Friday, December 11, 2009

Syphon, Sensory Lab, Melbourne

Sensory Lab1 – St Ali's new jaunt that has successfully smuggled specialty coffee into mainstream via David Jones, morning television, evening television and beyond – would surely not disappoint in the coffee department. I had no doubts about that. But where it could have disappointed was not looking as much like a lab as its name suggested. I'm talking about a laboratory. Not that other lab that I joked about recently (though "sensory lab" sounds like a synonym for "seeing-eye dog" to me).


“Wow, check it out! Lab coats!”
I was pretty happy. The lab coats seemed to come in roughly only one size, making them more like lab shirts for some of the taller staff members, but lab coats they were. Moving along down the list of Things That Make Something Look Like a Lab we have the lab equipment. I want to see beakers. Preferably bubbling. The more contraptions I've never seen before, the better. And Sensory Lab had them in droves.


Stirring. Bubbling. Halogen heating. This sure as fuck was a lab, and experiments were indeed taking place. Just when I thought my lab equipment cup was full, I saw the cabinet behind the counter. Inside was a huge cold drip setup, with all the glass-encased malevolence of the Terminator's arm that they kept in that vault at Cyberdyne Systems. Want a cup of cold drip coffee? Wait there a while, we need two licensed security guards to turn a key simultaneously. Click.
Whirr.
But the most exciting bit about the cold drip display was that there was a laptop in there too. I had to know why. Temperature monitor? Microprocessor-controlled drip rate? Does it send a tweet when it's done brewing? SETI? I just had to ask.
“Sorry, I was just wondering what that laptop does?”
It turned out it was just there to play music.
But that's okay.
Dad could only get away from work for twenty minutes, so we were a bit short on time, but we were easily talked into having some of the Geisha, on syphon.
“You'd be mad not to try that one,” we were told. You can't really argue with that.
The syphoned geisha is the $12.00 cup of coffee that people have made such a big deal of. I don't see why. If they have a cup of coffee worth $12.00, so be it. It must be better, or rarer, than less expensive cups of coffee. The guy across the road from me owns a Maserati. When he bought it, I'm sure he knew there were other cars out there that cost less.

We were soon advised that some of the flavours would only become apparent at lower temperatures.
Dad was still in a hurry to get back to work, and the waiting time wasn't helping.
"So, I'm standing here waiting for my coffee to go cold?"
"Yeah. Sounds like a Joe Jackson song."
It probably would have made more sense to sit down with our syphons, while we waited for the temperature to equilibriumify itself, but then we wouldn't have seen the whole process.

So that's Sensory Lab1. Very much worth seeing if you're in the city, and even more worth drinking coffee from. That little 1 in the name didn't seem to refer to a footnote, so I guess it suggests there will soon be a Sensory Lab2.

1. this is not a footnote.
2. neither is this.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Espresso, Ninth Street Espresso, New York

Ninth Street have a few stores, all scattered about either end of 9th St, as you may have expected. I froze my ass off walking all the way to the farthest one, trying to walk a rough equilateral triangle before I had to go to the airport. Shuffle chose Justin Timberlake's second album. I agreed that it was a good choice.


As I reached into my pocket to pay for my espresso, I managed to stab myself under the thumbnail with a staple. My second pocket-rummaging-related injury this week. The guy in the DMC glasses who served me also gave me a Band-Aid. That's above and beyond the call of duty.

Brilliant. I really wanted to buy some beans or some cups or a pair of scales, but my luggage was already annoyed at me. I didn't want to push it.

That concludes my half-a-day of espresso in NYC. I wasn't there for long enough, but I'm glad I spent the whole time as caffeinated as I was. Andy also recommended I check out a place called Abrazo, but when I asked Google Maps it tried to direct me to Abruzzi in Italy. That's a long walk from the East Village.

Triple Ristretto, Café Grumpy, New York

This is Café Grumpy in Chelsea: stop number one in my See Manhattan While Walking Between Espressi Until I Have to Go to the Airport self-guided tour. I walked here from Chinatown. It felt like my nose was about to fall off from the cold when I walked in the door. En route, I saw a very long queue outside an American Apparel store. It was an open casting call. There was a sign instructing people to walk in and to the right, and leave their resumé on the counter. SWPL. I really wanted to take a photo of the queue and the sign, but I was worried the people might think my impromptu iPhotography was part of the audition and start stripping down to their simple unbranded t-shirts and risk unnecessary hypothermia.

