Friday, July 29, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #9

Podcast Number Niner. Pick your link below and right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed (AAC format).

Special guests: Cindy Chang, Counter Culture Coffee (Durham, NC), and Trey Elder, Intelligentsia Coffee (Chicago, IL)
Podcasting from Jay's Shave Ice, Timonium, MD.

We recorded onto a WinXP laptop this time, and we had a couple of sound issues. Don't think it detracts too much from this mess of a podcast. Oh, and no apologies for the length of this show... you know you love it.

Show highlights and discussion topics:
- News bits
- Chit-chat with our guests
- Special event: Cindy Eats A Rib
- Espresso lineage: where your initial training came from
- What Is Chris Tacy Thinking About Today?
- Coffeehouse culture

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice (the AAC version sounds better and includes "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off) both: 1 hour 46 minutes and 42 seconds, 32 kbps bitrate, 32 kHz sample rate...
MP3 format, 26.5 MB,
AAC format, 25.7 MB

Click here to go to the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes Music Store.

We've moved the MP3 feed to podcast2.xml, so if you don't want the AAC's, update your bookmarks and/or your newsfeed application.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

   from Nick

Communal solitude

Communal solitude = "Where you go when you want to be among lots of people who are leaving you alone."

To continue the discussion about coffeehouse culture, to me, it's all obviously a symptom of the greater North American consumer culture.

I believe that what makes a place like a coffeebar work well as a community (in the sort of way that we seem to be wanting it to) requires individuals to look to themselves and motivate themselves to move their feet, go out there, and take the little risks that are involved when engaging with others in public. Basically, people look to themselves and to each other to fill their lives.

The reality of where things seem to be going is more that people are looking to business to fill their lives.

In our religion-of-consumerism age, people have more access to money (particularly money that they don't actually own) than ever before, but only because there are more ways to spend money than ever before. The more consumeristic we become, the less satisfying things that are truly free, despite MasterCard's best efforts, seem to feel.

To quote the wise old sage, Admiral Ackbar, "It's a trap!"

Parks are empty, malls are full. Libraries are empty, Amazon.com is booming. Starbucks drive-thrus are the hot new thing here in the east coast... little independent coffee houses are struggling.

I look out into the world and see all of these signs that we're all evaluating each other with the question, "What can you do for me, the way that I want, when I want, how I want, and as comfortably as possible? Whoops... I meant, comfortably for me" But don't I then have to look at my own business, and check myself and see how we relate?

So I look at my cafe here in Arlington, VA, and at 11:00am on a hot Thursday morning, I count... 17 people in this camera-phone picture that I just took. Three are sitting alone, reading. 12 are sitting alone on laptops, most likely on the internet. There is one lone pair, highlighted in yellow, having a conversation. It's actually worse than it looks because you can only see 1/3 of our seating area here, and the rest of the rooms are populated by 8 people... each on a laptop.

Am I as a business owner merely helping bait the consumerist trap? Am I just feeding the desire for people to have more and more by giving them better coffee? Am I contributing to the ever-rising bar by which people will judge others, deeming them inadequate, irrelevant, and not good enough for their palate? I want my shop to be more than just another rung on the ladder of rising prices and quality.

As I mentioned in a past podcast, our Capitol Hill (DC) shop is different. With only 1/6th of the square footage of Arlington, and with a different-enough neighborhood culture, the vibe is much more conducive to people sitting and talking, often among strangers. There, we know the regulars' names, their dogs' names, all of the tidbits of knowledge that emerge when you've got a vibrant, dynamic, 'proper' coffee shop.

But if I had to pin-point the most telling difference of all... people in Capitol Hill tend more often to look you in the eye. But more importantly, they look at each other in the eye.

I just wonder for how much longer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

   from bronwen

Roasting 101/102

the past few days in seattle have been beautiful and sunny. however, roasting gets even more roasty and toasty on those days. yesterday, i got to assist roast on a few batches. peter g, i don't know how you and all the other guys do it, but learning how to roast is hard. especially hard when i've come off a 6hr bar shift and tired and wanting to enjoy the sun. but, i digress.

yesterday, was FUN. i was introduced to the concept of airflow (i quote john sanders in his texan/canadian accent, "it's all about the airflow') and how to control my flame to keep my roast developing at a steady pace. the other thing i learned, i quote john sanders again, "it's all about the crack" -- paying attention to 1st and 2nd crack and knowing when the bean is done. at this point i was dying from laughing so hard, and so was everybody else around the shop. in between john sanders and john hornall spitting green beans at each other through straws from across the room, we managed a few good batches. a good roasting day.

it's nappy time, bronwen

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

   from chris

"comfort" espresso

After a number of weeks of tasting tons of different espressos (both blends and a lot of single origin shots), this morning I pulled some shots of Hairbender.

