Archive for the ‘coffee connoisseur’ Category

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It’s all about The Cup of Cino

February 9, 2013

It’s never too early to plan for your dotage.

With this in mind, I’ve gathered my disparate collection of ceramic coffee cups in anticipation of the day I breathe a sigh of relief at not having to compete with younger, louder café patrons and just entertain my friends and their Zimmer frames at home.

This frenzied stocktake was brought on by a guest blog post I contributed last week to the Italian Language Blog where I reminisced about my family’s in-house afternoon coffee catchups.

I also tut-tuted at the increasing use of the disposable cup – sometimes seen in the popular ‘bucket size’, rushing down the street with a human sucking from its plastic lid. That can’t be pleasant, surely, and not only diminishes the coffee drinking experience but also contributes to ever-increasing landfill. (In Australia alone, 500 million disposable cups are thrown away every year – each one taking up to 50 years to biodegrade.)

If I save only ONE person from ever drinking good coffee from a paper cup again my job here is done. Would you really drink a good wine from a plastic tumbler? No. You’d take Danny Kaye’s advice and admit that “the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true” (The Court Jester, 1955).

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Read fullLanguage of Coffee’ post: http://blogs.transparent.com/italian/the-language-of-coffee-2/

Related posts about coffee: 

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/lurking-in-the-cupboard-manual-coffee-grinder/

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/hold-the-traffic-i-have-another-coffee-story-to-write/

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The Coffee Cocktail: Murder on the Dancefloor

September 22, 2012

I am not a fan of flavoured coffees. Vanilla and caramel belong in ice cream sundaes in my opinion. If coffee must be tampered with, then let it be adulterated with liqueur.

My parents and their Italian friends loved a drop of grappa (grape brandy) in their short blacks. As a child, I couldn’t see the attraction of this “caffe corretto” except it was probably very warming in winter. Of course it was, it’s 40-60% alcohol!

Years later, embracing 1980s’ long working lunches, my arts festival colleagues and I developed a Sambuca habit with our post-meal short blacks. Sometimes drunk separately with the traditional three coffee beans* floating in the shot glass; sometimes set on fire to create a Flaming Sambuca … but mostly poured into the coffee to create a kick-ass finish to the meal. Happy days.

Move to September 2012, and the Italian Film Festival organisers have tampered nicely with coffee, inventing the Mocha Martini. Two nights ago I made the mistake of sampling one or two of these at the festival opening night party at Palace Cinemas in Leichhardt.

I have no complaints with the taste of the cocktail – an elegant mix of Lavazza espresso, Galliano Ristretto, vodka and Bols White Cacao. The mistake was sampling the cocktail after Prosecco sparkling wine and shiraz, the caffeine unleashing my inner dancefloor maniac.

A salsa tragic in the early noughties but now suffering from chronic dancefloor avoidance syndrome, I resurrected every Latin American move I’d ever learnt. My arms now ache from something called the Sombrero move and my arthritis got a wakeup call during the three piece combo’s version of Madonna’s Holiday.

The Mocha Martini hangover was not pretty but neither was my mother’s favourite headache remedy: half a cup of strong coffee with the juice of half a lemon. Imagine swallowing that and surviving. Perhaps I should have taken the Italian equivalent of the hair of the dog: an espresso with grappa alongside my breakfast croissant.

Shot glass with grappa* Supposedly, the garnish of the three coffee beans in the Sambuca represents health, happiness and prosperity. The beans floating in the glass are thought to resemble flies and chewed after drinking to enhance the flavour of the anise-based liqueur.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival continues at Palace Cinemas throughout Australia until 28 October.

Photo top left courtesy Palace Cinemas

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…

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Lurking in the Cupboard: Manual Coffee Grinder

August 29, 2012

An occasional post about long-forgotten household gems in my mother’s kitchen

I could feel it doing me good. Core muscles engaged and arms clenching the machine would produce great results. Am I in a gym? Hardly. I’m grinding coffee beans at the kitchen bench on my new obscure object of desire (apologies to filmmaker Luis Buñuel).

I’ve located our long-forgotten hand coffee grinder in my mother’s kitchen cupboard and it’s been getting a good workout at my house. I thought it had been donated to charity, but there it was, over 40 years old and looking at me with a downcast bottom drawer. Last used in 1989 by my dear late dad – and sometimes me  (see older blogpost) it deserved to be rescued after I developed my hankering for a fresh daily grind.

