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Great Coffee and Fine Food Worldwide


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#1 jasonlockwood

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Posted 18 April 2010 - 08:03 PM

Jason, would you say, based on this "independent" spirit, that Australia is a more pleasant place for Objectivists to live than (most of) the US?

I'd say it is in a number of ways, with the proviso that Australia is intellectually bland and, due to its distance and population, more expensive. With regard to the first item, that is my observation after living here for two years so far, but I do wonder if Aussies would revolt the way Americans are if the country started lurching leftward. Absent an explicit political philosophy, my guess is they wouldn't to the same degree. I would have to defer to our native born Australians here to provide their more educated opinions, though.

A couple things I notice that are wonderful here: people strike me as more courteous and friendly. If someone accidentally brushes you or bumps into you, they automatically say 'sorry' or 'excuse me.' Australians are also very hard working, but they enjoy their time off, too. Long holidays are the norm, but I notice that when Australians take time off from work, they plan well in advance to ensure everything is properly covered in their absence.

The food and coffee in Australia are several cuts above what one finds in America. Coffee is so highly regarded as an art form that if a barista makes a bad cup of coffee here (and bad is still superior to what's served in America), an Australian has no qualms about returning it. The barista will feel *embarrassed* that he rushed the preparation and will take pains to go slower to make a better coffee. That to me shows how committed to quality Australians are, even in the preparation as something so 'mundane' as coffee.

I could go on, but I think everyone gets the idea. I find living here to be generally wonderful, noting the shortcomings and having made peace with the long travel required to go nearly anywhere outside the country - aside from New Zealand.

#2 rtg24

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Posted 18 April 2010 - 08:18 PM

The food and coffee in Australia are several cuts above what one finds in America. Coffee is so highly regarded as an art form that if a barista makes a bad cup of coffee here (and bad is still superior to what's served in America), an Australian has no qualms about returning it. The barista will feel *embarrassed* that he rushed the preparation and will take pains to go slower to make a better coffee. That to me shows how committed to quality Australians are, even in the preparation as something so 'mundane' as coffee.

Thanks for your detailed reply.

Part of why I asked was actually this! In London, by far the best coffee I have consistently had - with the best pastries - was in Flat White in Soho (I strongly, strongly recommend any member try if they are in London on business or for leisure). Alas the rest of London knows and in my last 7 visits (every time I was passing through town, hehe) I was unable to get a seat. I sometimes wonder if people camp outside in the morning.

You talk about geography as a disadvantage, but as a markets guy I have found Australia extremely advantaged by its proximity to Asia! In particular, the AUD is stronger than ever thanks to the commodities boom driven by genuine demand on the part of China.

Do you travel to Asia much? I would absolutely love to be within reach of magically human, unique and civilized cities as Hong Kong or Tokyo...

#3 jasonlockwood

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Posted 19 April 2010 - 11:12 AM

Part of why I asked was actually this! In London, by far the best coffee I have consistently had - with the best pastries - was in Flat White in Soho (I strongly, strongly recommend any member try if they are in London on business or for leisure). Alas the rest of London knows and in my last 7 visits (every time I was passing through town, hehe) I was unable to get a seat. I sometimes wonder if people camp outside in the morning.

You talk about geography as a disadvantage, but as a markets guy I have found Australia extremely advantaged by its proximity to Asia! In particular, the AUD is stronger than ever thanks to the commodities boom driven by genuine demand on the part of China.

Do you travel to Asia much? I would absolutely love to be within reach of magically human, unique and civilized cities as Hong Kong or Tokyo...

Interesting. I think the flat white is either an Australian or Kiwi concoction, and I've heard the style of coffee has been exported to the UK to good success. It happens to be my favourite style of coffee.

I think you're right about proximity, relatively speaking, to Asian markets. It is definitely closer than the US or Europe, but it still takes seven or eight hours from Sydney to travel to anywhere in Southeast Asia. Japan is more like 10 hours away. My work covers mainly Australia and New Zealand, but I do occasionally travel to parts of Asia, including India, where I am headed this weekend, as it turns out.

