Monday, January 23, 2012

Coffee Germania

Making coffee at Kaffeemaccherei.

Like many places around the world, ask the local coffee people about their "scene" and you get similar reactions: "it kinda sucks", "it's lacking", "we need help", etc., etc. It seems in Germany it isn't much different. Ask the Germans where to get coffee and they'll tell you that there's only one or two places serving decent coffee - little do they realize that those "one or two" shops is typically more than most American cities.

Coffee and almond pastry at Der Backer Eifler.

My trip to Germany was less about coffee than it was about driving and cars, so I didn't really take the time to research or make tremendous effort to visit coffee spots. If it was out of the way (like Hoppenworth & Ploch, located in the middle of a university campus and a pain in the butt to get to) or open odd hours (sorry Berlin, but opening at 1pm on a Sunday is "odd" and not enough of a draw for me to delay my tour), then I just didn't bother. After all, if I really want to have okay coffee served by attitude filled hipsters, then I certainly don't need to fly to Europe for the experience. America is the leader in that regard.

Hoppenworth & Ploch - Frankfurt
Located on a university campus, H&P was the first place I tried to visit on my stopover to Africa. Colonel Matt was in town, had a car and we were in search of this place that supposedly serves great espresso. We drove around, consulted the iPhone, drove some more, got lost, dead-ended several times, always thinking that we could drive up to the coffee place (it said so on the iPhone). Finally, we realized that it was not going to happen, that we would have to find parking and hump it in across campus. With no parking to be found anywhere in the Westend, we gave up. Maybe that backerei chain would have passable coffee.

A regular coffee at Karin.

Cafe Karin - Frankfurt
The problem with a 5am arrival is that you can spend five hours getting yourself together and it's still only 10am. Wolfram Sorg said that Karin has a good breakfast, so I went there after I gathered myself, my rental car and arrived in downtown Frankfurt at 7am - only to find that Karin opens at 9am.

WTF??? This is Frankfurt. The financial center of Germany. Hell, it's the financial center of Europe and where the Euro is based. Nobody works until 9am?? This isn't America because Americans would be working. Ironically, the only place open in the neighborhood was a Starbucks (opens at 7am) and a bakery serving passable coffee with cream and sugar. I had to wait.

The day's special for six euros fifty.

When Karin finally opened, I was treated to fresh food, nicely prepared, at a good price and bitter, over roasted coffee. Better to stick with Coke Lite and a bottle of water.

Cafe Karin
Grosser Hirschgraben 28
60311 Frankfurt am Main
+49 69 2952-17

Kaffeemacherei - Lovely table settings.

Kaffeemacherei - Frankfurt
Truth be told, it's a rare experience for me to visit a coffee place and wish that I was the owner. Typically, I might admire a certain aspect of that coffee shop's operations, like their volume and revenue stream, or their retail sales, or perhaps their decor, or packaging.

On the other hand, I'm also thankful that many of the shops I visit are not mine because of generally rude baristas, poor sanitation, lack of standards and slipshod presentations.

Celebrity photos brighten the whitewashed walls.

But Kaffeemacherei is different. Located in a relatively nondescript neighborhood with a simple exterior that belies the gorgeous interior. Lots of white paneling and cute details compensate for this truly tiny shop. From the color coordinated La Marzocco GB-5 to the fresh flowers on the table to the complete presentation of labels signs and probably one of the best printed menus I've ever seen in a 3W cafe.

A slightly foamy cappuccino.

Speaking with the owner who, evidently, decided to open Maccherei after burning out on a photography career. Whatever the path that led him here, the execution here is world-class. I loved it.

The coffee was decent and the foam on my cappuccino while slightly foamy was still nice. When I grow up and burn out on my next career, I want to open a cafe this nice.

They squeezed seating for 12 in this tiny cafe.

Arguably the best printed menu in the 3W.

Eckenheimer Landstrasse 70
60318 Frankfurt
+49 69 48008766

Welcome to Kaffeewerk Espressionist.

