Monday, September 13, 2010

Moving Day!

Thanks to everyone who has taken a gander at my coffee musings thus far. However, it is time to leave blogger and move on to my very own site! From this point forward I'll be writing about coffee culture and related topics at the shiny new site so come on over and check it out! For the time being, the archived entries will remain here but I'll soon bring those over too.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Barista, The Modern Bohemian

Lets call this a little bit of a teaser for a project I'll be working on for the next few months. I was a barista for many years and now I am fortunate enough to spend most of my days working with baristas and coffee industry professionals. Lately I've been thinking a lot about community and culture and I realized that there are a few communities out there that are almost completely filled with truly amazing people. The coffee community is a shining example in my humble opinion.

We are a vastly diverse collection of vagabonds united by an underlying sense of passion. We're almost all passionate about coffee but then many are artists, musicians, performers; many of us write or cook. We come from all racial backgrounds and sexual orientations, male, female; some are tattooed, some love pets. Still it all comes back to passion; we are the modern bohemian culture and for this we should be recognized and we should be proud.

I'm going to be researching and featuring the diversity of our community by taking a look at some of the most talented and fascinating baristas in town so that everyone knows, when they get their perfectly constructed latte, that the person crafting that drink is a professional and a unique and integral part of our budding coffee culture.

By the way... recognize that barista?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Turtle Wins the Race

This is not really a post about coffee, specifically, but it certainly relates to my ability to write about coffee in the future. As a certain lovely lady often points out, I am often rather oblivious to the world around me; this is especially true when it comes to technology. I know that there is a way to do just about anything with respect to the web and computers but I'm just not savvy in this regard so I'm often left surprised by things most folks take for granted.

Today I realized I could post pictures and text easily from my mobile directly to this blog. Big deal? Probably not, but when I'm out and about enjoying the awesome coffees of Richmond and beyond I can more easily share the experience.

The past two posts have been mobile posts to see how the whole thing works. So far? I'm a fan.

This isn't necessarily coffee related but its a lovely table I shared with a lovely lady last night. We enjoyed market vegetable pad Thai and tuber slaw with a lovely malbec.

Simple joy brought to me by the folks at Lamplighter Roasting

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Little Pleasures, Peregrine Espresso

One of the perks of my work is a healthy dose of regional travel. I spend a great deal of time on the road and in turn, I get to visit lots of coffee houses I may never have otherwise discovered. Stopping to find great coffee experiences in the places I visit has become an integral part of my adventures. This summer I've also been fortunate to enjoy a good deal of recreational travel and to no surprise, my coffee shop hopping usually finds its way into those trips as well.

Recently we had a planned trip to Baltimore that included a full day in The District to soak in some art at the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn. My coffee obsessive side had already scoped a nearby jewel of espresso culture, Peregrine Espresso, located near the Eastern Market on 7th Street, Capitol Hill. I've had my eye on Peregrine Espresso since early spring when I met the owner and many of the employees at CoffeeFest NY/Meadowlands. For those of you who don't know, CoffeeFest is your typical trade show where people push their products, concepts and companies in general while schmoozing, eating and drinking on company tabs and hopefully striking up at least one business relationship that will boost revenue in the coming year. The additional layer with CoffeeFest is that it also houses national and international competitive barista circuits. Many, if not most, of Peregrine's team of baristas were competing at this regional. They all did extremely well including several category winners. I was impressed by the performances and even more impressed with the espressos and macchiatos I sampled after the competitions. I made it a point to visit the shop at my first opportunity to get a feel for what a star-studded coffee house looks like on a daily basis.

Peregrine Espresso is a small, unsupposing shop with a bright, airy feel and a small number of seats. The predominant space is the espresso bar which was constantly teeming with action. The shop was packed and a steady line circulated to order from the extremely simple menu. When I walked into the shop the first thing I noticed was the five employees working behind the counter. All five were baristas who have been featured in barista and coffee magazines for their talent and success in the coffee world. Notably the cashier and the bus boy were both winners from the NY CoffeeFest barista competitions. This is definitely what one would call a "stacked deck".

