Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Perhaps This Blog isn't the Right Fit for You

Just got this comment for the Reading The Soul post:

"Fucking lame. Great work pissing on the competition just because you suck at them and you just use them to get attention. If your so worried with all the shit you blog about then you should shut the fuck up and work on making your shop better. Ive been to your shop and youre all talk."

Oh come on, REALLY???. I'm game for being called "lame" or an "asshole" or whatever descriptive you might want to hurl my way (it's probably true anyway), but you want to act macho and hide anonymously? Come on, show some balls. Gordon Ramsay has the balls to call someone a "fucking donkey" without hiding.

Truth is, I suck at the USBC Competitions. Have you seen my scores? They're terrible. I can't win. Hell, I can't even place. I can't even get a 6 in creativity. It's really sad and if winning the USBC was everything, I'd be lost.

But really, it's good that you're pissed. Maybe that means you care about your craft (or something). Maybe you're some hipster barista with tight jeans and you're ready for a shower. Good for you! Your customers will be grateful.

And as far as The Spro not being up to your standards - like I've told more than one person over the years:

"Perhaps we're not the right fit for you."

Note to our coffee industry readers: I did take a moment to consider taking a cue in responding to this message by quoting my former Portafiler.net Podcast co-host: "I'll punch you in your dick," but that's not really my style.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reading The Soul

"But by Certified Master Chef (CMC) standards - those set primarily by the Culinary Institute of America, an institution that did not attempt to teach soul or happiness, but rather technique and knowledge and theory and practice - many CMC candidates did succeed. Perhaps the ones who succeeded, then, not only were technically gifted but also had never cooked to make people happy in the first place and therefore did not have that particular cord bound up in their standards. Maybe they'd cooked for money, as a job only, and happened to be really good at it. Good reason to cook: a job, a paycheck. Maybe they cooked because it pleased them personally and they were content to ride this one out. Maybe they cooked for the sport, the adrenaline rush of working a line, the way some people lifted weights or became compulsive joggers. if they had begun cooking for these reasons, cooked their whole lives this way, had never needed to make people happy to justify their work, their existence - and how many professions did? - then this absence built into the CMC test would never bother those chefs; that kind of chef would not feel its absence and would just cook as he or she always did."

- Michael Ruhlman, The Soul of a Chef, page 324

There are several books I return to and read every year or two, Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef is one of those books and each time I read it, I can't help but create a parallel between the CIA's Certified Master Chef program and the Specialty Coffee Association of America's United States Barista Championship. I've competed in the USBC six times and have never found satisfaction participating. Sure, there's the camaraderie amongst baristas and the joy of spending time with friends across the world, but I've always found it lacking. Personally un-fulfilling. Disappointing. And, at times, outright corrupt.

As I was re-reading The Soul of a Chef this week, I ran across the above quote and found the parallel to the barista world unmistakable. Substitute "USBC" for "CMC" and "SCAA" for "CIA" and "barista" for "chef" and I think it's 100% applicable. In the barista world, there are those who do it to win at competition. They claim to "love" coffee and even put on affectations to make you think they have that level of care but really they're in it for the accolades. The accolades of winning, the accolades of being loved. For many baristas, it's about slinging coffee as fast at they can while combating the line dragon forming in front of them. Never mind the mound of wasted ground coffee that's piling up in front of the grinder, they're busy slaying the dragon.

Maybe I'm just a malcontent but I've never found satisfaction in the competitions or much of the barista world. There's a certain level of disconnect for me. A wondering where the craft meets the care. Too many baristas are too concerned about being "right" and being "hardcore" for no other reason than maybe to mask the fact that they haven't showered recently.

I read and re-read Soul, and it's sequel Reach of a Chef mainly because I want to study more on Keller. I'm fascinated by the man. Not in some fanboy stalker kind of way but rather I'm amazed at the level of finesse, pursuit of perfection and adherence to standards the man possesses. I want to hone that level of standard and finesse, and maybe that's why I find the whole barista world not very satisfying.

Why, I wonder, buy commercial syrups when you can make them better in-house? It seems everywhere I turn there's a laziness to craft. Commercial this, commercial that. Claims that an automated brewer is "better" and "cleaner." Absurd rationalizations that a timer stepped grinder that doses straight down is, somehow, more accurate than an infinitely adjustable grinder. "Signature" drinks that demonstrate a near lack of understanding of cuisine: I'm adding cocoa to highlight the cocoa character of the coffee" or "Have a sip of grapefruit juice to complement the citrus-y grapefruit note in the coffee.

Never mind contrasting flavors or complimentary flavors, let's just add more of the flavor already in there. It's so mind-numbing I might as well bash my skull against a concrete wall.

At least I have The Spro where I can practice our form of coffee pursuit to my standards. I can't imagine being a barista for someone else in any of the shops across America - I imagine it would be worse than being back in the movie business.

" Keller combined extraordinary technique and knowledge with humor, imagination and intelligence, and he did so in a setting straight out of a Monet painting. It was the perfect combination, and Keller never underestimated the important of the place he had found.

This was how he saw the world, and this was how he understood cooking, with a Zenlike spirituality but with his feet firmly grounded. Cooking had never been a means to an end for Keller. That was why he never got sidetracked by money or the lack of it. The first thing was care for food.

He loved this. He loved to wipe a counter clean. Because this was where perfection began. At this clean counter was where we learned not to waste anything and not to err, because when you made a mistake or when you didn't care, or you didn't appreciate that carrot that you were peeling, it was a waste of life itself."

- Michael Ruhlman, The Soul of a Chef, page 329

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Seven Too Many

Dayboat scallops seasoned and at the ready.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been having a scallop craving. Every time I'm at Swirl hanging with Austin and James I dream of going to the fishmonger next door and buying a pound. But I've either been with Twyla (who hates seafood) or not in a position to run home and start cooking. Now that she's moved back to Arizona I'm back to my usual Tour de Force and can indulge on scallops again.

The local fishmonger stocks some nice dayboat scallops. They're dry and lovely. Beautifully fresh, happily sweet - they're a dream to eat and I never seem to get enough. With a pound in tow, I head home to season with salt and pepper then pan sear in cast iron with canola oil. The results are just beautiful. Success. With some steamed rice as the backdrop and a little extra salt and a squeeze of lemon, it's scallop perfection.

The first bite is divine. That balance of sweet scallop meat accented with the salt and the zest of lemon is sublime. It is God's Perfection. I'm blown away. I must have more.

This is where I should have stopped.

Seared scallops seasoned with salt & pepper, and drizzled with lemon.

In total, I seared eight scallops. Eight beautiful scallops. I should have stopped after eating the first. Not because of any bad experience that necessitated a Ruling of The Kingdom, but as I ate the successive scallops, palate sensitivity lessened. The more I ate, the more my palate became used to the flavor and the more I had to eat - always trying to recapture the beauty I had tasted in the first bite. Like a drug addict chasing his first high, I ate each successive scallop chasing the sweet beauty of the first. My palate had grown accustomed to the beauty and the beauty of each successive scallop was diminished.