Kaffeewerk Espressionist - Frankfurt
You've probably heard about it and I'm pretty sure you've never seen one in a working cafe environment, but if you want to see the new La Marzocco Strada EP 2 group, then this is the place to be. Of course, it doesn't look like they know how to exploit the machine's potential, but the ladies working here look pleasant enough. And yes, they're Russian. Run, don't walk.

Nestled in what seems to have been a sort of industrial area reclaimed by development and modern buildings, the roadwork makes it a but confusing to arrive, but the modernist decor is typical of the new wave coffeeshop. Lack of on-street parking is settled by parking on the sidewalk fronting the shop.

The view from my seat at Espressionist.

I haven't really been paying attention but at Espressionist they have two different types of macchiato. Maybe this is true for the rest of Germany or across Europe, but this is the only place I visited where there was any confusion. The girls offer a macchiato and a latte macchiato. My German is poor and their English was slightly better than my German but we were still unable to come to an understanding regarding the difference and I went with the latte macchiato.

Which turned out to be a basic Cafe Latte - espresso and steamed milk. Not that the drink was bar or poorly prepared, I just don't like drinking big lattes and it wasn't to my liking. I wanted a small, quick drink with greater coffee-to-milk ratio. The latte was nicely prepared and looked good in the tall glass but I wish they went with simple naming conventions instead of two types of macchiato when one will suffice. Perhaps it's to satiate the Starbucks educated crowd.

Hello, Latte Macchiato.

It was quiet when I visited, with only one or two other patrons coming in for a coffee. They offer a small selection of baked goods that looked pretty good and I enjoyed the few minutes I spent there before heading back out into the wilds of Frankfurt.

Kaffeewerk Espressionist
Europa Allee 29
60327 Frankfurt
+49 69 91316787

The Coffee Altar at Bonanza Coffee Heroes.

Bonanza Coffee Heroes - Berlin
My one and only stop in Berlin was delivered by the informative blog Cafe Kultur Berlin. Located in the old East Berlin in a Cold War era building (in fact part of the charm of the place is that it looks like it could have been part of the Cold War), I knew I was in a house of serious coffee people when: a)a guy was wearing a tie and vest, b)the guy had facial hair, c)he was wearing a hat, d)he was very intently brewing a pour over, e)he was weighing and measuring as he brewed, f)he took pictures of his brew and g)seemed mildly irritated by the fat guy in a blue Columbia news media jacket wearing a camera.

Ah, Third Wave thrives even in Germany. Lucky the world.

Bonanza: macchiato.

What I liked most about Bonanza was the interior of the building itself. Dilapidated concrete in need of patching gave a distinct Soviet Cold War feel to the place. I fantasized what it must have been like in 1980s walking along the streets and seeing what this space was during those times. Bleak, cold, dismal. Quite a difference from today.

Paired with the Cold War building was a collection of what looks to be 1950s era Probat roasters. Here, Bonanza roasts their own coffee with burlap bags stacked against a wall, little stools positioned about for guests to use and a monolithic steel altar to espresso-making, complete with the requisite Synesso espresso machine.

Bonanza's collection of roasters.

Granted, it was about half an hour to closing, so the place was quiet. The two guys there (one of them the owner) were busy either photographing the v60 brew, fiddling with the cash register, or preparing to go to a concert. I'm not one to tip my hat that I work in coffee, so I kept that to myself because I find it much more interesting to see how a place operates when they think you're just some schmoe. Though I did find it amusing to hear them talk trash about Counter Culture (the mustached guy is from the Southeast United States).

After the guys left, I chatted up the female barista about how things were and if I could have a coffee please. They had a couple of hand brew coffees available and asked her to select the one she was most excited about. She chose their El Salvador coffee. I don't know much else about the coffee because that's all the menu board read: "El Salvador."

Brewing with the V60.

Brewed in the Hario V60, Bonanza follows the style espoused by most baristas: fast. My coffee brewed in just over two minutes, which might have been attributable to the relatively new barista but that guy with the mustache shooting pictures of his brew did the same thing.

The coffee itself wasn't too bad (I liked my macchiato better), but the quick brew time resulted in a distinct underextracted sour tone to the coffee. Not terribly bad but nothing to savor and run home to tell momma either. The barista was pleasant enough and we chatted briefly about Berlin and some things to do in the city before I bid my adieu and headed off in search of the brauhaus.

