Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Quiet Life

Jeremy, Devlin and Martin manning the bar.

I'm sitting here in the main room at Spro watching the action. The tables in the front are filled, one table (of two) in the back are filled and a steady stream of guests come in and out as the morning gets busier.

What I notice most is the happy banter of friends from the tables. Everything else is quiet. The three baristas working the bar (Jeremy, Devlin & Martin) work quietly and efficiently. They greet customers, answer questions and quietly communicate amongst each other. Their movements are calculated and anticipatory of each other. Without realizing it, their dance has begun and it's a brilliant moment.

As the guest count increases, they must keep track not only of the guests standing in front of them waiting for their orders but they're also keeping track of which guest receives what item wherever they decided to sit.

For me it's actually thrilling to watch. It's a ballet. The quiet concentration, the focus, the passion. Amazing and I'm very proud of their work.

Hours pass and the intensity remains. The service level is friendly and welcoming. Comfortable without being overtly familiar.

It's really what I always hoped for at Spro.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mystique Toro

The Old Toro and The Road.

I'm hitting the road with cigar in hand. This time it's the Hugo Cassar Mystique Toro that I purchased in March 1998 at the old Don Pablo Smoke Shop, Aloha Tower in Honolulu. Since that time it's been aging in my humidor - for nearly thirteen years.

The Mystique was a curious cigar when it was released, featuring a candy cane dual wrapper it attracted quite a bit of attention back then. I remember it being a decent cigar. Nothing amazing, just decent.

Sometimes, with aging, you discover something fantastic. Something amazing. Aging cigars is a gamble. Lay down a box of Paul Garmirian cigars and you're almost guaranteed ecstasy over the long term. Other cigars, like the Arturo Fuente Double Chateau Fuente, in its cedar wrapper, tend to give off explosive spicy notes over time.

As with any gambling endeavor, sometimes you go bust. Sadly, this was one of those times. After many years aging, the Mystique has faded into a musty and unremarkable cigar. A shame and a difficult companion to pass the hours on the road away.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

So Happy I Could Die

Gaga from the floor of the Mediolanum Forum.

Back when I was going out to concerts, cameras and recording devices were banned and confiscated. To get the snaps we did of Madonna during the Like A Virgin Tour, we had to smuggle in a Canon AE-1 SLR and 200mm zoom lens, pop it out, shoot quickly and then hide it before one of the security people caught us. To get decent photos and/or recording of a favorite concert was pretty difficult.

So, as I was heading to Assago for the Lady Gaga concert last month, I wondered just how the scene would be - would I have to smuggle my camera in? With the plethora of camera phones and HD phone cams, why do they even bother writing "Cameras and recording devices prohibited" on the tickets? Just in case, I loaded up my trusty Canon SD790IS with an emptt 4GB SD card, just in case.

But not to worry. Once inside the Mediolanum Forum, everyone and their mother (literally) had their cameras, video cameras and phones out snapping away and recording the entire concert for personal posterity. I only wish I had brought my 16GB SD card.

In the days of Duran Duran's Sing Blue Silver Tour (which my mom would not allow me to attend and has scarred me for life), the audience carried lighters to illuminate the darkness. Today, the lighter has been replaced by the cell phone screen. A curious and interesting twist in these days when smokers are relegated to criminality.

The beauty of this constant need to record one's life and post it to the Internet also means that you can get a glimpse of the very same concert you saw from different seats in the arena. Want to know what the view was from the floor in front of the stage? YouTube. The cheap seats? YouTube. The seats of those people who spent inordinate amounts of money on "VIP Access"? They've posted their videos too.

And it's not some video from another show that will remind you of your experience. It's the very same show from a completely different view. With a little creative downloading and editing, you might just be able to recreate your concert from different camera angles.

Of course, the difficult part is that these are videos shot by regular people on regular phones (albeit some are HD phones) without understanding of framing, composition and/or sound. Meaning that the camera work is shaky and the audio garbled at times. Not perfect, but a good way to remember the concert.

Which is what I did all last night during the snowfall. Instead of doing something productive, I watched YouTube videos of the Lady Gaga Concert at the Mediolanum Forum in Assago, Italy on December 5, 2010 all night long. GaGa, Oh, La, La!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Christmas In January

I love you, Mrs. Hanes!

After a very good and productive staff meeting that shut down Spro Hampden for the afternoon, Molly came by with a Christmas gift for me in tow. That was very nice and unexpected of her. And with the snow falling, very apropos.

