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February 28, 2006

Home Coffee Roaster From Popcorn Maker

Engadget shows How-To: Make a popcorn popper coffee roaster.

Making a coffee-roaster froma popcorn maker? With pictures.

Loud Music to Drive Out Wi-Fi Users?

At Starbucks Gossip: Is Starbucks cranking up the music to annoy the wi-fi crowd?

Ghirardelli 72% Dark Chocolate

I went back to that local specialty shop for another bar of the Ghiradelli dark chololate that I mentioned the other day. It is called "Ghirardelli Twilight Delight 72% Cacao." Yes, that's how they spelled it - see for yourself:


They are referring to Theobroma cacao, the cacao tree, a tropical tree native to Central America and South America, the beans of which are used to make cocao power and chocolate.

I can't find this product at the Ghiradelli website. In fact, I was able to locate it at only one place on the web.

It has a very rich flavor. Not sweet but also not bitter. I like it as well as, if not better than most dark chocolates I have tried. Sure, it's intense, but I've gotten used to very dark chololate now so the intensity doesn't shock me. In fact, I think I'll have to try a little bit more for you now.

February 24, 2006

Blog Stuff

I'm in one of my typical blogging postures - parked outside a Starbucks, with a fresh Peet's coffee. Peet's doesn't offer wireless but I can get it here in the Starbucks parking lot. It has been a busy time at the pesky day job, and the cold is still going on, both of which have been keeping me from blogging much here, and I'm looking for people interested in sharing this blog. Let me know if you love coffee, tea, dark chocolate and are intereted.

Meanwhile I tried a special Ghiradelli dark chocolate the other day -- that I can't find on their website! I'm pretty sure it was a 72% cocoa bar, that I got at a local specialty shop. It was very, very good.

So, darn it, I'm ging to have to go back to the same place and buy another bar to taste so I can write about it here! The trouble I go to!

February 18, 2006

Ugly Mug

I was in Santa Cruz for a little while today. Soquel, actually. On the way we stopped to pick up a chai. The thing about Santa Cruz is, almost anywhere you stop is going to be a great place with great chai.

First we stopped at Dharma's but the line was too long and we were in a hurry. (Story about Dharms follows). (Yes I know Dharmas is in Capitola.)

Then we stopped at The Ugly Mug in Soquel. I hadn't been there before. What a great place! Full of people chatting, reading, computing... And one of the best, peppery chais I've had. Here's their website: Corporate Coffee Still Sucks. I recommend a visit.

So there's a storyabout Dharma's. They used to be named McDharma's. So McDonald's sued them. McDonald's won, and they changed the name to Dharma's, but with a 'Mc' in front of it with a red circle that had a diagonal cross through it around the 'Mc', the universal "not" sign. So it was "NOT McDharmas." So McDonald's sued again and won, and now it's just Dharma's. The best vegetarian food you can get. Actually, there are a lot of places in Santa Cruz with the best vegetarian food you can get.

February 17, 2006

Throat Coat

I've got a bad cold. AND I'm doing my taxes. AND it's raining. AND it's cold. So it's a foul mood day, not a blogging day.

It's also a good day for Throat Coat tea. It's a slippery elm-based tea that soothes the throat. It works for me.

February 14, 2006

A libertarian goes to Starbucks

Dave and I come from often opposed ends of the political spectrum. He runs a "red meat" progressive weblog, while I'm loosely affiliated with the libertarian public policy scene in Washington, DC. But we're united by our desire to cross ideological boundaries and by our love for great coffee. So when Dave invited me to write a guest post on "a libertarian perspective on coffee," I was intrigued.

By way of an introduction, I should note that I'm not a full-time policy analyst. I left the 9-5 think tank world a couple years ago to work behind the bars at two of Washington's top coffee shops, places committed to elevating coffee and espresso preparation to a culinary art. In this world, Starbucks is an apparent nemesis, replacing skillful baristas with automatic machines, driving indie coffee houses out of business, and submerging its burnt espresso in heaps of milk and syrup.

Yet as a libertarian, I'm tend to have a more optimistic view of culture, seeing a corporation like Starbucks as, if not a hero, at least as a neutral or relatively harmless force amid robust and dynamic consumer preferences. I shouldn't denigrate the company just because it's big and successful. After all, it succeeds by offering people a product they want and willingly purchase.