My cup of El Salvador. Bright, but sour.

Bonanza Coffee Heroes
Oderberger Strasse 35
10435 Berlin
+49 176 61691 496

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Waiting Game

2842 - perhaps not the fastest way to the Super Bowl.

Somewhere along the line, I seem to have gone off and into the End Zone.

Years ago, I couldn't stand football, or "football" as we called it (don't ask). Then, around 2004, I secured season tickets and started going to the games. Back then, the Ravens just didn't fare too well and by 2006, I was so inundated with work I ended up only attending two games that year. Not good.

But for whatever reason, I've gotten back into Ravens Football again and decided that I should buy myself a PSL (personal seat license) for the right to buy season tickets. Even today (as in 1996 when it started), I still find it foolish for people to pay cold money for the "right" to buy tickets. It's really just absurd. But seeing that Fan is short for "fanatic" it makes sense. You have to be fanatical to spend that much money.

Prices for PSLs today have skyrocketed into the stratosphere. People are asking for twenty grand for centerfield seats. That's crazy.

With a fan base as crazy as the Ravens enjoy, PSLs have been sold out for years, but you can get a new one (or one that someone else has given up) by joining The Wait List.

The Wait List is a limited list of 3,000 people who pay fifty bucks to join, plus twenty-five dollars per year to maintain their position on The List. By the way, that price is per seat. So for a four seat position, one pays $200 upfront and $100 each year to maintain position. Of course, all the money you paid to the Ravens will be applied to your eventual purchase of the PSLs.

Signing the paperwork reminded me of a buddy in Northern Virginia. An American chap with a lifelong love for cricket. An avid player, he petitioned to join in his twenties and won his entry into the club almost ten years ago. He was on their wait list for thirty years.

Talking to my Ravens representative, who tried to steer me towards the PSL Marketplace to quickly (and expensively) purchase a PSL, told me that my wait time on the list would probably be fifteen years.

Guess that's better than thirty...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Herr Swengler's Kraut

Aventius Doppelbock, Binkert's Bavarian Bratwurst and Herr Swengler's Kraut.

One thing I know for sure after a week touring across Germany is that I don't know anything at all about German food. Sure, the sausage are ubiquitous and the Nurnberger sausage is the precursor to the American breakfast sausage link, but other than SigSauer and sauerkraut, I know nothing except that I enjoyed the food of Germany.

Knowing this, Dai San brought me back some of Herr Swengler's (his dad) homemade sauerkraut to try. This was the real deal. The homemade stuff and none of that nonsense you find in canned jars at the grocery store. Fermented and salty, he said. Beware.

Simmering in the mix.

The directions were simple enough: simmer bratwurst (though I could use kielbasa), sauerkraut and dark beer in a pot until the sausage is cooked through then eat over steamed rice (Dai San is half-Japanese and half-German - or Whole Axis), this of course, appeals to my Filipino side - and I was going to add rice anyway...

While I do have some lovely Ostrowski's Polish Kielbasa at home, a proper German sauerkraut needs a proper German sausage, causing me to trek out to Binkert's German Sausage where I think they only begrudgingly speak English, are unabashed about their meats and they don't accept credit cards - NEIN DU DUMMKOPF!!! Or something to that effect.

A stop off to see Austin at the wine shop and a bottle of Aventius Doppelbock and we're off to the races. A little browning of the sausage to begin with (though you don't have to), several ounces of doppelbock for the pot (and more for myself), Herr Swengler's sauerkraut and just let it simmer.

A simple meal for a cold evening.

One blog post and thirty minutes later, the mix is ready to eat. With rice. Of course.

Pulling a sample from the pot and the sauerkraut is a beast. The texture is firm and slightly crunchy (unlike other krauts I've tried) with a mellow flavor, slight sourness and in your face saltiness. Like I said, it's a Beast. This is sauerkraut, you know it and it's unrelenting.

The white rice helps tone down the salt and the Diet Coke's acid cuts it like a knife. Large spoonfuls of sauerkraut are rewarded with a lovely flavor, just before a mouth-smashing punch of salt. Add a slice of the sausage into the mix and you're rewarded with strong notes of garlic, black pepper and pork to balance out the kraut saltiness on the neutral rice canvas.

