April 2006

Monthly Archive

Coffee supply crisis on horizon for 2007

Posted by on 29 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Beans

New forecasts continue to suggest an upcoming shortage of coffee stocks due to increasing consumer demand and declining bean stocks in a few key regions: Coffee supply crisis on horizon for 2007 | Reuters.com.

While some of the more mystic types are busy correlating coffee supplies to sunspot activity, futures analysts are projecting a continuing increase in consumer demand — marked by emerging markets such as Asia, eastern Europe, and the coffee-producing nations themselves. Meanwhile, Brazil, which accounts for 30-40 percent of the world’s coffee output, anticipates a 10% drop in yield for the coming 2007/2008 harvest.

If all goes according to the forecasts, consumers can expect coffee prices to rise following this summer.

Trip Report: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf @ Fillmore

Posted by on 28 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This outlet of the L.A.-based chain is located on a busy Fillmore St. corner, lined with popular sidewalk café tables and parasols. Inside there are a dozen more tables and a lot of finished, wood grain surfaces — giving it the look of a cheaply remodeled kitchen. There’s even this raised platform in the back made of what looks like faux wooden crates. But the decór isn’t what creeps me out here…

Sidewalk sipping at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf 'When I'm not acting in L.A., I'm drinking coffee here in the Fillmore'

Staffing the place are perky young, Burger-King-uniformed employees who look better suited for Disneyland than for making good coffee. This chain likely saves a bit of money given the skill level of their many entry-level hires. But to me, it’s a bit of an unsettling part of my coffee drinking experience here. I am guessing that this place may be frequented by many homesick Southern Californians who think this setup is quite natural.

They serve espresso with a crema that can vary from a good, even layer of medium brown to a thinner coating of lighter brown. It has a tarry/tobaccoy flavor despite its slightly ashy aroma. Good body and strong acidity from a Brasilia Portofino machine.

Read the updated review.

Brasilia machine with the odd observation deck in the background The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf espresso

Non sequitur: Required coffeehouse reading

Posted by on 27 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Café Society

So last Saturday night, I headed down to the 12 Galaxies to support some friends (including Royal Coffee buyer, Alex Mason) playing in the worldwide Emergenza music festival. That and any excuse to see Frank Chu on stage is always occasion to get out of the house on a Saturday night.

Stopping off at nearby Ritual Roasters beforehand, I ran into Gabe Boscana on duty and asked him about the recent U.S. Barista Championship (his answer, after six days of the SCAA conference: “Long!”). After downing a great macchiato (thanks again, Gabe), I caught a brief glimpse of one of those strange, quintessential S.F. moments while heading out the door.

Sitting in the corner, on the sofa besides the window, is one of those classic, encrusted café lingerers who looks like they haven’t showered in four days. What is he curled up reading? None other than Dale Carnegie’s magnum opus, How to Win Friends & Influence People. My mind raced with the possibilities. But alas, I then realized that it lacks any chapters on personal hygiene…

What all the street people are reading these days

Trip Report: The Grove Fillmore

Posted by on 27 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This casual, Latino owned and operated breakfast café has the interior look of a rustic hunting lodge — minus the moose heads. Outside there are a few tables and chairs along the sidewalk. But inside you’ll find an interior of wood and stone, a faux fireplace, chess players, chocolate “cornetti” (croissants), and even an occasional patron knitting.

Entrance to The Grove Fillmore The Grove Fillmore's three-group Rancilio

The barista takes the necessary time with the pour from a three-group Rancilio — serving espresso with a dark brown, mottled crema. The crema is denser — with lipids suspended in it — and it avoids being too thin despite being stretched over a wider-brimmed cup. A rich, smooth flavor suggests spiced vanilla. Surprisingly good and definitely recommended.

Read the updated review.

All it needs is a moose head The Grove Fillmore espresso

Trip Report: Il Massimo Lounge

Posted by on 25 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This is the newer outlet (opened June 2004) of the greater sister café next to the Italian Cultural Institute. Inside it has a bright, modern interior decorated with colored glass and several indoor tables — plus some modern sofa and chairs set up in the back.

