Archive for October, 2005

Puttin’ in the hours

I worked 15 hours this weekend. Saturday was my first eight hour shift since the summer, and it was tough. I was on bar the whole time, and it was, according to Brad, “a reasonably busy day”. In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad. I enjoyed making drinks, that’s for sure. I had the Black Cat dialed in nicely and the pours were spot on throughout the day.

Maybe it comes with the volume of customers that come through in Wicked, but there seems to be more people in Vancouver that appreciate artistry and a good espresso based drink. I had several compliments that were very flattering for the drinks I was building. One guy even recognized me from a few days back and told me how he really enjoyed a cappuccino I had made him. But, the best comment of the weekend went to a random customer who ordered a double espresso. When these are ordered, I go into alert mode and ensure that what I am serving is excellent (seriously!). So I set about pouring a shot, and he just hung out by the bar, which reminded me of my espresso bar habits. The first shot I poured looked excellent, so I served it to him. Dallas and I watched to see what his reaction would be to the shot. We asked, unobtrusively, what he thought of the double. He wouldn’t comment until the end of the shot. Dallas and I were in suspense. When he did finish, he came closer to the espresso machine and simply said, “That shot was phenomenal.” Yay! I was very glad, since my experience with pouring straight shots for people other than myself was pretty slim. I think I’m just getting started.

On the flip side, I came across many examples of not-so-great customers… haha… I heard “expresso” more than once, people asking for a macchiato who thought they were getting a big caramel soft drink (fortunately we clarified that one pretty quickly, though I thought at first he really did want the macchiato, but he retracted his request and asked for tea… oh well, we can’t win them all), the guy when asked how his double was (different guy), said “good, it was strong.” Yes. That is the point, espresso should be strong. Maybe he just speaks laconically.

Anyways, I should get back to math.

A guest

So yesterday, there was a bit of a Pearson revival at my place. First, Corri (PC 29) got in touch with Alex and said she was on campus for a bit. So we chilled out, talked about life and such. But, no offense to her, the big event of the night was that Rita (PC 30 Brasil) was supposed to be in Vancouver. Rita was a good friend of mine back at the college, and one of Alex’s as well. She also promised a bottle of cachaça, a Brazilian sugar cane distilled spirit. I had had this once before and it was crazy stuff.

We hadn’t been in touch since Thursday, and Alex and I were unsure of when she would be getting into Vancouver on the ferry from Victoria. So, we spent a bit mulling around, not knowing what to do, bought some beer for the weekend festivities, hung out with Corri, and then Alex went to a salsa party with some of our floor mates. So, I was walking around campus, when my phone rang, with Rita on the other end explaining she was at Totem! Yeah, so I walked to the other end of the campus and found her in the Totem commonsblock. Crazy.

That wasn’t much of a story. It was a bit more interesting being involved in it… I guess.

On the coffee side of things, I have noticed a recent trend on cGeek that there are a lot of noobies that are giving out some information that is either misguided or blatantly incorrect. Now, let me get this straight: I do not consider myself to be an all out expert… those are the people like Barry Jarrett, Greg Scace, David Schomer, Chris Tacy (well, I appreciate Tacy’s frank comments and rants)… the legends in the espresso/coffee industry. Maybe even throw in Mike Sivetz into that one. Then, these guys on cGeek post all kinds of stuff that centres around the stereotypes, or basic consumer knowledge of a product. And it’s wrong!

I mean, sure when I was a junior member, back in the day, I thought I knew what a good espresso was, and I didn’t, but that didn’t mean I was looking for better, my comments were mostly limited to where you could get a good shot in Calgary or Victoria. Or, when I had my Krups and my one-off promo machine I bought off eBay, I didn’t claim to know all kinds of stuff about quality espresso production. Even when I am at a quality cafe in Vancouver, and using a serious piece of equipment, I still know that I am learning and I have a lot to learn yet. I always will.

