Archive for December, 2009

From Booze to Bean

alcoholOh bah humbug! You’ve drunken too much and therefore overeaten, overspent and over-embellished your yearly accomplishments to your relatives. Merry Christmas you’re hung-over.

Good morning coffee? Not so fast,  there is a lot of flip-flopping on whether or not coffee is the cure for the suffering that follows a litre of eggnog.

Alcohol dehydrates as does caffeine so how can that be the solution to a side splitting headache? Yet there is water in coffee which hydrates, oh dear what to do?! And the cyclical morning thoughts continue.

Well the good thing about coffee is that it’s a vasoconstrictor, which means that it decreases the size of blood vessels. Whereas Alcohol makes them widen. Drinking coffee will make the jackhammers quiet down, giving a whole new meaning to the song ‘silent night’.

Of course like alcohol, coffee is a diuretic, so you’re not keeping much of the water in and it moves fast through the system. The headache will return and the stronger the coffee the faster you’re back to square one.

I can see you reaching for the pot as I type. This is fine, there are some benefits to consuming a cup of joe after you’ve scraped the sleep and makeup from your eyes.

Putting sugar in it will assist in replenishing electrolytes; it will also help your poor shriveled liver. Alcohol breaks down the sugar stores in the organ which is what makes you feel so weak and dizzy when recovering. Nevertheless that headache still awaits your struggling metabolism.

If you are completely sure that coffee will turn you back into a more energetic being, go for it, but leave the milk out. Dairy will only aggravate the tummy leaving you nauseas when trying to plow into a bunch of greasy food.

A Café’s Centerpiece

On the Northwest coast of the United States is Washington, the birthplace of Nirvana and Starbucks. Below it is Oregon, the afterbirth of the caffeine rush and the fusion of cool and coffee.

It would almost be safe to say that American coffee was born here and with the relatively new (10 year-old) company Stumptown taking form and setting up shops all the way to New York, it may be more than the coffee that’s grabbing headlines.

Stumptown has decided to use the Mistral in their cafés. The Mistral is an espresso machine so beautiful, so delicate in design that you could pretty much put the monstrosity in an empty room and call it chic.

It’s also marketed that way by La Marzocca, the money behind the genius of designer Kees van der Westen. The Mistral, “ideal for radical & trendy locations” is made by a man infatuated by cars and old school espresso machines. It should come as no surprise that one of his designs is called the Speedster.

Westen has an attraction to the artistic qualities of the fifties and sixties, so most of the machines he creates have the futuristic tones of that era. Scrolling down his past inventions, made me think of The Jetsons, 2001: A Space Odyssey and of course Klingon warships. Doppios and lattes escaped my mind as I got lost in space.

There is no doubt that these machines are gorgeous and would be the centerpiece in any café. It contributes to the ‘third wave’ theory, the way coffee culture is developed, and is bringing back the ooh’s and aah’s to coffee making.

This is practical art that can be used as a draw for business and be the focal point in conversation. But it does not guarantee good coffee. If the barista can’t live up to the machines’ aesthetic stature, it becomes a waste of space and the café will not ‘live long and prosper’.

Catching the ‘Third Wave’

“More, more, more, how do you like it, how do like it,” a big thank you to The Andrea True Connection for this lovely song that captures the current state of coffee culture.

This ‘more’ concept has been dubbed as the ‘third wave’ taking over the fantastic brand power of Starbucks and moving towards additional attention. People aren’t interested in grabbing a cup of something that can easily be made at home, they are looking for skill, individuality and knowledge.

I’ll outline the change through slightly modified dialogue that I used to come across about four years ago:

“Hi what can I get for you?”

“I don’t care, coffee, caffeine whatever just give it to me now! In fact I have a drip connected to my arm, if you could just pour that brown crap into the bag, I’ll be on my way.”

Nowadays I have observed a new form of demand:

“Hi what can I get for you?”

“Well gee I want coffee that’s ethical, artistic and that crema better be the same color as my new brown boots or I’m walking them the hell out of here.”

Can you spot the difference? I know I can but Howard Shultz doesn’t seem able to grasp this evolution nor can he keep up with it. He is, however, combating the culture shift by revamping his stores and getting new coffee machines.

Shultz is replacing automatic espresso machines with automatic espresso machines. He’s also decided to move some furniture and paint the stores a different color. Like a fat kid with their hand in the cookie jar, the company is stuck.

Consumers don’t want to begin the day throwing three dollars down the drain while they watch some pimply faced ‘barista’ push a button with their index finger. If you can do it yourself why pay for it?

Instead they are looking for a café that suits their music taste, age range and spits out a coffee that looks amazing. Ethics need to be met and customers now have the knowledge to demand higher quality that suits their taste. So coffees can now be an 8 oz description of the person drinking it, not a cup full of everyone else in line.

Starbucks cannot compete with this individuality. It’s sad that they have reached the Coca-Cola status of brand identification through speed and consistency yet both have proven to be their downfall.

If Starbucks wants to succeed more needs to be done. Bringing in a machine that closes the margin of error is a dated approach and sadly reflects what little attention Shultz is paying towards coffee culture. Taking time out for skill may help their ‘baristas’ compete with the long list of cafés that market themselves on an experienced niche.

I go to cafés that offer me more because there are coffee shops everywhere. I want a quirky theme and a latte so beautiful I feel like I got a bargain. That’s available now and I’m bypassing speed to get it.


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