Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ristretto, Caffé Artigiano, Vancouver

Caffé Artigiano has a lot going for it:
- Every winner of the Canadian Barista Championship, since the competition began in 2003, has been from Caffé Artigiano.
- They have a rather intimidating five-group LM machine:

- They are big on non-espresso business too, with french press and (from memory) a pourover of the day (I think - let me know if I'm wrong about that).
- They have this sign:

Well, there was no need to take advantage of their generous returns policy. This ristretto was amazing. It even prompted me to use the #godshot hashtag on Twitter.

I'm not sure if it really qualifies as a godshot, but this is one of the few times my whole flock of tastebuds stood up and said, "Dude, what the hell was that?!" I wish I could remember more, but, er, I'm writing this nearly a month later so it's a bit hard to remember the taste.

Cappuccino, Uva Wine Bar, Vancouver

A lot of hotels have some sort of coffee in the lobby, or in the bar/restaurant attached to the lobby. It is rarely any good. Even rarer still, is those hotels with lobby coffee so good that you would come back and visit again even if you weren't staying upstairs. I gave Uva a bit of a scout when we checked in today, and noticed the Synesso and the fact that they were using 49th Parallel beans. This place seemed to be worth checking out, and I could get there without walking outside. And that was a relief. It had been raining since we got here.

Nice. Danny tried to order a flat white. The guy hadn't heard of them. It's nice to know that the great wave of flat white* hasn't yet swept through Vancouver. The water was served in a jar too, which reminded me a bit of Greenhouse, although I later found out these jars aren't recycled. Buying brand new jars to use as water glasses seems a little strange, but the coffee was pretty happening. I came back about five times while I was in town.

* Flat whites, known and loved and consumed in Australia (ordered by me often as a safeguard against getting a too-foamy cappuccino or a too-weak latté), seem to have made people go mental in London recently. Specialty coffee in London is awash with Kiwi and Aussie baristas, they make great coffee (some of which are flat whites), and lots of punters are enjoying it. Unfortunately, some of the bigger chains have gleaned from this that the key to success is not making better coffee, but making a drink called a flat white.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Espresso, Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Los Angeles

It was going to be a long
long walk. Dealbreakingly long. No matter which Intelligentsia location I chose - and I made a pact with myself to visit at least one of them - they were pretty bloody hard to get to from where I was in West Hollywood. Los Angeles has a lot of great bits, but they are all so far apart as to make walking between them almost an impossibility. It seemed I could walk for an hour and still only just cross from West Hollywood into Hollywood. I found one place that seemed to rent out bikes, and it didn't seem far away on the map.
But it was.
And it turns out they don't rent out bikes. They only do that at their other stores, in more bike-friendly locations. If I was at all inclined to write passive-agressive negative reviews on Yelp, I would protest that this bike shop's Yelp listing said that it hires out bikes. But where do you go to complain when Yelp's information is incorrect? Who Yelps the Yelp?
I walked a bit further down Melrose, unsure if I was really going to walk for three hours to Intelligentsia way up the other end of Hollywood proper where Santa Monica Blvd meets Sunset (as far as I knew those two boulevards were parallel - would I have to walk INFINITE miles to reach their intersection?), recoiling at the numerous Ed Hardy crimes being committed around me, when all of a sudden, outside a vintage t-shirt store (if it has a URL on it, it ain't vintage in my book) I saw a taxi.
Crisis averted!
I got in, and gave him some fairly confusing directions. He executed a confusing series of U-turns, forgot to switch on the meter for a while, and soon we were tearing up Santa Monica. On the way I saw a poster for Point Break Live, which sounds like a great idea until you search for it on YouTube.
The cab ride cost me $20. Ouch. I was going to have to rethink my return journey. Later. First: coffee.

Here we are. Just slightly around the corner from where the taxi spat me out on the pavement, I'm a little horrified to admit that I knew which way to walk because I remembered that Google Street View showed that the place I was looking for was across the road from some sort of leather fetish shop called Rough Trade. Intelligentsia was alive with delicious coffee-related sounds, aloof white person conversation, a stampede across Macbook Pro keyboards, and the smug clatter of iPhone-on-marble. I'd come to the right place: it seems you can't have one without the other three. And not a single Ed Hardy t-shirt in sight.

Above, you can see two Synessos, two clover™, many grinders (including a doserless one that seemed to dish out the same weight every time - I was happy to not have my queueing accompanied by the CLAK CLAK CLAK CLAK empty doser soundtrack) and a queue that goes all the way out the door. I queued up. For a long time. A very long time. Not only do these customers know it's worth coming all the way here, they know it's worth queueing for too. To avoid queueing again, I ordered an espresso and a cappuccino.