Vintage manual coffee grinderMade in Holland, it’s a wooden “burr” grinder and still works like a dream. I love the soft crunching sound of the beans being crushed between the mechanisms. Much nicer than the  screeching noise of an electric blade grinder that has me imagining a dentist’s weapon. And the aroma of the oils released by the ground beans is nothing short of heady.

I’m guessing my mother found it too much effort to use (my father being chief coffee bean crusher) and stored it away. Interestingly, she planted a coffee tree in the back garden about 15 years ago and it’s making a brave comeback after her indiscriminate pruning festival two years ago. Prior to that, we’d harvested its crimson beans and roasted them as an experiment. Then threw them away. Now, with the hand coffee grinder resurrected, we’re ready for the next stage of the ‘torrefazione’ (such a nice Italian word) process. Illycaffe – watch your back.

I’m liking the idea of calling our future crop Fairtrade coffee: if my mother promises not to go near the tree with any sort of hacking implement, I promise not to call her a terrible gardener. Fair trade.

But back to the workout. It’s quite a job turning the coffee grinder handle and keeping it steady on the bench. Multiply that by four caffeine fixes per day and hello rock-hard biceps. Ta-ta tuckshop arms.

More about manual coffee grinders

And for manual coffee grinder freaks, here’s a museum

Have also just found these many uses for leftover coffee grounds. Brilliant.

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…

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Hold the Traffic! I have another coffee story to write.

June 18, 2012

Don’t you love entering competitions? The promise of a luxury holiday, cash … or in this case something more modest: the opportunity to have your happy snap displayed in a public space.

ABC Open, in conjunction with the Historic Houses Trust, is running a competition called ‘Now and Then’, where you reframe an old photo within a new one to show how the setting has changed over the years. It’s a great idea, and has already attracted some inspired entries. 

After trawling through my albums I found just the photo I needed: me, on a Vespa, circa 1959, outside the   Caffè Sport in Norton Street, Leichhardt. Vroom vroom. Not quite Roman Holiday but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Every Saturday morning my mother, father and I shopped on Parramatta Road between Catherine and Norton Streets. It’s hard to imagine, but in the 1950s and 1960s the area was abuzz with activity and an interesting mix of butchers, fruit shops, delicatessens – and ladies’ frock shops. We’d then meet friends at Caffè Sport for a cappuccino or two. At four and a half years of age, I still had my training wheels on and hadn’t quite graduated to a macchiato.

Their coffee drunk, most of the men would go to the pub across the road and the women and children stayed put. I loved listening to the chat from the mainly Triestine clientele, but was especially transfixed by one of my mother’s friends who used to sink her enormous front teeth into her Savoiardi biscuits post-dunk, and suck them in before they became slush and plummeted into her caffè latte.

But back to my mission trying to recreate the Girl on the Vespa image. It didn’t matter that the camera battery was flat when I arrived in Norton Street last Saturday morning, as the combination of torrential rain and bumper to bumper traffic led to mission impossible. I’d overlooked the fact that vehicular traffic has increased in 50 years and the blank pub wall I needed to shoot had a constant foreground of moving cars. Not one single break in the traffic for the entire 20 minutes I stood there (broken up with a quick coffee fix). I’m planning a return visit this week sometime between morning peak hour and sunset, when I’ll stop the traffic if I need to with a sign ‘GO BACK. Desperate Competition Contestant at Work’.

Scene on vespa from Roman Holiday

This is the shot I was going for. Oh well.

If only I had an original interior cafe shot, with its La Pavoni coffee machine working non-stop, I could use that as my Plan B and avoid the traffic.

‘Now and Then’ competition details.

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…


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and here’s one I prepared earlier … on ‘coffee central’ Trieste

May 27, 2012

This story was first published in ‘Italianicious’ magazine (Jan/Feb 2012).  Click on image to enlarge or read the full story below.

History of coffee in Trieste, Italianicious magazine

‘Italianicious’ Jan/Feb 2012

 

Whenever I think about doing my civic duty of donating blood, I stop and realise I’d be rejected as surely I must have coffee, not blood, coursing through my veins. As a young child in 1960s Sydney, my regular afternoon treat was not the glass of full-cream milk my friends drank after school, but a caffè latte. And it’s all been uphill from there.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother making coffee after a special family lunch. The friendly chatter was interrupted by an explosion, followed by a waterspout coating the walls of the eat-in kitchen and our guests with a fetching shade of brown. A clogged valve on the stovetop “Moka” pot was responsible and luckily no-one was hurt, but the force was so strong that damage to the stove’s metal warming shelf was alarming. I have never used a pressure coffeemaker since, preferring a stovetop Napoletana – a “flip and drip” coffee pot – which in the right hands and with a good grind, produces a strong but smooth espresso.

