Monthly Archives: October 2009

Will Work for Coffee

stumptown Indo

Stump Indo

My wife left me and went away to Portland. I watched the kids.

My labor rates are cheap. Simply pay me what I am owed. I demand coffee. My contract requires that you go to several coffee stops in Portland. It further states that you buy me 1 pound sacks of beans, grab all the brochures, and graphics so that I can study not only the coffee; but the marketing as well.

So when Jen goes away, she treats me right. She buys me coffee from Stumptown and Ristretto Roasters. I mean this is pretty nice, I know it’s not a Rapha Jersey, or a Vanilla but I look forward to these selections.

This time the coffee gift was among other things Stumptown Coffee Roasters Indonesia Gajah Aceh Peaberry Organic.

I am not a real fan of Indos, but thought I would give it a try. She told me that she asked the barista if they had a good single origin espresso, and this is what he sold her. He said he didn’t really care for Indos, but this was an exception.

I thought OK. I will pull a shot on the La Pavoni.

Surprisingly the end result was a creamy-smooth mouthfeel, like a banana. When it flowed slow from the spouts like honey, and displayed the color (pre crema) of dark chocolate I knew it was special. That is one of the great benefits of a manual machine, you can feel the pour, and manipulate it to your liking. It also did well via Chemex brewing.

I could taste grapefruit notes, and it had a long aftertaste of citrus and grapefruit.

In my opinion, this is one of those roasts that makes it to the number one priority in my coffee supply. It is one of those roasts that cause me to look in the bag, and worry that the supply is running out. You put the other beans on hold, and that causes more distress because the freshness clock is ticking away on what you were pulling before, and you tell yourself that your going to finish this 1 pound bag before you drink anything else.

These beans are Tip Top.

Thank you Jen!

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Joan Didion and Coffee the Real Wake-Up

Photo of Joan Didion Courtesy of the Internet

Photo of Joan Didion Courtesy of the Internet

I remember February 23, 1978. That is the day author Joan Didion came to San Francisco State University to read her work. I was a student then, majoring in creative writing.

There was a crowd. I remember trying to strain my neck and see her. I remember cupping my ears to hear her. I shoved my way to the front to be close to this amazing woman. I wanted to touch the hem of her garment and receive some sort of power. She was firing text out into the audience, syntactically sparse, crafted, and deliberate. The impact necessitated a debriefing, a therapeutic session with my adviser, poet William Dickey.

These memories rambled through my brain the last few days in two thousand and nine as I was re reading her book, Salvador. Several years after the public reading mentioned above, Joan Didion would be living and writing about the events of government sponsored murder, disappearances, and uprisings memorialized-all in a terse 108 pages.

Salvador is a reminder of the fact that there are more important occupations than worshiping coffee. She writes, “I was invited one morning to a gathering of Salvadorian writers, a kind of informal coffee hour arranged by the American embassy.”

As I was reading this I began to fantasize about what it must have been like to attend. My mind was wandering, thinking of all the coffee possibilities.

However, in the next paragraph she relates about the “sentences” spoken to her at this coffee gathering, “It’s not possible to speak of intellectual life in El Salvador, Every day we loose more. … We are the only survivors…. Some have been disappeared…”

This read of Salvador mandated that I re-calibrate my emotional, intellectual, and hedonistic equipment. This is a confession.

I need to appreciate what it takes to bring coffee to my door. I need to appreciate …

© 2009 all rights reserved Pat Riggs with the exception of the photo of Ms. Didion Internet Sources

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Latte Link to Economic Recovery is Economic Hokum

Signature Cafe Alamo Safeway

“When we went into the recession, we saw a change in the mix of lattes versus coffee, and now we’ve seen — it’s early but we’re seeing — a trend back to lattes,”

Steve Burd, CEO Safeway

You have to love this guy Steve Burd who is CEO of Safeway.

Using coffee stats to predict the ebb and flow of the profitability for Safeway is genius. The guy is a mystic, a prophet. This forecast is to economics what Ground Hog Day is to weather. Even more remarkable is the fact that such an analysis is the basis of a business article in the October 16, 2009,  Los Angeles Times

When Mr. Burd gave his presentation I hope there were some discerning espresso drinkers in the audience. As shareholders I hope those drinkers took the opportunity to speak up, and cross examine Mr. Burd. I hope they told Mr. Burd that if people are buying any coffee— latte or otherwise, from Safeway it is a sure sign that these economic times are still financially rough for families. Such desperate acts are a sign that this recovery is a long way off. I hope they told Mr. Burd that there is no correlation between good economic times and latte drinking.

