Saturday, July 29, 2006

any good cafes out there?

So I've had a lot of really bad shots recently. They were all relatively fresh, brewed by very fine barista's, and roasted by well respected roaster's. So why did they taste bad? Was one of the known variables out of sync? Were the barista's not focusing? ( I feel confident the barista in each case was of a consummate skill level to make a good shot, as I've had definitely had great shots from them on previous occasions.) So perhaps the machine wasn't performing on top form that day? Or the heat from my person affected the humidity in the room and knocked the extraction off? (sadly a more likely reason) Was the espresso not blended enough and perhaps I got a little too much sumatra in that last ounze? Or perhaps instead I'm experiencing some bad fortune in the pot luck arena of espresso. I have trouble believing in the notion of consistency in espresso. Being the product it is, how much consistency can we really expect from branch to branch an cherry to cherry. Clearly some farms take the time and effort to deliver a cup that is consistent in its clarity and flavour and I guess organisations like COE are rewarding such farmers accordingly. But I think I can fairly say most COE's are being used for non espresso type brewing, and not espresso. So why is espresso so bloody hit and miss? Am I the bad workman blaming my tools? Am I just highlighting my own need for improvement, or am I facing the very challenge that espresso presents, and perhaps its very appeal. I don't know any cafe in the world were they're pouring great shots constantly every day. Does it exist? Is it possible? Sure I know cafe's that are trying their best to make that claim, but is it a realistic aim considering the sheer scope of variables facing us at every point in the chain? The three cafes I visit most regularly in Vancouver are The Elysian Room, Artigiano on Hornby, JJ Bean on Main St and my own place of employment, Wicked Cafe. I have had great shots and bad shots in all. Its almost getting to the point now where I think I don't like espresso, instead I think I strive to be consistent in brewing a cup lacking in any nastiness. Every time I pull a shot for myself or taste someone else's I am waiting for the bad part. If it doesn't come, I declare it a nice shot, taking no real notice of any exciting nuances in the mouthfeel, instead only having the finish and a memory to go by. sigh.. here's some new pics; a big globule and some demitasse art and sone poor attempts an imitating Jim's camera's macro skills. I'm off to Seattle with friends for a quick visit on Sunday, so I'l hopefully take lots of photos and will have something comparisons between there and Vancouver. cheerio

Thursday, July 20, 2006


so , yeah, I guess I don't have the self discipline, or high enough regard for you reader to put a proper post up. But instead, here's some pics.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

how does one open their mouth and not come across an idiot?

So, briefly. I have done a podcast. It was fun. Its no. 43 I suspect I made a fool of myself. Jenny (my better half) is also on the podcast and Mark said it will be up in a few days. I spent a few days afterwards wishing I hadn't said this or perhaps said more about other stuff, but now I'm just waiting the slaggings. Luckily, I think I muttered characteristically enough so that people will find it difficult to understand anything I said! So in saying that, I was very astute and witty on the podcast, and if you don't get that, then its your loss. I realised today why my latte art was going through such a bad patch; I've been using around 5 different pitcher designs without knowing it. Now of course I knew they were different designs for the most part, but there are two models in the cafe that are identical at first glance but behave very differently in the pour. I can't remember the name right now, but its a make that brought out a newer model in the last few weeks. Its good practice I guess, and it's trained me to pay more attention to the pour and my pour rate. I feel my latte art has definitely gotten better but will post pics for you good people to judge very soon. Over the next three days, I will be doing a latte art course with Alistair (he makes good coffee) Durie on Wednesday morning, I'm judging at the western canadian regionals on Thursday, and I'm helping out with some basic and advanced barista training courses tomorrow. So I'm a busy chap. I'll take a lot of photos, and perhaps, if I can muster enough self discipline, I'll give some daily posts on how things are going. Chat soon folks.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Barista as a profession?

