Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The New Way(ve) in Third Wa(y)ve?

There's a new soda pop on the market.

And it's called Coke Bleech!

As in kinda nasty.

As in overpriced.

As in don't bother.

Actually, it's not that bad. Like coke with some weird vanilla latte flavoring added to it. Which also makes it kinda nasty.

But at least it comes in a glass bottle.

An 8z glass bottle that costs you more than a dollar each.

It was worth it to try once. I seriously doubt I will ever spend money on Bleech again.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Controversy Erupts at the WBC

Regular readers of this blog, listeners of the Portafilter.net Podcast and those who read That Board That Shall Not Be Named have a particular idea that I'm not one to mince words or shirk away from controversy.

I little bird called me yesterday with a report from Berne and the World Barista Championship. Seems that things are just: Situation Normal: All Fucked Up (SNAFU) at the WBC. Something about Sammy Piccolo not being judged correctly and some sort of controversy over the judges selection and how the Head Judge trained two of the finalists. Sounds like a problem to me. Even just the appearance of impropriety is enough to discredit the event.

It would be like myself making it into the Finals Round of the USBC and having John Sanders as my Head Judge. John and I are friends, he's my mentor, he's trained me, he's my roaster and while his feedback is extremely important to me and I have no questions about his ability to judge me in an objective manner, I wouldn't want him to be my Head Judge simply because no one else would believe it was legit. I would want my victory to be as questionless as possible.

Oh well, I guess I just think differently than most people.

And while I ranted just a week or so ago about the TARFU (Things Are Really Fucked Up) situation at the United States Barista Championship, am I as riled up about these WBC problems?

No, not really.

Maybe I've come to the point where I just don't care anymore. Maybe I accept the fact that the USBC/WBC will always be screwy. Maybe it's because I wasn't a competitor, nor did I spend thousands of dollars to compete (or send someone to compete) like I've done with the US competitions. Maybe it's because during the last podcast (#37) I vocalized the need for baristas to perform at the highest level in their own domain and that the competitions really mean nothing. That the ability to make a nice signature drink once is shit compared to being able to make that same level of complexity day-in and day-out for hundreds of customers a day.

For whatever reason, I really don't care anymore.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Melancholy Man

Most of my clientele is suburban, white and middle-class, with a sprinkling of minorities thrown in throughout the day. Everyone's usually friendly and in a good mood when they come here so it's a nice way to spend the day.

Just a few moments ago, a Filipino brother came in with a truly beautiful girl. She looks to be what we call mestiza or hapa, meaning that she's half-Filipino and half-white. Long golden dark hair, rich tan - a looker. They're both in their late teens or early twenties.

I've never seen a guy walk into my shop of his age beaming so proudly. I mean this guy had the biggest smile I've seen in weeks. He had that "I asked the hottest chick to go on a date with me and she said yes" look. Any moment and I thought I was gonna have to High Five him.

He ordered two of our house specialty; the Halo-Halo. It's a traditional Filipino dessert consisting of different fruit preserves with shaved ice, evaporated milk and a splash of strawberry syrup, topped off with a slice of my mom's delicious leche flan. For some, it's an acquired taste. For others, it's a religion. This guy orders two. One for himself and one for his "woman."

Like with most customers, I leave them to enjoy their treat in peace. No need to have some big guy hovering around waiting to wipe off the table and chase them out for the next customer. I go back to my duties but notice that this whole time, she's been sitting at a table while he's been running back and forth to order and pickup the order still beaming.

They're gone now and I'm feeling a bit melancholy for the guy. On one hand, he looked like the happiest guy on Earth. But, to be honest, she looked like a total bitch. Sitting there waiting for him to serve her, "don't be a sucker," I thought to myself. Maybe I'm just jaded over the whole dating thing, but I can imagine them sitting there with him trying to be upbeat and entertaining and she just feigning mild interest.

When they left he was still beaming. I watched them as they walked to her car (a silver Honda Civic 4door). She led the way looking like she was almost ignoring him and then him waiting while she took her time cleaning off her slippers before she pulled her legs into the car and unlocked the other doors.

He looked like the happiest guy in the world and I'm hoping that he can find the courage to leave her. She may be beautiful but no person should have to endure bitchiness in hope of finding happiness.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

More On NYC Coffee

I originally wrote this right after my New York trip but am only getting to post it now. Enjoy.

