April 2006

Monthly Archive

New coffee launched by Coca-Cola and Godiva

Posted by on 19 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Starbucks

Coca-Cola continues its coffee beverage push, recently announcing a drink to be launched in July that’s “more decadent than just plain coffee”: New coffee launched by Coca-Cola and Godiva – Drinks Business Review. Undoubtedly, it will be another Coca-Cola BlāK — meaning that we should expect consumers’ short attention spans to give this a shelf life until about September 2006.

In other news, Chinese President Hu Jintao is making the rounds with Bill Gates, espousing the virtues of Starbucks Coffee: China’s Hu turns Starbucks promoter at Gates dinner – Apr. 19, 2006. What nobody bothered to ask Hu was whether he meant the U.S.-based corporation or the Mandarin phonetic knock-off, Shanghai Xingbake. A fair question, given that Bill Gates is only hanging out with the guy to convince him that software piracy is a bad thing. It’s easy to forget that the concept of property ownership — let alone intellectual property ownership — isn’t exactly second nature to a nation of 1.2 billion Communists.

A shot at perfection – Espresso in Boston and New York

Posted by on 19 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Foreign Brew, Home Brew, Machine

Today’s Boston Globe featured a few good articles on the few espresso purveyors in Greater Boston and New York City who are out to set the standard properly: A shot at perfection – The Boston Globe.

The U.S. East Coast has been in the Espresso Dark Ages for far too long. As quoted in the article, one of the problems is that so few people have actually had good espresso — especially on the East Coast. Otherwise, how would one know that a good espresso isn’t bitter — and, even more suprising, can be naturally sweet enough to not need added sugar?

All is not lost back east, though, as there are a few who are out to set a higher bar. The article makes reference to Boston’s Simon’s Coffee Shop, nearby roaster Terrior Coffee Company, and New York City’s Ninth Street Espresso, Gimme! Coffee, and Joe the Art of Coffee.

Today’s Boston Globe also featured brief articles on a few places in Boston and New York with a “good reputation and an espresso focus” (True brew – The Boston Globe) and inexpensive equipment for making decent coffee (though not espresso) at home (These coffee makers blend taste, efficiency – The Boston Globe).

Trip Report: The Butler & The Chef

Posted by on 18 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

A popular, often crowded, slow, and somewhat under-tabled and under-staffed Parisian-styled café that strongly emphasizes French details. (It changed owners in March 2004.) A somewhat confused system for getting a table when they are busy — you’re not sure whether to grab a table yourself, to ask to be seated, etc. Black & white photographs and many indoors tables plus a small rear patio. Extensive sidewalk seating with parasols in front during warm weather, otherwise they’ll put out a couple of café tables. Mostly a dining café, but they have a three-group Elektra that gets some use. More atmosphere than great espresso here, however.

They brew their espresso more towards the authentically French style of weaker coffee: they serve espresso with a crema that can vary from a thicker, even, medium brown coat to odd “ribs” of thin, pale crema suspended on a dark brown surface. Filled to the very brim of an IPA Illy logo cup (eventhough they no longer use Illy coffee) with sugar cubes and a spoon on the side.

Entrance to The Butler & The Chef Dining inside The Butler & The Chef

Naturally, it tastes rather watered down and over-extracted. They recently switched from Illy to Graffeo beans with much internal fanfare, but no quality bean can hold up to the unforgiving treatment they apply here. It primarily has an ashy flavor layered on top of a woody, drip-coffee taste that leans towards the lighter side of the Illy roast flavor spectrum (even if they no longer server Illy). There’s also some spice and pepper in the cup, as well as some stray grounds dusting the saucer.

Owner, Wayne Miller, strongly encouraged me to revisit and try their revamped espresso, but as often is the case: I noted no significant changes (for better or worse). This exemplifies a place that tries to do well but seems as if they haven’t tasted the full potential of an espresso firsthand yet.

Read the updated review.