So what's a guy like me to do? If I find that my generally favorable view of consumer culture falls apart in the area I happen to care most about, that's a real test of my views. So after talking with Dave, we decided a post about Starbucks' ambiguous role in promoting cafe culture would be a good place to start thinking about libertarianism and coffee.

Let's begin with the easy issue: Starbucks is driving independent coffee shops out of business. Anecdotally, this may seem obviously true. Many people can name a favorite coffee shop that went out of business soon after a Starbucks moved into the neighborhood. The fact is, though, that Starbucks is creating a market, not destroying it. Growth in both independent and corporate coffee shops has been huge over the past fifteen years, thanks in large part to consumers being introduced to specialty coffee drinks in the safe confines of their local Starbucks.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America, a leading trade group, tracks American retail sales. In 1989, the SCAA estimates there were 585 coffee houses operating in the U.S. By 1995 that number had risen to 5,000. By 2003, there were 17,400 shops in operation.

Starbucks growth is notable, but it's far from the sole factor driving these new shop openings. The SCAA reports that 57% of the shops open in 2003 were independent, having only one to three locations. Microchains (4-9 units) made up another 3% of the market. All the large chains combined make up the remaining 40%. [Source .pdf]

A 2004 article in the Willamette Weekly finds a similar pattern at work in Portland. In 2003, a misguided miscreant attempted to blow up a new Starbucks in a neighborhood where residents claimed to not want the imperial corporate giant. But a survey of the local yellow pages reveals that indie shops were doing just fine in Portland:

According to the Portland Yellow Pages, before Starbucks came to Portland in 1989, there were 28 coffee shops in the city. Today, there are 91 non-Starbucks coffeehouses in Portland proper, compared with the chain's 48 stores within city limits.

Bellisimo Coffee Infogroup, a consulting company for coffee shops, notes that Starbucks plays an important role in giving people their first gourmet coffee experience, after which they can and often do branch out to try out other sources. Tully's, a smaller chain, agrees, intentionally locating new stores in the vicinity of existing Starbucks locations. In the same Willamette article, one coffee expert gets perhaps a bit too effusive, but his point is well made:

"Every morning, I bow down to the great green god for making all of this possible," says Ward Barbee, publisher of the Portland-based coffee trade magazine Fresh Cup.

So on the charge that Starbucks kills small business, the Mermaid is mostly off the hook. But what about the coffee itself? I'll probably offend a few Starbucks fans by saying this, but there's a lot to dislike about the way they prepare it.

Despite promising beginnings, in recent years the coffee lovers at Starbucks have lost out to the MBAs in the company's rapid expansion. Instead of skillfully tamping espresso by hand, today's Starbucks baristas employ push button machines that take much of the art out of the job. Add to that the bulk milk frothing, the frappuccinos, and the increasingly sweetened varieties of latte, and the company has become less and less like a gourmet coffee operation and more like a fast food restaurant. Don't even get me started on the crime against naming conventions that is the "caramel macchiato."

Given this list of sins, it would be easy for me to slip into coffee snob mode and lambast the company for degrading consumer preferences, but to do so would be to misunderstand the formative role it has played in American cafe culture. On net, Starbucks has done more than any other company to introduce people to quality coffee and espresso drinks. I was one of those initial converts. Growing up in the Houston suburb of Spring, TX in the 1990s, it was where I had my first taste of espresso drinks and, just as importantly, discovered the pleasure of relaxing in a coffee shop. At the time I enjoyed big lattes and mochas, sipping them awkwardly through a straw as I sat in a big, comfy, purple chair. (I eventually learned to ditch the straw, but I still love those chairs.)

The history of coffee retail is more complicated than simply good coffee vs. bad coffee. People involved in the specialty coffee industry describe Americans' love of coffee transitioning through three waves, a concept promoted by Trish Skeie of Taylor Maid Farms. In the first wave, coffee was served as a mostly undifferentiated commodity, marketed more for its stimulative qualities or as a breakfast accompaniment than for its flavor. Pre-ground or even instant coffees were the order of the day. A great example of this mindset is this 1984 "coffee achiever" ad, showing how celebrities like David Bowie, Kurt Vonnegut, and Kenny Anderson attain success running on caffeine fuel. Notice the slight wince as Cicely Tyson takes a sip during rehearsal. It's so bad, she has to slap her director in the face. Now that's motivation!

