Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rust is Real

From time to time, we invite guest writers to pen their thoughts and findings about the coffee industry. This week, we're happy to have Samantha Joyce from Seattle Coffee Gear writing about one of the most serious threats our industry is facing: coffee rust, aka roya in Spanish.

Rust is Real

It is time to put coffee rust into perspective. It will effect the coffee you drink next year and in subsequent years to come. You may have heard in the news that coffee rust (Hemileia vastatrix) is a fungus that attacks Coffea arabica leaves. Without enough viable leaves to provide nourishment, the coffee plant can't set fruit for its full potential of coffee cherries. Harvests are limited, and not just for the current season but also for subsequent seasons. This is all fine and good as long as you are willing to pay a higher price for your daily coffee. The trouble is the coffee rust problem is too widespread and too entangled to be sorted out by simple supply and demand.

While coffee rust has existed as long as there have been coffee plants, it was first recorded in Kenya around 1861. Now it exists in coffee producing regions across the globe. It flares up from time to time when the conditions are right for fungal growth. This includes a combination of moisture, temperature range and sunlight parameters that can exacerbate the spread of the fungus. The cycle does not complete in one season; it becomes a multi-year destroyer. After a serious outbreak at the turn of the last century affected much of Southeast Asia, the Philippines switched from coffee plantations to rubber tree cultivation. Other countries followed suit or switched to tea production. Keeping this historical perspective in mind, Guatemala's declaration of a state of emergency in February 2013 was not an alarmist reaction. Coffee rust is rampant in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica. Crop loss is estimated at 30% by the non-profit World Coffee Research organization in the 2012/2013 seasons. Without immediate action, WCR estimates an 80% crop loss in 2014.

There is no scientific consensus as to how to keep coffee rust in check. For smaller outbreaks fungicides have been used. The Guatemalan government distributed $14 million to 60,000 to assist coffee growers according to BusinessWeek. Even with these additional funds there are no guarantees that farmers will be able to control the outbreak, since the timing of the application is crucial to fungicide efficacy. This short-term solution should also be weighed against health concerns for local residents and the toll on the environment in effected areas. Coffee rust mitigation is a global problem that deserves global attention.

Ideas and theories about what causes coffee rust and how to treat it abound, but understanding is still limited. A few possible culprits include global warming and high-density monoculture for the fungal spread. To combat the disease some researchers have proposed rust-resistant coffee plant strains. In the short term, these plants are not generally commercially sought-after varieties. In the long-term, the plants tend to lose their resistance to the leaf rust. Another idea is to let loose a fungus that eats coffee rust. However, there is no easy way to use a biological control (and this sounds like the premise of a sci-fi movie where good intentions go awry). These and other ideas were outlined in the first International Coffee Rust Summit held in Guatemala this past April.

Daily Coffee News has posted the official summit report and continues to post updates on coffee rust. Dana Foster, Director of Coffee and Green Bean Buyer for Seattle-based Zoka Coffee toured coffee farms in Central America in March. She reported, “It seems that those farms most affected were the ones that had no preparation (due to lack of knowledge or funding). We saw many healthy farms directly adjacent to farms suffering from rust.” The question remains, how to reliably prevent the spread of coffee rust now and avoid future outbreaks? Immediate action and more scientific research are both required.

Samantha Joyce is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear. She lives near Puget Sound in West Seattle and cannot imagine a world without coffee.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The HTF Conundrum

This post probably will not come off well-constructed nor will it have any conclusions - mainly because it's something that I'm still thinking about and trying to figure out myself, but it's been on my mind for the past few years.

In the coffee business, we give a lot of lip service about how we do "direct trade" or want to do "direct trade" or how we are "helping the farmer" and all sorts of "Do Good, Feel Good" kinds of things. We boast about how we are paying "higher prices" for our coffee and how that's "making a difference" in the lives of the poor, lowly campesino toiling on the soil and under the sun to produce our award-winning coffee that retails for sixteen bucks (and up) per pound.

Throughout our business (and especially in our niche of "high end" specialty) we can peruse all sorts of media - brochures, product sheets, websites, blogs, facebook pages) of us mugging and posing at the farm, with the farmer, holding the beans and pretending to do any and all of the coffee processing - from picking the cherries, lugging the bags, raking the parchment - and of course, there's the de rigueur shot of someone from the company pondering carefully and intently about the beans he/she is holding.

