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Saturday, May 22, 2004


wanted: the real russian coffee cake

i've spent weeks now off and on searching everywhere for a recipe for the real russian coffee cake.

this is a yeast-raised, sour-cream object with spirit-macerated dried fruit and almonds, possibly walnuts as well. it appears native only to a small area of the upper west side of manhattan, west of broadway, between 72nd and 80th st.

oh, i've seen lots of fake recipes. as far as i can tell, the real russian coffee cake resides at only 3 locations: the royale kosher bakery, sometimes at fairway, and on occasion at zabar's.

i believe the authentic recipe's soul comes from that base of sour cream, boiling honey, and possibly the use of tea as part of the liquid, along with light cream. a little bird suggests that don schoenholt of gillies may have once also been a purveyor of this delight.

speaking of soul and coffee, i've been thinking about this piece, exact and particular, at left this is an audio post - click to play a lot recently, by edwin denby. i'm thinking that, along with frank o'hara and ted berrigan, he remains an absolute best descriptor of the emotional new york.

oh you gloomy, prissy e.b. white, eat your heart out. not that denby, as the piece here shows, can't be sad, but like whitman he loves the average people of new york, i think, much more than white.

certainly denby has a better understanding of the city's essential cadences. . .

what i need is to bake the perfect russian coffee cake, brew up some of gillies' yrg, and try to understand why the compression of these modern sonnets are so effectively, perfectively, noo yawk.

if you have that coffee cake recipe, send it to me please!

posted by fortune elkins | 11:37 AM | top | link to this |


Friday, May 21, 2004


useful coffee tasting glossary

devoted readers know i often discuss and describe coffee as a fine beverage, using the linglese terminology and the jean le noir nez du café.

so i was happy today to see a nice glossary -- a little more accurate, i think, -- than many you see on the 'net -- and i'm just gonna quote some of it right here, right now for future reference:

  • Bitter: Refers to the basic taste sensation perceived primarily at the back of the tongue.
    (note: as in dark chocolate and stout, bitter in coffee should be a light, pleasing kind of bitterness. a nasty, gagging kind of bitterness is a flavor fault, and actually there are several perjorative terms used to describe bad bitterness in coffee. good bitter in coffee usually can be attributed to a darker roast.)
  • Bright: A coffee that has a tangy acidity is often described as "bright."
  • Buttery: A smooth, rich flavor and texture, found in some Indonesian coffees
    (note: this is a term describing body/mouthfeel, meaning the brew has a lot of delicious caffeol and natural oils. i'd say this term is more likely to describe espresso. you might also hear terms like heavy, thick, creamy or syrupy. heavy, thick, and syrupy can describe non-espresso coffees, to my mind, although certainly great espresso is syrupy like gravy or even motor oil. bean fibers and sediment also can contribute to body).
  • Clean: A characteristic of high-quality coffees that have a distinct taste, as opposed to muddied impressions of flavor.
  • Crisp: A clean coffee with bright acidity can be described as crisp.
    (note: there's sort of a range here, from brisk, to nippy to crisp to snappy to piquant. . .some informal order, having to do with the way the natural properties of the coffee interact to heighten this sensation. remember, these terms are aiming to describe the feelings we receive from compounds that actually exist in the coffee; it's not a rorschach test.)
  • Earthy: Refers to the herbal-musty-mushroom range of flavors characteristic of Indonesian coffees.
    (note: this often derives from the fact that some coffee is actually dried on the ground; the natural fats in the coffee absorb a little flavor from the soil. a touch of this is acceptable in some coffees, but too much and the coffee is deemed "groundy" or "dirty," which is definitely an all-bad flavor taint. usually "earthy" is felt in the aftertaste, but sometimes appears in the aroma as well.)
  • Fruity: Coffees that have a berry or tropical fruit-like flavor or aroma are referred to as being fruity. Kenya, Ethiopia Harrar, and Ethiopia Sidamo are a few examples.
    (note: these flavors are wide-ranging, and can include feelings of lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, apple, apricot, blueberry, and raspberry. usually this is sensed towards the front of the bouquet. see here for my super-post on the parts of the coffee bouquet.)
  • Mouthfeel: The sensation or weight you feel inside your mouth when tasting coffee
    (note: a.k.a. "body").
  • Nutty: An aroma or flavor that is reminiscent of nuts. Colombia and Mexico are examples of nutty coffees.
    (note: well, i don't quite agree with this, since roast color has a lot to do with this quality as well, imvho! the compounds creating the feeling have to be in the beans, of course, but this feeling could be highlighted or buried by the roast level.)
  • Soft: Low-acid (note: a.k.a. "low-brightness"), mild-flavored coffees are referred to as soft.
  • Smooth: A coffee that has no edges and leaves a pleasant mouthfeel.
    (note: this term describes the body of a coffee with a medium or moderate amount of coffee oils. compare to buttery.)
  • Spicy: An aroma or flavor reminiscent of a particular spice. Aged coffees are often called spicy.
    (note: the "sweetly spicy" sensations in coffee are usually perceived in the fragrance of the dry grounds and are often referrd to as "cardamom," "caraway," "anise", "sweet basil," etc. while the "woody spicy" feelings usually develop later on the coffee and tend to include "clove," "cinnamon," "allspice," "mace," "nutmeg." again, i think roast level has a lot to do with this: in that while the spicy-feeling components have to be in the coffee, the roast level can help bring this out, or can obscure it. woody spicy feelings are often towards the back of the coffee's bouquet.)
  • Sparkling: This term describes a coffee with a bright acidity that dances on your tongue before it quickly dissipates.
  • Stale: Coffee exposed to oxygen for extended periods of time loses acidity and becomes flat and cardboard-tasting. This is the taste of stale.
    (note: any coffee poorly stored will stale from attack by environmental factors such as light, heat, humidity, and plain old age. pre-ground coffee stales within an hour, if not minutes, which is why you should always buy whole-bean coffees and grind just before brewing. most coffee is "fresh" for only a short time, maybe 14 days, unless technologies like nitrogen-flushing and special packaging are used to help extend freshness. but even these technologies, to my mind, preserve a coffee's life span only a few days/weeks, no matter what the expiration date on the supermarket coffee says!)
  • Sweet: Sweet is a positive coffee description that is associated with a pleasant flavor and mouthfeel.
    (note: i mostly disagree with this. sweet is a basic taste, and coffees judged sweet usually have a certain kind of amino acids present in them. how other compounds -- such as natural mineral salts, etc. -- combine with these determines whether we judge the coffee mellow or bright, a.k.a. "acidy." see the scaa flavor wheel for categories of sweet and acidy. sweet in coffee is generally a feeling of sweetness similar to that sweet sensation you get when you chew a cracker slowly for a long time.)
  • Syrupy: A thick coffee with a lot of body that leaves a lingering aftertaste.
    (note: i personally don't think syrupy necessarily includes an aftertaste perception, per se.)
  • Tangy: A lingering acidity is often described as tangy.
    (note: in the great linglese, tangy is a subcategory of winey, where the winey-feeling compounds have combined with sweeter-feeling ones to modify the basic winey sensation.)
  • Wild: Exotic flavors with extreme characteristics are described as wild.
    (note: see my previous post on this term.)
  • Winey: A taste similar to that of red wine or having a fruit quality is called winey.
    (note: ethiopian coffees like djimma, sidamo, or yrg are often examples of winey.)

you can see the full story for yourself here.

posted by fortune elkins | 9:53 AM | top | link to this |


Thursday, May 20, 2004


rainforest alliance gala

and today i owe a huge, huge thank you very much! to rothfos for inviting me to the annual stunning rainforest alliance event. they are wonderful supporters of the scaa consumer member program.

by the time my coach turned into a pumpkin, the gala had already raised nearly a million u.s. dollars, and i'm sure once the auction got underway, much more went to support the cause.

i was so fortunate to see many of bccy's long-time coffee pals and scaa members: karen gordon of coffeeholding, women in coffee, and cup for education; roaster's guild guy spencer turer, where he will bring specialty to the convenience store landscape in short order i'm sure; lindsey bolger of green mountain; former scaa prez steve colten and many folks from atlantic; and of course r.a.'s own marketing director, sabrina vigilante herself.