Accordingly, I adjust my posting habits. I post only where I know that what I am saying will be beneficial to the person. I will not post about the detractors of a double boiler machine in the home, or how to PID your Silvia. But people out there do! And they have no, or little experience, based on what they write. I guess they will learn. But I feel this is detrimental to the cGeek community, as noobs posting valid questions about their machine or techniques will get a load of crap that they don’t know how to filter through! Gah. I’ll leave it be.

Sometimes I wish I had more stuff….

You’d think my years at Pearson would help to subside my consumerist tendencies. I guess this is not the case. Because I want a digital camera. I want one so I can photograph the latte art I have been putting out. I’m not nearly at the standards of some of the experienced pros out there like the guys at Victrola… see their photostream on Flickr. They know what they’re doing. But, my art has come quite a long ways I think, since the good old days of pouring Christmas tree-like designs, or watching Jon put out something resembling a cactus. I think a rosetta I poured on Saturday had upwards of 20 leaves, if not more (in a 10 oz cup). Those cups we have are pretty conducive to art though, being bowl shaped and quite large in diameter. It’s fun. (For all you über-purists out there, no worries, I’m still ensuring my shots are top notch!)

In coffee news, I’ve been visiting Alistair’s Elysian Room as usual, where he kindly offered samples (of both coffee and beans) of a very high quality Kenya lot he had come in from Hines, though I unfortunately forgot the name of the farm. It was, as Alistair predicted, the best Kenyan I’ve had. A very clean, bright and fruity cup, similar to most quality Kenyans, but magnified. I had a total of 3 presses of it, and all 3 shone with the same characteristics.

On the beer front, I stumbled across a beer from France in a BC liquor store. It was at the till, with a sign simply stating it was a “one-time buy” and it received 96 points from some beer championship. I looked at the line behind me, and thought “why not?” It was after all, only $3.45 for the 33 cL bottle. I had never come across it on Beer Advocate, but I haven’t come across a lot of beers before. This was the La Choulette Ambrée. Must be a one-time buy, since the label is entirely in French (except for some Italian on the side), and importers usually add the English label before selling.

When I got back, I put it in the fridge and looked it up on BA. Sure enough, it was rated pretty well, and it was a style I had not yet attempted: Saison. This got me excited, because Saison is a Belgian farmhouse style ale and is quite rare these days. The BA rating was 88, a score that’s pretty good, and consistent with my favorite beers from Unibroue and a lot of Belgian Brasseries. Anything above 85 is, for the most part, a very palatable beer.

Opening it up, it didn’t have the tendrils of vapor typical of other Belgian styles. No problem there though. So, I poured it into my glass and admired the color. It was as the label said, “Ambrée”. Beautiful. The head was huge and persistent, and it appeared to prevent a fair bit of volatiles and aromatics from escaping. It had a nose of a beer darker than itself, with notes of molasses, raisins (though not of the strength of the Thomas Hardy’s Ale barleywine) and a bit of spice (nutmeg?). Tasting it, it had one of the best mouthfeels of any beer I have had. It was extremely smooth with very little carbonation evident on the tongue. The taste was similar to the nose, and was quite dry. Not much sweetness in this one, which makes Saison somewhat unique stylistically. There was a bit of nuts in the finish, which I found to be hazelnut, but Alex said it was more along the lines of cashew or brazil nuts.

If you are in Vancouver, go to the Arbutus liquor store and buy some. You will not regret it. I would put it as one of the top beers I have had in awhile, beating out some Trappist and Trappist-style ales. It’s too bad there’s only a case of this stuff.

Esmeralda

This past week has been eventful. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Alistair of the Elysian Room I got the chance to taste both the number three and number one Panamanian auction lots for 2005. Yes, I got to try the Esmeralda Special and the Carmen Estate. These coffees are incredible.