The gift was a couple items from her home town, Winston-Salem. A porcelain coffee mug inscribed with the famous sights of Winston-Salem and a bag of Mrs. Hanes Moravian "Sugar Crisps" Cookies. Evidently, Mrs. Hanes is as famous in Winston-Salem as Otterbein's is in Baltimore. They're unique and a hallmark of Winston-Salem. I cautiously tried one.

Holy crap. They're absolutely brilliant! Light, perfectly crisp, evenly thin and just the right sweetness. I want to make some coffee or tea to enjoy with the cookies but I can't stop. They're delicious. Sugar cookie perfection. I'm a fan. A raving fan.

I can't stop eating them. As I'm writing this, my 226 gram bag is nearly half empty. I'm plowing through the cookies - they're that good!

Thank you Molly for bringing me a taste of the South.

A Merry Christmas indeed.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Top Coffees of 2010

One of the benefits of operating a company whose model is to procure coffees from a variety of sources is that I get to taste a wide variety of coffees - certainly wider than if we followed the traditional model of exclusivity. Here's a list of some of the best coffees I've tasted in 2010. For the most part, the descriptions are as they appeared on our menus throughout 2010. Most of them are no longer available.

Michicha Natural - Sidama, Ethiopia
A harmonius balance of exotic fruits, such as mango, papaya and lime with hints of lemon strawberry with a ketchup-y sweet flavor and medium body.
Imported by Samuel Demisse and roasted by Counter Culture - in the Eva Solo.

Bufcafe - Zirikana, Rwanda
From a country transforming right before us comes this wonderful coffee filled with notes of peach nectar and grapes with tart lime acididty.
Roasted by Intelligentsia - in the Eva Solo.

Honey Michicoy - Guatemala
Notes of honey & maple syrup with bing cherries, blackberries and apple rounds with buttery caramel and cocoa for a refreshing warm weather sipper.
Roasted by Barefoot Coffee - in the Chemex.

San Vicente Micro Lot - Honduras
From the famed Pena Blanca comes this exquisitely complex coffee with characters of sage, hops and citrus peel aromatics, and a lively grapefruit acidity with tingling mouthfeel and a brisk finish.
Roasted by Origins Organic Coffee - in the Cold Drip Tower.

Aida's Grand Reserve 2009 - El Salvador
Widely celebrated as our $13 cup of coffee, this one brought us to back in April. A monster coffee filled with tropical fruit fragrances and aromas of cinnamon bun and logan berries. Medium bodied with notes of citrus, spice and raisin, with nuts and apple cider on the finish.
Roasted by Counter Culture Coffee - in the Vac Pot.

Fully Washed Yirgacheffe - Ethiopia
A great exemplar of the very best washed coffee from the Yirgacheffe region. Incredibly aromatic, full of floral notes and bergamot, and in the cup sweet limes and honey, a soft cardamom note with a light, tea-like mouthfeel.
Roasted by Square Mile Coffee - in the Vac Pot.

Finca Vista Hermosa - Guatemala
One of our favorite coffees in the world produced by Edwin Martinez, the FVH is smooth & full-bodied with flavors of caramel, brown sugar, figs, warming spices, apples and bittersweet chocolate. This coffee develops notes of juicy grapefruit as it cools.
Roasted by Barefoot Coffee - in the Eva Solo.

Coope Dota - Costa Rica
Founded in 1960 in the Terrazu region with a focus on microlot coffees, this coffee is lively and balanced with the sweetness of Rainier cherries, orange-lemon citrus body and pleasant notes of toffee and nougat on the finish.
Roasted by Ecco Caffe - in the Chemex.

Santa Barbara Estate - Brazil
Starting off with aromas of tangerine and brown sugar is this immense coffee from World Barista Champion Tim Wendelboe of Norway. Smooth with subtle flavors of blueberry oatmeal, egg custard, brown sugar and cloves that ends with a calming, buttery finish.
Roasted by Tim Wendelboe Coffee - in the Vac Pot.

Finca Kilimanjaro - El Salvador
A new arrival from Aida Batlle and her Finca Kilimanjaro demonstrates comforting aromas of spiced apple cider and vanilla that gives way to notes of strawberry and red grapes. Offered in August as part of our "A Taste of Aida" series where the guest could sample head-to-head the Kilimanjaro from Stumptown versus the Finca Mauritania from Counter Culture.
Roasted by Stumptown Coffee Roasters - in the Eva Solo.