We know that our efforts have not gone unnoticed because we're now seeing "the big guys" starting to do the same - and it's not just those old school darlings, Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance. Recently, an executive of worldwide coffee operations for a very large hospitality organization told me that they too were looking for that "compelling story" - because that's what their guests are looking for - especially with the recent trend of everything "Farm To Table". "Seasonal Direct Trade Farm To Cup" - it's what's chic in the today's world.

To be honest, I'm probably as guilty as everyone else. I've been to origin. I've been photographed while posing with that basket pretending to collect beans off the tree. Truth be told, I wouldn't last an hour picking coffee cherries. That's hard work. And when I'm in Nicaragua, I'd much rather be drinking Flor de CaƱa and eating paella at Taska Kiko in Managua than toiling under the sun in Nueva Segovia (though I have been facebooked doing both).

Third Wave Types love to pay what seems like a lot of money for their coffee. We brandy about our green prices like a badge of honor - as though we should be lauded because we pay so much for this and you only pay that little for your coffee. Each of us is looking for the hot new coffee that's going to set the industry on fire, intent on being the first person to bring the new Esmeralda to market. To this effort, we flit and flirt around from year to year buying a little of this and a little of that. "Only the best of your crop, please." The rest is rubbish that isn't fit for my ancestor's slaves.

And next year, when that same farmer toils under adverse weather conditions or roya? Adios, burro. You don't have that purple jade green beauty we're looking for. I mean, afterall, your coffee is only scoring an 82 and I'm a 90 plus kind of roaster. Especially because I'm good-looking, wear ironic eyeglasses and don a retro-rockabilly look. My loyalists would be aghast for me to deliver a coffee so, common...

Through all this I've constantly been wondering: To what end? To what end are we doing all of this? We talk about "helping the farmer" but what does this mean really?

I'm from America. Born and raised. The American Way. To my mind, when we talk about "helping" someone, I presume we're talking about The American Dream: to lift oneself from their current position. To help ensure that our children will have a better life and a better future - one different and better than our current station. This is what I presume when people say we're "helping the farmer" and this is what I think most people presume too.

But is this the reality?

If the average Central American coffee farmer (that small plot holder we're thinking about) makes only about US$2,500 per year (which is far lower than the lowest paid barista in America), is that enough? Is that enough for this couple, with maybe three children, to pull themselves out of poverty and move their children up the Food Chain? Or are they destined to remain at their station - in the lower classes of their societies?

Deliver us great quality and we'll pay more, you say? How? If we presume that the average coffee farmer is operating at a subsistence level, then how can they afford to do any of this? How can they learn new techniques? Go to a class? Can they afford that class? Can they afford that raised bed dryer? Can they afford to do anything but just barely grow their coffee and send it to the beneficio (processing mill)?

Conversely, there's the producer Rock Stars. You know their names. They're the ones you see touring America (and other first world nations). They're US or European educated, smart dressing and part of their nations' elite. Their coffee is typically the most lauded in the world and they've got the savvy, the education, resources, connections and money to make that happen (and command the greatest prices) year after year. We all know them. They're my friends too. And we all want to pose for pictures with them - to show our public just how "real" we are about coffee. When your family already owns hundreds of hectares of land and you're invited regularly for events at the presidential palace, are you the kind of coffee farmer that really needs "help"?

What about events like the Cup of Excellence, you say? They demonstrate the best coffees of any country for that year and those coffees command tremendous prices. Certainly that's gotta be good for the campesino! Agreed. The CoE is a great event, has done good works and delivers great coffees. That 2011 CoE Lot 19 Nyakizu Rwanda I bought is fantastic, but is it repeatable?  Jon Lewis will probably correct my data but a trusted friend related to me last weekend that no farmer has won the CoE Peru more than once, asking the question: if these winners actually have the knowledge and formula to sustainably produce great coffees year after year (and raise their revenue and lifestyle), or are these one-off, one-hit wonder flukes?

I know I've hit on a number of different topics here and I'm offering no answers, definitions or solutions. I don't know what or if there is a "solution". Maybe it just is what it is. But I do think that this is part of a discussion we should be having in our industry - questioning our motives and our goals when we say we're "helping the farmer".

The comments section is open for discussion.

