Archive for the ‘food and coffee’ Category


A chance to go to Brazil popped up unexpectedly, and I went from July 9 to 18, to look at coffee.  The trip was organized by the United States Roasters [as in coffee] Guild, so the other people in the group were coffee pros.  I remain a mere coffee fanatic who knows something about the bean, the brew, and their history.

I flew from Dayton to Houston, then from there 10 hours overnight to Sao Paulo.  Can’t sleep on planes.  Was a little bit sick before the trip–had not quite recovered from Europe after being home for a month–but the lure of Brazil was great.  It’s the largest coffee producer in the world, of course–according to the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association, in the 2009-10 season, the country produced 43.5 million 60-kilogram bags.  Vietnam was second with 18.35 million, Colombia third with 12.2, and Indonesia 4th with 7.6.  Colombian production goes up and down, and sometimes the country outpaces Vietnam; this year the Colombian crop should recover nicely and may be the second largest.  But no one will ever catch Brazil, because of the physical area that the country can devote to coffee. Remember that coffee grows only in the tropics–between the T. of Cancer at 23 1/2 degrees north and the T. of Capricorn at the same latitude south.  Then to grow the good stuff, Arabic, some altitude is necessary; even 1,000 feet will do.  I can’t find a particularly good map of Brazil for the purposes of this post, but the following link will give a basic idea of how large the country is and how much of it is in the tropics; Sao Paulo is almost exactly on the Tropic of Capricorn, so that all of Brazil north of that city is in the zone for coffee.   However, much of the territory is too low for coffee–none grows in the Amazon basin–so we are speaking of specific regions, especially in the states just north of Sao Paulo, esp. Minas Gerais.

First, Sao Paulo.  It is huge.  Considered among the world’s 3 largest cities, S P has some 12-13 million people in the city limits and some 18 m in the metro area.  It goes on forever.  But in the areas I saw, it looks pretty good–not dirty, not coated with security people, not chaotic.  Not as attractive as Bogota but infinitely better than Managua or Addis Ababa, to give a few of my other reference points.  Better than the saddest parts of Cleveland.  S P has some upscale cafes and restaurants–here’s coffee from Suplicy, a small coffeehouse chain.

A Suplicy latte with water, green (unroasted) Brazilian beans, and roasted beans.

We visited 3 cafes in S P; maybe we had the propaganda tour there and on farms, but what we saw and drank

in the city was great.  Brazil has about doubled its internal coffee consumption in the last few years, which means that more of the value of coffee grown in the country stays there, that wages paid in the cafes, which are higher than for many jobs, add to the local economy, and that there are more places to go to socialize–without depending on alcohol.

The stores we visited were beautifully designed, especially in their use of wood, of which Brazil still has a lot.

a barista at Santo Grao cafe, S P. The store has a separate grinder for each type of coffee it sells.

Octavio Cafe, S P

But the heart of the trip was to farms north of S P.  There I got see exactly how mechanized the big Brazilian operations are.  Productivity is high, partly because the landscape is fairly gentle, not the steep slopes I have seen in countries like Nicaragua.  Here are some Brazilian coffeescapes:

coffee, coffee, coffee

guess what's growing here

More to follow when I get the chance.

You must seek out and drink good coffee!  Go to a local shop, not to the Mermaid!


Read Full Post »

Here I sit in a hotel in Goeteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, having turned in Das the car to Volvo.  Tomorrow, unless I’m arrested for not having a Schengen visa, I fly home.

What have I learned in more than 5 months in Europe?  First, that the kind of place I fear the most is a French parking garage.  2, that coffee people in Europe are just as great as in America or Latin America.  3, that Europe is not so very green.  4, that drinking by young Americans is bad, but that the worst are the Brits.  Americans drink too much in Europe, and they should figure out the drinking culture here before they come, but the worst drinking by our students occurs at home (search for Miami U. Ohio sororities and damage at their spring “proms.”)  I think that most Americans grow out of their college drinking, which doesn’t make it any less dangerous at the time.  5, I can still go many places and survive with no great problems.  I was sick one day here, not a bad record.  6, things don’t necessarily get better any time, any place.  If things are bad for you now, some great change many come along and improve your life, but that’s unlikely.  So have fun where you are.  7, Europe has come a long way since 1945, but individual countries are still extremely important, and progress in my view will depend on reducing that individuality even more.  Right now a citizen of the EU can work in theory in any EU country–except that the taxes, prices, and so forth are quite different.  And English is the lingua franca, but knowing it hardly solves the issue of talking to people.  8, I do like the food here better than in the US in general, and it’s certain that on the road you can get edible stuff in every country.  But easy on the butter, please!  9,  the coffee is almost always bad or mediocre, and they basically only serve espresso.  Don’t drink coffee in France.  10, don’t try to drive into most Italian cities.  11, Volvo is cool to deal with–very easy.

