Blog returns tomorrow

Sorry for the light posting. My internet access has been limited this trip and I’ve spent the past couple days orchestrating a last minute move of all my things that were still in storage in Virginia. Amazingly it’s worked out very well, given that I didn’t even have bids from movers until yesterday morning. It’s all on a truck now, so in a few weeks I’ll no longer be living with just two bar stools and a mattress. A couch, bed, assorted furniture, books, glassware, and several cases of liquor will be arriving soon. You can guess which items I’m most looking forward to receiving.

My flight leaves at 3:30 today, getting me back to Portland late at night. Regular blogging will resume in the morning.

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An end to couch surfing

My lease in Arlington expired on July 31. Since that time I’ve been traveling the country, staying with friends and family throughout the US. Thanks to their incredible generosity I had to spend only two nights in hotels during the entire trip, in Kansas City and Las Vegas. I’m extremely grateful for their hospitality.

Thanks to the housing bust and the glut of new condos being converted into apartments here, it’s a good time to rent. Yesterday I signed a new lease at The Merrick. It’s in the NE quadrant, right next to the Rose Garden (meaning the basketball arena, not the actual rose garden Portland is famous for). As with most stadium areas, it’s a rather soulless neighborhood. Nearby are just a Starbucks, two fast food burger joints, a Subway, and a few other chain restaurants; it’s no comparison to my previous proximity to Murky Coffee, glorious Peruvian chicken, and all that Clarendon has to offer.

But on the upside, my rent is 30% less than what I was paying before and the location is nicely accessible to the rest of the city. It’s right across the bridge from downtown and the Pearl and within the no-fare zone on the train line. Groceries and restaurants are in the nearby Lloyd Center. And most importantly, it’s located within easy biking distance of the three coffee shops where I’ve been spending the most time: the wonderful Albina Press, the Stumptown on Belmont, and the Ristretto Roasters on Williams. In short, it’s going to be a great place for getting to know the city, and definitely good enough for a first year’s stay.

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The United States is large

Hypothesis confirmed after driving 4,700 miles, visiting more than a dozen cities, and spending 71 days on the road.

Route 2008

I’ve finally arrived in Portland, having arrived last night after a brief stop for fantastic drinks from Jeff Morgenthaler in Eugene. This week I’ll be looking for apartments and jobs while getting back to regular, hopefully more substantive updates.

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San Francisco wi-fi blues

I’m in San Francisco now, enjoying the city’s abundance of excellent coffee. Yet for such a tech-friendly town, I’m having a hard time pairing it with working wi-fi. The new Four Barrel, where I had a really nice cappuccino this morning, doesn’t offer it. Ritual does, but they’ve removed their electrical outlets. I’m here now and when my battery dies I’ll be unable to catch up on work or give them any more money. Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley serves my favorite espresso in the world, but they’re just a kiosk. Their new store doesn’t have wi-fi either. Is there any place in town that combines great coffee, internet access, and free electrons?

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To do in Los Angeles?

There’s lots to write about at the moment, but I’m leaving Denver in the morning and traveling on to Los Angeles. This morning’s links are already up; whether we have some on Friday depends on my internet access.

This is my first time in L.A. I want to stop by the newish Intelligentsia and Lamill Coffee, but otherwise have no plans for where to go. Anyone have suggestions for what to do there?

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What could go wrong?

I was driving all day yesterday, again today, so sorry for the light blogging. Today I’m off to Denver, coincidentally at the same time the DNC madness is going on. Here’s Clive Crook on what to expect:

Security for the event is certainly daunting. Supposedly 42, or is it 53 or 55, separate agencies are involved in the exercise, run from a “situation room” in a secret location. That is a characteristically American solution: the bigger the problem, the more agencies you apply to it. Even at altitude, these things breed. You need agencies to co-ordinate the agencies, and so on.

Picture the scene: 42 (or 53 or 55) agencies, licensed to inflict limitless inconvenience on anyone in their way, seamlessly pooling their resources and expertise, so that the whole thing runs like clockwork. What could go wrong?

If I don’t update tomorrow, please put in a call to the “situation room.”

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Sweating the hops shortage

Sighted at Bell's

Hops in deodorant? They’re an essential ingredient in Tom’s of Maine’s products:

Unpleasant odor is caused by skin bacteria when we sweat. The “bitter principles” that help hops to preserve beer also, it turns out, fight odor. Hops inhibits the growth of bacteria by causing leakage in the bacterial cell membrane, which impairs bacterial function and therefore prevents odor.

I wonder if they’ve been hit by the hops shortage too, and how beer could be made instead with all the hops people are rubbing into their armpits.

[Via Rob Kasper. Photo from the hops case at the Bell’s Brewery General Store and Eccentric Cafe, which you should definitely visit if you’re ever in Kalamazoo.]