Friday, December 28, 2012

It Must Be Me

Lately I've been looking at furnished apartments to live in part time. Looking for something nice and not terribly expensive. In my mind's eye I fancy myself the open-minded kind of roomie, able to live in modest abodes. Then I start looking. And I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of a snob. I travel the world and regularly stay in cheap hotels. Motel 8, Rodeway Inn, Red Roof - all nice but simple places to stay, but it seems that when it comes to a place to live, I want a little luxury. A little style. A little touch of chic. What I seem to find are decent enough apartments with ghastly furniture and a terrible sense of interior decoration. Okay, yes $350 a month is a nice price, but can't you have curtains? Or non-remnant furniture? It seems that many people prefer to have as much stuff as possible (no matter how crappy or cheesy-looking it is) than take the minimalist approach by purchasing nice, quality things at a slow pace. And single beds? What am I: five? Twin bed? Good God. Double bed? No. No, it must be a queen-sized bed. I mean, I need room to maneuver! A desk would be nice. Or at least a table with decent chairs. I need a place to work. Then there's the couch. The number of plumpy, frumpy couches with terrible fabric leaves me aghast. Never mind that horrible rattan thing that passes for a media center. Oddly enough, I don't really care about having a television. Any decent sized LCD flatscreen will suffice. I don't watch much tv anyway. Then there are the apartments that I would describe as nice. Penthouse lofts with multiple levels and tremendous views of the city. Polished steel railing and wood floors so well finished they look like you could ice skate on them. Not to mention the glass shower stalls, marble walls and porcelain vanities. Or the brilliant sized kitchens with modern appliances. Nice. Of course, these seem to start in the $2000 and up range, and I'm really just a cheap bastard. So, No to those as well. I've been looking for awhile now and I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever find a decent, tastefully furnished apartment to share at a price I can smile about.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Beating Homogeneity Out Of Iced Coffee

Cold Brew Towers at work in The Lab at Spro.

Just yesterday I was mentioned in a blog post about Iced Coffee and Cold Brews. For those of you not following the coffee biz it's been a heated topic for the past few months with various people arguing about which iced coffee brew method is "best" - as though there has to be one magical brew formula that bests all others.

 Quite frankly, I just think it's a load of hogwash.

All across 3WCoffee people with the intention of proving that they're "right" because they've used some sort of psuedo-scientific method or newfangled electronic device that tells you that their technical numbers are "right" and that number means that your drink is "awesome." And they haven't even tasted it yet.

It's as though there's some sort of campaign to get everyone to brew the same way.

Which leads to the question: do I think that the methods we use at Spro are superior to the others? The answer is: of course! Otherwise, we wouldn't be serving coffee in that manner.

Do I then want everyone else to brew and present coffee the same way we do? Absolutely not - that's just ridiculous.

What I want to see when visiting coffee places is vision and interpretation. Sure Mad Cap and Spro can buy the Ardi green coffee from the same person and have the same coffee from the same lot, but do I want the two coffees to taste exactly the same? Gosh, what fun would that be? That's about as exciting as a tour of DC coffeehouses where the coffee is the same everywhere.

I want to experience the interpretation and the nuance as offered by that barista or that shop. Give me something different, interesting and exciting. And for God's sake, taste the coffee instead of running it through some machine!

Is that to say that we expect our way of brewing to be the do-all, end-all for all people? Well, that would be nice. But I accepted many years ago that what we do will not be the right fit for all people. We're making coffee to our vision and to our tastes. We want people to experience our interpretation of coffee - hopefully, they find it as interesting and exciting as we do, but sometimes they do not.

Some people dislike the way we brew iced coffee and that's okay. There are plenty of places brewing coffee in a different manner that they might find more appealing. But all of this argument, discussion and banner waving about whose method is "best"? That's just malarkey. Taste is what determines what is "best" and we let taste be our guide, and I hope you do too.

Because my guests don't come into Spro bearing measuring devices looking for some magic number, they actually drink the coffee.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Running Out Of Soap

Oh gosh, I think I'm in trouble. 

 It's been several months since I last posted. I've been a bit busy in life sorting things out and forging in new directions. Over the time I've been away, I've traveled a little and even managed to win the first-ever 2012 United States AeroPress Championship (I'll post more on that later), but for the most part, I've been home focusing on Spro and honing our skills. That means I've been home now for over three months and not only am I just starting to feel the call of The Road, I'm noticing that my soap supply is starting to get alarmingly low. 