The Carmen is a coffee that could be compared to other top Central American coffees. It has a similar profile to Intelligentsia’s Tortuga from Honduras, although I find the Tortuga to be more bright in the finish than the Carmen. It is a wonderful coffee, excellent for the evening. I didn’t really manage to get any sort of tasting notes when I was drinking it, and I must say my palate is still developing… I am nowhere near the level of where I want to be, so I won’t get too detailed.

The Esmeralda is beyond coffee. I managed to get a total of about 10 oz., pressed by Drew at Elysian. 19g/3.5 minute extraction in a 12 oz Bodum was the first press, the second one was the larger press with 45g (30 oz press?). I spent almost a minute just getting my head around the aroma. Being in a coffee shop, I am guessing my perception of a “coffee” smell would have been diminished, but the dominant aroma seemed to be something like oolong tea, surprisingly flowery. It has substantial body (at least, this is what I found… I have seen comments saying it may be less than other Centrals… I thought it was fairly heavy) and is very smooth. The Esmeralda almost comes across as not being coffee. More like tea. If you ever get an opportunity to try this coffee, go out of your way to taste it. Seriously.

Other than the tastings, I have been busy with school. It’s midterm time at UBC. Tomorrow is a physics exam. Should be alright.

There’s some great bands coming to Vancouver still. It’s never ending here. I hope to see Shout Out Out Out Out, Stars, and Broken Social Scene. On Thursday night, Luke Chable, a DJ from Australia is spinning records, and I really want to see him, but financial and sleep factors are restricting. It’s too bad… he’s just finished up a collaboration with local breaks gurus Shiloh. Gah. I’ll console myself by getting out to see Stars in November. Mmm… Stars.

I like this idea

So, while I was checking a variety of blogs, I ran across a new article on Chris Tacy’s Godshot. Check out his writing here. His idea is one that I haven’t really considered, but it makes a ton of sense. Mind you, I don’t think I’m entirely like that. So Brad, if you’re reading this, don’t worry, I’m not converting.

“We’re bastards, we’re surly – but we know coffee, we’re passionate about coffee and we’re going to get you the best damn coffee you’ve ever had.” Tacy.

Called to bar… well, the espresso bar

I did some bar training today. Well, it was kind of more like learn how to make drinks the Wicked way. With a LM Swift grinder that doses and tamps for you, it’s kind of hard to mess it up (although we were having some extraction issues for a while, more likely due to the new espresso machine). I had art on almost every drink made (I can think of only 2 or 3 out of many more than that that didn’t). I think my best of the day was either a rosetta in a stainless steel to go cup with Lactaid milk, or it was the inverse art poured into a mocha (sort of a lighter outline around a rosetta). I had an incredible time. It was like being in heaven. Seriously, if heaven was pouring drinks for discerning customers all the time, I would… well… be in heaven. Apparently the day was pretty busy for a Saturday.

Oh yeah, and the machine I was pouring on? This was the La Marzocco GB5 (serial number 0017), the first one of its kind in a cafe in Canada. This is it’s 3rd day in action. There’s still some issues, and ergonomically it’s not quite the go-to machine (one hot water tap, steam wands aren’t quite my style, drip tray is too narrow, etc). But, it’s supposed to be the machine to challenge the Synesso. I’m pretty sure when we get it tuned it will be a solid performer. Maybe when Brad gets that Robur, hahaha.

Anyways, I loved working today. The people who come into Wicked are awesome, and the people that work there are too.

Nick from Elysian dropped by today. He thought it was a pretty good shot of Black Cat (whether that was a white lie to keep my spirits up, or it was a good shot is up in the air… I am pretty sure it was a nice shot). He’s apparently picked up another barisa position at the JJ on Granville Island. Very cool.

I’m back on duty Tuesday, where I think there is a coffee tasting session after my shift, so I’ll probably be at that too prepping the coffees… I will volunteer my time for that one. Speaking of which, if anyone is interested in attending the coffee tasting, there may still be some spots. Sign up today or tomorrow at Wicked (ask the barista where the sheet is on our board) and I’ll see you on Tuesday!


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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