Coffee Pairing

Beautiful pairings do not only happen in the palate. The never-ending shootings of coffee with sweets, coffee with cigars, cigars with whiskey, hamburgers with fries and soft drinks, wine with cheese – just to name a few – attest for the current global drive to have some camera at hand, whenever we eat and drink. The results could be often much more beautiful than most selfies in circulation.

Here is a slightly different pairing, depicting the process of brewing a coffee with an Indonesian palm filter, accompanied by the paired Reserva Limitada cigar from Curivari.

Coffee brewed with an Indonesian palm filter and the Curvari Reserva Limitada Cafe / Sigma DP2 Merrill / Sila Blume 201



Crap and Crops – Digested Coffee

Waste seems to be a global evil. We express our disdain for waste in constant verbal vulgarities. Cultures follow traditions and apply rules in an effort to distance themselves from the most natural waste form: the culmination of the digestive process. Nevertheless, waste is not only inevitable but a crucial cycle. Waste is an essence of existence, an essence in existence, and essential for growth, maintenance and procreation. In nature it is omnipresent.

Long before humans developed an interest and need for lexica, nature has been creating its own proliferation systems to ensure and maintain life. Huge mammals of earlier times contributed to the propagation of avocados by eating them and later discarding their seeds as they moved on. The same process is achieved when birds feast on asparagus seeds, or when elephants eat certain fruits whole.

Apparently someone, long time ago, took the dare or suspected something grand in the taste that coffee might have, once digested by the animals that love coffee berries. As a result, today we have kopi codotand kopi luwak. One coffee gets eaten and digested by a specific bat (codot), the other by a small civet cat, known in Indonesia as luwak – the one on Morgan Freeman’s bucket list.

Kopi Codot – coffee digested by bats / Kedai Kopi Wak Jenggot, Bandung Pasteur, BTC, West Java, Indonesia

While in Bandung, I went to Kedai Kopi Wak Jenggot and ordered their arabica kopi codot. In Indonesian, a bat is a ‘kelelawar’ but the specific bat that likes coffee is the ‘codot’. My brew was served in the Sunda tradition which calls for a small roasted sweet potato on the side (instead of a cookie or chocolate, as it is common in parts of Europe).

Coffee served Sundanese Style – with a roasted sweet potato / Kedai Kopi Wak Jenggot, Bandung Pasteur, BTC, West Java, Indonesia

Before questioning such coffee in hygienic matters, it is important to grasp that once the seeds of the coffee berries are cleaned, the roasting process will obviously destroy any fecal rests that might still be attached to the seed. When addressing the influence on its taste, one should consider how much a solid coffee seed could go through changes in taste, simply by being processed some twenty hours through gastric acids. Based on the brews I have had from digested coffee, the coffee taste prevails. The acidity level seems reduced but the taste profile does not go through changes worth noting.

The greatest problem judging these coffees with total accuracy, is the fact that one would need to know with certainty, which coffee seeds were digested by a specific civet, before harvesting the same seeds and roasting the digested ones and the undigested equally, to compare their taste one to one. This creates the problem that one would have to follow a wild civet for a couple of days to ensure the accuracy of the comparison. It might take me a while to realize such a project. Until then, this remains a somewhat dark area in the tasting of seeds digested by animals.

Noah’s Barn – Specialty Coffee with the Local Twist

Whenever traveling, I am looking to experience what there is, in its own, different context, not in the one familiar to me – like coffee. There are many coffee varieties, from different soils, various altitudes, growing under the sun, under the shade, next to carrots, next to chili peppers, in between cabbages, and all before it gets roasted and brewed, as the locals see it fit in their particular traditions.

One of my most memorable hours drinking coffee in Bandung were spent at the Noah’s Barn. It was one of those several moments when the visual atmosphere was easily interchangeable with any coffee shop in European or North American cosmopolitan cities but the palate told me otherwise. The food that could be ordered, the sweets next to the coffee cup – the world of flavors is a different one.

The baristi here understand the respect and attention that coffee demands from them, and that the guest awaits the very same respect and attention behind every single brew they pour. Their passion, dedication and focus are visible. And Indonesian hospitality is indeed special.

