Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Roast Comeback

A little longer hiatus than I'd intended... but we're finally settled into our new home in Vermont and my mind turns again to various roasting dreams. The big dreams involve using all the empty space in my barn for a real roaster. For now though, I'll continue with my home roasting adventures.

I always roast a little during the holidays, bringing at least one roast with me to the family gathering. But this year, with the cold weather upon us (it was 10 degrees when I got up this morning) it seemed appropriate to spend a lot more time at the roaster and fire up some beans for some friends as we head back down to NYC for the holiday.

I've gotten into a rut over the last couple years and have stuck with my iRoast. This year, however, I wanted bigger batches and I wanted more depth to my roast. So I literally dusted off my Whirley-Pop popcorn popper and tried a few batches.

One aspect of our new house that I originally found disappointing was the electric flat-top range. While it still doesn't top a gas range, after cooking on it for a few months I'm surprised at the high degree of control I have in cooking on it. And for roasting, I've found it very easy to control my temperature, especially if I put my roaster inside a cast iron skillet to help evenly disperse some of the heat.

I chose two coffees from Sweet Maria's this year for my holiday roasts:

Voila! My holiday roaster. Whirley-Pop in cast iron skillet on flat-top electric range.

Measuring out my beans... I found that 9 oz. was ideal for the Whirley-Pop and the bottom of a cocktail shaker is a great way to keep the beans on hand and drop them into the roaster when it hits its target temperature.

Starting my roast. Crank, crank, crank. Crank, crank, crank. Crank, crank, crank. A lot of cranking involved. 12-15 minutes actually. Nice meditative activity. Time to think about the holidays and all your friends who better enjoy all the mind-numbing cranking you did to give them fresh home-roasted coffee.

And the cranking never ends. I like how Vermont has helped me cultivate this Michael Nesmith meets Jarvis Cocker look.

Cooling off the beans outside. The 10 degree temperature really helps cool them down fast. And I get a chance to where my stylish down poofy coat thingy.

Blowing away the chaff. The glasses really come in handy here. Don't want chaff in yer eye.

The final roast. This is the Sumatra Peaberry.

This year I got fancy and packaged my roasts in 1/2 pound coffee bags with pictures of my daughter on them (see image at the top of this post). I chose this picture because she's got the same exact look on her face as I do before I have my first morning cup. Seemed fitting for the coffee bags.

Much more roasting to come in 2010 and many posts to follow...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Please Be Patient While I Relocate...

2009 is turning out to be much different than originally planned. When I originally started this blog last year, I expected to update it much more than I have over the last few months. Part of the reason for the sporadic posts is that my wife and I have decided to leave New York City for Vermont.

Needless to say, this move has gotten me a wee bit distracted from my blog. I'll continue posts when I can but there may be long silences until we're settled in October.

I'm going to miss the easy access to all the great coffee and coffee people in NYC. With the amazing coffee scene that has developed over the last couple of years, part of me feels like I'm leaving the party when it's just gotten started. But my job is still based in NYC so I'll still get a chance to peek in once and a while to see what's going on.

I'm also very excited to discover what a new state has to offer. I've already explored some of the Vermont coffee world earlier this year (see my post Beans in the Green Mountains). And I'm sure there will be much, much more to discover -- not only in coffee but in various types of local, sustainable small businesses. And with a new barn in my backyard, twice the size of my old NYC apartment, who knows what trouble I can get myself into.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Llama Trek Results

Been away for far too long. Here's an overdue follow up on my coffee llama trek through Williamsburg. We didn't make it to all the shops originally planned but we managed to hit three great shops in the neighborhood:
We missed Second Stop Cafe but I'm sure I'll make it back in the near future. I also found a flyer for Lucky Shot Espresso which sells Stumptown like Variety Coffee. I miss having Stumptown available at Ninth Street Espresso, which has switched to Intelligentsia. (Of course I love Intelligentsia but I can get their coffee in a number of places across the Village and Ninth Street was the only place I could find Stumptown.)

As evidenced by my Twitter updates posted below, we also managed to hit a couple bars along the way. It was hard to stay away! There are so many great placed in the 'hood. They kept calling to us. Especially the Wostyntje Torhouts Mustard Ale at Oak Cafe.

Besides continuing to appreciate all the experiences Williamsburg has to offer, I think the key impression I took away from this trip was that there are so many great places to get coffee in New York. As short as five years ago, I could never have arranged a trek with so many great coffee stops in one neighborhood. There would have been a lot more subway stops involved. Just goes to show that there has certainly been a specialty coffee explosion in NYC.

Twitter Updates during the trek:

Starting up at Beaner Bar. Faz Kaquend Brazil Cup of Excellence. Drinking it up while I have a chance. #coffee

Beaner Bar advertises itself as the first Euro-style Mexican coffee bar. And that's exactly what it's like. Fun place! #coffee

Tamales with red and green sauce at Beaner Bar. Great stuff but I should have finished my cup of coffee before having all the spice.

