Category Archives: coffee sameness

My counter guy is a Stalinist and I benefitted


Getting work done on the house is nuts. Not only do you need to like the people you hire, philosophically, you also need to like them physically, as they are in your house everyday.
And shit is expensive. But not everything costs money. Sometimes you get roped into doing more. Sometimes deals just come your way.

Several years ago one of our neighbors was having some concrete work done and he figured if he got other people to hire them as well, he’d get a deal. We let the guys pour us a new set of front steps, and they offered us a steep discount if we did something else.


OK, we said, why don’t you take away our concrete deck, which was already in pieces, and tended to collect stagnant water. So the Samoan concrete guys broke the deck into more manageable-for-them sized pieces, drank two cases of Hawaiian Punch, and drove the deck away. We were left with a large dirt mound (and 24 empty cans), which was all fine until it started to rain, and the backyard turned into what the dogs called the “great epic most fun thing.”

We called up a contractor whom we met originally when we bought the house. Before the housing bubble burst he had run his own construction company. Now he taught Kundalini yoga. His prices had come down by a lot. He was also into tea. We served him and his worker (who only drank iced tea) all sorts of Chinese teas as they built our deck, using a discontinued Trex color that was 50% off at the builder’s supply. During one afternoon tea our contractor mentioned something about needing to see the dentist. His truck needed work too, as it was leaking oil all over our driveway, so we asked him to put up yoga ropes in the garage which we made sure he hung from first to test the engineering.


More recently, we decided we needed a new kitchen counter. The grout in the kitchen was chipping and gross, and I had gotten tired of photoshopping out the brown bits from my Instagram pictures. But a new kitchen counter leads to craziness. Do you also get new cabinets and sink and faucets and drawer pulls and shelf liners and lighting fixtures and flooring?

We decided to list out the real mod cons.
1. Let’s plumb the espresso machine so we don’t have to constantly dump the bucket we currently use in place of a real drain.


That’s it. End of list. Everything else is, as they say, Russian chicken feed.


We scored LED lights from a guy we know from the Velodrome who sells them wholesale. Then he turned out to be a Trumpian. He, the Trumpian, thinks he’s getting an invite to “see the lights,” but I stick to my “you gotta like them philosophically and physically” mantra.

That seemed easy enough, but then we had to go through the process of hiring a cabinet maker who flaked for 6 months and then took another 2 months to officially flake. Meanwhile we entered our fireplace design era, and it turned out that the guys who set our tiles do a lot of general construction work, especially kitchens and bathrooms. Yay!

Then came the hard part. Turning off the espresso machine felt like unplugging from life support. We embraced the nail gun. We washed dishes in the bathroom sink. We MOVED THE CAT FOOD BOWL. We ate one tray of cold baked ziti a week.


We returned the crappy Heath tile samples under cover of night via bicycle rather than face that saleswoman again.


We got to bring out some old friends and wire them up.


Incidentally, the contractors LOVED our deck. It became their giant work space.




This is what we’ve been living with all these years.


Our counter guy is a Russian Jew from Belarus who has great recommendations on where to get real Tel Aviv falafels, where the people can be “slightly rude.” He’s a Stalinist at heart and a big Viktor Tsoi fan. He thinks an espresso offers clarity. He only takes his espresso when the job is about to be glued in.


It’s all concentration when he’s working and in true stone mason fashion makes sure to measure twice. He told us his definition of “professional” meant that you could do what you do without really paying attention and it still comes out fabulous. He said he didn’t really become a professional until a few years ago. In the end he used some tight connections to score us a small piece of Calacatta marble that is so silky and luscious it feels like even I could carve Persephone’s soft butt out of it.


But maybe I’ll just make pastries on it, and get a soft butt that way.




The final plumbing.


Sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail.




Shim-miel! Shim-mazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated

Since I started tooting around on my bike, I’ve noticed an odd pain on the outside of my wrists. It’s sensitive to the touch, and annoying when trying to open jars. My latest theory is that my hands are too small for the average distance between handle bars and brakes, and it’s causing me to twist my wrists and put pressure on some nerve that doesn’t like to have pressure put on it.


In the biking world as anywhere there are shim-eisters that will sell you all sorts of fixes and magic pills for your bike-related woes. To be sure your Bike Fitter is the real thing you have to Face Time with him over a chunk of caramel. Then when he says use a shim, you got to use a shim for everything.