This is something that Thomas Keller had talked about that I had forgotten. So used to massive servings, we lose the flavor we seek as our palate becomes used to the flavor. I'm sure each scallop was just as amazing as the first but as I got used to the flavor it lost something. One scallop would have been the apotheosis of flavor. Two would have been beautiful symphony. Three would have been a wonderful meal but after that, it was just excess.

Not that I discourage excess when it comes to fresh, dayboat scallops. Just be prepared to lose a taste of the flavor with each successive bite. I may profess here that one perfectly prepared scallop is the apotheosis of flavor but I don't think I'm Keller enough to only prepare just one. Next time I'm faced with a mound of scallops I'll probably be consuming them en masse.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Steamed Milk in Your Iced Latte

I've been openly critical about Baltimore Sun food critic Elizabeth Large. Even though I find her taste in cuisine to be vastly different than my own (and of a completely divergent agenda), I still take a moment now and then to read her blog - if only to practice the exercise of bashing my head against the wall in frustration.

In fact, I've been so openly critical of Liz Large that I've been effectively banned from posting comments to her blog. Long ago, she stopped "allowing" my comments because they tended to be highly critical of her position in the food chain - how anyone makes the claim that kale soup tastes too much of kale and retains credibility is beyond me.

In today's blog entry, she writes about iced coffee and how it's surpassing iced tea as a restaurant breakfast drink. Now, I don't know if that's true but consumption of iced coffee from the Brew Tower of Power at The Spro has been on a sharp rise. Anyway, the point is that she writes:

"My favorite version of iced coffee is an iced latte, but the milk has to be steamed first or it doesn't taste right. You can't just put espresso and cold milk together and call it an iced latte."

Which makes me go: "Hmmmm..."

Lots of places in Baltimore serve something resembling iced coffee or espresso with cold milk aka "iced latte" but no other shop that I know of steams their iced latte milk other than The Spro. Has the kale-handicapped Liz Large made clandestine visits to The Spro under the guise of a regular customer? Could I, God Forbid, have actually served the mysterious Lady Large myself? Maybe even treated her with our usual blend of friendly hospitality? I wonder.

I'm guessing that because of our history, she won't acknowledge this but I wanted to put out a message to Mrs. Large:

"Come visit and enjoy our iced lattes. We welcome all at The Spro."


I enjoy reading Chef Shola Olunloyo's StudioKitchen blog. He's progressive and centered and not afraid to pronounce his opinions that may rankle the goats of others. The StudioKitchen blog is a fascinating journey of Shola's food and it's quite enjoyable to follow.

Recently, he's posted about Storing Spices
and Artist and Artisan
. Two posts where he shares images of a very sexy storage system for his spices crowned by the complete collection of Ferran Adria's Texturas line of food chemicals, or his pseudo-museum display of his equipment collection of Polyscience AntiGriddle, Polyscience Immersion Bath, PacoJet and Thermomixes. He shows us pictures because it's too sexy for words.

To Shola and his images, I say: "Showoff."

(but really, I'm just envious...)

: Read It.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

project hampden: Something's Afoot at Spro

The new Compak grinders await their vetting while our old standbys wait in the distance.

Here's a quick sneak peek at some of the new equipment that's slated for project hampden. As some of you already know, in spite of the fact I've been using Mazzer grinders for over five years, I'm a big fan of Compak grinders from Spain. Our 2006 K10 has been grinding it out for over three years with no problems making beautiful coffee. How could I not continue the flow?

Featured here are the new Compak R80 bulk grinder, Compak K10 WBC espresso grinder and the only one in America prototype K10 WBC Doserless Timer Grinder. And if it looks strangely familiar and you think you've seen this grinder before, that's because you have seen it before.

New Sunglasses at Cabela's

On the way home, I decided to swing by Cabela's again. One hour on Tuesday wasn't enough. The store is immense. Shock and Awe.

As I approached the behemoth, I spotted a tractor trailer pulling up alongside the building. Dwarfed, actually. And I wondered: How many trailers does it take to stock this store??? Inside, it reminded me of a casino. A very large casino. Anything and everything outdoors can be found inside. Amazing. The prices were good too.

Even their camping section had a nice array of kitchen equipment, like the stainless steel butcher's saw, or the rebadged Excalibur dehydrator, or the sausage stuffers or monolithic meat grinders for $400. Tre cool. With my paid off Visa card in hand, I marched up to the cash register.

And bought a pair of sunglasses to replace the ones that had broken earlier today.

Tending The Bar-Bee-Que

Getting jiggy with pork barbecue at the Fiesta Filipiniana in Towson.

Barbecue in the Philippines has a completely different meaning than BBQ in the United States. Traditional Filipino-style barbecue is typically chicken or pork cubes marinated in a secret sauce, poked onto bamboo skewers and then grilled for caramel perfection. Like American BBQ, the recipes are murderous secrets and the rivalry between camps is heated, fierce and blood-letting.

I guess when it comes to blood-letting, they figure that I'm the ideal person to get caught in the crossfire.

This week, while not spending my brain facilities focusing at the Mid-Atlantic Barista Jam, I'm occupying my mind with thoughts of Philippine Barbecue and standardizing them for a winner-takes-all battle on August 1st.

Somewhere along the way, certain people heard that I am now a certified BBQ judge by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and figured that I must be the right guy to write the standards for a Philippine-Style BBQ Competition. Great. One wrong move and some angered Filipino guy is going to come after me with a bolo knife. Yes, good deal indeed. At least I'm from Baltimore: The City That Bleeds, so I know how to handle things.

Developing standards for the competition is not without its' trials. BBQ is intensely personal and passionate. The recipes are guarded secrets prepared in seclusion and darkness. Recipes will be open for interpretation but the flavors should include a level of sweetness balanced by savoriness with hints of garlic and soy, I think. Categories will be: pork and chicken and they must be mounted on wood skewers.

So, if you're a bbq chef that thinks he/she has the chops to win the title of Filipino BBQ Champion, then get your stuff ready because on August 1st - it's on!

You can contact me directly for entry details and a complete copy of the rules and regulations.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Have You Been Missing Out?

The splash page at onocoffee dot com.

Several months ago, I started telling all of you to switch your bookmarks from onocoffee.blogspot.com to onocoffee.com - have you?

If you haven't and you've been coming here directly, then you've been missing out on some of the content that Barista Magazine readers have been taking for granted. Not just the direct link to the articles but the new season of Barista del Mundo Episode 1 Part 1 is out and available for download as a file for your iphone or ipod. Just click on the video link and we'll be adding new videos on a regular basis.