In the second wave Americans begun hanging out in coffee shops and drinking espresso based coffee drinks. While its roots stretch back to the espresso revolution of the 1950s, it didn't reach its peak until Starbucks emerged out of Seattle and swept the country. The company rapidly expanded this market, introducing consumers to new ways of enjoying their coffee, raising their standards, and giving specialty coffee a trendy, gourmet cachet.

In the third wave, the goal is to complete the evolution of coffee from commodity to connoisseur beverage. In essence, specialty coffee needs to become more like wine. You wouldn't buy a bottle of wine labeled solely by country of origin and with no vintage date, yet people buy coffee like this all the time. Changing this means using detailed labeling, not just by country but by the specific grower or even the individual lot of beans. It means putting the roast date on every bag, ensuring freshness. And it means investing in the equipment and the training necessary to make sure that the best qualities of each coffee are brought out when it is finally served to the customer, or else the rest is all for naught.

Starbucks is clearly not a part of this third wave, but so what? For there is no third wave without a second to precede it. Even now, while Starbucks can't deliver the quality I'd like on the scale on which it operates, I'm glad to see one of its kiosks when I walk into an airport lobby for an early morning flight. I can get better coffee in the airport now than I could a decade ago. The same could be said for almost any other spot in America, thanks either directly to Starbucks or to the smaller shops filling in the market it helped create.

Coming back to the original question, my take on Starbucks has to be more nuanced than loving or hating it. Starting out by raising the bar of high end coffee, it created niche markets for even better specialty coffee retailers even as its own quality leveled off. Similarly, though it has been a homogenizing force as it has spread into every retail corner imaginable, it has left consumers with a far more diverse selection of coffee drinks and coffee houses than they had access to ten years ago.

I realize consumer culture doesn't always have such happy resolutions, but in the coffee case things seems to be working out quite nicely. The artisanal cappuccino sippers and the venti caramel macchiato gulpers can co-exist, each of them finding more possibilities for enjoyment than they've ever seen before. Drink up and be happy.

-- Jacob Grier authors the weblog Eternal Recurrence and drinks way too much espresso.

February 10, 2006

Chai

I'm from Santa Cruz, which might as well be called "chai-town" (apologies to Chicago). There are probably more places that serve chai, and more varieties of chai in Santa Cruz than anywhere outside of India. There are varieties of the Starbucks-like commercial sweet chai, and there are great peppery chais like Nub Chai.

I drink a very, very spicy, peppery "Masala Chai" that I get in a plastic bag from a local Indian grocery store/fast food place named DeeDee's. It is a powder containing all the spices but not the tea itself intended for mixing into your own cup of tea. This is great for decaf drinkers. I think they make the powder themselves. The first time I bought it the woman at the counter told me "only put a little bit in! You will burn your mouth! Only 1/4 teaspoon!"

To make this chai I start with a cup of black tea, regular or decaf. I add 1/4 teaspoon (no more!) of the chai powder. I'm not a milk-drinker so I fill a little more than 1/4 of the cup with soy milk, and a teaspoon or two of honey. Then I heat it in the microwave because the soy milk cools it down. The result is very good, rich, satisfying. And spicy hot!

The kind of soy milk I use is very important, for this and other teas. I use Vitasoy Classic Original because it has a great taste and a very rich texture, almost like cream. Note that some marketing genius at Vitasoy recently renamed their products, and renamed their regular soy milk as "Creamy Original." Well don't buy it, it is not creamy at all. It took some time for me to learn that the older, creamy soy milk is still available, and has been renamed "Classic Original." Look for Classic Original.

I'd like to know what your favorite chai is.

February 8, 2006

Cereal?

In other business news, Starbucks Gossip has an Advertising Age report, Starbucks and Kellogg to test-market cereal offering to test-market:

special Starbucks cups filled with Kellogg low-fat granola, ready for steamed milk or special add-ins
.

Starbucks - Iced Coffee in Grocery Stores

Starbucks Plans to Launch Iced Coffee,

Starbucks Corp., the world's largest specialty coffee retailer, on Wednesday said it plans to launch Starbucks Iced Coffee, a ready-to-drink product, in grocery stores and company-owned locations later this year.

The company plans to launch the iced coffee drink at its stores in late March, followed by grocery and convenience stores, which will sell regular and light varieties nationally starting in May.

