What a Bizarre World!

I haven’t written much in a while and this is because I have been busy with other things. First, I have been really busy with work. I am coming to the end of my current project and I still have a fair amount of work to do. It’s been an interesting project due to the fact that some of the work I have been doing and the approach (or methodology) is relatively new to me so that has been a great learning experience in itself. Besides work, we have also been pretty busy getting ready for the birth of our first child. It’s amazing how expecting a child really changes your perspective in many ways… yet, just getting ready for the child has been something else. Finally, I have also been maintaining a couple of other blogs. One of the blogs is my coffee blog, Grounds for Burnt Offerings while the other is a private family blog so I will not really talk about it here.

In the meantime, it seems to me that a lot has been going on the world over and kind of makes you sit back and wonder what this world is coming too. Not least withstanding, let’s start with Hurricane Ike down in the Gulf and in Texas. This hurricane was about the size of Texas. For those of you from Kenya, think about is this way… Kenya is about the same size of Texas. So now try to imagine a scenario where a hurricane is the size of Kenya. That I think is astounding!

Then the other big story is the financial meltdown in the US economy… and how that is also putting a drag on the world markets. I think what you now seeing is the other side of globalization, how world markets are not immune turmoil in the US markets. Quite frankly, I think it is simply amazing how the last few months have witnessed the collapse of a number of banks and other financial/investment institutions. Now with rumors beginning to circulate around WaMu, it’s really hard to know where things are headed.

Then talking about conflicts and potential conflicts abroad, where do you even start? When I was younger, I used to have a very utopian view of the world… but that was a long time ago. Honestly, I think the world in general is getting to be a more uncertain and dangerous and really makes me think about End time prophesy and the warnings of The Lord Jesus Christ about the last days and the signs of his coming… wow!

Yet my philosophy is that you must continue to live and teach those within your own sphere of influence the norms of a normal, civilized society and in that way make some small difference for the better.

Starbucks Shops Bring Comfort To Ike Survivors

As some of you who regularly read my blog will have noticed I will sometimes rag on Starbucks and their coffee. Sometimes the ragging is tongue in cheek, such is the title of my blog which is somehow related to Starbucks… and sometimes the ragging is more straightforward, like when I complain about their bad milky lattes…

Yet, I think Starbucks tries to do good things… sometimes. CNN has a great article on how coffee shops, and more specifically Starbucks stores are bringing some measure of relief and comfort to these affected by the recent hurricane Ike. We here in Seattle certainly appreciate our favorite coffeehouses as a place to enjoy good coffee and good company and sometimes even a place for comfort and healing.

And yes, someone may point out that Starbucks is only open because it is good business… and though I can’t really argue with that point, Starbucks has in the past been open in helpful in times of disaster and catastrophe.

Oh and if you’re wondering how the title is related, rather than me telling you, I’ll just let you figure that one out. If you think you know, please post your answer in the comments…

Caffe Migliore, One of Seattle’s Best

Migliore Italian Style Coffee
Migliore Italian Style Coffee, originally uploaded by andai.

I stopped by one of my favorite coffeehouses this morning for my usual morning latte.

I enjoy dropping into Caffe Migliore, usually in the mornings, for a Caffe Umbria Italian roast coffee. And you know what? In my humble opinion, I think Migliore, is one of the top five coffeehouses in the Seattle area, maybe in the Pacific Northwest. And even though that is my personal opinion, I see there are a number of folks who at the very least think that Migliore does indeed serve great espresso.

One thing I really like about the place is the people there are great and the presentation and the service is excellent but not hoity-toity. I do like the fact that when they serve you your latte, even if you are are having it to go, they will still present it to you with a small saucer and a spoon. Now for those of you who put sugar into their coffee like me understand how awesome it is when you can use a proper metal spoon to measure out your sugar and stir it in rather than using those stupid little wooden sticks that always seem to break, or those tiny straws that you can stir and stir and stir… and nothing happens.

And one thing that always amazes me if their speed of service and efficiently. There are a number of places where if I am in a hurry and there more than four to five people in the queue, I don’t even bother to wait around. On the other hand, Migliore will always have long lines in the morning, however, they are really fast and efficient that quite honestly, you’ll barely be inline and you’ll already find yourself placing your order and picking it up relatively quickly.

