Today will be a Coffee Sunday.
I am on my way to the Siphon Coffee Bar in the Chelsea branch of the Blue Bottle Coffee Company.
The following awaits me:
Siphon Bar, July 2012
Abakundakawa C.O.E. (Rwanda) 7.75
hibiscus, honeydew melon
Fazenda Santa Inez (Brazil) 7.75
hazelnuts, dried figs, tangerine
Amaro Gayo Washed (Ethiopia) 7.50
Blackberry, nutmeg, dark chocolate
Amaro Gayo Washed (Ethiopia) 6.75
Served with American Spoon Black Raspberry Jam and Vermont Creamery Butter 6
Mini-cookie sampler 3.5
A full selection of pastries from our espresso bar is available, including cookies, parfait, and granola.
Yunnan Gold (Dian Jin) 4.5
Jade Oolong 4.5
White Silver Needles 5
After having obtained joy from this find, I wish to share it with the Coffee Dramatist readers and with that, most surely multiply my joy.
Isabel Putinja spends much of her time writing about her culture and her surroundings. A couple of her articles address a special Coffeehouse concept found in India. These Coffeehouses serve not only a coffee with a demanding approach based on tradition, but they are owned and operated by coffee worker co-operatives. Even for many of us, who perhaps will never visit these parts of the world, it is inspiring to see how throughout the planet the coffee industry is not only contributing to the economy, but also to the culture behind and around it. Most of all it is satisfying that also on the political level much progress is being achieved.
Like the Calcutta Coffee House, Bangalore’s own India Coffee House on MG Road is one of the city’s historical landmarks. It’s part of a nation-wide chain of coffee houses run by the Indian Coffee Workers Co-Operative Society of which the Bangalore chapter was established in 1957.
As part of my personal protest against coffee chains like Café Coffee Day and Barista, which remind me too much of very similar chains in other parts of the world, I try to frequent independent cafés which usually also happen to have more character and ambiance. The India Coffee House definitely has lots of both and stepping through its door is like stepping into the Bangalore everyone reminisces about. Though I have visited it several times since I’ve been here, I haven’t gone as often as I would have liked to. If I had known that it wasn’t going to be around forever, I definitely would have visited much more often. Now that there’s news of its imminent closure, I’m truly sad that this Bangalore landmark will soon disappear into dust and probably make way for one of those horrible glass structures which are slowly taking over the city’s landscape. The face of MG Road is also changing at a fast pace… in the past few months many old buildings have been torn down and trees have been chopped down to make way for the metro which will permanently scar this major artery.
I was at the India Coffee House not too long ago… on a Sunday morning in December. The downstairs section was full as it often is, so we headed upstairs via the narrow outdoor passage and stone staircase. From the front window I had a good view of MG Road which is almost treeless now. There was only the trunk remaining of one of the huge trees and a worker was busy sawing its last remaining branch… A sad sight.
Inside the café, patrons were busy having breakfasts of omelettes and dosas. The waiters serving them were dressed in their trademark India Coffee House turbans and uniforms, elegant but completely filthy. I sipped at my coffee and nibbled at my dosa and remembered that I don’t like their coffee or their dosas – you can get better South Indian filter coffee and crispier dosas at any of the city’s many sagars and darshinis! OK, so the coffee actually isn’t great, the café is more than a bit shabby and the toilets are definitely a no-go area, but all these things do not matter. These are just minor minus-points which I’m willing to easily overlook because I don’t go to the India Coffee House for the coffee. I go for that old-world ambiance and to get a feeling of how Bangalore once was, in a place that probably hasn’t changed for the past 50 years.
There are reports that the lease has now expired and the café will be either renovated or demolished by the owner of the property. It may move to another location if a suitable one is found, but of course the original atmosphere and setting will be difficult to recreate. The India Coffee House will close its doors at the end of the month. I think many of Bangalore’s inhabitants and visitors will mourn the loss of this favourite haunt.
Photos: India Coffee House.
* Reblogged with kind permission of Isabel Putinja and originally published in her blog India Outside My Window *
Elegance, nostalgia and colour. These are the three ideal concepts that inspired the “loos Café Museum” model. It is still being manufactured today by Gebrüder Thonet, Vienna .
It is fair to say that coffee houses which are initiated with architecture in mind and architectural projects conceived with coffee or coffee houses in mind, are a thing of the past. I find that more than sad. You will find some beautiful examples in the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy and some other countries, but these are all centuries old. It is however possible to find coffee houses, where the architectural mind or aspects of proper combination of building and purpose are found. Here is a modest collection of spots in London, where you will have some wonderful coffee, some wonderful food for the eye or both.
Flat White is certainly one of the most passionate and high-demanding corners for coffee in the wonderful city of London. When you walk in, the door will close itself due to the weight of two cups hanging from a robe. Apparently the door got too heavy and newly they have added a portafilter to the cups.
Princi is not the place for passionate coffee, but they do offer coffee and teas. The atmosphere is however quite special and very much architecture oriented. So, just for the enjoyment for the eye or for their good pastries, you should visit them. I must add, I find water fountains in coffee-houses are a perfect pairing. For many years I had been asking myself, what the best music is for a café. I love classical music, but many do not wish to hear such music in such a place. Many like jazz, but many do not. Pop music could be highly disturbing and an acoustical pollution for many ears. Silence is perhaps to cold. Suddenly I knew what the only right answer for the ears could be, whenever enjoying life in a coffee-house – water.
