May 2007

Monthly Archive

Trip Report: Boriana’s Favorites

Posted by on 16 May 2007 | Filed under: Local Brew

I Preferiti di Boriana, or Boriana’s Favorites, is a Ferry Building Marketplace shop that imports wine, coffee, dried pasta, and sauces from Montepulciano, Italy. In fact, it is the only sister location to its Montepulciano-based storefront. They have four bright red, modern, stylish stools at a marble counter for sampling wine and espresso.

I Preferiti di Boriana - now at a high rent storefront near you Stools like this could only come from Italy...

They use a single-group Dalla Corte Super Mini espresso machine imported from Italy, and they import beans from an obscure but well-regarded (at least by many Germans) wood-fired roaster. They pull espresso shots with a darker brown crema that is a little thin on thickness but richer on body (it dissipates somewhat quickly, however). Flavorwise, it’s mostly smoky with tobacco hints (not surprising given the roasting method), albeit a bit watery.

Read the review of Boriana’s Favorites.

About the only Dalla Corte machine I've seen in the U.S. Though they have real cups, this is a Boriana's Favorite espresso en carta

Clover Brewer Review: at Ritual Coffee Roasters, Bayview

Posted by on 11 May 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Machine, Quality Issues

You’ve read the review on Ritual Coffee Roasters’ new Bayview location. But at long last, I finally got to sample one of the few Clover brewer machines in the Bay Area while visiting. Word has it that the Clover brewer was probably the most talked about subject at last week’s SCAA conference. Given how long it’s been since non-espresso, brewed coffee got some serious love and attention, and given the resulting cup the Clover produces, I’d say the buzz is warranted.

Presented with a Clover-brewed menu of six different single origin coffees (which can cost up to $8 a cup!), Ritual barista Pele was recommending their washed Kenya Gethumbwini ($4) that they roasted three days prior.

Deep inside the Flora Grubb Gardens, Ritual runs one of their Clover brewers Ritual's Clover-brewed menu

I know what some of you are probably thinking: “What?! Wasn’t the $4 cup of coffee supposed to be some running Starbucks joke in the popular media? Except here you’re not even getting a double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato!”

Point taken. A $4 cup of coffee is certainly not for everyone. But if you love the stuff, you really must try it. I found the Clover brewer to bring out complex flavors often inherent in top quality, medium-to-light roast coffees — not entirely unlike what you might experience with vacuum pot coffee. Pele, Flying Goat Coffee buyer Phil Anacker, and I wondered if anyone has ever tried using a darker roast in a Clover. But then darker roast coffee is often like ordering your steak “well done” — not only does it hide imperfections, but it also deadens most of what’s interesting in its flavor.

I purchased some of their Kenya Gethumbwini beans for the home version — to try in a vac pot tomorrow morning for comparison. But the Clover seemed to really add something of a textured mouthfeel to the cup (think “drinking velvet” in wine terminology) in addition to accentuating the brightness of the coffee. Flavorwise, you could notice citrus-like brighter notes mixed in with a typical Kenyan chocolate flavor.

Water is added to the grinds The grinds are whisked with the resulting mixture (nice thumb, eh?)

“So how does this whole Clover thing work?,” you might ask. It’s not nearly as much of a show as you get from vacuum pot coffee. But there are some deliberate steps involved with these $11,000, custom-to-the-cup brewers:

  1. Measure out the whole coffee beans out on a scale.
  2. Grind the beans.
  3. Dump the grinds into the top reservoir of the Clover.
  4. Once the hot water enters the reservoir, swirl the mix with a whisk.
  5. Let the Clover brew its thing. Serve in a Ritual mug.
  6. Once finished brewing, the Clover reservoir will have pushed the spent grinds to the top of the machine. From there, you squeegee the grinds into another top-mounted reservoir towards the front of the machine — this muck then gets pumped out.
  7. Smell the fresh coffee and drink up.

When finished, the grinds are forced to the top for squeegee-ing off into the front reservoir for disposal A $4 cup of coffee that was worth every penny

UPDATE: May 12, 2007
The vac pot home version of the Kenya Gethumbwini was quite a success. It has excellent brightness with floral and tangerine-like notes. But what it didn’t have was the mouthfeel that the Clover offered.

Was that enough of a difference to justify a $4 cup over vac pot? Probably not on a regular basis. But vac pot isn’t cheap — nor practical for most cafés. So the Clover-brewed option is definitely worth the occasional treat.
The home vac pot version tasted great though not quite as good as the Clover-brewed

Trip Report: Ritual Coffee Roasters @ Bayview

Posted by on 11 May 2007 | Filed under: Local Brew

What’s this I hear? A new Ritual Coffee Roasters in town? A complement to the one that has topped the CoffeeRatings.com “best espresso in SF” list for about a year now? Sign me up…

The weekday hours may prohibit those with day jobs, but the new Ritual Coffee Roasters in Bayview is a far cry from the manic Valencia St. mothership. Ritual barista Pele Aveau was on shift today, and he was appreciative of the relaxed atmosphere at the new location. But perhaps not for long — this weekend Ritual is celebrating the grand opening of their Bayview café with three baristas on shift to keep up with the anticipated demand. (Phil Anacker, the green bean buyer and co-owner of the excellent Flying Goat Coffee, also paid a visit while I was here — there were some interesting discussions about The Goat’s plans to open up shop in downtown Napa plus some dirt dishing on last week’s SCAA conference.)

