Thursday, October 18, 2007

The George Costanza mumble

So Maya and I walked into Cafe Grumpy in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago.

I didn't want a plain old latte, so I asked the barista if Grumpy made anything with more milk than a macchiato but not as much as a latte:

(barista) - Oh yeah, I can make you a (unintelligible)

(moi) - You can make me a what?

(barista) - a (unintelligible)

(moi) - What is that?

(barista) - Oh, it's like a barista drink - two shots of espresso and a little bit of steamed milk. Some baristas from San Francisco invented it and named it after the Ikea cup they served it in. You know, (unintelligible).

(moi) - Interesting. Can you say it again so I remember it?

The girl leans toward me, looks me straight in the eye, and slowly utters:

(barista) - (unintelligible).

(moi) - Ok, I'll have me one of those, please

The drink was almost as perfect as her George Costanza mumble. I think I make a better (unintelligible). Actually, here at Stella, we love (unintelligible) and take great pride in it. It is sort of our thing. We serve two kinds of (unintelligible) - a traditional latte and a cortado. The former has more milk then the latter, but they both really test the barista's chops and showcase their skills. An (unintelligible) is what I make for myself when I report to Stella.

I scoured the web and Ikea, but my search bore no fruit. No paydirt. I'm sure the cups have been discontinued. Perhaps the girl made the whole thing up, and thence the George Costanza mumble. If there are any Bay Area baristas reading this, please advise.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

We Got Yirgacheffe

After several weeks of pushing strictly blends, we have decided to start featuring single-origin coffee again.

So, this weekend, our dark roast is Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. It comes to us straight from the town Yirga Cheffe (coincidence?) way down in southern Ethiopia. That is what the term 'single origin' refers to. With single origin, the brew you are drinking comes from one place, much like a wine. The opposite of that would be a blend, such as the Black Cat Espresso, or anything offered by Juan Valdez.

According to Intelligentsia, the Yirgacheffe is spicy and deep. According to me, it has some fruit notes, but my crude palate cannot quite distinguish what they are. Basically, it's pretty damn good.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mainstream cool

Starting last month, properly prepared espresso and single-origin coffee has officially entered mainstream cool. Both the The New York Times and GQ featured a collection of shops and roasters engaged in a single-minded pursuit of fabulous espresso.

There is an arc that a trend tends to follow. At first, for a while, it is the domain of the lunatic fringe. Eventually, some of their ostensibly normal friends take notice. Then, one day, alll of a sudden everyone is doing it. After another year or so, the New York Times comes out with a piece on the trend, which finally makes it mainstream cool.

When I was in High School, grunge and gangsta rap became mainstream cool. Squeaky clean Wonderbread white teenagers said "fuck the police" a lot, all the while wearing flannel shirts. Lately, urban hipster accoutrements are becoming mainstream cool. Young investment bankers are riding fixed-gear bicycles and, increasingly, asking for Direct Trade single-origin coffee and traditional lattes by name. Fair Trade is out, Direct Trade is in.

Mainstream cool is where you want to be, because that is when you have cachet, yet you are popular with everyone. The downside is that you are inches away from maintsteram uncool, i.e., death. Some phenomena have enough substance to stick around. Others become like Uggs - you may be convinced it has vanished, but then, like a persistent buttrash you spy an entire new boutique opening in the Viagra Triangle. Still, most quickly go the way of the poncho.

Both the New York Times and GQ pieces mentioned the same coterie of shops and roasters - Intelligentsia, Metropolis, Counter Culture, Ninth Street Espresso and Cafe Grumpy in New York. They are all lovely, by the way. Counter Culture is a particularly awesome roaster out of North Carolina that offers 3 different espresso blends, but, according to their sales rep, they do not ship 'this far North'. They do ship to New York, though. The whole exchange reminded me once again about the strange place that Chicago occupies in the national conscience. They think it's cold here. And that's it. That's our image nationwide.

Either way, we still have Intelligentsia, and their Black Cat now has national acclaim. So, although every one of you no doubt thinks of themselves as cool, you are all just a bunch of lemmings, and that is why this weekend, you shall ask for it by name, Sopranos-style, with thumb and index finger together - espress'.

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