January 2006

Monthly Archive

When cola and coffee collide

Posted by on 19 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends

PepsiCo continues to build on the huge success of Pepsi A.M. with recently announced plans to introduce a “more youthful” beverage in India: a cola-coffee hybrid under the name Pepsi Café Chino: When cola and coffee collide.

Will today’s Indian youth take to coffee cola like flies to a bug lamp? If Pepsi Blue, Crystal Pepsi, and Pepsi Holiday Spice are any indication, PepsiCo’s shareholders should prepare to start bathing in $20 bills.

Caffé del Doge opens in Palo Alto

Posted by on 18 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Foreign Brew, Local Brew

I’ve always said that Eton Tsuno of Café Organica is an espresso visionary. Now his, along with Santa Clara’s Barefoot Coffee Roasters, aren’t the only Bay Area cafés to be famous for offering a choice of coffee bean blends for your espresso.

As reported in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (Cetrella owner to bring chowder house to Half Moon Bay), there’s a new arrival in town: Caffé del Doge. Located at 419 University Ave. (near Waverly) in Palo Alto, this Venice, Italy-based coffee roaster and café supposedly offers ten or more different bean stock choices for your made-to-order espresso (a very New World take, that’s for sure). Taking the “Have It Your Way” mantra a step even further, this 50-seat café apparently handles a variety of orders of how you would like it prepared — including a series of coffee “cocktails”.

I’m more than familiar with Caffé del Doge. A little over a year ago, when I was last in Venice, I encountered their beans in a variety of restaurants and bars. However, the one thing I could not find all around town was a single branded Caffé del Doge café. Ironic that you can find one in Palo Alto and not Venice, isn’t it?

In fact, by most Italian standards, I found the espresso in Venice to be generally inferior — particularly when compared to most of what you can find in Roma or Napoli. Venetian baristas are often younger, transitional employees rather than the careerist professionals you might find elsewhere in Italy’s best cafés. And while Venice was once a very important coffee trading port with the East, a far better bet than their coffee is their grappa and amarone. (And I’m not even including the overpriced dreck they serve the tourists in the Piazza San Marco.)

As for Caffé del Doge, their coffee beans are pretty good. But I was not overly impressed. Perhaps the best coffee I found from my last travels there, and also popular with the few locals, came from a local roaster called Torrefazione India Caffé. You can find one of their bean & leaf stores (a true torrefazione that doesn’t serve retail beverages) in the Dorsoduro district on Campo Santa Margherita.

Thus Caffé del Doge isn’t necessarily the best coffee from an Italian region that, despite its history, is no longer regarded for its coffee. Then lose freshness by transporting the roasted beans half-way around the world… then serve them at a Caffé del Doge café here in Palo Alto (when they are no where to be found in their native Venice)…

When you put it in context, there doesn’t seem to be much of a real brand attraction other than the romantic notion that they come from Venice. So will I go over and check them out? You bet! I love pretending I’m in Venice as much as anyone, and I have the tazzina in my collection to prove it.

The author's Venetian import: a Caffé del Doge cup

POLL: Funds, supply worries seen buoying coffee in 2006

Posted by on 18 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Robusta

A Reuters poll expects coffee prices to remain elevated over worldwide supply concerns. Supplies are generally expected to rebound in the next crop year as regional markets recover from hurricanes and drought and Brazil eases the throttle on production: POLL-Funds, supply worries seen buoying coffee in 2006.

But to give you a sense of just how crude robusta coffee is, note that the industry tracks the price of robusta by the ton … not by the pound, as is the case for arabica.

The Rebirth of Joe

Posted by on 18 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Home Brew, Quality Issues

Today the New York Sun published a nice introductory article on “Good Coffee 101” — underscoring how the art and science of quality coffee is fast approaching territory once familiar to only wine connoisseurs.

As I’ve referenced before, the coffee quality in New York City is seriously unbefitting a city of its size and stature (Gorilla Coffee, cited below, along with Ninth Street Espresso, being the only noteworthy exceptions in a city of so many elites). The article wisely steers clear of New York City’s coffee wasteland and instead interviews some heavy hitters in the quality coffee trade: Duane Sorenson, Ted Lingle, David Schomer, and James Freeman. The emphasis is on home coffee preparation and different roasting styles.