 For the last seven years or so now, I've been mainly supporting my soap habit (and I do bathe regularly, just in case you were wondering) through my travels. I've amassed a nice collection of soaps from luxury hotels to cheap motels that continually remind me of fond memories from past trips. It's interesting to see the kind of toiletries a hotel chooses to provide for their guests and I find equally interesting to compare them. Of course, one of my favorite soap makers is L'Occitane, but I've been saving those for when my supply of hotel soap has been depleted and it's getting dangerously close. 

What does that mean? It means I need to hit the road - and soon. Home is nice but it's best framed from afar and I can't wait to get back out there next month and get back to the life!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

On Being The Boss

Every once in a while, a friend or someone I know will ask me about the challenges of running your own company and how I deal with things. To most people, the idea of running your own company, being your own boss and answering to "no one" is a lovely fantasy free of the stresses of working as an employee.

They ask me: "What's the most difficult thing about being the boss?" Truth is, it's all difficult. There is no rest for the weary. When you run the ship, it's a 24/7/365 job. There is no break. There is no vacation. There is no escape. It's all encompassing and all consuming.

But a recent turn of events has brought the real challenge of being the boss to the forefront of my mind. And that is: maintaining calm in the midst of a storm.

Regardless of what's happening in your personal life, your home life or the world outside, regardless of the personal challenges you may be facing at any given time, everyone around you, staff and guests, needs to know that you are in charge and that you have a plan.

It means that you must remain focused and calm. Steady and assured. Even when things are going completely pear-shaped. You may not have a clue what is going on. Your whole world may be in shambles, but you can never let on. No one wants to see the Leader falling apart. It's the ultimate Fake It till You Make It.

And it's one of the few times when you actually question if all of this was worth the sacrifice.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


The bread basket at Bacan.

From the street Bacan Restaurante is simply gorgeous looking. Ana pointed out to me the other night as we drove by on the way to my favorite B&B. At the corner of Mexicali and Avenida Oaxaca, the place is stunning with it's garden water fountain, Parisian bistro chairs, Euro gas heaters and sharply dressed waiters. It's impressive.

Ana and her mom had been wanting to go and what better time than now?

Printed on the inside of the menu is the definition of Bacan. Dicho de una persona: refinada, de trato amistoso y agradable, muy atractivo y popular, elegante, afecto al lujo y al buen vivir.

And for those of us who are Spanish-challenged, it means a person who is refined, friendly and pleasant treatment, very attractive and popular, stylish, fond of luxury and good living.

In other words: this is place to see and be seen.

And it certainly lives up to its desire. It's obvious that someone spent a lot of money on the buildout because it's gorgeous and everything is well-appointed. This results in a decidedly beautiful crown of Chilangos in nice clothing, driving nice cars and looking like the social elite.

The only problem is that this place is a restaurant and restaurants this nice looking should deliver cuisine that's its equal.

But before I go further, I do have one gripe to grind. This restaurant opened in October of 2011. This is the age of the mobile device. Who the hell thinks its still okay in 2011 to develop a Flash page making it impossible for an entire population of diners to visit your website.

Please take your web designer out to the country and shoot him.

I want to note that the service was really great. The hostess and servers were all very nice, attentive and responded to our needs. The setting is fantastic, the service is good, now what about the food?

Utilizing our scoring standard for barista competitions where a six is extraordinary, I give Bacan a 3.5 - good plus. Described as contemporary fusion, the menu offers an interesting mix of items that sound promising but are produced by a kitchen that doesn't seem up to the challenge. The technique is there, it's just missing that extra detail to make it shine.

Tacos de Pato, Argentinean Empanada and Tuna Ceviche.

Take for example the Tacos de Pato (duck tacos). The meat is lovely. Perfectly cooked and shredded, the texture is also perfect, just where is the flavor of the meat? Strong notes of orange and sweetness dominate over the perfunctory tortilla. The rolled tacos (think: unfried flauta) are laid on top of sweet caramelized (without the caramel color) onions and fried chopped cebollita stems. Sadly, the sweetness comes through and the rest is just flat.

What really makes this dish a shame is that we're in Mexico City - Ground Zero for amazing Mexican cuisine and an ambitious restaurant such as this produces such a taco? For ten percent of the price of this duck taco, I can get an amazing taco at 101 different places. I mean really, a taco here should be stunning.

Then there was the Tuna Ceviche served with avocado on top of a tostada, a nice idea for fusion appetizer. Here the quality of the tuna was just lovely but it was marred by the liberal use of diced tomato (which made it seem like the kitchen is trying to stretch the quantity of tuna used in the dish) and the lack of acidity that is the hallmark of a ceviche. Here the problem of the duck taco returns with a candy like sweetness dominating everything else - even the creaminess of the avocado.

