the espresso ceremony

What prompted me to have a brief respite from the world of decaf, and try a real shot of coffee? Was it that Velluto Nero has won awards for their coffee? Was it that a commenter said I should look at the caffeinated coffee, not the decaf, when reviewing a place? Was it the lack of sleep, or the coldness of the morning?

Perhaps it was all of these in part.

But more than that was looking across the table at another person’s table setting, and seeing that the espresso came out on its own little platter, with a glass of water. This was a place that truly takes their espresso seriously: enough to afford it a sense of ceremony as it came out.

Though I didn’t really want a caffeinated coffee, I wanted to experience that ceremony for myself.

Is there some kind of similar ceremony that you’ve seen? It doesn’t have to be about espresso: any common-place event that has been taken up a notch by its presentation.

on the closure of many starbucks

Not wanting to jump into the fray too soon – rest assured, gentle reader, I was watching the news on Tuesday afternoon, waiting for an announcement to see what would happen – I’ve had a chance to think about the Australian Starbucks closures a little more, and thought it was about time to comment.

Whether you’re a fan of the chain or not, it’s always sad to see a business closing, and people losing their jobs. Is it because they’re just not making good enough coffee that they’ve needed to close? Or is it more about dropping the ball on simple things like friendly customer service?

One barista I was talking to about this suggested that the problem with Starbucks is that they have taken the human element out of the equation: the coffee is made by someone pressing a button on a machine, which is going to give a consistently good, but not great, coffee. He freely conceded, though, that Starbucks is great at branding, and at providing a consistent look and atmosphere in their stores.

For me, the chief shortcoming with Starbucks was the quality of their product. Sure, at an airport farewell at 6am, when it was the only place open, I tried it, and was pleasantly surprised by a passable decaf latte, but in general, their espresso just lacks the guidance of a top-shelf barista, and I’d rather put my coffee dollars to encourage people to be better at their craft.

Further, the homogeneity of their stores was not something I particularly enjoyed. Part of the joy of a good cafe is that it has some visual element that distinguishes it from all the other cafes. Once something becomes big enough to start franchising, the priorities change: it’s less like visiting someone in their home, and more like eating together in a fast-food place.

Lastly, the closure of stores from such a big chain does not bode well for the cafe industry in general. With money ending up devoted to rising fuel and grocery prices, it seems there just isn’t as much money left to spend at cafes as there was. Sad times indeed.

book: nothing in my hand I bring

Book: Nothing in my hand I bring”.

After a week of World Youth Day adventures taking over Sydney, it seemed high time that I read the latest Matthias release on the subject of Catholicism. One of my favourite pilgrims was struck by the way that people were protesting beside the walk – “Jesus is the only way” – that this wasn’t something that the pilgrim thought was disputed?

Clearly, Protestants and Catholics have a lot to learn about each other.

The author, Ray Galea is currently an Anglican minister, but born a Maltese Catholic. He spends the short, tightly written chapters explaining in broad brush strokes the differences between the bible’s teaching, and the traditions of the Catholic church, but in a way that is likely to offend neither Catholics nor Protestants.

if you’re wanting to learn some more about what your Catholic neighbours believe, this is a book that you can comfortably read in a couple of hours, and would be a good starting point.

network printer idea

Instead of wasting money on a printer that’s only going to break down and have paper jams, why not just put a network card in a box of printer paper, with a sticker on top that says “Out of toner”? You can just say that the toner is on backorder, and won’t be there for months, and in the meantime, people can help themselves to the blank paper.

curry night

I asked myself many times whether the curry night concept would actually scale, was pleasantly surprised. Would something that worked for two people stretch out when it was ten people all learning to make curries? Would we end up with something edible? Indeed we would.

curry night souvenir recipe list

The invitation process was a bit too haphazard: the next time I do something like this, I’ll keep better track of who has been invited, and when. It’s hard to tell, though: perhaps having everything a little rough helped the night run as it did. In the end, I had to do some chasing to get the RSVPs sorted out, but I had ten blokes, and we even had 7 out of 10 by thirty minutes after the start time.

ready to serve

Another ten minutes later, and we worked out that if we wanted to eat at a reasonable hour, we would need to start cooking. We were all working around a large bench with a sink at one end, and the stove off to one side – this was the kitchen layout of our host’s house.

four curries cooking away

There was plenty of time after the curries went on to simmer for people to mingle and talk (not to mention wash some of the dishes), and that’s when the host and I made samosas (I’d never made them before). Folding up the pastry with as much of the mince + potato mix as possible was the real challenge, but I think I had it figured out by the end.

samosas: after and before

After eating (for some, the curries were paired with wines – a Frontiniac and a sparkling red), we had tea and coffee, helped load the dishwasher, and then headed home, completely full. If you’re trying to find something that will help a bunch of men who don’t know each other terribly well learn a few new skills, I think a curry night is an excellent way to do it. The key to it is to have an excellent host (as we did), who contributed no small amount of time and effort to making sure that everything was set up, ready to go.

movie: the dark knight

movie: The Dark Knight

It was a really good movie: worthy of all the hype, though not the best movie ever made. Heath Ledger’s performance, too, was really good – he indeed disappears into the character. I don’t think it is going to result in an Oscar, but that probably doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. It ends up being that rare thing: a superhero movie that manages to ask the deeper questions.