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Remember to drink lots of water

Early Thursday morning I’ll be catching a flight to New Orleans to join bartenders, distillers, and cocktail enthusiasts from around the world for Tales of the Cocktail, a five day cocktail extravaganza. There will be classes, cocktail dinners, parties, happy hours, competitions, and a tasting room that opens at 10:30 am, so you’ll understand if my blogging gets a little off schedule and/or incomprehensible this week.

This is my first chance to meet up with lots of cocktail bloggers I currently know only online. If you’re reading this, let’s get a drink! And for those of you not going to New Orleans, I welcome recommendations for what to do there. It’s my first time in the city, and while I won’t have a lot of free time, I’d like to try out some of the local favorites.

Here’s what I’m registered for at Tales so far:

First on Thursday, assuming my flight isn’t delayed, is Molecular Mixology with Jamie Boudreau, followed by The Scented Trail: Techniques on How to Develop Aroma in Your Cocktails and Artisan Still Design and Construction. For the spirited dinner I’m headed to Palace Cafe for what sounds like an amazing menu from Ben Thibodeaux, Paul Clarke, and James Meehan.

On Friday I’m taking things easier with just two classes, How To View Beer As An Ingredient Rather Than The Drink Unto Itself and Cocktails Of Old Raj: East Meets West at India’s Bar, followed by the Tiki Block Party and then whatever debauchery continues into the evening. Saturday I’ll be back in class for Making Your Own Cocktail Ingredients, and from then on the weekend is open for tasting, exploring, signing up for additional seminars, or trying to make the throbbing in my head go away.

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To do in SF

I’m traveling to San Francisco this weekend for one last outing before I start having limited vacation days. Vacation days? Yep, that means I’ve got a new job. A “real job,” as some would say. We’ll talk about that next week.

In the meantime I could use some suggestions for places to visit while I’m in town. I have a few in mind and a few I want return to from my 2005 trip, but still a lot of time left to explore. Any tips?

Regular blogging will resume next week, perhaps a bit sooner depending on how many coffee shop hours I put in this weekend.

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3 Cups — Doing more with less

Last week I was in Chapel Hill, NC for a family event. Ever since the lamented closing of Fowler’s in Durham a few months ago, I haven’t had a favorite coffee hangout in the area. Now I’m glad to say I do again.

I tried to visit 3 Cups for the first time a couple months ago, but the place turns out to be closed on Sundays. This time around I made a point to drop in when it’s open. My family and I stopped in on a busy Saturday afternoon to find the shop near UNC buzzing with people.

I already knew 3 Cups serves Counter Culture Coffee, as does my current employer, so I was looking forward to trying their espresso. I was in for a surprise: no espresso machine! The only coffee on 3 Cups’ menu is drip and French press, with an emphasis on the press. Cafes au lait are available for people who really want a milk drink, but otherwise it’s all about the coffee.

This is a cool approach to running a coffee shop. I’m sure the many other shops in the area surrounding UNC all sell espresso. By choosing not to, 3 Cups offers less than its competitors. Yet by offering less, it offers more.

First of all, serving only drip and French press coffee puts the emphasis on the kind of coffee customers can make at home. This fits with their goal of becoming their customers’ favorite coffee retailer. People love espresso, but except for the rare enthusiasts who invest in expensive equipment and put in lots of practice, the stuff they make at home is always going to disappoint compared to what they get from the pros. Anyone can make traditional coffee with a little care, and with the equipment and excellent selection of beans available at 3 Cups, they can recreate the taste experience at home.

Secondly, coffee fits in better with the shop’s focus on single origin, artisinal products. Espresso is pretty much always blended and it’s rare for a shop to switch blends very often. Very few customers are going to drink straight espresso anyway; most of them are going mute its flavor with a lot of milk. Coffee, on the other hand, comes from a practically endless variety of origins, making it easier to communicate the differences among them.

Finally, skipping the spro makes running the shop a lot easier, leaving room and time for complimentary goods. Serving espresso entails making space for the machine, grinders, and beans, paying at least one barista to be on duty, and devoting a whole lot of time to training. My guess is that sticking to simpler brewing methods allows the staff to be better informed about 3 Cups’ other offerings: tea, chocolate, and wine.

At most coffee shops, even really good ones, tea is something of an afterthought and chocolate and wine may not be available at all. 3 Cups has all three items in abundance, all with extensive information available. I didn’t get to spend too much time talking to the staff, but they seemed to be just as informed about these other products as they are about the coffee; the guy I talked to was definitely into the chocolate part of the business.

3 Cups doesn’t offer much food, but they have a cozy relationship with the neighboring SandwHich, an artisinal sandwich shop selling some delicious fare. A hallway connects the two places and customers, dishes, and employees are free to pass back and forth. They also share a courtyard. The friendliness between the shops is a great solution to the problem of fulfilling customers’ wants without getting distracted from one’s core mission. Why have a great sandwich shop with bad coffee and a great coffee shop with bad sandwiches when you can just put a door between them and enjoy both?

(SandwHich got nice write-up in the local press here. The chips sound tasty but they were sold out by the time I got there. That’s how you know the place is good: the owners would rather sell out of fresh stuff than only sell things they can guarantee to always have on hand.)