To add insult to injury, the tostadas weren't even executed well. Uneven and bland, some were thick, one was thin. One was soggy. I must note that the one tostada that was thin and crispy made for an excellent texture juxtaposition with the ceviche, it's just a shame the quality control in the kitchen isn't more stringent to maintain tostada consistency.

Senora Garcia's salad of lettuce, goat cheese, apple slices and walnuts was perfunctory but decent while Ana's Penne Con Chistorra was actually nice tasting with a sparse amount of tasty chistorro sausage slices. This dish too was marred by the slightly overcooked pasta which lacked that toothy resistance one expects from a pricey pasta dish at a fine dining restaurant.

Estofado of Ox Tail in red wine sauce.

When choosing between the oven roasted chicken in white sauce or the oxtail stew, our server noted that the stew was the right choice, I went with that recommendation. The braised oxtails were cooked perfectly and dressed with a lovely stew sauce, paired with a buttery smashed potatoes that gave off notes reminiscent of buttered cauliflower, but here too the kitchen fell short with a perfectly textured meat that lacked the oomph to send it over the top.

As I ate the meat, I wondered just what was missing and added a little salt. That was the ticket - the kitchen lacked the ability to season properly. And for a dish that is two hundred and twenty pesos (a little bit more than the average daily wage in Mexico) you expect something stellar.

And that is the problem with Bacan. The food lacks that final detail that make it soar. You want it to be amazing. You hope that it will be amazing, but the food falls short. And that's a shame.

I mean Bacan has all the things you want in a go-to restaurant. Beautiful setting, a place to be seen and great service. It just lacks that one key: stellar cuisine. And that's the reason that stops you from rushing back to eat there again.

Bacan Restaurante Condesa
Mexicali 4 a esquina Nuevo Leon
Hipodromo Condesa DF 06100

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quiet Contemplation at The RTH

Enjoying the evening at The Red Tree House.

In a city of twenty million people, you'd think madness would ensue at all hours. And for the most part, it is madness here. 10pm traffic jams, restaurants filled with patrons at 11pm, and taco joints advertising closing time of 2am o mas.

Yet in the midst of this Spanish-speaking megalopolis I find myself enjoying quiet contemplation in an oasis in the middle of the city - well, at least until that air conditioning condenser from the low-rise building next door kicks in.

You can sometimes hear the odd car or motorcycle drive by or the airliner on approach to Benito Juarez, but other than that, it's pure, tastefully appointed luxury.

Beyond my table, the house is dimly lit, the garden is filled with tropical flora and spot lights. I feel relaxed and contemplative. I have a bottle of Coke Zero, a bowl of ice and a Montecristo Edicion Limitada 2010 to keep my company and it's muy bueno.

In many respects, this house is like my own personal Fantasy Island. Built in the 1930s and remodeled in 2011, it's a gorgeous blend of Art Deco architecture mixed with modern interior design, with just the right touches of ethnographic art and artifacts from Asia and Mexico.

I love it here. In many respects, I wish I didn't have to leave. I wish I could take this with me wherever I go.

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.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Just a leisurely cruise on the Autobahn.

It occurred to me a couple of days ago on the four hour drive from Bamberg to Berlin just what this trip was all about.

The night before, I made my way down to the Christmas Market in Bamberg and found an unlikely ally in the form of the roasted chestnut guy. Ended up hanging with him for most of the evening, talking story and learning the finer points of roasting chestnuts on an open fire. I had heard it before when he mentioned the Japanese and Chinese tourists who came to Germany.

Evidently, they come to Germany (and ostensibly the rest of Europe) on some sort of Power Tourist trip where they rush frantically across the nation in the span of four days, jump out at the tourist spots, snap photos of themselves at the spot, jump back on the bus and drive off to the next photo op.

I started thinking: am I one of these Power Tourists? I mean really, I'm only in each city a superficially short time. Yes, I'm visiting the places that I want to visit, but can I really get a feel for any place if I'm just jumping cities every night?

It wasn't until the next morning, about an hour up the A9 autobahn that I realized: this trip was never about going to any one city and soaking up the culture. This was about Auto Culture. This was about no holds barred driving pleasure, sprinkled with a nightly Christmas Market and auto manufacturer tour.

