January 7, 2009

It’s true!  I’m leaving La Prima tomorrow for different coffee-colored pastures.  Look for me on the East End come early February.

BUT!  The primary reason for this post was to tell you about what happened in an airpot this morning.  I was cleaning out my desk area and came up with about 25 pounds of sample remainders from all over.  Dominican!  Ethiopia Lekempti!  Costa Rica!  Papua New Guinea, both conventional AND organic!

So what did I do?  I did it.  I did.  I roasted them all together, and then I BREWED them this morning.  The result?  A bizarrely bodied coffee, hitting different spots on the tongue in a way that can only be described as…novel.  The same for the acidity, too.  Very strange.  I expect the next cup to be different.

Hurry down!  There’s only 3/4 of a pound left!


Mayhap some of you have heard about Starbucks’ purchase of the Coffee Equipment Company and their now-proprietary rights to the Clover brewing system. Mayhap some of you have heard about Starbucks’ unveiling of the new Pike Place Blend. Mayhap you’ve wondered what this bodes for the future. Well, my friends, wonder no more. Lucas (of 21st Street C&T) brought back some of this very blend from his wayward excursion into the Pacific Northwest. In the good company of Stumptown‘s Hairbender, Vivace‘s Dolce, and Victrola‘s Streamline, this little roast came to me in an unassuming package on my birthday

with an invitation to bring it by some morning to give it a go.

So I did. I did it this morning. I watched them make this new and glorious blend in the method it may or may not be made in the future. Behold, the cake of shame.

And I drank it. I drank it up. And it tasted just fine. Not good, but there was a nice aroma to begin with, followed by pretty much a big pile of nothing. But it wasn’t offensive. Until it cooled. Now, I like my coffees cooler than warmer; some very interesting tastes usually come out when a coffee cools down. But this here blend started to taste like chalk. And finger-paints. Which is not really that tasty, to be perfectly honest.

So, dear reader, be advised that the wave of the future is chalk and finger-paints, brought to you by a large, publicly-owned coffee juggernaut headed by a self-important, narcissistic megalomaniac Howard Schulz.

So it was my birthday yesterday, and a bunch of people were crammed into my coffee shop to celebrate me being born. Not only were my good friends from the neighborhood there, but Rich was there, bearing belated gifts from the jam in Easton, PA, Brad and Drew from the Vault came down and gave me an Inkspots record (“The Incomparable Inkspots”, if you wanted to know), Luke and Alexis stopped by and gave me some of the finest coffee available in the country world, the folks from Beaver Falls C&T stopped in and would have brought me some triple roasted Kenya blend (!!!) if it weren’t for the now-notoriously finicky Anfim. People made some drinks, many records were played, including some of my alltime faves. And a bean-bag toss? And vegan mini-cupcakes with beer in the cake and coffee in the frosting? My friends are great.

People asked me to make a speech after they presented me with my half-eaten birthday cake, and I said something like “I’m really glad you’re all here; it’s great to imagine what we can all do and are doing, so thanks for coming to my birthday party.”

So everybody out there who came to my birthday and who wished me well-wishes on the telephone and internet, thanks a whole heap of a ton.

It’s good to know that when one is uncertain of one’s utility, direction, purpose, or any other thing associated with mid-twenties self-definition nonsense, one’s friends are around to emphasize the importance of one’s self. That sentence is terrible. All I want to say is a thank you to this community for thinking I’m pretty OK at doing stuff. It means a lot.

More posts later this week? If you’re lucky. But I promise pictures next time.


March 4, 2008

So for whatever reason, we have one of these at the roastery. Lavazza B.L.U.E. stands for “Best Lavazza Ultimate Espresso!” Or “Lavazza! Proudly lowering the bar!” You can have an espresso, a lemon tea, or a consomme (which I’m told is chicken stock. Who knew?). Tim says the tea tastes like Schneider’s (you know, the kind that comes in a big cardboard container), but the consomme tastes like Kazansky’s matzoh ball soup. Without the matzoh.

I made myself a nice little macchiato.

Well, by macchiato, I mean “steamed milk” with “espresso” And by “nice”, I mean the first sip was palatable, mostly because there was a bunch of hot milk in it. The second sip? Well…it went here.

So I’m just going to say a very little bit about convenience. The way this particular machine works is by putting a little capsule of ground or dehydrated coffee/related product into the machine, the top is punctured, and then you get espresso (or tea-drink, or chicken stock, as the case may be). Great for those who don’t have the time to be bothered with good things. The thing is, an espresso takes about a minute to make and serve. Maybe two minutes from ordering. A cappucino might take two and a half minutes, which is not very much time. So there’s all this money being made by selling people shit things they have no need for. This is not news. Since the decline of the American production economy, there has been a glut of unnecessary product dumped onto the market. Why? In order for capitalism to survive, the economy must always grow; this means that market expansion ventures into realms of created needs, which don’t do much of anything for anybody except make them feel like these supposed needs are finally met when they buy a product or service. I found this book helpful in formulating this particular opinion.

Why all the convenience? I think it’s a complex nexus of marketing, rampant economic speculation, the search for the easy dollar, the false security of money, the glorification of the self and probably a thousand other factors that I won’t really get into right now because I’m at work and not in school.

So I would like to encourage people, coffee professionals included, to take care with your craft and explain (emphasize?) why your beverage is not ready in twenty seconds and does not come from a capsule.

In defense of Sarah Allen

February 27, 2008

Yesterday, Barista Magazine‘s editor Sarah Allen wrote this editorial for the Guardian regarding her hopes for Starbucks’ company-wide staff retraining. In three hours, each and every button-pushing drink-maker employed by the Green Giant would become a barista. In three hours, each and every Starbucks employee would have at their disposal all knowledge necessary to create, by self-defined standards, the perfect espresso drink. In three hours. It’s that simple, folks. All it takes is three hours.

