December 30, 2010

Fun Sucker

I am not fond of automation. At least, not to the extent that it dominates cafes today -- mine in particular. I've written about it before, not so much on this blog, but as a guest post for Daily Shot of Coffee. If you don't count my sportswriter days at the UDK, that's almost certainly the most read thing I've written. Which is cool. Thus I assume, if you're reading this, that you read that as well. If not, you can check it out here. I feel downright silly promoting a blog that dwarfs my own, but here I am. If, for some reason, you are reading this coffee blog, but not Mike's, here's your chance to fix that.

In any case, the gist of the post is this: There is a quality, both tangible and not, lent to the cafe experience, that requires a human touch. The more that is removed, the more the drink suffers -- as does everything else. The reception was positive, and generally speaking, people seemed to agree with me.

I had a customer today who, if he had read the post, would likely have agreed too. He ordered a large americano, watched as I filled the cup with hot water, set it in place, and pressed the double button twice. I walked away. It was busy, so I had other things to do. I came back when the shots had been spit out, handed him the drink, and started making the small latte he had also ordered.

"That machine must take all the fun out of the job," he said. And though those were his words, what he meant was this: Don't you feel less satisfied, working with a machine that does so much for you?

What he meant, I agreed with then, and do now. I would rather grind and tamp my own espresso. I think I can do a better job than the machine can; I think I can produce a better drink. It will not be as fast. But quality takes a few more seconds, sometimes.

But as for what he said... that's another story. The machine, automated though it is, does not take all the fun out of my job. In fact, though there are days where work is work, there are also times where I could scarcely have more fun. It is the cafe culture, the coworkers, the customers, the friends, that makes the job as fun as it is. The human element that makes cafes great goes far beyond drink preparation, extends in to personal interactions, both trivial and serious, superficial and deep.

So, would I rather make "better" drinks? Would I prefer having more control, more of a chance for artistic flair? Sure. But I would never let so small a matter as that take any amount of fun from me.

December 29, 2010

The New Daily Grind

So remember how I said that my last post was my 100th? About that...

Turns out, I misread my own stats page. I've written 101 posts now, but only PUBLISHED 87 of them. Therefore, my centennial was premature. I figured I'd best point this out myself, before someone else noticed the gaff. Better to acknowledge the egg on one's face than to pretend it's not there.

But I digress. The Bodum coffee maker has made its way home now, and I really am happy with it. The first thing of note, which I hadn't considered before hearing the machine run, is how quietly it runs. I live with three other people, all of whom have jobs, and probably value their sleep. As such, I would really rather my grinder not wake them up. This one does not.

But while there is something to be said for ease of use, and quiet running, there is much more to be said for quality. And now, I have a consistent means of producing just that. The smell of fresh grounds, and the taste produced by them, is sharp, clear, distinctly delicious. It is not the sort of thing you'd miss -- unless you've had it. Then, you settle for nothing less. Now I don't have to. I can also produce a consistently fine grind, which is vital to producing a good cup of coffee using a pour over cone.

I would like to say more, and frequently, I do. But this is not a subject which lends itself to a long, rambling post. In truth, there is very little to say. I have a good grinder now, which allows me to drink better coffee at home than ever before. For this, I am very grateful.

December 27, 2010


This is my 100th post. I do not feel that I ought to engage in any self congratulation, since posting here takes nothing more than my own willingness to make it happen. But if I'm not feeling self congratulatory, I am feeling a bit reflective. That is, I've written 100 posts on this site. But what exactly have I written about?

That's an interesting question, and one I don't think I can answer well. When this blog started, it was meant to be little more than a catalog of my coffee experiences. I would taste a new brew, and then post my thoughts on it. Perhaps I would visit a new cafe, or explore a new means of preparations. In any case, it would be those day to day things with which I would concern myself.

But whatever my intent, this blog has been something other than a catalog of experiences. Frankly, it has been more a repository of thoughts, of ideas more esoteric than practical. I briefly entertained the idea that I might go back over everything I've written, and try and note some recurring themes -- perhaps even find a consistent message.

