Image via Wikipedia "Danse Macabre"
Friday, October 31, 2008
It was by accident that I was here, I had no intention of pausing in this place but the Lords of Mischance had dealt a cruel blow and I could travel no further tonight.
The long walk from the carriageway through the wind and the rain had left me uneasy and the initial hopefulness brought on by the welcome sight of lighted windows soon gave way to apprehension as I came nearer.
There was no alternative place of shelter in this small sleepy village – all the houses were tightly shuttered, the door to the public house barred and no open door at any hand, but this place.
The ‘partners’ (as they named themselves) who opened the door to my arrival seemed welcoming and offered refreshments, for a small fee.
The limpid meals on offer seemed to have no substance, almost as if they were the ghostly echoes of repasts long gone.
I should have taken warning and fled, and had my wits not departed with the wind and rain I would have sensed the true horror of what I was about to face.
Through half closed eyes I slowly gazed upon the scene before me. The falsity of the décor, the soulless eyes of the ‘partners’, the glum listlessness of my fellow victims trapped within this nightmare.
Lightning split the night, the lights flickered and spectral shapes moved in the windows – reflections moving inexorably towards me with steaming doom in hand.
The bitter cup of destiny was laid before me, the baleful green fire of its sigil – the siren come to sing me to doom.
How can it be that destiny - cruel fate, had marooned me in the single place I had never wanted to be?
Now forever seared in my brain, I shall nevermore sip of the sacred bean without a shudder of fear that my car may one day betray me again and that I might once more have to await a tow truck while inside. . .
Megan, the WA 2006 Latte Art has been with Epic since – well before it was Epic actually. Megan was a barista at Core which was Corey Diamond’s first café in Allendale Arcade in the CBD.
It must be a sad day for all the crew at Epic to lose such a good hand on the Synesso.
Megan is moving on to work with cold things for a while (so we are led to understand) with a new role managing an Ice Creamery.
All the Epic regulars will miss her.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
This post is really the culmination of all those thoughts, and hopefully a little clearer an explanation. The ultimate aim is to encourage café owners and other small businesses to welcome the opportunities presented by becoming a Third Place.
The Third Place is a term created by Ray Oldenburg in 1982 in the context of examining important points of social interaction. Oldenburg describes the home as the ‘First Place’, the workplace as the ‘Second Place’ although theoretically this could be the venue where you spend most of your time but do not live.
The Third Place is the shared community space that exists as an informal meeting house equally accessible to all that acts as an ‘anchor’ point for community interaction. It is a point where conversation and creativity meet and very often is also a venue that is centrally located, usually in an area where people are moving through and where refreshment at low prices is easily obtained.
The importance of the third place to individual and communal well being is worth consideration in the development of public policy, particularly when attempting to improve social interaction and participation for people with disabilities.
“Most needed are those 'third places' which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase 'third places' derives from considering our homes to be the 'first' places in our lives, and our work places the 'second.'”
So how does a particular venue become a Third Place? I think there are two general ways in which it occurs. The first is the creation of an intentional Third Place. This is happening in some new areas where developers and local governments are attempting to build social capital by creating areas and situations where a Third Place can become established.
In her paper “Libraries With Lattes: The New Third Place” Cathryn Harris, a library manager in South Australia nominated libraries as a potential revitalised Third Place. To a certain extent libraries have always been a meeting place but because traditionally the level of noise has been restrained within the hallowed aisles of books, libraries have hardly been conducive to bonhomie or general conversation.
I think that there is great potential in creating a focus around infrastructure and encouraging an atmosphere that will deliver on the potential for an intentional Third Place.
My own experience so far has not yet convinced me that an intentional Third Place will work.
A local library built recently near us actually has a café as part of the premises and has meeting rooms available for anyone to book. The intent is obvious – it is supposed to become a local hub, an intentional Third Place.
I guess it works to some extent but there is still a sense of artificiality, and a certain level of restraint that seems to have removed the spontaneity of opportunistic meetings.
The second way that I think a venue can become a Third Place is by accident rather than design. Some venues, whether the result of the good food or coffee (if a café) or drinks (if a bar) or setting (if it has a great view), become a Third Place because it is a place where people want to be.
The venues in my mind as I write this also have an additional factor – the people who own or run the café.
The venues are also – as Oldenburg suggests they may well be, plain in appearance. A certain non-descript external appearance, a starkness, or even a run-down appearance does not detract from what occurs inside.
I think this is part of the appeal of the venue to those who know it, a certain attachment to the place that goes beyond its appearance and acknowledges its real values. This is not to say that a venue that is beautifully fitted out cannot also be a Third Place, merely that the lack of an appealing form does not diminish an appealing function as a Third Place.