A couple things to note about the Australian economy: there was no forced lending la CRA in the US and due to the foreclosure laws (as I understand them), one cannot simply walk away from a property the bank has seized. One is still liable for the amount owed on the property. And further, in all my research here I have seen that qualifying for a loan for a house or unit (and a 'unit' here can mean a townhouse or an apartment) is much more difficult than it was in the US. Interestingly, one never hears much in the media about 'affordable housing' in Australia. People rent for as long as they need to until they can raise the capital for a home of their own. A neighbour of mine lived in a rented apartment for eight years or so until he and his wife could save enough to buy a house.

Australia may not be a capitalist paradise since it has many welfare state elements, but it is currently superior to the US and certainly Europe. In my two years of living here, I have not for one minute regretted my decision to settle in Australia.

#4 rtg24

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Posted 19 April 2010 - 11:46 AM

Yes, they called it Flat White to signal any aussies that they too can have decent coffee in the land of instant-tasting Starbucks!

How many times have you had encounters with "interesting" animals? One thing that has always prevented me from considering a full time move to AU is the - I hear - relatively high chance of one day putting your foot in a shoe and feeling a sting from a funnel web... not to mention the box jellyfishes and other wildlife that make surfing interesting on the East coast!

#5 Arnold

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Posted 19 April 2010 - 01:44 PM

I think the flat white is either an Australian or Kiwi concoction, and I've heard the style of coffee has been exported to the UK to good success. It happens to be my favourite style of coffee.

I am in the habit now, of asking for a black coffee with milk on the side. Why? Because often when you ask for a flat white, you get a coffee made with milk rather than water. It just depends where you go.

#6 jasonlockwood

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 02:54 AM

I think the flat white is either an Australian or Kiwi concoction, and I've heard the style of coffee has been exported to the UK to good success. It happens to be my favourite style of coffee.

I am in the habit now, of asking for a black coffee with milk on the side. Why? Because often when you ask for a flat white, you get a coffee made with milk rather than water. It just depends where you go.

Agreed. I have my favourite cafes and when I'm away from Sydney I seek out the places that are LIKELY to make a nice flat white. Coffee 32 in Wellington is one of the best cafes I know there, recommended to me by a business associate.

Basically if I'm going somewhere new in ANZ, I ask people I know if they're familiar with good cafes in that new place.

As for dangerous creatures, I think it's a little overblown. Living in a large city like Sydney, I haven't encountered anything scary. My neighbourhood has lots of trees and greenery, so that means spiders, but nothing life threatening. I lived in Phoenix, Arizona previously and people would insist it was full of scary creatures that I never saw in the decade I lived there.

#7 ewv

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 05:29 AM

Apparently Australia, unlike the US,, has its own coffee plantations in northern Queensland. Is that where the good coffee comes from or is it imported? What accounts for the superior quality? Are there brands of coffee beans there that make a difference? Are they also imported to the US? I grind my coffee beans myself to keep them fresh as long as possible. I wouldn't claim the result is spectacular, but it's a lot better than the swill that comes out of the machines with an oil skim.

#8 jasonlockwood

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 06:22 AM

Apparently Australia, unlike the US,, has its own coffee plantations in northern Queensland. Is that where the good coffee comes from or is it imported? What accounts for the superior quality? Are there brands of coffee beans there that make a difference? Are they also imported to the US? I grind my coffee beans myself to keep them fresh as long as possible. I wouldn't claim the result is spectacular, but it's a lot better than the swill that comes out of the machines with an oil skim.

I don't think it's the beans as such, though that is an important element. They have to be fresh and not overly roasted a la Starbucks, but you can have two cafes that use the same supplier and one makes a fantastic flat white while the other is mediocre or worse. Technique is vital. Baristas here are sent to formal training to acquire the proper coffee making skills. At my own cafe which is downstairs from my apartment, their coffee making skills have improved immeasurably since I moved in a year ago. It makes me happy. :)

My recommendation: take a trip to Australia and/or New Zealand and sample the coffee for yourself. :)

#9 rtg24

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 06:41 AM

I'd venture grinding within 2 weeks of roasting is sufficient to produce coffee which by most standards will seem exceptional, regardless of bean origin (and I've definitely had much better run of the mill Columbian than Jamaica Blue Mountain for that reason).

