Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Chef & Wine Experience

Michaele Weissman invited me to join her and Spike Gjerde and give a coffee talk at the Baltimore Chefs & Wine Experience. It's an annual event where the public comes to meet chefs, listen to them speak, sample their food and try all sorts of wines and other vestiges of Good Living.

For those of you who may not know, Michaele wrote a book on the coffee industry's Third Wave - that eclectic crew of hipster/geek coffee people who work to revolutionize the coffee industry (of course, the question is: are they really "revolutionary" or actually evolutionary?). It's called God In A Cup and available nationwide at your local booksellers.

In spite of the fact that I do coffee for a living, the enthusiasm of the general public about coffee continually surprises me. We had about fifty people pack into our little lecture room where Michaele shared her thoughts on the industry, Spike talked about bringing a New World Order of coffee to restaurants and I generally pontificated about drinking and enjoying your coffee.

In addition to merely chatting about coffee, we decided to have a coffee tasting. Nothing as stuffy or important as cupping with geeky coffee people slurping and talking about "black currants and frozen nutmeg." No, nothing as silly as that. Just some simple press potted coffee served in small cups - actually, the venue (showing their knowledge, sophistication and grasp of coffee) gave us styrofoam cups. Bastards.

For our tasting, I chose two coffees. The first, a Sumatra Mandheling Organic from Indonesia, roasted by Origins Organic Coffee of Vancouver, Canada, as well as the Finca El Puente from Honduras, roasted by Counter Culture Coffee of Durham, NC. I chose the two because of their difference. I didn't want some lame coffee, I wanted something interesting and vibrant. Coffees that would be so different than from each other that it would be easier for the uninitiated to experience the difference.

That's one thing that continually irritates me: accessibility. Whether it's wine or coffee, we tend to speak with such fancy terms that regular people have a hard time connecting. There's red wine and rose petals in coffee??? Only the truly geeky ever speak like this - and only the disconnected actually speak like this to the uninitiated.

For our tasting, I told the audience that it's okay to use those fancy terms but what's more important is to be able to describe the sensation in your own words - however that may manifest itself. For previous tastings, I've encouraged people to use everything from fancy words to colors to rock bands. Man, this tastes like AC/DC's Shoot To Thrill...

Whatever it takes to make it your own, that's what you should use.

Lots of questions followed, and one girl in the audience asked me if I like sugar and cream in my coffee. Hmmm, good question. The hardcore in the Third Wave would immediately stand up and impose their vision like the Fourth Reich and give an absolute "NO" for an answer. Truth is, she asked if I liked cream and sugar in my coffee - and if I'm not tasting the coffee critically and simply drinking it for personal enjoyment, then the answer is an emphatic "YES MA'AM" And if the Third Wave doesn't like it, they can go screw themselves because I absolutely love an 8z coffee with a half teaspoon of sugar and a touch of cream to go with a deep-fried chocolate frosted donut.

I don't know if perhaps I was talking too much, going over time or my revelation about the sugar and cream was too much for Michaele to handle because that's when she steered our discussion back to trying the coffee black to see how it tastes (of course, the girl that asked the question was also the same girl with an unabashed love for sweet frappuccinos). But the audience was great. Even more questions and some great insight into the coffees. For many of them, I'm guessing it was their first time trying some seriously great coffees and I hope they tasted a glimpse into what is possible out there. Hopefully, they'll seek out better quality or maybe come and visit The Spro.

Overall, I had a great time at the event. It was fun to be amongst the great chefs of Baltimore. Several Food Network celebrities were in attendance and earlier, we stopped in to watch one of them give a presentation. For someone with a national television show, I was disappointed in the delivery and level of engagement this person gave at the presentation. From an entertainment standpoint, it was pretty darn lame and disappointing. I went in hoping to pick up some presentation tips from a celebrity, I left after ten minutes because my mind was numbing. Gosh, I hope I'm not that bad in front of an audience.

Speaking of television and food, Jill was hanging out and came to see our presentation. It's always great seeing Jill and she's leaving this week in some sort of mystery trip where she may or may not be picked up for next season's Top Chef. She's sworn to secrecy, so details are sketchy. All we know is that she'll be gone for six weeks and we'll find out the rest next season.

I also met a really nice lady who asked for my card and said she would forward it on to the producer of Hell's Kitchen. Wow. That was a surprise. How much fun would it be to spend a television season being yelled at and berated by Gordon Ramsay? Hey you, I've had enough of that, yeah big boy? Put it in the bin, you fucking donkey....

Good fun, indeed.


David said...

I saw some tours that had to do with other alcohols. Going on alcohol tours beside a wine tasting tour might make me feel like an alcoholic.

Anthony said...

Maybe they need some help with the filming/sound part. Otherwise I volunteer my services to come by and slap you till you get over that idea.

But still way cool to get the intro.

Loved the posts from Croatia. They made my hungry.

benson said...

Hey Jay, any plans of visiting Philippines again? Maybe hook up with the coffee people here and conduct seminars.

onocoffee said...


Would love to do that kind of thing. I haven't been back to the Philippines since 2001, so it's about time I visit again.

However, I haven't met many in the community out there. Perhaps in the winter months.