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November 24, 2006

Home Roasting

Their cup of tea: home-roasted coffee,

"Even my less-than-good batches are fresher than any [beans] I'd buy in a store," said Becker, a 30-year-old government employee who uses a gas grill to transform flavorless green coffee beans into savory dark-brown kernels that he then grinds and brews within a few days, if not hours.

It doesn't require a lot of time, money, or equipment to roast coffee beans at home -- less than 10 minutes in an air popcorn popper does the trick -- but enthusiasts devote plenty of each to the craft.

[. . .] "It was like the difference between a tomato bought in the supermarket and one grown in your garden," he said.

Spend time talking with any home-roasting aficionado and it quickly becomes clear that, as with many hobbies, the pleasure comes from the process as much as it does the end product.

November 22, 2006

First taste: Buzz

Monday was the grand opening of Buzz, the new coffee shop in Alexandria from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, and I dropped in with a few friends to check the place out. They were still putting the finishing touches on the bright decor and waiting for the local bureaucracy to send them their liquor license, but otherwise the place was set up and running very smoothly for a first night.

As noted before, Buzz is serving Illy coffee, which is a little disappointing. To their credit, the espresso I ordered came out sweeter than I expected, but it didn't have a whole lot of body and the taste faded pretty quickly. The Americano I had with dessert was pretty neutral, as was my friend's latte. Not bad, all in all, but they could have been better. And given this company's history of excellence with beer and wine, they should have been.

For the curious, Buzz is using a Mazzer-style grinder and a machine I've never seen before, a UNIC Rumba. It's an automatic. I didn't talk to the baristas much, but from what I could see it doesn't look like there's a die hard coffee person in charge of training. The staff obviously isn't going to be perfect on day one, but the place seemed to have a very restaurant approach to espresso preparation. Simple things that would improve quality, like wiping out portafilters and grinding to order, weren't being done.

In contrast, when I visited sister restaurant Rustico very close to opening, it was obvious the staff knew a lot about beer. Our waiter was able to make recommendations about what he'd tried on the menu, and if he couldn't answer a question there was a very good chance the bartender could. If there's anyone with similar coffee expertise at Buzz, their presence wasn't in evidence.

OK, but what about the desserts? This is probably the area where Buzz will live or die. I opted for a very tasty chocolate cupcake, topped with icing and delicious chocolate shavings. Other people at our table had a chocolate bombe with passion fruit filling and an espresso creme brulee. The desserts are definitely tempting enough that I'll come back sometime for more. If you like sweets, you'll like Buzz.

I think Buzz will be a good place to stop in for dessert after dinner at Rustico or for breakfast if one lives in the area. If the limited seating doesn't fill up too quickly, it could also be a good spot for the laptop crowd; Northern Virginia could certainly use a late night wi-fi and coffee spot. But when I want good espresso drinks, I'm going to stick to Murky by day and Open City by night.

Like many others in the culinary world, the Neighborhood Restaurant Group seems to think that while beer and wine require expertise, coffee is easy. The truth is exactly opposite. While one can become endlessly knowledgeable about beer and wine, actually serving them is simple. Don't get cork in the glass, don't pour the beer too quickly, and you've got it down. Coffee, on the other hand, is hard. If the beans are old, the equipment is off, or the preparation is flawed, the drink's not going to live up to its full potential. Will Buzz?

[Cross-posted on Eternal Recurrence.]

November 14, 2006

Starbucks Union-Busting?

Let me know if this is true.

At Huffington Post today, Daniel Goldin: The Worm in the Coffee Bean: Starbucks' Union-busting, Greenwashing,

In fact, all of Starbucks' retail employees work part-time (the company includes management in its statistics), with no guarantee even of the twenty hours needed to stay on the company's part-time worker health plan. ... a little research revealed that in the area of insurance Starbucks fell short of WalMart, insuring only 42% of its workers (this figure also includes management), against WalMart's 47%.