It was like coming home. Like a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. You know what I mean?

I don't know if it is just that I'm used to the Hairbender or that it really suits my taste - but for me it's the espresso version of comfort food.

So... this challenges my whole "don't stress the consistency thing in blends" stance as well as my "we're looking for interesting espresso" thing.

I used to believe that:
Some people drink coffee for social reasons.
Some people drink coffee for lifestyle/brand reasons.
Some people drink coffee for pharmaceutical reasons.
And some people drink coffee for culinary reasons.

Now I've realized that the truth is that we all drink coffee for all the reasons above, and for that comfort, that sense of "here it is." At some points, one or more of the reaons dominates and for each of us the ranking of reasons differs.

What is your comfort coffee?
What are your reasons?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

   from Peter G

Tegu, Talus, and Umami


Apologies. In today's epistle, I am going to indulge myself in comparing coffee and wine, an exercise which has grown tiresome to many. (hi, Trish!)

But, as it happens, I cupped a few arrival samples of Kenya auction lots on Friday. And, as it happens, one of them was lot 830, from the Tegu cooperative. Now, when we were visiting Kenya last month, Duane and I learned that this may be the best lot of the whole year, according to a number of tasters there. Fortunately for coffee lovers in Portland, Chicago, and North Carolina, this lot is owned jointly by you-know-who, you-know-who and you-know-who.

It is certainly the best lot of the year from my perspective. The coffee is an absolute punch-in-the-face of raspberry, blackcurrant, black pepper, cognac, port wine, mascarpone cheese, and top sirloin. After tasting on Friday, I could not stop thinking about this coffee. I would be doing something constructive, and all of a sudden the Tegu lot would occur to me, and my mouth would start watering and I would start deconstructing the flavors again. Really memorable, this lot. Sadly, I was facing a weekend without any possibility of drinking the lovely Tegu, as the coffee is currently sitting in San Francisco, waiting for shipment here.

As I am inclined to do when feeling melancholy, I went to my little bottle collection to find a wine to open up and drink while going about my weekend business. I wound up opening a bottle from Talus, a winery in the obscure Lodi district east of San Francisco. Thank God I chose this bottle, a zinfandel from 2002. Perhaps it was my need for satisfaction, but the wine was chock full of berries, black pepper and a mouthwatering savory character, which was exactly the therapy my palate needed. A perfect equivalent of the sock-it-to-'em Tegu, I found myself charmed by the dark fruit complexity and umami characteristics of the wine.

This experience made me reflect on the nature of umami, which is a key component to both the lovely Tegu and the wonderful Talus Zin. What is umami, you ask? (at this point, those who know me well are saying, "here he goes, about umami again.") I just can't help it.

Umami is a Japanese word, and translates most directly as "deliciousness". Why Japanese? The story goes like this:

For ages, the Japanese have used a seaweed called kombu in the omnipresent "dashi" stock, used everywhere in Japanese cooking. In the early 1900s, a scientist by the name of Professor Kikunae Ikeda set out to discover what made kombu so special. What he discovered was the presence of a fifth flavor component (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter). This flavor component gave delicious flavor to such foods as tomatoes and meat, and was especially present in kombu as well as foods with high yeast activity, like soy sauce, wine, bread, and cheese. He named this flavor "umami", and was able to isolate its key chemical component, glutamic acid. Turns out, glutamic acid is the most common amino acid in dietary protein. Dr. Ikeda was able to create a seasoning based on glutamic acid, by precipitating it as a salt. You guessed it, monosodium glutamate or MSG. Sadly, MSG fell upon hard times in the 70s, when a group of alarmists, led by Dr. Russell Blaylock and Dr. George Schwartz, declared MSG harmful. Their theory was based on the notion that MSG "overstimulated" your taste buds, leading to neurological damage. (basically, the idea is that stuff that tastes too good will kill you. Ugh.) There has never been any substantial or significant data to support this theory. However, most Americans still think of MSG as dangerous. Too bad for them.

Lucky for us, glutamic acid is present in great coffee, and it is especially charming when it occurs. My theory is that it is a byproduct of the fermentation process used in many of the great coffees. The umami taste is especially present in great Kenyas. Is it a coincidence that Kenyan washing stations often fement an uncommonly long time?

The mind reels.

Enjoy your umami.