Did any of you see the comments from my New York Joe entry?

"You gotta check out Ninth Street..."

Good Lord, I'm trying. I'm just one man in a sea of bodies. Sheesh!

Rest assured, I did make the journey to Ninth Street Espresso right after my visit to Joe The Art of Coffee, with a pit-stop on the way there in Gray's Papaya for a breakfast sandwich. Ah, just like old times.

Actually, I attempted to visit Ninth Street the day before while I was buying shoes at 99X that New York Institution that sells everything for the properly dressed Skinhead: Doc Martens, Fred Perry and thin braces. I was just there to pick up some new Docs before making the attempt at Ninth Street.

The only thing I knew was that NSE in on Ninth Street and, guessing by the name of their ABC Blend, somewhere in Alphabet City which meant it was east of 2nd Avenue. So I walked and walked and walked - all the way to Tompkins Square Park. Getting a bit frustrated, I called them. "Where are you?," I asked. "Ninth between C and D," was the reply.

C and D???


It was already 5pm and I had to be at MTV.com's offices in Times Square by 6pm.

That's when I abandoned my quest for Ninth Street. Good thing too because the heavens opened and a monsoon started falling on the city.

But back to the next morning and Gray's Papaya...

I'm on Sixth Avenue and hailing a cab. After a morning of Americano, espresso and cinnamon roll at Joe, I need something a bit more substantial, so I had the breakfast sandwich, sans 25 cent coffee, for $1.50. Grilled sausage patty with fresh eggs, American cheese on a sesame roll, nice! Plain and simple. Hailed a cab and was zipping on my way across Greenwich Village with a turban-ated cabbie.

Now that I've been in the coffee game for a little while and have been rather outspoken about things within the Barista Guild, SCAA, USBC, online forums and the Portafilter.net Podcast, it seems that I've gained a little notoriety. I'm the kind of person who, when visiting another coffee shop, likes to just sit back and try to remain anonymous. I was able to do that at Joe and was hoping to do the same at Ninth Street.

That wasn't going to happen.

I hate to say it, but as soon as I walked in the door, I was pegged by the barista. Bob had seen me in Charlotte at the USBC and introduced himself right away. Great guy and I ended up chatting with him and Edmund, his co-barista, the rest of the morning.

Ninth Street Espresso is a cool little shop in a tree-lined neighborhood in Alphabet City. It's probably the same floor size as Jay's Shave Ice - a comfortable space with tables and chairs, a sit-down bar and no couches. I like the approach. I would have blogged from Ninth Street but they don't have Wi-Fi.

I started off with an Americano while Bob and I chatted next to their 2group Synesso Cyncra. After two stops, the Cyncra's looking to be the "it" machine of New York City. It was almost 10am and business was steady. A girl named Rachel stopped in for her morning vanilla latte and we razzed on her a bit. Cool girl, great attitude and she was trying to figure out if she was going to work that day as a media engineer.

After awhile, owner Ken Nye stopped in on his way to an appointment. This was the first time I met Ken and I'm glad to have met him. Ken's a great guy who's passionate and committed to quality coffee and espresso. He's got a level of intensity and passion that makes it refreshing to be in this business again - especially after listening to other owners babble on and on about how "great'" their coffee is when all I see is hot gas being passed. Ken really knows his business and it was great meeting him.

But some of you probably want to know about the espresso. In a couple of words, it's fuckin' fantastic. Easily one of the best espressos I've ever tasted. Lively, floral, sweet and minor chocolate notes. Chewy. Tasty. Fucking Good. I literally was chewing on this bitch. Yum.

I rank it Number Two to Hines.

Friday, May 19, 2006

New York Joe

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Double Espresso and The Board That Wishes To Remain Anonymous.

I can't decide if I've degenerated to this level or if this is a symbiotic symbol of my newfound enthusiasm for coffee. I didn't grow up liking coffee. I grew up liking tea. Coffee was just nasty.

Anyway, I'm in New York City for a couple of days hanging out with friends from all over the nation. They called, and since I didn't go to Switzerland, I thought I might as well get out for a little bit.

It's a grey and dreary morning in Manhattan and since I'm stuck in one of those hip, pretentious, expensive and compromising hotels in midtown, I decided to escape the concrete jungle of the theatre district for the comfy environs of my old stomping grounds in Greenwich Village and have some drinks at Joe The Art of Coffee.

