Archive for May, 2006

A concept

To make up for my rant, I will push a concept I came up with a few weeks ago.

Many of the “gourmet” shopping spots I have frequented have too many ties to one particular theme. It might be an Italian grocer/deli serving Illy, or maybe it is a place aimed at a wealthy clientele, bringing in foodstuffs with recognizable names at luxury prices.

My idea is to forget about the brands, the countries of origin, the reputations. I would like to have a market where the best of the best is displayed to my customers. I will have products from all over that have been selected by me, or someone I trust, regardless of whether it is Appelation Origine Controlee or not, produced by the same family for 10 generations or not, made with organics or not. Everything will be the best. My coffee will be the best, hopefully from one of the major third wave roasters, say Intelligentsia, Stumptown or Counter Culture. Maybe all three? The cheese will be incredible, as will the sausages and other meats. I will support local when I can, but I will not limit myself to that. But, why bring in artisanal honey from Tuscany when I can bring in similar products produced in the foothills of Alberta or the Okanagan? Hopefully no one wishes to argue on the basis that Western Canadian honeys are subpar on a world scale… I am simply using it as an example.

I would also love to serve and sell alcohol there too. Imagine the best of the Pacific Northwest’s craft brewers being poured alongside Trappist ales. My vodka selection would be unparalleled…

At least I can dream…

Beware, the rant follows

The process of making decent espresso is not difficult. The Italians have the 4 M guidelines, drawing attention to the blend, the machine, the grinder and the barista. It only takes a bit of effort between these four to achieve drinkable results resembling true espresso.

The machine and grinder (Macchina e Macinazione):
I’ve always been astounded at the price differences between different manufacturers. There appears to be no correlation between price and quality either… Purchases of major pieces of equipment seem to be guided by either brand or dealer loyalty. I respect this to a point. It just bothers me that there are incredible pieces of equipment out there, often for less than local prices for mediocre machines, and business owners still settle for the mediocre. As long as your machine is well maintained, service issues shouldn’t be the dominant factor in the espresso machine decision.

Also, grinders. Working more and more with different grinders has made me realize why there is such negative talk around espresso grinders. I was spoiled with using a Mazzer Major, as there are much worse out there. When the grinder collar is hot to the touch after moderate operation, you’ve got a problem. When a notch on the adjustment (who has stepped adjustments on their commercial grinders anyways?) is equal to 8 seconds in pour difference, you have bigger problems. When you are pulling shots in the notoriously variable Southern Alberta climate, you run into issues that are debilitating for a quality cafe. Yes, I am frustrated with grinder manufacturers.

The blend (Miscele):
You need fresh stuff. I have fresh stuff. It’s not that expensive as far as I know. Comparable to less fresh stuff from larger scale roasters in the area. Probably less expensive than the ridiculous status symbol of imported espresso from Italy. You also need a blend that is capable of being poured as a short shot. I also have this, but almost every place in my city doesn’t. Oh well. At least it’s available somewhere.

The barista (Mano):
The skilled hand. We are plagued by a labour shortage in Alberta, but I think we are most plagued by a lack of passion. Espresso is not an impossibility. You do not need to be hefty or male to tamp with enough pressure. You just need to concentrate on the task at hand, focussing on details that are not even considered by 90% of anyone who has ever touched a portafilter. I am living proof. I taught myself by watching skilled baristas in Victoria pour shots and reading the forums at Coffeegeek. The same story is valid for my latte art. I have not been formally trained by anyone, ever. But I happen to have a passion for the bean.

With that, I will end this rant. I had a bad espresso at a Calgary cafe today (not my own, thankfully), something I have not had in awhile. That’s my justification.

I’m Still Alive

I am kicking around Calgary still… but not blogging. I haven’t had all that much to talk about (at least that which I feel like talking about).

I’ve started a tasting journal in the past few days. My idea is too keep all kinds of notes and entries on all kinds of food and drink related things. Writing things down in something like that allows my mind to focus more on the task at hand and not worry about producing content for an audience. Hopefully, this medium will allow me to develop my confidence at things like cupping and critical wine or beer tastings.

I’m also in search for ingredients in a signature drink for espresso. What this drink will be is nowhere near decided. But, seeing as how the Cookbook Company Cooks is a few blocks from work I will likely be spending a bit of time there exploring all the goodies offered there. My idea is go join the bandwagon on trying to emphasize a particular trait of the espresso I’m working with. I’m also going to try to keep the drink small and powerful… we’ll see what my non-creative mind can come up with!

(Random music news: I’ll be going to see Chad Vangaalen on Saturday!)

Back in Calgary

I’ve been loose with my posting this past little while. It doesn’t help when you’re at home and you have no router or wireless network to use, but instead have to wait until the family office is free and you can take the ADSL modem cable… Soon I may have that wireless network… or I’ll have to resort to posting from my new Motorola Razr (with full high speed EV-DO internet access)!

If I hadn’t mentioned it before, or you hadn’t gleaned it from the comments, I am back in my hometown of Calgary where I will be living with my family for the next four months in between semesters at school. I have picked up a job, and you can email me as to where I will be working. I will be remaining in the coffee industry but due to a request I will be refraining from posting about work here. That’s perfectly fine, as I will try to take my blog in a more technical direction.

A couple of days ago I spent a good amount of time with my friend Shaun pulling shots and discussing coffee. It was a good chat, distanced from the politics of Vancouver. Shaun homeroasts, and does a fine job at it. His first pull off of his Expobar Brewtus II was excellent – a complex nutty espresso. After the espresso session I was offered a bottle of my favorite beer, the St Bernardus Abt 12, a Belgian quadrupel. I gladly accepted and we enjoyed the mountain view in the sun.

Speaking of beer, I was worried I may not be able to enjoy myself as much in Alberta as I have in BC with regards to microbrew and artisanal European beers. I guess I had been out of the province for a bit. Stopping in at Willow Park Liquor, Calgary’s largest quality selection of alcoholic beverages, resulted in an eyeopener. There’s a lot of great new stuff being introduced to the Calgary market. Unibroue is well represented, with not only the 750 mL cage-and-corked bottles of nearly every one of their beers (Raftman, Quelque Chose and Édition 2005 included!) but with 6 packs of Fin du Monde and others. St. Bernardus was there too, but only in the Tripel. Deus, Bière du Champagne is in stock along with the great Trappist ales of Rochefort and Orval. Wild Rose, a small Calgary brewery is offering their beers in six packs. Tree (Hophead IPA is one of my favorites) is also around as are the offerings of the Yukon Brewing Company. But, one of the best new offerings available are Rogue Ales from Newport, Oregon. Rogue has a reputation of being one of the finest American microbreweries, and their 650 mL bottles from a few select ales are available at Willow Park. I’ve had two, the Juniper Pale Ale and the Hazelnut Brown Nectar, and they have been excellent. I have their Shakespeare Stout, one of their finest offerings according to the folks at BeerAdvocate.com, waiting for me. The summer won’t be so lonely then. But, it could be better. When will Alberta get to taste the wonders of the Phillips IPA (or the double IPA!)?


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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