Upcoming episodes of Barista del Mundo follow Bronwen Serna as she milks a cow in Wisconsin, meets Rouki Delrue in Addis Ababa, journeys to Tokyo to visit Caffe L'Ambre, as well as stops in Paris, Las Vegas, London and Los Angeles.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Open Road, Again


Hiring and Alternative Brewing Techniques

I'm back on the road again. This time I'm off to Easton, Pennsylvania to participate in the annual Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Barista Jam being held by Cosmic Cup Coffee and New Harvest Roasters. It's a fun event and I've gone every year. Mark Inman of Taylor Maid Coffee in northern California will be giving the keynote speech and I will be presenting the alternative brewing techniques station.

Just what is "alternative brewing?" Well, it's certainly not quite brewing to the sounds of Clan of Xymox (but it could be). It's "alternative" in the sense that we're going to be showing brew methods different than espresso and drip - let attendees have the opportunity to try the brewing techniques they've read about elsewhere. Brewing methods like French Press, Vacuum Pot, Chemex and even the much-maligned-by-me Pour Over.

However, what we won't be brewing is the Never-Maligned-Enough-By-Me Automated Brewer aka Clover. I mean, how much can one tolerate the pushing of a button as "alternative"? I mean really.

Joining me will be Counter Culture Coffee's Guru Phil Proteau - that slightly strange, odd and definitely funny guy from Philadelphia, who will also be demonstrating brewing techniques and certainly schooling me on the finer points of Pour Over methodology.

There's a couple of other important people also giving demonstrations and lectures on Wednesday and Thursday but I can't recall who they are off the top of my head at the moment. But, Oswaldo Acevedo will be a guest of honor and that in itself should be reason enough to go.

How about more info?

Speaking of baristas and hiring. It's time to start thinking about the hiring of baristas for project hampden. If you, or anyone you know, is interested in learning our method of barista craft and can provide the highest quality coffee in a nurturing environment of hospitality, then send me your resume. Quite simply, we're going to build the most amazing coffee experience in America. Hiring will take place over the next month or two as we move closer to the opening.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Steak It Up!

Twin ribeyes at the ready.

Yesterday was Father's Day and what better way to celebrate dad than with a fatty ribeye steak or two?

While out with Twyla on Saturday, we swung by Springfield Farm to pick up an allotment of beef. A twist of skirt steak for her dinner and a couple of ribeyes for dad. The ribeyes were done the usual way: seasoned with salt & pepper, pan seared with butter and canola oil in the cast iron, then plopped into a 400F oven for seven minutes.

As I stood there waiting for the meat to rest, my attention was enraptured by the steady flow of juices and fat globules emanating from the roasted meat. Beautiful.

Happy Father's Day.

My meat gets its' juices flowing...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

project hampden: Almost a Sneak Preview

As the days progress and we take each tiny step towards opening a new shop, we also seem to take another step further away from the original drawings for the space. Sadly, pretty much what you see here has been tossed for something new and brighter. Something spiraling out of my control.

These were our original drawings and the basis for the millwork we were about to put into motion. Then it all came to a halt and we turned left. Now, we've turned right and this map is no longer valid. Oh well, at least I'm having a good time at it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iced Espresso

Many of us have heard the old monniker that iced espresso tastes nasty. Nasty and metallic. Years ago, I tried pulling a shot of espresso over ice and it was nasty and metallic. Sometimes one never learns...

The other day, as I was wandering around a local store, I spied a cool silicone ice mold to make ice shot glasses. I had to have it and brought it back to The Spro for a little informal testing. Filled the mold and into the freezer it went. Six hours later, the water had frozen and the ice shot glasses were ready so i popped one out.

What to do, what to do? Sure, I could have planned it out better and made up some nice coffee concoction to play around with, but I didn't. I was too busy working and making drinks for customers. instead, I decided to pull a double shot into the ice shot glass. Maybe the shape and the ice would do something wondrous.

Or maybe not.

While it looked very cool - especially if you let the ice warm up until it becomes clear, the espresso was just as nasty and metallic as I remember. Ugh.

But at least I've got some cool ice molds for future experiments.

Friday, June 19, 2009

project hampden: Zell, Zen and the Art of Stress

Millwork notes on the wall that have been abandoned. For now.

Two weeks into project hampden and I kinda feel stressed. No, let me correct that: I am stressed. It's been three years since I opened The Spro, seven since we built the second Jays Shave Ice and ten since we built the first Jays Shave Ice, and I think each time the stress gets worse.

Or maybe not.

While I don't remember being stressed on the first day of Jays Shave Ice nearly ten years ago, I do remember that forgot to wear shorts or pants that day. I ended up opening and working the little stand in my black Calvin Klein boxer briefs. I think they looked like tight bike shorts (with an escape port). Either no one noticed or no one wanted to embarrass me, but no one ever mentioned it. In fact, I didn't notice until we were there and about to open the doors.

We built the second Jays Shave Ice during the off-season, so it didn't matter if it took months to build, we had the time. And building the coffee bar at the Library that became The Spro wasn't that stressful either. We took our time and I drove the hour out to Jeff Givens' place in Sykesville to work on the cabinetry.

But this time, I feel under the gun. Rent is looming over my head and we need to get things finished and opened before my lease terms says we need to start paying rent. Doom on you, dickhead.

In my mind, things were rolling right along. I had a basic design that was ready to go - even if it did have some unanswered questions. My vision for project hampden was something very simple. Something refined. Elegant, even. I was thinking "French Laundry."

My problem is that I'm not very good at executing colors. Sure, I studied graphic and interior design and have an idea of what I want, but what if it isn't the right idea? Or the right execution? Perhaps I'm second-guessing and getting caught in analysis paralysis. Either way, I wanted to get out of my preconceptions and head trash and go for something new. I called up an old buddy and asked him to come and have a look.

Two weeks ago today was our first meeting. What I expected to be a quick, one-hour session about layout and colors turned into a four-hour marathon of design, discussion, marketing, concept and directions for the space that I never had even considered.

Take the bathroom, for example. It's a nice bathroom and I thought it is nicely appointed. No. It needs to be redone. All the detail work we talked about incorporating into the space and then to leave the bathroom as is? Evidently, I must be a charlatan. He made a good point: all the detail and the customers will see it as a facade if the bathroom detail is incongruent with the rest of the space. Then I remembered that even the French Laundry put custom lampshades on their bathroom wall sconces. Damn that Keller.

Casual rusticity in Baltimore City.

I liked the space for its' rustic charm. Luis, the designer, wanted to alter the interior and smoothen things out. Bring elements together and making them seamless. Incorporating the downstairs basement into the overall look of the space. We should smoothen this wall and eliminate that one. Good Lord, I must look like Daddy Warbucks.

