Monthly Archives: April 2012

Seattle

I arrived on Friday the 13th in Seattle, just missing out on the Seattle stop on the Social Distortion tour (missing them by a day in Vancouver as well…). To most people Seattle means grunge, Jimi Hendrix and The Space Needle. For me, Seattle is Bruce Lee (remember No Retreat, No Surrender?) and coffee. A friend of the family, who I stayed with briefly in New York, had just moved over about six months ago, so I had the opportunity to stay with her. Arriving without any food in me for the past 15 hours or so, and been awake for about 26 hours, we went on a splurge at the local Indian and then headed out to the Fremont area to watch her housemate Chris perform with his band Project Lionheart. I literally fell asleep standing up despite the very groovy sound.

Next day saw us travel to Vancouver, so it wasn’t until Monday I got to see more of the city than its night life. I had a meeting at Bauhaus that got cancelled. Bauhaus is an old classic institution that combines coffee and books in a bohemic way that is very appealing. Didn’t have the coffee though, due to its obvious flaws in the making of the cup that was visible to me as I lined up. Regardless, I am glad that I visited, cause apparently they are tearing it down, which is sad.

Instead my first coffee in Seattle was at Stumptown on Pine Street. No frills, Hairbender blend espresso. To be honest, the over all experience here was rather bleak in comparison to my only visit to Stumptown before, in NYC at the ACE Hotel. Instead I went over to Caffe Vita, another Seattle classic roaster. The vibe here was awesome, Black Sabbath blasting out over the wifi-surfers. Got an espresso and a wrap that was really good. Actually it was more of a contemporary cafe with an almost nostalgic feel to it in some weird way. I liked it though. Later, at the SCAA exhibition, I met their representative who was very friendly and who hosted the hands down most impressive pop up espresso bar at the fair!

No visit to Seattle is done fully if not visiting Espresso Vivace though. Since working in Australia, I am well familiar with the work of David Schomer, who is somewhat an espresso bar guru over there. Everything was textbook, from the espresso to the hospitality. The menu not only suggested the classic Italian espresso drinks, but made a chronological map of the development of the coffee movement from first to third wave. I felt like I was standing on historic ground. Later I found out that the store I was in, was in fact a very late addition to the Vivace family.

Monday night was Kamnis (whom I was staying with) birthday. It was also the night I was supposed to meet my friend Peters brother Matt for dinner. So we put two and two together, and hooked up for drinks at Odd Fellows, a beautiful space on Capitol Hill, squeezed in between one of the better bookshops and a second hand record store where I purchased the reprints of Herb Alperts classic albums. Later Matt took us for dinner at his local Italian place which was fantastic, and then we finished the night at Poppy where we were chatting with the bartenders until close, regarding coffee and spirit quality. It’s very interesting how alike the barista and the bartender communities are.

Alex Bernson, who I met up with in New York when I was there (then working at Vandaag, now at Joe’s) is a native of Seattle and in town for the competitions later in the week which he was judging, just visiting the family. So, naturally I was happy to go on a coffee crawl with him. First he took me to Milstead&Co. What an awesome place. This one is my favorite, hands down, in Seattle. Located in the Fremont area, it’s slightly off the beaten track, but well worth the effort! We were served a Wrecking Ball espresso that was fantastic. One of the most interesting espresso I’ve had in a long time, complex taste, rich yet smooth mouthfeel. Again, not one to normally like the hyperbole, but this was as good as I write actually. Here we bumped in to Sam and Sam of Everyman in NYC, who were competing in the USBC. The way their drinks, coffee and presentation were presented to me, I realized how far the Americans are in their coffee competing. Later in the week, their sales representative in New York for Counter Culture became the US Barista Champion.