I spent the days from May 27 until June 8 partly at a conference on lynching around the world in Heidelberg.  Talk about mixed feelings–the issues are so emotional and political.  A valuable conference, and kudos to the German organizers for putting together a truly international cast that occasionally moved off the epicenter of lynching in everyone’s mind, the American South.  As for me, no more mass murder.  Once my book on lynching is out, I hope never to think about it again.  Fat chance.

But except for those 3 days at the conference, I was back in the world of coffee.  Have I said that the people are great?  I went to see wonderful cafes in Trieste, Venice, Padua, and Heidelberg (having seen some fine ones earlier in Prague).  Better yet, I went from coffee museum to coffee museum, in Forlimpopoli and Modena, Italy; Zuoz and Lugano, Switzerland; and Hamburg.  In Zuoz they simply unlocked the door for me and let me wander around.  In each place I was given books and other gifts–wine, coffee, shirts, e.g.  I saw gorgeous machines dating back as far as the mid-18th century.  People took me to lunch.  I took many pictures.  Why did I get such generous treatment?  Is my mug?  My manner?  Maybe–but people could simply tell that I was really interested.

I’ll put in a few pictures.  If you see this before the morning of June 10 arrives in Europe, say a prayer or cast a spell for me, so that I get home with no great trouble.

Home!  I will be so glad to get there!  There is no place like it, dontcha know!  An excellent sojourn in Europe, for the most part, but now I want to see my house, my dog, my bike, my yard, my wife, not necessarily in that order.  I don’t want to be a tourist for a long time.  Dealing with coffee at the end of the trip was not tourism, thank goodness, and I have sold some profiles of cafes to one mag, Specialty Coffee Retailer (catchy name, eh?) and hope to do more for them and a serious article on the museums.  But home is where I want to be.

A Vercelli steam coffee maker, early 20th c

Cagliari Coffee museum

The Burg Museum, Hamburg


Florian Cafe, Venice

Cafe Pedrocchi, Padua

And so ciao for now, Euro buffs!

Read Full Post »

My wife has come and gone.  We had a great time in Brussels, Trier, and here in Lux.  She will be back in May with our daughter and her (the daughter’s!) boyfriend.

Brussels:  about 992,000 people.  Not many tall buildings; in fact, I don’t think we saw much over 10-12 stories.  The old part of the city has nothing over 6-7 stories.  Everyone loves the Grand Place (note that for old phrases, another e.g. being Grand Mere, the e that should be at the end of Grand for female nouns is missing), and it is one of the most striking ensembles I’ve seen.  The buildings are not ancient, partly because in 1695 the French came around and aimed their cannon at the tallest spire on the square.  They succeeded in destroying most of it, except of course for the spire they were aiming at.  It’s remarkable how much damage the French caused in this general area, mostly during Louis XIV’s wars but also in the spread of the French Revolution.  They looted, burned, shelled, stabled their horses in historic buildings, etc.  I’m not saying that revolutions are bad and should be avoided at all costs, as Edmund Burke did.  Revolutions, including the Russian and American ones, are never planned.  They make their own twists, turns, and violence according to circumstances–and according to the violence that greets them from conservatives.  It’s not logical to oppose revolutions as somehow stupid or inherently bad.  It is useful to ask why revolutions take the course they do.

Where was I?  Ah, Brussels.  We stayed in a 4-star hotel, which to my mind was a 3-star place with a pretentious lobby and a great central location, in a fairly tacky neighborhood.  And why don’t the Belgians put a few ATMs around?  Or did they ship them all to Lux?  But when we walked a few blocks away from the hotel, we found absolutely gorgeous spots.  Here is the Petit Sablon square:

And chocolate everywhere.  We had heard that Godiva chocolate, so highly esteemed in the US, is considered just pretty good in Belgium.  I had seen a lot of chocolate in Bruges in Jan. and had even eaten some; wonderful!  But one cold day in Brussels we got hot chocolate in a Godiva shop.  The choco barista made it with chunks of various kinds of chocolate and milk kept at a high temp. in a small machine.  Out of this world!  Not the kind your mother gave you made from powder.  Must make real hot chocolate at home.