Not a bad way to stay in on a cold Saturday night.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bona Vita Electric Kettle

Starting off with cold water.

During last year's coffee industry trade show, I ran across a small booth with one guy. He was hawking a new drip coffee brewer that was supposed to deliver water at 200F - the ideal temperature for coffee brewing. We talked and I was very interested in bringing these brewers to our customers but they wouldn't be ready for a few months due to UL listing, importation and whatever ills plagues the import manufacturer.

Fast-foward to a couple of weeks ago and Todd finally made it out to see us with some gifts in tow: the aforementioned coffee brewer, along with their new electric water kettle. In case you haven't been following, hand pour water kettles have been all the rage in the barista ranks for the last few years. And while there are a few nice ones on the market, they're usually pretty pricey and are subject to thermal loss during use. HarioUSA has been threatening for a couple of years to import their electic Buono kettle but they've been lazy to do so, and it's such a pain in the butt to do business with Hario distributors that it's easier to just abandon their line altogether - especially when there are easier options available.

The Bona Vita Electric Kettle is one such option.

Manufactured in China, the BVEK features stainless steel construction, a nice tapered pouring nozzle, simple electronics and ease of use. The lid fits securely to the top and features pressure relief holes that can double as an orifice for your temperature probe.

The bottom of the kettle and the base are made from high-impact plastics and feature a switch, located beneath the handle, and a red indicator light to let you know when the thing is "on". Overall, construction is nice and it feels good, though the finger relief on the handle for ergonomics isn't as comfortable as you'd prefer.

Brewing a pour over with the Bona Vita.

Originally I thought I would conduct these tests in the real world of Spro, but it can be so darn busy in there that it's easier for me to take the unit elsewhere where I have the time and space to concentrate and give it a try.

The unit itself is compact and smart-looking. The design has just the right blend of stainless and black plastic, making it pleasing in the workspace. For the home user, it's absolutely brilliant. For the professional barista considering its deployment in a shop environment, there are a few things to consider.

First off, it's reasonably well-built and I do expect it to take a bit of a beating, and if you can avoid dropping the kettle, it should last quite some time. My concern lies with the number of cycles the unit is designed to take. If you're serving 100 cups per day and heating each batch of water to order (or reheating), you could be talking 75,000 cycles per year. It might take the home user a lifetime to reach that many cycles.

But that's not to discredit the Little Kettle That Can. In the few days that I've been playing with it, and the week prior being mauled by the Spro baristas, the BVEK seems like a winner. The construction is good, the design is pleasant and the price point blows even the regular Hario non-electric Buono Kettle away.

For the purposes of this test, I used the BVEK to heat 32 ounces of water from 60.7F to boiling point (212F) and the auto shut off of the unit. With an ambient temperature of 68F, the kettle started steaming (145F) around three minutes and reached 212F at 6 minutes 2 seconds. Not bad performance for a little 120volt kettle. Though, if you were using this in a professional environment, six minutes is quite a long stretch that could be mitigated by running multiple kettles constantly heating.

At Spro, we only serve 12 ounce brewed coffees. For these kinds of situations, how does the kettle perform with lower volumes of water? Typically, a 12 ounce coffee absorbs two ounces of water in the brew cycle. The next test involved heating 14 ounces of water (65.4F) to boiling, resulting in a time of two minutes and fifty-three seconds. Definitely this heating time is well within striking range of any brew cycle, roughly halving the 32 ounce time.

However, heating 14 ounces of water does not allow for cup preheating or hot rinsing of the paper filter. A twenty ounce sample of water (65.1F) took just under four minutes (3:57) to reach the boiling point.

The overall look of the handsome Bona Vita Kettle.

From an operational standpoint, there are a few more things to consider. If you're pulling your water from a hot water tank and using the kettle to stabilize temperature, then you'll experience much quicker heat times. Also, the test times here are run to the boiling point when the kettle's auto-shutoff feature kicks in. With a thermometer in hand, and the 200F goal, you should be able to shave off up to 30 seconds (or more) from the heat times.