You’ll have to forage your way through the jungles of the new Flora Grubb Gardens to find this outlet. Tucked in the back of a hangar-like structure with a tall ceiling, past the shovels and books on tree care, you’ll find a Ritual flag and an unmistakable cherry red, three-group FB/70 La Marzocco (imported from their Valencia location). There are just three stools to sit on at the edge of the small bar, so seating is tight.

There's great espresso in here somewhere... Light reading and some serious espresso

They pull single espresso shots here as well as the usual doubles ($2), and the resulting shot is dense, potent, and comes with a moderate layer of darker brown, textured crema. Served in black Nuova Point cups. Flavorwise, it has a mixture of both a harsher spice edge mixed with a syrupy sweetness — making for a more complex cup.

Ritual also moved one of their two Clover brewer machines here. And given the business volume, they intend to use the Clover over any French press — and it’s definitely worth the price of admission. But we’ll save the long-awaited Clover review for another posting…

Read the review of Ritual Coffee Roasters @ Bayview.

The Valencia FB/70 makes an appearance next to their Swift grinders and the short bar The Ritual Coffee Roasters at Bayview espresso

Tracking the true cost of coffee

Posted by on 10 May 2007 | Filed under: Beans, Fair Trade, Roasting

BBC World Service radio recently aired a program (make that programme) that tracked a kilogram of coffee from its origins at an Ethiopian coffee farm to retail coffee houses in the Western world: BBC NEWS | Business | Tracking the true cost of coffee. The article mentions the gross imbalance in the distribution of profits as the coffee passes through the hands of middlemen, but it also touches on the gross imbalance of infrastructure and labor costs in the respective countries that the coffee passes through.

Not that Ethopian coffee growers don’t deserve more of a living wage for their efforts, but a fair and balanced perspective is required before the health of the entire coffee supply chain can be holistically addressed. As an analogy, we’ve heard about how much prescription drugs must cost to support continual drug development — i.e., that the price of successful drugs on the market must somehow also subsidize the research and development (R&D) costs for the many failed drugs. However, what pharma companies won’t tell you is that they spend more money for marketing than on all of their R&D. (In short, we all pay more for prescription drugs not so much to fund new drug research, but rather for the opportunity to see more Cialis ads.)

The article points to roasters as having the highest profit margins in the chain — which is probably true. Unfortuantely, they place few numbers and statistics behind this claim.

Baby Makes Two: A Second Ritual

Posted by on 09 May 2007 | Filed under: Local Brew

SF’s 7×7 magazine hosts a foodie blog (like who doesn’t?). This week, they noted the opening of a new, “less frenetic” Ritual Coffee Roasters outlet in town: www.7x7sf.com – Bits + Bites Blog – Baby Makes Two: A Second Ritual:.

The new location is in the new Flora Grubb Gardens spot, in The Bayview at 1634 Jerrold Ave. (and Third St.). Ritual is even offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal until the end of the month if you bring a friend. It’s about time The Bayview made it on the CoffeeRatings.com map…

Ten Best: Coffee shop archetypes

Posted by on 09 May 2007 | Filed under: Café Society

Yesterday’s Greensboro, NC’s Yes! Weekly published a humorous article on the ten most common customer archetypes at any given coffee shop: Ten Best: Coffee shop archetypes. (Updated for the broken link in 2011.) Though for SF, they’re missing the Prius-driving Fair Trade zombie child archetype.

UPDATE: Oct. 24, 2012
This is how not to do a retread: Greg Jacobs: People You See at a Coffee Shop. Some people just forget how to be funny with this stuff.

SCAA Names 2007 United States Barista Champion

Posted by on 08 May 2007 | Filed under: Barista

Many congratulations are in order for Heather Perry of Coffee Klatch in San Dimas, CA: Specialty Coffee Association of America Names 2007 United States Barista Champion. Heather entered the 2007 U.S. Barista Championship as a reigning three-peat winner of the Western Regional Barista Competition (or WRBC).

Yesterday at the 2007 SCAA conference, Heather beat out the competition for America’s best barista — including 2006 USBC champ, Matt Riddle of Intelligentsia. The win marks Heather’s second national championship since last winning it in 2003. It is also likely her last victory, as she now plans to retire (at age 24!) following her upcoming appearance at the World Barista Championship in Tokyo, July 31-Aug 2, 2007.