And fine food everywhere.  Finally found out what chicon (try some recipes if you can handle the French) means; it’s not in my dictionary.  It’s a local word for endive, which I thought was only used cold in salads.  But steamed and doused with sauce or au gratin, it’s excellent.  One night we each had a bucket of mussels with different sauces.  Loved them.  Belgian beer:  there are many kinds, but each of the several I tried had lots of body and terrific flavor.

But back to the tacky side:  the most popular and most photographed figure in Brussels is the Mannekin-Pis, a figure of a little boy taking a piss.  The thing turns out to be all of about 2 feet tall.  It really is a fountain peeing a small stream of water.  Every day it has a different outfit on; I have no idea who dresses it and who decides what it will wear.  Okay, so there’s a statue of a little boy taking a pee.  Cute and harmless.  But why do the tourists go bonkers about it, crowding around it (luckily it’s up on a wall with a fence around it), taking pictures, laughing as though it’s the funniest joke they’ve ever seen?  And why did my wife and I go to see it–well, we just happened to walk past it–3 times?  And why are replicas of the Mannekin-Pis, many of them several times the size of the statue itself, available in everything from stone to polyester to chocolate?  Of course, many of the copies are fountains with little hoses you can hook up, so that at home you can have a fabulous time watching it pee.  Maybe tomorrow you can watch the grass grow.  For a Freudian delight, you could have your statue pee chocolate, or the statue could be chocolate, and you could have your favorite relatives over to eat it.

So here’s the M-P, followed by dedicated tourists and a display of replicas you can buy for hundreds of euros.

The crowd called out for more.

Get enough for the whole family.

While we were in Brussels–we only heard about this–a young mother of 3 tried to resist a car-jacking and was shot to death.  The cops caught the trio who did it.  That could happen any day in any American city.  But somehow that event brought Brussels full circle for me:  great beauty, great food, the world’s best chocolate, seedy and goofy, a center of dumb jokes and violence.

Viva Brussels.

Read Full Post »

There’s good days and bad days, eh wot, and good hours and bad. This morning I graded some papers and worked on a chapter of my lynching book. That seems long ago. Had lunch with a charming, truly, Luxembourger who teaches here. Excellent English, as so many people here speak it. The food was good, various pieces of fish on rice. I could identify only the salmon. Everything well cooked, nothing dried out or translucent, as some Americans say fish should be. Barf. Actually had pretty good espresso at the restaurant where we ate. And I had already talked to the Lux. prof, Haag, a little about coffee, so he insisted on telling the head waiter that I was a coffee expert. “Nut,” I corrected him. But then the maitre d’ actually wanted to know my opinion of his coffee. Good crema, says I, it sticks to the spoon and returns to the original shape in the cup when you push it away with a spoon (although, as my coffee guru Geoff Watts says, crema can be overrated). Good body and flavor. Not layered, like superb espresso, but I didn’t say that. I just babbled a little about how lighter roasts and single origin beans are the latest twist in espresso, and how it’s a whole world unto itself that I didn’t know anything about until maybe a year ago.

After lunch hopped in Das and zoomed over, or tried to, to get an x ray for the bureaucracy in a nearby town. Crazy hours for the clinic there. Well, once again, driving around the center of these old burgs is NOT FUN. So I got there pretty late and, after sitting around waiting to be called in, decided that I had to leave to get back to the chateau for a 4 PM faculty meeting. I did not want to be late for the very first meeting. So a useless 1 1/2 hours and car trip, unless you count the educational value of failure.

And, would you believe it, faculty meetings here are just as dull as in the US! Can anyone be concise?!? Do we have to have the difference between the cost of copies and cost of printing materials, and who pays for what, explained 6-7 effing times??

Afterward a reception in the dean’s apt. There the food was again up to Euro par. Excellent cheeses, wonderful ham twisted onto extra thin bread sticks, salmon on rolls, little pieces of lettuce-like curly leaves (endive?) with tiny shrimp and onions in the middle, nice wine, champagne. And, fighting shyness all the way, I actually spoke to the two dames d’honneur, American sisters who had been here in separate years in the early ’80s. Pleasant people. What do most people put into their lives?