I lived on Washington Square back in 1991. It was a great time. Giuliano had yet to become mayor. New York was a wild place. Ganja was being sold openly by Rastafarians in Washington Square on the way to classes at NYU. People were really rude. The meat-packing district still had meat. You could literally be killed in Alphabet City and Canal Jean was still bohemian.

From the entrance to my building on Washington Square West, you could see the twin towers of the World Trade Center. In my own odd sense of morbidity, I wondered how far the quarter mile high building would fall if you tipped them over. Little did I know that fifteen years later those towers would be gone and a generation of people would be growing up without them. Odd.

But I'm digressing into my own world of youthful remembrace...

So, I'm camped out here at Joe. A steady rain is falling and this place is ticking along nicely. I've already had an Americano, a cinnamon bun and a double-shot espresso. It's all good. My cousin just called, incredulous that I would venture so far for a coffee - I hate coffee, I remind him. For me to go out for coffee, it has to be good. I can't just drink coffee for the sake of drinking coffee. It's too nasty and why should I subject myself to self-induced nastiness?

The coffee here at Joe is anything but. The crema is deep reddish brown with serious flecking - gotta love that. The staff is friendly.

Did I just hear the barista call out that they just ran out of latte?

I don't understand.

Is he kidding?

Oh well, milk is nasty anyway so I'm not worrying about it. I'm too tired to worry about it. It was a long night that got me back to the hotel around 3am and then I was up again at 6:30am. This damn "gotta open the shop" bio-schedule that my body is used to has me waiking because I think I'm late to work no matter what time I went to bed. Spent the previous day/night sarging DJ Un-G's co-workers at MTV.com, eating gourmet hot dogs, listening to live bossanova at Laila in Williamsburg, drinking at some French bar on Ludlow - just too much partying for this old soul.

And tonight is Friday Night and it's going to be worse.

For now, I'm just enjoying the quiet respite here in The Village.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Han Loves Greedo

Han Loves Greedo

Who Shot JR? You Decide.

Can somebody please tell me what is so wrong with Han shooting Greedo first?

Okay, for those of you who have been living under a rock for the past twenty-five years, there's a scene in Star Wars where Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi go to see the smuggler Han Solo at the Mos Eisley Cantina. As Han is leaving, he's intercepted by the bounty hunter Greedo who's there to collect him for Jabba The Hut. Greedo offers to take Han's ship, the Milennium Falcon, Han tells him over his dead body, Greedo likes that idea and, suddenly, ends up fried face down on the table: dead.

Decades later, the discussion rages on about how "wrong" it was for Han to kill Greedo first - as though the storyline would have moved better had Greedo killed Han first. George Lucas, in his infinite wisdom (sarcasm), decided to placate the whiners with a "special edition" verson of Star Wars that shows Greedo shooting first, missing and then Han killing him in self-defense.

This bounty hunter is sitting about a meter from Han and he misses? What kind of lame-ass bounty hunter is Greedo? Who believes this nonsense?

Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten than Han Solo is a pirate. He's a smuggler. He's a scoundrel. He's "scruffy looking." He's a pimp. He's a playa. He's a gambler. He's wanted in a dozen systems. Until he met Leia and fell in love, he was a man of the most despicable sort - that's why we liked him so much. He wasn't a namby-pamby pussy boy whiner like Luke. Han didn't whine about being chased by the Empire - he took them head on and into an asteroid field. He's a Corellian. He's made the Kessel Run. But because Middle America likes Han Solo we are to believe that he wouldn't shoot a bounty hunter trying to capture him first???

Well, I'm not here to debate the merits of the case, that's for you, gentle reader, to decide. Me? I like the original. I like Han The Scoundrel Who Wasted Greedo and Gave Two Bits to the Bartender for the Trouble.

And if I'm ever in a sleazy spaceport bar on the hind end of the galaxy with some ugly green monster who's ready to kill me and take my prize ship, I'll shoot him first too.

Meanwhile, check out the cool Han and Greedo Bookends and let your mind decide.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Dipwell Lives!


The Dipwell running strong and clean once again.