While not as finely tapered as the Hario Buono kettle, the Bona Vita's taper provides for smooth pouring action, as well as fine stream control. Those of you used to the Buono will find the transition quite easy.

One concern that I do have with the Bona Vita is the bottom of the kettle and it's electrical contacts. Even though they are recessed and probably designed as best as possible to reduce shock, my concern is for use in wet and messy environments - especially those run by messy, disorganized baristas. Stray grounds may get into the contacts and muck things up, which is more reason for every barista to run a clean station.

Another potential problem, though a minor one, is the length of the electric cord. At 29 inches, it's plenty long for use on a kitchen counter or backbar, but if your electrical requirements require a bit of a run underneath the counter (as it is at Spro), you will need an extension cord.

In summary, the Bona Vita Electric Kettle is a winner. Either for the home user (excellent) or the professional coffee shop (very good). We will be stocking them at Spro and while they are simple on/off kettles, the next generation Todd promises me will have programmable temperature controls so that you can offer a variety of water temperatures for coffee or tea.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Letter to a Friend

Just recently, one of my friends in New York City was dumped by his girlfriend (who is also a friend of mine), in that painful, bewildering time following a breakup, when men feel the gamut of emotions from elation, betrayal, anger, rage, intense love, regret and much more, he asked me for help. I've been there before (many, many times, it seems) and wanted to offer him the kind of tough love I wish I had been given years ago.  Thought I would share that letter with everyone here.

Brother, let's be honest. The only reason you want to go on a date with that girl is because you think it will help you win your ex back. It won't. It only makes you look stupid. Don't be pathetic.

I know you're in pain over the breakup. As guys, we want to win. At all costs. If a girl dumps us, we want to show her that she's losing out on the prize. Truth is, the more you play up to the ex, the more you look the chump and she stays the prize. What you want is to turn that around and that requires discipline.

As men, we want to conquer and be masculine. We want the women to fawn over us. We want them to think we're gods. When they break up with us, we want them to feel pain too. More importantly, we want to strike back in a way that demonstrates that they've lost out on the greatest thing that's ever happened to them.

Well, the more you try to tell your ex that message, you just confirm her decision to leave you.

What you need to be is strategic. Walk away. Don't call her. Don't text her. Don't be available for her. Women love attention. They want us fawning over them - even if they don't have intentions to take it further. That lavishing of attention confirms that they are the prize. You want to strike back? Demonstrate that she no longer is the prize and you've moved on (presumably to someone hotter, sexier and nicer).

The only way to achieve this is to walk away. Cold Turkey. Hard science. No lingering around, or phone calls to see how you're doing. Nothing. This of course doesn't mean that you act like a jerk to her. That only makes you look like an asshole and confirms that she's the prize and you're the lout she (correctly) dumped. Be nice. Be pleasant. Be respectful. But don't extend or accept an invitation. For anything.

And, God forbid, don't start trying to date someone that she knows because everyone knows that's just you trying to get back at her - and that makes you look pathetic.

Maybe your end game is to get her back. This is the way to do it. Demonstrate to her that your life continues on. You live a magical life that she removed herself from. She'll wonder about you. She might even call you. But the moment you lose it and act like a lout, you've confirmed her decision to leave you. The more brilliant your live is after her, the more she will question her decision - and if you want to get her back in the future, this is exactly the question you want forming in her head.

So, get out there and live. Do the things you want to do. Do the girls you want to do. The hunt is on and the world is your oyster. Date hot girls. Date nice girls. Date bad girls. But never tell her directly - even if she asks. And she will, because every girl desires to be (or to have been) the brightest star in your horizon - and if she isn't, and you're surrounded by girls who are perceived hotter than her, she'll regret it.

But the truth is, soon you'll find yourself doing amazing without her. You'll meet another girl who is more in sync and in tune with what you want in life. In time, this ex will be a fond memory in your life. A component of your life that's part of the whole that makes you. Chances are, you won't think of going back.

On the other hand, maybe the time will come when time has passed, you've lived your life, she's lived hers and then you find each other again. It will be better. It always is better.