Until this article, I never even imagined that Safeway served coffee, and I shop there every other day of my life. So this morning I drove down to Safeway, not to buy the coffee, but to see the coffee drinking masses, the voters, the economic trend setters who were providing this data to Mr. Burd. Outside the store I noticed a sign that read “Signature Café. (see picture above)” I thought to myself, perhaps I had missed drinking coffee at some hip destination called “Signature.” When I made my way through the automatic doors I realized that Mr. Burd was referring to the sales of coffee drinks from the Safeway in-house ubiquitous Starbucks.

So are these coffee places in Safeway a Starbucks or a Safeway? I never really cared, and still don’t, but this morning, given the fact that Mr. Burd was playing economist, I walked up to the blond barista wearing a Starbucks uniform, asking if this “set up” was a Starbucks, or a Safeway, and what or where was the Signature Café.?

There was no waiting in line for the in-house brew (despite Mr. Burd’s forecast) so she had plenty of time to chat. “We are Safeway, and licensed by Starbucks to sell their coffee,” she beamed. “The Signature Café is actually the Deli located right on the other side of the battery displays next to us.”

OK then.

Being an attorney (a fact I hardly ever disclose) I should have asked her what a “license” was, but I was in a hurry to my favorite café. Standing directly in front of Mr. Burd’s, point of sale, I walked away without buying or drinking. I was in a hurry to spend two dollars on an espresso shot several miles away. I was in a hurry to spend money on gasoline, car insurance and wear and tear to my vehicle in order to drink that shot. I was in a hurry to leave Safeway to go where the beans were hand roasted light brown somewhere in the neighborhood of an Agtron 55, which is gourmet; and not gourmet because it says so on the can, or the packaging.

So Mr. Burd; hold your foam, hold your steamed milk, in fact, hold your coffee. I am just looking for fine espresso. Times are good.

I drink mine straight no chaser.

Copyright © 2009,  Pat Riggs

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Coffee Investigation: Doing it Right in Steeltown

SteeltownSteeltown EspressoRecently there has been some internet buzz created by a new espresso bar in the East Bay.  The Bar is SteeltownCoffee and Tea. It’s located in Old Town Pittsburg. That’s right Pittsburg- as in Pittsburg, California, the place East of San Francisco, past the Naval Weapons Station, over the hills, and just before Antioch.

I had some business out that way, and was not looking forward to it, until I remembered this new café, and decided to investigate the place to let you know what my impressions were. In the distant past I would only go to Pittsburg as a cult follower of The Mecca AKA New Mecca Restaurant, but now with the birth of Steeltown, I have ample reason to make the drive.

Steeltown is located inside a bank. I don’t mean an old bank building, or a failed bank building, I mean a real working bank, a novelty in and of itself. I had this fact in mind before my visit, and expected to see a mobile coffee kiosk tucked away in some obscure corner near the bank merchant’s window. Instead, I encountered a “gem” of a café.

I can only speculate that when the owner, Adriane Badger, (more about him later) had a business plan he listed everything needed to do it right, and then he executed. The result is clean and open, along the lines of Bluebottle (Mint Street location) or Ritual at Napa Oxbow Public Market. The theme is local, all the way down to the recycled chairs and light fixtures that appear to be gleaned from the U.S. Steel plant which was such a big part of Pittsburg back in the golden days. The menu / flyer / graphics are original coffee oriented, and commissioned by local people. The menu behind the espresso bar is chalked on a wall of slate. Works, from a local photographer, grace one of the walls. There is music on the weekends. There is a real espresso bar where you can pony up for a shot. There is plenty of room to sit with friends in a lounge area, or sit outside.

However, enough of architecture and industrial design, what really matters is: are the people who run, and work at Steeltown compassionate about coffee? Can they deliver the espresso goods? The answer to this question is–Yes indeed.

You can tell when a principal is serious about the product. Applying this rule to the product of Steeltown, you know they are serious. Occupying a place of importance at the center piece of the bar is a Synesso multi group espresso machine. These machines are regarded around the world as some of the best in the business, and you can sit right next to it as the barista pulls the shots. No need to mention that this level of machine, and this level of attention to coffee is alien to Contra Costa County.

The Synesso is flanked by twin Mazzer Grinders loaded with beans. The grinders are placed in such a way to see the grind hitting the porta filter. Steeltown uses beans from Walnut Creek roaster and café Pacific Bay. The day I dropped in they were pulling shots of an espresso blend from Pacific Bay. Rachael, the barista, was really concerned with taking the time to do the shot right. The result was thick blond crema, smooth mouth feel, and a nutty to earthy notes. It was served in a Nuova Point Sorrento 2.5 oz. demitasse cup in mocha brown with spoon. I had two shots. See picture above. Very nice.

My only complaint with the café was the lack of a single origin espresso racked up in the grinder ready to drip as a godshot from the Synesso.