I got this Dipwell for a great deal at Superior Products many years ago before I ever knew I was going to build the shop we occupy today. Superior has a closeout aisle filled with all sorts of foodservice equipment odds and ends at great prices. Whenever I'm out there, I always check it out and find something cool I got the well and the faucet for fifteen bucks! Brand new, it's at least fifty bucks.

Fast forward six or seven years to now. The Dipwell has been running almost non-stop since December 2003. It's a workhorse and it's one of my favorite tools keeping my barspoons neat and clean. But it's been having problems these past few months.

For whatever reason, the Dipwell has been running at a trickle. No matter how much I turn the faucet handle, the thing just drip, drip, drips. It's maddening. And I cannot understand what's happened to my favorite dipwell. Where before the jet stream of water would keep the dipwell water clear, it's routinely been running a bit murky lately. I'm almost horrified to use it. But I do. I am ashamed.

Just yesterday, I was thinking about the ProCon pump for our La Marzocco Linea. Just thinking about it wondering why we turn the screw to adjust the pressure. Not critical thinking mind you, nor the kind of thinking that revolutionizes an industry. Just the kind of thinking that you do as your mind wanders to fill the day. Then, I decided to stare at the pump.

The pump, as far as ProCon espresso machine/carbonator pumps go, is nothing remarkable. I've thought of hot-rodding the thing by giving the brass a high polish, but just never got around to it. Again, not the kind of critical thinking that revolutionizes an industry. But the pump resides at the bottom of the cabinet that houses the Dipwell.

As I was staring at the pump, I noticed the copper hardline water feed that runs to the Dipwell and, suddenly, an epiphany.

I had been turning the knob on the faucet and nothing. What about turning the valve that regulates the line to the Dipwell?

I gave it a turn and Holy Moly, the Dipwell sprung to life again!!!! Water gushing out of the faucet, the Dipwell's life renewed!

It was amazing.

And dumb too on my part.

Each winter, we shut down the shop for about two weeks and tear everything apart to clean and perform yearly maintenance. Since the cabinetry comes out, the Dipwell lines are closed and the cabinets removed. Looks like when I reinstalled everything, I just barely opened to water valve for the Dipwell and have been suffering these past four months because of my own ineptitude.


Viva La Dipwell!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hello Little Fly

Hello Little Fly and thank you for deciding to land on my leg as I surf the Internet. But after doing that for the past fifteen minutes, you've finally irritated me enough to stand up and get the Ultimate Secret Weapon: the plastic and wire handled fly swatter I picked up at the local big box store four years ago for ninety-nine cents. It's a grotesque tool that's crudded up with the dried remains of hundreds of your kind.

You may have watched me with your million eyes sitting here trying to do my own thing and waving my hand to get you to go away. It's a beautiful day here in Timonium. Bright sunshine, 65 degrees, surfing the Internet posting about whatever troubles me today and enjoying a wonderful Kenyan Karogato from Hines Public Market Coffee. I wave my hand to let you know to go fly somewhere else because I don't want to get up.

But you had to make me count...



Two and a half...

Two and three-quarters...



That's it. Now you've done it. I've had it. I tried to be "Mister Nice Guy" and let you be but my exposed leg was just too tasty for you to leave alone. And now you shall pay the Ultimate Penalty.

Before I begin, this is a FoodService establishment and I have been certified by ServeSafe and the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection as a "certified foodservice manager" which gives me a License To Kill all pests and insects that threated my happy space. License To Kill, I'm the fucking James Bond of the Shave Ice world and you are my Nick Nack. And yes, Mister Nack, you are about to die.

But why is it that once I've returned with my weapon and seated in front of the computer do you decide to fly just out of reach? Happily, my swatter has the Extend-O-Matic option, giving me an extra inch of reach.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengance, and furious anger. And you will know my name is The Jay when I lay my vengance upon thee

What a shame. What a curious existence you could have had. You didn't realize that in my line of work, I've neutralized thousands of your bretheren. Big, small, fast, tall, it didn't matter. It didn't matter if they were on my body part or on a piece of equipment, the punishment was meted out swiftly and without mercy. You tried to be tricky by staying on the side of my weak arm but I'm an ambidextrous kind of Ninja James Bond. I cut you down (and in half) with my weak arm. Imagine the carnage if I had used the full power and might of the right arm.

Oh yes, Little Fly, I am a stone cold killer. And I have left your split torso with two legs and one wing by the door as a warning to your kind.