Monday, January 19, 2009

Comfort Food

Things are pretty stressful at the moment, what with the "GFC" (as the knobs that use TLAs call it), general uncertainty over what this year will hold and bad vibes hanging over from the holidays (yes, I'm a bit of a grinch). The last thing that I needed was for my espresso machine to break down. My fault, really; I always say that pressurestats should be regarded as disposable parts and I didn't have a spare on hand. My friendly local supplier had a spare sitting around for me, but, of course, in a spectacular convergence of bad luck, inattention and stupidity, I managed to over-tighten the nut and break the fitting, which fit in nicely with my shocker of a week last week. Fortunately, it was Makin to the rescue again, cannibalising a spare machine to give me yet another part for what would otherwise be a two and a half grand paperweight.

I can only presume that MC Escher started drawing as a way of making notes on an espresso machine that he had dismantled. Seriously, though, it doesn't get much easier than this.

I knew the instant that I perambulated over to the machine this morning that my luck had changed. I love most forms of coffee and have been enjoying heaps of brewed coffee of late, but it's easy to over-analyse. Cappuccino is a totally unique form of coffee; comfort food for any barista. There's something soothing about taking five minutes out to make a cappuccino, half-asleep, with brain still in the 'off' position as your arm rocks back and forward in a pattern rehearsed a million times. No need to try and sort out malic acid from lactic, TDS 1.2% from TDS 1.4%, atitlan from huehuetenango. No need to think about who I need to chase up about what. For a few minutes, I just sit back and enjoy the warm, chocolatey foam and pretty pictures.

Come to think of it, there's something oddly soothing about late-night blogging, watching with amusement as my stream of consciousness sprawls, whilst my sentences grow ... and grow ... and grow, attaining nightmarish numbers of commas (and, let's not forget, the occasional parenthesis) ... damn I need a cappuccino!


Friday, January 09, 2009

Is the cafe's decor 'distressed,' or ought I be as a customer?

So Melbourne has developed a rather cool style of cafe that I guess you would call 'distressed.' You know the kind; heaps of recycled timber furniture, exposed brick, chipped paint, concrete floors, big old communal table; that kind of thing. A lot of places carry it off well. Really well. See: BBB, St Ali, Auction Roooms, for example. Props to MD for making it cool at his bar. The question is where, exactly, does 'distressed' become dilapidated?

I think that I found the answer earlier in the week. I turned up to a cafe that shall remain nameless and ordered a coffee; to give the barista a bit of slack, I even ordered a milk-based drink. I went to help myself to a glass of water and noticed that the cheapass duralex glasses were utterly filthy, with so many scratches that they started to move beyond being beaten up and towards almost looking like they had been scratched in a regular pattern. As I tilted the glass to take a drink, the light caught it and I noticed a definite brown tint and some dried milk stains on it. These glasses had clearly been in the game for several years and had clearly never been looked after. I looked around the cafe and it continued the theme. The floor was filthy, the glass cabinets scratched and the wall speckled with milk spittle. Finally, my coffee arrived, with an extra helping of attitude. I took two sips. It was ashy and acrid. I got up to pay for the coffee and leave. $3.50. Tightarses always try to gouge that extra thirty or forty cents out of you, but refusing to spend fifty or sixty cents on new duralex glasses every now and then really is going above and beyond.

You know, I'll go to pretty much any cafe if the coffee is decent, but in this case, I don't see the maths working out:

Undrinkable coffee + unpleasant staff + unhygenic glassware + dirty surrounds = premium price?

An extreme example, to be sure, but at least I have established my own answer to the difference between distressed and dilapidated. Clearly, though, the market thought otherwise - the place was packed.


Sunday, January 04, 2009


With some of the coffee that I had bought to tide me over Xmas turning out to be quite bad, it was out with the heat gun and dog bowl again for laughs. I home roast every now and then and can't really profess to have had great results, though I imagine that if I were to invest some serious time in it, I'd get there.

The half dozen batches that I have had varied from garbage to acceptable, due to a combination of bad technique and bad beans in my stash. The sometimes-maligned Nicaraguan Maragogype from ARC that I won in the Victorian Cupping Competition turned out to be the pick of the lot; not a complex coffee, but definitely soft, smooth and sweet as a brewed cup. In the past, it has been nutty and mild as an espresso, but my machine has been disused for the past few weeks.

I will keep on experimenting for my own amusement and education, but will likely try to scam my way on to some commercial equipment, which I have found easier to handle in the past.

In the meantime, I continue to appreciate the hard work that my favourite roasters put in to their green selection. I bet that if you were to walk in to any roastery and check out their stash you would actually have a fair idea of how cluey the roaster is.
Perhaps my dog bowl just doesn't have enough carats ...

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