Peter G

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

   from bronwen

"chaff bitch"

ahhhh, so the past few weeks have been pretty hectic at hines public market coffee (HPMC). yesterday began at 0500 (open shop) and ended at 0030 (helped sanders roast for a few hours after my 2nd job). gotta love the 16hr work day.

despite having only worked 12hrs, i had a great time helping sanders roast coffee. i even got to try my hand out with a few batches -- an ethiopian harar, a sumatra, and a sulawesi. it was pretty stressful, but fun. being one of my first few times dealing with a HUGE roaster (compared to me), i was intimidated. the probat 22K is a powerful machine. there are so many little things that matter -- airflow, flame, timing. being pretty tired, it was a challenge trying to keep track of everything, but with a little help from papa john i only 'burned' one batch. i think i'm going to LOVE roasting. the science behind it fascinates me, it feels pretty zen, and i further my understanding of what goes on with coffee.

of course, it's not all just being one with the coffee. for the past few weeks in between all the bar shifts, my adventure and responsibilities expand to handling paperwork, wholesale, deposits, cash&carry, being at sanders' beck and call. i always forget how much work goes into running a business outside of my little world behind the bar. at least with the other stuff, i don't have to deal with the 'once-in-a-while high maintenance customers".

right now, i'm pretty dazed on 3hrs of sleep. loved every minute of my day. can't wait for my 0430 alarm. i'm going to get some shut eye.

bronwen +)
   from Ellie

notes about guatemala

Sunday night I returned from a 10-day training trip in Guatemala City through Coffee Corps. I scarcely need to mention that it was truly one of those life-changing experiences. We worked with Anacafé which is a blended word for the Spanish words for "National Coffee Association." The people from Anacafé were totally professional and made the most of our time together. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this incredible experience but also begin posting about it while it's fresh.

While there, we held 6 training sessions and visited a number of local coffee shops and trained about 70 people, all either staff of Anacafé or working baristas of Guatemala City, entirely in Spanish (with help of a fluent speaker when we needed it for vocabulary). I'm happy that my Spanish is better than ever and now includes a long list of new barista-related words that I didn't learn in HS and college (calderas=boilers; lancetas de leche=milk wands) ! Many of our trainees are potential participants in the Guatemalan Barista Championship in August.

Amber and I also visited farms in Antigua and attended the opening of a permanent exhibit at the Museo del Niños (Children's Museum) that Anacafé helped put together. It was so exciting to see the endless coffee forest and trees all along the side of the mountain, sitting in the back of a pickup truck with the farmer whose grandfather started the farm in the 1920s, and then days later experience a country encouraging the next generation of Guatemaltecos in hopes of educating them early about GREAT coffee through an interactive and fun coffee exhibit.

I can't wait to go back to Guatemala sometime and I really can't wait to visit origin during the harvest. It was such an honor for us to be able to have this experience and it was very humbling and a bit exhausting but of course, totally awesome.

It's also great to be home and delight in how easy it seems to explain things in English now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #8

Podcast Number Eight. Pick your link below and right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed (AAC format).

Special guest: barista Katie Carguilo.

Show highlights (There are no highlights. Only lowlights. This podcast was super-long, rambling, tobacco-stained, riddled with profanity, and it rambles too. For true fans of the podcast only.)
- What we did before coffee
- getting pissed off at your barista coworker
- tasting some espressos
- Nick tells a story about getting cussed out by a chef
- What is your 'perfect coffeeshop?'
- CoffeeGeek moderators
- Jay gets into the porn industry
- blah, blah, blah.

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice (the AAC version sounds better):
MP3 format, 23.9 MB, 1:36:10. 34 kbps (VBR) bitrate, 32 kHz sample rate
AAC format (for iTunes and iPods), 23.1 MB, 1:36:10. 32 kbps bitrate, 32 kHz sample rate (with "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off... FYI, it might show up on your iPod in "Audiobooks").

We'll be taking another 2 week hiatus, hence another podcast so soon after the last one.

BY THE WAY, we're finally on iTunes Music Store! If you put "portafilter" or even "coffee" in the search field in the podcast area of iTunes Music Store, you should see us and be able to subscribe that way. NOTE: we have changed the podcast.xml feed to be a AAC (for iTunes and iPods) podcast feed. We're moving the MP3 feed to podcast2.xml, so if you don't want the AAC's, update your bookmarks and/or your newsfeed application.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

   from chris

morning cappuccino porn

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #7

Podcast Number Se7en. Pick your link below and right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed (MP3 medium quality).