Synesso. Two clover™ machines. For the tea drinkers some sort of instant-hot-water machine; a few rungs up from the Tefal, though many rungs down from the Über Boiler. The espresso comes with the tagline "triple ristretto", though I think the overtly festive colour scheme of the cup and saucer is also worth mentioning.

I also had a cappuccino shortly after, which I assume was also made from a triple ristretto. Does that mean I had six cups of coffee in twenty-four minutes? No, that's not really how it works, but it would explain why my head started spinning as I walked back down 20th. That couldn't have just been the cold weather.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cappuccino, Ground Support, New York

"Yeah, it was called Ground...something. Oh, shit! GROUND! I get it now!"

Yes, it's the past-tense of grind. It would be even more apt if this place was at an airport. On the tarmac. You have to wear a hi-viz tabard and get waved out there by a dude with huge ear muffs and those semaphore hi-viz squash racquets.

Back to reality: I found this place by switching on Data Roaming (which I still may regret - haven't had my next phone bill yet...gulp...) and searching Google Maps for "intelligentsia", and then walking toward the nearest dot. About four blocks in the rain without an umbrella took me to Ground Support. Then I realised I had no US dollars yet, and walked another block to some pizza place with an "ATM" sign out the front.

I hate using those backwater, fly-by-night ATMs when overseas. Know what I mean? This one was particularly suspicious-looking, with a sign on the front proudly saying that it will not dispense receipts. For some reason I though it was safe, because there were a bunch of cops in the shop too, ordering slices of pizza at 11.00am. But credit card fraud is dangerous. It's like your wallet caught a venereal disease. You can't just go sticking your credit card in any old cheap, back-alley, fly-by-night...

Okay that metaphor is too disgusting to continue with. Back to Ground Support. Their range of cup sizes confused me.


I ordered a small cappuccino, and made sure that it wasn't going to be made with 400oz of milk. Luckily for me, a "small" is the fourth one from the left.

Nice.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Espresso, Espressolab, Quebec

"What time are you open until?"
"10 o'clock."
"Yesss!" (accompanied by Lleyton Hewitt-style victory gesture)

We ducked in next door for a pho first, had trouble pronouncing French approximations of Vietnamese words for "soup", then came back to Espressolab.
At first, I hoped an "espresso lab" would look a bit like this:


But no, it was more like a huge empty café, tastefully decorated though. You know, furniture made of wood, concrete benches. Kind of minimal. It's what Starbucks could look like if they ever reconsider their patented "the 90s just vomited into a green bucket" look.
The lack of customers added to the minimalism too, though I found out they hadn't been open for long.
Beans from 49th Parallel. It's good to see that stuff is making it out this far east.
My espresso was pretty happening. Danny said his latte was a bit on the weak side, though the giant cup may have something to do with that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Espresso, Café Santé Veritas, Montreal

There's an old saying.

"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."

I agree, but there are a few exceptions. If it's snowing, nowhere is walking distance. That's the problem I ran into in Montreal. I planned on visiting Caffe in Gamba.
I started walking.
It was a good 45 minutes each way, but I had the time.
It got colder.
It snowed a bit.
It got even colder.
It snowed a bit more.
Then it snowed a lot.
That was all in the first ten minutes.
I decided it wasn't worth either the walk or a taxi (I was still recovering from the one-way $20 cab I took in LA solely for coffee only a few weeks ago), so I turned back.

So I wasn't going to make it to Gamba. I went to Veritas instead. The coffee was great. Excellent, actually. The service was a little abrupt. Not rude, or appalling or anything like that, it just didn't make me want to go back there. The place was deserted when I walked in.
"Hi. I was just after an espr..."
"Can you please order at the register?"
I took three steps to the left, to the other side of the pillar, and repeated my order.
Back in my day, she would have taken my order and my money and not really given a fuck where I was standing.
And it's not a French/English thing. No. My experience in Montreal (though not necessarily all of Quebec) was that everybody will start a conversation in French, but will happily continue it in English - if you clearly speak no French - without swearing at you.
I don't speak any French, and expect to be sworn at and/or spat on accordingly, so anything less impolite than that is always welcomed.
But that's not important. The coffee was serious. And photogenic.

The teaspoon is in the photo for scale, so you know the cup is only slightly larger in diameter than the length of the spoony bit of a teaspoon. Or is that a coffeespoon? Either way, it was never going to balance on that saucer.