Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
It’s a good thing we’re no longer monitoring signs of the impending Apocalypse. But in perhaps yet another sign that quality coffee is at the end of a Golden Age, rumors today of a Stumptown Coffee Roasters buyout: Stumptown Sold Out – The Selling of Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Esquire.
Unlike the article’s author (and La Colombe staple), Todd Carmichael, we’re not exactly taking the news as reason to mourn the death of a coffee great. Despite the very un-Portlandia image of such a Wall Street buyout, a Stumptown ownership change is perhaps less of a sad loss for the quality coffee world and more of a necessary step in its progressive legitimization.
Mr. Carmichael calls Stumptown’s founder, Duane Sorenson, “the Che Guevara of the rock-star barista movement.” Coincidentally, today Mr. Guevara is known far more for his T-shirt iconography than for his political treatises. Similarly, Stumptown helped usher in the era of the Clover brewer, only for Clover to sell out to Starbucks less than two years later — ultimately inspiring today’s throwback to decades-old pour-over brewing technology.
Any reasonably successful counter-cultural movement ultimately gets co-opted by the mainstream as part of its natural evolution. And if the rumors are indeed true, Mr. Sorenson has busted his tail for many years and has earned a break. Should we feel sad?
Eight years ago, we lamented the demise of Torrefazione Italia when it sold its soul to Starbucks. And yet out of those ashes, two employees who met while working at a San Francisco Torrefazione Italia, Eileen Hassi and Jeremy Tooker, would soon go on to found Ritual Coffee Roasters. Ritual, and later Mr. Tooker’s Four Barrel Coffee, would play instrumental roles as San Francisco experienced one of the greatest quality coffee booms in its history. Instead of lamenting the end of the coffee world as we know it, a la Family Radio International, perhaps a better model is the Hindu god Shiva — who simultaneously plays roles as both the destroyer and the creator of the universe.
Here in SF, we’re sometimes way too busy holding our noses because a coffee shop doesn’t use Blue Bottle or Fair Trade certified coffee. (In our personal case, sometimes it’s just too few places that use Barefoot.) To put things a little in perspective, here’s a story today from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Police bust Italian espresso gang – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).
Police in Naples said they had smashed a lucrative mafia coffee distribution business in an operation code-named “Caffe Macchiato”, seizing assets worth 600 million euros ($797 million).
Prosecutors said the bugging tipped them off that the Mallardos were forcing cafes in the region to use a particular brand of coffee, whose sales were controlled by a relative of Feliciano Mallardo [suspected boss of a clan tied to the Napoli crime syndicate, the Camorra].
Coincidentally, we’re currently planning a trip for around this time next year to head back to Napoli and sample the local espresso among the city’s scugnizzi and the original pizzaioli. Repeat viewings of the 1963 Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni classic, Ieri, oggi, domani, will of course be required. Repeat viewings of Gamorrah being a bit harder to take.
Earlier this week, KRUPS, that bastion of great coffee, announced the winners of their National “Cup O’ Joe Awards”: Revealed: Nation’s best coffee shops – This Just In – Budget Travel. Now if only this announcement had anything legitimately to do with good coffee. Heck, if only KRUPS had anything legitimately to do with good coffee.
Of course, what we really have is one of the oldest tricks in the PR playbook: fabricate some kind of award (the broader the better — for potential distribution), issue your press release, and pray that it gets picked up in your target markets. The technique works, because we’re picking up the story here. Just probably not in the way KRUPS’ marketing department intended.
Over the past 20 years, KRUPS has probably done more to disappoint more home espresso consumers than any other company, and a multitude of American landfills contain much of the evidence. To counter this reputation, KRUPS has resorted to associating itself with “upmarket” coffee — such as years of sponsoring barista championships. Here KRUPS created a new Cup O’ Joe Awards out of thin air to honor the nation’s best coffee places — and to remind consumers to keep filling their landfills with KRUPS coffee equipment (and not just KRUPS waffle makers and deep fryers).
