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  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:55 am on January 22, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Espresso, , , Great Leader, Howard Behar, Kim Il-sung, Little Red Book, Mao's "Little Red, Moscow university, , ,   

    What It’s All About? 

    I recently picked up “It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks”.

    As you might know, I am a bit of coffee coin-a-sewer, owning a $2000 espresso machine and such. You might also remember the only popular blog post I’ve ever written – the one about the Starbucks logo. I was always very interested in everything Starbucks. The reason? Well, I really could not understand how a company with coffee that is so bad could be so popular.  I mean, have you tasted the stuff?

    “It’s Not About the Coffee” – wow, I thought, this should clear some things up. Because, I for sure know that it’s not about the coffee. I’ve had good coffee. It just can’t be about the coffee. 

    The first sentence of the book (int the A Note to Readers) reads: “Although this book is titled It’s Not About the Coffee,  of course it is about the coffee–it’s about the people and the coffee.” Leadership lesson number one: start out with a lie, then weasel out. 

    Cloying, sacchariney  corporate doublespeak only got worse on the following several pages, I am not even sure I can get through the book at all.  There might be some interesting Starbucks anecdotes further down, so I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile I get a weird feeling about Howard Behar – the same I used to get about Soviet Politburo members: I could not understand if they believed themselves in the ideals that they extolled. 

    Ok, I read a couple of more pages, and was instantly rewarded by learning this interesting, although disturbing fact: besides the coffee passport, which I knew about, there’s a piece of corporate propaganda known as the “Green Apron Book.”  Almost like Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book”. Neat.

    All of this reminded me a story that I’ve read somewhere about a North Korean student at a Moscow university that used to carry around with him a little portrait of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung. He would meditate, looking at the picture for hours, and even used it instead of a mirror while shaving. When asked – how could he shave without a mirror, he said – this is better than a mirror.

    I guess, if you can make people shave in front of a portrait, you can make them believe that Starbucks coffee is tasty. There are ways…

  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:31 pm on August 28, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cafe Grumpy, , Espresso, , , having Cafe Grumpy, Jodie Foster, , , The Brave One   

    Cafe Grumpy 

    Recently I jumped into my minivan and took a road trip on the BQE to visit Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It used to be impossible to find a decent espresso in all of Manhattan, but now even Brooklyn boasts several world class cafes, of which Cafe Grumpy is one.

    Located in a handsome three story circa 1890s Renaissance Revival (correct me if I am wrong) building, Cafe Grumpy takes up the whole first floor. Notice a movie prop truck – apparently “The Brave One” starring Jodie Foster is being shot in the surrounding streets.

    Cafe Grumpy building

    Greenpoint is a formerly bad/industrial neighborhood that is being gentrified like crazy. Notice a fresh crop of condos in the background. I bet having Cafe Grumpy across the street is a strong selling point – it’s probably enough for a bloodsuckerRealtorTM to take the clients for a cup of coffee to seal the deal.

    Cafe Grumpy Logo

    Inside you find a typical Victorian interior of a high end cafe: pressed plaster ceilings, exposed brick and plastered walls, hardwood floors, schoolhouse lights, and mac-toting hipsters.

    Cafe Grumpy Interior

    The big selling point is not food.
    Cafe Grumpy organic eggs

    It’s the combination of the best espresso machine money can buy (Synesso Cyncra),

    Cafe Grumpy Synecco Syncra

    freshly delivered coffee roasted by some of the best roasters (Counter Culture in this case) and highly trained staff.
    Cafe Grumpy Counter Culture beans

    As I was enjoying an impeccable espresso and a latte with a perfect textured milk rosetta (made from two different types of beans), fresh beans arrived. I bought 3 half pound bags of Counter Culture-roasted goodness.

    There’s also an art gallery in the back, but I am not particularly into the local arts scene.

    Cafe Grumpy Gallery

    Cafe Grumpy is holding a “Coffee Nerd Fest” on Wednesday, September 6th, at 7:30 pm. There will be a cupping (sounds dirty, but it’s actually a technical term for coffee tasting) and beer. And maybe they’ll let me pull a shot or two on that Cyncra.

    They are located at 193 Meserole Ave, Brooklyn, NY. They have a website and a blog.

  • Michael Krakovskiy 4:52 am on August 5, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: audiophile equipment, , , , Espresso, George Howell, Kenya AA, , ,   

    How Do You Like Them Apricots? 

    Today I received in the mail a fresh shipment of coffee from Victrola Coffee. Inside, along with the coffee was a handwritten postcard, thanking me for buying their coffee and encouraging me to let them know what I think about it.

    I bought a pound of their house blend, Streamline Espresso ($13 /lb), as well as half pound packages of pricier special coffees, Colombia La Esperanza #1 Cup of Excellence ($18/lb) and Kenya AA Mtaro ($14/lb).

    If I had sufficient financial resources, I would buy coffee in half pound increments, on a weekly schedule, because coffee is only at its best for a few days after roasting. I would also buy a Synesso Cyncra and a Clover machine. Well, ok, enough dreaming, as what I have in terms of coffee and equipment right now is pretty damn good.

    I loaded the award winning Colombia La Esperanza into my grinder and pulled a shot. There was a lot of crema (as there always is with coffee this fresh), but it wasn’t deep red. There were little dark flecks which I guess could pass for “tiger flecking.”

    “Juicy, complex citric notes in the dry aroma turn into dried apricots in the crust. The cup is astonishingly clean with brilliant cranberry acidity, white wine, honey & melon.”

    – says the website.

    Tasting wine, coffee and cigars is highly subjective, and gets rather ridiculous, just like judging audiophile equipment. I never know if I am so stupid and insensitive that I can’t detect all the subtleties that the real fanatics detect; or so stupid that I believe that generally vacuum tube amps sound more pleasant and that there are “notes” of different stuff in good coffee, wine and cigars.

    Starbucks has a huge variety of coffees. They all taste pretty much the same though, because they are over-roasted and under-extracted. Espresso made from any of their beans has the same notes: hydrochloric acid, burnt coffee and donkey. Yet they go on and talk about notes of chocolate, toffee and oranges; conduct coffee tastings and train their employees to talk about it to the customers.

    Once you properly pull a shot of well roasted coffee that is also fresh, it does not have enough acid that would cover up the thousands of complex aromatic organic molecules that really confuse your taste buds. Your brain starts trying to assign familiar tastes to the weird electrical impulses generated by your taste buds. Without overpowering bitterness and burnt character, the playing field is leveled for these subtle and rather weird flavors. Coffee starts tasting the way freshly ground coffee smells.

    The beans of Colombia La Esperanza had a smell that I have not encountered in my life yet. It was similar to the way really expensive chocolate-covered dried apricot would smell, although that wasn’t it. It was something else. But if it were sold, it would come from an expensive store individually wrapped in tissue papers inside a well-made wooden box.

    Espresso made from the beans was amazingly tasty. The major taste element was that weird apricot smell which actually went away after a while, replaced by something very similar to an expensive white wine aftertaste.

    In short, some of the best espresso that I’ve had in a long while. And that apricot-like taste still haunts me.

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