Show highlights:
- News bits (Hines Public Market Coffee, Zoka's new Director of Coffee, condolences)
- Phone call to Kyle Larson, Stumptown Coffee, about the USBC
- More USBC chit-chat
- New regular segment: "What's Chris Tacy Thinking About Today?"
- WARNING: EXPLICIT ANALOGY ALERT... how coffee can be like masturbation

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice (the AAC version sounds better):
MP3 format, 19.4 MB, 1:17:37. 34 kbps (VBR) bitrate, 32 kHz sample rate
AAC format (for iTunes and iPods), 18.7 MB, 1:17:37. 32 kbps bitrate, 32 kHz sample rate (with "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off... FYI, it might show up on your iPod in "Audiobooks").

The files are a little bigger, but we're getting spoiled with this improved audio quality. Hope you find the extra download-time worthwhile.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

Friday, July 08, 2005

   from Nick

iTunes and the Portafilter Podcast

As of this date and time, Apple still hasn't listed the Portafilter Podcast in their iTunes Music Store. Don't know why. Maybe Steve Jobs is truly all about Peet's Coffee. *shrug*

In the mean time, you can still subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

In iTunes, go to the "Advanced" menu item, and click on "Subscribe to podcast." In the URL field, put in "http://www.portafilter.net/podcast.xml" and you should be good to go.

If you don't have "Subscribe to podcast" as an option in "Advanced," you need to update your version of iTunes.

UPDATE 7/8/2005
I've resubmitted a new feed to the iTunes Music Store... this time it's an AAC feed... see if Steve Jobs likes that one better.

If you're interested, the feed URL is: http://www.portafilter.net/itunes.xml
All audio files are AAC format, designed for use with iPods or iTunes. M4B files, bookmarkable (leave and come back to the same spot in the show). We'll publish both for now. But if you're already subscribed to the MP3 feed (podcast.xml), please unsubscribe from that one if you're gonna subscribe to the the AAC feed. Bandwidth is a beeyotch.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #6

Podcast Number Sex. Pick your link below and right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed (MP3 low quality).

Special guest, Mr. Daryn Berlin, General Manager, Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, NC.

Show highlights:
- News bits (baby-making)
- Phone call from Fritz Storm, 2002 World Barista Champion
- About George Howell and Terroir Coffee's green freezing
- Extraction ratios and weighing your shots.

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice:
MP3 format, 12.6 MB, 1:13:08. 24 kbps bitrate, 11.025 kHz sample rate (low-quality audio)
AAC format (for iTunes and iPods), 36.1 MB, 1:13:08. 64 kbps bitrate, 44.1 kHz sample rate (almost CD quality audio, with "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off... FYI, it will show up on your iPod in "Audiobooks").

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

Let us know how you feel about the AAC format for iTunes and iPods experiment.

Because of "personal stuff," we'll probably take a 2 week hiatus. Enjoy this podcast... it's a keeper!

Friday, July 01, 2005

   from Peter G

Leaving Rwanda


Hey folks. We leave Rwanda today to begin the long journey back home.

A few of us buyers gathered in Butare, Rwanda this week to taste the coffees grown by the Karaba co-operative, in the Gikongoro province of Rwanda. This co-op runs a washing station to collect the coffee from its members. Here is the cool thing: they keep each day's coffee separate, so we were able to taste 88 separate lots from the 88 days coffee was brought to the station. What a project! It took us DAYS to get through the 88 A1 lots and 20 or so A2 lots.

The coffees were spectacular. Raspberry, spice, vanilla, and citrus were everywhere in the cups. The most impressive thing about these coffees was the craftsmanship evident in each lot: we did not find a single lot which had been improperly fermented, washed or dried. This is almost unheard of in small-producer coffees!

Just as exciting as the coffees was the welcome we were given by the co-op. We were treated to dancing and singing at the washing station, and over the course of the week we ate our fill of goat brochettes and Mutzig beer. These people are FIRED UP about creating great coffees. It is no wonder that Rwandan coffees are among the most exciting things being offered by the best roasters these days. We cupped with local cuppers who work for the co-op, and they were among the best cuppers I have ever worked with at origin. This is particularly amazing given the fact that they have only been cupping here for 2 or 3 years! (The fact that they are so good is in large part to the fact that great roasters, including Geoff Watts of Intelly and others, have been volunteering their time to train cuppers for the past few years. Cool.)

It is rewarding to be a part of sustainable agriculture in a country like Rwanda, which has been troubled by poverty and political instability for generations. Duane and I kept looking at each other and saying: "this is what it's all about."

One of the dances the Karaba folks performed for us was about a warrior who protects his wife from danger. Lindsey Bolger, one of the buyers, declared in a speech shortly afterwards that we roasters were committed to protecting the coffee, just as that man in the dance was protecting his wife. I thought that was a wonderful, inspiring sentiment.

Protect the coffee, people.