Allen goes on to reference the myriad independent-minded coffee shops that spend not hours but weeks, and even months on training new hires. As quoted in the article, Kevin Fuller of Portland’s Albina Press said “training goes on for ever and ever and ever.” My personal experience at The Vault Coffee & Tea Bar followed a similar pattern; it took a month before I could even touch the machine, followed by a few weeks of cleaning the machine, followed again by weeks of espresso preparation with the conclusion of steaming milk. It took awhile. But I learned an appreciation for the science and preparation necessary for a proper espresso drink. It takes time to really own something.

I had the time to look through the comments people had posted. Maybe it’s an across-the-pond disconnect, but I began to get frustrated. Some comments:

  • Coffee gobbledegook is silly.
  • I think this particular ‘discipline’ could use a little debunking, and I speak as a fan of coffee.
  • It’s just coffee.

It isn’t just coffee. Nothing should be “just anything.”

Maybe you’re just working at an insurance company. Maybe you’re just building a family. Maybe you’re just doing whatever it is you do.

Please stop.


Everything is important. Everything deserves to be done well, and if it’s not being done well, it’s not being fully respected. I’m guilty of this disrespect, too, but I would dearly love to see people, myself included, in any environment doing for that very environment what people are trying to do with coffee. Trying to remember who got these beans to my roaster and trying to do justice to the work that’s already been put into this coffee by the people who grew it and carried it and shipped it and bought and sold it. They deserve my best.

I believe that this “just ______” attitude is symptomatic of the decrease in ownership (in both senses of the word) and stewardship of good things as well as the abdication of personal responsibility. I, for one, would like to see people take a little more care in our day-to-day lives and think a bit more about where our actions fall along supply lines. I’ve said before, I think coffee is uniquely situated to bring up these questions, and the response to Sarah Allen’s editorial shows that coffee is a good place for these questions to come up. Help me figure out how to keep asking these questions in a way people are open to hearing.

So I just got back from Chicago where I visited these fine folks, among other things. Many other things. Like buying used books and records and seeing my old roommate be a blue man in a big theater.

Thought about things to do and what they meant. Couldn’t really get more specific than that, and I wasn’t trying to. I hope things come into focus (into the open) a bit more, though.

I am curious, intensely so, about how to get people doing what they love, or how to get people to love what they do. How, I suppose, to get people to enjoy life a bit more. I think this is a carry-over from my own current experiences; not being a psychologist, however, I’m not sure what it means if I’m trying to fix my problems in everybody else instead of looking to my own life for solutions.

I would like to not be bored to tears at my job, is all.

Thursday of the Living Dead

December 20, 2007

Peoples is wanting to hang out because everyone’s leaving for the holidays or coming home for the holidays. I haven’t been home before 11p in what seems like ages. I has gots to get more sleep. Observe:

Flattering self-portraits are one of my many secret gifts.

But it was nice to run into Rich and Jon and Ryan at the Sharp Edge; I’m already brainstorming about the next Jam and how many machines we could get running at our space in the showroom here at La Prima. Hey Pittsburgh! Let’s do more coffee stuff! Coffee is pretty fun! Don’t you like fun! Coffee things! With coffee! Let’s think about how coffee has the potential to engage people in dialogue about larger issues. Christmas resolution(?): I will not be a grumpy bastard when I am dealing with walk-ins at the roastery.

Also, where is my Harrar? Is it still in Jersey? Is it on the turnpike? Is the driver eating lunch?

Also, what do you do when you buy a warped record? Do you take it back or just live with it? Anybody?

A deliciously paced Friday

December 14, 2007

It certainly is.

You know what happens when you do something for somebody? Sometimes they will send you something nice in return. Like this:

One pound of Harrar and a nice note turns into one pound of Costa Rica, Cup of Excellence style. Amazing how the postal system works. Thanks Colleen! You’re the best! So far I’ve only tried it as espresso, but it’s pleasantly clean, just only so tangy at the end. Delish. So I’ve just got a couple more things to do today, maybe 400 pounds to roast, and I’m on my merry way. Tonight is a birthday party, with karaoke bowling. I plan on conning my friends into buying me beers so I can sing a very special song.

Also, if anyone has seen this album lying around, be sure to let me know. I miss it.

I’ve been receiving some coffee today, so I’ve been able to stand out on the loading dock.

The city is staring me down. All these leafless trees and snow-covered ground, the houses on Troy Hill, the wash of gray sky, the snow still gently falling, the smoke billowing out of the old Heinz factory, the sixteenth street bridge with its globe girder-caps, the downtown skyline to my left.

I am enchanted. If you were here, you would be too.

One or two thingers.

December 3, 2007

Hey kids! Did you ever feel crazy? Me too. If anybody has some suggestions on positive ways to utilize their very own madness, please contact me at this here blog.

IN OTHER NEWS: Aldo Coffee hosted Pittsburgh’s first ever Barista Jam (“Merry Baristmas”) and it turned out to be, in my opinion, a smashing good time. People from all over the city and from neighboring counties made it to Mt. Lebanon for many kinds of espresso, several different machines, a drink-making/pressure-inducing gauntlet, the ubiquitous latte art smackdown, silent auction, beers, wines, smokables, and many other things that escape me. This bodes well for specialty coffee in Pittsburgh. I met some new people, saw some old friends. Good time. Highlights? All the yelling, and some delicious beers that I don’t remember what they were.

Thanks Aldo; you throw a hell of a party.