Next, Alex took me to Victrola on Capitol Hill. Legendary stomping ground for some of the coffee royalty now world famous. The café itself is very art deco and cosy. Across the road, there was a Starbucks concept store serving wine among other things. Rather slick but still very plastic. The girl at the bar gave us samples of orange juice that she was thrilled tasted like freshly squeezed but wasn’t…

Tucked away in an alley next to the small Vivace kiosk on Broadway, there is a shrine to the coffee goddess Caffeina. This tells you how old the subculture of coffee actually is here in Seattle – cave paintings to praise coffee. Seriously though, it’s an interesting touch on the whole coffee cult in America which I appreciate. Alex dropped me off at the latest Victrola, where the Australian coffee snob Andy Freeman was taking photos of the roaster. Took a sneaky picture in the bathroom line, and then sneaked out. Posted it on my friend Trevors wall on Facebook, which is our mutual friend, and caused this little stir. Before my trek home, I had a brief 20 minute lunch with old mate Ben Bicknell, passing through Seattle on his way to Portland for the SCAA. Great Mexican food, and I love me some Corona, which tends to piss off the community in general, and Portland people in particular.

Took a long walk back to the house, passed Bruce and Brandon Lee’s graves on the way. Then back into the city later at night for drinks with Anna and Peter, mutual friends of a New York residing fashion photographer we met through last summer. We had a beer at Linda’s, legendary place where Kurt Cobain might, or might not, have had one of his last drinks a couple of days prior his death. Regardless how true this is, fact is they played some really obscure music in there that I haven’t listened to for years. Ludichrist, anyone? As rowdy as it was, we went over to a quiet bar, or that’s what we thought, but ended up in front of a live flamenco act, that was really really good! On my way back, getting off the bus in the University District, I accidently saw Trabant, a shop I’ve been following on twitter for a while. Had an espresso before going home, having a nice chat to the barista. Imagine having a place that serves a great espresso at midnight! Amazing.

Hooked on walking, I strolled down the following day to Seattles first espresso bar, Allegro, which is old school in any given context. The espresso was, well, old school. Quiche was great though. Inspired by last nights visit to Trabant, I decided to take the express bus downtown, to visit their second location. A massive place with a beautiful layout and nice interior design. Unfortunately for me though, I opted for a yirgecheffe on the Clover (yes, they still use them. The Trabant of coffee?) which wasn’t to my taste at all (though the coffee was clean and good in any other way). Walked through the city, saw the original Starbucks, the Space Needle and then up the hill to the last café on my list – Analog.

It’s located off the beaten track, in a lush area on Capitol Hill. The interior is light, and so is the white sprayed Synesso. Analog serves a local roaster I can’t for my life remember the name of unfortunately (Herkimer?), but it was rather Scandinavian in it’s brightness and medium body. Really interesting and something different from the ristrettos I’d been served throughout my stay. And that concluded my Seattle stay. The Scandinavian weather was similar to Vancouver, but the people a little bit more less open (maybe it’s the Scandinavian population that is settled here since generations back?) though I got to meet a lot of exceptions to that rule! Thank you Seattle, it was a pleasure!

NP: Queensryche Queen Of The Reich

*I have previously written notes on Seattle here.

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Vancouver

Going for the SCAA 2012 gave me a chance to also fulfill an old dream of mine. Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to visit Vancouver, BC, and I’ve had this idea of going on an Amtrak train. So given the chance, I jumped the opportunity. A friend of the family lives in Seattle, and she tagged along for the ride. I should say this right away, that my experience in travelling in America is very limited, so the whole border tension was kinda new to me and felt slightly backwards.

Arriving into Canada, I’m let in to the country, but my travelling companion got stuck behind two guys busted for drug smuggling. Good start to the trip. Then walking through China Town, laughing a little bit about friends describing it as “rough” and then turning the corner on Hastings and realize people are actually standing around smoking crack or with a needle in their arm right there on the street, made me feel slightly awkward. However, finding Revolver Café changed that!

Owned by the Giannokos Brothers, it’s up to this point in time my favorite café of all time. It might sound hyperbole, but the layout, the design, the hospitality, and the coffees naturally, was just there and then hands down the best café experience I might have had! Coming from a few days of drinking the Da Matteo Rwandan CoE, I ordered a flight of Rwandan coffees (Revolver is a multi roaster outlet) from Heart, Ritual and Sightglass roasters, sipping it while eating a pastry from their own bakery (Crema, on the other side of Vancouver). To me, Revolver is the quintessential Speciality Coffee outlet. It holds all the marks of what a café is all about. This place alone was worth the effort!