When other customers were enjoying the brews, the staff was making a local connection. This is the right way to build a coffee fan base. It is more effective than the Starbuck’s cork board claiming BFF.

Steeltown also gets kudos for manners. Man, are they are nice, but not in the phony way. You really get the sense that they want you to enjoy your coffee experience. My opinion is that the location exists in order to put coffee in the spotlight. Politeness is the old school trade in a modern world where barista ego is at an all-time high.

Non espresso coffee brew, is handled via Bodum French Presses. Adriane was very proud of the fact that all the coffee is brewed in this method. No Curtis Airpots here, No Bunn Warmers to stale as the afternoon wears on. The message is freshness. Adrian was excited when explaining the ability to taste the various attributes of the coffee. He is an evangelist when communicating what people can experience in the coffee world, when done right. This church of his is well equipped to edify all those who come to the waters and drink.

Keep Drinking!

Pat

© 2009 Pat Riggs All Rights Reserved

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Just a Handful of Beans

A handful of Beans

He stood for a moment-a child, alien and lost in the green and soaring gloom of the markless wilderness, then he relinquished completely to it. It was the watch and the compass. Getting rid of the gun wasn’t enough. He was still tainted. He removed the linked chain of the one and the looped thong of the other and hung them on a bush and leaned the stick beside them and entered it.”

William Faulkner The Bear

Every time I read The Bear, in the collection Go Down Moses, by Faulkner, I am reminded of coming of age. The young boy who is only 10, experiences that, to truly participate in life you have to abandon those tools that are mere devices of measurement. The colors, the alphabet, and fractions, — like the gun, the compass and the watch; these elementary things have to be discarded to truly create, to see the bear that no adult has been successful in hunting.

Often, we get so caught up in knowing, we forget to experience. We become so dazzled by the equipment; we forget how to become “caught up” in the enjoyment of the creative moment. We loose, or worse, never experience the pleasure of the simple act of creating something.

In the case of coffee, the tools available to us range from the Slayer Espresso Machine, to the simple hand cranked roaster, and the burning coals of a fire as used in the religious coffee ceremony in Ethiopia. I have been told that both these methods produce satisfying coffee. The fact that I have experienced neither of these extremes will have to be corrected someday, but in the mean time I use them as examples for the idea that no matter what the tools are in the creative process, they are not the focus. Some day I want to arrive at that place where I can sense what the temperature is, what bar of pressure is best or know when four minutes is up without the use of tools.  I don’t think I am writing out of turn when I say that we would all like to be in that place where our creative acts are no longer retarded by awkward and primitive struggles. I want to get beyond paying dues, and doing homework.

So…I find myself on this path to experience pulling the ultimate shot. Up ahead I see the learning curve and the path is steep. I am learning the vocabulary, training my sense of taste, aroma, cupping discipline, roasting, brewing, extracting, and becoming one with my lever pull machine. Some of you will mock and laugh, and already have. Echoing in my memory are the taunts of my friends, “It’s just coffee dude!

To which I reply, “you are right it is just coffee, but come and experience what I can do with this handful of beans.”

© 2009 all rights reserved Pat Riggs

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Saturday Morning La Pavoni And Verve Roasters Espresso

Verve Street Level Espresso Manual Pull on the PavoniEuropiccola!

Saturday Morning on the Pavoni pulling a shot of Verve Roasters “Street Level” and the Guatemala-Atitlan San Pedro La Laguna Espresso.  Godshots.

Text and photos copyright all rights reserved 2009 Pat Riggs

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Man on Trial For Coffee Snobbery! Cafe or Kafka?

Razor wire fence claybank jail

“At the end of the day we are likely to be punished for our kindnesses.”

Michael Lonsdale as Jean -Pierre in Ronin.

I represent a client who loves coffee. He was arrested the other night for coffee snobbery.

The cops told his family that he needed help. The policy in these types of domestic criminal cases is one of zero tolerance. They claim he had a secret life. His coffee moniker is “Snobby.” The prison exposure is pretty bad. There are coffee priors. He is a registered offender.

After his wife paid our firm the retainer, I met with him for the first time. I reviewed the reports, and gave him my advice. I explained that he would never get a fair shake with the mass consumers in this town. He called me a dump truck lawyer, and shouted from behind the glass that I was in bed with the coffee chains, and super markets, and all those who market Coffea Robusta. He wanted a real lawyer, a lawyer who knew how to brew coffee.

The facts in the police report were pretty tough. I read that his wife was the one who first called the cops, and she wishes now she never dialed 911. Most mornings she sits alone in the kitchen. It is especially hard for her. He’s not there for her. The family La Marzocco Linea is cold, and sits idle. She misses the espressos, and the tiny ristrettos that stained the milk in his wonderful macchiatos.