But doing so, I think, would be wrong in some way, if the goal is to find repeated motifs. I am the man writing this blog, after all; if I don't know what I'm talking about, then that might say bad things about my writing, cognitive abilities, or both.

Thus, 100 posts in, I present to you a completely arbitrary list of things I think are worthwhile enough to earn a spot on a meaningless list.
1) Coffee tastes good, varied, and complex.
2) Mind the minutia. Grind size matters. So does dose. Little things make big differences on the palate.
3) Coffee matters. It is a beverage that is used the world over for innumerable human interactions.
4) The social aspect of the cafe is most important of all.
5) Drink quality matters a lot, too.
6) Coffee is healthy. So is milk fat.

I'll stop the list at six, because I can't think of anything else that ought to be mentioned. Like I said, this is totally arbitrary. I'll be back to writing something worthwhile shortly, rather than waxing poetic on my own work. There are two new studies, just published, which are related to #6. Maybe I should write less about the nutritional aspects of dairy. Oh well.

December 26, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You want -- But Sometimes, You Do

There is a certain weight of expectation that comes from writing something one has devoted a reasonable amount of thought to. In truth, it's much easier to sit and just go, if you will. Yesterday, I was gifted a Bodum conical burr grinder. It is the sort of thing I've wanted for some time; and knowing my parents' tendency to get gift giving right, the sort of thing I rather expected to get. Do not misunderstand this as lack of appreciation, however. I was thrilled to open the box, elated when setting it up, and positively euphoric when putting the machine to use.

It did not dissapoint. I ground beans that my brother had given me. They were dark, though certainly not french, an oily gloss covered their exterior. The aroma was rich and sweet, that of dense black cherry, or a heavy wine. I would tell you their origin, except that I don't know it myself. I'm guessing Panama, and will check when I return to Lawrence. If I'm right, then my palate is, perhaps, a touch more refined that I've been giving it credit for.

But in any case, the grinder, and the performance thereof. Though I would be using my father's 12 cup electric brewer, I set the grind size a couple notches finer than the default drip brewer setting. Better to error on the side of strength, and cut later, I presumed.

And so, with less ceremony than my imagination projected, I hit the ON button, and the grinder went to work. Quietly -- moreso than I would have though -- it proceeded; and quickly, there was a fresh pile of grounds in the repository. Though there wasn't yet enough to prepare even one cup, I removed the lid, lifted the vessel, and inhaled. I imagine that I must have looked a bit silly then, smiling, and perhaps even laughing a bit, at nothing more than a pleasant scent. But it was more than that, of course. That tiny pile of grounds, stretching their collectively bewitching aroma up in to me, signaled that finally, I would be able to enjoy the sort of coffee at home that I desired. It ended the days of quiet compromise, of begrudging mediocrity, and ushered in the era of consistent quality.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, and perhaps indulging a bit in hyperbole. But the grounds did smell lovely -- the sweet, rich notes insisted a comparison to chocolate and cherry. But there was yet more grinding to do, which I completed with more satisfaction than a simple button push ought to yield. And then there was the brewing; not the hands on pour over to which I'm accustomed, but quite good enough.

And finally, the cup. It was not the best coffee I've had, but that's not the point. It was exceptional, and prepared, with relative ease, at home. Most of all, it promised similar efforts -- many of them -- in the future.

So yes, I've struggled a bit to find the words to properly encapsulate this. I got a grinder for Christmas, and for that, I am quite happy. I'd like to say more than that, of course, and perhaps touch on the other gifts I recieved -- suffice it to say, I will be both well fed and well dressed for some time now. But I think this will suffice. At least, it's going to have to.

December 23, 2010


Too much is never enough, they say. And with some things, I think that's probably true. But not most of the time. Most of the time, too much of a good thing is illegal, or will make you sick.

It is with that in mind that I write today. I don't have any sort of long, esoteric diatribe on the nature of things. Rather, I have idle speculation.

What if caffeine were regulated like alcohol? What if you had to be a certain age to consume it at all? And what if, beyond that, there were still certain limits imposed?