One signature of the fabricated press release award is when the award winners have never heard of it. Another is carpet bombing high density population centers (i.e., home espresso machine consumers) to maximum effect. Thus KRUPS ignores Portland, OR, quality coffee’s Biggie Smalls, while New York City, quality coffee’s Jay-Z, gets awards for each of five boroughs.
And when it comes to the criteria for why one place inches out another in a given market for this coveted award, we learn the criteria involves “mailers, street teams and social media pages.” It’s Battle of the Bands all over again.
From their press release: “Krups USA polled 250 coffee-toting New Yorkers on the streets of each borough to discover their picks for the city’s best sips.” Can you imagine a SCAA barista champion crowned without the use of scoresheets — but instead by some quasi-magical popularity contest involving random street interviews, mailings, and Facebook Likes?
The San Francisco award went to Blue Bottle Coffee, which is hardly unwarranted. But KRUPS awarding the nation’s best coffee shops is a bit like Chef Boyardee awarding America’s best Italian restaurants.
This has to be one of the most clueless stunts we have ever seen anyone perform in the name of the professional quality coffee trade. Coinciding with the first London Coffee Festival, some ad wizards came up with the genius idea of having 100 UK baristas churn out a Guinness World Record 12,005 espressos in one hour. Worse still, they celebrate this orgy of mass-produced gluttony as if it were an accomplishment rather than an embarassment: Newswire / UK Baristas Smash Aussie World Record At London Coffee Festival 2011 – Beverage/Wine – Allegra Strategies | NewswireToday.
It’s been a long time since we’ve encountered a better definition of the ol’ *facepalm*. Here we have a quality-focused industry of small independents struggling to find relevancy in the face of corporate coffee behemoths such as Starbucks. To those ends, they have turned to the language of artisan coffee, individual pour-overs with an attention to detail, the term “craft coffee,” and flowery, self-congratulating prose about the so-called Third Wave.
Instead, what we get is a competition that honors espresso-making like a factory that mass-produces vats of industrial lubricant. And Lord knows nothing says “quality” like “quantity”. Even better: quantity rushed to the point of setting world records.
Apparently, much of the discredit goes to Jeffrey Young, Managing Director of consultancy Allegra Strategies, who revels at the UK besting Australia in the PR Hall of Shame: “This record is a tremendous achievement and really shows the rest of the world London’s leadership in artisan ‘Third Wave’ coffee culture. London offers best-in-class food and coffee with many visitors coming here to learn from trends in this great city.”
Thank you, London. Apparently someone forgot to mention that the Third Wave is about how you can produce over 140 gallons of espresso in an hour.
Yesterday CNN posted a brief video piece on coffee culture in its birthplace, Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s coffee love affair – CNN.com.
The interviewees were weak, but the under-five-minute video offers some of the cultural backdrop behind coffee’s birthplace: the importance of coffee in the culture, how Ethiopians consume their coffee, and some of the challenges Ethiopians are facing with the global increase in coffee prices. In particular, we enjoyed seeing the mobile coffee vendors on the streets of Addis Ababa serving coffee to drive-up vehicles in real, not paper, coffee cups.
Every time we come across someone trying to promote consumer coffee cuppings as some second-rate imitation of wine tasting, we think of how much we turn our backs on coffee’s unique heritage — such as the Ethiopian coffee ceremony and its jabena pot, etc.
This week the pipes and tubes of the Internetz delivered a couple of noteworthy articles on local coffee scenes. The first is a cover story in Portland’s Willamette Week (“Drip City: Everything old is new again in Portland’s coffee scene”). The other is a next-generation rehash of a “favorite coffeehouses” list from the Toronto Star (“Espresso yourself: Find your perfect café – thestar.com“).
First, Portland. Can we call Portland “the capital of American coffee culture” as the article claims? The idea has its merits. But “Drip City“? Or the even worse subtitle, “The Rise of Nerd Coffee.” Huh? What nerd wouldn’t prefer working with machines that cost as much as a Toyota Prius over playing with plastic cups and paper cut-outs like a poor man’s woodshop class?
