Archive for the 'coffee' Category

Fooding closer to the source

My wife often says that come the day when gas is $5,000 a gallon, those who can support themselves (and grow their own food) will be in high demand.  My wife counts in this number, and it’s with this in mind that I appreciate our moves away from the “convenience” foods and products – though, in a twist of language, what’s more convenient than having food right in your own garden?

We are Amanda is growing a lot of our food.  Last year’s bumper crop of basil and tomatoes is one example; right now we are elbow deep in arugula and other assorted lettuces, onion, fava and garlic.  (It also helps that our landlord and landscape designer has planted 15+ fruit trees around the property.)  Having friends who make beer, and wine, is also a good thing in this arena.

I also appreciate a lot of the other things we do “from scratch” – not only making bread (and pizza) but also curing our own olives (raw olives show up on the local farmer’s markets from Nov to Feb).  I’ve even made dog biscuits, though not regularly.

Even our coffee consumption has moved down the convenience scale, though perhaps up the luxury scale.  We now have an espresso maker, and have completely removed our old drip coffee maker.  This has resulted in two things:  1) We go through much less coffee, even though every cup is now an espresso shot.  2)  The act of drinking a cup of coffee now must involve the entire ritual of making a shot of espresso.  This has made every cup a bit more of a ritual.  Which is perfectly fine by us.

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Coffee culture – Italian style

My friend and coworker Russ now lives with us – and he survived the first few months without his personal espresso machine. Well, now he’s brought it up with him, so we have a great – and fairly manual – espresso machine. I say manual because it’s one of those where you decide how long the “pull” is – you can make espresso ristretto to your heart’s desire.

This espresso immersion reminds me of my first trip through Italy in 1995, on one of those ubiquitous Europe backpacking trips. “Cafes” in Italy are a different creature than we’d expect them to be – by the example of France. The coffee culture is a lot more of a walk-thru experience.

Sure we encountered a lot of the classic outdoor piazza cafes – where you get charged more to sit outside than inside, because the servers have to walk less far or something. But the real “cafes” were small hole-in-the-walls with just a counter. Oh, and the ubiquitous paper things that passed as “napkins” but are closer to Christmas wrapping paper than anything. We would stop by for a coffee, and hope to find a place to sit and enjoy the drink – to no avail. People would cruise in, order cappuccinos or espressos and down them at the bar like they were shots. And then off again. At all times of the day – 10am, noon, afternoon, early evening. A constant stream of people coming through the do coffee shots – or drink their cappuccinos while standing at the bar. This wasn’t a sit-back and enjoy experience – this was a “get my fix and move on” experience.

That was our experience in the bustling city – Rome, Florence, the like. Things did take a slower turn, with occasional chairs and tables, is some of the smaller towns. Nonetheless, the “barristas” – usually men in their fifties – never slowed down. In post-tourist season Sorrento on the Amalfi coast, we found a nice little local spot – that had chairs and a table, natch. While we wiled away the time in comparative luxury taking up to 20 minutes to finish our cappuccino, we watched the the two crusty old men behind crank out cappuccinos faster than any tattoed, pierced American coffee-shop jock – all will barely breaking out faster than a shuffle.

A decade later, I visiting Noli on the Ligurian coast with my wife Amanda, and we stopped in on a small cafe during a Sunday afternoon. Finally here was a coffee shop we’d recognize in the US – or France, for that matter. No sooner had we arrived when a crowd from a wedding showed up – about fifteen people crammed into the coffee shop, getting their fix on their way to the reception. One of them took the job of ordering the drinks – and I’ll never forget the litany of Italian that I could actually understand: “cappuccino, cappuccino, cappuccino, espresso, cappuccino, cafe latte, cappuccino, espresso, espresso, cappuccino, …..

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Dunkin Donuts – fair trade coffee?

Wow.  I grabbed a coffe from a Double D here in Chicago (in California, a) they don't have many locations, if any, and b) no one adds the milk and sugar for you, so this was a nice change of pace) – and I noticed a sign on the door as I left…..

Dunkin Donuts now only serves fair trade coffee.  Apparently, for those of us who care, but don't get out east much – they've been serving fair trade espresso since 2003.  But this seemed to indicate that all their coffee is now fair trade.