Places that I have experienced that work well as Third Places have become these not through the intent of their owners (in most cases) but certainly as a result of the actions of the owners/managers. This suggests that with only a little effort and almost no expense, a small business can be transformed into a meeting place of people and ideas.
This can include welcoming discussion groups or book clubs looking for a venue, hosting food, wine, coffee or cigar tastings, running training courses in house, sharing expertise or encouraging others to share their expertise, encouraging artists and musicians to display their works or perform.
Sometimes all it takes is for the owners and staff to be welcoming and provide that extra level of service that makes people feel welcome – and want to stay for a while.
This brings them into contact with others – and if the environment is right, interaction occurs. A good host will even prompt this by introducing two people who share a common interest to each other.
A Third Place doesn’t have to be a café – it can be anywhere that people ‘hang out’ but in many ways the café setting is ideal, and in the world of specialty coffee there is a particular opportunity and people who go to specialty cafes do share at least one interest in common – great coffee.
 Oldenburg, Ray (1991). The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & Company.
 Harris, Cathryn (2007) Libraries with Lattes: The New Third Place Aplis 20(4) December 2007 pp 145-152
 Khermouch, Gerry, Veronsky, Frank. (1995) Third Places, Brandweek, March 1995, Vol. 36 Issue 11, p36
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Ah Mrs Grendel, who would have imagined all those years ago that not only would I have dragged you all the way back to WA, but that we'd also have two boys, that you'd be a scrapbooking master (master/mistress, I can never figure this scrapping terminology out!) and that I'd have an A-grade obsession with coffee.
Now I've figured out how we got the children - and scrapbooking seems to be an inevitable consequence of kids, but where did the coffee come from. Certainly no one at the wedding said anything about the coffee and no one gave us any coffee related gifts that I can recall. Chocolate was always your preference for a, errr 'play food' (hmmm so chocolate leads to children eh?) and coffee seemed something we went out for on a daily basis while living in Subi.
Ahhhhh, Subi = cafes, children = suburbs and suburbs = no cafes. No cafes = no good coffee which results in the desire to find good coffee. When no good coffee can be found then the only thing left to do is roast your own, and ignoring the first 6-months or scorched beans and smoked out house otherwise seems to have worked out.
Which must mean that if we'd never played around with the chocolate sauce I wouldn't have discovered coffee, however the I think I tend to overate the influence of chocolate sauces on your natural sauciness so I will discount that element and present the final equation in its simplest form.
Given that our marriage and subsequent children (oh dear how conventional of us!) predated and investigative forays into paper and coffee based fascinations, it follows that the procreative act is an essential and immediate precursor to these eventualities.
Sex = Coffee
I love you Mrs Grendel – Happy Anniversary!
Monday, October 27, 2008
One of the papers I have been reading lately is "Coffeehouses - Rethinking the Public and Private in Early Modern Istanbul" by Selma Akyazico Özkocak.
It looks at how the coffeehouse has become a key part of social interraction and the development of the coffeehouse as an alternate public space - often for discussion and dissent.
As in Britain, coffee houses in Turkey were considered to be somewhat on the shady side.
This disreputable aspect of the coffee house seems to be somewhat of a common theme - and no doubt an image encouraged by the authorities who might rather that people not visit places.
Why? Well if people are meeting peacefully to discuss the events of the day it is entirely possible (if not probable) that discussion will become criticism of state policy.
Cafes and Coffeehouses have been hotbeds of unrest in Paris, London, Istanbul, Washington and many other places. Parisian cafes were the meeting places for conspirators in more than one revolt, and in Turkey coffeehouses played a role both in the rebellion that created the modern Turkish state and in the final resistance to those efforts.
What the author noted that struck me as notable was that coffee houses in Istanbul served as a a meeting place for several layers of society - a common ground which is exactly what happened in London and Paris.
What is it about coffee that it acts as a leveller between people who drink it but leaves the huge financial and social imbalance between the grower and the drinker?
For those interested, the article I was reading was: Coffeehouses - Rethinking the Public and Private in Early Modern Istanbul
JOURNAL OF URBAN HISTORY, Vol. 33 No. 6, September 2007 965-986
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I now have all three Kalamata olive trees planted and all have started flowering.
The small patch of grass at the verge is slowly being taken up and once I have completed the work to the reticulation system it will be a garden bed of herbs and flowers - I may even sneak in the occasional vegetable (artichokes look quite ornamental after all!).
Having exhausted ourselves the rest of the family retired out of the sun while I roasted a kilo of coffee and enjoyed a beer - it must be nearly summer because all of a sudden I have felt like an occasional ale in the afternoon.