I'm imagining myself turning away a customer. "I think you've had enough, sir."

This is nothing worth devoting too much intellectual energy too, of course. But it is an idea that makes for interesting pondering. And perhaps, a bad little short story.

December 22, 2010

Sweating the Technique, Again

I've written before that my cheap little plastic Melitta cone makes a good cup of coffee. Better, I think, than many more expensive methods. There is also something to be said for the satisfaction one derives from taking a more hands on approach.

I've also covered what I think is the optimal method for brewing the perfect cup, using a Melitta cone.

1. Place your cone on your mug, and insert filter (paper or metal) in to cone. I've found that it helps to pre-wet the filter. It helps it stick to the cone, thus optimizing the flow of water once the brewing process begins.

2. Bring water to a boil.

3. While that gets going, grind your coffee, and make it fine. Not quite espresso fine, but fairly close. The amount of coffee you use is up to you, but I think the standard 2 tbs coffee/6 0z water ratio works fine. 

4. When the water comes to a boil, pull it. As soon as it stops bubbling, pour it over the grounds. Go too fast, and some water will subvert the grounds or simply go out the side. But there's no need to go at a tortoise's pace either. Your pour should be steady, and the cone should fill.

5. Stir the slurry. This ensures optimal distribution of the grounds, and thus a fuller cup.

6. Finally, stir the finished cup. This is another important step that's often omitted, but is necessary to ensure even taste.

7. Enjoy.

I stand by most of this. However, there is a minor change I'd like to highlight. Rather than pouring the water in the center, and then stirring the mixture, I now think it's better to pour down the sides. Doing this washes the grounds in to the center, which, I think, lends to better extraction.

This may sounds like a trivial detail; and perhaps it is just that. But the small things make big differences, when it comes to things you enjoy. Obviously, I like my coffee. As such, any way I can find to make a more consistently good cup is something I'm going to highlight.

Now of course, I reserve the right to change my mind again. Manual drip technique seems to vary quite a bit, based on other "how-to's" I've found online. But this, as of right now, is how I'm choosing to do things.

December 20, 2010

Pride, Prejudice and Coffee

It's nothing personal. That much I know. It doesn't matter if they don't like the drink I prepared. Or at least it shouldn't. It does not reflect on me as a person, or even as a barista. You cannot please everyone.

Of course, that isn't true. Not really. I do care when someone isn't pleased with a drink I've made. And it's not that I fear for my job, so much as I have something like professional pride. As clearly as I can state it, I tend to think I make drinks well. If nothing else, I've acquired the skill to steam milk well in these last four years. I certainly think so. And 99% of the customers to state an opinion seem to agree.

But there is that 1%, that titanic minority.

There was a child today, who could not have been in junior high. He was given a gingerbread latte -- not the sort of thing I'd recommend for his demographic. But in any case, there is sweetness there, and whipped cream too. Surely he'd at least tolerate the drink. Or not. Hardly several sips in, and he brought it back to the counter, declared it bland and flavorless, and asked for a chai instead.

I obliged, partially because it's my job, and also because I want people to leave having enjoyed their beverage. But even still, this was a child, who could not possibly know the first thing about what a "good" latte is. And whether it's your thing or not, nothing sweetened to the extent that the gingerbread latte is can be called bland. I should not have been offended. And yet, on some level, I was.

And I always am, when such a thing happens. Whether I made the drink correctly, or even well, is not particularly relevant. What matters is not so much what I think, but what the customer does. This is not to say that the customer is always right; because this has nothing to do with right and wrong. Rather, this has everything to do with pride. And that, of course, is wholly subjective, and infinitely flexible.

This means that my ego will be battered in the future, though not as often as it's massaged. And it means that, if nothing else, I won't get lazy.

December 19, 2010

In Defense of Skim

I've not written many kind words about skim milk on this blog. In turn, I've dismissed it as tasteless, bland, insipid; and I've even dismissed its supposed health value.

But there is something to be said for skim. It is, obviously, less calorically dense than its more fat laden brethren. There. That is the good thing to be said for skim milk.