i also was privileged to meet some new coffee people: allen byrd from tembec, who apparently make most of the coffee filters on the planet; john demuria from volcafe; and both the charming president barbara roth and c.f.o. paul lawer of 8 o'clock.

paul was very interesting; he's new to the coffee industry, and so we talked alot about coffee history, specialty coffee, espresso, the importance of cupping, and how to increase coffee consumption.

i'm afraid he pronounced me "terrifying." but as someone new to coffee, and unfamiliar with specialty, he was perhaps taken aback by the passion inherent in all scaa people. i hope i politely disabused him of the notion that consumers "don't care" about coffee.

maybe that statement from the day before yesterday should be tattooed around the ankles of coffee executives too. . .on the other hand, i was heartened to hear that he is the proud owner of a saeco superauto!

he too is a coffee lover. like all of us, he is ready to begin the journey towards the premium coffee experience, to truly learn how to appreciate our favorite brew as a fine beverage!

ah! the highlight from the event: clearly, the aerialist (and another here). she was beautiful, elegant, eloquent, and amazing.

dressed in white and silver, with her slender white ribbons suspending her in space, it seemed to me her piece described freedom and longing. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 8:50 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, May 19, 2004


new look & wily e. coffee

i'm no christian dior, but welcome to the new look of bccy. we're taking another step here towards modernity: xhtml, css, web standards, and valid code.

web hacks are for, well -- web hacks.

lemme note:

  • comments will be down for a day or two while i get the comment code up to xhtml compliance;
  • the advanced search page will then match the rest of the new design;
  • still tweaking the link styles -- this idea that the visited links should be larger, not just a different color, was suggested to me, but i'm not sure i'm liking it;
  • a small style tweak to my images is also needed for full xhtml compliance;
  • have finally abandoned old browsers, as well as those that represent less than 3% of my audience. sorry. i used the code in the old design for about a year (thanks, al sparber!) to support several older browsers, but now the time has come to say "farewell, netscape 4.79!"
  • please note i haven't fully tested this site on macintosh internet explorer versions. more tweaks may come from that experience.

otherwise i feel like i'm almost good to go here.

responses to the new design so far have been mixed: one person really likes the look; others have deemed it "too new age-y." one diplomatic soul said politely, "i hate to be a stick-in-the-mud, but. . ."

please email me over the next few days to register your feeling. if everyone truly despises this new design, i'm open to going back.

usability arguments will help bolster your opinions on this, no doubt (hint)! i don't think the present design weighs 8 pounds, or offends feminist sensibilities. . .

(note: as a post-feminist myself, those who know me are well aware i still derive great joy from referring to my friends as "skirts" or "twists." if i really admire you, i'll call you a "tomato." please accept this all in the humorous spirit in which it is intended.)

and while everyone knows i won't be a part of any revolution where you can't dance (no, not that one; this one!) or eat chocolate, on a more serious note:

"in the morning mist, peruvian farmers come down from the mountains on horseback to sell their coffee beans to local intermediary buyers, willing to take whatever price they are offered."

these "intermediary buyers" are often the local lyin', cheatin' coyotes, the bane of many a struggling coffee farmer's existence. but in remote rural areas with little transport and bad roads, uneducated farmers are reduced to dealing with these coercive hoodlums.

as if the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis wasn't bad enough, the corruption and intimidation many of these coyotes employ towards coffee farmers should be a crime.

as an article today states, not only do the "intermediate buyers" rip off the farmers, but they ruin the quality of the coffee by carelessly mixing bad beans with good. now however, some farmers are organizing, trying to fight back. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 8:42 AM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, May 18, 2004


not to be simplistic. . .

but it appears that coffee may prevent liver disease, while soft drinks may encourage throat cancer, according to two new studies.

"the study found an inverse correlation between coffee. . .and liver injury," we learn today.

apparently drinking too much soda may increase the chance of acid reflux disease, which may lead to throat and esophagal cancer. while no doctor, i personally suspect all those groovy anti-oxidants in coffee are what prevent liver damage, not the caffeine itself.