I had an amazing summer ale last week - a Monteith Summer Ale from New Zealand. It is spiced and also has a dash of honey - a really nice drop. Of course there was none left at all when I went back yesterday. I stuck with my instinct and went for another of their brews - a Golden Lager.
Stunning drop and it has opened my eyes to some of the quality brews coming from our Eastern neighbour.
Interesting things often seem to come from the East. In particular the idea of a coffee house which travelled to London from Turkey.
Later in the week I hope to continue on in the theme of cafes as the Third Place and look at some recent research into the Turkish Coffee house and how in recent years that has also returned as a central part of life in Turkish communities.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Australia had largely followed British cultural norms, but following the Second World War we opened our borders to a wave of refugees and immigrants from Europe that profoundly changed Australia.
The small pockets of Italian immigrants already in the country were reinforced by tens of thousands - and from all different parts of Italy which finally allowed Australians to understand that shared nationality did not preclude further diversity.
Greek and Turkish settlers also brought their own coffee tradition to our shores and with it a much more social approach to drinking coffee.
The changes to the cafe culture we see in many cities and towns now did not happen quickly and in many places the change is still slowly going on. It would be rare however not to be able to find an espresso machine in any town cafe in Australia.
Thus, our coffee culture is an espresso-based culture, which while generally an improvement over a 'spooned-from-a-jar' coffee tradition still does not properly reflect the diverse ways of making coffee.
I find it odd that Australia, and even more significantly, Britain, had such a limited coffee culture over the last 100 years or so. Tea was the preferred drink for most. But London was the home of the coffee shop for centuries - in fact it was renowned as such.
The coffee-house itself was not unique to London. As Francis Bacon noted in his Sylva Sylvarum in 1627, "They have in Turkey a drink called Coffee, and they take it, and sit at it in their Coffee Houses, which are like our Taverns." Yet in London the coffee-house was unique in the extent to which it entrenched itself as an institution in the social, cultural, commercial, and political life of the city. "Foreigners remarked that the coffee-house was that which especially distinguished London from all other cities," wrote Thomas Macauley in his History of England, "that the coffee-house was the Londoner's home, and that those who wished to find a gentleman commonly asked, not whether he lived in Fleet Street or Chancery Lane, but whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow."
J. Pelzer and L. Pelzer, "Coffee Houses of Augustan London," October 1982, pp. 40-47.
The coffee house predated the gentleman's club as the place to meet and discuss the events of the day as well as to transact such business as you could with little consideration for rank or societal status.
This character of the coffee house as a meeting place for people was missing in Australia and it is only recently that we once again are seeing regular business occurring in the setting of the coffee house.
One of the enablers of this has been the ability for people to access information over the wireless Internet connections provided in some establishments.
This has been key to the resurrection of the centuries old tradition of people spending their working day in a cafe, drinking coffee, conversing with others and transacting business.
The ability to take a notebook computer, or even just a notebook and pencil and write in peace, interrupted only by the arrival of coffee and food has almost created a new category of workplace, one that is an extension of the office, but much more congenial.
Is it effective? Ask JK Rowling where she wrote "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" and she'll tell you it was in a cafe. I know several people who work as 'life coaches' or counsellors and have no formal office, just a selection of cafes willing to allow them the opportunity to use their space in return for regular consumption of coffee.
The capacity of these public spaces to become a more intimate part of working and personal life actually provides a lot more depth to the urban community. It has long been possible to find 'neighbourhoods' in large urban cities in the United States that have a distinct community. We are now starting to see the growth of similar communities in Australian cities, although the lesser density of residential properties in Australian cities continues to limit this.
Much of the growth in community spirit we are seeing occurs around particular businesses - usually those accessed most frequently by local residents and those working nearby. These include newsagents, bars and cafes. Cafes and newsagents, being open early in the morning are the places you are most likely to see the intersection of local residents with those who work in the city but live in the suburbs.
Cafes that are open on weekends are more likely (for obvious reasons) to also have a big clientele of local residents. Australia is still struggling with the weekend death of the CBD and even the extended trading opportunities in a city like Perth have not prevented the streets beyond the central shopping areas from being generally deserted on the weekend.
We have seen the start of something - a resurgence in an age-old coffee culture common in the 1600s from Turkey to Britain but which seems to have been lost to us until now.
I wonder how much further it can grow?
Friday, October 24, 2008
Funny thing is I've never been taken much with Central American beans. There have been the odd exception, but mostly I haven't had a good experience.
My leaning has been strongly towards African beans and I do love so many origins from Africa.
In the last year or so however I have had the opportunity to start learning a bit more about Central American coffee and to try some of the really great smallholder crops from a variety of different regions.
