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Saturday, May 01, 2004


johnny the black does it all

ok, after all the excitement of the hines public market espresso yesterday, today i had to cup it.

now, we have to begin by noting the coffee's 8-10 days old, and has travelled in a brown kraft paper coffee bag from humid atlanta to humid new york on a dry airplane.

not the best storage and handling. . . but hey, that's what we've got. the beans have probably suffered a bit.

the incomparable oren cupped this coffee and guessed it was a blend of a dry-processed ("natural") brazil, a central american, and an african, probably a harrar.

after a couple of decades in the coffee business, you'd expect oren to know, hmmm?

but i decided to taste for myself. so i ground some of the coffee today, set out 3 cups, boiled the water, etc. and got out my silver scaa cupping spoon. (thank you, scaa chief ted lingle! as long-time readers know, i worship him.)

finally, i pulled out my lingle flavor wheel, then jean lenoir's nez du cafe. (thanks again, ted!)

and after 4 min., i broke the crusts to begin the whole slurp-n-spit routine. "how not elegant," my husband remarked. but hey, what can ya do?

here's my description of this espresso: the hines public market coffee smells more darkly roasted than it is. in reality, it's only a little shiny, and very few beans even show pinpoints of oil.

the fragrance of the dry grounds is strongly cucumber. the aroma is earthy, with roasted walnuts, leather, and cooked beef.

there's a little turpeny thing going on there too, maybe even a touch medicinal. this probably is a roast product flavor.

the blend has a long, dry aftertaste, and there's no doubt it's a smooth, low-brightness coffee with a thick body.

i thought it was little different in the second cup, so i'm going to call it a bit wild.

after cupping, i pulled out the cards from le nez du cafe to look at lenoir's discussion of these terms. what leapt out at me?

cucumber: lenoir says this is characteristic of natural brazils! earth: lenoir notes this is often found in a harrar.

walnut: again, lenoir associates this with a natural brazil. cooked beef: lenoir describes this as characteristic of a central american coffee, mentioning guatemalan in particular.

leather: lenoir ascribes this to harrars. medicinal: lenoir remarks it is a sign of a darker roast, esp. noticeable in some brazils.

and there it was, staring me in the face. without knowing it, using a different terminology, i had bumbled my way to the same conclusion as oren.

hmm. and now i understood how oren had come to his speculation on the roots of the blend. . . .johnny the black came through for me today!

posted by fortune elkins | 1:16 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, April 30, 2004


coffee of the barista queen

and by now most coffee lovers know that seattle barista bronwen serna took the u.s. championship at the recent scaa conference in atlanta. she won it with her incredible talent and the espresso at her workplace, hines public market coffee.

i was so honored yesterday to have a quick lunch at the french culinary institute with john hornall of the hines. he was kind enough to give me a pound of the same batch of coffee that bronwen won with at the show.

naturally, this stuff was too interesting to keep to myself.

so i sent john off to meet don schoenholt of gillies today and give him a pound to try; i ended up dropping a half-pound of my own with oren over lunch today before running back to my desk.

(hilarity is me hopping out of a cab at the corner of prince & the bowery to meet oren, who's lurking there beneath the scaffolding. he zips open his mysterious black briefcase; pulls out a brown paper coffee bag; i dump some of my coffee, from its own brown paper bag, into his; he takes a sniff; i leap back into the cab; he disappears among the restaurant supply shops with the speed of a greyhound. . .)

what many people don't realize about john h. of the hines is that he's been a barista forever; he started with mauro cipolla of caffe d'arte. the hines hasn't been open very long; i think barely 2 years, in the funky eastlake district of seattle.

and already their barista and their coffee's taken the top spot in the u.s.a. that's pretty amazing when you think about it.

what's great about john is his undiluted passion, his grunge energy, his quirky originality, his wiry cheerfulness. as we sat before a plate of incredible freshly poached rouget in court bouillon, he said with a huge grin thru his seattle-style goatee, "i love food! food is all good."

whenever you meet anyone so devoted to moving the cuisine of espresso forward, you have to share the smiles. all coffee lovers would enjoy how much john h. really cares about great, fresh coffee. . . .

