Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Good Earth

I've been back from Atlanta for well over a week now and while we had quite a number of adventures in the South, I guess I'll get to writing about it sometime in the non-committal future. Meanwhile, it's back to work at The Spro, reviewing leases, developing new standards, training new baristas and writing an article for Barista Magazine.

Instead, I thought I would share with you some of the swag I brought back from Hotlanta:

- Brazil Daterra from our friends at Ogawa Coffee in Tokyo
- La Marzocco demitasse
- a gorgeous Reg Barber Knockbox
- an assortment of coffee pins from World Champion Gwilym Davies, Reg Barber, Oswaldo Acevedo, Barista Exchange and Brewed Behavior
- custom Le Spro tampers for The Spro baristas by Reg Barber
- Dorman's full length apron from John and Claire in Kenya
- Spring Espresso from Square Mile Coffee Roasters
- Reg Barber t-shirts
- Green sample from Franklin Madrid, Honduras
- Colonia San Juan 8 Estrellas from Square Mile Coffee Roasters
- Ed's Roasted Peanuts from the Counter Culture Party
- SCAA Press Pass and Turner Broadcasting Pass
- Glass Coke from World of Coca-Cola
- Sethurama Estates cap

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yellow Milk

Sometimes I just don't understand where my peers are coming from.

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who shares a similar passion for cuisine and the beauty of ingredients and he was relating to me a story about milk. A barista he knew asked him to source some milk for a competition. Being the lover of great ingredients that my friend is, he went to a local farmer who's producing some truly stellar milk - a farmer who laughed at him when he told the farmer that he would like the farmer to supply him with 40 gallons of milk per week to supply his coffee house.

Laughed at him because the farmer just didn't produce that volume of milk. He produced high quality milk but on a small scale and at serious prices. The average gallon of commercial milk is roughly $2.50. The milk I use is $5.50. The milk this farmer produces is $10.00 per gallon and, from what I'm told, is just exquisite. Rich, sweet, creamy and made from the best ingredients (i.e. pastured on grass). It's the kind of milk we dream about.

As any passionate individual, my friend packs the milk on ice and drives it to the competition. He's excited to share the milk and, from what I've been told, that's where things went awry. That's when this barista's "team" got involved.

They tasted the milk but found it "too weird" and "too different" than the commercial milk they were used to. They fretted that the judges would find the milk to be "too different" and very unlike what they were used to and expecting. Not to mention the fact that the milk looked yellow.

I realize that for most people yellow milk is an odd sight to behold. Commercial milk is alpine white and alpine white it shall be. Therefore, there must be something wrong with yellow milk.

As I listened to the story, I couldn't help but wonder if this barista and the "team" had any real exposure to this level of ingredient? Had they only been exposed to commercial ingredients? Was I expecting too much to expect that these baristas know that the "yellow" tint was due to the diet of the cows and the sweet, rich cream in the milk?

This was the point where I want to look for a concrete wall to bash my head against. Isn't the point of competition presenting judges with something they haven't tasted before? Isn't the notion of a milk that's sweet, rich and vastly different than commercial a good thing?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Which Is Worse?

I'm trying to decide which of these two events is worse:

- dumping the girl you've been seeing off and on for the past four and a half years,


- finding out that the hot, fun, interesting and quirky girl you've recently met is married... with kids.

I'm leaning towards the latter...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Under The Gun

One would think that with all the travel that I manage in the course of a year that I would have it down by now.

The night before a trip is always the worst. So many things to do, so many details to settle. Inevitably, I still have a laundry list (and actual laundry) of things to complete and sit around wishing I had another week to do it all.

I leave for Atlanta in the morning to attend yet another SCAA Conference, Trade Show and World Barista Championship. Until just a few days ago, this was going to be my first SCAA since 2003 that I would be attending with nothing in particular to do. For the past six years, I've done some sort of volunteer work instructing espresso classes, calibrating espresso machines, recording podcasts, organizing a booth, competing and all sorts of miscellany. This year, I had nothing planned except to be a simple attendee wanting to see the show from a regular persons' point of view. I was excited.

That was until just the other day when Sarah Allen from Barista Magazine called me up to see if I would be a sort of roving reporter with pen in hand and ready to write about the conference from my perspective. Didn't she know that my confidence in the SCAA has been all but destroyed? Now I'm no longer just another attendee - I'm an attendee with a mission.

Back into the darkroom to dig up my old and trusty Domke F2 bag loaded with lots of photo goodies. Toss out the ginormous Canon EOS 1N body and suddenly my bag is feeling pretty lightweight.

If you happen to be in Atlanta, look for me and my camera bag roving the floors of the Georgia World Congress Center, but if you don't see me there, you can look for me at Watershed and some of the other fine eateries in Atlanta.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pissed Off Over Ego

A couple of years ago, when LA Mill Coffee opened their Silver Lake store in Los Angeles, a discussion ensued amongst a number of us in the barista community. Turns out that LA Mill had co-opted some of our signature drinks and placed it on their menu. People wanted to know if I was pissed about it.

Quite frankly: no. It didn't bother me at all. However, some of my friends weren't as pleased. Some were upset that they didn't ask permission to use the idea for the drinks or recognize the source of the material. Some wanted their names on the menu. I didn't care.

I didn't care because I knew that there's truly very little real originality left in the world. That all of us create drinks and dishes based on our prior influences and we generate our ideas from others. To stand around an be petulant over whether or not I was given credit would demand that I list on my own menu the line of inspiration for each of my items - and that would just be ridiculous.

I'm reminded of this today as I was reading at article on Marco Pierre White on where Marco is commenting on Marcel Vigneron's use of a Wylie Dufresne method:
"We live in a world of refinement, not invention. It's the greatest compliment he can be given, this guy. If someone takes one of your dishes and does it, it's flattery. For you to get pissed off because he didn't acknowledge you is ego. It's all too political really, isn't it? I mean, we're fucking chefs."

When I think back on all of the dishes I work on and drinks I've created, all of them fall back on inspiration and interpretation from someone else. They're springboards for, hopefully, something interesting and tasty.

Honestly, the reason I do what I do (and inevitably write at length about it) is to share the experience. To encourage others to explore for themselves. Maybe start out by recreating the recipes and then use that experience as the springboard to try something different. To create an interpretation that is their own.

On the egotistical side of things, do I really want another place to use my recipes and give me credit by blazing my name on the menu? What if they screw it up and/or present it poorly? Suddenly, a whole group of consumers never exposed to my work is left thinking that it's crap and the name is tarnished. Perhaps it's simply better for me to tarnish my reputation in person rather than a drink on a menu in some distant coffee house somewhere in the world...