I'm really impressed. There are 3 or 4 new beans that I know of that will be available in Australia shortly and some are coming to Perth. I'm going to try get green samples to roast but the ones I have tried already from the sample box at Fiori show some amazing qualities.
I had one on Thursday that smelt like maple syrup, and another that tasted like I'd added molasses to a rendang, such was the mix of sweet and spice.
I've also been attempting a few blends using a combination of African and Central American beans and found that they can compliment each other very well.
I'm hoping to have some green beans on had next week to experiment, but with all the travel this week (and I was quite literally sick and tired of it) I haven't had a chance to roast any coffee - lucky thing my office is so close to the roastery!
I remember the first time I heard this in the movie "Finding Forester".
Izzy had such an amazing voice and left a big gap in Hawaiian music when he died. This is one of the (many) tribute pieces that have been floating about YouTube.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
but there are avenues of trees.
I saw some springtime flowers,
but it was far too cold for bees.
The restaurants all close at nine
The hotel's beds keep you awake.
They empty the bins at 3 am,
At a 4-Star rating, that's hard to take.
Downtown really means just down,
The 'town' part has been forgot.
The 'peak hour' rush took half an hour
Perhaps its busier when its hot.
All in all I was tired but glad,
to squish my butt back in the seat.
And fly back west to the setting sun,
'cause home in Perth is hard to beat.
I apologise for the doggerel, but I had a fleeting visit to Canberra yesterday and while the public buildings are very nicely kept and the streets are indeed beautifully tree-lined, the place was hard to take for someone who is visiting and needs a shop/pharmacy/cafe/bar/open restaurant etc.
Embassies they had in plenty, unfortunately as I was not looking to defect or in need of political asylum, the availability of consular assistance was not of any use whatsoever.
The fact that I didn't get any sleep the one night I was there probably has jaded my perspective somewhat.
The taxi drivers were actually a high point as far as direction finding round the city but all of them seem to be able to tune in only one radio station in the cab. It was a bit like Hotel California and every driver seemed to have the same glazed look. Perhaps it is from so frequently driving august and noble political personages around on a daily basis.
Or perhaps terminal boredom - it seems the place for it!
I'm sure it is no coincidence that the ABC AM radio frequency for Canberra is 666.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Lloyds of London is a famous name - known mostly as an insurance market where insurers can spread the risk collectively.
It began its existence in 1688 as a coffee house run by Edward Lloyd.
Coffee is perhaps the more savoury aspect of its early existence as Lloyd's, like may of today's older financial giants was heavily involved in the slave trade - specifically the insurance of slaving voyages.
I suppose there is a logic to that, no matter how warped it is to our sensibilities.
- Finance and insure the slave ship
- Slaves are delivered to work in the coffee plantation
- Coffee is shipped back to London (again on a ship backed by Lloyds)
- Coffee gets drunk by the 'Names' (brokers) while planning next venture
There is a lot about our past worth remembering and much of it consists of events we'd rather forget.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
In Eritrea and in Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony can take several hours and includes the host and the guest savouring every aspect of the coffee bean along the way.
The green coffee beans are washed and then roasted in a pan over hot coals. The beans must be kept moving the whole time so that they don't scorch. This explains the popularity of 'peaberries' the round beans that are often found and selected out from other coffee beans to be roasted seperately. It is much easier to keep these beans rolling around the pan.
Guests are invited to enjoy the aroma of the smoke from the roasting coffee. The beans are then ground with a mortar and pestle and placed with the water in a spherical clay pot with a long neck called a Jebena. This is then placed over the coals and brought to the boil.
A small coil of horsehair is used to filter the coffee as it is poured, without stopping, into the small cups for serving.
So, the whole ceremony keeps the focus on the coffee but is really about the people. Everyone there understands that there is an almost religious aspect to the presentation and the sharing of the coffee.
It makes our efforts to find faster and more efficient ways to produce coffee seem quite shallow.
We also enjoy coffee as something we have with others, but the Eritrean ceremony sounds quite beautiful.
I've often wondered about linking up with some of the immigrant groups over here and learning about the way they roast and use coffee. It would be a fascinating experience.
In Eritrea the coffee is often served with popcorn. This is an interesting juxtaposition with Australia where the coffee is often roasted in a popcorn popper. . .
The Photos below are from wikipedia and Iexplore and show the preperation of coffee in the Eritrean way. (Photos link to their site of origin)
Friday, October 17, 2008
I was reading an article tonight by Mark Rosenbaum (in the Journal of Service Research, which is a way better read than the West Australian. . .) It had the rather lengthy title of "Exploring the Social Supportive Role of Third Places in Consumers' Lives"
Yeah, yeah yawn away! But within the stilted academic language of the article were some really interesting results of studies into why people return again and again to particular venues.
