May 2006

Monthly Archive

Microwaveable Latte Tang, Anyone?

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

Just when you thought you’ve seen the worst of consumer convenience knock-offs trying to cash in on the higher-end espresso drink craze: New! Stomping Grounds Liquid Espresso-to-Latte Concentrate Now on Store Shelves in Los Angeles.

Yes, the ad wizards who brought us Oregon Chai decided to offer us espresso latte concentrate. All you do is add milk. Mmmm-mmmm. Espresso from a tube never tasted so good.

And if that wasn’t enough, today we also had the announcement of microwaveable espresso: Industry’s first innovative Micro-Brew technology, experience the disposable true pressure brew cup of Espresso or Latte. Meanwhile, on Wall Street today, landfill futures have gone through the roof.

Every time I wonder if we’ve taken the elevator to Dante’s ninth circle of espresso hell, I realize that haven’t even made it past the gift shop yet.

Whirr of Espresso Vivace soon silenced by new rail

Posted by on 17 May 2006 | Filed under: Foreign Brew

Today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on the eventual paving over of David Schomer’s Capitol Hill Espresso Vivace: Whirr of Espresso Vivace soon silenced by new rail.

With a new Westlake-to-University District line Seattle rail service planned beneath Broadway on Capitol Hill, Vivace’s Denny Way location — open since 1988 — will be bulldozed and replaced by the new rail line’s Broadway station.

Espresso Vivace had existed prior to the Denny Way location as an espresso cart service on Broadway, and since then Schomer has also opened up a sidewalk espresso bar near the Broadway Market. Most recently, he opened a new café at 227 Yale Ave N., near the REI mothership.

Trip Report: Deli &

Posted by on 16 May 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This is an unassuming deli/bakery with no seating. Outside, under a wooden construction corridor that’s been there for years, the signs and awnings say Deli & Espresso. But any reference in a phone book or directory lists it as just Deli & — and they answer the phone, “Deli And.”

One of the cheapest espresso shots you can buy in the city (it’s still under $1), the owner here once held decent espresso standards. He was often self-critical of his own pulled shots, and he was something of a perfectionist when it came to his espresso machine servicemen. (Their machine is an older Laurentis.) But the quality here has tapered off a lot in recent years.

Enter the cavern to Deli & The neon deli beckons...

The owner still gets their beans from Superior, insisting on Prebica — which Superior prefers not to distribute in the Bay Area. He’s pretty knowledgeable about quality factors (the choice of only paper cups aside), and their baristas have had training. Despite the beans, machine, and cups, they managed to pull decent shots for a time. But things have noticeably slid downhill. They once created a very rich, thick crema on a full-bodied cup, but over time the crema has grown pale and the body has thinned out. It’s as if the owner stopped following his own advice.

There’s something of a malt-like flavor in the cup with a steady aftertaste that lingers. Served as almost a doppio. This was once one of the better espresso values in the city, still at 95¢, but it’s clear it’s getting you a lot less with time. This is midlife crisis espresso that has let itself go for too long — perhaps frustrated with all the attention given to the younger competition in the neighborhood.

Read the updated review.

Owner pulls a shot from a temperamental Laurentis Under $1, but these days even that's too much

Fair Trade: The coffee connection

Posted by on 14 May 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Fair Trade, Robusta

Today’s The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) featured a rather lengthy and balanced story on Fair Trade coffee: The coffee connection.

Many small-market coffee growers face an enormous challenge to earn a living wage in an increasingly competitive world market. To tell this global story, the article presents the issues from the perspective of a coffee farmer in a Guatemalan village, introduces us to predatory middlemen known as “coyotes,” and interviews an American coffee consumer at Louisville’s own Heine Brothers’ Coffee.

P&G sees big market for stomach-friendly coffee

Posted by on 12 May 2006 | Filed under: Coffee Health, Consumer Trends

Earlier today, Proctor & Gamble Co. (manufacturer of Folgers and one of the Big Four) announced the launch of a new coffee concoction formulated to reduce stomach irritation: P&G sees big market for stomach-friendly coffee – Reuters Business Channel | Reuters.com. (This story was also picked up by the Cincinnati Business Courier: Procter debuts coffee that goes down easy.)

This new product, called Simply Smooth, reportedly uses a special blend of coffee beans which are roasted to limit the level of phenols in the resulting brew. Phenols are associated with stomach irritation when consumed at significant levels. Simply Smooth is available in regular and decaffeinated versions and is being rolled out nationwide this May.

It appears that Big Coffee is lifting a page from the market segmentation playbook of orange juice. Perhaps the Big Four are looking for a profit strategy successor to their investments in cheaper robusta coffee (which, ironically, were made in response to the growth in popularity and price of competitive specialty coffee). Is this their first step towards the beverage company strategy to carve up the consumer coffee market with a confusing array of “consumer need categories”?

Who better to start it than P&G, who practically invented product branding strategy? I can only imagine what’s coming next from the Big Four: coffee with extra vitamins C & E plus zinc, calcium enriched coffee, heart-healthy coffee… One thing is for certain, however: these conversations have already taken place in their various boardrooms.

UPDATE: March 14, 2007
The New York Times ran an article on “stomach friendly” coffee today, noting the complete lack of scientific evidence indicating that it does any such thing: Decaf Being Joined by De-Heartburn – New York Times. As with a lot of product marketing, consumers need only to believe that it does something special for them.

Edinburgh, Scotland: Filtering out the best and worst

Posted by on 12 May 2006 | Filed under: Foreign Brew

You think espresso ratings are just for American coffee snobs? Think again. Today’s The Edinburgh Evening News of Scotland published an article today rating some of their local options for espresso: Scotsman.com Living – Filtering out the best and worst.