Visiting 3 Cups reminded me of the less is more design philosophy espoused by the 37 Signals crew. By taking away a feature that almost every other coffee shop puts at the center of its business, this shop has really set itself apart with its simplicity and focus. I like it — so much so that I even forgot to see if they have wi-fi. Either way, I’ll be sure to drop in from now on whenever I’m in town.

[Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee.]

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What to do in Seattle?

Taking a break between jobs, I’ll be traveling to Seattle this week for a coffee tour (Wednesday – Monday). I’ve been once before, but then I knew nothing about the coffee world and spent most of my time working at a public policy seminar. Now I know the obvious places to go — Vivace, Victrola, and the newly Cloverfied Zoka — but where else should I visit? And what about non-coffee stuff?

Sidetrips to Portland and possibly Vancouver are also likely. Stumptown, the Horse Brass Pub, and Caffe Artigiano would be on my list to of places to see, but what else should be there?

[Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee.]

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San Francisco top ten

You know what’s worse than your server getting hacked? When your back-up server gets hacked, too, while you’re waiting for the first server to get cleaned up. Thus the last two days of not posting.

On Monday night I returned from a long weekend vacation in San Francisco to visit a friend recently moved there from the District. This was my first trip to the Golden State and I enjoyed it very much. The weather was perfect, the views were spectacular, and the city has a thriving cafe culture. The people are friendly. They actually make eye contact on the street in passing and, my God, sometimes even vocalize a greeting. On paper, the city has D.C. beat hands down.

And yet… I’m not sure I could live there long before missing the ambition and hustle of the East Coast. For all of D.C.’s faults, I wasn’t quite as tempted to pack my bags for California as I thought I’d be after visiting.

There’s only so much that can be fit into four days of exploring, but we made the most of it and covered a whole lot of ground. In the spirit of Courtney’s S.F. post and in no particular order, here’s a highly subjective list of my ten favorite places from the weekend in San Francisco:

Blue Bottle by camera phone 1) Blue Bottle Coffee — What’s a vacation without a little espresso tourism? Blue Bottle’s roaster is in Oakland, but they’ve got a neat espresso stand tucked away on a side street in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. It sits in the front of a woodworking shop, just a La Marzocco machine, a few chairs, and a small bar where locals in the know line up for their daily fix. Barista Steve was great, serving up a delicious, super-smooth double shot and a Gibraltar, a small espresso drink just brimming with milky goodness. Check out the enticing Gibraltar photo on the Blue Bottle weblog, then this mind-boggling negative rosetta they posted. I could go on and on about this place, but bottom line: it’s awesome!

2) Dog Eared Books — This used bookstore in the Mission was the perfect place to waste some time and pick up a few books on my last afternoon in town. Eclectic selection, good atmosphere, and near lots of coffee shops and other bookstores.

3) Bombay Ice Creamery — With flavors like cardamom, rose, and chicku, this Indian ice cream shop is an intriguing departure from the usual Western menu. Sample a few, then go with the almond saffron pistachio. I also enjoyed trying a bottle of Thums Up, a strong Indian cola now owned by Coke.

4) Wente Vineyards — Wente is a winery in Livermore, a small suburban town east of Oakland with quite a few wineries. The staff in the tasting room were friendly, down to earth, and enthusiastic. The wines were some of the best we had all weekend and affordable, too. If you’ve got the time, Wente also has a restaurant and golf course.

5) Sonoma by car — On Saturday we rented a car and drove to Sonoma after Livermore. We were lucky to score one with a sunroof, making the drive through the beautiful wine country that much more enjoyable. Highlights here were walking around the grounds at Bartholomew Park Winery and popping into the numerous shops in the town plaza.

Sonoma from the car

6) Sonoma Wine Shop — This was one of our favorite stops in Sonoma. The tasting room in back offers 6 tastes for just $4, making it a good value. Plus their selection of about twenty open bottles to choose from offers the opportunity to try things a bit different from the usual chardonnays and zinfandels, like a California sangiovese or late harvest Riesling. Irresistible free samples from the sausage maker next door made the experience complete.

7) Ti Couz — This Breton-style creperie in the Mission is from Court’s list. It’s not the kind of place I’d usually pick out, but I’m glad we went. I never knew crepes could be so tasty and so satisfying.

8) Sausalito at night — It was a bit late for a visit when we went to Sausalito, but the night couldn’t have been more perfect for seeing the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge fully lit, or the full moon reflected from a clear sky onto the Bay. I’m a sucker for waterfronts.

9) Caffe Trieste — The oldest espresso bar on the West Coast, it’s the most authentic Italian cafe I’ve come across in the U.S. The perfect spot to settle in for a cozy late night cappuccino in Little Italy.

10) Absinthe — We went here for dessert my first night in the city. A bit pricey, but the high quality of the food and drink and the helpful staff make it worthwhile. Rioja, tokaji aszu, and chocolate pot de creme added up as the ideal indulgences for kicking off the weekend.

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