You can find the source of the article here: The Rebirth of Joe. The New York Sun unfortunately requires registration for the full article, yet you can find the full text elsewhere on the Internet. Here’s an example: The Rebirth of Joe.

Moka pot recommendations

Posted by on 17 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Home Brew, Machine

Until I create something of a “mailbag” section on this site, I’ll post some of the more interesting questions, and my replies, here.

At 03:52 PM 1/16/2006 -0600, _ _ wrote:
>I've really enjoyed your site. I was wondering if you had a recommendation
>for a good Moka stovetop maker. In addition, do have a recommendation for
>coffee for the moka? lastly, how fine a grind do you need for the moka?

Thanks, Josh. As for a good Moka stovetop, you can’t go wrong with the standards: Bialetti makes many good ones and are always worthwhile. Some come with more design, some are just all about function. Alternatively, the Neapolitan stove top maker, which has two chambers that are flipped over during the brewing process, is also pretty unique and makes good coffee.

In any case, I’ll I learned a couple of tips about them I can share — and you’re fully entitled to ignore them!

First, in Italy most people use Moka pots at home. And they buy what would be considered the puny ones here: 1-2 cup sizes. Some of the stores sell the 6-8 cup sized ones, but those are literally purchased only by American tourists. Reason being that Italians (and I’m not even remotely Italian, btw) like to brew a fresh pot rather than let a big one sit around. Of course, American appetites for beverages are in the Super Big Gulp® range… so to each his own.

Second tip: tamp the grinds in the top a little. Not too hard, but just enough to make some extra room in the basket for some extra coffee. At least that’s the way I like it. Some really put muscle into it and try to smash atoms together. Others just let the grounds lie where they are like a snowfall. I do something inbetween: I take a small wooden tamper (or use the back of a large spoon) to tamp it down just a little. It brings out more coffee flavor to keep it from tasting too much like drip coffee, but it’s not so compacted to cause a meltdown and risk getting only a half ounce of crud.

As for a grind, I wouldn’t suggest anything too fine. The coffee will fall through the holes too much … or might get shot through with just a little bit of pressure. I may have a semi-professional Mazzer Mini grinder at home, but it’s completely overkill. So I stick to the blade grinder (i.e., “chopper”). Most Italian homes, for example, have access to only the most basic of coffee grinders and that suffices. So I would suggest getting as fine a grain as you can get with a relatively inexpensive grinder.

Good luck, and please write back with any findings to share.

Seattle company dresses up coffee cups

Posted by on 14 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends

It’s only January 14, 2006 and I already have a nominee for the 2007 “Unclear On The Concept” Awards.

According to the Seattle Times, Seattle-based CupCouture has decided to create high-end fashion accessories for the paper coffee cup, using designs such as faux furs and vintage fabrics: Seattle company dresses up coffee cups.

Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. I’m not sure who deserves more public humiliation: CupCouture or the people who are investing in this venture. But perhaps there will always be markets for tricked out Ford Escorts instead of spending the same money on a decent car.

Here’s a crazy idea: to truly dress up a coffee cup, how about drinking your coffee from something other than what you’d use at your 3-year-old’s birthday party? It might even make the coffee taste less like paper and more like, well, coffee.

Nah… that’s just too crazy.

KISS coffee spot in works for Myrtle Beach

Posted by on 14 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends

Remember the simple days when sports and entertainment celebrities used to open cavernous franchise restaurants that all looked pretty much alike and served pretty much the same stuff?

According to the Myrtle Beach, SC Sun News, 1970s paunch-and-rollers, KISS, are now getting into the coffeehouse business. Their pilot KISS-branded café is planned to open this spring or summer in Myrtle Beach, SC: The KISS coffee spot in works for Broadway.

Personally, I always wanted my baristas to breathe fire and spit blood from behind the counter. It definitely helps fill the tip jar too.