I reminded him that a police report doesn’t have the veracity of the Old Testament. Cops make mistakes, but the first officer to arrive on scene witnessed the whole thing. My client stored his coffee in air-tight apothecary containers, away from the light and heat. He ground his beans just before pulling his shots, and he used a conical burr grinder modified to 325 microns for espresso. I looked up from the report that I was reading, and explained that a jury wouldn’t like that because it’s kitchen spec for coffee snobs.

The cops found his water filtration system; they even found the auxiliary tanks with the European waters. He had a library full of handbooks on cultivation of coffee plants, and other books detailing both the wet and dry processing of coffee cherries. The evidence tech seized some color photos of the CNC’s machined 58mm naked portafilters he used to pull what he called “Godshots.” These photos were found on the computer hard drive in the bedroom. Next to the computer the tech also uncovered some videos of the World Barista Championships. They found scales with coffee residue which is indicative of specialty coffee sales. They found thermometers for brewing and frothing. And last but not least, they found his espresso tamper set for 30 psi. He tried so hard to pull off the perfect tamp and grind.

All of this beautiful equipment was seized per the search warrant. The warrant, signed by the judge for day or night service, was supported by a damming affidavit penned by the under cover officer. The facts presented in the affidavit traced an elaborate plot of deception. My client would take a trip to the super market chain in one of his vehicles, and browse the coffee isle as if he was going to buy some Folgers or Hills Bros or Taster’s Choice. We watched the surveillance videos together as he loaded up his cart with vacuum packed cans. These videos were in real time, and it was so sad to see him attempt to sneak away, abandoning his cart in produce, just before exiting the store. The parking lot cam caught him driving away in another car. The police followed him to cafes like Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Verve. During the search they also found crude but effective accounting notes and receipts from the cafes called pay-owe sheets. These detailed his fondness for coffees from a region of Ethiopia known as Sidamo, a region of the world where the beans produce a citrus attribute, and creamy mouthfeel. Heavy stuff. Impossible to defend. When extracted as a single origin espresso, it’s deadly.

When I turned to him, and said he had no defense; he told me that I needed to hire an investigator. If I wouldn’t do this he would file a Marsden Motion to ask the judge to fire me for ineffective assistance of counsel. He would represent himself. He was adamant that his supply chain was transparent. Anyone could easily trace his coffee all the way back to the very farm where the beans were harvested. It would be easy to tell the jury the benefits and payback to the farmers, their families, and co-ops. Everyone in the supply chain benefited from his fair trade and direct trade principals. The farmers were implementing organic farming methods; so in addition to all of the above, the environment was benefited by the restoration of the indigenous rain forest trees, allowing the coffees to be shade grown and pesticide free.

I suppose that if the consumers ultimately convict him of snobbery, he will appeal the conviction. He will be one of those guys who file writs, habeas petitions, and the like. Only after a short time in custody he has become a real coffee house lawyer. The correctional officers tell me that he spends all of his time in the coffee section of the law library. He has asked for his cupping notes, and the reams of graphs that plot the home roasting profiles of his favorite beans. He can be found copying all the ads and claims of coffee chains. He distributes these to the inmates in his section of the jail who are the kitchen or mod workers.

We hired a cupping expert to review the notes, and reenact the roasting profiling and brewing as outlined. However, after testing we found the lab results worked against us. The coffee was too good, and worse, it was consistently too good. On the coffee calibrated scale — like rating wine, the brews were spot on 85 if not higher.

My closing argument will remind you that the defense or the theory of our case is one of Necessity. The judge will instruct you on what you need to find in order to make that decision. Remember, my client is not a coffee snob. He denies that he is a coffee snob. He states he is only concerned with brewing coffee the right way. Yes, his method of brewing was not consistent, you heard during the trial that he bounced back and forth, and experimented with every method: French press, Chemex, Syphon Brew, and the wildly addictive espresso double shot. He only expresses remorse for his behavior in that he meant to be a guide to those who brew drip, to guide those who think Mr. Coffees are the only way, to guide those who drink from Styrofoam cups, and to guide those who mindlessly pump stale coffee from Curtis Airpots day after dreary workday.

In his defense, he adhered to the law. He was not a transgressor. He followed the principals of organic chemistry in the roasting of his green beans, and the frothing of his milk. He followed the laws and principals of botany, weather, and world commodity markets. He never meant to offend, he only meant to help. He only meant to save the lost. He only meant to protect his friends, and family from the harsh and bitter extractions that so often passes for coffee.

And as you retire to your kitchens or your favorite cafe to deliberate I am sure that you will come to the conclusion that acquittal is the only option for my client. You will say to yourself, but for the grace of God go I.

Thank you

© 2009 all rights reserved Pat Riggs

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