It looked at the concept of a 'Third Place'which are public places that host social interactions. Cafes are an excellent example of these. The most successful are described as independent and locally owned. The study was from a large city in the US where the concept of a city 'neighbourhood' is somewhat different to our experiences here in Australia.
I'm not going to drag us all through to article so I'll jump straight into the conclusions.
People 'shop' for community - we actively seek out a communal environment in which we feel comfortable and one which we feel meets our needs.
Sounds logical enough - however Rosenbaum identified some key implications for managers and these are not likely to be things that are considered in most business plans but which may prove crucial to the success of some businesses.
I would go further and suggest that in my experience over the last four years, every one of the cafes that I have really enjoyed has these qualities to a certain extent and the cafes I love the most have them to a much larger extent.
Below includes both direct quotes and paraphrasing from the conclusion - I wonder if you see any Perth cafe's in your mind when you read this like I did?
"There is a positive relationship between the frequency to which customers receive companionship and emotional support in a third place and their loyalty. Because each support type benefits a person’s health because he or she obtains more support in a third place, the value of doing business with the place increases. Thus, establishments may realize financial benefits by hosting customer networks."
"Retail managers might employ techniques for supporting customer relationships including personalizing the environment by encouraging employees to learn customers’ names, and having management actively introduce customers to others who share similar experiences."
"In addition, because third places may function as repositories for a customer’s social relationships, and it is to these relationships, not just to the place per se, to which customers are attached, third places do not need to invest continuously in maintaining a decorative service scape to attract regulars. Of course, managers cannot permit their establishments to become shabby; however, the best third places are often those that are so nondescript that many people never realize they exist."
Seattle is reknowned for the grunge look that has always worked for its cafes and at times I have wondered why - but this is a pretty good clue.
I'm not an opera person, it just doesn't grab me. Individual pieces do however and this is one of those.
This is one of the greatest recordings of the duet - Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill in 1950.
This is not a huge memory hog but if you pause it at the start and let the red bar fill right up you'll have no interruptions.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Unfortunately the 8th anniversary seems a bit of an odd one.
In the ‘Traditional’ side of thing we have two items – the first is Bronze.
Oh goody – I can see the result now as I say “Congratulations my love, I thought you might like this to hang in the hallways” while handing her a half-tonne Chieftain’s Shield that I just happened to spot at Archeolomart. . .
The second traditional item is Rubber – A rubber gift would go down well.
Our experiences with rubber have not been as enjoyable as we thought they were going to be.
Now you can drag your mind out of the gutter because I am talking about our new Ikea Bed with the Latex (yes, latex is rubber) mattress. It was a wildly unsuccessful bed, but a moderately successful instrument of torture and Mrs G had to drag the whole sorry, unflatpacked load back to Ikea for a refund.
On the ‘Contemporary’ side of the gift suggestions was ‘Lace’ and unless Mrs G gets a sudden yearning for additional doilies I don’t see much future there either.
And by the way, what kind of ‘contemporary’ gift is lace? I know the information was on a website and is therefore at least potentially out of date, but lace sounds like something that Ida Buttrose would recommend as ‘modern’!
Still at a loss to find something appropriate though. . .
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This is what coffee lovers would generally consider to be "a Very Good Thing".
At least by starting with something decent you have a chance of getting a good cup of coffee.
The next steps are up to the barista and although I will generally try coffee from a place I haven't been to with a sense of optimism, for the times when I really NEED a good cup of coffee I always go to a place I know that is going to happen.
Still its great to see that so many cafe owners are stepping beyond the big imported (including East Coast) roasting companies.
It will be interesting (and perhaps a bit difficult) over the next few months to observe any impact from the altered economic circumstances. I think a lot of the best Perth cafes will weather the storm nicely, but it could prove difficult for new operators in untested areas.
I'd be very sad to hear of businesses closing - I know it happens all the time, but still, its not a good thing to see happen.
Quality and service will be more important than ever.
Monday, October 13, 2008
The Economics award is not one of the original Nobel Prize categories but was created in memory of Alfred Nobel in 1968 by the Swedish central bank.
Very exciting for him I am sure, and it will no doubt increase the pressure on the Bush administration over its current handling of the economic crisis as Krugman has been quite critical of Paulson's approach.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with coffee!
Unless of course your stock portfolio has tanked and you can no longer afford to visit cafes - if this is the case I have some economic advice of my own to offer - home roasting is cheaper than buying roasted coffee!
However, lets not let that spoil the fun!
1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Naturally although they'd both drink espresso based drinks if I let them, they actually only get a hot chocolate (with marshmallows on the side of course!)
