Archive for August, 2005

High rolling

I seem to have an affinity to expensive things. Take this for example: today I was in Steeps, Calgary’s trendy tea house in the upscale Mount Royal Village building just off of 17th Ave. The tea I selected was one classified as “rare”, and hence I paid an extra dollar for the press pot of this “Iron Goddess Special” oolong tea. However, this tea was incredible. So good, I decided on buying some to take home. I checked out the price list, and it said for rare teas to ask for pricing. Gah. I asked the woman there, and she sort of rolled her eyes and said, “I’m going to have to check that for you…” I didn’t like the sound of that. Oh well, the small tin was only $18.50. About the same price as a very high quality pound of coffee. So I got some. It’s a crazy looking tea.

Intelligentsia carries it too. They say this about the tea:
“Also known as Ti Quan Yin. Our Iron Goddess of Mercy, hailing from Taiwan, has become one of the best-known and most treasured of all oolongs. Iron Goddess of Mercy offers a light golden infusion with a smooth body, and a sweet finish. Floral and slightly roasty flavors make this a complex and dynamic cup.”

Pretty good description if you ask me. I likened it to “consuming a garden”. Hence the floral notes. They are pretty dominant. And throughout the steeping process (you can repeatedly add water), it does get sweeter, kind of like maté. Anyways, that’s all for tonight.

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Cadence Report

So, I made the trip to Cadence Coffee yesterday, located in the interesting community of Bowness in Calgary’s northwest quadrant. I had been there about a year ago, and was relatively impressed, but this was before my introduction to really good espresso.

Their machine is the same as I use, a 3 group Rancilio Z11/AT. I couldn’t identify their regular use grinder, but their decaf grinder was a Rancilio MD50. Their beans, as mentioned before, are from Nelson BC’s microroaster: Oso Negro. They are reasonable, if not slightly overroasted (from my experience last year).

I visited the cafe around noon, and it was bustling with activity. The decor and atmosphere are great, sort of ’50s style diner meets Caffe Fantastico’s roastery location (for you Victoria folks). I ordered their homemade granola and yogurt along with a double espresso. I was given the Greek flag and was told to sit down. First though, I witnessed the barista flush the group. A good first impression. Especially on the Z11. I sat down.

Unfortunately, when I got the espresso, it was served in an 8 oz ceramic cup, and it was about half full. A 4 oz double. Gah. There was a nice layer of persistent, dark colored crema, so props for that, but the volume really restricts the body of the espresso. Every coffeegeek knows this. It ended up tasting like one of my americanos. However, the flavor profile was quite nice, likely due to Oso Negro’s roasting prowess. So, if they just paid more attention to a shorter espresso at Cadence, this place would have the best shots in town… by far (at least, once I leave town and when Shaun’s shop get’s demolished). In fact, I’m willing to bet that even when Shaun and I are gone, they will have the best shot in town, despite the volume… That’s the scene’s situation…

Give Cadence a chance though, the food was excellent, and it’s a cool little place. Possibly with a non-weekend barista the shots would be better.

Oh, and tomorrow is my last day in the cafe. Come down if you care for some espresso.

Any Calgary Macchiato Aficionados?

So Shaun and I were talking today… is there anyone in Calgary who will make a proper macchiato? (People, we’re talking the 2-4oz milk and espresso concoction… not the 20 oz sugary behemoth some Seattle company calls a “macchiato”) We both can, and do, but is there anyone else? We don’t think so, but I’ll be going to Cadence Coffee in Bowness tomorrow (oops… today, past midnight) to see if they can prove us wrong. Last time I was there, it was alright, but I was without my PNW experiences.

In other news, I walked into the local Chapters to kill some time before my hair appointment, and I was startled to see at the built-in Starbucks that they had an “Affogato Style” section on their menu. Apparently, this is yet another bastardization of a good old Italian term. See, as far as I knew it, Affogato referred to the brilliant espresso+ice cream combination. Try a real one at Fiasco Gelato some day. But at the Green Monster, it’s apparently caramel sauce+whipped cream+frappucino+50 cents. Argh. I guess the marketing geniuses there thought that “salsa della caramella e panna per supplementare cinquanta centesimi” sounded a bit too pretentious. Affogato however literally translates as “drowned” – an evident poke at the ice cream’s eventual fate. Hard to drown in whipped cream. Starbucks could have coined a new trademarked Italian term though: “Bloccato” – or clogged in English – something your arteries will be after consuming your ridiculous venti affogato style mocha chip frappuccino. Or, support local business: visit Fiasco, and get your affogato, with some great gelato. Caffe Beano does an alright one too (yes folks, I will buy affogatos without quality espresso… the cold destroys the aromatics in the espresso).

Anyways, I will report back later on about my trip to Cadence. I think some granola will be in order there on the side of my espresso. Check their site out at cadencecoffee.com.

Beer… my other beverage passion

So here is a picture, courtesy of riedel.com of my new glassware. I’m using this “Gourmet Glass” as my Belgian beer glass, so I can sip in style. No seriously, I was looking for a Riedel beer glass, which doesn’t actually exist, but I came across these in Caban. I immediately decided I needed a pair. They are beautiful. Sort of a cross between a brandy snifter and a Bordeaux glass. Plus, they are in the Vinum series, which is the mid-level offering from Riedel, the world’s top wine glass manufacturer. I just finished my last bottle of St. Bernardus Abt 12 out of one of those.