So,...I've been thinking,.... If, like me, you pay attention to all the online chatter, the various coffee podcasts and all the hype surrounding competitions, you're probably aware of the clear message trying to promote the barista craft, with many attempting to get it a respect equal to that of a chef or a sommelier (depending who you talk to). We all want better pay for barista's and also for more communication between the growers and the brewers. Read any issue of baristamagazine to see examples of this. While I would be the first to preach the importance the barista plays in the chain of seed to cup, I don't however know how much I'd recognise it as a full blown profession. For me a 'profession' suggests something a person could happily do all their life, but do we really think many barista's out there still want to be barista's in ten years time?........... I'm not so sure. I understand this depends greatly on how we define a barista and whether their skills can be compared to that of a chef or rather a technician instead. And yes, if we define it as incorporating roasting, cupping and engineering skills, then I suppose such a job would prove a sustainable source of interest for many years. Sadly, very few barista's are exposed to these avenues in coffee. Even for those that do, and who want to learn more and develop, they'll usually find themselves experimenting with roasting and cupping extensively, so much so that they spend less and less time behind the bar. So if they're not working behind the bar, are they still a barista? Have they surpassed that level as a professional in the coffee industry? Can we then look at a barista as an entry point into the world of coffee? Or should it be held in high esteem as the role of the true coffee professional? I find it hard to imagine a place in today's speciality coffee society for the professional barista of 30 years experience. The general absence of roasting gear and pricey new brewing equipment, in the majority of the world's cafes'. would suggest there is only so far a professional barista can develop in that limited environment. Vancouver is known for its higher number of quality focused cafe's and while here I've met many working baristas who've been exposed to the latest technologies, roasteries, and indeed some of the world's best coffee's available. But this is not the norm, and even if it were, I would question still whether these baristas would be content in their current roles 10 years down the line. If the WBC continues with its message and gradually raises the bar for specialty coffee around the globe, I'm sure we will see standards improve in all our cities. But do we really expect each city to have cafe's capable of feeding the knowledge hungry barista? It is almost a case that as we try to educate and inspire barista's, they will only want to move beyond the role. I'm just wondering lately whether its too much of a romantic notion to idolise the barista as much as we do in the industry. thoughts?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

tardy blog keeping is a habit best avoided.

I apologise for the lack of noise coming from this blog recently but I assure you I have been busy. I am writing this post from my new luxury apartment in Granville Island , courtesy of one of my new neighbour's wireless connections. Also, Arthur has arrived and I will be picking up my infinitely better half (Jenny), tomorrow from the airport. (I say picking up, however I do not drive so it will be either a bus or taxi job, and should you have interpreted 'picking up' to mean I'd actually be picking Jenny up, well sadly I have neither the muscle or the stamina for such activities. She'll get a hug and kiss and she'll be happy with it) So where was I,..yeah Arthur has finally shown himself, after being in the country for three days recouperating from three days of travel difficulties and subsequent baggage loss. For those who know him I can happily report he is looking as glowing and inky as ever. I also met Lyndsey from Artigiano for the first time. She is the manager of the bustling Artigiano Cafe on Hornby St, and is famed in particular for her latte art skills. I think I've convinced her to give me a tutorial or too, especially as I feel I've developed some bad habits from attempting multi art lately. I met her in Artigiano at roughly the same time that the Panama Hacienda la Esmeralda arrived, as well as an interesting Sumatra that I forget the name of. Lake something or other. Brad?? For those who don't know, the Esmeralda reached a record price in the Best of Panama this year. ($50.25 a pound of Green, which is even higher than the Brazil COE #1 Santa Ines.) There was an interesting air of excitement in Elysian when it arrived. There was around 7 of us all tasting it at the same time off the clover, and yet no one really said much about it. We all enjoyed it, and agreed it was a beautiful cup, but there wasn't exactly a brainstorm of flavour identifying. It is interetsing too as Alistair had decided to pre-sell 12 cups of the for $10 a cup, so I think its fair to say the expectations were running high. Did it deliver? IWell I really liked it, but I'll have to try taste it again I'm afraid, as I'd already had a lot of coffee beforehand. It'll be cool to see how it shines in a french press. right. I'm sure there's spelling mistakes left right and center in this, but its late, and my bed ( a dusty mattress) has been calling my name for some time now. so I apologise yet again for the rambling manner of this post, although as it's becoming the norm I think I should probably stop apologising for it. anyway night folks.