Of course, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking that costs are already spiraling out of control yet we're nowhere near the $100K mark. I think about the stories I've heard about Doug Zell and how much it took Intelligentsia to open their Los Angeles operations and smile to myself. All this fret and stress for what Zell would consider a pittance to open a store. Somehow, the thought of Doug Zell not being too concerned about the cost of this buildout soothed my mind and lowered my heart rate. The percocets can stay in the drawer for at least another week.

Luis and I have met several times over the past two weeks and it's been a constant battle. For him, it's been about understanding our processes, where I come from and what we want to do in the new space. For me, it's been about letting go and being open to new things. I feel like I'm constantly repeating my mantra of: I'm open to exploring anywhere you want to take us not because Luis needs to be reassured of my support but more because I need to remind myself that it's okay and you can keep breathing.

Trouble is, I want things to move. i want things to happen. I wanted to open three days ago.

Interestingly enough, Luis has taken our discussions to places that I never thought before. He's even taken us to concepts that are being pioneered by others. It's really interesting when, without prior introduction, your designers' natural train of thought brings you to a concept where you have multiple espresso machine stations that can handle your customers - Intelligentsia's new shop in Venice Beach sprang quickly to mind.

In the coffee business, we spend a lot of time thinking about how other coffee people have done it. We want to see the other shops to get ideas. Lately, I've been spending a bit of time at the mall observing other retail shops. These companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting their presentation right and there's lots to be learned from just observing. Even the Venice Beach Intelligentsia's concept of organic stations with baristas who greet you with handheld checkout computers comes right out of Apple Computer's retail playbook. Looks like I'm not the only coffee person lurking around the mall.

In order to bolster our ranks at The Spro, I put out an ad in the Baltimore CraigsList for new baristas. While I needed only one, I ended up with four promising candidates. This poses a unique problem. The Spro is now labor heavy. Luckily, a couple of them currently work other jobs and we can take our time training them over the next month or two as we build to bring them up to speed. The concern here is to control our costs during this period of excessive costs and stable revenue. Let the labor costs run amok during this period and there could be some problems.

But things are rolling along. We've got a great crew of baristas and barista candidates, and we've assembled a great team of designers, contractors, equipment suppliers and finance people to help us move forward. I'll report back again as things progress.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First In First Out

The face of things to come.

As I was walking around the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, I bumped into Laura from Espresso Supply. It's kinda funny odd when you run into coffee people at other trade shows - the community seems so puny and miniscule compared to the vast foodservice industry. Against a tide of ignorance, unawareness and poor quality coffee, it feels as though we're caught in a Perfect Storm and we're losing.

One of the things the crew at Espresso Supply wanted to show me was the very simple Fifo Bottle. It's a relatively new squeeze bottle that eliminates the need to turn the bottle over (and reduces the risk of repetitive stress injuries) by placing a valve at the bottom of the bottle. Simply pick up the bottle, squeeze, the product comes out and put it back in its' mise. Cool, I thought.

A couple of weeks later, a box arrives at The Spro from Lizanne - who was thoughtful enough to send me a couple of Fifo Bottles to try. I've long envied those workers at places like McDonald's with their fancy Secret Sauce, ketchup and mustard dispensers. A simple squeeze of the hand or pull of the trigger and out plops a perfect, portion-controlled dose. Lovely. While the Fifo Bottle doesn't portion product, visions danced in my head of happy baristas freed from the tyranny of turning the bottles of chocolate, honey and agave upside down. Repetitive Stress Disorder from turning bottles? Bah! Begone!

Best of all, the honey we source from Cybil no longer can crystallize at the bottom of the squeeze bottles since the First In is the First Out with the Fifo Bottle. No more digging out the bottle and scooping out the crystals. It's just happy-happy, joy-joy all around.

But with all things new, lessons must be learned. First, the Fifo Bottle comes with two different bottom caps with two different sized orifices: one large and the other small. Make sure to screw them on tight. Second, after you've placed the product in the bottle, the top cap must be screwed on airtight, otherwise you squeeze and nothing happens. You don't think about it with regular squeeze bottles but the bottle must be airtight to provide the pressure needed to force the product out through the orifice. Not tight enough and the product just squeezes in the bottle and you're wondering if you've been Punk'd.

A calm before the storm.

Once you sort out those concerns, it's easy peasy. The bottles are in the ready position and all you have to do is squeeze. Simple and effective.

What about dripping, you say? Initially, there were very little drips but after a couple of weeks in service, I'm sad to report that my crew has resorted to keeping the bottles upside down because the dripping has, at times, been severe. We keep the bottles on top of the espresso machine to keep the honey and chocolate sauce warm and runny. This has caused some problems where it hasn't been uncommon to find a pool of chocolate sauce on top of the Linea.

So, what are the culprits? And is the Fifo Bottle a disaster? I don't think so. As I was writing this it hit me that perhaps we're taking the wrong approach. It's a new product and we should look at it from a new angle. Some of the worse chocolate spillage we've encountered is during the morning hours, right after the bottle of chocolate sauce has been pulled from the refrigerator.

Our chocolate sauce is essentially a ganache. Which means that under cooler temperature, the sauce hardens. When it hardens you could ball it up, dip it in tempered chocolate and make chocolate truffles all day long (which is a pastime my tummy studiously avoids). The chocolate in the bottle is hardened when it's placed on top of the espresso machine to warm, soften and turn liquid. I realized that the heat liquifies from the bottom up and as it heats, the sauce expands. The hard chocolate on the upper part of the bottle is still hard, forming a seal around the bottle, as the lower sauce heats, it has nowhere to expand except out the valve at the bottom, coating my polished Linea and irritating my baristas.

Solution? Perhaps keeping the products off of the machine so that there is no heat to force expansion and release through the valve. It's something we're going to have to try over the next week because it's just a shame that our Fifo Bottles are upside down.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Porchetta di Testa

Our ingredients.

Not too long ago, there was a Pig's Head at Spro. Some of you may have been wondering why a pig's head would be at a coffee bar - well, here's why.

During my trip to Chicago for the National Restaurant Association show, I had the opportunity to view a demonstration by Chris Cosentino of San Francisco's Incanto restaurant. Chris is an avid devotee of all things offal and awful - those nasty bits that most people fear. Pancreas, brains and whatever assorted oddity that usually gets lopped off at the meat factory - if it's considered offensive by the mainstream, he's ready to prepare and eat it.

Midway through deboning the head.

Chris was giving a demonstration on how to make a porchetta from a pig's head. I was thrilled. I was fascinated. In our little world of Baltimore, I only hear or read about things such as this. I rarely get to taste this kind of cuisine and I certainly never get to see it prepared. Chris was at the show giving a quick and dirty demo on just how to do it and I paid rapt attention.

It was my mission to make it at home and prepare it with an eye towards including it in our repertoire at project hampden. Sure, I could bring it to The Spro in Towson, but once our friendly suburban clientele heard they were eating pig's head with tongue, they'd be running for the nearest Starbucks.