But they are right about the claim that “old is new again.” (Didn’t we just write that piece a couple months ago?) Does that make the current pour-over fad akin to bell-bottoms making another comeback, albeit made with very 21st century recycled materials? That might also explain the unfashionables who have been sporting their coffee “bell-bottoms” (i.e., offering individual pour-over coffee) since the 1970s, such as Monmouth Coffee in London, only to discover that they are suddenly in fashion again.
More telling is perhaps this quote from the piece: “I think a huge part of its value is that it’s just fun.” There you have it. One of the greatest motivators behind pressure-profiling machines that add little in the cup and the exhuming of decades-old pour-over technology: never underestimate the power of barista boredom. Given the repetitive stress injuries they risk in a given day, day after day, who can really blame them?
We’d have sued Willamette Week for plagiarism, given how it finishes the piece with a rehash of the evolution from Clover brewer -> Hario V60 -> Williams-Sonoma -> Precision Pour Over — something we posted New Years Day earlier this year. But given how much the rest of the piece is overwrought with Martha Stewartesque abuse of the word “perfect,” we’re distancing ourselves as much as possible.
However, we could use another dose of 90′s rehashed bell-bottoms, JSBX style. Anthony Bourdain need not apply.
Speaking of Martha Stewartesque abuse of the word “perfect,” the Toronto Star gave us another groan for the coffee industry with the article title “Espresso yourself: Find your perfect café.”
What is it with coffee and coffeeshop names? Coffee must have more bad puns per capita than any other industry this side of porno movies. The words latte, grind, brew, bean, perk, and grounds should all be banned from coffeeshop names. Though we just might change our minds if someone flaunted it by naming a café “Grounds for Divorce” or something of that ilk.
We’ve probably given Toronto a bit more coffee love here than they’ve deserved — likely because the squeaky media wheel gets the grease, and the Toronto Star has needed a chassis lube for years now. But despite having rehashed the local Toronto café round-up for more times than we can count, the article does a nice job of starting its latest incarnation with the vital baseball card statistics: listing coffeeshops with their opening dates, machines, beans, costs, and specialties.
It gets a bit flowery by qualifying things such as “impressions” and “music,” but that matters to many customers too. They also went a little doll house design crazy by building their ultimate coffee bar in this related article: Raising the bar: Toronto’s ultimate café – thestar.com.
“No, no, no. Alright? No coffee places with names involving metaphors, jokes, or any wordplay whatsoever. No ‘Sufficient Grounds’. No ‘Sacred Grounds’. No ‘Espresso Yourself’.
– Officer John Cooper, Southland (TV), “Identity” (Season 4, Episode 4)
Opinions are like… Well, let’s just say that everyone’s got one. And when it comes to America’s best coffee cities, Travel + Leisure magazine recently published theirs: America’s Best Coffee Cities – Articles | Travel + Leisure.
The article opens with a rather puzzlng personal endorsement of Steps of Rome in SF’s North Beach, where a traveler is quoted as saying, “their espresso is the gold standard.” Just to prove that everybody’s different, Steps of Rome is currently ranked tied for #186 out of 677 SF coffee shops on CoffeeRatings.com.
This might help explain why a place like Los Angeles — with its Intelligentsia dominance and boutique shops like Lamill — didn’t rate relative to the likes of Savannah, GA. To spare you having to flip 20-some Web pages, here’s their ranked ordered list:
Like Yelp, where ratings are often based on the cuteness of the baristas or perceived hipster douchiness of the staff, Travel + Leisure makes some odd nods to barista friendliness, comfortable chairs, and free Wi-Fi when talking about what makes a great coffee city. Of course, none of this is of concern to coffee geeks who cannot leave home without packing their own coffee luggage.
In 2009, the Italy-based Caffè Pascucci chain (including its espresso school, etc.) turned over its financial management to a group that has since favored more aggressive global expansion plans. These expansion plans included bringing their first non-Italian café chain store on this spot, across of AT&T Park in a modern brick commercial complex.
