So i went and bought a bag of supposedly one of the best coffees in the world, according to this article. Finca Mauritania, from Aida Batlle's farm in El Salvador. Roasted just 3 days ago at Counter Culture in Noth Carolina and arrived at my doorstep by USPS yesterday, i woke up this morning and prepared a cup exactly the way this article describes one should, even down to measuring out ~20g of coffee and ~320g of water, pouring the water in the precise amounts and time pattern described, etc. Had a taste. I hate to say it, but I just don't see much of a difference from any other cup of coffee I've ever had. In fact it was kind of sour and overly tangy, to my tongue. Part of the problem, or maybe all of the problem, might be that I normally take my coffee with a little milk and sugar, but Batlle says to really taste the difference you have to drink it black.
So, if I take the time to get used to drinking my coffee black and learn to enjoy it (I do sometimes have espresso black, but not drip coffee), and then do another test, maybe i'll be able to discern the "intoxicating flavors of butterscotch, pastry, and sweet chocolate" that "infuse the cup and create a profoundly complex, satisfying coffee experience," as the tasting notes on the bag describe. But that's one of the issues brought up by the article - is it really worth my time and effort to train my palate in this way, so that then I'll not be satisfied without the daily extra money and time spent on this gourmet affectation? Especialy when, after all, in a couple years the tastemaking coffee gurus will probably declare that some other method is better and everyone doing it otherwise is a philistine? and when people made coffee in Ethiopia, where it came from, for thousands of years by just boiling grounds and water in a clay pot over a fire? How can one cabal of foodies say this other way involving burr grinders and pre-flushed paper cones is more authentic or "right"? And besides, coffee without milk is bad for my digestive tract!
In the end, the most important thing about the coffee world is that the farmers and the ecosystem are treated right. Direct trade and other 'better than even Fair Trade' practices as well as organic and shade-grown growing, go a long way. But really, the logical extension ends up, to my mind, here: we shouldn't be drinking coffee at all. We should be helping those coffee farmers convert their farms back to mostly just growing food for themselves, just like we should be growing food for ourselves in our own locales, and maybe some of us could grow our own coffee plants in greenhouses and hydroponic setups if we're really capable and dedicated. But for the most part, when you get down to it, coffee, for most people, is just a vector for a chemical stimulant that we really don't need. We should be changing our culture (which involves our work habits and entire lifestyle) so that we don't think we have to have that stimulant every morning and often throughout the day, so that we then don't need to have this global commodity market that forces poor people to grow this cash crop to the exclusion of being self-sufficient in their own local communities. Coffee culture is really just, at its roots, the same as crystal meth culture - a social pathology brought about by the fetishization of work, productivity, and intensity. The social pressures that lead poor working class double-shifting meatpackers in rural Iowa to get hooked on meth are really the same social pressures that white-collar infoworkers in cubeland turn into a daily cuppajoe addiction. The gourmet coffee waves and trends are just a surface layer of genteel sophistication over the top of this sordid reality.
To be fair, I love my coffee. But I recognize that, like a lot of unfortunate activities in my modern life, it's not something that really matches my values and ideally i should stop or at least lessen it. Read more>>>
Lots going on lately on the homebrewing front here, even though it's now full on triple-digit summer in Tucson and too hot to really make beer. I bottled my last batch for awhile a few weeks ago, a Maibock, which turned out mostly pretty great - the exception was caused by the weird method I used - I don't have a way to really lager a whole batch in one fermenter, at least when it's not colder outside, so I split it into gallon jugs each with its own airlock. most of them fit in a cooler with icy water but one I had to put in the fridge. It turns out the 40 degree cold of our fridge is too cold for the yeast to do its job, so that one gallon never really fermented. When I went to bottle, that jug's contents was totally a different color than the others!Consequently, I had to let that jug ferment longer and i think it got a bit contaminated, judging from early tastes so far. oh well, live and learn. the stuff from the other jugs turned out great, i think.
Meanwhile, I've been growing hops since April and they're now doing great. Many vines are now taller than the front of the house, and cones are already forming. This seems fast to me, since harvest time isn't till August or September, but perhaps the alpha acid-laden oils need time to build up in the cones before it's time to pick them.
I've also been fermenting mead (actually a sort of "cyser", since it has a little apple juice in it, but only a half gallon out of the 5-gallon batch) for the last 6 weeks or so). Yesterday I racked the batch into gallon jugs and did different things with some of them, creating sub-batches: added prickly-pear syrup to one, made "braggot" (which is a mead with malt and hops) with 2 other gallons, one pure, and one dry-hopped.
Today i'm starting a batch of "bouza" which is an ancient egyptian beer, from a recipe in the book "Wild Fermentation" by Sander Katz. Bouza is thought to be the original very first beer, probably accidentally created from old wet bread sitting in a dark corner somewhere. I started with wheat berries, some of which I sprouted (malted) and roasted a couple weeks ago. The rest I ground and made into a sourdough bread that I partially baked this morning. The malted wheat and crumbled bread then get put in water to ferment. I'm going to slightly alter Katz's recipe, because his book seems aimed at folks who don't already have experience or equipment for brewing and hence is mostly going for small, fast batches of stuff that's more about trying some historical oddity than about making something that tastes good. So i'm doing a short boil and adding a bit of hops. I can't resist, especially because some reports online conclude that this bouza recipe is just not that tasty. I'll keep you posted later here when I find out how my attempt works out, as well as the above mead experiments. Read more>>>
cider experiment tonite: I wanted to solve the problem of how to get hard cider that's not too dry - it's too dry because the yeast eats up pretty much all the sugar and turns it to alcohol, right? My theory is, what if I stop the fermentation early by heating the stuff, hot enough to kill the yeast, but not hot enough to boil off the ethanol (boiling point 178 degrees F). So I tried it. I kept aside about a cup of yeasty cider. heated the rest to about 135 for 30 minutes. let it cool down, then before bottling i mixed it back in with the cup of yeasty stuff so that when i bottled, there'd still be a little fermenting to provide carbonation. but hopefully not *too* much, resulting in exploding bottles... i'll let you know what happens... Read more>>>