Archive for December, 2005

Visiting/Visitors

What do you do when you visit somebody’s house and you find out that your reputation as a “coffee expert” has preceded you? Everybody was hesitant to serve me coffee at the few places we visited over the holidays. I tell them if I ask for it, I can’t complain, and I won’t. Have I been disappointed yet? No! Everyone seems to be using smaller roastery beans (well, for Calgary), and I don’t think anyone had preground. The only thing I am finding is that most cups aren’t complex. But that makes sense, none of the coffee used is very fresh, nor ground properly, but I haven’t had a bad cup (all drunk black). Even so, I try to add a few comments of places for improvement while praising what they’re doing right.

Back in Calgary

I’ve finished my first term at university, and I’ve managed pretty good marks considering I’ve been working upwards of 20 hours a week at the café alongside a full course load. I’m still waiting on my physics grade, but other than that, it’s looking pretty good. I scraped through Math 102 – Differential Calculus with Applications to the Life Sciences, an incredibly difficult course that I was actually afraid of failing. I got a B-, not too shabby if I may say so myself considering a B average is all that’s needed for scholarship consideration, and I’ve got an A- as it sits now.

To stave off the lack of good quality fresh coffee in Calgary I brought back a fair bit of Hines and Intelligentsia for myself and others. My assortment includes Intelly Cruz del Sur and La Planada Tres Santos as well as Hines Carmen Panama and the Oromia Ethiopia Sidamo. They’ve all held up nicely and are very, very enjoyable coffees.

I’ve yet to get out really in the city so far, but all I do know is that I am not enjoying the suburban life. There’s nothing going on, nowhere to go and I’m bored. Oh well, I think I’m headed to downtown today.

I probably won’t be blogging much here, since I don’t have a dedicated internet hookup and I have to steal the ethernet cable from the family’s desktop. But, it is the holidays. To all my readers, friends and random google visitors, I wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah or your choice of holiday. I hope everyone’s out there, drinking a quality beverage of sorts. I know for Christmas evening, I’ve got a bottle of Koningshoeven Trappist Quadrupel waiting for me.

Music of the year

Well, I don’t feel like cross-posting, so here’s a link to my top albums list of 2005. Check it out, you might find something to listen to in all that, or something to argue with me about…

The Top 10 (wait, 11, erm, 12) Albums of the Year

Would it work?

Over on the Coffeed forums, Jay Caragay of Jay’s Shave Ice and Hawaiian Coffee, posted these words from the latest Restaurant Hospitality magazine:

“I won’t change a recipe to make it more American. Also, customers want the same cuisine they have experienced in my other restaurants. If there is a request and we have the ingredients, we can prepare it. But if I am asked to put caramel on top of a steak, I will not do it.”
Joel Robuchon

I love it. But it got me thinking about coffee, as Jimmy Oneschuk made a jesting comment about foodies and flavoured syrups not getting along so well. People do not go (or at least, I should sure hope not) to a three star Michelin restaurant and ask for significant modifications to their meals. They do not ask for different glassware for their wine nor a different method for the preparation of their beverage. Why then does this happen in the top espresso bars?

It is a cultural difference, I know, and I am stretching the analogy, as has been done with the wine versus coffee analogy.

But think about the repercussions. I think where I am headed with this is the model espresso bar, as proposed by Chris Tacy, and somewhat manifest in the Elysian Room.

The ideal bar would serve only the best, would pay the barista living wages, and would refuse any modifications on your drink. Put the trust in the barista! That way, every drink is made to fully evoke the characteristics of the coffee, never diluting it, and never breaking from the roots – it is the coffee industry, not the soft drink industry. It is a harsh concept, and is decidedly elitist, exclusive and likely to fail. But maybe with the right location, clientele and atmosphere, it could work.

