“So I had this idea: that I would try and make sense of something. For me, i think, this is a pretty lofty goal. I mean, I spend most of my time wondering if anything anywhere actually makes sense or if everyone but me is faking everything. I wonder whether people think about their actions. Do they measure themselves in judgment against their self-perceived potential? Like I do? I want answers. I want my confusion to mean something.

So with that said, I would like to treat the topic of insanity. Definition as not-sane. Definition of sane as the way everybody seems to be MORE than OK with how things seem to be going these days oh did you get your kitchen redone yes thank you i would like another and don’t forget the five hundred you owe me for the time I’m sorry I forgot about your birthday I didn’t know it meant so much to you otherwise I’ll just stay in tonight and you didn’t want to come so I figured it was in your court don’t you love this shirt would you look at those and no one will ever know that I think you’re…

That, my friends, is what I am declaring myself in opposition to. Un-sane. That is what passes for sane and don’t you think it’s time we got over ourselves and our games and meet each other for the first time REALLY I mean we have so much inside I have so much inside so how much more must you all have inside.”

November 2005. Seems a bit heavy-handed, but apparently sometimes, we just have to be heavy-handed. Please understand. I don’t have anything against casual conversation per se, but when all you have is casual, when you have little of substance, of things that are pregnant with meaning, I guess that up there is what you get. Frustration and Hope.

Pls. be well.


He asked me to write it. This is a good thing.

Three things that make me go weak in the knees.shortofbreath:
1) Honey balls from the Greek Food Festival down the street.
2) Austin, Texas’ Stars of the Lid. Latter era.
3) A Softer World. Because he says things like this:

“But I love writing notes to strangers: ‘You have the best laugh I have ever heard. The only thing I know about you is that you work with maps and you always take the second straw from the dispenser – I do that too!'”

That kind of talk makes me wonder why I’m so cold to strangers sometimes. “I never imagined myself this way,” everyone says, but here we are, all being cold to one another more often than not. Knowingly leaving each other outside, and nobody’s knocking because being rejected is worse than standing by yourself, hoping someone will open the door. Two people came into work today, two! And I wasn’t very friendly, and I didn’t ask them how they liked the coffee and I didn’t ask how they were, what they really, really deep down wanted to do. Or what they wanted to do most of all while drinking this coffee. Did they want to be in a cabin, with their cat on their knees? Did they want to be making coffee for their grandmother? It’s like during the day I forget how to dream beyond my social role. Seems like night time, when I’m alone, listening to records, that’s when I remember I’m supposed to bring that magic insanity into the day.

Moving on.

Was e-dialoguing with an industry compatriot (compatriot? we met through this modern wonder called “intar-webs”) about several things, and he mentioned something that I’ve been sort of obsessed with lately: making sure you’re doing all you can where you are. Because it’s so easy to just assume that people aren’t helping you be full or pushing you to fullness, but in reality, we all know 73.6% of the problem is that we are not doing enough for God knows why. Not to say that leaving where you are is not a viable option, even if only for a time, but let’s all be sure to give our lives and what we are doing more than the old college try, eh? Isn’t life’s viscera about odd coincidences and things that are juxtaposed and pushing yourself and pushing your friends and being a little crazy? I once wrote something in which I declared myself in opposition to the world’s sanity, because that sanity seemed false and hollow. When I find it, I will post it.

How to remind ourselves to live even just a little bit more fully? How to embrace paradoxes without losing our minds? Is losing one’s mind really all that bad?

Thinking about life changes and being 25 and not being married or owning a home. Thinking about Portland and Minnesota, coffee and farming, guitar loops and drums and nap parties where I will be DJ Lullaby. Thinking about work and flexibility, commitment and freedom. These are things I need help with.

Catastrophe and the Cure

August 27, 2007

OK, not quite catastrophe, but still. You remember Toby. Well, he had a few problems, some of which we’ve taken care of. We’ll start with the actual problem. There’s a pressure sensor in the roaster that gauges the air flow, sort of like your nerves on your GI tract telling you something has to go. And if something is wrong

then the pilot light shuts off. Thank God for Sherman, otherwise I might not have any eyebrows. That thing up there is the lid for our chimney, and all those little holes are not supposed to be filled with chaff. Since the air couldn’t really get out, the pilot light shut off, thereby preventing me from roasting on two roasters (which turned into an eleven hour day, which was awesome). The object lesson being, KEEP A MAINTENANCE LOG AND HAVE ROUTINE MAINTENANCE OR YOUR THINGS WILL NO LONGER FUNCTION PROPERLY.