The attaction here, and the reason the owners opened this location, is the sidewalk seating in front. They have over a dozen sidewalk tables with Lavazza umbrellas, all of which are perched towards the end of Market St. at the foot of the Embarcadero. The clock tower of the SF Ferry Building rises across a plaza of tourist-trapping vendors and Muni trolley cars. Occasionally patrons out front are also entertained by the likes of San Francisco’s street opera stars, Robert Close and Litz Plummer. At other times, a DJ starts the happy hour inside.

Morning rises at Il Massimo Lounge patio Faema E92 Elite at the Il Massimo Lounge

Il Massimo Lounge specializes in panini, gelato, and dolci as well as espresso. Their service is slightly disorganized, but they use a three-group Faema E92 Elite to produce a good espresso. One of their baristas will ask if you like it short or tall — and will say that’s “the way it’s supposed to be” if you order the former.

They serve espresso straight into the cup with a pale crema with a thinner but sturdy layer of microfoam (that can sometimes vary down to a pale ring if they’re busy and leave it unattended). However, it can sometimes vary to a richer, medium brown crema of appreciable thickness. It is mostly smoky/tarry with a taste of some pungent/herbal flavor, spice, and a little woodiness (pine). But if they brew it too hot, as sometimes happens, it can lack body and structure and taste rather bland. Be sure to ask for a short shot. Served in Lavazza logo IPA cups with occasional grinds at the bottom.

Read the updated review.

Pastries and gelati at Il Massimo Lounge Il Massimo Lounge espresso

Howard Schultz: The Star Of Starbucks

Posted by on 23 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Starbucks

Today CBS News published a 60 Minutes interview with Starbucks Coffee CEO, Howard Schultz: Howard Schultz: The Star Of Starbucks – CBS News.

It’s the prototypical 60 Minutes interview: balanced, a modest attempt at controversy, and ten years too late to spot a trend. You get the feeling that the 60 Minutes writers just discovered Starbucks a couple years ago — and that specialty coffee is a recent fad that starts and ends with Starbucks.

But the interview touches on the $4 beverage in a paper cup, the marketing behind the names of their beverage sizes, fad development (or why the world needs the Green Tea Frappuccino), and why Starbucks spends more on employee health care than they do on coffee.

Third Wave Coffee, or First Wave Pompousness?

Posted by on 22 Apr 2006 | Filed under: CoffeeRatings.com, Consumer Trends, Quality Issues

I have a lot of respect for Nick Cho, owner of Washington D.C.’s murky coffee. He’s established a place that pulls some of the best espresso shots on the East Coast. He’s arguably the primary brainchild behind the Portafilter.net podcasts. And he’s also known for his quality coffee industry “altruism”: supporting aspiring baristas and café owners who want to commit their livelihoods towards making some of the best espresso on the planet.

However, Nick Cho’s reputation will unfortunately always be marred by his association with one of the most arrogant and proposterous claims ever made in America’s modern day quality espresso business. It’s the notion that quality coffee is in its Third Wave, a.k.a. the “Third Wave of Coffee”.

This is particularly unfortunate because the idea isn’t even Mr. Cho’s to begin with. As even he once pointed out, the blame lies squarely with Trish Skeie — who otherwise is one of quality coffee’s luminaries, given her role behind the Sebastopol, CA roastery, Taylor Maid Farms. (She is now Director of Coffee for Seattle’s highly respected Zoka Coffee.) In my mailbox today, I found this month’s Barista Magazine, which features an article by Trish Skeie under the self-serving title, “Third Wave In Its Third Year.”

“Hey, baby, what’s your Wave?”

To boil this whole pompous wave theory down, a few years ago Ms. Skeie postulated that coffee consumption and preparation was progressing through three distinct transformations.

The First Wave is consumption — marked by America’s early preoccupation with poor quality coffee, often instant or freeze dried, that was more a caffeine and heat delivery mechanism than anything with an enjoyable flavor. The Second Wave is about enjoyment and defining specialty coffee — characterized by the selection of arabica beans over robusta, Colombian coffee’s Juan Valdez marketing campaign, and the proliferation of espresso and Starbucks.

So where are we now? Supposedly, this Third Wave is all about letting the coffee speak for itself — or enjoying coffee for coffee’s sake. Confused yet? You should be, because here are the problems with this logic and how people in the industry are misusing and abusing it…

Quality Espresso?: Not Invented Here

The whole Third Wave concept has since been bandied about in the specialty coffee industry as a sort of pompus and self-congratulatory marketing hype about their products and services — a self-appointed seal of approval. Yet this wave theory doesn’t describe the coffee or even how it is prepared. In actuality, it most accurately describes the coffee consumer. It has little, if anything, to do with the actual businesses that are now proudly tattooing Third Wave across their chests.