I can't speak from Massachusetts, but when I was in Cali, New York and CT, coffee was always bad for the same reason it's bad in the UK, which is that it is kept - even in beans - for a month or more before grinding and/or serving. The other factor, even in places that grind relatively quickly after roasting (Dunkin' Donuts being the best from what I remember) is that they tend to overroast, either to eliminate large amounts of the caffeine (which allows customers to drink more) or because customers prefer a stronger, more burnt taste. Personally I favour mild or medium roast at most, and don't think much of Italian roasts even with more expressive Indonesian etc. coffees.

A barrel of green beans can be kept fresh for 2 years, but roasting is quite hard... much harder than grinding!

ewv, since you are fortunate to live in the US, I suggest you track down some Hawaii Kona. A spectacular coffee which (unlike JMB, in my view) merits its heftier price tag. If you can find some fresh, and mild, roasted.

How's the traffic in cities? I heard fairly bad stories of driving to work for hours in traffic jams in sweltering heat...

#10 ewv

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 08:06 AM

Apparently Australia, unlike the US,, has its own coffee plantations in northern Queensland. Is that where the good coffee comes from or is it imported? What accounts for the superior quality? Are there brands of coffee beans there that make a difference? Are they also imported to the US? I grind my coffee beans myself to keep them fresh as long as possible. I wouldn't claim the result is spectacular, but it's a lot better than the swill that comes out of the machines with an oil skim.

I don't think it's the beans as such, though that is an important element. They have to be fresh and not overly roasted a la Starbucks, but you can have two cafes that use the same supplier and one makes a fantastic flat white while the other is mediocre or worse. Technique is vital. Baristas here are sent to formal training to acquire the proper coffee making skills. At my own cafe which is downstairs from my apartment, their coffee making skills have improved immeasurably since I moved in a year ago. It makes me happy. :)

My recommendation: take a trip to Australia and/or New Zealand and sample the coffee for yourself. :)

That would be very expensive coffee.

What do the cafe's have to do to prepare it with formal training that makes a difference? I don't have much choice in what I do -- I keep the beans in a sealed bag in the refrigerator, grind one serving's worth at a time, and put the grounds into the drip device that makes the coffee.

#11 ewv

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 08:12 AM

...I suggest you track down some Hawaii Kona. A spectacular coffee which (unlike JMB, in my view) merits its heftier price tag. If you can find some fresh, and mild, roasted.

If the main factor is how old the beans are why does that brand stand out? How does one find out how old the beans at the store are?

How's the traffic in cities? I heard fairly bad stories of driving to work for hours in traffic jams in sweltering heat...

I stay out of the cities. As far as I can tell the traffic is no different now. There is no sweltering heat here. I have been as far south as New Jersey.

#12 rtg24

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 08:51 AM

If the main factor is how old the beans are why does that brand stand out? How does one find out how old the beans at the store are?

Basically just from grinding freshly roasted beans, you get maybe 60% of the potential improvement.

After this however, there are some coffees which really do have a different taste. I'm completely nuts about coffee, and have tried maybe 100+ different ones from different plantations, sources, different roasts, etc. (it's actually a really cheap hobby at $4 the half pound! sure beats wine)

In many cases (e.g. different grades of Columbian Supremo) there is so little difference it isn't worth upgrading.

However, there are two coffees that have struck me (and people around me) by how noticeably superior they were, how much more satisfying they were to drink than a Kenyan AA or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (I have a preference for the soft, strongly aromatic, almost herbal African coffees although most prefer South American smoothness).

The first is the coffee from Kona (but you really have to trust the person you are buying from, or spend days trying different farms). It has to do with the climate and the soil. It is supremely tasty. I'd like to wax lyrical about the smell of prunes, the reminiscences of violets, etc. but really that was literally my first impression and that of my (former) girlfriend - it was just AWESOME. I've ordered more every time I could. It's maybe $20 per half pound versus $4 for a standard coffee (prices are more uneven in the US so you might have to dig). I can't speak for the US but if you are ever in London, the Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho are working with an exceptional farm, and it's not too overpriced either considering the location.