Delicious. I downed the espresso first - it had a much shorter shelf life - but that meant I couldn't really taste the cappuccino afterwards. My tastebuds had set their coffee threshold so high after the espresso that they didn't even see the cappuccino come in the door. But I gave them time to settle down. It was worth it. Easily worth the journey. And possibly the $20 cab ride. But not another $20 to get back. I got on the bus instead, which cost $1.25 and took me almost exactly back to the hotel. But bus rides in foreign countries are always terrifying when you don't know how the fares work.
"Er, just down to La Cienega."
That sounded made-up. Whatever. I tried to hand the change to him.
"No. The machine."
I put my money in. It gladly accepted it. It didn't spit anything out though.
By this point we were at the next stop and angry people who knew how to ride a bus were lining up behind me wondering what the problem was.
"What do you need?"
"I put my money in, nothing came out."
"No ticket."
I couldn't tell if it was a question or a statement. Was he asking if I had a ticket already? Did that mean I was supposed to buy one before I got on?
"Can I buy one?"
"No. No ticket."
He meant I just put the money in, and it doesn't issue a ticket. I guess that's a good system, if you can only enter through the front doors. I slunk to the back of the bus like a tourist. A very caffeinated one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Espresso, Starbucks, West Hollywood

It begins. I didn't really want to order or drink this, but I needed something to force myself awake to combat the jet lag. That, and the caffeine addiction thing.

The first of many, I'm sure.
Damn addiction.
On the bright side: I've had much worse Starbucks espressi than this one in the past.
But the caffeine had other effects. It almost convinced me to buy a Seeburg Rhythm Prince from the Music Thrift Store. It's a drum machine from the 60s, which involves some sort of rotating drum, the speed of which is controlled by the "tempo" knob. Very proto-steam-techno-punk.
But it was bigger than my suitcase. And the online version is just as entertaining and doesn't require that antiquated AC lead.

note: The date/time I entered for this post is not correct. I probably had it at about 4.00pm, but that would put it before the one I had on the plane on the way here. That west-to-east dateline crossing is the closest thing we have to time travel.

QANTAS, Melbourne to Los Angeles

I'm not quite sure who is to blame for me not getting any sleep on this fourteen hour flight. But the cup pictured above may have something to do with it, aided and abetted by the short mac from Macchinetta and the Aeropress I had at home.
While we're on the subject: I didn't bring the Aeropress with me. I've been planning to for weeks, but I couldn't crunch the numbers. It would have meant bringing a bigger suitcase. That's hard to justify.

Short Macchiato, Macchinetta, Melbourne Airport

"Just a short mac thanks."
"Warm or cold milk?"
Nice. That's a new one.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Latte, Dancing Goat, Ray's Outdoors Carpark, Preston

Did you mean 'rays outdoors'?

No. I did not mean that. I wouldn't have gone to so much trouble to type the apostrophe if I didn't mean to, you stupid phone. Unless of course you're being clever. Sun rays. Outdoors. RAYS OUTDOORS. Geddit?
No, of course not.
I did mean Ray's Outdoors, because Dancing Goat have a van in the carpark every morning, and I've been meaning to check it out for a while now. But they're only open until 10.00am, and it's very rare that I'm driving down Bell St before then on a weekday.

Just be careful exiting via the "NO EXIT" driveway. I confused the hell out of an old guy in a 626. Who knows, maybe he's still there, hovering in the left lane at 5km/h wondering why the carpark has two exits but no entry.

Yes, my car needs a wash. But unfortunately under level 3a water restrictions if I want to wash with my car, I can only use a bucket, and even then only to wash windows and mirrors. To wash the whole thing I have to go to a car wash. Unsurprisingly, car washes seem surprisingly expensive. Were they always that way?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

On Stencils: Latte, home

A note to advertisers:

You are not going to win me over with stencil art. Stencils jumped the shark when Microsoft used them to launch the original Xbox. That was in early 2002.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ristretto, Proud Mary, Collingwood

To tip me over the three-coffees-in-an-hour line, I just had to go for a 'spro or a 'stro before I staggered, shaking, back out into the daylight. I went for the Ipanema. And downed it before I had time to get the camera out.

I was informed that the bean from Ipanema had been roasted 14 days ago, and stored in a modified bar fridge, that was pretty much a wine fridge, but allowed higher humidity. Fascinating. And it involves hardware hacking. But I didn't quite know how to say, "Oh, I know, I read that on a blog this morning before I came here."

Another Flat White, Proud Mary, Collingwood

Interestingly, the menu here includes a lot of beverages that serious third-Google-wave-of-summer coffee places often shy away from. There's a white hot chocolate. There's two ways to order a mocha - I saw them constructing one of the more elaborate ones while I was here. It's interesting. This seems to be one of those serious coffee places that will attract even non-coffee drinkers, and at least they'll be able to order something too. It kind of makes me want to see how they tackle a hot chocolate, I'm sure it would be distinctive. But that would mean I wouldn't be ordering coffee, and, in the immortal words of Anthony Kiedis in Point Break, that would be a waste of time.