February 7, 2006

Russian Caravan

I was in a Peet's today to get a large decaf, and they had just put out a pot of their Russian Caravan tea. I tried a taste and wasn't ready for what happened. I'm not a big tea drinker, but I had an immediate, strong, positive reaction. This is a bold-tasting tea. It has a smoky flavor, a depth, the over-used word "dark," but smooth and not bitter at all, and for some reason I had an almost emotional reaction. I actually felt for a second like I was in a tent on the steppes hundreds of years ago, a fire heating us, surrounded by Cossacks and Mongolians, haggling over furs.

I am not a tea buyer I'm a coffee drinker. But I bought a tin of this, and will be enjoying it on occasion.

Here is the Peet's description of Russian Caravan,

Well-rounded blend of China blacks, with a full, smooth, slightly smoky flavor.

This tea is not of Russian origin, but is a blend in the tradition of the 19th century Russian tea trade. Horse and camel caravans would spend sixteen months making the roundtrip journey to eastern China and back, arriving in the Russian capital laden with chests of tea. The tea quite likely aged a bit during its long journey, and “Russian Caravan” tea probably improved with the opening of the trans-Siberian railroad. Peet’s Russian Caravan is our own blend of China black teas with a full, smooth, and smoky flavor.

February 3, 2006

Bought It

I liked the Peaberry Especial so much I bought a pound. Brewed up another pot a little while ago. Considering that I usually drink decaf these days... HE-YAAH! Good stuff!

Peaberry Especial

The new Peet's Peaberry Especial is fabulous. I brought in a one-cup travel-press unit and they made me a sample.

Peet's says the coffee is a blend of Columbian, Tanzanian and New Guinea peaberries. It has a smoothnes that reminds me very much of their Kona Reserve.

February 2, 2006

Quick Notes

My local Peet's finally has some Peaberry Especial. I'll sample it tomorrow morning and write up a review. Meanwhile, my British wife solves the decaf tea problem by drinking Celestial Seasonings Caffeine-Free Tea. She loves it.

February 1, 2006

Caffeine-no-more

From Anne -

I gave up caffeine about a year ago, after I had anxiety problems and ended up in the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. The state of the world has most to do with it, but I've found that caffeine was a significant component. I miss good black tea the most.

Because of my tea addiction, which had a ritual component to it (my husband's family is English), I've spent a lot of time and money trying to find truly good decaffeinated black tea. I have failed. Admittedly, the tea I used to drink was sort of the espresso of tea: an Irish blend called Lyons Gold. It made a very assertive, malty, brisk cup of tea. Non tea-drinkers who came to our house and were offered a cuppa would be served Lyons steeped perhaps 3 minutes (we always went for 5), with milk and no sugar unless they requested it. We made quite a few converts. "Oh, so THIS is what tea is supposed to be like!" Restaurants who bring you a metal pot of hot water and a separate tea bag are committing a crime against good tea-brewing practices. But that's another story.

Since I've had to remove caffeine from my life, I've tried dozens of decaf teas. All are pallid, many have a peculiar ashy taste that I've observed in some low-quality tea. Even double-bagging it (or double-scooping loose tea) doesn't change the bare fact: something that gives black tea its richness and body appears to go away when the tea is decaffeinated. Flavored teas, while never my favorite, are the best substitute I've found so far; whether the bergamot, spices, or mango flavoring adds a little body, covers the ashy taste, or both I don't know. From ordering my tea online via British Express, I've gone to picking up a box of Bigelow's decaf Constant Comment at the local grocer. It's almost as shameful as switching from Peet's to 7-11.

The best decaf Earl Grey I've found is a loose tea by an outfit in Connecticut called "Harney & Sons". After trying that and liking it, I was trembling with excitement to try their bagged ceylon. It had had good reviews. Maybe I had finally found something I could drink with that gut-deep sigh of enjoyment that Lyons used to give me! The color in the cup was OK, the fragrance a bit worrisome. And the taste... ashy. Sigh.


The good news is that without my minimum requirement of two strong cups of Lyons per day, one in the morning and one sometime between 1-4pm, I'm drinking a lot more herbal teas - and drinking them without the feeling that
I'm missing something. When I'm ill, I can get up in the morning and immediately drink something good for me, without having to put my kidneys aswim by double fisting it - a cup of "real" tea in my right hand, "health" tea in my left. Since the decaf teas just don't compare to the real thing, I can dispense with them effortlessly (and look Ma - no headache!).

