A blogger in New Jersey posted an interview with Carlo Odello of the Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano, or the Italian National Espresso Institute: Espresso Italiano, Talking Coffee the Italian Way with Carlo Odello – Serge the Concierge. Mr. Odello (a friend of this Web site) was recently working Caffè Italia at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York.
Talk of Italian espresso standards have recently ruffled a lot of feathers this side of the Atlantic. Especially for those who bang their heads against their knockboxes with the zombie-like mantra, “Third Wave is Best Wave“. But this brief Q&A with Mr. Odello touches on good and bad coffee odors and the differences between coffee blends roasted in Rome, Sicily, and Liguria.
Clearly, America has become a Third World nation. That’s what The Daily Show‘s John Oliver said two days ago when Team USA qualified for the next round of the World Cup by dramatically defeating Algeria with a deserved injury-time goal to close the group stages. Mr. Oliver’s logic? We have the rampant unemployment, the devalued currency, the massive national debt, we can’t win a war, and now we have the capable national soccer team to prove it.
But as if to drive this point home even further, today in London Michael Phillips did what no American has ever done before: win the World Barista Championship (WBC).
Congratulations to Mike, who has spectacularly made it to the top of the world in only his third year of being a barista.
Coffee talk in the mainstream press these days looks a bit like the telenovela: short-lived serials from specific writers with an individual point of view. One of said serials comes from Giorgio Milos of illycaffè in The Atlantic, and his installment today is on milk frothing: All You Need to Know About Steaming Milk – Food – The Atlantic.
Mr. Milos injects a bit of World Cup mania in his article — which is appropriate, given that soccer (football) is unquestionably the official sport of the coffee world. (As an aside, we’ll be spending a little time ourselves in South Africa next month. Stay tuned for upcoming reviews of espresso bars and reports on the coffee culture specifically around Cape Town.)
Now there’s nothing in Mr. Milos’ short article that you couldn’t find in a standard barista book. But given that “milk” is the flavored coffee of choice in America, it’s a critical set of details for the local coffee culture. In our own home barista experience, we’ve found consistency much harder to achieve with milk frothing than with espresso shots.
Mr. Milos closes his article with an ode to latte art and a video demonstration at Mammarella’s in Napa. While we have yet to visit Mammarella’s, yesterday we were at Francis Ford Coppola’s sister café, Cafe Zoetrope. Let’s just say we were about as disappointed with their espresso as fans of Les Blues were with their 2-0 loss to Mexico.
Two curious, seemingly unrelated posts appeared simultaneously in the news yesterday. One on La Marzocco‘s new Strada machine and all its variable-pressure-control glory: Ristretto | Strada – T Magazine Blog – NYTimes.com. The other, Esquire installment #3 from Todd Carmichael, about the ridiculous MSRP/retail prices for professional espresso machines and what most people in the industry actually pay for them: Espresso Machine Advice – Do I Need an Espresso Machine? – Esquire. What both articles speak to is the gadgetization of coffee. In fact, the Times‘ series, “Ristretto,” is dedicated to the gadgetization of coffee.
Sure, CoffeeGeek.com has been around for ages, and there’s plenty of shop talk in there about this or that device. The difference now is that the New York Times is writing about pressure profiling in professional espresso machines, and Esquire is talking about the logistics and financials of installing a Synesso for home use.
What happened? Why does a layman consumer reading the Times or Esquire need to know about the pre-infusion of a Slayer machine? Particularly given that these details seem to be of far greater interest to bored baristas and their armchair brethren than to consumers who cannot discern any noticeable improvement in the resulting retail cup.
Gadgetization — a fetish for devices and technology within a hobby — has infiltrated everything from golf to home cooking. But its more than consumer markets being created for suspect products such as electric garlic peelers. (Think the unwashed product-hawker SCAA conference floorshow bearing down directly on consumers.) It’s the blogosphere committed to paradoxes like “high-tech [sic] Chemex brewers” — things my in-laws have been using since before 99% of America’s baristas had even been born.
Earlier this year, when some writers bandied about the hyperbole that “fourth wave coffee has arrived” with the release of the Slayer machine, we wrote about the true origins of the term “Third Wave coffee.” In hindsight, our ridicule of this “fourth wave coffee” claim may have been premature. Because if coffee’s Third Wave is about appreciating coffee for its own sake, perhaps any Fourth Wave is about appreciating the devices and technology behind making coffee for their own sake. That is: no coffee required.
In other words, coffee’s waves seem to have evolved enough to render any actual coffee irrelevant to its enjoyment.
If the title of this post seems like the product of a copy-editor undergoing a seizure, it is intentional. It echoes the title of a new article on Esquire‘s Web site verbatim: Worst Coffee Trends – Bad Coffee Trends – Esquire. To thicken the plot, do note that this is the second article in a series written by La Colombe‘s Todd Carmichael. His first was titled: Coffee Revolution – New Ways to Roast Cofee [sic] – Esquire. ([sic] added by us.)
What’s going on here? Esquire is usually doing battle with GQ for who’s male readers have more money, power, and women (in that Scarface order). What do they care about hipster doofuses drinking beverages that cost 0.000016% the price of a new Maserati GranTurismo? Why do they list it under the strange blog topic named “food-for-men”? And if they can afford that GranTurismo, why can’t they afford a spell-checker?
Those questions remain unanswered. What also remains unanswered is, “What’s with Todd Carmichael’s stream of consciousness in these pieces?” The original post reads like not-quite-lucid reflection that should be funny and entertaining. It used phrases like “cork sniffers” and “rock star barista”, plus it made an homage to the Torrefazione Italia of old — what’s not to like? But instead, it came off like an unfocused and incoherent rant. Amp up the language a bit, give the man a shopping basket to push, and he could pass for Gary Busey cruising the Tenderloin on his way to Glide Memorial for the night. We didn’t cite his piece the first time around because, well, it didn’t make any more sense than a Frank Chu sign.
In Mr. Carmichael’s latest rant — with the subtitle of 7 Steps to Survive the Horrible Hipster Coffee Trend — he takes on $17,000 coffee machines, roasters who fawn over elitist bean crops, and baristas who don’t conform to his ideals of appearance or speech. In other words: all the stupid crap we write about. Except we’re perhaps the craziest ones of all. Because when we do it, we honestly think we’re trying to make a focused, logical point somewhere along the way.
Mr. Carmichael: we honestly like what you’re trying to say. We even like your coffee — despite the occasional coffee Nazi who wants to publicly urinate on you out of a sense of superiority combined with good-press envy. So take this as benevolently as possible: don’t give up the day job. Stick to making good coffee or crossing the Antarctic, because expressing yourself in writing just isn’t your strong suit … and Lost no longer needs writers.