Even more alarming is Starbucks' union-busting policies. Starbucks new CEO Jim Donald hails from -- you guessed it -- WalMart, as well as Safeway, companies famous for playing hard-ball against unions, and he seems to have imported similar hard-scrabble tactics to the running if Starbucks.

The IWW recently won a settlement against Starbucks from the National Labor Relations Board in response to charges against the company for illegal union-busting policies, including firing workers for union activity.

... The presence of a union hurts Starbucks' "progressive" brand by implying that its workers have grievances. The company's official line is that it is already committed to the well-being of its "partners." Why join a union, it tells its employees, when we're looking out for you?

This "noblesse oblige" argument that a corporation can internalize a feeling of obligation toward its workers -- as well as toward the environment -- and regulate itself, is at the heart of the "Corporate Social Responsibility" movement or C.S.R..

...Who's right? Is Starbucks a good corporate citizen -- or a lousy one?

Leave comments.

November 9, 2006

Coffee Impedes Ballot Counting

In today's post-election coffee news, in Lawrence Kansas, Coffee stains to blame for late results,

Advance voters might want to watch where they put their coffee cups next election.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said too many advance ballots had coffee stains and other stuff on them. The ballots jammed a counting machine Tuesday night, delaying final results until nearly midnight.

November 7, 2006


My server is under a Denial of Service attack so you probably aren't seeing this...


We're currently experiencing an attack on our server. A denial of service (DDoS) attack floods a network with an overwhelming amount of traffic, slowing its response time for legitimate traffic or grinding it to a halt completely. Our server administrators are working on the problem.

November 4, 2006


I just learned about Skidboot the dog. See for yourself.

And another one:

A longer video, with more of Skidboot's history follows:

Coffee slingin'

Working in the restaurant and coffee business you meet all kinds of people. Some have become good friends, most of them are pretty nice, and I've been lucky so far that the few crazy ones I've met have been of the gentle variety. That finally changed yesterday.

Our shop is divided by a big wall that separates the bar area from the seating lounge, so when I'm working I can't see what's going on back there. Inside the lounge there's one big table that's slightly wobbly and meant to be shared plus a smaller table attached to the back wall. (It's not much seating, but we're expanding soon.)

Here's the scene. There's one lady sitting at the big table with a 20 oz. coffee. A man and a woman, both very nice first time customers, are in the bar area ordering double espressos (yay!). They receive them and walked back into the lounge.

Less than a minute later I hear a chair falling to the ground and the two women yelling at each other, at least one of them swearing and telling the other never to show her face here again. Before I can round the corner to see what's going on the woman with the coffee storms back into the bar area, soaking wet. She grabs some napkins to wipe coffee off herself and tells me to have the owner call her. Then she exits.

I walk into the lounge to find coffee everywhere -- on the table, the floor, the light fixture hanging from the ceiling, the wall, the artwork, even the other customers, who are looking very stunned. I ask them what the heck just happened.

Apparently, as they were sitting down they jostled the table slightly. The woman with the coffee told them to be careful. The other woman responded that some wobbling was inevitable on that table and that if she was really worried about it she might want to try the other one. Not the best response, but true nonetheless. Coffee woman took this as sarcasm and things escalated from there. Somehow it all ended with her proving her point that it would be bad if her coffee spilled by picking up her cup and throwing its contents onto everything in the room, herself included.

To her credit, she proved her point exceedingly well.

The other two customers declined to call the police and, though angry at first, were laughing by the time they left. They said they'll be back again. Within half an hour everything was back to normal. But if one looks closely at the white walls in the lounge, some faded coffee stains remain as a reminder of the tale.

[Cross-posted on Eternal Recurrence.]

November 2, 2006

Ceramic press for one

The French press I use at home is a little too big for one person, so I never end up using it at full capacity. The 14 oz. Coffee For One looks like it would make a great alternative. It's ceramic, dishwasher safe, and the brewing chamber conveniently stacks onto the matching mug. Very stylish at $26.

They're sold out for now, but hopefully they'll be back.

[Via The Food Section Shopping List.]


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