Rudy at Beaner Bar is awesome friendly and brings great energy to the place. Off we go to our next joint. #coffee

Made it to Vaeiety. Enjoying Kenya Ngunguru by Counter Culture. No choice on the coffee avaiable but its press pot. #coffee

Correction. Coffee at Variety is from Stumptown. The caffeine must be getting to my head. But we've got higher to go with stops ahead.

A strange beer vortex opened up in the middle of the street and sucked us in. Oak Cafe drinking Wostyntje Torhouts Mustard Ale from Belgium.

Made it to El Biet on Bedford. Enjoying Tanzania Karmaro on Clover roasted by 49th Parallel. Been waiting for 2nd cup of this for weeks
Fending off hunger with a visit to the taco truck on Bedford. Pork and fish tacos... Yum.

Ending our tour at Spuyten Duyvil with some good Belgian Beer to bring us back down. Haven't been here in years which is quite a shame.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Coffee Llama Trek: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Trying something a little new on my blog today: a coffee llama trek through Williamsburg, Brooklyn to check out all the new shops that have popped up there. I could easily call it a coffee crawl but I won't because it doesn't involve the word llama. (In case you were wondering, there is indeed something called a llama trek. Just Google "llama trekking" to find out more.)

Unfortunately, we don't have easy access to any live llamas to bring along on this trip, but I will be armed with my new llama tattoo so that will make it feel official.

I'm hoping to check out the following three spots today:
But who knows where the caffeine will take us. If you're familiar with the area and have other suggestions, let me know.

Follow along on my Twitter stream to hear all about the latest and greatest. I'll follow up tomorrow with the results and hopefully some good pics.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Stroll Down Memory Lane: Selling Coffee with Sexism, Violence, Subliminal Messaging and Tommy Lee Jones Playing Ping Pong

My last post on the Jim Henson ads for Wilkin's Coffee sparked my curiosity in old coffee ads, which in turn lead to this post. This is by no means a comprehensive or summary review of coffee ads. It's merely the result of too much time surfing YouTube for coffee ads and saving the ones that interested me the most.

First up is this old add for Folgers. It's startling how sexist many of the coffee ads were at this time. Folgers, Chock Full o' Nuts and Chase & Sanborn all advertised their coffee with the message: buy our coffee or piss of your husband. I picked this one in particular because I liked the "mountain grown" spin. The next time I go to my favorite coffee shop, I'm going to hold my hands over my head like a tepee and ask for "mountain grown."

This one is just freakin' hilarious and I love the animation.

I like the way coffee companies try to pick something they should have been doing all along and try to convince you that it's a huge innovation. The big seller here though is Captain B.J. Hunnicutt hanging upside-down.

Apparently, in the 1980's the National Coffee Association launched this ad campaign to attract the Pepsi generation to coffee. I totally do not remember these ads. Maybe they didn't get much air time. Or maybe I have selective amnesia in order to protect my fragile brain. Although, I love the one second shot of Kurt Vonnegut (who unlike Bowie is actually drinking coffee).

I have no idea if this is an actual ad or only a brilliant short done in the style of vintage ads. Either way, it's brilliant! So I'm including it here. Although, I did think twice about my coffee beans before I stuck them in my grinder this morning.

I don't speak Italian so I have absolutely no idea what any of the talking and walking beans are saying in this ad but I love it! According to Babel Fish, "Hag" in Italian means "Hag" in English. Which just makes the name of this coffee even more mysterious...

Any fan of Escher should love this ad. Plus I've actually had this experience before drinking my morning cup.

Even if I spoke Japanese I have a feeling I'd still have no idea what is going on in this ad. And I have the sneaky suspicion that Tommy Lee Jones has no idea either.

I included this ad because I remember this commercial causing this insipid song stuck in my head. Don't click "play" if you don't want to be singing this song for the next three days. "The best part of waking up..." Help me!!!

There are so many things wrong/scary about this ad, I had to include it in this post. I realize it was the 80's but you still have to wonder what Maxwell House was thinking. "Max?" Really?

Finally, for posterity sake, I'd like to note that I did not post the new McCafe ad. If you've seen it, you know why.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Muppets + Violence = Coffee

I just discovered this brilliant ad campaign for Wilkins Coffee that was done by Jim Henson in the late 50s and early 60s. It's great to see early versions of the Muppets in these 8 second adds. It's also good to see that Henson's sense of humor was there from the very beginning.

I ran across these ads in a footnote in Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast. It mentions Wilkins Coffee as a Washington D.C. roaster from the 50s. But other than that I haven't been able to track down any more info on the company. It doesn't seem that Wilkins is still with us. But thanks to the wonders of YouTube, the ads are here for us to enjoy.