Ah, lovely cheek meat and skin!

Fully seasoned and ready to roll.

As soon as I returned from Chicago, I gave David Smith at Springfield Farm a call. Order me a pig's head from the abbatoir as soon as possible, please. That Thursday, along with our usual order of eggs, came a pig's head in a plastic bag. I left it sitting on the back bar of The Spro as our proud testament of exciting things to come.

The results were expected and amusing. Our customer, who by now are getting used to certain strange antics with coffee, were a mixture of surprise, shock, disgust and intrigue. They wanted to know why? Why was there a pig's head sitting on the counter? What were we doing with it? Those who knew our penchant for going outside the box with coffee drinks tentatively asked (with great concern) if the pig's head was somehow going to be an ingredient in some coffee concoction.

Rest assured, I told them, this pig's head was destined for other things than your demitasse cup.

Mariano assists in the wrapping and rolling of the porchetta.

With the pig's head slung over one shoulder and my knife roll tucked under the other arm, I headed over to Woodberry Kitchen to use their prep kitchen and their supply of curing salt (since I didn't have any of my own). Making the porchetta is pretty straightforward - simply take the pig's head, slice it down the center from the tip of lower mouth and start cutting the skin and flesh away from the skull. In anticipation of this, I had spent part of my afternoon at The Spro sharpening my boning knife with an assortment of Japanese wet stones. Razor sharp knives are an essential necessity.

The tricky parts of the skinning process is to keep as much of the cheek meat intact and not to puncture the skin. The butcher already has removed parts of the skin around the eyes to check for disease so holes are to be expected. You also want to keep the ears attached and the snout intact as it will be an integral part of the porchetta.

Six hours of sous vide.

Trimming around the skull isn't as difficult as it may sound. In fact, it's pretty easy. Just make sure to keep as much meat intact as possible. Then, once the skull has been deboned, pull the mouth open and start cutting out the tongue from the base of the throat. I should also note that you should check the end of the skull (where it has been severed from the body) for the glands - remove them if they are still there and discard.

Did I mention that you should have made sure to shave or burn off any and all hairs that may be remaining on the animal? Or that you need to remove the "skin" of the tongue? Be sure to do so unless you like the feeling of stubble in your charcuterie.

The pig's head finished, cured and chilled for three days.

A great way to judge the suitability of a girl is their reaction to the pig's head - especially in these moments of extreme disembowelment. Some girls can't stand the sight of it, others are interested and even a few are excited by the prospects - we call these girls "keepers." Amy S. is one of those girls who just wanted to hang out and watch it all being done. Sexy.

From there, simply layout the head, skin side down and flap the ears under to cover the open gaps in the skin where the eyes once were. Sprinkle with curing salt then season with salt, black pepper, aleppo pepper, crushed garlic and rosemary (or whatever else you fancy). Now's the time for the challenge.

Unwrapped and ready to slice.

It seems that nothing excites an Italian cook more than the making of traditional Italian cuisine. I don't know how traditional this porchetta really is but once Mariano laid his eyes on the beast he was very excited and wanted to be a part of it. Hailing from Argentina and working at a Michelin one star in Italy, Mariano is as die hard as any Italian. To him, cooks just don't "know" pasta. He's even got some roe laden fish salted, hanging and drying somewhere around Woodberry - just in case.

Place the tongue, with the thick side tucked into the snout, in the center of the head and roll the whole thing together from one side. You're approximating the look of the head with the roll but it will still be a roll that just has a snout. Chris Cosentino recommends tying the roll with twine or running it through a butcher's netting machine but Mariano had a better idea: just roll the sucker with plastic wrap.

The detail of the gelatin is amazing.

After some careful moments (and quite a bit of plastic wrap), the pig's head was rolled and formed. And big. The sucker was pretty large. Too large, in fact, to fit in any of the vacuum bags in Woodberry's inventory. I had to take it home.

Back at the house, with a custom cut FoodSaver bag at the ready, I vacuum sealed the head inside the bag and let it cure in the refrigerator overnight. By Friday afternoon, it would be time to cook.

At three o'clock on Friday, I filled up a large Cambro with water and got the circulator from PolyScience working. 85C for six hours. By the time I came back at eleven that night, the porchetta was done and the waiting begins.

Slicing it thin.

Once the porchetta has been cured and cooked, it needs to be chilled quickly in an ice water bath and then cured in the refrigerator for at least two days. I opted for three days rest before calling some friends to invite them to sample the new porchetta and since my slicer is at Woodberry, it would have to be done there.

As the head came out of the bag and was unwrapped, I was a bit thrown off. What looked like plastic wrap fused onto the porchetta was actually the gelatin taking the shape of the wrap. The gelatin was beautiful. Amazing. I stared at it in wonder for ten minutes.

Meat Ready to Eat.

A small plating for some special guests.

Into the slicer it went and I went to town slicing off thin slices of porchetta for all to try. Cooks, servers, diswashers, bussers and runners all got samples to taste. Mariano, after tasting some of the slices, grabbed a 9pan to take a stash home. It was delicious, delicate, slightly salty and deliciously fatty. I plated up some for my friends to try at the bar. They devoured it and I sent another plate. A hit.

By the end of the evening, we had eaten a third of the porchetta. A victory. I bagged the rest to save for later.

In retrospect, if we can recreate these results on a consistent basis, I think some very exciting possibilities lie in store for project hampden once we get the prep kitchen there built and installed. Some nice charcuterie cold plates and cheeses. Could be beautiful.

The cross section of the porchetta - notice the ear. Exciting!

Vac bagged and ready for another day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Firing and The Big Foam

Big foam cappuccino super hot and dirty steam wand at The Spro.

With the impending doom of opening project hampden, I've fallen upon the task of shoring up the staff at The Spro in Towson and starting the search for qualified barista candidates.

To my mind, hiring is utter agony. It's one of the most difficult parts of the job. Hire poorly and you might as well shove a shiv in your neck. Hire well and life can be very good indeed.

Over the years, I've hired and employed over a hundred people - each one I vetted personally. I'm happy to report that I've only fired one employee with prejudice in ten years. Some left of their own volition and others were excused during their training phase but only one was truly fired outright.

In 2002, I hired this person whom I didn't entirely vet out. I hired the person because some on my staff thought we could use this person - to be clear: a bunch of my girls wanted to bring on a guy and campaigned hard for me to hire this person. Against my better judgment, I brought him onboard. From the get go, it was clear he was the wrong person for the job. Within a week he thought he was the new hot shot on the team: the star player.

While the girls worked hard and grinded it out, this guy was hot dogging and showboating. He wanted to chat it up with the girls. He wanted to hit on our female customers. He thought he was The Shit but could barely perform the basic requirements of the job. Technically, he was absolutely horrible. After two weeks, he could barely complete the technical aspects of the job and the girls were now unhappy with his presence.