This morning Junior Grendel Number Two wanted nice latte art like mum gets and while I tried my hardest, his wasn't quite there.
I did manage something a little better in Junior Grendel Number One's cup but I think the lack of 'crema' in the chocolate is an issue!
However - here is this morning's 'ChocolArt'
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
It suddenly occured to me tonight that I haven't actually featured "A Little Night Music" yet.
>So here it is, Wolfgang Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik", or "A Little Night Music". This performance in additionally interesting because the orchestra has no conductor. . .
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Economies of scale are marvellous things enabling corporations to retain tight budgetary control over costs and deliver their product to the marketplace while ensuring a good profit margin.
Sometimes this can even be done fairly ethically, and in rarer cases, sustainably. It still leaves us with a commodity that tastes, as you'd expect, just like a commodity.
For many people that is enough, but others need more. This is where small bulk roasting companies and the even smaller specialty or artisan coffee roasters come in. It is also the people interface where coffee ceases to exist as a commodity and becomes some rare and special because you know a little more about it and the people who produce it.
There are a number of groups who work to promote specialty coffee - such as the specialty coffee associations in various countries. There is even, as I discovered today, the International Women's Coffee Alliance.
It was founded in 2003 as a way to bring women in the North American coffee industries together with women from Central American to develop understanding and relationships. Ultimately the initial meeting highlighted some of the difficulties faced by women in the coffee growing regions but the participants were able to discuss ways in which they could work together to make a difference.
It is a young organisation with just a few hundred members but importantly the representation of women from coffee growing origins has expanded beyond Central America to South America and Africa.
A stated goal of the Alliance is to have a positive impact on the lives of over 1 million women in coffee regions by 2016.
The early efforts are very positive, including:
- Providing self-powered radios to farmers in Rwanda
- Assisting women in Peru to increase the range and quantity of the vegetables they grow as an additional food supplement and cash crop.
- Provision of funds for schools and school supplies, and;
- assisting in the provision of cancer vaccines for 1,700 women in producing countries
This is all being done by the smallest, and most specialised end of the coffee industry and beyond just recognition of ensuring the sustainability of the people who grow the coffee, it contributes to the building of relationships that will provide ongoing benefits to the producers and consumers of coffee.
If the Alliance continues to grow and manages to reach its target of assisting 1 million women in coffee origins, then they’ll have achieved the most valuable economy of scale of all by creating a million new relationships between grower and consumer.
It is worth doing just to see what comes up - Wikipedia first, but then it is nearly always in the top 5 hits. Then fairly solidly commercial until to get to CoffeeSnobs after which it goes all commercial again for at least 11 pages (got bored by that point). Last time I did this exercise there were many more information sites than commercial sites. Most of the commercial ones are really just pimping their brand of coffee with little additional information.
Kinda sad really - I guess the Google algorithm has been caught up with again.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I'll refrain from posting the 'botched latte art' video for two reasons - first because I'm a nice guy, and second because my attempts are worse!
I really do need to get out the video camera and make some myself though - of other people making coffee naturally!
I’ll take a leaf from his editorial and use the same poem – but I’ll post the entirety of it.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."
On the first Ferminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
I was at a cafe this morning when the grinder turned evil and tripped the power circuit for the whole joint.
It was okay - I already had my coffee in front of me and was able to sip it in the smug knowledge that my timing was better than the poor souls now in a line out the door. Before the inevitable questions are asked - not I didn't touch the grinder before it broke (ask the guys at Five Senses about the time I visited and the Synesso stopped working!)
Fortunately a new grinder was delivered in under 15 minutes by a very helpful coffee rep averting the almost certain disaster of an early morning riot by caffeine deprived office workers.
It really illustrated for me how fragile the operation of a cafe is. Unless you have the resources to fit it out with multiples of each piece of equipment, the loss of either the grinder or the espresso machine can wreck a days trade.
Now the cafe in question did have a backup grinder - for decaf, but it was smaller and less able to handle the volume required and had old burrs that were quite worn.
This was a great illustration of how important a good grinder is - and this is not only in the cafe, but at home as well. Lo and behold, when I arrived in my office and opened my email there was this from Five Senses - a whole article on grinders which I think is very useful.
Most of the people I know who are now into coffee in a big way have spent serious money on a grinder. I have several friends who own a grinder - but not yet an espresso machine. This is pretty much the right way around - you can make coffee a variety of ways with inexpensive equipment but you can't make good coffee unless you grind the beans fresh - thus you must have a grinder first.
You also can't make good espresso without a really good grinder - so there is no point buying the bling machine without one - it'll just be a shiny paperweight.
'nuff said by me - go read the article!