And besides, even if you really are in a hurry, the lattes there are so good, it worth getting late to your appointment or the office just to get your latte. Quite honestly, the folks at Migliore know how to make a great latte, plain and simple!

My Awesome Eureka Coffee Day

Katy's
Katy’s, originally uploaded by andai.

After yesterday’s enchanting coffee experience I promised myself that I would have to go back to Katy’s Corner Cafe this morning for another good latte. This morning there was a different barista but that was ok by me cause this was a good opportunity to see if having a different barista would make a difference. Although I didn’t have the same earth shattering, enlightening experience, I still thought that the latte was actually pretty good. And unlike yesterday, when I gulped down my latte even before I hit I-5, today I paced myself, taking time to fully enjoy my sips all the way to my client’s office.

Since I had a client meeting at 1:00 and it was already 12:30, I decided rather than do get takeaway, I’d go to Wild Wheat, get a latte to sustain me, then at 2:00 I’d go back to Wild Wheat for lunch. The latte tasted different from the last time I was there, and that I fully expected since Mark Handman, the owner of the bakery and also the master roaster had been telling me how he has been experimenting with different blends and roasting techniques as he continues to build his skills and find that perfect blend. Then, two minutes to meeting time, the participants canceled due to an emergency and so I was now able to go for lunch an hour earlier, Awesome!

I went back to cafe, with my latte in hand. By that time I was only halfway through it and I certainly was not going to throw it away. I ordered their gourmet beef burger which is really tasty and thick. I also like that instead of the regular burger bun, they use some great focaccia bread which they bake right there in their bakery. Mark saw me eating and joined me to chat for a bit, It was great to hear how his roasting was coming along, at the same time he gave me a little history of the place. I really enjoyed my burger and fries, and after I was satisfied I turned to my remaining, lukewarm latte to ‘enjoy’ and finish. This is where my magical eureka moment happened.

I took a nice sip of my latte, and I thought to myself, oh my gosh, my latte tasted different again. In fact, I can now taste some subtle flavors that I had been able to taste before, and not just with this latte but also with just about all other lattes I have been drinking these past few years. I was actually able to taste CHOCOLATE flavor in my latte!

I took a couple more sips and each time I could distinctly taste chocolate! It was like I was eating a chocolate bar, abeit, a rather mild chocolate, but chocolate nonetheless! Now tasting chocolate might mean nothing to most of you, but to me, this has opened up a new world of opportunities and taste experiences. I have always heard the coffee tasters (or whatever your call them) sip various blends and roasts then describe various flavors they taste including berries, earthiness, wood and chocolate. I had never tasted anything like that in the past and so I used to think it was all hogwash. But after today I’ll will certainly bite my tongue when I hear the hoity-toity coffee connoisseurs open their mouths.

This whole thing has now gotten me interested in the art of cupping and coffee tasting… maybe I should take a class or something…

Katy’s Coffee Brought Sunshine to My Day

Katy*s Mug
Katy’s Mug, originally uploaded by andai.

This morning, I decided to drop by Katy’s Corner Cafe to get a latte for my commute to work. One of the reasons I decided to drop by Katy’s is because I was a little tired of going to some of the usual near home i.e. Fuel Coffee, Essential Bakery, Stumptown, Arosa, Victrola etc. I wanted to try some place I hadn’t tried before, or a least not tried in quite a while. The other reason, actually the main reason I decided to check out Katy’s was to get one of their coffee cups.

The really amazing thing about their paper coffee cups is that Katy, the owner of the place, personally signs her logo on each and every paper cup, using three different markers on each cup. Personally, I think this personal touch make’s her cups one of the coolest around. The logo is simply her name, Katy*s with the asterisks instead of the apostrophe and a love heart on each side. The name is in black, the asterisk is in yellow and the hearts are in red. I think this is really simple but beautiful design.