the poached fish was simple, fresh, seasonal. (and by the way, he choose a pinot from the northwest to match.)

the dessert was honey mousse with candied rhubarb -- another homey, simple, seasonal dish. light, delicate, garnished with pignons, not the least pretentious.

as john said, all good! it ws a rare time when an intense chocolate cake would have been out of place.

posted by fortune elkins | 10:15 AM | top | link to this |


Thursday, April 29, 2004


improving an upper east side staple

the famed frozen hot chocolate from new york's classic sweet shop serendipity 3 is basically perfect for today: we're expecting 75 degrees!

of course, this city staple can be improved: the recipe is so simple to make, and the improvement's even simpler. long-time readers may recall i've often spoken of the virtues of freezing leftover coffee or espresso into ice cubes, esp. for use in iced coffee.

drop these coffee ices in the recipe and wa-llah! isn't that much better? yes it is. . .

as for the chocolate, i melt it in the microwave and use a mixture of valrhona manjari and el rey's bucare. i also use valrhona cocoa.

but experiment: since you are drinking it cold, a chocolate with assertive flavors will help the drink stand out more intensely. remember, the coffee will not only add depth of flavor, but also increase the perceived "chocolatey-ness" of the chocolate. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 7:14 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, April 28, 2004


nice crust

and here's a pretty good approximation of the neapolitan-style pizza dough. it's not quite as complex as mine.

among what makes it close to the original is the lack of olive oil in the recipe. however, i've found that when making this crust for new yorkers, they are disappointed unless you add some oil.

great olive oil improves the flavor and chewiness of the crust. in loaf breads, oil also aids somewhat in keeping quality.

since authenticity in cooking is rather pointless if no one will eat the pizza, i've given up and now always use a tablespoon of oil in the dough. . .i also now mix durum and first clear flour for this dough.

again, completely untraditional, but it gives the pizza a great flavor, due to the crispiness the durum seems to offer and the chewiness of the first clear. that the first clear has a high ash (mineral) content also seems to contribute to the taste.

not to forget that the durum flour is very yellow and appears to enhance the color of the baked pizza; it just looks more appetizing.

also, it's rare to read correct coffee storage instructions in the general press. but here they are!

it's true you should avoid freezing coffee; it harms the aroma. however, we also have to face the fact that many people don't have a quality scaa-member independent local roaster/retailer nearby these days. to get premium-quality specialty coffee means they have to buy mail order on the internet.

and that usually means eating a substantial shipping fee. to make that fee more reasonable, most people do end up buying two pounds of coffee.

and with today's smaller households, that often means people have to divide those pounds into quarters; pack the quarter-pounds into air-tight metal containers or one-way valve bags (from which the air is squeezed and then put into said container); and take 'em out of the freezer as needed.

it's not ideal, no doubt. but until the day we all have fresh coffee near our homes, i understand we have to live with compromises.

many people who roast their own coffee at home claim, however, that un-degassed, just-cooled coffee when properly packaged and immediately frozen in a home deep freezer actually emerges relatively unscathed. your mileage may vary, of course. . .

but then, i don't home roast!

posted by fortune elkins | 10:23 AM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, April 27, 2004


farewell djimma, hello khat

"but despite the services offered to farmers, a drive outside of jimma into the coffee plantations reveals a glimpse of roadside coffee shrubs left virtually abandoned by farmers who are busy tending more profitable crops.