Three group Elektra serves their espresso The Butler & The Chef espresso

McDonald’s CEO says recent coffee sales have ‘skyrocketed’

Posted by on 17 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Quality Issues, Starbucks

McDonald’s Corporation’s financial vital signs have kept worried investors up at night in recent years. Lacking same-store growth momentum, McDonald’s managed to find growth overseas … until international markets started to quickly saturate. McDonald’s has been making death rattle noises on the retail fast food market ever since.

McDonald’s slowly recognized that they were losing a great share of the convenience food business to expanding behemoths such as Starbucks. So after several failed attempts to capture interest in this evolving consumer market, including the ill-fated McCafé, McDonald’s decided to introduce better coffee to their stores last month.

This time, the early results seem quite positive, including this latest headline: McDonald’s CEO says recent coffee sales have ‘skyrocketed’ – MarketWatch. Same-store breakfast sales were up 8 percent in March. Of course, McDonald’s is now backpedalling somewhat, implying that nothing was ever wrong with their coffee to begin with. They just didn’t “focus attention” on it.

One can only guess what McDonald’s might be like if they “focused their attention” on their food.

Listen, barista, I’ll take my joe talk straight

Posted by on 16 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends, Starbucks

Meghan E. Irons of The Boston Globe takes issue with the absurd new language required of customers ordering coffee these days: Listen, barista, I’ll take my joe talk straight – The Boston Globe. It’s what I’ve ridiculed here previously as the double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato.

A Northeastern University linguist quoted in the article suggests that the lingo is part of the corporate branding (for the likes of big brands like Starbucks, etc.) Another expert suggests that the lingo helps create the “perception of customization” as part of the corporate experience.

Perception is the key word here. There are untold businesses designed around the notion of making consumers believe that they are special and unique — and that their purchasing decisions help assert their individuality. Dr Pepper tells us to “Be you” and celebrates our “originality” — all the while selling countless cans of the same stuff to millions of people who are supposed to believe in this supposed uniqueness.

“Do you have any orange-flavored orange juice?”

This isn’t just a coffee phenomenon, I’m afraid. I used to drink orange juice every day until I was diagnosed with Type 1 (formerly “juvenile”) diabetes over a decade ago. Last month I went to buy orange juice for the first time in years for some guests, and I discovered that buying orange juice was a far greater challenge than I ever remembered: less pulp, pulp free, blends, extra vitamins C & E plus zinc, low acid, with or without calcium, heart-healthy, country style, for kids, etc., etc.

A quick errand to the grocery store suddenly became a 20 minute decision. When did buying a quart of orange juice suddenly become so complicated?

The seminal L.A. punk rock band, X — in their 1987 song “See How We Are” — mocked our so-called “freedom of choice” when they sang about how there were seven kinds of Coke and 500 kinds of cigarettes. By December 2005, there were 28 kinds of Coke (and this before this month’s introduction of Coca-Cola BlāK). This is a marketing trend that’s not going away anytime soon.

But with coffee, unlike orange juice, you don’t have to conform to the lingo. Just repeat after me: “a single espresso, please.”

Espresso Vivace is 1st tenant in new retail/office complex

Posted by on 15 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Foreign Brew, Quality Issues

Today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer featured an article on the latest espresso bar opened by Espresso Vivace in the Cascade neighborhood of Seattle: Retail Notebook: Espresso Vivace is 1st tenant in new retail/office complex.

Now opening its third coffeehouse, Espresso Vivace is one of the best places to order an espresso in North America. Its owner, David Schomer, is the author of the espresso preparation bible, Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques — one of the few books on the subject I recommend.

Some critics may point out that Schomer is a bit too serious and a bit too full of himself, but no one can deny that he makes one mean espresso.

Growing coffee: It’s black, no sugar

Posted by on 15 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Fair Trade

Today MSNBC posted an article noting the discrepancy between the growing profits for coffee retailers and the declining wages for coffee growers: Growing coffee: It’s black, no sugar – Special Coverage – MSNBC.com.