Why does tuo cha always suck

In our last trip to Yunnan we asked our teamaster Vesper Chan to make us some Tuo Cha that does not suck. He came through, and for a blustery Sunday afternoon there’s nothing better than a mini tuo cha taste test.

We haven’t priced our mini tuo’s yet, but we were in the neighborhood so we picked up a tin of Peet’s Ancient Trees Organic Pu’erh tea. The free cup of coffee doesn’t hurt.

At first I took issue with the back of the tin in the form of brewing instructions:

I’m averse to the ratio (8 grams to 12-16 ounces or water) as well as the steeping for 4-5 minutes. Seems watery and sludgy at the same time, but as a general rule i try to follow the instructions on the package at least once, just not today.

Today the test is 5 grams in a gaiwan (roughly 3 ounces water)

Peet’s sells theirs in 8 grams, and our comes in 5 so i had to whack off a little bit for a fair test.

For those that are interested in using the wrapper to draw on, the Peet’s size is larger and has a noticeable texture.

Our tuo cha was a little floral, a little red date flavor, a little thick, and very clean. Smell and taste wise, the Peet’s is exactly like Melba Toast, or some dry rye cracker. This toastiness is perhaps what people like about it, but it doesn’t seem like Pu’er to me. After four brewings it started tasting very watery. This is where i take issue with the front of the tin:

There’s no way in hell this tea is made from anything close to ancient tea trees. No viscosity, no brewing stamina, no age. I’ve a special place in my heart for Peet’s coffee that i will always defend, no matter how damn dark they like to roast their beans, but please, don’t say it’s ancient tea trees when it’s modern melba toast.

The process of making tuo cha is pretty rough on the leaves, but just for comparison, here’s ours.

On gifting: Thou must bleed for me

“The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.”

In the spirit of Emerson’s essay on gifting I struck a deal with the pups. If I got to order a box of chocolates from Dude, Sweet, I’d get enough insulation material to make them thermo-nuclear crate blankets. But that would have to be a giganto box, I said, and they said, we love the UPS guy, go for it.

I wanted to use two old pillowcases that got accidentally melted in the dryer (fleece vs. heat = craft project) but the thermo material wasn’t wide enough so I cut up the little pockets that held the ice packs to fill up the gap.

“Some violence, I think, is done, some degradation borne, when I rejoice or grieve at a gift. I am sorry when my independence is invaded, or when a gift comes from such as do not know my spirit.”

so a clear case of how to “go to mat.” thinking of all that chocolate gives Stevie a real flat head.

The tunnel of meta-meta

At some point during the day, when you’ve simply had too many cherries (yes, this really is the best coast), and way too much coffee, it’s time to take a trip into the meta-meta tunnel, which means screen sharing with yourself.

so rad!

And it gets cooler. You can take a screen shot of your shared screens taking a screenshot with your shared screen!

Caffeinated slugs

We’ve had some good roasts with our buddy the Behmor, but this morning we pushed our luck too far. We tried a pound of Sweet Maria’s Satpura Fold on P4 and it barely made it to first crack. While this makes for a very sad batch—tight fisted pebbles actually, clinging to their chaff the way CEOs are with their IT dollars—I could hear the worms in the compost cheering “More for us! More for us!”

Not so fast little red crawlers, it’s spring time, which means the strawberries are booming, but the slugs are having their way with them before they get a chance to turn red. Turns out the Internet says coffee grounds pass through the slug’s slime barrier and they die of nervous exhaustion!! c-c-c-coffeeeeeee!

Turns out the Internet also says coffee and caffeine have no effect whatsoever on slugs! So true the Internet is bunk for so many things.

In any event I’m game to try, besides, there’s a chance I might be able to trap the largest, most dangerous garden pest, known in these parts as the moogoo.

Coffee is the name of the bean

Don’t ask me why it took so long for us to invite the roaster into the household, what with all our other forays into quality beverages, but we finally did it.

We opted for the microwave-sized Behmor 1600 recommended by none other than my fanatic dentist, and started up the machine as soon as we checked to make sure our fire extinguisher was still charged. And the first thing we did was under roast some beans. Whoops.