If you're trying to limit the amount of calories you consume in a given day, choosing a skim latte is one way to accomplish that goal. But choosing skim because you think saturated fat has some unique ability to make you fat is misguided. Sugar, of course, is much more deleterious to physique improving goals.

But really, it comes down to a very simple set of rules, borrowed from the message boards, and altered just a touch:
1) Eat enough protein. People will argue about how much this is, but I think 1g/protein per kg/body weight is reasonable. If you make it a priority to consume high quality (i.e. complete) protein in reasonable quantities at every meal, this will happen without counting.
2) Work out. If you want to look like you have muscle, you actually have to have muscle. That means lifting heavy things every so often. I think that the case for cardio is much stronger than the case against as well.
3) Consume an amount of food that is in line with your goals. If you want to weigh less, maintain a calorie deficit. If you want the opposite, do the opposite.

All of this is to say that a skim latte can be a part of a healthy and fit lifestyle; but it's not a guarantee of one either.

December 14, 2010

This Post Has No Fat

There is certainly something to be said for splurging. Eating is a pleasure, after all, and one that ought to be indulged in by any sensible person. Even neurotics like me submit to their sweet tooth every so often; just this weekend, I consumed an altogether too large serving of some sort of heavenly Oreo dessert.

Those who know me might be raising their eyebrows right now. To say I'm an obsessively healthy eater is to grossly understate the facts. My self worth, at times, seems to be in direct opposite proportion to by body fat percentage. That was a joke, for the record; although it perhaps flirts a with reality a bit.

But the salient point is this: I eat junk food; you eat junk food; everyone eats junk food. And no one is doomed to a life of obesity because of this fact. Hell, no one is barred from underwear model style abs by this fact.

This all leads to something that could be a rant for most any barista. We'll call in the "Large mocha, with whipped cream, but oh, with skim milk, for the love of god" phenomenon. I've written rather extensively about whole milk, and why its saturated fat and cholesterol content isn't cause for concern before. But this is not the time or the place for intelligent discourse or reasoned argument. This is time for an exasperated "REALLY?" As in, "SERIOUSLY?"


I am trying to be nice right now; and I think that, mostly, I'm succeeding. But here's the deal: The <100 calories saved by substituting skim for whole milk is irrelevant when you're drinking some giant syrup laden waste bomb.

This is not to say that sugar bombs don't have their place. Think back to a few paragraphs before. Everyone has a sweet tooth that must be indulged. And if a hot chocolate, or a mocha, a chai, or whatever, is that thing, then have at it. But be reasonable with how often you drink it, and incorporate it in to an otherwise healthy diet. (And fitness is your friend. But that's a whole different blog.)

But for the love of whatever deity you fancy, do not presume that a skim vanilla latte is significantly different from a Coke. Both have no fat, but heaping mounds of sugar. Neither is a health food; but both can be consumed without wrecking a diet or a physique.

Finally, it is worth noting that black coffee is basically a zero calorie beverage, and that caffeine has repeatedly shown itself to be beneficial to exercise and weight loss. *wink, nudge*

December 13, 2010


"I am not tired," I said. My reflection said otherwise. It was a disheveled man that looked back at me. Hair cast mostly to the side, but so haphazardly as to appear completely accidental. There were circles as well, those omnipresent semi-spheres which underline tired eyes. I leaned forward, arms bracing against the sink. Closer inspection yielded no different evidence - only a quiet confirmation.

I would complain about the cold, about finals, about papers or a million other things; but they would be hollow complaints. And so I zipped my coat, put on my gloves, quickly lamented my lack of headwear, and made for the door. There were - and still are - things to do. And things have a way, sadly, of not getting done unless you make some sort of proactive effort. Those first steps out the front door - beating the sun, and whatever tidbit of warmth it may have offered - were my first effort, easier by far than the steps to come.

"So you had a coffee, right?" That's the pending question. Or at least it would be mine, were I not the one writing this. I'm the guy who has devoted thousands of words to espousing coffee as a near-panacea. It boosts temperatures, the mind and the body.