Disclaimer time: Although I may be a subscriber to Barista Magazine, I’ve made it no secret that I’ve grown just a little fatigued by the somewhat insular and self-congratulatory hoopla surrounding what I call barista gymnastics. Too many people in the industry try to make overreaching parallels between competitive baristi and celebrity chefs — a comparison that is more flawed, and does quality coffee credibility a greater disservice, than the ever-popular wine analogy. Meanwhile, so many other quality factors leading up to a great cup of espresso are given no public face nor voice.

That said, and even if Heather hails from the Southland, she has regularly made the trek to the Western Regionals to compete and excel. So I hope I may be excused for exhibiting a little (misplaced?) local pride for her victory. Congrats, Heather! Show them how the Western Regional baristi get it done!

UPDATE: Aug. 31, 2007
Today the Press-Enterprise published a detailed interview with Heather Perry: Inland barista takes silver in world competition; her espresso wins gold | San Bernardino County | PE.com | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California.

Good coffee just might earn your restaurant that extra Michelin star

Posted by on 07 May 2007 | Filed under: Beans, Quality Issues, Restaurant Coffee, Roasting

Yesterday Atlanta’s The Sunday Paper published an article on Batdorf & Bronson, an artisinal coffee roaster in Olympia, WA who supplies a number of top-rated restaurants in the Atlanta area, as well as cafés and retailers such as Whole Foods Market: 05/06/07 FOOD: Zen and the art of coffee roasting > SundayPaper.com > Current Articles. Batdorf & Bronson also has roasting facilities in Atlanta, and they are preparing to open up their own retail space in “Hotlanta,” as the locals say (or, “Mylanta,” as I would say). And yes, it will come with the obligatory Clover brewer.

The article pays some garbled homage to that third wave nonsense, but most interesting was its reference to chef Marco Pierre White — cited as the first “rock-star chef” and credited with putting London on the culinary map. Tomorrow Chef White is making a sold-out, $190-a-plate guest chef appearance at SF’s Incanto — coinciding with the recent release of his new book, The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef.

Chef Marco Pierre White heeded coffee's call ... and was rewardedWhite earned a three-star Michelin Guide rating as head chef at London’s L’Escargot at age 33 — the youngest Brit ever to do so. Part of the credit for this, as the article cites from his new book, was advice White received from a Michelin reviewer, who told him, “If you start serving amuse-bouches and improve your coffee, you won’t be a million miles away.”

Ahhh, restaurant coffee. Even the finest restaurants suffer megalomaniac chefs with an acute coffee hubris. But at least I am comforted to know that the Michelin reviewers are paying attention to the beverage. We can only hope that more chefs will follow their sage advice.

The First “Blogging” Coffeemaker

Posted by on 04 May 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Machine

Not all public relations professionals are brain-dead. Really. Unfortunately, there are armies of brain-dead PR zombies that routinely clog the media firehose with inane chatter.

One of their favorite zombie techniques? Take a rather inane topic that seems trendy in the media — say, oh, blogging. Then take whatever tired idea you have in front of you from your client and reformulate it — spinning it with as far-fetched a connection as you can make between that tired idea and the rather trendy, inane topic. Then pray that various media outlets are too inundated to fact check, and viola! — you have just hitched your lame story to the coattails of a media fad.

Apparently, one of the reigning media fads is still blogging. Last year we witnessed “coffee for bloggers” (no, I am not making this up). This year, we apparently have “blogging” coffee makers — thanks to the otherwise credible Clover brewer: PRESS RELEASE The First “Blogging” Coffeemaker: The Coffee Equipment Company Launches CloverNet(TM). But upon reading the press release, you quickly realize that by “blogging” they really mean basic data transmission. This is akin to NASA saying that the Mars Explorer is busy blogging from the surface of the Red Planet.

Clover, you make a good product. But don’t screw it up by hiring PR hacks who think we’re morons.

Cold War blogging technology kept hidden for years by the NSA

UPDATE: May 6, 2007
Apparently Rebecca Halleran of Duo PR is the lead zombie who walks the night in search of fresher brains than her own: The First “Blogging” Coffeemaker: The Coffee Equipment Company Launches CloverNet(TM) @ SYS-CON Media.

Melbourne, Australia: Five word coffee shop reviews

Posted by on 03 May 2007 | Filed under: Foreign Brew

CoffeeRatings.com was inspired by the importance of a scientific approach towards developing comparative reviews of espresso. But this somewhat clinical approach can at times take a little of the joy out of the espresso-sipping experience.

Which is why I am oddly inspired by the purely linguistic constraints imposed by a Melbourne, Australia blogger: Five word coffee shop reviews « My Opinions Are Important. Using five-word reviews, this approach — suggestive of haiku — is universally applied to describe the quality of the coffee at over 100 purveyors in Australia.

For those with a particularly ancient, arcane knowledge of the Web, they remind me of an old Web site of my own: the many terse album review entries in the Quick Fix Music Review List (which, due to personal neglect, sadly disappeared from the Web in 1996 … and yet lives on, like a phantom limb, in a handful of broken links around the Internet).

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