The second is the world famous Kopi Luwak. This is insanely expensive - a QUARTER pound cost me 30 (USD 40?). The Indonesians let civets run around their coffee fields, eating up coffee berries. They then collect the civet droppings, wash most of the stuff off and collect the coffee beans that have been through this, ahem, "process". The taste is unique; that being said, I've had good and bad Luwak, where the good literally blew most other coffees straight out of the sky, and the bad tasted like Starbucks. At this price tag I don't consider it worth the risk.

I stay out of the cities. As far as I can tell the traffic is no different now. There is no sweltering heat here. I have been as far south as New Jersey.

I'm sure you realize the question was for Jason :)

That being said, Jason has the Outback and you have New Jersey. I wonder which is preferable :)

#13 rtg24

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 08:56 AM

How does one find out how old the beans at the store are?

You can generally taste it, but just ask the shop assistant when they were roasted.

There are two main shops where I live, one roasts 7 batches a day, the other gets a delivery every 2 weeks (which confirmed what I was tasting). The first shop knows me well now and just tells me what has been roasted this morning when I come into the shop :)

Some say you need to wait 3 days but I absolutely love the taste of coffee that has literally just come off the roaster (which with good timing I can get maybe half the time). Oils still coming out of the beans. Sumptuous. I've twice managed to get home and make coffee before the beans cooled down. I know Ethiopians are keen on this too, as during their coffee ceremony they will roast coffee in front of the guests, grind it hot and serve.

#14 ewv

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 09:08 AM

That being said, Jason has the Outback and you have New Jersey. I wonder which is preferable :)

We have Outhouses - er, Outbacks, too -- the restaurant chain pretending to be Australian. But the food is normally very good.

#15 JohnRgt

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 01:21 PM

The roasting, the last significant chance to adjust the bean you're working with, is almost everything. You can fine tune an OK bean into something passable, or you can ruin a great one. A good roaster has an unbelievable palate, IDs and constantly plays with all kinds of signals that the bean he's roasting is giving off, and makes all kinds of important decisions on the spot. Those skills can also be honed to perform another crucial task: blending.

In blending, the roaster gets to adjust his mainstay bean as he wishes. He can make it sing several tunes. He can even create great, unique flavors by blending beans that wouldn't be noteworthy on their own.

Unfortunately, it's very, very hard to find good roasters even in the most food-obsessed cities in America. One of the reasons is that even when someone has decided to launch a serious coffee concern, he's likely to use convection roasting equipment. These devices allow even a semi-skilled college kid to turn out an OK bean consistently. But the tool needed to get the best out of the bean is the direct contact type of roaster. Those require the sort of skills our food business models simply don't allow for.
Fear is the passion of slaves. -- Patrick Henry

#16 JohnRgt

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 01:24 PM

And let's not forget to use good tasting, aerated water, fresh out of a filtered faucet (distilled water makes a boring coffee. It also makes boring beers.)
Fear is the passion of slaves. -- Patrick Henry

#17 Carlos

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 02:22 PM

The roasting, the last significant chance to adjust the bean you're working with, is almost everything. You can fine tune an OK bean into something passable, or you can ruin a great one. A good roaster has an unbelievable palate, IDs and constantly plays with all kinds of signals that the bean he's roasting is giving off, and makes all kinds of important decisions on the spot. Those skills can also be honed to perform another crucial task: blending.

In blending, the roaster gets to adjust his mainstay bean as he wishes. He can make it sing several tunes. He can even create great, unique flavors by blending beans that wouldn't be noteworthy on their own.

Unfortunately, it's very, very hard to find good roasters even in the most food-obsessed cities in America. One of the reasons is that even when someone has decided to launch a serious coffee concern, he's likely to use convection roasting equipment. These devices allow even a semi-skilled college kid to turn out an OK bean consistently. But the tool needed to get the best out of the bean is the direct contact type of roaster. Those require the sort of skills our food business models simply don't allow for.

A difference my girlfriend pointed out is that American coffee in general is much more roasted than the coffee in Italy, resulting in a less smooth taste. She thinks the reason for the difference in roasting is because we make our coffee through a percolator, whereas they use a Moka (*clicky*).

After having lots of both kinds, I've come to prefer the less roasted Moka-made coffee for its incredible smoothness and strength of flavor. However it is so strong that you only drink a tiny thimble-full of it, which doesn't make for a nice companion drink while driving or curling up with a book the way that a big mug of American percolator coffee does. So we have American coffee for breakfast, and the Moka coffee as an after dinner treat.