And here’s another problem with all those who like to think of themselves as Third Wave: the wave theory concept essentially presumes that quality espresso simply did not exist on this planet until three years ago (e.g.: Trish Skeie’s recent Barista Magazine article). In the world of quality coffee, this is akin to saying that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America — while ignoring the brain anyeurism that must have lead to our overlooking the Lucayans who had lived in the Bahamas for centuries prior.

The facts are that great espresso has existed long before naked portafilters, single-origin bean roasts, and other gimmickry that some might associate with the Third Wave. In Italy, for example, the four Msmiscela, macchina, macinatura, and mano (or the beans/blend, the machine, the grind, and the “hand”) — have been widely recognized as the fundamental keys to great espresso for generations. Even to this day.

Even here in our backyard, businesses such as Mr. Espresso have been promoting the highest quality standards in beans, roasts, equipment, and barista training for multiple generations — i.e., since the likes of some of these self-proclaimed third wavers were still in Pampers. Quality espresso is not the sudden confluence of modern scientific discovery and magic. It’s been around for decades, and its supposed “secrets” have largely remained unchanged throughout.

Unfortunately, since people like Ms. Skeie had their first “real” espresso in recent years, many will keep on presuming it’s their own discovery and that they are at the vanguard of something new. But when we talk about any Third Wave, what constitutes quality coffee hasn’t really changed. What has changed is the education and sophistication of the American coffee consumer palate. It’s just a lot more convenient for some businesses to take credit for what rightfully belongs to their customers.


Paulie Walnuts and Big Pussy of TV's The Sopranos ponder the Third Wave (WARNING: vulgar audio)

Comic relief: Paulie Walnuts and Big Pussy of TV’s The Sopranos ponder the Third Wave

Trip Report: Martha & Brothers Coffee Company @ 1st St.

Posted by on 21 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This downtown location of the popular, Latino-owned S.F. chain was opened by popular demand. Located in a tight indoor mall corridor called “The Shops on 1st St.”, they serve the usual pastries and bagels along with coffee.

True to their Latino roots, the music, staff, and environment has a heavy Latin American influence. And given the origins of much of the world’s coffee, it’s about time. They have two indoor stools and some limited table seating along the pedestrian corridor entering “The Shops on 1st St.”

Did anyone ask for Martha & Bros. coffee? Cakes, cookies, muffins, and a Martha & Bros. barista

Using a modern, four-group, Faema E91 Ambassador, they pull an espresso with a slightly large pour. It has a very even texture of a medium brown crema of decent thickness. One inconsistency here, however, is that the pour can sometimes run high and the body can be thin. It has a great smoky aroma that leads into its smoky flavor, though it does have some ashier/burnt elements that are typical of Martha & Brothers overroasted beans. A full-flavored cup, but it lacks any sweetness to be superb.

Read the updated review.

Martha & Bros. Faema from the pedestrian corridor Martha & Bros. espresso

Folgers is Steaming

Posted by on 20 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends

Today advertising for peanuts, a blog on consumer advertising, reported on Folgers Coffee’s recent bizarre marketing campaign. Folgers Coffee’s ad agency for the campaign, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, had the wisdom to wrap New York City manhole covers with artwork that makes them appear to be steaming cups of coffee: advertising for peanuts: Folgers is Steaming.

The ads contain the phrase, “Hey, City That Never Sleeps, Wake Up.” Which certainly makes a lot less sense than visually representing Folgers Coffee as something brewed in a sewer.

Emerging middle classes wake up to coffee

Posted by on 20 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Foreign Brew, Robusta

According to an article from Reuters UK, the new middle classes in Brazil, Russia, China, and other emerging economies are driving up the demand for coffee: Emerging middle classes wake up to coffee.

The growing middle class in these emerging economies seems to be looking West to influence their beverage habits and lifestyles (oh, do I hate that word). In response, world stockpiles of coffee have dwindled to keep up with the growing demand.

However, the greatest growth in demand has been for soluble coffees made from robusta beans. Meaning: cheap instant coffee. You can take Boris out of Murmansk, but you can’t take the Murmansk out of Boris.

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