My favorite road sign.

I had rented a nice car, the BMW 118i, that could power down the autobahn easily at 180kph and hold pace at 210kph. I could roll with the larger cars on the autobahn. This was about pure driving pleasure.

I mean, where else in the world can you drive no holds barred? Germany is famed for its Autobahns. Hundreds of miles of unadulterated roadway spotted with runs marked by the white circle and three hash marks that means "all restrictions lifted" - it's automotive glory.

Naysayers (and probably my mom) will say that it's unsafe and dangerous to drive at those speeds. And certainly a crash at 130mph will do some serious damage to you, but these Germans have got everyone else beat.

I'll admit, when I first pulled onto the famed Autobahns, I was a bit scared. In America, the maximum speed limit is 75mph - and even then you're talking about potential fines and even arrest. I imagined that the Autobahns would be populated with crazy drivers bulletin past at insane speeds. That I would be blitzed by a constant procession of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and God knows what else. That my little BMW would be pushed to the side by a barrage of cars whizzing by at dizzying speeds and me fighting in their wake turbulence.

Truth be told, much of the Autobahn runs at 130kph or 80mph, it even drops down to 80kph in many places. So many of the legends of unadulterated speed were just that: legends. But when that white circle with the hash marks came up, oh boy!

Even the rain doesn't slow down the Autobahn.

It took me about an hour to get acclimated to cruising at 130kph. Then, with a little encouragement of some enthusiastic VW Golf drivers, we were suddenly pushing 180kph, then 190kph and then 200kph.

Before I knew it, that 130kph had transformed itself into 130mph.

At the car rental counter, the pretty agent told me that for 65 euros more she would rent me a BMW 650 convertible. Tempting. But I knew I would be visiting the center cities in Germany and a long, slender (and fast) car seemed impractical for street parking. The BMW 118i would suffice.

It's smart thinking for city commuting, but on the Autobahn you start to wonder what it would be like to boom past 200kph with a commanding roar of Bavarian power.

Past 180kph, the 118i pulled steadily to 200kph. But to push it up to 210kph took a bit longer, and then to push it past 210kph showed that it would take longer that I had steely nerve or available roadway.

Even at 200kph, the occasional Mercedes or Audi, or even Skoda, would blow by me with serious vengeance.

At a steady cruise at 200kph, I started to wonder: what are my tires rated? You hear stories of tire ratings and how tires can fail at prolonged high speeds. Could these sustained speeds cause the wear and destruction of my tires? What kind of injuries (or pernicious death) would I suffer with a blowout at 130mph?

I then started to wonder if I should have checked my tire pressure too before taking off today. Even as all these nervous thoughts filled my mind, I pushed them back with the notion that the engineers at BMW have anticipated all of this. They're used to driving at these speeds across their nation, they would have taken this into account and designed the car (and its tires) for just this kind of automotive exercise. I wonder just how much farther than 210kph I can take this...

The night before, I was sitting in the passenger seat of Wolfram's Audi S6 station wagon after a night of big, German beef and lovely wines. We were blasting along a two-lane divided highway, in the dense fog, at 250kph (that's about 155mph). I gripped the "Oh, Jesus" steps and feigned indifference.

During our conversation on that wild ride home, Wolfram related to me why this wasn't just okay but actually safe. Each highway side marker was spaced ten meters apart. Even in the dense fog, we could see five markers at a time, meaning that our visibility was 50 meters. Perfectly fine for our sustained speed.

He also explained the training involved in order to earn your German drivers license. Months of training and education, combined with a thorough understanding of the driving characteristics and physics of other road vehicles, such as trucks, busses and motorcycles. Add to that the insanely strict driving laws and very tough enforcement, which translates into Germany producing what is arguably the best and most disciplined drivers in the world.

For example, there's no passing on the right in Germany. Put the law aside, people go absolutely apeshit if you pass them on the right because it's insanely unsafe. And the speed limits are non-negotiable. As the limit drops, so do the drivers. 80kph means everyone is driving 80kph. A few kilometers over the speed limit can easily mean a 30-day license suspension. A few violations could mean revocation. The Germans are serious about their driving laws.

Pushing 210kph in the little BMW 118i.

In America, driving 130mph isn't inherently dangerous. In fact, I'm not worried about driving at speeds pushing 100mph. But what scares me at those speeds are the rest of the idiots on the road. Check out the jag-off in the left lane cruising at 55mph. He's there and he's going to stay there because, in America, driving is an entitlement.

