Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Out of the loop: WBC 2007

Those of you on a student's budget and with study to do, like me, will no doubt either be blissfully ignorant of the geographically nearest WBC ever or frantically devouring every shred of WBC related media. If you fall into the former category, click here. If you fall into the latter, you will probably be interested in the links at the bottom of this post.

So is Japan the land of milk and honey? Or, at least, espresso and ... err ... honey? Honeys? Well, according to Simon's photo above they seem to have no problems dropping an additional $10k on a freakin' Mistral for looks, then shoving it in a corner.

According to Em, the Aussie contingent is at 37 at the moment. And I'm jealous of every single one of those bastards. In fact, half of the guys at work are off in Japan, so I have been enlisted to be on the bar on Wednesday and Friday. Faithful readers bringing me consolatory offerings of tempura, teriyaki and tsukemono will be given free coffee.

Enough ranting; on to the links:

ZacharyZachary: these dudes managed to raise funds to travel to the WBC on the promise that they would video blog the living crap out of it. So log in and see if they live up to it.

Simon's Flickr: not only am I jealous that he's in Tokyo, but I'm also jealous that his camera is evidently functional, whilst my charger has gone AWOL.

Jimseven: UK WBC competitor James "the Hoff" Hoffmann somehow seems to be the most prolific blogger of the lot, despite that whole competing thing that is presumably looming over him.

I'm sure that Peter has taken his camera along, so once he's back I'll make him write up a news item and upload a new gallery to venezianocoffee.com.au

Did I miss anything? Add a link in the comments!


Monday, July 23, 2007

Sydney - Aroma Festival, Cafes and a Melbournite's POV (part 1)

With the craziness of university and several jobs all demanding my time and attention, I booked in a holiday to Sydney on Friday to Sunday. Naturally, any of my holidays involve a lot of coffee, and this one was no exception, with the Aroma Festival on the Sunday. The camera stayed at home, as the charger has gone missing, so those of you with short attention spans might want to put Harvey Birdman on in the background.

The Cafes

A quick list of the spots that I hit up, in order of how awesome the coffee was (ie. best to worst, although all of them were quite good).

Mecca Espresso - near the corner of King and York, CBD

Always a pleasure. When I asked for a shot, Rube asked me if I wanted a ristretto or an espresso. I said "or?" The ristretto was thick and rich, without a hint of the burnt flavours that can sometimes develop when your barista decides to try and make it the consistency of play-doh. That said, the smart money was going for the espresso. Blueberry and melon flavours predominated. Although I wouldn't say that it struck me as juicy, there was definitely an "I'll have another" sensation. Quite unique in Sydney and definitely a vindication of Paul's idea of shipping coffee up from Tony at Rio Coffee in Adelaide every week, rather than buying locally.

(As an aside, I hear the descriptor "blueberry" used a fair bit and never really know what people intend by it. I pondered this question last time that I ate and smelled blueberries. It seems to me that the descriptor is sometimes used when people mean something closer to raspberry or cherry. By blueberry above, I mean something closer to the smell and flavour of blueberries when you eat them, rather than the synthetic blueberry flavour found in confectionery, which is closer to the whole berry family of flavours.)

(As a further aside, Reuben went on to come second in the NSW latte art competition a few days later.)

Cordial - 130 Carillon Ave, Newtown

What is it about milk around Sydney at the moment? The dairy farmers' stuff that I think Cordial was using, and a few other places definitely were, seemed to have way more of a buttery finish and unctuous mouthfeel than the dairy farmers' that I have had in Melbourne of late. It's as if the cream from Melbourne is being skimmed and transported to Sydney!

Digressions aside, the piccolo latte and regular latte that I had were both very good; rich and chocolatey, with a hint of nuttiness. I also had an "espresso," which was actually a double ristretto. The crema had aniseed and nutty flavours that I didn't enjoy all that much, but the rest of it was quite chocolatey.

I liked their 1950's diner type decor and their no-nonsense menu. There was no need for the bowl to be too cold or too hot; my porridge was just right.

Cordial are using Golden Cobra coffee, which is roasted by some dudes formerly from ...

Campos - 193 Missenden Rd, Newtown

Just around the corner from Cordial, this is the cafe that started it all. Every time I'm in Sydney I usually end up there for an espresso. I don't know why I do it ... I actually don't like their blend at all. To me, it is usually thin and overly acidic. The sort of thing that would make for absolutely sensational drip, french press or syphon coffee, but insipid espresso. Perhaps this is the result of buying coffee that is rated very highly by the world's top cuppers, all of whom seem to cup with non-espresso use in mind. Anyhoo, enough wild speculation. The reason why I keep on coming back to Campos is that it is just such a smoothly run operation with a fantastic atmosphere. Like their sign says; "specialty coffee professionals."

I ordered an espresso and received something that was a bit more liquid than I expected. In other words, another double ristretto. Drinking it was a strange experience. The first third had some body to it, the middle third was thin and the final bit picked up some more body to it. There was a hint of orange to the shot and a vaguely herbal, syrupy characteristic. An improvement from days gone by. Strange, since consistency is the strong point of the Campos team. So was it a one in a million shot that tasted different? Or was it something to do with the new GB5s or a change in blend? Who knows? Go there, chug a few shots down and make up your own mind.