But. Having Toby’s guts out let me see something up close and personal that I had only suspected before. Rumor had it that our old roaster-in-charge type person had become frustrated by Toby’s relative “slowness” and had decided to take some decisive action by increasing the size of the holes in the burners where the fire comes out. Which means this now happens:

Which is bad. See all those big orange flames? Well, they don’t play nice. They make certain parts of the drum get hotter, which leads to uneven roasts and beans that have burn spots. Which is bad.

We have burners on order.

Aaaaaaaand, one last gratuitous self-portrait from the ride back to Pittsburgh from Detroit on Sunday, where I had some very bad espresso in Royal Oak. Why do I keep ordering espresso when I’m almost sure it’s going to be really, really bad? Do I just have to make sure? Does anybody else just want to walk behind espresso bars and grab the portafilter and just demonstrate how to make espresso? Is that so wrong? Sure, maybe it violates health code or employee safety or breaks any number of social mores, but mightn’t it be better for everyone? Let me know, because I’m more and more tempted to do it.

I picked this picture because the way my tongue sticks out is very becoming. And proper. Here you go.

Oh, Toby.

August 23, 2007

Why you gotta go and break my heart? 9:46 ante meridian on a Thursday morning, and I should be five batches deep by now. But we got a pilot light issue. Won’t stay lit, you see. So I gots to let it cool down so I can my hands all up in his guts.

We here at La Prima use two San Franciscan 25lb drum roasters, gas-fired. The newer one, Abby, is on the left, see, and she’s got a fiery temper (but I know how to sweet-talk her). But the old boy, Toby… I thought we went way back. I thought we were friends. Toby, Toby, Toby.

Why can’t you be like your little sister Abby? I mean, I know she’s newer, but don’t let that get you down. You know I like you more. You know I save all the best coffees for you. So why you gotta go and break my heart? Thank God Toni Braxton already said it for me, otherwise, I don’t know how I’d ever make it through the morning.

Hopefully, you’ll come back to me soon. and we can do some more of this. You know, for old times’ sake.

a deliciously rainy monday

August 20, 2007

It’s going to be great when I get home and listen to this

and maybe this

Coffee Abuse

August 15, 2007

Again, I headed over to 21st Street Coffee & Teafor a mid-day boost (sandwich, Nicaraguan coffee). Part of my motivation was, I must admit, an attempt to alleviate an oncoming headache. And I thought to myself: “Self, are you abusing this experience, this story, this coffee and all it entails just so you can experience the pleasant side effects of headache alleviation? Have you lowered yourself and this beverage to the lowest common denominator of caffeine?”

And in retrospect, I don’t think I did. I could have gone any number of other places in the Strip to feed my caffeine necessity, but I chose a coffee that had care behind it, from seed to cup, so to speak. It’s interesting to me, this appreciation for coffee apart from its requisite chemical composition. Sure, it’s endlessly fascinating and limitlessly rewarding, but can I really divorce that appreciation for coffee from its raw chemical power?

I suppose the question I’m really asking is this: to what end do we use things? Are we to appreciate a thing beyond its immediate utility? Wendell Berry once wrote that the value of tools is not in their novelty but in their utility. Regarding farm implements (plow, yoke, cart, hoe), the answer is pretty simple. Sure, you can do things faster with new technology, but can it be done better? In most things, I would agree with him: have computers made our lives more convenient? Has the automobile made our lives easier? Has the global marketplace done most of the world much good? My answer to these questions is, generally, no. Call me a Luddite. I’ve done as much myself.

But I hesitate to include coffee in this list. Perhaps it’s because I’ve invested a certain amount of energy in coffee, but I’m willing to say coffee is uniquely situated in the world to reach a vast amount of people and do a vast amount of good by using technology and by looking at it as more than a vehicle for caffeine. I talk to a good number of coffee drinkers here in Pittsburgh who, when asked about their preference of coffee, reply “whatever has the most caffeine.” I’ve begun conversations about the nuance of a Mexican coffee and its fascinating story (indigenous Chiapans who don’t recognize the sovereignty of the Mexican government! Isn’t that cool!) to be rebuffed by “does it have a lot of caffeine?” This reaction, I think, is the real abuse. Not that people are utilizing coffee for its caffeination, but that they have declined or neglected to see beyond the drug to its story and the work people have put into their coffee. It’s a lot like customers at a supermarket, buying a bag of potato chips without ever thinking about where those chips came from or what processes they’ve gone through to end up in the grocery store, in their hand.