To increase the reach of such a business, why not make it a bar with only the best of three drinks I enjoy? Coffee of course, but add high quality tea and beer to the roster. The tea would be similar to coffee, and would be prepared to the highest standards in a press, not relegated to a simple bag as so many teas are. Possibly a rotating selection, a few representative blacks such as a fine Darjeeling, Assam, etc. My favorites would have to be present, hand rolled or curled oolongs from Taiwan as well as some greens. I would likely do away with Rooibos or any alternative to tea.

Beer would be a difficult product to incorporate, and I have yet to visit Stumptown’s location with the taps. From what I have heard, I would have something similar, with rotating taps, featuring either local craft beers or, if I could get them, Belgian ales. The bottle selection would be great, with emphasis on crafts and Belgians too, served in brewery glassware or suitable alternatives (imagine Riedel Vinums).

I know this entire concept is very much a dream, but who knows? If current awareness of the incredible potential for these drinks in centers like Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco does reach a critical mass, a viable business may be a possibility.

I am awash

Yes, I am awash in good coffee at the moment. In fact, this may be the first time I have had so much superior coffee in my life. I’m pressing at this very moment a natural process Ethiopia Sidamo from Hines. It smells incredible. And it tastes incredible. I have seen tasting notes on this coffee around from the poetic types, and it does live up to it’s strawberry characteristics, though I am slightly hesitant on the neapolitan ice cream tag. I find it has a spicey aroma, nutmeg being quite present, and this carries through in the taste profile. The Sidamo reminds me of Christmas, with that warm spiciness. Oh, wait, this neapolitan is starting to come through as the cup cools! Wow! The finish is nice, long and smooth, with all of the notes just tapering off gently.

It will be tough being in Calgary, without a third wave shop to frequent. But I’ll have a couple pounds of either Intelly or Hines to keep me and my family satisfied for the two weeks.

I’ve started Christmas shopping. I’m stumped as to what to get the females in my family. My brother’s gift has been acquired, and I am admittedly jealous of what he’s getting from me. I want it.

Oh well. Tonight is the night I will break out the Rochefort Trappiste 8 which I have been saving for no particular occasion. I’ve got some Bleu de Basques and some croccantini from Les Amis Du Fromage in Kitsilano to accompany the beer. The little bits I’ve snuck from my wedge of the cheese are very, very nice.

That’s all for today’s news. Geology exam tomorrow morning.

Carmen

Well, I’ve gotten over my separation from the GS3… we were never meant to be, but I think we’re still friends.

I spent some time pondering differential equations and other facets of my first year calculus course at the Elysian Room today. It was really busy in there, which took me by surprise at first, because on my way over to Elysian, on the 17 bus route, I was pondering how a place like Higher Ground (on Vine and Broadway?) can be packed as I went past, whereas Elysian is often not at capacity. Maybe it has something to do with this, I thought, but maybe not. Maybe the location is too out of the way, but I don’t think it is, really. But I walked in, and the place was one table away from capacity, and then it was at capacity as I sipped on my excellent cappuccino.

Customer demographics and dynamics fascinate me. Like, why in Calgary would people ask for soup on a 30°C day, when during a period of rain for a week and temperatures barely in the double digits, we would not get a single order? It really was puzzling. Vancouver seems to be a bit more predictable with that, but then the other day, I had 5 (!) orders for smoothies when it was a few degrees above zero. I hadn’t had a smoothie order in several shifts. It’s puzzling.

Anyways, back to the coffee.

I acquired a half pound of the 2005 Auction Lot Panama Carmen Estate. Yes, the famous lot that sold for $8.60 a pound at auction. I decided it was too good to let it run away from me again, so I picked up the last of it. I’m sipping on a press right now. So good. And unfortunately, due to my lack of cupping confidence and undeveloped palate, I am not going to publish my “notes”… you’ll have to get some yourself.

Traffic

Well, I’ve received a bunch of traffic, with increasing referrals from Google. Today, I got a hit from somebody at the American House of Representatives! Who’s skipping off work? No, in all seriousness, I appreciate my readers (they are few, but I was surprised about where and how they get here). Leave a comment, all you regulars!


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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