Toby's Estate - 129 Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo

A great, creamy latte, leaving a slight buttery sensation in my mouth. I think that I'm going to have to try my luck with some Dairy Farmers' milk in Melbourne again to see if it lives up to the Sydney stuff. My espresso shot was, again, a bit longer than I expected, with the richest mouthfeel of anything. However, there was a relatively prominent wet sock/musty taint to it that I found a bit unpleasant.

What's with the double ristrettos?

OK, maybe I'm wrong with one or two of the places above, but it seems to me like the better places in Sydney are sending out double ristrettos to people who order espresso. I don't really have a problem with that, but as a customer I'd like to know that that's what is happening. As Reuben so vividly illustrated at Mecca, espresso shots sometimes bring out flavours that are completely hidden in ristretto shots. Particularly if we're talking about ristretto shots on a machine that allows for a slow pressure ramp-up (e61 heads, I'm looking at you).

Two quick thoughts came to mind after all of this. First, this trend sits well with my impression that some of the major Sydney roasters are focusing on fruitier flavoured, more acidic espresso with less body. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but if cafes are responding by throttling down all of the shots to put some more body into the cup at the expense of the more subtle flavours, it seems to me like the barista and the roaster are working against each other. Why not just create blends that are naturally more chocolatey and higher in body? The second thought is that this helps to explain why ECM machines seem to be a million times more popular in Sydney than in Melbourne - the preinfusion helps to plump up the shots a bit more. Although, to be fair, this is surely at least partly to do with the fact that ECA and its wonderful people are based in Sydney.

I'll round up this section by adding the caveat that my speculations are hardly based on an intense review of the whole Sydney coffee scene - just on impressions that I have gotten here and there. Further, the comments above are obviously not intended to apply to all coffee in Sydney. Now, with that aside, I'm hoping for some interesting and enlightening discussion in the comments to this post. Sydneysiders; have I missed the mark completely?

... I'll leave it there for now and come back in a few days with a post about the aroma festival ...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sunday mornings ... exist? (aka. a visit to the Maling Room)

I can remember precisely one Sunday morning in the last year. It was the week after I stopped working Sundays. I got up at about 6am and thought "this is not how one should spend Sunday mornings," then went back to sleep, with the intention of not waking up until midday. 7am rolled around, so I shrugged and got up. Breakfast seemed like a novel idea, so I made myself a cappuccino and a bacon and egg sandwich, slipped on my slippers and started to read the pile of material set aside for an upcoming exam. The bacon and egg sandwich was so good, that I made two more before the morning was out. Why is there no bacongeek.com?

Other than that fateful day, Sunday mornings have either been a flurry to get to work or a respite from the serious work of the night before. So it was quite funny to actually meet up with Heidi for breakfast at The Maling Room.

As some, or perhaps both, of my readers are aware, I have more than a passing involvement with the Maling Room. Andrew employed me at his last cafe, Maltitude, which was a hub of coffee activity. When he started the Maling Room, not only was I invited along for the ride, but I was given the brief of researching our espresso machines. Andrew has always had multiple grinders to be able to run multiple blends and other coffees for our own experimentation, so he indulged us both in getting a Synesso Cyncra. Those who know him will tell you that Andrew is incredibly generous and it would be remiss of me not to mention his willingness over the years to fit in with my schedule, even though I was the employee. So it is with a heavy heart that I write that it has been a while since I last pulled shots on that Synesso, having been bogged down with uni, life and setting up a very different type of cafe.

In any case, today the mission was just to relax and enjoy a decent breakfast. The last thing that we wanted to do was to impose. We poked our noses through the door and saw the communal table surrounded by a group of people so large that they had obviously had to move in several other chairs, as if to outflank the kitchen. I suggested retreat, but noticed that every single person was eating, so we entered. It never ceases to amaze me what Andrew can do with a crappy double electric hotplate.

Breakfast is best summarised as follows:

The espresso was a bit of a disappointment, to tell you the truth. Not because it was bad, but because it was created with Atomica Dark instead of Andrew's own blend. Nonetheless, it was nice to see that the current formulation of Dark was rich and sweet, but low on ashiness. Eggs Benedict was quite a laugh; apparently it took me stopping working there for Andrew to start using the hollandaise recipe that I and several other of his customers had recommended ;P More to the point, pig, egg and bread were presented to me without my having to touch a frying pan. I guess I'm starting to appreciate the whole appeal of cafes from the customer's side! I always viewed them as excuses to play around with coffee. Speaking of which, Tzu-Yen evidently is of the same opinion and brought over the flat white pictured above to end the meal.

I'm going to miss being behind the counter at Maling Room, although from the looks of things, Andrew would have considerable difficulty shoving another body in there. Still, if it means enjoying it from the other side, in the company of good friends, perhaps it's not all bad.

The rest of the day was easily squandered on miscellaneous errands. Among these was a trip to visit Nick and Eric at La Bergerie, a cheese shop just down the road. This is an excellent way to circumvent Andrew's generosity; he has a much more difficult time refusing to accept interesting foodstuffs than cash. Also of some relevance to this blog was a quick trip to visit Toshi to pick up some Harrar Blue Horse. Oh, and to organise for him to review some top secret prototype tampers, but that's a matter best left for Andrew's Maling Rumors ...