Another décor note: this place also ticks the two-turntables-and-a-microphone(and a mixer) box. The walls are also adorned with the three patron saints of pawn shop consumer-grade hi-fi speakers: Sansui, Technics and Kenwood. I like to think this can only mean one thing: everybody hangs out here and listens to Creedence after work.

Flat White, Proud Mary, Collingwood

There has been quite a substantial amount of tweet/blog hype about Proud Mary. I managed to get down there on their third day of business. Here's what you need to know, and possibly already do know if you follow the same people I follow on Twitter:
  • It's the new place from Nolan "Liar Liar" Hirte.
  • It's in Collingwood.
  • They have an enormous coffee machine.
More specifically, it's a six-group Synesso. I mean, c'mon. Having a Synesso is impressive enough. But this is a really, really, really big one. One of its three steam wands is pedal-operated too, I hear. You might be thinking, "Yeah, a big coffee machine, that won't impress me," but seriously, it's pretty intimidating when you walk in the door. Even if you don't care what a Synesso is, and don't drink coffee, you'll probably just wonder how heavy it is and how they got it in the building. But if you are into that sort of machine-spotting behaviour, you'll be glad to know they also have a clover™, a pretty serious siphon setup, and many grinders. I went for a flat white while I waited for the breakfast.

Magic. It just made me want to drink more. So I did. See the next post for more details.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Espresso, DOC, Carlton

I got pretty excited yesterday when a horse named Shocking won the Melbourne Cup. I couldn't wait to see the headlines the next day. Those headline kids were going to have so much fun with the pun. "Shocking result", etc. If ever there was an opportunity to get everyone vomiting in their muesli at the so-predictable-it's-unexpected hilarity of the pun, this was it!

The Age's actual headline was a little lukewarm, really. It would have been better put to use at the top of a story about a guy getting electrocuted trying to jump an electric fence to steal a slab of Toohey's New.

Most importantly, somebody got paid to come up with that. I'm gonna kill my guidance counsellor.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Latte, Michel's Espresso, Barkley Square, Brunswick

Barkley Square. It sounds familiar. Wasn't there a standard about it?

Oh. No, there wasn't. It all depends how you pronounce "Berkeley" I guess.

Anyhow, this Michel's cracks me up every time I see it. It's mainly because of what happened the first time I came to Barkley Square with LLL. We walked in through the food court, past a Baker's Delight, a fish shop and a butcher's, on the way to the Coles. There was a guy selling books on some trestle tables in the middle. It not only sounded familiar, it also looked exceedingly familiar.

LLL: Woooah, this is like Fountain Gate!
R: Yep, it's got everything that every other shopping centre has. Look out, there's a Flight Centre coming up on the left. Just this side of EB Games.
LLL: What's next, a Michel's Patisserie?!

We rounded the corner, and there was Michel's. Of course, she didn't know it was coming. But if you take notice of this sort of thing, it's easy to predict. I see it in the distance as I walk into EB Games every time I go to Barkley Square (that's pretty much the only reason I go there), and I often consider trying their coffee, unless I'm too busy wondering why a Coles and a Safeway decided to open right next to each other. But the coffee always seemed like a good idea. After all, Michel's Espresso is a pretty substantial blip on Instaurator's CV, is it not? Yes, it is. I figured a visit to Michel's would play out like a This is What Happens When you Train Staff Well instructional video. So, I tried to go there three times today. Really. Three times.
  1. After buying Brütal Legend from EB Games (OMG! So freaking Mëtäl!!) I thought, "That's it. Today's the day. I'm going to have a latté from Michel's, be blown away, then go home and play Brütal Legend." But I saw the $3.40 (from memory) espresso price, and realised Toby's was just on the other side of the car park. So I left.
  2. Toby's was closed. It's hard to know who's going to be open on Cup Eve. So I headed back to Michel's again. I got spooked by the queue. So I left.
  3. I drove to the fish guy on Nicholson St. He was closed. I remembered the fish guy at Barkley Square was open. The only way I could justify driving back there was if I also had a coffee. So I went in.
I must have looked psychotic, almost ordering a coffee twice before finally having one. Of course, we have to map that against the psychoticity associated with taking photos of a cup of coffee in public. Yes, that was a plural. Photos. I'm still not sure how the multi-tap autofocus biz works.

It was pretty good. You could do a hell of a lot worse, especially at a cookie-cutter mall-alike like this. If you're about to drop in at Coles because you forgot to get carrots at Safeway after picking up some Baker's Delight bread on the way out of Flight Centre after a quick peruse through the second-hand PSP rack at EB Games, be assured that Michel's is on the safe list. Of course, I cannot guarantee chain-wide trustworthiness. That kind of research needs a whole blog dedicated to it.
Anyone game to review every Michel's in the country?