Now, in terms of my traveling and aiming at seeing things in their own context, instead of the one familiar to me, I did witness something as we walked in and had to give it a try before leaving. So, after a meal, two pour overs and a chocolate desert, I ordered their coffee-avocado shake. For many years I have been sprinkling avocado halves with salt and coffee powder and pouring some drops of Austrian pumpkin seed oil over it – so I know the avocado-coffee taste quite well. But this was a new twist as shake with vanilla ice-cream afloat. I must add, though, in Asia it is more common to add sugar to avocado than salt.

This is certainly one of several coffee spots in Bandung, where the global coffee aficionado may experience what is expected from quality coffee but enhanced by the local twists and some notes of the Indonesian cuisine.

Kopi Magma, for the Magnificent Mount Malabar

Looking at these pictures, you may think they were taken in New York City or in any of the modern western cities where baristi selfie-celebrate their talents and feel like hip professors in the marveled eyes of attentive guests, awaiting to taste specialty coffee of the third-wave kind, that they may picture and instagram it under #coffeeporn.

But these pictures were taken in the Eastern hemisphere – 7°02’39.4″S 107°33’57.2”E – right under the equator, on a historic and principal coffee island to the world. Namely, south of the capital of the West Java province, Bandung, between the towns of Cangkuang and Banjaran, and just a curvy ride away from Mount Malabar, where all things coffee began for the region in the late 18th century, when the Dutch brought coffee plants to the continent. And in honor of this coffee (and tea) mountain, Kopi Magma operates with knowledgable baristi who are not only passionate about brewing and serving coffee but about a product that grows in their very own neighborhood, often in their backyard.

The company name stands for magnificent Malabar, and Kopi Magma makes every effort to present their coffee and their culture magnificently. Aris, the owner, and Deri, owner of the nearby Kopimage (instagram, facebook), delight in sharing with me the history but mostly the quality of their local coffees. They work directly with small farmers and are engaged in assisting them with the development of their land, with a focus on organic farming. They understand the importance of a prosperous community, while bringing Indonesian quality to the rest of the world.

Putra, a young and rising barista in the coffee and restaurant scene Jakarta’s, put me in contact with some Bandung coffee farmers, coffee shop owners, baristi and enthusiasts, and we all sat together a couple of hours eating, having coffee and chatting about coffee in the open air by Kopi Magma, before heading up to the altitude of 1,850 meters. Kopi Magma offers their coffee in the context of the science and technology that Italians and Japanese have contributed to the coffee world. Order an espresso and they will master the espresso machine; order an iced shot, they will meticulously prepare it for you with the Japanese method. Yet another possibility on their menu is cáscara.

Long before humans began roasting coffee seeds, they steeped the husk of the coffee berry in hot water. Today, east and west know it for the most part as cáscara (meaning peel in Spanish). In Bolivia it is called sultana, and in Yemen they add spices and call it qishr. But after having drank several cáscara infusions in the past, I find the one Kopi Magma produces to be exceptionally good. These coffee husks taste like coffee berries, while most I drank before, tasted more like prunes.

What a treat! Being in the middle of nowhere could equate to being in the middle of a relevant center. Thank you, Kopi Magma!

Cafe de L’Ambre – Revisited

Ichiro Sekiguchi might have been considered by many the Godfather of coffee in the East – at the very least in the country of Japan. I first heard about him when he was in his mid 90’s, and was full of joy to be able to shake his hand when he was 100 years of age. This week I finally made it back to Tokyo and went directly to his Cafe de L’Ambre. Knowing that he is not there the whole day and being I arrived late afternoon, as I was leaving, I asked about him.

Iconic Lamp made for Cafe de L’Ambre / Sigma DP2 Merrill / Sila Blume 2018

In March of this year he passed away, they informed me. With sad heart and clearly unhappy face, I extended my condolences to Fujihiko Hayashi, his nephew who replied with a smile: “He lived to be 103”.

It is an odd feeling, not seeing him walking around or inspecting the coffee seeds being roasted or knowing that he will be driven in the next morning on the motorcycle, as I witnessed several times before. Yet, day after day, the operation continues with its success and oddities. There are not too many places like the Cafe de L’ambre in the world – of this I am certain.