The barista who served and pulled my espresso was really nice. When I asked for a double cup, she offered me a sleeve so I had to request for the additional cup as a souvenir. I think she thought I was a little bizarre cause she was laughing at my request. I also noticed the bags of coffee beans from Dillanos Coffee Roasters. I wasn’t quite sure what to think because on one hand, I know that Dillanos makes a special roast for Forza that is actually pretty nice, but at the same time, there is a coffee shop on Madison that uses regular Dillanos roast but the two or three times I’ve been there, I didn’t really enjoy their coffee. I plan on going back to the shop on Madison and trying them one more time, but as you can see I was a little apprehensive wondering how this latte would turn out.

I took my first sip but I wasn’t really sure what to think… then I realized I needed more sugar. Yes for all you purists out there, I must have sugar in my coffee, otherwise I can’t drink the stuff, way too bitter. I added a little more sugar and tasted, ok, that wasn’t too bad, actually that was pretty good. I jumped into my car, and drove a couple of blocks north and made a left on Madison. At the same time I started now drinking my latte. What happened next was unbelievable but totally true, I kid you not. As I was sipping my drink, the coffee was so good I honestly felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders. At the same time I felt like the sun coming out from behind the clouds bringing light and warmth. I felt really good! All this emotion came about me as I was enjoying the latte. I knew that I would be going back the next morning, that’s for sure! I am not sure quite how to describe my latte, but as I was looking at the Dillanos web site, I noticed that they describe their roast as “the world’s smoothest coffee” and I thought, “that’s it!” My latte was smooth and perfect. It have enjoyed a number of great lattes, but this one was excellent! I will certainly go back tomorrow and I also hope that the experience will be the same.

I also like the shop. Though it is really tiny, the place is comfortable and cozy. I really do love the big windows that face west and south and bring in lots of light, which is important in Seattle if you know what I mean. All the times I have been there, the baristas have been really nice. And, they do have free wi-fi. For certain I will pass by there tomorrow morning on my way to work, and I also think I need to hang out there more often and just enjoy some relaxation and the neighborhood.

Noisia: Bringing DnB Back

I haven’t been updating this blog on a more regular basis as I would have liked.

Part of the reason for this is that I have been keeping my other blog, titled “Grounds for Burnt Offerings“. However the main reason I haven’t been doing regular posts is that I feel that some of my posts were so random that they didn’t make sense here on this blog. When I first started this blog, it was supposed to be rather lighthearted and somehow over time I got away from that. Anyway, I have decided that for this particular blog, I want to go back to being more lighthearted and talk about things I enjoy, music, travel, photography, jujitsu and other things that strike my fancy. I certainly want to get back into the regular habit of talking about my favorite music and so I’ll start off with Noisia, one of the most talented Drum and Bass groups out there today.

I am a big fan of Noisia. I didn’t know too much about them till they came to Seattle on tour… and at that time, I all I knew about them was that they were a drum and bass group but that was just about it. And because of this, even though I saw their poster for the show they were going to do at The Baltic Room up on Capital Hill, I wasn’t too interested in attending their show. It was only AFTER they had passed through Seattle, that I heard ‘Brainstitch’ and ‘Facade’ is when I sat up and took notice. I also kicked myself for not having gone to their show.

They do have a style that reminds me of folks like Ed Rush & Optical, and in someways Bad Company UK with a bit of Metalheadz. These three guys from Groningen in the Netherlands (thanks to Kid Hops for the correction here) are pretty bad ass in my opinion. I don’t know what it is about the Northern European countries, but maybe those long winter nights probably give the these guys reasons to spend plenty of time in the studio. I am also thinking about Fanu, one of my other favorite DnB producers is from Finland, but I digress. One of my current favorite Noisa tracks is ‘Diplodocus’. I’m sorry, but I could listen to that track about 50 times a day.

The only problem with dnb in general is that a lot of these producers release their track on vinyl and so for someone like me looking for CDs, it can be tough to get some of the new releases of groups like Noisia. But thank goodness that more of the dnb outlets are selling digital downloads too and for this reason I have been able to buy some of Noisa’s older stuff on iTunes. Awesome!

Anyway, I will be posting more about my thoughts in Noisia in future posts, this post was my way of going back to basics…

Jitters Coffee or How Not to Make a Whole Milk Latte

Jitters Coffee
Jitters Coffee, originally uploaded by andai.