Also, this amazing/scary Muppet wiki explains it all including the vinyl puppets of Wilkins and Wotkins that the company offered in 1958. (Enter into super-scary territory by following Muppet Wiki on Twitter.) I don't know about vinyl puppets but somebody needs to make some tshirts of these guys.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gods in Cups

In March, I stumbled across God in a Cup by Michaele Weissman at my local Barnes & Noble. If I hadn't been in the food writing isle looking for another book on coffee (Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast), I never would have found it, and today I wouldn't know of its existence -- much less have had the pleasure of reading it.

What makes this book about the specialty coffee industry so enjoyable and so insightful are the people. Instead of focusing solely on the bean or the complex global industry that exists around it, Weissman focuses on the people in specialty coffee -- specifically Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia, Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee, and Duane Sorenson of Stumptown Coffee. And as she travels with Geoff and Peter to origin in Africa and Central America, she meets an impressive cast of key players within the industry including farmers, buyers and exporters. When she visits Geoff, Peter and Duane on their home turf in LA, Northe Carolina and Portland, she also brings in importers, roasters and baristas.

This book is an examination of the specialty coffee industry as it stands today. It's a snapshot in time of the guys at the forefront of the self-proclaimed "third wave" of coffee with a glimpse at some of the giants that came before them. It digs deeper than other treatments of the industry such as Black Gold (see my previous post on this documentary). Weissman is not afraid to explore the complexity of the industry -- the drawbacks of co-ops for farmers, the controversies over the value of fair trade and the potential risks of direct trade -- revealing the struggles that exist from origin to retail.

It is clear throughout her book that Weissman obviously developed a deep respect for her subjects and their passion for coffee, which often crosses the border into obsession. In her Authors@Google appearance, she compares the subjects of her book to the wave of independent film makers of the 70's -- a band of irreverent, talented and passionate guys who fundamentally changed an industry. And the farmers at the other end of the chain? They are artists, she says. All farmers are not alike.

And as such, all great coffee is not alike -- a theme that runs throughout her book and is illustrated by the search for the next Hacienda La Esmeralda Special, a Panamanian coffee produced by a specific coffee varietal called geisha that has become the obsession of many within the specialty coffee world and inspired the title of Weissman's book. (There are many different varietals of coffee plants that produce different types of coffee, similar to different varietals of grapes producing different wines.) While this book has so much to offer, if I were to pick one aspect that resonated with me the most, it would be this sentiment that not all great coffee is alike -- the complexities of growing and finding great coffee and the stories of those pursuing fine coffees like geisha. I would pick this because it helps to explain my own obsession with coffee.

An old friend of mine recently commented to one of my countless Facebook status updates about coffee by saying: "You spend more time thinking about coffee then I spend thinking." I think many of my friends and family members (including my 15 month old) have probably thought the same thing at one point in time. Why do I spend so much time thinking and talking about a beverage?

At a recent holiday dinner, one of my wife's family friends asked me: "What's the best coffee in the world?" I didn't know quite how to answer this question. I've spent so many years drinking so many great coffees (and finding new ones every month) that the thought of pointing to one cup and saying "that's it, there are no others" seemed completely foreign to me.

But this is a question I often face from non-coffee geeks. The dilemma reminds me of an article that Malcolm Gladwell wrote a few years back called The Ketchup Conundrum. In it, Gladwell talks people's expectations and perceptions of taste and a man named Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz was the first person to realize that what people often want (even though they don't often know it) are varieties in taste. There was no such thing as the best universal taste for Pepsi or pasta sauces or mustard. But at the same time, some tastes are so embedded in a culture that it is almost impossible to stray from them. Ketchup is one such taste. Heinz dominates the ketchup market because people expect ketchup to taste like Heinz. Any great deviation from the Heinz recipe doesn't stand a chance.

Coffee, I think often suffers from similar cultural baggage. People expect to find one great coffee that they can stick with forever. Yet most coffee drinkers I know who are also wine drinkers would never dream of sticking to only one label of wine forever. Unfortunately, most people don't think of coffee like wine. They think of coffee like ketchup. They find a label and stick with it.

Weissman manages to argue in a couple hundred pages why you should change your thinking and open your mind on this subject for coffee. Don't try to find the best cup of coffee. Try to find the best cups of coffees. Instead of trying to find God in a cup, look for gods in cups.

I've feebly tried to explain this in many of my posts on this blog. If you want to save time, pick up Weissman's book.

(Note: this post was written under the influence of Kuta, Waghi Valley, Papua New Guinea by Counter Culture and Wondo Worka Co-op, Ethiopian Yrgacheffe by Ritual Roasters.)