An unusual coffee concept, serving several aged coffees from Cuba, Africa and South America

  • Long-serving management. Sensei Sekiguchi opened in 1948 and as a centenarian was still roasting on regular basis, except on Sundays
  • No wi-fi available
  • Nowhere does one sit closer together at the bar than at Cafe de L’Ambre
  • Most serving utensils have been developed by Sekiguchi himself – various porcelain cups, cans, filters
  • Coffee is cooled in a cocktail shaker by rolling it in an indented block of ice, kept in a freezer that due to age should be in a museum as exhibition piece
  • In a room built to specification for Sekiguchi, raw coffee is stored for decades
  • Their strict pouring tradition continues. The filters filled with coffee are moved in a circle while the kettle with the water is kept in a fixed position

Cafe de L’ambre is an exemplary institution in the Japanese tradition of consistency, the same that keeps them competitive, relevant, important and qualitative special.

Coffee only (and a pipe, in honor to Sensei Sekiguchi) / Motorola G4 / Sila Blume 2018

Wisang Kopi is Damn Manual

Waking up for the second time in Jakarta, I immediately began investigating the most lively city I have ever witnessed. After a 20-minute ride between hundreds of mopeds passing us on the right and on the left, in addition to the mopeds on both sides of the cars coming in the opposite direction, we entered Wisang Kopi (twitter, instagram). It felt like being in a tiny nightclub that has yet to open, and like being in the baristas kitchen just the same. He was busy preparing his coffee concentrate, and relaxed took the time to serve us.

A very different world this was. Theirs is the undivided attention to basics, to the point that they literally and in atmospheric approach scream: “DAMN MANUAL BREW!”

Kettle at Wisang Kopi, Jakarta, Indonesia / Motorola G4 / Sila Blume 2018

AROMA COFFEE – a factory with clarity, detail and determination

Familiar with Paperik Kopi Aroma before reaching Indonesia, while still sitting in the taxi, I was happy to recognize the Dutch colonial building from afar, and to queue, awaiting my turn to buy coffee at what is commonly known as Aroma Coffee. This coffee factory was opened by the Chinese Tan Houw Sian and is led since his passing in 1971 by his son, Widya (Widyaphratama). Mr. Sian learned the art of the trade from his Dutch boss towards the end of the colonial era and opened his own factory in 1930. Since 1936 the company operates with a German Probat ball-shaped roasting machine. The coffee grinders of the first years are still operating or in display – some dating back to the turn of the century.

Aroma Coffee is a factory, and that is not an overstatement. Behind the building is a terrace covered with coffee seeds; behind the tiny shop in the front entrance, there is a small room where five to seven young men, dressed in their coffee-brown uniforms, fill finely ground coffee into small bags – be it the 5-year aged Robusta or the 8-year aged Arabica. Housed between this packing station and the terrace, are sacks of aged organic coffee and the roasting machines that burn with the wood of rubber trees, in order to produce fire with red flames, as opposed to the blue ones obtained from fire generated by gas.

All historians agree that coffee has its origins in Ethiopia. From there, the genus coffee from the Rubiaceae plant family, found its way to Yemen, before reaching the island of Java. Aroma Coffee is in the center of Bandung, capital of West Java. The Sian family gets their Arabica seeds from Aceh, Tana Toraja, East Nusa Tenggara, Java and Medan; their Robusta seeds from Central Java and Lampung.

There is nothing like the little black one (kleiner Schwarzer) or the melange from a Viennese coffeehouse, and nothing like a ristretto in Venice, independently from the fact that Vienna and Venice cannot grow coffee. There’s nothing like a mocca in Greece or Turkey; nothing like the Ethiopian coffee ritual, where women (and only women), dressed in traditional white dresses, brew three coffees with the same grounds, showing their utmost welcoming hospitality. There is nothing like the sweet Cuban coffee. These days there is nothing better than coffee as only Indonesia can offer: grown in Java, aged in Java, roasted in Java and brewed (by me) in Java.


From visionary action to reactionary handling / Starbucks forced into its own third-wave

The success of Starbucks, with its founders Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker, prompted Howard Schultz to pay them a visit in 1981. He was curious as to why that company kept ordering an unusually high amount of plastic cone filters from his Swedish employer, Hammarplast. In 1982 he joined Starbucks as director of marketing.