UPDATE: Sept. 21, 2006
Yesterday the Kiss Web site announced that 2,000 bags of KISS Army Blend Coffee were sent to the Rhode Island National Guard serving in Iraq: BLABBERMOUTH.NET – KISS Coffee Sent To Troops. Apparently a shipment of cold gin had a much higher likelihood of getting “lost in the mail”.

The latest blend: coffee, movies & books

Posted by on 13 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends, Fair Trade, Starbucks

Are Starbucks and Borders destined to become mirror images of each other? Today’s San Diego Union Tribune asks that question in: The latest blend: coffee, movies & books.

You have to wonder about some market extensions and product/service mergers. One of my favorite storefronts to mock is in a dumpy strip mall as you pass through American Canyon, CA — called “Pagers & Footwear”. But the blend between entertainment and coffee is a potent one for companies extending their product lines in either direction.

Does everyone drinking coffee want books and CDs? And does buying media naturally mean, “Would you like a double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato with that?”

Wal-Mart and Target seem to think so, as they are also muscling into the coffee trade from the retail entertainment world. In fact, according to my favorite coffee buyer, Alex Mason of Royal Coffee, the availability of Fair Trade, decaffeinated specialty coffee beans is drying up a lot lately. Why? Wal-Mart is buying up the stuff like Hugh Hefner during a Viagra shortage.

UPDATE: January 22, 2006:
If it wasn’t obvious enough that Starbucks is starting to think of itself more as an entertainment company than a coffee company, their recently announced plans to offer MP3 downloads should make things more clear: Starbucks, Citing Music Industry `Chaos,’ Eyes MP3 Downloads

UPDATE: November 12, 2006:
With WiFi networks becoming more common, Starbucks even sees itself in the market of creating a taste-making entertainment channel: There’s more than coffee brewing at Starbucks – Orlando Sentinel : Features There’s more than coffee brewing at Starbucks – Orlando Sentinel : Features.

UPDATE: April 25, 2008
If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: Starbucks has jettisoned its music business as it attempts to regain it’s “soul” in its neglected coffee business: Starbucks exits music biz | The Register.

Sara Lee US Retail Coffee Brands Purchased by Segafredo Zanetti Coffee Group

Posted by on 13 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Beans

This just in from Yahoo! Finance: Sara Lee US Retail Coffee Brands Purchased by Segafredo Zanetti Coffee Group.

The Segafredo Zanetti Coffee Group is a relatively upscale brand. Particularly in this country. So what the heck are they doing buying out one of The Big Four — the world’s quadumvirate of crude, mass production coffee? Undoubtedly, Segafredo Zanetti isn’t going downmarket. Rather, we can only guess that they are adding markets that will leverage their existing distribution systems for profits.

Even so, it does raise the question of whether their flagship product will suffer the fate of a business extending too far for quantity — and losing quality in the process. Just think “Hills Bros.” and “Chock full o’Nuts” (huh?!) the next time you stop into one of their patented red and black cafés.

Segafredo Zanetti’s current TV ad campaign in Italy brands them with the slogan, “Da una passione vera, il caffè più autentico” — which translates roughly to, “From a true passion, the most genuine coffee.” I suppose if you consider a Hills Bros. Cappuccino the real deal, this acquisition is chock full o’sense.

Who doesn't want a resealable cappuccino?

Brazil coffee fetches record $US49.75/lb

Posted by on 11 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Beans

As Frank Sinatra used to swing it, “They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.” But despite the disdain many coffee snobs have for boring old Brazilian beans, a lot a this year’s Cup of Excellence coffee auction netted almost $50/lb for some of Brazil’s finest: Brazil coffee fetches record $US49.75/lb.

Me? I love a good Brazilian base for an espresso blend — made with Cup-of-Excellence-quality stuff. But the Fazenda Santa Ines crop may be a bit over the top for even me… and perhaps even for Sweet Maria’s.

UPDATE: And who bought these beans? Noneother than one of my all-time favorite cafés in North America, Caffè Artigiano in Vancouver, B.C. Co-owner, Vince Piccolo (brother of three-time Canadian barista champion, Sammy — and maker of one of the best espressos I’ve ever had), describes why he paid top dollar for such beans in today’s Globe and Mail: Five bucks for a cup of coffee? Lineup starts here

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