I think the chief aim of coffee professionals should be to somehow enter into this disconnect between end product and holistic appreciation for said product. To bring people to an appreciation and an understanding for coffee where they would otherwise ignore the nuance and story altogether. If this happens, consumers of caffeine would then be consumers of coffee and patrons of stories. Then imagine how consumers might then rethink all of their buying decisions. Imagine direct trade style models for all kinds of food and office supplies and pillows. Sure, maybe somebody in China might be able to make a pillow cheaper than my friend down the street, but which is better for the world? Shouldn’t Chinese pillow-makers be making pillows for their Chinese neighbors? This begins to get into complicated matters of international trade, so I’ll stop here. Otherwise, I’d probably go on and on in vague, nebulous terms about the global economy and local economies. But think about it.

I suspect this whole argument is actually specious, because coffee isn’t actually a tool, so my comparison is a bit off. It’s still something I’d like to explore.

So there I was, giving the roasters a post-lunch warm-up, reading up on some blogs on coffee, innocently getting to the bottom of this Yirgacheffe from 21st Street Coffee & Tea, when

…all of a sudden…

…as if from nowhere…

…with two sips left…

malty overtones! lemons! delicious, delicious lemon-bread!

And there they were, the delicious things I had been expecting from this coffee from the very first sip, had been waiting for, had been disappointed by their absence up until this very moment. Further proof to let your non-espresso coffees cool if you want to really, really get to know them, either on the cupping table, in a ceramic cup, or in a little paper bundle of “i-am-in-a-hurry.”

behold, i am the guilty party.

In any case, I promised I would tell you about the Honduran I roasted Friday. Well. Rich Westerfield stopped in on Friday afternoon to pick up some of the Tanzanian PB FAQ+ I’ve been drooling on about for the last two months, specifically for use as SO espresso. Since we at La Prima are remarkably D.I.Y. (with this remarkable exception), we don’t really have any PID controls or what-not, so I pulled some water out of our little Junior and stuck a steaming thermometer in a pre-warmed cup. Add a couple of degrees for error to 190F, you’ve got somewheres around 197F. Rich? Back me up?

But what was the coffee like, you ask? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you that I still haven’t saved up quite enough pennies to buy a hot water kettle that will give me a more consistent temperature for brewing. I’ll tell you I still haven’t found exactly the right grind on this cheapy McCheaperson Pavoni burr grinder. So I’ve been a teensy bit unconfident in my cupping abilities.

BUT THE COFFEE!???!!!, you demand. Subtly fragrant, chocolate, a touch salty, and a backflush of raisins. Brewing gave more chocolate, but this time with a bit more spice, like a cayenne. Or something sweeter. Then squash. Loads of squash on the break. Winter squash, summer squash, you name it. Smarch squash, Febtober squash, squash. Well, maybe not that much squash. But the body rose up on the palate, like a breaker on a beach. And it sort of tasted like breakfast. A balanced breakfast. With eggs, and french toast with powdered sugar.

So there you go. Maybe with a bit longer development at a slightly lower temp this coffee can do a bit better. Will keep you posted.

And for all interested parties, I recommend you check out this video by the Great Lake Swimmers because I think they are more than worth mentioning. I think they are fantastic.

FTO Honduras Cohorsil.
Half batch, 11:13 (min:sec), 450 at 06:42, held at 420 from 7:45-10:15.
I’ll let you know how it turned out.

Coffee roaster or coal miner? You be the judge.

Those of you “in the know” may have heard tell of La Prima‘s (new website coming soon. It was soon four months ago, so I’d imagine very soon) long-standing service of espresso catering. Last night was my first, and from what I hear, one of the best.

Italian wedding, 400+ people, 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm. A two-man job, they say.

My co-worker and I roll up to the reception a quarter to eight with our two Cimbali Juniors (which in my opinion are just great. You could drop that thing into the river and have it get hit by speedboats for an hour, pull it out, and pour yourself a fan-tas-tic espresso. For my tastes, double ristretto), our Cimbali grinders in decent working order, five pounds of Miscela Bar Espresso, three gallons of whole milk, one gallon of 2% (they only had three gallons of whole at the gas station), and our bins of sundry items. We set up. We got things in order. Pulled test shots. And then

Well, I won’t describe it as well as you can read about non-professional baristi being crushed by orders for many, many more drinks here, but the point is, myself and my compatriot were facing lines of seven for two hours straight, and we ran out of all our milk and all our coffee at 10:27 pm. I mean, I’ve worked in cafes before, but I have never been even close to that busy. Ever. And it was more fun with coffee than I’ve had in months. Better than having my hair blown off by SO espresso, better than cupping seven coffees with local coffee-professional-types, better than smelling our past-crop Harrar nearly second crack (which smells awesome).

All that to say, I could do that for a job and be entirely happy.