We made our way to the Hotel and then took a trip out to the Museum of Anthropology in the Campus area. This little escapade made me realize the size of the city. It took forever to go on the bus, and even though the museum was closed when we got there, the view was stunning. Bad timing to forget the camera in the Hotel room! On the way back we stopped at a random bar, and ordered an Acme IPA on tap and had some fries, watching the hockey on the big screen. Hockey is very Canadian. Too bad I’m not a sports person. Still, an amazing feeling to sit and enjoy a brew I’ve only had at a boutique bar in Stockholm on bottle for a small fortune.

Still jet lagged, dinner at Vij’s, regardless how nice it was, was a bit of a fail on my behalf since I couldn’t eat enough of the goodies they offered. To my defense though, they placed us outside in waiting for a table, and while doing so, they kept feeding us nibbles such as pakoras and fries (funny combo, I know). Very interesting Indian fusion food!

Sunday saw us chase some more coffee. We opted for brunch at Crema, owned by the same guys as owns Revolver, which gave us an opportunity to travel by bus through Stanley Park and over Lions Gate bridge. This was more the Vancouver I had seen and dreamt of. Eggs on toast was a dream, espresso great! However, the site was not quite what I had expected. It was tucked away on a strip on the water front, and seemed more catering for the latte moms and fit old men in the neighbourhood. Not that it’s a bad thing, just different from my expectations.

We had a coffee date with Shawn, originally from Vancouver but nowadays based in Europe. My connection with Shawn was through our mutual friends at The Barn in Berlin, where he worked. We decided to meet at Matchstick Roasters, which is not only coffee focused offering coffees from Canadian roasters Phil&Sebastian (of which I opted for the Kieni which increased as it cooled in a beautiful way), but also a design feast. A very Scandinavian feel, and if I am not misinformed, the carpentry is done by the same people that worked on the Revolver too. Either way, it’s a treat! As Shawn was talking to various people from around, I saw the barista from Revolver enter for his Sunday coffee, and also WBC-judge Saxon Wright with entourage enter. Small world!

Our last stop in Vancouver, before running to the train, was the coffee shop/roaster that probably most people still associate with Vancouver; 49th Parallell. Though very slick design, it was almost anonymously tucked away on the strip. We managed to walk past it several times before finding it, mistaking it for a chain, something they compensated with not having wi-fi for some reason. It was very interesting to watch the work flow here, which I think was a little bit odd to be honest. To walk all the way into the store, and pick up your order at the very end where it’s very narrow and noone sits, pushing your way back basically, to sit in the shop front. But after all, the espresso was great which is all that matters.

Vancouver was nothing I had thought it would be. It’s interesting to challenge these preconceptions of places. Canadians however, were super friendly and accomodating. The climate somewhat reminded me of Scandinavia, however the layout of the city, as well as the hospitality, reminded me a lot of Perth actually. To me Vancouver will always be about Douglas Coupland and Revolver Coffee. Ironically, I went all the way here to buy the City of Glass book.

NP: Bryan Adams Heat Of The Night

*I’ve previously written a few notes on the Vancouver stay here.

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Swedish Aeropress Championships 2012

Yesterday, at the very end of the Easter Holiday, I took the night bus to Da Matteo in Gothenburg, where the SAC 2012 * was held. Also on the bus were competitors Simon Westerlund and Joanna Alm of Drop Coffee. Nice to have company on that godawful bus trip that lasts forever. Good if you sleep, less good if you are let on an extra bus that is 45 minutes quicker than the connecting bus, leaving us freezing half to death at 3am at Jönköping Bus Terminal, which of course was closed for the public. Not a good start…

Arriving 6am in Gothenburg saw us going straight to the Torrefazione for breakfast and sleep. Soon, Per Nordby arrived and he roasted up some samples from The Collaborative Coffee Source which was extremely interesting to cup. Per was one of the judges for the SAC 2012, together with Pernilla Gard (Da Matteo) and Anders Holzner (J&N). The judging was made up of the three, Per being the head judge casting the heaviest vote if a draw between three cups would occur. All competitors were evaluated blindly, which Charles Nystrand (Koppi) was part of making sure happened by being the middle hand between competitors and judges (and sort of semi-MC).