Not to mention the driver in the right lane who's not paying attention and is not just going to move to the center lane, he's going all the way to the left without looking. It's his God-given right to do whatever he damn well pleases and when you crash into him at 95mph, you're dead.

In Germany, no one cruises in the left lane. Trucks, big vehicles and slow vehicles are required to remain in the right lane. Dudes who's cars can't get past 200kph stay in the center lane, and anyone who strays into the left lane knows to keep their eyes open on their rear and to get the hell out of the way.

On the Autobahn, you know that those vehicles are going to stay to the right. They're not moving left, and if they are, they're going to be looking for you. 200kph is no problem.

But it takes an enormous amount of focus and energy to drive at plus 200kph speeds. You've got to be on point and completely aware of everything and everyone around you. One wrong move and it's Game Over.

One might think that at 210kph, it'd be peachy keen in the left lane. Not so. At 210kph, you're still not the fastest vehicle on the Autobahn. Just outside of Hannover one night, I was passing on the left lane at about 200kph when I was blitzed from seemingly out of nowhere by a hyped up 5 Series BMW. He was coming at me so fast that I barely had time to process what I was seeing in the rearview mirror and move the hell out of his way.

Wolfram, who routinely cruises at dizzying speeds, agreed with me. It's fatiguing to drive at those speeds but, he noted, that at speeds above 240kph, you mainly focus on what's in front of you - because the cars cruising at plus 250kph are few and far between.

Needless to say, I didn't experience that on my trip.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In The Rainforest

Welcome to The Rainforest Lodge.

At the beginning of the day, I said to everyone: "No hiking or trekking." I just wasn't in the mood. I'm not up to the challenge.

But the girls wanted to go into the rainforest. Me? I'm not too keen on being in a place where animals and insects can crawl all over you. I enjoyed camping in the woods when I was younger, had my Land Rover and carried a gun.

In another life (or maybe this one), I think Isaiah was/is a tribal leader.

Instead, we've got Clare's Toyota Corona and Isaiah is navigating it along a rutted and sometimes rocky dirt road - the kind of road that I would relish driving my Land Rover on but not a five person saloon. We slide, bump, grind and crunch our way up the hills, around corners and up to the Rainforest Lodge, an eco-friendly resort in the middle of the rainforest.

It's actually a lovely place with dining facilities, pool and nice huts outfitted with all the necessities. You'd think you were an old-time Englishman on a safari in Africa - it's that nice. But what they don't have is television, telephones or internet.

Clare chooses Fanta.

The resort is broken down into sets of suites in individual buildings separated by stone walkways through the rainforest. They're not close together so you can get a feeling of privacy and then gather at the communal areas for food, drink and fireside gabbing.

I think it's pretty cool and imagine Nacho, CapSwell, TheSeed, BrowserMetrics and our families taking over the resort. Would be cool.

And so does Daphne and Alice.

Of course, the downside is that it's also The Rainforest. Meaning that there's all sorts of wildlife to watch and that are watching you, sensing who is the weakest of the group and when everyone's backs are turned, they strike!

I told Alice, if that Leopard comes running, I just have to stay ahead of you!

Source Of The Nile

Oh yeah, just moving a tank. In three pieces. No problem.

I've spent a week now on Kampala's slow-moving, traffic-jammed streets and the feeling of rocketing along Jinja Road at 100kph is slightly unnerving - especially when the pavement is pocketed with potholes, wavy surfaces, debris, people and the little Toyota Corona is packed with five of us and we're careening past hawkers, buses, livestock and even overwide trucks hauling massive tanks in three sections.

Once we break out of metropolitan Kampala, the road opens up and Isaiah (my driver) is gunning it for all its worth. By any estimate, 100kph isn't that fast, but here in Uganda, as we pass wreckages of other vehicles simply abandoned on the side of the road, I wonder if it isn't a death wish. I probably wouldn't drive this fast here.

Police recruits - at The Source Of The Nile.

Maybe it's because I've started off on the wrong foot. After the mornings' thunderstorm explosion, it's been pouring in the capital and when faced with a two hour one-way drive across the country or lounging and being catered to by world-class staff, I think I'd rather stay at home.