The Abt 12 is probably my favorite beer of all time. It’s brewed in the small Belgian town of Watou, and is a Quadrupel brewed to a whopping 10% alcohol volume. This beer is serious. Molasses, coffee and a slight spiciness are dominant in this abbey brew. The only problem is its availability. In Calgary, the only place I know of it being available is Bin 905, an upscale wine shop on 4th St. There, a four pack of 330mL bottles will set you back $17. That’s a bit pricey. However, it is worth every penny and it’s not likely another beer like this will arrive soon (although I believe Bin 905, along with their selection of Carolus and Corsendonk, will be getting Westmalle in the fall). If you are familiar with Québec’s Unibroue, the Abt 12 is similar to Trois Pistoles, but with much greater clarity and cohesion amongst the flavors. Do not get me wrong, Trois Pistoles is one of the better beers around, but the Abt 12 is in a league of its own (well, along with say, Westlveteren). Check out Beer Advocate for reviews of these beers and their rankings. This site is comprehensive and has incredible support among craft beer enthusiasts. The Abt 12 last time I looked rated 11th in the world!

Cheers!

Post-vacation

So I returned to Calgary yesterday, only to be rained upon. This city is cold! It’s 8ºC out there, and raining. I really don’t want to walk to the train station for work.

My time in Nova Scotia was good. I had no plans, so I just went with the flow. Played some golf, snorkelled, went to the beach. One thing I did not do was have good espresso. You see, in Antigonish, coffee=Tim Horton’s. So, I went over to a cafe that opened up in the past two years since I’ve been there last, a place where my Mom said she had an alright latte.

I went in to this place, a neo-hippie cafe called the Tall Small (a great name!), and blew all of my previous safeguards against brutal espresso and ordered a double espresso. The girl at the counter looked slightly confused, so I clarified, and she got it, “Ah, a double expresso… of course.” I didn’t really care she didn’t know the proper term. I was on vacation. She told me she did not know how to use the machine, so she had to run upstairs to get this guy who looked like he had just rolled out of bed. Pretty funny stuff. Apparently, he “knew” how to use the machine.

But wait! I missed something! Beside their cute little one group semi-commercial Gaggia TS, there was no grinder! What? Where’s the grinder? Oh well, I had ordered, and whatever I got was likely going to be the very worst espresso I had ever consumed. Big deal. It’s only 2.50.

I got the drink. I couldn’t watch the guy scoop the ancient ground coffee out of some plastic container. I couldn’t watch him fumble about the machine. It was hilarious.

I got the drink, not in a demitasse, but a full blown cold coffee cup. It was probably 6-7 oz… full with a semi-opaque black liquid, with less crema than I get on my moka pot (read: zero crema). And guess what? It actually tasted alright… if I ordered an americano. Haha! No seriously, it was like an americano (hence those people who ask for an americano with the water just being pulled through constantly the group). Still, it wasn’t an espresso, and I sure as hell wouldn’t order an americano like that.

There, that’s my espresso story for my vacation. (NB: I do not wish to offend the proprietor/employees of the Tall Small. I liked the place, and would get food there, with some tea, but if you somehow find this post by googling your business… check out the links to the right on my page, and find out what real espresso is!)

On the other hand, I managed to get a frothing pitcher in Antigonish! They opened up a Superstore there, and they happened to have their houseware brand’s 20oz needlenose pitcher in stock. These things are a steal, when you can find them: $10 for the standard pitcher, at least 60% less in price than some stores I’ve seen carrying a similar product. It’s what I used to learn latte art on. I can’t wait for work today, when I can finally ditch the 32oz pitcher, except for those ridiculous 20oz drinks.

More news: I got my room assignment for UBC. I’ll be in Place Vanier’s Tec de Monterrey, an international house, in my own single room, so I can play whatever music I feel like, drink whenever I feel like it, and just do whatever the hell I want (within limits of course). My great pal Alex is in the same building, so it should be a party and a half. Can’t wait. So if anyone’s in Vancouver for a bit, stop by my place.

Ciao.

Pet Peeves

You know, the whole espresso scene is my big pet peeve. Here’s why:
1. Using the false term “expresso” instead of espresso.
2. Referring to the mysterious “espresso bean”. It does not exist. Gah!
3. Thinking a macchiato is a huge, caramel infused latte.
4. Maintaining that a carcinogenic level of roast is a prerequisite for espresso.
5. Refusing espresso/americanos on the basis that it will keep them up for the next decade.
6. Overextracted shots. “But I need to catch every bit of the shot!” “Umm… no.”
7. Dry foam.
8. Oversized drinks. 20 oz drinks are a crime. I mean, at my shop, our small is a 12 oz. That should be a large.
9. The addition of copious amounts of sugar or artificial sweetener to any drink.
10. People who think a specialty coffee house is similar to Tim Horton’s. Yeah right.
11. Espresso to go. (And yes, I used to do this all the time… times change.)
12. I could go on and on… but I won’t.

The root cause of this is miseducation or an entire lack of education in the coffee world. I am young, but I think this could be a niche for me in the future. The idea could be a multi-purpose shop with an espresso bar, coffee retail products and an education series of classes. Something like say, Calgary’s The Cookbook Company (a retail store combining classes, books, specialty foods and a small deli) or MetroVino (the same building, offering classes, wine glasses and accessories as well as fine wines). I could become the vector of change! Or I could get my biology degree. I think I’ll work on that first.


On tap

49th Parallel El Salvador La Montaña
Excellent coffee for everyday drinking. Well expressed acidity and classic El Salvador profile.

Bulleit Bourbon
By far the best bourbon available in BC for the price. $35 for a bottle gets you the highest rye content bourbon on the market. Lots of spice and typical bourbon corn sweetness. Excellent on its own, but also makes a mean Old Fashioned. Better than Knob Creek in my books and pretty close to Woodford Reserve.

The Phonograph

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