18 competitors came to the event, all with their own take on the same coffee (El Majahul from El Salvador, roasted by Christian Gullbrandsson at Da Matteo). Even though a super tasty coffee, I bet the judges were pretty sick of it after yesterday. Tasting the same coffee over and over again, with varieties within the brewing highlighting different things, still must be a tough gig! Coffee in Sweden is so small, that even though I hadn’t met everyone yet, I had been in touch with most (almost all) participants at one time or another on Twitter, so it was nice to finally get faces to those odd 140 characters shared at times.

Unfortunately I never made it to a second round. To be honest, the Aeropress has been my least favorite brewing method for quite some time. Not only do I find it rather unsexy (the penis pump look, plastic fantastic feel etc.), but also I’ve left it to focus on other methods. When working at Ristretto in Perth, we sold the Aeropress there, and used it frequently. Emotionally, that’s where it’s still attached to me, and after leaving Australia I’ve sort of never picked it up again. I bought one at The Coffee Collective this autumn, but it was actually collecting dust until the competition came about.

Now, this is what I like about coffee competitions. I tend to have this unwritten rule that whatever filters I buy (be it for V60, Syphon, Chemex etc.) I need to use them up with that method before purchasing new filters. Timing was perfect, I was almost out of filter for everything else, and so I brought the Ghetto Trifecta out of its hiding and started using it. And since I had to, and had no other choice, I went from not wanting to, to actually enjoying it a lot!

My recipe was simple. I ground for filter (4 on the Ditting at Da Matteo), poured the 16,5g of coffee in the Aeropress and pre infused it at about 55g of water for about 20 seconds. Then filling it up all the way to 225g of water and stirred well. Waited for another 20 seconds. Then stir again well, before pressing down and stopping just before that sucking noise occurs. It wasn’t a winning recipe, but I tasted it and it was very good (and it got one out of three votes, so it wasn’t completely useless).

In the end, Emil Eriksson of J&N, coffee prodigy who previously has taken the titles Swedish Barista- Cupping- and Brewers Champion, took first place, runner up was Reggie Elliot, founder of TNT GBG, and third place was Eskil Ingvarsson of J&N. Well deserved and good work guys!

This event was interesting in many aspects, not just to participate in from a competitors point of view. 18 people showed up willing to kick ass and take names with an Aeropress, in a small coffee lab away from any larger audiences, but strictly among peers. Some were in the area for Easter anyway, but others had travelled from Örebro, Stockholm, Malmö and Helsingborg to participate which is quite impressive when there is a Brewers Cup at this years Barista Cup held in Stockholm in two weeks, where hardly anyone is competing! Why is it so?

I have a theory: every now and then there is a paradigm within any given context of cultural event. I’d say there was a paradigm within the WBC when James Hoffmann won the title in 2007. I’d say there was a new paradigm in 2011 when Alejandro Mendez won. Usually when a paradigm occurs, people sometimes tend to think it (in this case, the WBC competition format) has been taken as far as it can go. How could you possibly top this? At the same time, the WBC are moving forward from a competition with and for enthusiasts, to become a profitable competition with ambition and potential to really reach out to the more mainstream audiences. When such paradigms occur, geeks and idealists tend to look at smaller competitions and happenings among peers that are more community building and less public. Ironically, since our very core for business is not brewing quality coffee, but to sell it to a hopefully growing audience that appreciates our efforts. Unfortunately, the Brewers Cup seems to lack that credibility of an independent competition, which in this case I think is up to the SCAE Swedish Chapter to push among potential competitors not just by saying “Last Chance” and “C’mon Brewers!” but informing of the format more thoroughly and make it more accessible.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the SAC as an annual competition, and I certainly wouldn’t mind keeping it in Gothenburg. But I would also like to see other competitions, such as the Syphon Competition, as well as seeing the TNT-format include Brew Bashes and other fun stuff to promote SCAE competitions and make people feel they are relevant!

Thanks everyone* for a lovely weekend, and see you all soon!

NP: Talking Heads Burning Down The House

* sponsors of the event were; Da Matteo, J&N, DCILY, Aerobie, Able Brewing and Kaffemaskinen.

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