Then to do my laundry in the pit of despair, aka the faculty/staff laundry room. I’m the only one who dares to go in there, let alone to do laundry there. And I broke the rules to do it in the evening; don’t ask. As I was trying to sneak back into the chateau, the dean and the concierge spotted me and made me take all the leftovers home. That’s not bad, but then it seems that I’m the only one left in the chateau tonight. Das in the only car in the courtyard. So I watched French tv, which was almost useless, and played with Ms. Tom Tom for a while–finally got my up-to-date maps, which took hours to download. After that, countin’ flowers on the wall, that don’t bother me at all. Statler Brothers? Can’t remember.

It’s good to be lonely sometimes. It makes you appreciate people.

And tomorrow is another day.

Have a happy social occasion soon.

Read Full Post »

Here’s my kitchen while I was cooking boeuf bourgignon, trying to follow a Julia Childs recipe. Turned out well, except that the carrots weren’t really cooked. Al dente, as we like to say. Don’t understand the oven here; how long (how many days) do you have to cook b. bourgignon?

kitchen window sill, doncha know

sink and counter

And let’s all boeuf up:

protein du jour

Today had Kaffee und Kuchen in Trier. Ein Kaennchen–that’s a phrase I learned early–a small pot of coffee, 2 cups. The coffee was not as good as I remembered Euro. coffee from years back, but I have changed. On the other hand, the apricot torte was excellent. And beautifully served. Didn’t even think about taking a photo–next time.

And how about some German sparkling wine?

This is not any old Sekt, but finer Sekt! Remember, no Sekt before sechs.

Anyway, croissants or fresh bread for breakfast, potable (barely) coffee, superb butter and jam–Euro eating is good. The frozen stuff from Picard is, as was foretold, fine. Haven’t gotten to the goat cheese pizza yet, but soon.

Would you eat the stuff pictured at right?  It’s terrine de volaille forestiere.  The ingredients are (my trans.):  turkey meat, liver of fowl, forest garniture, fresh cream, onions, eggs, milk, wheat flour, bouillon of fowl, duck fat, salt, pepper, spices.  And it’s Sans Porcs! I.e., no pork in it.  Looks gross, but spread it on good bread, have some decent red wine, and it’s wonderful.


And now I have dared to invite the dean to dine here on omlette aux fines herbes. All I have to do is find a recipe. Comment if you please.

Bubbly and boeuf to you, mate.


Read Full Post »

T minus 19.

And Chicago by the way.

Intelligentsia's Millenium Store (Randolph near Michigan)

Today the filmmaker David Sholle and I went to Intelligentsia Coffee‘s roastery (that’s the name for a place where they actually roast coffee) in Chicago.  We did some more filming there for our project “What is Good Coffee?”  I mean good in all senses–to drink, for the farmers, for the environment, for people in the business.  We have filmed in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama, and have interviewed some of America’s top coffee people at a conference I put together at Miami U (the original, in Ohio) in 2008.

I learned a great deal today, of course.  The head buyer for Intelligentsia is Geoff Watts, famous in the business for his knowledge–and wonderful by me because of his great patience and willingness to share his knowledge.  He showed us around the roastery from top to bottom.

Intelligentsia is a superb firm.  I don’t want to tout their coffee so much as praise the way they do business.  From the old Gothold roasters that they have refurbished–funky machines made no later than the mid-1960s–to the way they bring people up through the company, they do things right.  What I liked best about what I heard today is the money they get to coffee farmers for their crop and how the money gets there.  Intelligentsia has transparent contracts that specify up front how much the growers get, at the “farm gate.”  The costs for transportation, fees to a coop, taxes, etc., are also specified.  Thus everyone in the chain in the producing countries knows how much each step costs–there is no more of the idea that somebody is making money unfairly off my coffee, my mill, my honest export firm.  And the money at the farm gate is much higher than Fair Trade pays in its minimum contracts, $1.35/lb non-organic, $1.55 for organic.  Now, Intelligentsia buys only very good or excellent coffee, rated 85 points or higher.  For more on this scale and on great coffee, see Ken Davids’ Coffee Review.  Ken is also extremely knowledgeable, and a great person.  Why is it that everyone I meet in the world of coffee is a fine person?

Good coffee to you.

A roaster (person) with his roaster (machine that cooks green coffee)

Read Full Post »