I was born, surrounded by coffee aroma, in Trieste, on Italy’s Adriatic coast about 120 kms north-east of Venice. The city has a rich and unique history including a coffee importing and roasting tradition dating back more than 250 years. Today it is the Mediterranean’s main coffee port, supplying over 40% of Italy’s coffee and prides itself in being the “undisputed coffee-roasting capital of the world”. It produces many fine coffee brands including the internationally renowned ILLY Caffe, and takes its coffee so seriously that Illy family member Riccardo was the city’s mayor in the 1990s.

Trieste is dotted with Viennese-style coffee-houses from the mid 19th century (an influence from its time as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Five of the historically significant cafes remain, including the Tommaseo with showoff walls of rich stuccos and bas-reliefs; the Caffè degli Specchi (Café of Mirrors) facing the grand Piazza dell’Unità and the Caffè San Marco, boasting not only original frescoes, but a loyal clientele consisting of Trieste’s respected literary and artistic community.

These cafes have all undergone renovations over the years, but retain their character. In her book ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere’ celebrated British travel writer Jan Morris thinks the San Marco is the most suggestive of the old cafes and when she enters its doors feels she’s “among just the same customers as would have been there a century ago: the students   …professors…authors…flaky philosophers and a scattering of ladies enjoying their daily coffee-talk”. Missing however is James Joyce who frequented the San Marco while he lived in the city from 1904-20.

Spoilt for choice, is it any wonder Trieste locals consume twice as much coffee as the Italian average? This kind of statistic is not to be taken lightly, so whenever I visit I help the numbers by drinking copious macchiati on my personal café crawls.

My maternal grandparents lived in a centrally-located apartment on top of a cafe in Trieste: I now live in a centrally-located apartment on top of a café in Sydney. My mother is the only odd one out: she just has a coffee tree in her garden.

 

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She came, she tasted, she disapproved

May 21, 2012

In YOU’VE GOT MAIL, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom, Hanks talks about a certain US coffee chain being good for those who can’t make decisions.

“The whole purpose of places like St*bucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

Fair enough. But how many people want that defining sense of self to say: Weak. Bitter. Tasteless?

I’ve kept quiet about bad coffee for too long. As a long-time macchiato drinker, I don’t mind that the macchiati I order in Sydney cafes come in a variety of sizes (well, I do, but…). What really disappoints is so many are undrinkable, giving me no choice but to leave a long trail of unfinished drinks all over town.

Tasting an inferior long black in a 5-star Canberra hotel in the late 1980s. I still adopt that scowl when required.

I remember watching the 1960s US sitcom GREEN ACRES. One of the main characters – the newly married Lisa (Eva Gabor) – prepares the daily breakfast coffee for husband Oliver (Eddie Albert). The thick, tar-like sludge that oozed from the pot looked shocking to me back then. Today I’d probably drink it in a heartbeat.

My coffee credentials are firmly steeped in an Italian heritage that takes its caffeine seriously. Trained as a small child by my father to grind the beans on a manual machine in my lap, I still bear the dents on my inner thighs where I clutched the grinder. Crunch crunch crunch, then into the stovetop Moka. My place of birth is responsible for this obsession and I freely admit to withdrawal symptoms between visits. (In the Jan 2012 issue of ‘Italianicious’ mag, I talk more about this in ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Coffee’ – see link or in next post).  http://www.flickr.com/photos/plumdumplings/6845911655/in/photostream

A good coffee is a revelation and I had fully intended that my first blog should include a recommendation or two for local cafes, however, chances are the barista who makes my coffee today will be gone next week. Sydney, you’re such a fickle town.

This is not meant to be a food blog, although if the stars align and I find a cafe where the coffee is consistently good – with a perfect crema, a full body and no hint of bitterness – I’ll certainly share. Suggestions welcome too.

(The writer is still suffering the after-effects of a nasty morning cafe coffee and apologises for the tone. Women in the 17th century were banned from coffeehouses for less than this!)

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