Ok, I think we need to get this 2% + (1/2 & 1/2) = whole milk issue resolved once and for all… and to do that, first I have to tell you a little story. This is the true story of my visit to Jitters Coffee this morning and meeting the unblinking barista. But before I begin, a little background first.

Many, many months ago, I used to go to Jitters Coffee, in Bellevue, every so often for my morning double tall latte. This was when I was working on the East side of the pond and I didn’t have time to stop somewhere on Capital Hill for a coffee on my way to work. They have a drive-thru which is great when you are in a hurry and also because it was just easier having to park and all that. As an aside, here’s a tip for those in a a hurry, in general drive-thru customers tend to get served faster than in-store customers, no matter what type of store you go to. Anyway back to the story. At the time I was frequenting the place, I was on an extremely stressful and long project. At the same time, it was also that time of the year in Seattle when it’s overcast, dark and cloudy all the time, and the sun would set at 4:00 pm while I’d be siting in the office surrounded by stress and yellow Jitters coffee cups. And for these reasons that I somehow subconsciously began to associate Jitters Coffee with the winter blues and stressful projects and so I never really liked going back there once I was done with the project. This was a year and some months ago.

Well today, I had a early morning conference call in Redmond, and I didn’t have time to pick up a latte on the way to the office, so I begrudgingly decided that I would pass by Jitters and get a latte after the meeting. Now rather than go through the drive-thru, I decided I’ll go in and place my order and at the same time see what sort of beans they use.

The first thing I asked the barista was if they had any whole milk. Without batting her eyelids, the barista looked at me and replied, “Yes”. This is great I thought because I remembered in the past they did not carry whole milk, the closest they had to that was 2%. I was excited. So I asked her when they start carrying whole milk thinking that it must have been customer requests or something like that that made them decide to start carrying whole milk. she looked at me once again and without batting an eyelid she tells me, “No we don’t actually buy whole milk, we make our own. We mix 1/2 & 1/2 with 2% and that makes whole milk!”.

As soon as I heard that my heart sank! Ok, I was thinking, nothing much has changed. And most places will at least acknowledge that they don’t have whole milk but them will offer to add 1/2 & 1/2 to the milk to ‘fatten’ it up a bit. but I have never heard anyone tell me unabashedly that whole milk is simply a combination of 1/2 & 1/2 and 2%.

At this point I am thinking whatever, so I let her continue with my order while I start looking at the far wall behind the counter where the beans were stored in big clear plastic containers. I was happy to see that Jitters actually uses Cafe Vita coffee beans. I get my coffee, add my usual sugar and start sampling.

Now under normal circumstances I would say that Cafe Vita is a great roast and so I’d expect Jitters to make me a great… well let’s say a decent latte. Not so! My coffee was really not too great. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t one that would really make me want to go back again. I think the main reason why I didn’t enjoy the coffee was their faux whole milk. Contrary to popular belief at many similar coffee shops (or stands), 1/2 & 1/2 + 2% does not equate to Whole Milk. Its as simple as that.

Even accounting for the fact that many coffee shops do not use good milk, i.e. organic, hormone and pesticide free milk, I believe it is much better to stick to one or the other in the absence of whole milk. Personally I prefer whole milk but I have also had good lattes that were made with just 2%. I also remember a time when I used to really like breves, but now I find those a little too rich for me. 2% can work, and I have been to places where it certainly has worked, but you have to get a really great barista, and have the right brand of milk, preferably organic, and beans to pull that off. I have come to conclude, after having had this done in a number of places that mixing half and half with 2% (or fat free milk for that matter) is just not a substitute for whole milk!

One other reason I really don’t like about Jitters was their store’s interior design. Normally, you would think of coffee shops as a warm and welcoming place, especially during the winter times, but unfortunately, Jitters is not quite like that. Jitters is not really a place that I feel give that inviting, come hither feel. The seating is rather sparse and some how feels odd, and in some ways the place almost feels unfinished. The irony is that there is a Starbucks across the driveway and one thing you can say for sure about Starbucks, at least their stores tend to feel much more relaxing and welcoming.