Firing someone is one of the most unpleasant tasks of my job. I don't enjoy doing it. It's physically wrenching. It's not something that I want to do. But it is something I will do when the time comes.

And that time was fast-approaching.

After two weeks, many of my staff were unhappy with this person. They wanted him out. I agreed. He had to go, but firing is very unpleasant and I wanted to put it off as long as possible. I decided to have a cigar to think it through.

As I sat at my friends' shop smoking that cigar, things became very clear. I could put off firing him and risk alienating my crew, which could result in my best people leaving, or I could go down there that morning and fire the person and be done with it. Losing my best people and being stuck with some lame-ass, showboat, hot dogger was about the worst possibility there could be.

I dropped my cigar, drove to Jays Shave Ice and fired him on the spot.

In spite of that glitch in 2002, I've always taken hiring very seriously. Especially since I don't want to get stuck with a non-performer like that again. From time to time, other operators ask me my methods for hiring and they've changed quite a bit. Once upon a time, we had very formal interview and vetting standards. Lately, they've been much more organic and dynamic.

But one component of the interview process that hasn't changed is when a candidate has prior barista experience (not superauto experience), I'll throw them on the machine and let them make me a cappuccino. The cappuccino they make is whatever they are used to making and know how to make. I just point them in the general direction of the milk, the grinder and steam wand and let them go to town.

Perhaps years ago, I would have been horrified to see what I've been seeing lately. But in my old age, I've come to accept the world as it is and accept that perhaps baristas around the world just aren't up to the same standard that we perform. It's okay because I just want to see what I have to work with and where we need to focus should they make it to the training phase.

Whatever the case, watching the candidates perform is always entertaining and informative. For example, I never really understood how people were able to create that super dry and thick milk foam. I knew they pumped but wow - seeing it live and in person was something else entirely.

Now I know what I'm missing...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Between the Hours of 3:30am and 6:30am

Years ago, I spent some time living with my uncle - who is probably the most business savvy and successful person I know. The guy was an absolute bastard and mentally beat me 'til I was black and blue. The time was now to get things done. Do, do, do - like a fucking mantra.

Up until that time, I had been working in the motion picture business doing production work. The oddity of the industry is that most "normal" people think there's something wrong with you because your friends and neighbors usually see you between pictures when you're at home and out of work. Between gigs, it's not unusual to find yourself sleeping in late and lazing around the house, which is when the normal people see you and form the incorrect impression that your life is one of leisure.

What they don't see are the months of shooting when you're working fifteen hours a day, six days a week with only an eight hour turnaround between the time that they call "wrap" for the day's shoot and the time you have to report to work the next day - which usually means that it takes you an hour after wrap to stow all of your gear for the night, drive home, unwind, shower, sleep, get up, get ready, drive back to set and be rip-roaring and ready to go by the call time. The reality is that it takes an hour to get out of there, at least another hour to go home, shower, unwind and go to bed and at least another hour in the morning to get ready and get to the set - meaning that you get five hours of sleep, if you're lucky.

Pile all of that on a fifteen hour day of non-stop standing and rushing around at full speed and you start to see that film production is a grueling life that is anything but the glamour that the public thinks. To make matters more difficult, all of the usual stuff that normal people spread out over their week - like grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, banking, etc, now has to be compressed into that one day you have off. Forget rest, forget relaxation, forget living - it's all about production.

But to the rest of the world, you're just a slacker because you sit at home all day between pictures...

It was during one of those three month breaks that I went to stay with my uncle, who also decided that I must be some slacker because I was hanging out in his part of the world for several months at a time.

The one thing I learned in the film business was that it did no good to try to convince people otherwise. They just wouldn't believe it. Might as well let them think what they want and get on with it. My uncle was no different. To him, work was all-encompassing - as it was for me, just that it wasn't all-encompassing everyday, just at multi-month intervals while shooting.

After a couple of weeks, the guy laid into me. He wasn't happy about my party all night, sleep in all morning philosophy. He wanted to see me working. If I was going to stay in his hours, I had to work. I had to get up at six a.m. and get cracking. He didn't care what (or who) I did at night, or what time I came home, as long as I was up and cracking at six.

After awhile, he just pissed me off.

But I held to that schedule and even if I rolled in at 5am, I was up at 6am and making it happen. That bastard beat the crap out of me and burned an intense, white hot anger in me for years. But it wasn't until years later that I realized that it was him pushing me away from film production and towards my own future. He had pissed me off so much that I only wanted to achieve if for no other reason than to tell him to go fuck himself. And then I mellowed out a bit.

Several years later, after we had built Jays Shave Ice, my uncle came to visit and as I showed him our operations, I saw something in his eyes that I hadn't seen before: respect. Suddenly, there was no longer a need to tell him to fuck himself, it was his respect he was looking to give, but only if I had been worthy, if only I had proven something, and now that I had, we were there.

To this day, when I think about those times living with my uncle, I can only describe them as I have above. The guy was a complete and utter bastard to me. A complete fucker. I can still feel the anger and rage he ignited in me, and I can still savor that triumphant moment of respect - a moment more delicious and satisfying than any young girl I've ever taken home. Even now, it's that desire to prove my uncle wrong that drives me each morning.

I relate this because a friend called me the other night and she was surprised that I was home on a Saturday night. She expected me to be out and about, but the reality is that I spend my weeknights out and about and stay home on the weekends. Last night was no different. After arriving at Woodberry to pick up milk for The Spro, Spike, Isaiah and Allie invited me to an industry wine tasting until midnight, which turned into a four hour marathon of drinking, eating and moving to multiple bars. What I expected to be a quick night brought me home at 3:30am.

Today was my opening shift at The Spro and even though I didn't get home until 3:30am, I had no problem getting up at six - if only to prove my uncle wrong...

I'll be at The Spro all day if anyone decides to swing by.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sending Out An S.O.S.

With a couple of hours between appointments and an impending thunderstorm looming on the horizon, I didn't have anywhere to go and I didn't want to go home.

I think this is turning out to be one of my "dark secrets." You know, I'm in the specialty coffee biz, I don't pay attention to what Starbucks is doing because it's almost never applicable to The Spro, but yet whenever I find myself in a pinch, I seem to find myself at a Starbucks, Caribou or similar national coffeehouse chain - and I never drink the coffee.

Why do I find myself here - at the Mount Washington Starbucks? I think I'm here because I need a place of refuge for a couple of hours. A place where I can quietly sip a large iced tea and write the latest chapters of the Spro Coffee Handbook without being disturbed or feeling like I have to give up my seat and leave.