The article’s author, Sarah Howden, escorted a Scots Italian arts impresario, Richard Demarco, around town to do the dirty work of tasting and rating the espresso at various cafés. Mr. Demarco rated the George Street Starbucks 2/5 for an unmemorable espresso (and mentioned that it is “not recognisable as a European experience and it lacks any ambience, any defined look”). Caffè Nero, Costa Coffee, and VinCaffè, however, got the definite thumbs up.

Trip Report: Crêpe o Chocolat

Posted by on 12 May 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This rather inventive French crêperie is run by an eclectic, French-styled, Madagascar-born owner and her artsy staff. They offer a wide array of unusual crêpes, pastries, and chocolate confections. It’s located in tight quarters with a few indoor tables and the kind of modern Euro club music you’d expect from a French-styled, Madagascar-born owner. In front there are also a couple of metal sidewalk tables for dining and downtown people watching.

Entrance to Crêpe o Chocolat Pastel pastries and then some

They serve espresso from the stereotypical two-group La Spaziale. It comes with a woody aroma and a medium brown, sometimes dark brown crema of modest thickness (this depends on the barista: one takes her sweet time pulling shots, so they come out a little richer). The resulting cup has a strong herbal flavor (along the lines of a thyme/clove combination) with some sweet and some tobacco notes.

While I’m annoyed by their paper-cup-only offering, it is a decent espresso.

Read the updated review.

Working the La Spaziale in back The Crêpe o Chocolat espresso

Research Indicates More Consumers Choosing Coffee Away From Home

Posted by on 10 May 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Home Brew

That great bathroom reading staple, Automatic Merchandiser, cited research today that shows U.S. coffee consumption away from home has grown from 58 percent of sales in 2001 to nearly 68 percent in 2005: Research Indicates More Consumers Choosing Coffee Away From Home @ Vending Market Watch News at AMonline.com.

Expectation is that this shift will continue as Americans turn more to gourmet beverages over their commoditized equivalents. The home coffee market hasn’t thrown in the towel, banking on better home equipment and coffee pods to raise the quality while emphasizing convenience. Yet unless you have a very good espresso setup at home, there’s really no reason (besides cost) to make home espresso drinks.

Filter-Drip Coffee: The ultimate cup of joe?

Posted by on 10 May 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Local Brew

With so much focus on higher-margin espresso drinks in the world of coffee, today’s San Francisco Chronicle published an article on the renewed art of making filter-drip coffee: The ultimate cup of joe?

The article particularly focuses on the proliferation of individual serving filter-drip coffee in the Bay Area. This preparation method has definite advantages over the big pot or thermos. However, it is oddly a bit late to the table for the Bay Area — considering that this serving method has been popular for years in some of the coffee houses of nearby communities, such as Monterey.

The article also mentions the “hand crafted” appeal to individual-serving filter-drip coffee. However, it has nothing on vacuum-brewed coffee — which, IMO, produces a significantly better, individualized cup. There are even fewer Bay Area coffee houses that offer vacuum-brewed coffee (one example being Glen Park’s Cafe Bello), so perhaps that’s another article and/or trend to look for in the coming years.

Mentioned in the article are Blue Bottle Coffee, Cole Coffee (formerly Royal Coffee) in Oakland’s Rockridge district, and Philz Coffee — the last of which is terrible at espresso (my recommendation: they shouldn’t even bother) but earning a reputation at filter-drip coffee.

Trip Report: A 16

Posted by on 08 May 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew, Restaurant Coffee

This Campania cuisine-themed Italian restaurant may be named after a freeway (the A 16 autostrada), but it’s more of a trendy hipster spot than you’ll find in most of Napoli — or at least among places that aren’t blaring Eurodance music. Inside they have cork floors and walls in the wine bar in front, a old school foosball table in the middle, and a wide open kitchen and dining area at the rear.

When they first opened a couple years back, they served authentic Neapolitan Kimbo coffee pulled from a two-group La Pavoni machine and served in Kimbo-logo cups for a mere $1.75. But as this restaurant developed a buzz, they smartly opted for higher espresso standards. Their upgraded coffee setup now has all the hallmarks of James Freeman’s consulting hand (James founded/owns Oakland’s Blue Bottle Coffee): they now serve local Blue Bottle Coffee shots from a Faema machine (with dual E61 group heads) in traditional, thick-walled brown Nuova Point cups. They also clearly ugpraded the price from $1.75.

While it’s decidedly less Neapolitan in authenticity, coffee that’s gone stale after weeks on a shipping pallet sent from Italy isn’t exactly high cuisine either.

The A 16 entrance marked by its faux freeway sign Inside A 16, Suze Orman frightens us with instructions of how to eat sliced proscuitto

A 16 now serves espresso with a somewhat thicker, medium brown, mottled crema. In replacing their Kimbo coffee, they went from a dry, grainy, grassy flavor to something that’s now much more refined and fresh tasting — a more complex blend of thyme, cedar, and some smokiness. They serve a true macchiato here (instead of something that looks more like a drowning cappuccino), and they use metal French presses and Blue Bottle beans for their drip coffee.

Restaurants take note: this is a big step for a restaurant in the direction of offering a legitimate espresso to finish your otherwise masterfully prepared meal. Chances are that the last thing your patrons will take home with them is the taste of your espresso, so think about how you want them to remember their dining experience.

Read the updated review.

Shelley Lindgre, A 16 sommelier, obscures some of A 16's espresso setup A 16 espresso and macchiato

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