But no. No, I haven't had coffee yet today. My bed was warm, and the air outside it decidedly was not. And so I stayed under the covers, until it was no longer possible to do so. 7:30 finals have a way of rousing even the most drowsy of persons.

The final is done now, and I've completed my morning facebook obligations. I wanted a coffee, but wanted more to write something without. I try, mostly, to keep my posts from drifting towards journal territory. I don't want this blog to be a a "Here's what I did today!" affair. But creative, quality content doesn't come from nothing. Moreover, even when inspirational material abounds, it takes a certain mental state to piece it all together in to something resembling a coherent strain of thoughts.

For me to attain that mental state, I don't need coffee - though it certainly helps. I do need to feel my hands, however, which I'm having a hard time doing at the moment. And I need to be able to keep my eyes open, and head off the keyboard. In sum, I need a nap. Or perhaps a workout. Or, more than likely, both. Following, of course, as much coffee as I can reasonably consume in the next thirty minutes or so.

December 8, 2010

Victoria's Coffee

Coffee, apparently, has something in common with lingerie.

At first, I might not have guessed that. The former, coffee, is a beverage of course, and consumed ritually by millions around the world. Lingerie, well, is none of those things - though it could be a consumable, given the right set of circumstances and ... um ... materials.

But both, at least according the Washington Post here, are luxury items. And both experienced slumping sales during our recent economic downturn. Starbucks is making money again, however, and so are lingerie companies. This is taken to mean that people have a little more money now, and are thus more able to indulge in things they might otherwise eschew.

This is all presented so matter-of-factly that it almost skirts any argument, and passes easily to the real of accepted truths. But there is a dichotomy to be struck here, though it may seem derived from a perversion of semantics.

Starbucks may well be a "luxury item", an expense to be embraced in times of plenty, and abandoned when things resources are more scarce. But Starbucks, despite its omnipresence in the coffee sphere, is not coffee itself. This is to say that coffee, itself, is not really a luxury item.

One can make coffee at home with a three dollar plastic cone, or a twenty dollar french press, that will be at least as good as the coffee sold at Starbucks. (Or most any other cafe, for that matter. I'm not trying to pick on anyone here.) Even the best beans can be had for little more than ten dollars for a 3/4 lb bag.

Thus the lesson here, I think, is twofold: First, that coffee itself needn't be expensive; And second, that "eating out", whether it be for coffee, sandwiches or pizza, is always more expensive than satisfying your fix at home.

"But wait," you might ask, "Aren't most people visiting Starbucks buying something other than coffee?" On this point, I have to agree. A large soy vanilla latte is going to be expensive, and more difficult to prepare well at home. A real espresso machine, the type that can produce crema and properly texture milk, can't be had on the cheap. And so yes, I think it goes without saying that lattes, mochas, etc, are luxury items. But these things, while coffee based, and certainly coffee related, are not coffee per se. Just another reason, as I see it, to drink coffee - just coffee.

December 6, 2010

Of Coffee and Aesthetics

I have said, of late, an awful lot regarding intellectual inquiry. This is not by accident, of course, as I tend to fancy that sort of thing. Furthermore, I tend to think it's too often ignored, in favor of more frivolous considerations.

But consider the aesthetic for a moment. Consider face value, first blush; judge the book by its cover. Or in this case, judge the latte by its aesthetic.

This consideration, like many, was made possible by an off-hand comment. I made a latte, attempted something like a rosetta, and instead created something that looked vaguely like an onion. This was abstract latte art then, or perhaps a more romantic image of the humble vegetable. Perhaps I was making a statement, contrasting the not dissimilar flavor profiles of bitter and sweet, offered in the cup and pictured on it. Perhaps I was doing something like that; or perhaps, I simply failed.

I paused, pitcher in hand, swirling the milk that remained. My lips twisted to the side, my eyes focused on the drink, and I said "Eh. Not my best work."