Outside the city, the weather clears up and it's bright and sunny. Gorgeous. Large fields of sugar cane blow lazily in the wind, ready for harvest. I miss seeing sugar cane. Years ago, back in Hawaii, we used to see sugar cane growing all the time, until American labor rates, combined with government subsidies for corn made sugar an unprofitable business in America and brought High Fructose Corn Syrup to dominance.

I wonder if they harvest the sugar like they did in Hawaii: by burning it. That's when I spot a crew in the field, hacking away at the cane with their machetes. In Uganda, they do it the old-fashioned way: hard labor. The workers strip the leaves from the cane and then chop each stalk, piling them onto a truck. It has to be grueling, physical work. But in a world where labor is cheap, sugar is still profitable.

Daphne doesn't want to go in the boat.

After the sugar comes tea trees (or perhaps tea shrubbery) planted in long rows. I've never seen tea before and I'm fascinated. My understanding is that they simply pick the top leaves and let the tree (shrubbery) continue to grow. They look manicured to me. These trees are for black tea - evidently the only tea that matters here in Africa. God Save The Queen!

From there it's miles of dense rainforest, pocketed by outposts of humanity. It's not the wild jungle you expect like along the Amazon but more forest looking. And unlike American forests, there are leopards in here awaiting the forlorn Muzungu tourist wandering about.

Clare is unafraid and ready for the boat.

After a few mis-guided directions from grumpy Boda Boda drivers, we find our way to The Source Of The Nile. It's a quiet tourist spot with not many tourists: mainly our group and a squadron of Uganda Police recruits whose female sergeant is constantly trying to get her troops to stop taking pictures and get back to the bus.

It's a bit of a walk down a stretch from the parking lot to the landing, along the way vendors sell all sorts of handicrafts and what seems to be decent prices. I'd like to buy some items but I'm very conscious of baggage limits when traveling.

Mahatma Ghandi assures us the boat is safe.

While this is The Source of the Nile, it's not actually "The Source". To see that, you have to rent a boat from anywhere between 150,000 to 250,000 Shillings, or between US$65-110. Not too bad for dollars but kind of expensive for Uganda. After some negotiation for the bigger boat, Clare and Daphne negotiate the price down.

However, I don't think any price is good enough for Daphne. It's her and Alice's first time on a boat and they're a bit skittish. We try to assure them that it will be okay. Alice asks me if I can swim if the boat sinks. I tell her: "Yes, I can swim. But I would probably die here."

It's not quite the reassuring message she was hoping to hear.

The blue and yellow boats have actually sunk to the floor.

And it's true. If our boat were to sink in the middle of the Nile, with the way the current is running, I probably wouldn't survive - especially if I tried to swim. I would have to remain calm and hope the swiftly moving water brought me downriver to shore. Otherwise, if I tried to swim against the current? Forget it.

The boat is an open deck, twin Mercury 60 engined skiff that's plenty roomy and plenty powerful for our tour. We cruise the edges of the river where we see birds, a monkey and the spot where John Speke "discovered" the Nile. I always find it curious that white men seem to have "discovered" places where other people already have formed civilizations.

We see monkeys!

Finally, we make our way to a small island at the mouth of the river where Lake Victoria begins to pour into the Nile. This is the true Source Of The Nile. How do I know that? Because there's a sign.

Off to one side a tree on a concrete pylon marks the "Zero Point" of the Nile where it begins it's long journey across Northern Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. It's a journey that will take the water we see at that moment four months to make. Incredible.

On the other side is a bubbling of fresh spring water. It's another important point of the Nile where fresh water mixes with Lake Victoria to produce what I'm guessing is Real Nile River Water. I want to drink it to see if it's good but I know that will only lead to misery. I pass.

Fresh spring water bubbles up at The Source Of The Nile.

There's a small gift shop on the little island and I think the people actually live there too. A little cat scampers by and I snap a picture of it for Ana before getting back in the boat.

The tour continues with more wildlife, a couple of lizards and a bunch of horny longshoremen at the Jinja docks who call for the girls to come join them. To them, I must look like a Muzungu Baller: big man, three women, a driver, a boat driver and a nice boat. Yes, I think I must be on my way to a meeting with President Museveni...

Here Lake Victoria begins its drain into the Nile.

With Isaiah, Alice, Clare and Daphne at the Zero Point.

A cat pic for Ana.

A lizard climbs out of the Nile.

Some fowl.

Workers at the Jinja docks unload freight off the ferry from Tanzania - a 23 hour journey.

This marks the spot that John Speke "discovered" the Source of the Nile.