Monday, October 06, 2008
It’s a good breakfast to start the day and I love poached eggs so I don’t have to be convinced to eat it especially since it is served on a great sourdough that lasts all morning for energy.
I was reading while I ate and not really concentrating and for one reason or another I inhaled at just the wrong moment and a flake of the aforementioned sourdough lofted down my trachea where it lodged commencing the painful and embarrassing result we all know and love.
According to Jackson (the barista) my face was quite the shade of ripe tomatoes and heading towards blue when one of the staff of Tiger tiger provided the recommended slap between the shoulder blades.
It is funny now although at the time it was particularly unpleasant. I remember trying to catch the attention of the lady sitting opposite who seemed to be studiously ignoring the coughing fit and probably hoping desperately that I was not a client of the insurance company for which she worked (it was a health insurance company too!)
Clare (Tiger tiger’s owner) who missed the whole show, commented later that for me to die over a plate of eggs and a cup of coffee would have been the ultimate irony - although inhaling a coffee bean while sniffing a fresh roast would probably be a more likely way for me to go.
Still it was a great reminder to me that my mother (who returns home tonight after a solid week of reading stories to the Junior Grendels) did have some good advice – always chew your food!
And thanks to the guys at Tiger tiger for the assistance – I always appreciate a pat on the back.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
To my mind wild grown coffee could be good, bad or somewhere in between as you just don't know what variety of arabica you are getting - in fact it may well be no identified variety as coffee plants in their native environment mutate and spawn new varieties naturally.
I got a little over a kilo of green beans 10 days ago from Fiori Coffee in West Perth and roasted it on Thursday with the intention of waiting a week before opening the bag.
My resolve crumbled this morning around 9 am and I've had about 4 shots of this incredible brew.
It is as wild as the name suggests - even when roasting it there was a noticeable variation in the colour of the beans in the early stages from army green to bright almost fluorescent green. This is usually not a great sign but I am having to reconsider my colour bias.
This coffee is immense! It is younger than I would prefer and very lively as a result but the light fruit flavours that burst into your mouth are followed by a rich spice and berry mix that drives my palate insane.
I love trying new coffees and this one is now on my hit list for more - I am not sure what to try and blend it with and I suspect some experimentation is in order.
Got to end this post now because I think I'd like an afternoon affogato. . .
Saturday, October 04, 2008
For reference of those who have not seen the ad - here it is!
Anyhow, back to why 'Jan' is not happy today. I bought a bottle of wine on Thursday, they had a full rack of the particular wine in question and it was one I had not tried before - a St Halletts blend of Grenache and Shiraz under their "Gamekeeper's Reserve" label. It was not an expensive bottle, but it was classic Barossa style wine, big and fruity with lots of rich velvety dark flavours - I loved every drop.
Naturally I thought I'd go down and pick up another bottle today.
WHAT! NOT HAPPY JAN!
Ok - there is plenty of other wine to choose from but this is our little suburban bottle shop with not the biggest trade in wines happening and there had been another 11 bottles on the shelf of Thursday - surely everyone didn't discover it on the same day?
Sigh. I had to console myself with another Barossa blend and a Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon just to be on the safe side.
Friday, October 03, 2008
I missed the debate earlier today between the two candidates for VP but caught up with some podcasts later.
It was interesting to see the take on how people thing Biden and Palin went in that debate.
Many pundits are handing the result to Palin on the basis that expectations were so low for the Republican candidate that the more practiced and on-song performance that eventuated exceeded expectations.
I however am gravely disturbed.
The United States of America is facing active wars on two fronts with the potential for a third (Iran) and a fourth (North Korea) if things go badly.
They are also facing a a significant economic crisis at a time when their economy is interlinked with the economies on every other country on Earth.
And we saw a candidate for Vice President, a heartbeat, as they say, away from the presidency (if elected) taking great pride in being ordinary.
Ordinary is being the same as everyone else, having the same dreams and the same capacity as your fellows and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being ordinary, I quite enjoy the experience myself, but my leaders, and the leaders of great and powerful nations should be the most extraordinary people and I should ask nothing less than that they be exceptional.
This does not mean that they cannot be from among us all - most of us start from humble origins and strive to improve on that position, but it is one thing to be from humble origins and work a little, it is something else to be from humble origins and take on a leadership position that demands exceptionality in every way and yet still requires that you keep in touch with your fellows and have empathy and compassion for them.
They don't have to be geniuses, they don't all have to be great statesmen or statewomen but they must have that capacity to inspire, to coordinate, to think things through and apply rationality when all around is a sea of emotion.