I hope Jitters Coffee will take note and start stocking whole milk for the few of us who do enjoy our lattes a little more fatty, a little more creamy, a little more delightful. And I guess as long as I am using the drive-thru, then the interior doesn’t matter as much… at least to me…

Lessions in Humanity from a Dog

The BBC online has a really heart warming story that on one hand displays the worst of mankind and on the other, the best of animals.

In Argentina, a prematurely born baby was abandoned by his 14 year old mother and left to die in a bush. God must have been watching over the baby because La China, the female dog found the baby, picked him up and placed him among her puppies. Of course the dog won the hearts of the Argentinians resulting in the press descended onto the shanty town to take pictures of the dog.

I think this story really speaks volumes about how humans beings, who have the ability to think, to empathize, to nurture and protect the young, can become totally callous and uncaring even to their own flesh and blood. On the other hand, it also shows how animals, whom many tend to dismiss or mistreat, can and do have those same feelings towards others not of their race. Truly this dog puts most of us to shame…

Meet Wild Wheat’s Master Coffee Roaster

Mark's Coffee
Mark’s Coffee, originally uploaded by andai.

These past few weeks I have been working out at a client site down in Kent Washington. Working in Kent has afforded me the opportunity to checkout out some of the local cafes, restaurants and coffeehouses that I normally would not even know existed. And being that I am a Seattlelite who tends to be a little biased toward Seattle coffeehouses, I tend to skeptical whenever I buy lattes at places outside Seattle. Some of the coffee shops and stands in these smaller Washington state towns can have pretty bad coffee. And yet on more than one occasion I will be pleasantly surprised to find some of the small out nondescript places that actually has pretty decent coffee. Wild Wheat Bakery Cafe & Restaurant turns out to be one of those pleasant surprises.

Mark, the owner of Wild Wheat, not only loves coffee, but actually goes the extra step, roasting small batches of coffee in his small ‘roasting plant’ that’s a couple of doors down from the restaurant. As I was chatting with him about his love for coffee he told me how it all started. The story goes that about two years back, he and a friend, Ravi, went down to San Fransisco to take some coffee roasting classes. When they returned, Ravi wasn’t too involved in roasting business and so Mark ended up being the solo ‘master’ roaster at Wild Wheat and now two years later he is going stronger and getting better as he learns the nuances of coffee bean roasting.

He was gracious enough to take me back to this little space that is his roasting plant and tiny green coffee bean storage/office space. He proudly showed me some of the beans he had just roasted and was in the process of cooling and some decaf beans he had dome a little bit ago. He also showed me some bags and buckets containing various kind of green coffee beans to be roasted.

Some of the green beans included Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ethiopian beans. His modulus operands is simply to get different types of beans that he can then experiment with and blend together and roast (or is it roast then blend). Either way, he has some interesting coffee blends that he has turned out his cafe. Some of his favorite coffees are the Kenyan coffees, which he feels are pretty high quality and rich but he is particularly fond of the Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans.

His packaging is simple. He packages the various roasts in simple brown paper bags and labels them with a sharpie (or for those of you who speak the queen’s English, a felt pen). These beans are available for purchase at Wild Wheat. I asked him if he sells his coffee to other businesses. “No” he replied. My impression is that he does not feel that he is ready to start selling his coffee to other businesses yet but I think if some business approached him, he may agree. Part of the reason I think this is so could be that since he is experimenting with different roasts and blends, and since his does not sell a particular roast flavor that he makes on a consistent basis, I think it is harder to sell to other businesses since they are likely to want that consistency. Yet, I think that inconsistency is also what would make Mark’s coffee an interesting adventure in taste since going at different times is likely to get you different espresso experiences.

OK, so I hear you ask, how is their coffee??? I have actually had a sampling of their coffee on at least two separate occasions. The first time a couple of weeks back I drunk a cup of their drip which I though was pretty good. Then sometime last week I after I had eaten my lunch, I headed over to Wild Wheat to try out their coffee again but this time in a latte. But the latte was good. It was a slightly different flavor from the drip coffee I remembered from the previous week but now when I think back to the conversation I had with Mark this afternoon, it all makes sense now.

I think Wild Wheat is a great place for lunch, to pick up some baked goods and certainly to try out their in-house roasted coffee…. I say, if you happen to be in the area, do pop in!

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