Unlike many independent coffeehouses, Starbucks (and their ilk) offers clean, roomy and, most importantly, strongly air conditioned environments that are actually comfortable to make yourself home in - a trait I fear is lacking in many indie shops. In the sweltering heat of Baltimore summer with rising humidity and falling barometric pressure from the thunderstorm, I want a place I can hide out in that's cold and comfy.

We need more indie places that have strong air conditioning and comfy seating that don't look like eclectic remnant flophouses.

Monday, June 08, 2009

SCAA 2009: A Few Of My Favorite Things...

When Sarah Allen, editor of Barista Magazine, asked me to write an article for the June/July 2009 issue, I thought "no problem." To me, fifteen hundred words was plenty of room to write about everything cool on the show floor. As the article progressed, even two thousand words wasn't enough - which is how this post evolved.

Held during the third week of April at the Georgia Congress Center, the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America's Exposition is the coffee industry event of the year. For the past four years, I've been quite involved during the show whether doing things as a member of the Barista Guild of America's (BGA) Executive Council, managing the BGA trade show booth, teaching espresso classes, competing in the United States Barista Championship or doing machine calibration for the World Barista Championship - in other words, it's been a busy four years.

This year, I've been pulling away from all the volunteer work and decided to attend the SCAA as just another attendee - an attendee with no commitments, class schedules or volunteerism. I wanted to see the show as many other people see the show.

Lots of people spend countless hours volunteering their blood, sweat and tears for the SCAA and the payoff has always seemed paltry to me. Give up X amount of hours volunteering and get your attendee fee paid. In the past, that X amount of time turned out to be so much that there wasn't enough time to do much of anything else. All that work and money spent on travel, accommodation and food with not much in return. Hard to justify for small companies.

By no means is the SCAA a very large trade show. While it's the biggest in the coffee business, it's still dwarfed by a number of other shows I attend during the year. Over three show days, they allot fifteen hours of show time to the vendors and the attendees, and while it sounds like a lot of time, I found out that it just wasn't enough to tour the floor, chat with vendors, taste coffee and really get into the products you found interesting. The SCAA needs to expand the floor hours from 12 noon to 5pm to 9am to 5pm.

While I did find myself crunching to get everything crammed into the limited show hours, I did find some cool stuff that I wanted to include in the article but couldn't because of space limitations. Here are some of those products:

Roaster On The Run.

Coffee-Tech FZ-RR 700
One of the more interesting things I saw on the show floor was this copper-barrelled sample roaster. Designed to take anywhere, all you need is some sort of heat source, whether open flame, radiant or whatever. Simply plug the unit in, add heat and roast - wherever you are in the world. Operation seemed simple and easy enough though, because of its' size, there isn't a way to see the coffee or use a tryer of some sort. But if you're stuck in the wilderness of Papua New Guinea and want to roast a sample, this could be the ticket.


Metropolitan Tea Timer
Timers are a handy barista tool and Metropolitan was showing this small, sandglass tea timer with multiple time settings. It always seems difficult to find a decent hourglass timer and this one has three settings for a variety of uses.


Green Guru Blow Out Series
These were some of the more interesting "accessories" on display at the show. Green Guru is a Boulder, Colorado based company specializing in using reclaimed materials for its' products. They were showing their Blow Out line of wallets and pouches that utilize 98% reclaimed rubber from bicycle inner tubes.


Taking the first test for the BGA Barista Certification.

Barista Certification
As a barista myself who happens to own the company, the barista certifications I see floating around seem dubious at best to me. If my standards are focused, what good does some general certification do for me and my company? It's a question I've been asking for years. This year, the BGA's certification program is coming to fruition and I think it has the best chance of becoming the most meaningful certification program out there.

As I wrote in the article, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Heather Perry and Scott Lucey. They're passionate and committed to the program and have come up with a curriculum that I think has the best potential of producing certified baristas with a skillset that is applicable for any quality operator. It may be a couple more years before a solid baseline of baristas has formed but as I sat in on the lectures and reviewed the test material, I was impressed with the depth and precision expected from a candidate if they expect to pass certification. This is one program to watch in the coming years.


Espresso Machines
In the world of espresso machines, it seems as though not too much happens for a couple of years and then Wham! Everyone is rushing for progress. 2009 was one of those years. Suddenly, it seems that everyone is thinking about pressure profiling.

Scace 3P Installed.

Scace 3P
Techno wizard Greg Scace is at it again with a new pressure profiling device that will retrofit onto any espresso machine. Simply disconnect your pump, wire up this unit and voila! Pressure profiling! Digital controls will ramp up (or down) the pressure as you see fit. The caveat: since you're retrofitting your existing machine, the profile will only work on one brew at a time, but the controller will compensate if you run additional groups. Expect the unit to cost about the same as an expensive home espresso machine and from Espresso Parts.

Synesso Hydra
I really didn't get much of a chance to check out the Hyrda being demonstrated at the Intelligentsia booth because it was always busy being used to make espresso for attendees and the booth was just plain busy. But I hear good things about it from the Synesso devotees.


Emily works the Slayer.

Easily the most hotly anticipated espresso machine in the industry today and I want to like the machine - especially with it's steampunked good looks, but I'm confounded by the fact that the Slayer people actually want to argue that the Slayer looks nothing like the Synesso. That's about as absurd as if Synesso stated that their machine didn't resemble the old La Marzocco GS.

Don't get me wrong, the machine looks good. It's low-slung with a black body riding on cast metal legs and hand-carved wooden actuating handles - sexy. But the protruding groupheads, as well as the top-mounted steam wands and rotating-handled steam actuators - there's no mistaking that the Slayer took design cues from the Synesso Cyncra and it irks me that anyone would actually argue that point - as though people are that stupid. It's offensive.

Beyond that, the Slayer offers variable brew pressure in the form of multi-stage settings on the actuator handles. Results from the baristas I talked to were mixed but I suspect that's more due to being jammed onto a show floor with dozens of other eager baristas breathing down your neck for a turn at the machine. In a controlled setting, with coffee you are familiar with, I'm betting the Slayer could be a serious challenger to the Synesso cognoscenti.


Working the LM Prototype.

La Marzocco
Leave it to the old and venerable La Marzocco to lay low, like a lion in the weeds, waiting to spring upon it's prey and decimate them without mercy. Since being removed as the machine sponsor of the World Barista Championship, La Marzocco has seemingly been playing it quiet. And then they unveiled their new machine prototype.

Forget what you've read above. Those machines are great but the La Marzocco trumps them all. Variable pressure per grouphead and not pre-programmed like those above. On this machine you can vary the pressure up or down manually with the paddlegroup controller. Push it to the right up to 12 Bar, or back it down to the left. No pressure is left behind. Beautiful. Find the ideal profile? You can then save that profile and play it back during successive brews. Amazing. We were blown away. Everyone else is stuck on offering profile brewing with programmed pressure points, La Marzocco has jumped into the deep end by offering infinite variability.