On a buying trip to Italy in 1983, he was impressed by the country’s coffee culture. His wish to popularize the serving of espresso based drinks in centers for social gathering had begun. Schultz approached his employers with the idea of moving Starbucks in that direction. Up to this point, Starbuck was a successful supplier of specialty coffees to a growing number of coffee shops, and their founders showed no interest for Schultz’s idea. As a result, he chose to leave the company to build his own business based on the Italian model. Having found the necessary investors, in 1986 he founded Il Giornale and, before long, its success attracted the Starbucks founders. They sold him the Starbucks retail business in 1988 and acquired Peet’s Coffee and Tea, focusing on selling coffee specialty seeds. The Il Giornale business model was then named Starbucks and the expansion began.

While living in Boston, my interest for coffee was ignited after a couple of visits to a Mexican restaurant in Harvard Square. Although I was new to the taste, I felt the need for places in which to relax and socialize outside of a restaurant setting, but in New York and Boston, with the exception of a couple of book shops with coffee, the only alternative was a number of chains similar to Dunkin’ Donuts and Dinners. Thanks to the Mexican restaurant, I knew coffee could be much better. The emergence of Starbucks was a welcome treat, for they provided a different approach to coffee brewing and their lounge atmosphere provided the social frame I yearned for.

Through the success of the first four Starbucks localities, a nourishing bed for coffee culture had begun and Seattle was becoming a Mecca for specialty coffees and the coffee shops, known in the industry as the “third-wave”. Today, many of the third-wave coffee companies have their roots in Seattle and Portland and are the same companies that have forced Starbucks into what I see as their very own third-wave phase in 2015 – the Starbucks Reserve.

Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

The world of coffee lovers owes Starbucks great gratitude for their revolutionary beginnings dating back to 1971. Like no other they motorized and energized the caffeine industry with specialty coffee and made us aware of the importance and joy in expecting more from a coffee drink than a mere cup of Joe for our morning dose of caffeine. But with their success grew their hunger for power and soon they began exercising their power on their competitors, causing anger and protests in the 90’s. Their love to detail became a love for profit.

Noticing in 2010 that in London their exceptional La Marzocco machines from Italy had been replaced by the Swiss-made Mastrena superautomated coffee machines, gave me sufficient signs as to the direction in which they seemed to be going: namely, away from the production of high-end coffee drinks made by well-trained baristi. They were shifting from their first-wave (making detail-oriented servings) into their second-wave (for the sake of mass and speedy production). With Mastrena machines having being installed in most of their shops since 2008, the barista became irrelevant. Their employee serving coffee does not need to understand a machine, nor the way coffee reacts to pressure, water and temperature. A barista just pressing buttons, stops being a barista. There is no tamping and no porta filter handling.

While globally we have witnessed the third-wave of coffee for the last 20 years, the Starbucks Reserve shows that the original company has just reached their internal third-wave. The brand new shops are being introduced with siphon machinery; small batches are being praised anew; cold-brewing has become the centre of their advertising and the new machines resemble much more the design of more classical espresso machines.

In the western civilization, the coffee culture is generally divided in three waves. The first could be seen as the coffee pots of the mid-twentieth-century found in Dinners, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chuck-full-o-nuts and the like, while the second refers to the changes that Starbucks brought about through specialty coffees in the 70’s, and in the 80’s with their lounge-like coffee shops. Through the work of various individuals that were not satisfied with the Starbucks understanding and vision of coffee, the third wave developed, spreading from Seattle and Portland into Brooklyn and the rest of the country. Simultaneously the third wave manifested itself in cities like London, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Copenhagen and many others, as well as in Australia and New Zealand (just to name a few). Around the world baristi (known as baristas in English) began working religiously to develop drinks, machines, brewing methods, coffee blends and also ideologies about the politics of and around coffee.

Just a few months ago I began seeing several signs pasted on Starbucks shops throughout New York, announcing “small batches”, “cold-brewing” and “single varietals”. Now I understand why. They have decided to catch up with the international third-wave movement and have seen that those companies respecting coffee are making money as well. At the New York Coffee Festival, last month, they presented a stand with siphons and small Vietnamese, Hawaiian and Ethiopian batches.

Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

At Starbucks – second-wavers and best known coffee servers of the globe, at Dunkin’ Donuts – well-known US-American chains, and at Stumptown, Blue Bottle, La Colombe and hundreds more that form the third-wave: everywhere you will find thousands lining up for a cup of coffee every single day. It shows that our palate choice is truly a matter of taste. However, being more demanding on an individual level will very likely show us that we might have been naming our taste prematurely. Quality is not truly a matter of taste.

A Siphon station at the Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
A Siphon station at the Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4