"you have to be passionate about the product."

everyone considering opening a coffeehouse should have this tattoed around their ankle, to my mind.

i also had a great bit of correspondence with a bccy reader on compass pose (surya yantrasana, actually "sundial pose"). it's one of my favorites, even tho' i don't personally have that leg behind the shoulder completely straight yet. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 9:06 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, May 17, 2004


eternity & a fish tail

"oxfam plans to set up 20 commercial espresso bars within three years in a partnership with disadvantaged coffee growers under the brand name progreso."

since matthew algie has proven itself a pal of bccy, we certainly hope this plan to open a chain of coffeehouses works! however, they will find the mermaid a tough-as-scales competitor.

as one local independent roaster/retailer who is successfully holding that diadem of stars at bay remarks: while the fish-babe looks sweet, she's nimble, wily, determined, and well-financed -- "insidious," was in fact the word. . .

our friends at matthew algie have to be prepared with a top-notch business strategy if they want to avoid being slapped by both sides of her tail!

recently i've been sampling these belgian new tree chocolate bars. they are advertising themselves as so-called "functional" bars, with herbal ingredients aimed to have physical or mood-altering properties.

i've tried both the milk chocolate lavender-and-lime-flower "relax" and the 73% dark chocolate black-currant "eternity" or "youth" bars.

the milk chocolate bar was creamy, had a good finish and nice snap; i actually rather enjoyed the flavor, but it soon became monotonous. the chocolate isn't the best quality, but it may be slightly better than lindt.

i actually lived on the eternity bar all weekend during the recent scaa coffee conference in atlanta. so maybe there's something to it. again, pleasant but dull after a square or two. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 9:03 AM | top | link to this |


Sunday, May 16, 2004


40 is the new 20. . .

. . .proclaims the fashion magazine on the moderne glass coffee table at the eyebrow artist's salon.

"grace kelly-look-a-like leaves harrison-ford-double for jabba-the-hut's doppelganger!" screams a tabloid on the subway.

meanwhile i serenely absorb scaa chief ted lingle's
basics of brewing coffee, all the while wishing i actually had the full-blown handbook.

what's caught my eye today specifically is table 7, which shows how the brewing water's temperature affects coffee sweetness.

that's right: coffee, like most fruits, naturally contains yummy sugars. it also contains some bitter compounds, like caffeine and chlorogenic acid.

(long-time readers may recall that scientists suspect chlorogenic acid to be one of the main healthy anti-oxidants in coffee. . .)

what's fascinating is that the correct water temperature when brewing coffee will bring out more of coffee's natural sugar sweetness and less of the bitter agents!

for those of us who make a lot of coffee in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press), this is vital information. with the same grind and 5-min. steep time, 200 degree f. (94 degree c) water will "wash out" up to 50% more natural sugars than brewing with too cold water (in the table, the too cold sample was 160 degrees f., about 70 degrees c.)!

bccy regulars know i usually brew with 198 degree f. water. but i'm going to try to pre-heat my bodum a little longer to bump the temperature up that extra bit.

let me note that dark-roast beans, say, french or italian, might be a little better off with water at 195 degrees f. (about 91 degrees c.), due to the chemical changes in the coffee caused by the longer roast time.

you french-press coffee lovers might feel a tad odd wielding your instant-read kitchen thermometer while making coffee, but! but!

we have the scientific information to prove that it's worth it and does make a difference. . . your coffee will taste better!

it's ultra-warm today, so i brewed up the remainder of k.'s famous sidamo and froze it into java ice cubes. i'll be having iced coffee with sidamo cubes all june!

that left me with a just a touch of oren's tremendous coffee. why waste it?

i made it into an americano, which i sipped while nibbling a bit of dagoba's new moon 74% chocolate bar. look, i could be doing far worse!

next week i'll be going back to don schoenholt's gillies storied yrg. . .no need to pity me at all.

posted by fortune elkins | 10:53 AM | top | link to this |

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