Though I take full responsibility for being a little too trigger happy on the “Cool” button I have to say my confusion for when to stop the heat was partly due to mediocre descriptions for when “second crack” (the critical point in a roasted bean’s life) is reached. Most people describe “first crack” as loud pops similar to popcorn (basically the bean heating up and emitting CO2, hello—it’s farting) and “second crack” is softer, more like rice crispies (apparently the cellular matrix of the bean itself is getting fractured). Whatever. I just know the cracks started happening and I couldn’t tell whether they were popcorn-y or rice crispy-y, and all I could see was the giant warning in the manual of “Do not go 10 seconds beyond second crack or you will have FIRE!” and little pieces of chaff were flying about and landing on the heating coils and bursting into flames, and one timer was ticking down to zero and another timer was ticking up to infinity and things were just a little chaotic.

And so. There’s nothing like the sour-bellied recoil from an under-roasted coffee and the fact that you have no other beans in the house to help get over that learning curve. All it took was a little practice.

I have to say though, that “second crack” sounds an awful more like sizzling meat than any kind of rice crispies, and, since sizzling meat is the most familiar sound to me second only to the coffee grinder, that would have been a much easier sound for me to spot. In addition, what’s happening to the beans between first and second crack is that the sugars are undergoing the coveted Maillard reaction, which has something to do with deprotonated amino groups, but without which we’d have no browning of meats, toasted brioche or fried onions!


Due to some perverted Hollywood magic and/or karmic what-not, the wonderful folks at CBS asked our little tea company (blush blush) if they could use some of our pots and teaware for an episode of “Unforgettable,” a TV show involving murder, mystery and memory (very appropriate for Aged Pu’er). The tea will be the clue which sparks the protagonist’s memory, leading her to solve the crime. The episode is called Heartbreak, and we think it has something to do with a man being tossed from an airplane. Holy camellia sinensis!

Now we know our air date (this Tuesday. February 21—please check local listings for showtimes) so don’t miss it! But if you do, you can always watch the episode online, and pause the video at the appropriate times to see the clues.

During the process we got to talk to their prop master (and isn’t it a sign of quality that the prop master has an insane Brooklyn accent), insert a little authenticity into exactly how the hell the tea was going to be brewed, and, seeing as how the crime hinged on the tea being a rare Chinese Pu’er, we created a selection of special labels for them. This being a real TV show, however, the Brooklyn-accent told us we weren’t going to get very far with our real logo on the labels. Aw, we said, but you gotta have something on the labels… this being… ahem… rare Chinese Pu’er etc. etc. etc.

So the big hats at CBS had a discussion,

and after they realized how small we were, that we were actually as close to being a fake company as you can get, they agreed to let us use our labels. Yippee!

So here we have the total numbers of viewers of the show:

Separate out the chunk of viewers who are into high end Chinese tea:

Then extract the people that are into aged Pu’er,

Allow for the offshoot of people that have read 1000 Plateaus,

and you’re left with this, our dearly beloved fan base. <3 <3 <3.

love thy neighbor

Our shiny-faced morning friend, the ever-cheerful chrome peacock, coming up on fifteen years, took a big dump the other morning.

This spawned all sorts of discussions (still underway) about getting a roaster PLUS a new espresso machine. In the meantime we discovered our neighbors just down the road had none other than the GS/3 Marzocco, and we actually like these neighbors, so, in the spirit of the right-wing debates going on we decided to covet our neighbor’s appliances.

Guess we’ll be going back and forth as easily as their kitty crosses over shoulders… and yes, I covet that cat.

here’s Joe doing the master technique, and he really is a master, as the whole reason they have a damn GS/3 in the first place is that he happens to be the freaking 2009 winner of “On the Rocks: The Search for America’s Top Bartender.” Like WTF.

The machine’s sort of a beast, and needs a good warm up time, or else you might have to toss the first few shots. we tasted 4, and that was enough to send us around the block a few times. (Sampling a few of his scotches didn’t help either.)


Canine Sherman’s fentanyl patch…

this week surgery is definitely in the air. the coffee grinder needed fixing…

the WOPR got checked out, and i swapped out my laptop’s old hard drive for a new crazy fast solid state drive. wowee! it’s like driving a Prius. no moving parts. silent. the only thing i will miss is being able to iron the placemats at the same time as using the computer on the dining room table, since the new drives run a lot cooler than the old ones.

as expected, it’s really lovely inside a mac… plus notice how nice and smooth the placemat is.

the screws are really small though…and you need a good goose to keep them all corralled.

but there’s always the Apple to let you know everything is back to normal!

next up, putting this piggie back together.