For example, a recent survey by the World Bank estimates that 540,000 laborers in Central America have lost their jobs because of coffee’s low market price. Fair Trade coffee is proposed as one solution to put more of coffee’s profits into the hands of the growers (instead of the middlemen), but Fair Trade certification can become its own kind of monopoly.

Trip Report: Cafe Madeleine @ O’Farrell St.

Posted by on 14 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

With bright, white walls and staff in white smocks, you might think you stepped up to the cosmetics counter at the nearby Macy’s. But this is true of all the Cafe Madeleine bakery-cafés in the area. Inside they have just a few counter stools along the windows. But when the weather complies, the sidewalk café tables outside are in higher demand.

Inside you will also face a wide selection of colorful pastries and other pâtisserie items. And you’ll often be scanning them while old chanson française music plays overhead. I’ve even comically overheard some of the employees comment on how the music only haunts them after they’ve left work. (Me? I love a good Joséphine Baker or Édith Piaf tune… though I do have a strange obsession with Maurice Chevalier, secrets about his sexual orientation aside.)

Entrance to Cafe Madeleine on O'Farrell St. Cafe Madeleine's translucent display of tarts

Using their three-group Mr. Espresso Faema E91 Diplomat machine (though they typically use only two or even one group), they first produced an espresso with a very thin and very dark crema. But from 2003 to 2004 their crema became marginally richer and more dense with a healthy medium brown color. By 2004, their espresso reached its peak: with a full body and a strong, deep, complex herbal flavor with some tobacco tones.

Since then, the flavor has muted a bit — tasting a little weaker and less bold. The body has also dropped off from something full and syrup-like to something decent and yet more watery. The cup can still sometimes run from an early bitter edge that gives way to sweeter, syrup-like notes towards the bottom of the cup. And it’s a paper cup. Cafe Madeleine’s paper cups only policy is about as elegantly très Français as eating duck confit with a plastic spork. What are they thinking?!

In April 2006 they closed briefly for a remodel, but you would hardly notice it — they largely changed countertops along the windows and some other small details.

Read the updated review.

The Cafe Madeleine espresso: in a paper cup and on the pre-remodel counter

Milwaukee, WI Coffee

Posted by on 13 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Foreign Brew

Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured an interview with Ryan Mason, who owns and manages one of the better espresso shops in the greater Milwaukee area, ROAST, Inc.: JS Online:He knows beans about a fresh cup of coffee. (Ignore the fact that the article calls his place “Roast Coffee Co.”)

While ROAST, Inc. … well? … doesn’t, the Milwaukee, WI quality coffee scene does boast a couple of notable local roasters, including Alterra Coffee (who also runs a small chain of cafés) and Anodyne Coffee (formerly Brewed Awakenings). Other notable cafés in town include Moondance Coffee and the Rochambo Coffee & Tea House.

In late January, mkeonline.com published a pretty decent mini-guide to coffee in the city, including an article that compiled specs on dozens of local coffee shops: The coffee joints. There’s even a handy PDF quick guide.

UPDATE: June 18. 2007
The Milwaukee specialty coffee scene now even has its own blog: Milwaukee Specialty Coffee.

UPDATE: Oct, 7, 2008
Readers of OnMilwaukee.com were polled for their favorite coffee spots in town for 2008, and Alterra earned the great majority of votes: OnMilwaukee.com Dining: Milwaukees best coffee shop/café, 2008: Alterra.

Huntsville, AL Coffee

Posted by on 13 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Foreign Brew

The Huntsville Times published an article today briefly reviewing several coffee shops in Huntsville, AL: Spilling the beans about coffee shops.

While Huntsville boasts perhaps one of the most educated towns in America, let alone the Deep South, you know your coffee options are limited when the reviews focus primarily on descriptions of sandwiches, salads, and cakes.

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