This is the sort of shop-talk that baristi might share, but not typically what one would say in front of a customer - specifically, the one that payed for what I may have just called a sub-standard drink. But if he was put off by this honesty, he didn't show it. He smiled instead, offering the encouragement that "It'll taste just as good; and it still looks pretty anyway."

He was right, of course. Latte art does not make a drink taste better than it might otherwise. And I had steamed the milk well enough to create something beautiful in the espresso; I simply hadn't performed the pour with proper skill. So yes, the drink looked lovely; and I imagine it tasted very good too.

But he was wrong, too, on some level. He was wrong, if he meant to say that the aesthetic of a latte is in no way related to the taste. It's easy to dismiss concerns for the visual as trivial, to call such things shallow and be done with them.

I would like, now, to break in to something of a defense of aestheticism. But I have neither the intellect nor the information at hand to offer such a defense - at least, not one I'd be okay publishing. So I will say this, and hope it is good enough for our purposes: The appearance of a thing is not merely that, and shouldn't be dismissed as having no implications beyond. Which is to say, in short, that a cover is very often a good indicator as to the contents of a book.

What that means, in this case, is that the barista who can consistently create quality latte art will almost certainly produce lattes that taste good with even greater frequency. That's because latte art isn't possible without well-steamed milk; but more importantly, it isn't possible without a barista who cares enough to create it. And it's that attention to detail which is the best indicator that a drink will have the proper consistency and flavor.

December 3, 2010

Something Like a Treatise on Blogging

The internet, a commercial told me this morning, was originally called the "world wide web". I don't recall what I was being sold; and truthfully, I switched on an (unmentionable) CD somewhere after the initial line. I did this, because I wanted to listen to music, but also because I needed time to digest what I'd just been presented with.

It was called that? Called by whom? And isn't it still, on some level? Look at your status bar; it doesn't say "www." right now, but it usually does, of course. The internet - or the web, or whatever - is and was a collectivist dream, an open source bastion of creativity, of content, of anything and everything that could be, being brought in to being.

Thus we have this world wide web of ours, equal parts landfill and library. That anyone can create content means that there will be things best left unread, things best left unseen, that will have been exposed to the public. But this is too often the refrain when speaking on the internet. Before the internet, there was bad writing. Of course, there wasn't as much, because there wasn't as much writing at all. So by sheer volume, there is more garbage available for consumption now than ever before.

But volume, as any baker can tell you, is not the best way measure much of anything. The internet has provided, by virtue of its anyone can play ethic, a venue for anyone and everyone to vent, to articulate, to write on whatever they please whenever they choose to do so.

But for all the information and opinion the internet has, I could not find a word, or a collection of them, that would describe in too grandiose terms how beautiful a thing this is. There is a thing they call "the gatekeeper" in journalism school. This mythical figure, or force, is that thing which decides what gets published. Thus, this thing decides what ideas the public can - and by proxy, should - consume.

This gatekeeper exists, but he is withered and dying, if not collapsed already. The internet is the thing which stuck the knife in his back.

And so we are here, for better or, well, certainly for better. The king is dead. Long live the king. And this new king promises and endlessly fertile ground, where successes and failures are infinitely possible.

I picture this ground being tilled by bloggers, their toil producing things which, at the very least, offer them subsistence. But there are others, of course. Others who grow something so majestic, so necessary, that it spreads, that it feeds that masses, and even inspires them to dirty their own hands.

This has all been preamble. What I mean to say, and what I would like to, but cannot succinctly, is that the blogoshpere is filled with endlessly talented writers. That there are blogs out there which contain content which is entertaining, inspiring, intimidating, and nothing short of brilliant. There are ideas created, formed, given life and legs which could not have evolved outside of this milieu. Or perhaps more accurately, ideas which could not have been publicly articulated outside of this milieu.

I am, as anyone ought to be, quite aware that brilliance has been put to paper long before the internet existed. But these things, I think, skew towards being intimidating. I can read James Joyce, or Oscar Wilde, and marvel at, not one trait of their writing, but their whole intellect which allowed for their material to exist. But I cannot fathom how one might go about entering that same arena. In some ways - most ways, even - I would feel wholly unworthy. If the published word is gospel, then I would feel every bit the heretic.

