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Columbia Tragedy along with some coffee news
Columbia Tragedy along with some coffee news
Posted February 1, 2003 8:45pm
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My thoughts today are, of course, with the family, friends, colleagues and supporters of the seven astronauts who perished in the Columbia disaster this morning.

I didn't hear about the tragedy until about 5pm today, because I've been in a vacuum of sorts, writing a few articles, taking photos, and setting up a special machine that I'll talk about in another Cafe Talk. It wasn't until I checked the newsgroup alt.coffee at around 5 that I discovered - at first I thought the posting was a joke, some sick attempt at humour, since the anniversary of the Challenger disaster was only a few days ago. I very soon found out it wasn't a joke.

I was sitting in the lunchroom of my high school's cafeteria (Ridgemont HS, Ottawa) eating lunch and playing euchre with some friends when I heard the news about the Challenger - a student named Kelly Schaefer came in and told us. We didn't believe it at all, but the principal of the school, Ed Pettinger came on the intercom soon after with the news. It's funny how I remember the exact time and place and circumstance: my generation's Kennedy Assasination, so we were told.

Finding out about 9/11 will forever be vivid - Jeanette woke me up with CNN turned on in the bedroom, just as the first tower (last to collapse) fell. I remember saying "holy shit" over and over again as I struggled to wake up and understand what was happening. I didn't leave the TV set (except to sleep) for two days.

This time around, I went about 12 hours before I knew, and I found out through a news group. My thoughts are with them and their close ones tonight.

Coffee News
I debated putting any coffee news in this CafeTalk, but if I didn't, I'd have to put it up in a few days, and remove the Columbia thoughts, so this way, I can leave them online front and centre for a longer time. Here goes.

A lot going on in the world of coffee. There's a Barista Jam going on in Seattle on the weekend of Valentine's day (Feb 14 to 16), where some of the world's best Baristi will come together to train, exchange ideas, theories, practices, and compete in a competition on Sunday. I've been invited to attend by the organizers, Sherri and Danny Johns (the folks who organize all the US based Barista competitions), so Jeanette and I are packing up and heading to Seattle for the weekend. I'll get to visit my fave cafe once again, Zoka's, and also hook up with some of the best folks in the coffee biz: the people at ESI - they are hosting the event in their office and showroom. I'm really looking forward to it.

A couple of Baristi from Artigiano Cafe and JJ Bean Coffee (two Vancouver cafes / roasters) will be going to the Jam as well, and I helped choose the ones from JJ Bean: Last Tuesday, they held an in-house Barista Competition, and they honoured me by asking me to be a judge.

It was a blast - JJ Bean Baristi who entered were all very qualified people, and I'd be proud to have a shot served by any of them. A couple stood out though, and myself, along with another judge, picked the winners. I managed to lose my notes from the competition, so I don't have the winners' names but here's some examples of the latte art they did for the competition - I snapped some quick snaps as they were served.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image

The machine used at the competition is the commercial machine I think is the best: a 4 group La Marzocco (they use FB70s at JJ Bean - the red ferrari lookin' machine).

I say La Marzocco (LM) machines are the best because they are ideally suited for N. American and especially west coast espresso and milk-based drinks. No machine steams like a La Marzocco. They have two boilers - one for brewing, and one for steaming, and the steam power is phenomenal. Brewing has challenges - if you don't use the machine frequently, you have temperature issues with the brew head. But you get amazing thermal stability on a well used machine because its a boiler full of brewing water, not just a heat exchanger which can fluctuate.

I have had many opportunities to steam with a LM machine in the past, and both this Tuesday and today I spent literally hours steaming and brewing on the machines. In fact, I went through two jugs of milk today steaming with a LM Linea machine. I can say that there's no good "reality check" for going from a consumer machine (even high end ones like a Euro Junior 2000 or an Isomac Millenium) to a commercial machine in terms of steaming prowess - home machines can steam very well, but true commercial machines like LMs are on a different level, and are very fast. You can get 10 oz of milk up to 160F in under 12 seconds on a LM machine if you're not careful. In fact, a practiced Barista can probably do two pitchers of milk to serving temperatures during one triple basket pull into two cappuccino cups. I've seen it done.

I'm not saying that consumer machines suck at steaming. But I do have a whole new appreciation for how the big 6, 8, 10, 12, 15 litre commercial machines handle the job of frothing and steaming milk.

More next time. And again, today was a very tragic day, and I hope everyone takes a moment to give a thought to those seven brave astronauts. I sure have.

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