'no one tends coffee plants any more because they are not worth the effort. we prefer to look after our qat crops which generate good income for us,' said one farmer in kaffa."

if you're considering tasting what can be an interesting origin, especially when washed, a coffee from the place credited as the native home of the plant, better do it now before the farmers finish uprooting the coffee to grow illegal drugs.

long-time readers may recall i've written about this before; but as the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis continues, the loss of quality coffee from great origins grows ever nearer.

with this in mind, i'm going to frankly suggest you coffee lovers descend on your favorite roaster and ask for some premium washed djimma while it can still be had. . .it can be hard to find. you may have to take a natural djimma, which can be wild.

actually right now, any high-quality djimma is probably a rare thing. . .as one roaster of my acquaintance said,"it's got a good backbeat, but it's tough to dance to, and i can't understand the lyrics. i give it a 74."

another roaster we all know and love just flatly rejects 'em outright. so all the more reason to try one for yourself. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 10:54 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, April 26, 2004


cow juice

let me begin by saying that the scaa conference in atlanta's a blur to me. even as i write, author ken davids is giving the last consumer member workshop on home coffee roasting.

i had to return last night -- amazing how that job thing really impedes one love of coffee. devoted long-time readers may recall that when i left my fear was for biscotti. would i have enough?

but as usual, i had overlooked the obvious. my real fear should have been: milk for steaming into cappuccinos. where the heck was it? when you are standing forlorn in the middle of the atlanta conference center with 35 consumer members and 16 home espresso machines, the mind suddenly turns to milk.

the convention center delivery staff failed to materialize with the promised milk until the espresso lab was more than half over. the projector wasn't working. the long-time c-members went and played with the fabulous machines provided so kindly by wholelattelove, 1st line, and chriscoffee.

i myself toyed with the beautiful elektra! however, the 10 or so newbies had a hard time without the presentation, and i still worry many didn't get enough time actually making espresso, since the lab was only 1 hour and 15 minutes long.

i did come over and try to help out the newbies by pulling shots and tamping for them, and quickly discussing milk frothing. but the time was so fleeting. . . giving them straight shots to drink was less successful, since they mostly appeared to be latte drinkers.

the home drip brewing hands-on lab also suffered from lack of time, not that counterculture's david haddock and tim castle didn't have an excellent working presentation. we just didn't have time to play with all the technivorms and bunns.

this is what i learned: make all hands-on workshops 3 hours. and bring your own milk.

let me step back and just say i am very grateful to the scaa, its board, the conference committee, and the professional staff who helped make this possible. i am especially thankful for cindy chang of counterculture. that woman is a goddess.

i'm actually wracked with guilt because i had to leave early on sunday evening, and poor cindy chang was stuck re-boxing and cleaning espresso machines by herself. i'll have to make this up to her somehow.

from don schoenholt of gillies and lindsay bolger of gmcr's consumer cupping -- which drew an audience of 65, only 8 of which appeared to be pros crashing our party -- my conference experience was: set up the room for an event, see the event start on time, count the number of people, leave to set up the room for the next event.

return in the evening to clean up all the rooms. rinse and repeat. thus i can say that in a certain sense i did not attend my own conference! not that i mind, actually. i did get to stay for most of the espresso lab, and the whole drip brewing lab.

however, i did end up missing the tour of the exhibit floor, the official scaa consumer member reception, and the event i most wanted to see: the "meet the authors," where scaa chief ted lingle was speaking.

on the other hand, i did get to see the incomparable chipper harris and bill fishbein of coffeekids. and i also got to touch lindsay bolger's engraved silver cupping spoon. . .

surprisingly enough, it appears that the most successful event was the zen coffee meditation. that had a full house at 50. another 25 were easily turned away; and many people told me they wished there had been a second session on another day so they could have come.

interestingly enough, one of the attendees was the wife of the scaa conference chair, christian wolthers. she was a lovely and charming lady, and appeared to love the presentation. hooray!

but what made that so special was not only the willingness of the attendees to suspend their disbelief and try such an unusual activity, but also, naturally, the incredible solid chocolate mini-buddhas donated by chocolatier eric girerd via jim munson of dallis coffee, and of course, the fabulous biscotti of patrick coston.

another big surprise was the response to the coffee created especially for the event by don schoenholt of gillies from a blend suggested by steve colten of atlantic. several coffeehouse owners came up to me and asked about it.

overall the conversations went like this: "i love this fabulous coffee. this event is so special. those vanilla-almond-fennel biscotti are mindblowing." and several also inquired about how to hold such an event for their customers at their own shops. . . .

posted by fortune elkins | 6:38 AM | top | link to this |

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