But blogging is, somehow, different. The words are no less real, the sentiments they express no less genuine. But that anyone can do it - that I myself do it - lends a feeling of freedom from the expectation of perfection. It also, thankfully, means that content is free as well.

This, I think, is that thing which is most beautiful. Not that brilliant writing can exist. It always has. But that brilliant writing exists, now, on everything. Joyce and Wilde were not, for instance, writing about their breakfast, the NBA, glucose metabolism, or underwear ads. But one can find just that now. I know, because I've read such pieces.

I've wavered on whether I should highlight anything specific here, because I truly derive my inspiration from almost innumerable points. But sports blogs - and NBA in particular - deserve focus. I was, not so long ago, a sports columnist myself. And I tried my best, for some time, not to write the best I could, but to produce the best sports columns I could. That is, I had an archetype in my mind, and I tried to construct things that were modeled after it.

This site, more than any other, shattered that image I held. It is an NBA blog, and links to others which are quite good as well. The posts are not always long, but some of the best are. There are big words, and bigger concepts. Discussions of aesthetics, of philosophy, or roles and connotations and meanings, and of course, basketball.

A taste, then, from a recent post: Wall can still disrupt our basketball brains, and yet to really come into his own, he must expand this sensibility to an entire unit. Impossible? Who knows. Paul is a mastermind, Rondo an eccentric, Nash a trickster. Jazz fans, stick your Deron Williams line here. None of them had Wall's smoldering message, and yet each has consistently found a way to lead their troops not only toward the basket, but to send them scurrying with style -- an extension of themselves.

The point I'm making, or at least trying to, is this: On any subject, there exists infinite ideas, and infinitely more ways to express them. Everything that exists deserves this sort of inquiry; and everyone ought to have access to it, both to consume and create. 

My motivation then, on some level, was to create a blog about coffee which would, in some ways, take a step in pursuit of this ideal. There are other coffee blogs already, of course. More popular ones and, by most metrics, probably better ones. But none that I've found with the scope I want, the desire to present thousands of words on what coffee means, its role in our lives, society, etc. I claim nothing like success in this venture. That, I think, would imply a completion. And that, of course, is impossible. There is more to think on, and thus, more to write on.

And, provided I consume enough caffeine, I'll continue to do that.

December 1, 2010

The Jolly Green Giant

I wrote, not so long ago, about my ceramic travel mug, and my affection for it. To recycle my material a bit: It keeps drinks hot, has a neutral taste, and doesn't contribute to landfills.

But speaking of recycling... Starbucks is doing just that with its paper cups.

Or at least, the company is looking to move in that direction. This is laudable, of course. I say that like it's obvious, because it strikes me as such; but this is not to say that everyone will agree.

Recycling, if I may quote the first commenter on the article linked above, is seen by some as "the salve of faux environmentalism". Basically, while it makes sense on some intuitive level that recycling would benefit the environment and save trees/money/etc., the evidence to support that position is a tad wanting. In fact, if you're willing to look a bit, you can find evidence to suggest that recycling of many materials - paper included - may in fact be more wasteful than producing new products altogether.

This is a debate I don't fully grasp, so I won't pretend to. Instead, I will default to what seems to be something like a popular consensus. (Granted, that's often not a wise thing to do.) I will say that Starbucks is, at the very least, to be commended for taking a step in what the company perceives to be the right direction.

Cynicism is easy - especially when directed at such a popular target as Starbucks. But cynicism is also, just as frequently, too easy. That is, when dealing with large corporations, one can levy all manner of critiques, can demean any apparent attempts at benevolence as empty gestures or token consolations. But that is not to say that one should do so.

So yes, I will say that Starbucks is doing the right thing here. Or at the very least, it's trying to.

I will also say that the barista pictured above the linked article is wearing a shirt I'm pretty sure I own, and that the skinny white tie is a very nice touch. Mostly, I'm disappointed that it never occurred to me to try something similar. I suppose there's a reason I blog about coffee, and not fashion.