Chai is another drink that is almost as good decaf. True, proper chai, made with a black tea that can stand boiling like the exquisite Zawadi African tea and Indian chai masala, is a thick drink you can practically stand a spoon up in. That's not the chai I'm talking about. Chai as you'd get in a cafe, thinner, often more peppery, can substitute decaf without too much change in flavor. Herbal chais will vary depending on the spices used, and will be as much a matter of personal taste as any herbal teas. At home, using chai masala and decaf tea, honey and plenty of Straus organic milk,chai is a decent drink.

Now coffee. The good news for me is that while years ago I was a serious coffee drinker (I can still picture the daily morning scene of two giant mugs side by side on the stove, each with their Melitta cone stuffed with fresh-ground Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company fare... my husband in the shower, me tending the the kettle...), I switched to tea for my daily drink before my son was born 8 years ago. Or maybe that's not good news for me. Decaf coffee seems to have had a lot more effort put into quality than decaf tea has. Or perhaps those things about coffee that make it satisfying aren't so easily lost in the decaffeination process. Or both.

Having gotten out of the habit of drinking coffee, and not being a regular cafe goer (unlike my spouse with his daily Peet's habit), my exposure to decaf coffee is limited to the slight twinge of embarrassment I feel when asking for decaf in a breakfast restaurant. "I'm a wuss" I always want to say. Or if I'm feeling less wussy & more jokey, "I'm sensitive". It's a fact that at least in the place we always go for Sunday breakfast, if you are drinking decaf your cup only gets filled half as often. I don't know whether you aren't perceived as needing it as much - as being less likely to go ballistic if faced with an empty cup for more than a few seconds - or that it's just a pain to make the rounds with 2 pots and so half the rounds are made without that orange-topped pot in hand. Not only do I have to suffer embarrassment, I suffer 2nd class service as well.

Here's another embarrassing truth: we have become great consumers (even my fully caffeinated husband), of a beverage we call "pretend coffee". The most common variety is called Cafix, but there are many others: Postum, Roma, Inka, Pero, Dacopa, Dandy Blend. All are a powder made from roasted grains, roots etc. such as barley, chicory, figs, beets, or dandelion root. As they blend instantly into hot water, they are far simpler and faster to make than coffee or tea, and are quite tasty. HOWEVER, these "pretend coffees" are like carob. I love carob. But if I'm expecting to bite into a big chocolate something, and it turns out to be carob, I'm going to be disappointed, because I love chocolate even more and it has those oh-so-special chemicals that make you feel good. If you want and need coffee, a cup of Cafix is going to seem like a cruel joke. But if it's late in the evening and you want a little something hot and roasty, Cafix is more satisfying than a cup of herbal tea. Especially with a little rum added.

I miss my Lyons tea. I don't miss my heart racing, my thoughts going 'round and 'round, my mouth feeling dry, and my temper being erratic. Most people don't have those problems with caffeine, but I did, and I had to quit. Quitting caffeine has certainly opened my tastes to greater variety, and the pleasure of not being addicted. But still... what wouldn't I give for a truly good cup of decaffeinated black tea? Name your price, it would be worth it.

Thanks!

Thanks rantavation 3.0,

Coffee, tho, is the only thing that keeps me coherent, especially after two straight months of rain in Portland.

And wind…did I tell you about the wind that only blows at night into my windows, rattling them all night, keeping me awake?

Thanks Out of Context!

Thanks Burb Rocking,

I just recently started using a percolator, and wondering how the hell the drip coffeemaker ever became popular. It seems to be the evolution of coffee machines, though, doesn't it? They keep getting bigger while making ever smaller quantities of coffee.
Thanks Banana Slug,
I would probably give my left foot for a cup of Peet's right now instead of this watery, disgusting tasty and delicious FUJIMATA HEAVY INDUSTRIES brand coffee.
Thanks Modulator,
Currently I'm drinking coffee and am headed to the kitchen to brew a pot of Tully's Dutchman's Blend...I haven't been all that happy with the flavor or punch of the Peet's Major Dickason's Blend that also sits in the freezer.
Thanks Politics in the Zeros

Thanks Slice O' Life.

Thanks Jacob at Eternal Recurrence!

.

Thanks Fiat Lux

Thanks Fiat Lux for welcoming Smelling the Coffee!

Thanks Shakeseare's Sister

Thanks Shakeseare's Sister for welcoming Smelling the Coffee!

Thanks Pharyngula

Thanks Pharyngula for welcoming Smelling the Coffee!

Thanks Suburban Guerilla

Thanks Susie at Suburban Guerilla for welcoming Smelling the Coffee!


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