#18 rtg24

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 03:33 PM

A difference my girlfriend pointed out is that American coffee in general is much more roasted than the coffee in Italy, resulting in a less smooth taste. She thinks the reason for the difference in roasting is because we make our coffee through a percolator, whereas they use a Moka (*clicky*).

Interesting, whilst I agree that American coffee is generally over-roasted even in the gourmet places, I always find Italian coffee to be too strongly roasted too! Indeed in the UK we call strong roast the "Italian roast"...

After having lots of both kinds, I've come to prefer the less roasted Moka-made coffee for its incredible smoothness and strength of flavor. However it is so strong that you only drink a tiny thimble-full of it, which doesn't make for a nice companion drink while driving or curling up with a book the way that a big mug of American percolator coffee does. So we have American coffee for breakfast, and the Moka coffee as an after dinner treat.

Moka coffee is equivalent to espresso (which is the base of all Italian coffees - e.g. latte = espresso shot + milk, cappucino = espresso shot + foamed milk, americano = espresso shot + hot water). Personally, after an espresso period, and a moka period, I'm back to good old cafetiere which I find is best at extracting the more delicate flavours of mild roasts (also I like the slight thickness you get from the coffee dust that goes through the cafetiere filter).

Like this, cheapest option and also best for flavour: http://www.johnlewis...t/230134070.jpg

As for strength of flavour... then the moka/espresso wins :)

Although you should try a really good Turkish coffee at least once, with accompanying loukoum. It's an experience.

#19 Carlos

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 04:12 PM

A difference my girlfriend pointed out is that American coffee in general is much more roasted than the coffee in Italy, resulting in a less smooth taste. She thinks the reason for the difference in roasting is because we make our coffee through a percolator, whereas they use a Moka (*clicky*).

Interesting, whilst I agree that American coffee is generally over-roasted even in the gourmet places, I always find Italian coffee to be too strongly roasted too! Indeed in the UK we call strong roast the "Italian roast"...

The explanation I've heard is that you need more roasting to get the same amount of flavor out of percolation.

After having lots of both kinds, I've come to prefer the less roasted Moka-made coffee for its incredible smoothness and strength of flavor. However it is so strong that you only drink a tiny thimble-full of it, which doesn't make for a nice companion drink while driving or curling up with a book the way that a big mug of American percolator coffee does. So we have American coffee for breakfast, and the Moka coffee as an after dinner treat.

Moka coffee is equivalent to espresso

Not necessarily. When I visited her in Italy, asking for "a coffee" got you a Moka, while an espresso and cappuccino were different.

This is triply confusing in America, as she will ask for a "Moka" which the waiter thinks is "Mocha", when what she wants is close to what we call espresso...

Although you should try a really good Turkish coffee at least once, with accompanying loukoum. It's an experience.

Deal, but where do I find one?

#20 rtg24

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 04:39 PM

Not necessarily. When I visited her in Italy, asking for "a coffee" got you a Moka, while an espresso and cappuccino were different.

Yup, and espresso has a lot more crema on top if done well (this is essentially a foam of essential oils) which is harder to get out of a Moka (if very doable). That being said, 90 to 99% of espressos I have had in the US and UK have come with unsatisfying crema. Sant'Eustacchio in Rome does a fairly crema-full coffee: http://www.rome-acco...c/grancaffe.jpg

For me both are just too... small? Know what I mean? Sometimes (always, for me) you want to just sip the thing for a while. As opposed to the flash of flavour to end the meal that an espresso represents.

Deal, but where do I find one?

Trial and error I guess... the best I've had was in one of those famous coffee shops in Vienna (who made otherwise quite disgusting coffee, at least in the dozen I visited) - perhaps try Turkish restaurants, Viennese cafes?

You can try making your own but for this you will need a very good (and therefore expensive) burr grinder - whilst you can get away with a medium grind for a moka or espresso (and I use "get away with" in the loosest sense) with Turkish coffee you will regret anything but the finest, dust-like grind.

Delicious:
http://westofpersia....ee-and-cup1.jpg
http://www.chefseatt...kish-coffee.jpg




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