This is not the time for the United States to be electing another 'ordinary man' to the Presidency, or an 'ordinary woman' to the Vice Presidency, this is the time for exceptional men and exceptional women to take on the challenges that are now facing the United States.
I can't bear the thought of another 'leader of the free world' who is so bound to their ideology that they are incapable of thinking or responding beyond it.
I don't know that Obama is the exceptional person the United States needs - he may be, and I think that he could show us that he is. It might happen if the party machine running his campaign weren't terrified that to reveal fully what he has shown glimpses of in the past would put him out of the running because that would take him beyond ordinary.
I'm not sure that Obama IS the exceptional leader the United State needs, but I am sure that Sarah Palin is NOT exceptional and I am sure that John McCain is NOT an exceptional leader.
We need people who can think, talk and act as leaders, not people who can pep us up before the big game.
Jascha Heifetz - a child prodigy, and not at all bad on the fiddle in his later years. One of the stories about his involves a conversation with Groucho Marx in which he was supposed to have told Groucho that he had been earning a living by playing the violin since he was seven. Marx's response was classic "And I suppose that before that you were just a bum?"
It is great that not only were violinists of his calibre recorded, but that at least some of the recording sessions were filmed as well.
The PNG images are something special, showing the people who grow the coffee and the various stages from harvest through to cupping.
A great little photostream that will hopefully grow in time.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
This is true of a variety of Perth establishments including our local Gloria Jeans. Now as a rule I don't like Gloria Jeans coffee - it is bulk roasted where I prefer specialty roasted and it is roasted darker than I prefer. I also think that the franchise style system run by GJs restricts the creativity of the individual store owners to add value to their own store (and the brand overall) by doing things a little differently.
Our local Gloria Jeans is run by a bloke called Brian. He's a great bloke, worked for years as a teacher and school principal and really really enjoys the engagement with people through his cafe.
As such we like to drop in with the Junior Grendels from time to time - they love the babychinos (with marshmallows on the side)and they love talking to Brian. The power of the individual barista or cafe owner to draw people into their cafe cannot be understated.
Don't misunderstand - I am a coffee snob and as such must officially disdain any franchise, chain or service station product. But that doesn't stop us from visiting these venues, particularly when we really enjoy visiting the people there.
Generally I also find that those owners who really care about their customers also really care about their product and even working with beans that I might turn my snobbish nose at in other stores they seem to manage to get the best out of them and produce a good cup of coffee.
The problem arises when you walk optimistically into another chain coffee store of the same brand hoping for the same and have your hopes dashed.
The point is that coffee is crucial, but it doesn't get made without the people and if the cafe had the best coffee in the world but a bastard behind the machine, the presence of the bastard would detract from the coffee.
The reverse is true and I have sat for hours in a cafe underneath the building where I used to work, drinking truly execrable coffee that was served by great hosts who knew how to run a great business but had no idea how to make coffee.
I tried subtle comments but to no avail - they alone kept people coming to the cafe. That said it would have been nice if they could have done the same business over again but with decent coffee!
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
I just popped over to ICanHasCheezburger to make my own:
moar funny pictures
Last week I promised to take a turn at a Blogpower roundup, and naturally enough my network packed up. However, it may be late but it is done (and my network is still non-functional for the desktop although the notebook is linked in quite nicely.
The bloggers below are an interesting crew and while I don't agree with all their views, I do love reading them!
The Two Wolves are howling at Recession, the 5th horse of the apocalypse. Tuscan Tony is also looking at things in the toilet, but this time focusing on a search engine for the location of the nearest necessity.
Tom Paine's been ignoring the prophets of doom and gloom and been driving his Maserati across Europe – all right for some! A Tory has been speeding lines in the other direction and posted an open letter to John McCain suggesting he needs a new strategy. Heather Yaxley does some strategic analysis of her own of a campaign that is likely to annoy the very group it is targeting. Jams over at The Poor Mouth has managed to find something awful of his own – some 1874 poetry by Theophile Marzials.
Welshcakes is also getting into language this week and coming to grips with the challenges of pronunciation while Pauli at Never Trust a Hippy is asking if bloggers are putting journalists under pressure to publish leaks by being an alternate and immediate source of leaks themselves.
Meanwhile I have just discovered that Sally in Norfolk has in fact sallied out from Norfolk this week. James at Crushed by Ingsoc examines the ecstasy of orgasmic raptures, or is that the rapturous ecstasy of orgasm. I'm still not sure!
Adelaide Green Porridge marks the passing of JB Jeyeratnum, one of the few who consistently stood up to the ruling PAP in Singapore. DeeJay at Age is All in the Mind has linked to a beautiful piece of music – Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and An Insomniac wonders whether Apple are stringing us all along and wants to know whether or not the iPod touch is any good.