The Italian bible of coffee ratings, the Gambero Rosso’s Bar d’Italia, rates the coffee at two of this café’s many sisters in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. The location in Rimini (Viale Amerigo Vespucci, 3a) received two chicchi (coffee beans) out of a maximum of three, and the grander shop in Riccone (Via Parini) received a full three chicchi. So there’s enough reason to expect the espresso here to be pretty good (and worth exporting). Contrast this with, say, Segafredo Zanetti chain, which has always underwhelmed.
They call themselves Rimini-based, however. The on-duty barista on our visit worked for two years in their Rimini café, and he had the appropriate accent and tattoos for someone from the area. But for the many Americans who think of Italy as Florence-Rome-Venice, saying you’re from Rimini is like telling a San Francisco tourist that you live in the Excelsior. (“Is that near the Golden Gate Bridge?”) Despite its famous beach and favorite son in Federico Fellini, we caught an American (who had traveled in Italy, mind you) asking the barista where in Italy the café was from. The barista smartly replied, “East.”
Inside the café it looks like a modern Italian furnishings store — complete with white leather seating options (sofas, chairs), angular tables and chairs, and tall stools. It’s not a particularly large space, but the mirrored wall helps.
Front and center is a serving bar with twin, two-group, shiny Fiorenzato Ducale Tall machines — from which they produce sizable doppio shots with a sharp, potent flavor. There’s little softness to the cup’s spice, woodiness, and slight bitterness that borders on a medicinal edge (which isn’t particularly appealing). It has a nicely textured medium brown crema, however. Served in gold logo ACF cups, like the ones used in their Italian cafés.
Their drink menu famously has odd creations, what the Bar d’Italia calls versioni più fantasiose (“more imaginative versions”) or versioni golose (literally, “gluttonous versions”). A prefect example are their espressi confuso — where the confuso means what you think it does. These are espresso drinks made with a unique cream-like concoction served from a whipped cream maker at a premium price, suggesting the popular bucket-of-pumpkin-pie-flavored-Cool-Whip drinks that Starbucks made famous with their own ode to gluttony — but with some Italian-style modesty thrown in.
Read the review of Caffè Pascucci.
Tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal features an article on the Lisbon espresso, the bica: The Best Cafes in Lisbon – WSJ.com. It touches on Lisboeta coffee culture — e.g., drinking many shots each day at the local pasteleria (a sort of pastry shop/bar); a dependence on slower roasts, good quality coffee from Brazil, but also a proportion of robusta from former African colonies; and 40ml espresso shots instead of the Italian standard of 20ml (something we never saw as a positive, btw).
The article’s title is something of a misnomer, as it overlooks some of the best and most notable cafés in town. In part, this is due to the article’s focus on Delta Cafés coffee. Cafés such as Pastéis de Belém and A Brasileira are mentioned. But then again, our definition of quintessential Portuguese/Lisbon experiences includes headbanging to Da Weasel in Praça do Comércio whereas it probably doesn’t rank with the Journal.
Something strange about the human condition requires us to finish the year by sorting, filtering, and ranking things in order. This perhaps only seems odd to us because we do it continuously. Whether or not you think the world could do without another year-end top 10 list, the coffee consultants behind New York City’s TampTamp have put together their third annual Best-of-NYC: NYC’s Top 10 of 2010 | TampTamp Inc..
Compare and contrast this year’s list with their listings for 2009 and 2008. Although seven of this year’s top 10 use coffee roasted somewhere else, this means that three are actually roasting within the greater NYC area — perhaps suggesting something of a small trend there. (For comparison, 30 of the current top 31 coffee bars on CoffeeRatings.com use coffee roasted in the Bay Area — if you include the Berkeley-raised and Santa-Cruz-based Verve Coffee Roasters.)
A few coffee spots have repeated placing on their list over the years, and the consultants have noted how difficult it is now to break into their Top 10. This suggests New York City is experiencing its own evolutionary slowdown, just as we’ve noticed how hard it’s become to crack to Top 20 in SF in the past couple of years.
In any case, this Top 10 list is bound to make New Yorkers happier than their other #10 these days: Eli Manning, the NFL’s leading interception thrower for the 10-game-winning yet once-again playoff-missing New York Giants. Well, they could be the 49ers…