Titania-Mania

My Titanium fetish is well documented in my journal. Well, here’s more titanium stuff:

There’s this guy on an island off the coast of Canada who makes the best espresso machine tampers. A tamper is a little plunger that is used to pack coffee ground into a portafilter. Tamping is one of the most critical stages in making espresso. It’s almost impossible to get good espresso without proper tamping. In fact, I’ve never seen a barrista in New York do a proper tamp. The one reason why Starbucks coffee became more drinkable is because they use automatic machines these days that tamp the grounds themselves.

I don’t own a Reg Barber tamper because I already had and Ergo Packer, which is also very finely made and instead of having a flat bottom like all other professional tampers or rounded bottom like all the crappy ones, it has a very slightly curved one. “Very scientific!” would cry characters from this novel.

Anyway. Reg finally made a small batch of titanium tampers. Gotta get one.

Moving on. In the book “Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed”, Ben Rich mentioned a special set of titanium shot glasses that his boss used for drinking with the generals. You see, the awesom SR-71 Blackbird was the first plane made entirely out of titanium. I wonder who has those glasses now.

But these guys have excruciatingly pretty titanium stuff. Sake cups, mugs, beer glasses – all made out of titanium. Jewelry is also very nice.

They can even make a street sign out of titanium for ya.

You know, I don’t want a 1958 Plymouth Fury anymore. I don’t even want a 1948 Tucker Torpedo. All I want is a 1956 GM Firebird II, the first titanium body car with a gas turbine engine. Is that too much to ask for?

Aye, Mr Starbuck. Ai-ai-ai-ya-i.

I’ve pretty much settled into a way of working with dead tree books. It works as follows: I carry a pack of tiny little post-its in my pocket. When I find an interesting quote I put a postit on the edge of the page. Later I scan the text of interest to me with my c-pen.
I’ll be posting interesting snippets in my journal for your amusement.

Right now I am reading a books about Starbucks Coffee Corp. called “Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time“.

The author, Howard Schultz tells his rags to riches story. He talks about his father not being a good provider when he was little and how he made it big. He puts the emphasis on how he tried to make Starbucks a company that would treat people like his father better. I also have to cringe every time he mentions coffee quality and “romance” of Starbucks stores.

But sometimes it gets just really hilarious:

About his wife :
“Sheri was on the rise in her career, working for an Italian furniture maker as a designer and marketer. She painted our walls light salmon and began to use her professional skills to create a home in our loft-style space. “

About his friend:
“We had a great life, A few years later, Harold introduced me to his nephew, a rising jazz saxophonist known as Kenny G. We were two young men, each aspiring to make a mark in different fields, and our friendship grew as we faced similar kinds of challenges. Kenny eventually invested in the business, too, and even played at employee events and per- formed benefit concerts at our plant and market openings. His music became a part of the culture of the company. “

Also interesting is that William H. Gates II, William H. Gates III’s dad, helped Schultz fight some legal battles.

New York in a Cup

I was always addicted to coffee. In the Soviet Union, a country of tea drinkers, brewed coffee was a rarity. The most commonly available coffee was instant, and even that slop was very scarce. I still remember the time when our distant relative from Australia sent us a big parcel, which among other things contained a humongous can of Folgers instant coffee. I was able to beg my mom to share it with me from time to time. Among the things in the parcel was a pair of extremely thick Levis jeans, but that’s another story. Oh, and that relative was a mayor of a small town in Australia. Also another story.

In any case, the first time I tasted non-instant and non-Turkish coffee was probably in the US. I continued drinking instant, sometimes with lemon ( coffee with lemon is mostly unheard of in the US). Then I learned that coffee could easily be purchased in bodegas 24 hours a day.

My tastes were becoming more and more refined. I purchased a cheapo steam powered espresso maker for $50 and learned the art of making espresso with. Even with the crappy equipment I was able to make half decent espresso and cappuccino once in a while.

After I purchased a semi-decent pump machine for $150 I stopped drinking drip coffee altogether. Then I purchased a semi-professional pump machine for $650. It was very nice, but broke after a few years of service. It’s possible to get service for commercial machines of that firm, but not for the consumer products. The machine sits in a box in my bedroom, and every night Tilde the cat mutilates it’s cardboard box. That is the punishment of the espresso gods for failure. Yeah.

Meanwhile I rediscovered the bodega (deli) coffee. Most bodegas have commercial Bunn brewers and grinders. The coffee is fresh.

There are a few coffee customs that are very specific to New York.

The first is that the expression “coffee, regular” refers to a small cup with sugar (usually two spoons) and milk. The second is the cup in question. Most frequently the cup is either a Sherri Cup Company “Anthora” design or one of it’s clones or relatives. If you’ve seen a film or a show about New York, you’ve seen this cup. It’s very very distinct. It’s blue and white, it features a Greek pattern and the words “we are happy to serve you”. The official name “Anthora” is a misspelling of “amphora”.

From http://www.caffmag.com/caffmag/features/grk_cup.html
“The design has been around since 1963,” said Wayne Meadowcroft, Sherri’s vice president of sales and marketing. “At the time, most of the diners and delis were Greek-owned, so the design, which was by an employee, Leslie Buck, was a natural.”

While ownership of diners has expanded to include other ethnic groups, the cups are not unique to Greek-owned restaurants. At Italian pizza shops, in Indian diners and Jewish delis, the cup of choice is almost always the same and can be found stacked high in plastic covering near the coffee pots.

This Leslie Buck must have felt like that woman who designed the mac icons.

In any case, there are variations of the “Anthora” design floating around. See the clone gallery here (it’s really worth a look. Clicky.)

Enema of the State

I am a caffeine aficionado. I mostly take it in form of espresso, but I don’t mind getting my daily allowance from regular coffee, soft drinks and/or caffeine tablets. I’ve been known to spike tea with caffeine. But recently I learned about two other methods which are probably taking it too far:

  • As it is well known, chemicals are absorbed very rapidly through the colon. I hear of coffee enemas being taken by celebrities like Janet Jackson. Treat depression, my ass. Huh, that actually makes sense :)
  • Caffeinated soap. I am actually thinking about trying this one. I am just not sure that it actually delivers 250 mg per shower and does not just contain that much.