Yirgacheffe Natural - Ethiopia
One of our most popular coffees that was offered both as a pour over and cold brew tower demonstrating bright citrus-like notes for a crisp, clean and enjoyable cup.
Roasted by Origins Organic Coffee - in the pour over & cold brew tower.

Thiriku - Nyeri, Kenya
Truth be told, I'm not really a fan of bright, acidic coffees. Give me fruit, give me nuts, give me chocolate and I'm a fan - bright, not so much. But pair this Thiriku with a strawberry tart and you begin to see possibilities with "coffee pairings." Absolutely stellar. Classically bright with full-bodied notes of citrus, honey and candied ginger comes this coffee from the foothills of Mount Kenya.
Roasted by Counter Culture - in the Chemex.

Amaro Gayo - Ethiopia
A Spro exclusive from the mind of roaster Paul Galvin - spicy and woody notes on the nose with warm graham cracker and blueberry flavors on the tongue. The coffee is a sensory sensation with notes of baking chocolate and an even finish.
Custom Roasted by Callao Coffee - in the Eva Solo.

Nigusie - Ethiopia
Beautiful aromas of grapefruit, golden raisins and black pepper start off the cup moving into flavors of graham crackers and chocolate pudding. From a wonderful small roaster in New Jersey, this cup finishes with notes of plums and dreams of fireside Christmas.
Roasted by OQ Coffee - in the Chemex.

Zone 10 - Wabi Sabi Series
A two bean blend of washed coffees delivering floral aromas with hints of plum and orange that moves to very soft and smooth notes of burnt sugar and caramel with a mellow citrus finish.
Roasted and Blended by barismo - espresso.

Hines Espresso
As it was in the beginning is now and forever shall be - perennially my favorite espresso blend, the Hines has always maintained its character of medium body, light fruitiness and notes of cacao with lingering nuttiness on the finish.
Roasted and Blended by Origins Organic Coffee - espresso.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 and Onwards

After a night of revelry into the wee hours of the morning there must be something wrong with me penning this post on New Year's Day, but I guess it's time for another one of those Year In Review things.

2010 was a pretty good year. A year with ups and downs. A year that started off in darkness. A year filled with challenges. Notably, it was a year that none of my friends passed away.

One year ago, I listed some "resolutions" and here is how I fared:

- Eat more. Yes.
- Drink more. Not really.
- Party more. Sometimes too much.
- Meet more women. As though it were a vengeance.
- Learn more. Check.
- Explore more. Check.
- Travel more. Check.
- Speak my mind more often. Too much.
- Love more. Finally.
- Return to Paris. Check.
- Return to Honolulu. Failed.
- Visit Spain. Failed.
- Seek more fortune. Check.
- Spread goodwill. Check.
- Meet more people. Check.
- Be a good uncle. Bad Uncle.

Here are some of the highlights (or lowpoints) of 2010.

In 2010:
- project hampden opened into Spro Hampden.
- we dazzled people with great coffee.
- I found myself with a group of great coffee people.
- I was mired in darkness during the first quarter.
- I finally dated someone that all my friends hated.
- I found out why - the hard way.
- I reconnected with someone from my past.
- I met my new niece.
- I partied again in L.A.
- I nearly got sucked into the lifestyle in L.A.
- I found that London is really kind of a "meh" city.
- I smoked great weed in Copenhagen.
- I experienced Europe via train.
- I cheated by going first class on the TGV.
- I joined a gym.
- I went once. In February.
- I've been thinking about going back.
- I cut my hair.
- I traveled to Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle.
- I realized that I follow too many coffee people on twitter.
- I finally started tweeting.
- I did not quit facebook.
- I finally got that HD camera I've been wanting.
- I did not make Mileage Plus Premier Executive.

Facing Forward
Now that it's 2011 it's time to think about the year ahead. Still so much to do and I think I'm in the years where the mid-life crisis is supposed to begin. So here are some of the things I would like to accomplish in 2011:

- Buy a Ferrari.
- Be an existent uncle.
- Travel more.
- Attain Premier Executive status again.
- Love more.
- Meet more people.
- Get to the gym more.
- Understand business better.
- Learn more.
- Return to Paris.
- Return to Manila.
- Don't get killed in the process.

Simple goals for the year ahead! Happy New Year!