But like any blockbuster movie, this machine is just a teaser. Housed in an FB80 body, the new machine will be completely redesigned for release sometime in 2010. Arrgh!


Compak K10 Doserless Timer

Compak K-10 Timer
While much of the barista world chases after the Robur E, I just don't "get it." I've been a fan of the Compak K10 since 2006. Perhaps there's something in the barista world that just believes that Mazzer is the only option (or that ridiculous Anfim stepped grinder) but we've been pounding and grinding on the K10 for over three years now and it's an absolute workhorse that's easy to use, fast and cool. Luckily, Compak has been busy updating the grinder and keeping it up with the times and they took some time to show me the latest update to the K10: a doserless timer.

With the ability to set grind time to 1/100 of a second, the new K10 should be a killer. The side mounting of the readout and controls dampens my enthusiasm slightly (but is nowhere as infuriating as the knob on the Anfim) but I'm expecting great results to continue from this grinder and will be using the new K10 timer in our new shop opening before fall 2009.


Malykke Grinder and French Press Boiler

I wrote in the article a little bit about this grinder and I want to stress the fact that I severely want one. I'd love to have a couple of them mounted on the wall of my new coffee joint but we've come so far in weighing coffee for consistent results that dose grinding via timer seems like two steps backwards - especially when the unit uses weight to determine the size of french press you've hung from the grinder.

If that seems confusing, the Malykke grinder can be operated by hanging a french press from the spout. As it hangs, it presses against a weight sensor that has been preprogrammed to know that your 32z press pot weighs X amount of grams and once it senses that weight, it knows to grind for Y seconds. All Malykke needs to do is work on that programming so that once the grinder has been weighed, it automatically tares and then grinds Z grams of coffee into the press pot. If they can overcome that hurdle, then this could very well be the best grinder ever built.


Hot Water
Things come in waves and one of the new waves in coffee seems to be the controllable water heaters.

Wilbur Curtis
It's been on the market for a little while now but the Wilbur Curtis Company has their new Fresh Aeration water tower that will inject fresh air into the heated water to keep it lively. Along with a digital temperature readout, this simple water heater looks like it will topple the ground held by Bunn and Fetco in the water tower segment.


Marco Uber Boiler
Brought to the attention of the barista world by 2007 World Barista Champion James Hoffman, the Marco Uber Boiler is an ongoing project that brought some prototypes to the 2009 WBC Bar where I had the chance to check it out. Without a doubt, it is the coolest-looking water boiler on the market and is very promising but the surface-mounted readout and controls are just begging for a pot of water to be spilled on them and fry the electronics - but the scale slash water drain is tre cool.


French Press Boiler at work.

French Press Boiler
Sharing the same booth with Malykke was the company (who's name escapes me and I can't seem to find on the Internet) who shook the roof a few years ago with their counter-mounted single-group espresso machine. Essentially, this French Press Boiler is the same chassis as the espresso machine but made to brew and dispense hot water for press service. Housed in clear plexiglass to show off its' innards, the boiler pulses and times the water. It's intensely good-looking but the MSRP is $5,000 - which is four times more than the comparable Bunn water tower that most shops use for press service.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Roasting Alta Mogiana

The Good Smoke 2

Those Europeans and their warning labels...

What makes a good meal great and a great meal even better? Capping it off with beautiful cigars. Hell, give me some great steak and a great cigar and I'm just a happy human.

After such an enjoyable meal of fine smoked meats, what better way to celebrate than with a few Montecristo #2 Habanas (illegal, of course) that I rescued from the Frankfurt airport over two years ago. While I do love great cigars, it's always a treat to share great cigars with friends who truly enjoy cigars. Nothing is more frustrating to a cigar lover than to share a great cigar with someone only to have that friend not only not appreciate the smoke but to smoke half (or less). The coup de gras comes when that person stubs the cigar out mercilessly.

Those are the times when you regret ever sharing that fine cigar.

Luckily, my friend Bryan is someone who knows and appreciates fine cigars and will never be found stubbing one out. In the humidor, I've got a nice collection of cigars dating back to 1995 where they have been slowly and carefully aging for thirteen years or so. I've always tried to buy cigars of a certain caliber and it has returned dividends in beautiful smokes that are flavorful and lingering. Ahh, the memories...

What's that precious gift hidden in the box behind Ethipian Birr? Oh my!

Knowing that Bryan enjoys Cubans, I grab the aforementioned box of Montecristo #2s and head out to the veranda. Inside are freshly printed Ethiopian Birr notes - evidence that I bought this box during my trip to Addis Ababa in February 2007. As I open the box, expecting to find three Havanas, I'm surprised and delighted to find two Montecristos and one PG Belicoso Maduro.

Even though I can't imagine what it could be, I must have done something right this week.

While I love the Montecristo #2, my passion in cigars is for the Paul Garmirian Belicoso Maduro. To my tastes, there is no finer cigar. I started smoking them in 2002 and they've rocked my world for seven years now. By this point, I've smoked well over one hundred of them and I've only had three that had problems. In the world of cigars, that's an amazing statistic.

It's a delicious cigar. Medium bodied with a sliky spiciness and a mild sweetness. To my palate, this is the one cigar I could smoke day in and day out. In fact, I have smoked it day in and day out - which is why I'm surprised and excited to find this hidden treasure.

I love and smoke this cigar so much that I no longer can keep them in the house. I've had boxes in the house. Boxes that were intended for my reserve. Boxes for aging. Boxes to combat the anticipation of the downturn in the economy. Boxes that I were supposed to be for the days when business was bad and I couldn't afford to splurge on such a cigar.

There they were, boxes of PG Belicoso Maduro. Waiting for Days of Doom. Waiting to rescue me from wiping out my empire and fortune. Waiting for the days when I would have no more money, no more women and no more nothing. These boxes were for those days when I would have nothing left, I could still comfort myself with the flavor of the Belicoso Maduro.

But no, I don't have discipline. Just one cigar, I would tell myself, intending only to smoke that one Belicoso Maduro before going back to something lesser, like the Padron 1964 Anniversary (a perfectly delicious cigar in its' own right). That's when the madness would begin. Just another one from the box will be okay. Then another and another, and another - suddenly, before I would realize it, I had smoked through the entire box.

It's like an addiction. It's so good, I can't get enough. Help me.

Happiness is: the Paul Garmirian Bellicoso Maduro.

For several months, I've been without. Since I no longer make regular trips to Northern Virginia, I no longer make regular visits to the PG Boutique in McLean and my larder has run dry. It's been a sad state of cigar affairs here on the home front.

As I savor each draw from the Belicoso Maduro, I'm reminded why this is still my favorite cigar. No other compares. That light spiciness and the mild sweetness. Just amazing. I wish I had a steak. And some of that Pezzi King Old Vines Zinfandel.

That would be Legen - wait for it - dary!