Sparse doesn't even begin to describe the experience as a whole. I cannot say I was all too impressed with the vibe of the shop and, upon further contemplation, I think that may be what they were going for because the focus was, quite simply, on the product and its proper presentation.
Order placed--one espresso and one skim cappuccino with a jalepeno cheddar scone.
The barista calmly places two worn, white porcelain saucers on the bar counter. She then carefully places a spoon on each.
One porcelain tasse and one porcelain demitasse, both also worn, are bathed in hot water for tempering.
Two small glasses of water are placed alongside the saucers to cleanse the palate.
Espresso is ground with the well used Mazzer Super Jolly while portafilter is rinsed and tempered.
Ground espresso is dosed, tamped and portafilter spouts are rinsed while heads are flushed.
A perfect ristretto espresso is pulled in the demitasse while the barista expertly stretches and manipulates the skim milk.
Two gentle tamps of the microfoamed skim yield glassy milk with the texture of Greek yogurt.
Textured milk mixes with thick, rich crema, a tight clockwise arc, quick shake of the wrist and a swipe through the center of the cup reveal a perfect rosetta.
Both cups are placed on their saucer and the barista offers a slight smile.

We drank our coffee, which was excellent to say the least, and watched as this clockwork process repeated and repeated and repeated. The shop was humming; ever out of control but never out of customers. Where the shop lacked in frills and asthetic appeal it made up in pure efficient quality. In all of my coffee shop adventures, I rarely see the level of honor and passion for the product that I witnessed here. It is no wonder these folks continue to maintain a respectable presence in the world of internationally competitive baristas.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gadgets :: Brewing at Home :: Aeropress

It is tough to make coffeehouse quality coffee at home; this is a sentiment that echos through my daily conversations with coffee enthusiasts from owners and operators of highly successful coffee businesses to the average joe (no pun intended). I hear you folks, and I agree. For years I've been a strong proponent of brewing home coffee in a French Press--but lets call it a Press Pot from now on shall we? The press pot is no more French than the "French" Fry or the "French" Horn. The press pot, as most would agree, makes a stellar cup of coffee but there are two major draw-backs; There is sludge at the bottom of every cup and clean up is messy and all together obnoxious. Brewing coffee in the press pot becomes a chore and finally we all end up going out to the local shop or settling for inferior brew from that fell fallowed kitchen kermudgen, Mr. Coffee.

Folks, there is a solution, a savior if you will, a long time friend of the tea drinker converted to the dark side of coffee cultism. This angel of quality home coffee is the Aeropress.
A few weeks ago a friend, and fellow coffee enthusiast let me borrow his coffee making device. He had been talking it up for some time and I was somewhat embarrassed that I had no idea exactly what he was talking about. I received a bag full of bits and pieces that, to the unknowing eye, would have been taken as some sort of drug paraphanalia involving water, gravity and smoke. In all honesty, the technology isn't all that different. So I experimented with this contraption and I will stand behind this until proven otherwise, the aeropress makes the best cup of coffee possible at home with the least amount of clean-up. Best of all, they're easy to purchase and quite inexpensive. A google search will reveal a million places to buy one but here is one on Amazon for under $26.00. I took a step by step pictoral approach to introducing the aeropress and how it works, take a look!

Mis en Place :: Gather your ingredients and all of your parts and pieces. Today I used a Northern Italian style espresso roast, I find the blend and lighter roast make a very nice press pot coffee so I figured it would translate well here too.

Grind :: If you read back to my post on grinding you'll know that I prefer professional grinders to home use grinders, today I used a Malkonig Guatemala Lab Grinder which costs several thousand dollars. If you'd like to buy one I'd be happy to sell it to you! That aside, I prefer a standard cone filter grind for the aeropress because the slightly finer grind adds body to the final cup; don't worry, there is a small paper filter to reduce the sludge factor.

Base :: Coffee goes in the base on a small paper disc-filter.

Water :: Place the base over the cup and fill with "off-boil" water. Water should be 185-200F depending on the bean. At home this means "off-boil" which is bringing your tea pot to a boil, taking it off the eye to let sit for about a minute and then pouring it over the coffee. Give it a good stir and then press!

Enjoy :: You get an amazingly flavorful cup of coffee with almost no sludge and the clean up is simply dumping the dry coffee puck in the compost and washing off the plastic pieces!