvenient fact that as coffee farmers go bankrupt, those who worked for them go hungry or move north to join the illegal underground economy.
it's a complex problem. but these market problems have market solutions. buying and enjoying high-quality fair-trade coffee could be a useful piece of the puzzle. . .
on a happier note, however, i love studies like this. it turns out chocolate is good for you; coffee is good for you; now pizza seems to protect against cancer.
break out the mozzarella and go for it! the researchers credit the result to the so-called mediterranean diet, "including non-frozen, home-made pizza."
isn't homemade pizza (one sauce here; mozz here) exactly what we here at bccy have been talking about for oh, 3 years now?
Monday, July 21, 2003
it's still robusta
the "big four" (those huge food firms responsible for that stuff in the supermarket cans their ads are trying to convince you is coffee) -- sara lee, p&g, nestle, kraft -- can innovate on the packaging side all they want: it's still perfumed robusta.
but here's the interesting round-up of the scaa consumer member homecoming that took place last weekend. with pix!
incredible event. this, dear readers, is why you should join, no matter what your current level of coffee involvement! coffee is a lifetime adventure, an eternal passion; your appreciation and knowledge can only increase, no matter whether you're an old espresso hand or still uncertain what end of the grinder is up. . .
not to mention all the other great benefits -- the soon-to-be-available green coffee store for you homeroasters, the newsletter, the secret email list. . .also the scaa i know will make an effort to hold more events like this all around the u.s.a. and possibly canada.
breaks my heart that i couldn't be there. . .but that's not to say i would regret the lovely afternoon with delia and matthias konzett one bit!
and add this chocolate story to the black humor category. poor mice!
Sunday, July 20, 2003
the spoon & i, part ii
since bccy favorites delia and matthias konzett are moving soon to boston, it was natural to have a coffee party to wish these scaa consumer member homeroasters and their gaggia adieu.
they are such lovely people, as of course, it seems all coffee people are. ya'll come back soon, hear?
delia brought some homeroast, which i can't wait to try tomorrow. today we drank gillies coffee: don's carioca espresso that i discussed yesterday, and his famed deluxe dark 2 espresso.
don also -- this is the exact measure of how sweet he is -- made up some blends for them to take home, one viennese, in honor of matthias' hometown, and one called "new york memory."
one of the many pleasures of their visit was the chance to use the perfect demitasse spoon. long-time readers know i have literally been seeking more than a year for the right set of spoons.
these christofle spoons in the galea pattern are in fact perfection. 6 to the set, just 4 inches long, nicely balanced, graceful to the eye, slightly art nouveau. don's deluxe dark 2 clings to them like zabaglione.
to be frank, they feel like a soul kiss in the mouth. sensual: heavy but not pressing, with a deeply curved bowl that nestles and caresses the tip of your tongue.
clean tight edges, but not sharp. licking the mousse-y sweet coffee crema from them is a treat in and of itself.
i know mark prince is fond of the illy "music note" spoons. he needs to try this voluptuous christofle indulgence for himself. really, it's enough to make baudelaire swoon.
if there is a "perfume that confounds the will," surely it's the nose of the creamy deluxe dark 2. . .