One of the very best places for coffee in London is Monmouth Coffee. It offers three different addresses for the enjoyment of the drink on their terms. Their terms are some of the best you will find world wide, both with coffee out of the espresso machine and with their filter system. At one of their three spots you will find an entrance that resembles a typical “coffee shop” entrance, but towards the back a true coffee-house atmosphere opens up. The space is shared between three wooden sitting sets and the coffee machines and utensils with their baristi at work. The sitting arrangement are made out of solid blocks of wood, partly in their raw state but simultaneously displayed in a mininam manner. And all over you will find the knots in the wood that attracted me so much, enough to make pictures of them.
From coffee plants to coffeehouses
The coffee we drink worldwide comes mostly from the plants called Coffea Arabica Linnaeus and Coffea Canephora Linnaeus. There are several accounts depicting why and where humans first noticed and started using them, but many of these are merely legends of which there is no documented proof. Irrespective of when this was, at some point they started drying and roasting their fruits, long before starting inventing modern and increasingly sophisticated machines to prepare coffee drinks.
There were times when people enjoyed coffee as a morning soup. It is fair to say that for the many who had drunk beer soups up until then this was a time of awakening. At other times the pulp of the coffee berries was fermented to make wine, it was dried to make hot coffee drinks; or their berry seeds were dried and roasted for the dark brews we know until today.
We have made coffee the Ethiopian way by roasting them with spices and serving them in daily rituals to family members and guests. We have done it the Turkish way, the Mexican way, the Scandinavian way, the Italian way, the US American dinners way, the Cyprus way. Coffee cultures have developed for well over four centuries, if not much longer.
These developments continue and can be seen in places throughout the globe where millions gather daily to have a break, or have their home away from home, their social and business meeting places, intellectual conversations, inspiration, their chit-chat and much more, but to always enjoy their cup of coffee. These places have inspired architects, composers, writers, philosophers and many creative minds. They are called café and cafetería, kahvehane in Turkey, kafenio in Cyprus, were only men meet or kawiarnia in Poland or kissaten in Japan,
Kaffeehaus in Vienna, where the high-society, the homeless, tourists, businessmen, romantic couples and opera house goers alike gather under one roof. Some others are called coffeehouses, where revolutions had their historic starts and music greats like Joan Baez or Bob Dylan began their singing careers. There were also houses, where for as little as one pence London upper-class businessmen, students, artists, politicians, intellectuals and many others socialized. Hence they were seen as the place where one could pick up more useful knowledge, than by reading a book: they were the Penny Universities.
Why always coffee?!
I do not believe there is one single mouth which had its first sip of coffee, whiskey, beer or dry wine and was immediately delighted by the taste. Some people claim that drinking coffee is not about great taste- but about a necessity. Is it the caffeine and the need for being awake? That seems to be the most common excuse for many and the most obvious attachment, but in my view not the right reason. It is, above all, its taste and aroma. And there is an industry to prove it.
Wether in the East or in the West, Christians and Muslims have witnessed various coffee prohibition times through the centuries. Let us just think of the beginning of the 16th century in Mecca, or Charles II of England outlawing coffeehouses in the 17th century, or Ethiopian clergymen prohibiting coffee through most of the 19th century. To prevent people’s choice of this expensive imported product over the local commodity beer, Frederic the Great prohibited Germans from drinking coffee, as well.
Political, economic and moral conflicts in different cultures and systems have repeatedly tried to interfere with the increasing demand for coffee. It was, however, not only the prohibition that brought along the need for alternatives – it was the love for that special coffee taste. If this had not been the case, the many companies and recipes producing Caro, Postum, Cafix, Pero and the likes would have not succeeded. People wanted this new and unique taste and the so-called “coffee substitute” industry flourished. Recipes have been developed worldwide using barley, chicory, carrots, asparagus seeds, beetroot, beech nut, dandelion root, figs, potato peel, rye, wheat bran, rice, peas and several other ingredients.
The creation and success of these new products by merely trying to resemble coffee, shows that one taste conquered the planet, and those who have had the privilege of knowing it, did not and do not wish to miss it. Coffee substitutes contain no caffeine, thus one is free to assume that a great deal of the attraction is not based on its drug – but on its taste. The decision of many to drink decaffeinated coffee underlines this claim.
Why the drama?
Why coffee architecture, why so many palaces built for coffee drinkers, while the fine and elegant wine drinkers gather in cellars? What is this whole fuss about coffee?
It was a tea dealer in Berlin who brought to my attention the fact that in countries where tea grows people tend to be quiet, meditative, slower in their life rhythm, while in countries where coffee grows, habitants are much livelier, they dance more and their temperament clearly manifests in their physical energy. Coffee seems to be a special compound and so are perhaps the countries and regions where it grows.
According to Michael J. Breus, PhD in his Insomnia Blog, some benefits from caffeine has seem to be limited to coffee. This means that the caffeine found in tea does not necessarily provide the results obtained through the caffeine in coffee. Not caffeine alone, but supported by the coffee compound, both lower the risk of strokes.
Hundreds of studies in different scientific fields repeatedly provide information about the health benefits and other medicinal advantages of coffee. The list of uses in various other fields is not shorter, either. Coffee serves as a deodorant; it is being used as colour for printers, as compost for special mushrooms, as active ingredient against hair loss, to only name a few. Coffee grounds are being used to produce furniture and for baths in Japan.
Why ever coffee?
I dare answer that coffee is not just a unique compound for a variety of uses in the field of medicine. For years I have visited coffeehouses in different countries and cities, observing not only the fact that they serve a wide spectrum of drinks between undrinkable brew and magical drops, but also contemplating customers to define or decode the various reasons for their sitting there, which may go far beyond the taste of coffee. The people sitting in these coffeehouses read the press and the magazines they wish, devour information or even culture. They may watch others around like couples, a waitress, or the commings and goings in the streets through the window; but they may still enjoy being alone in a secluded big room. There are still others who look for a silent, intimate place, undisturbed while absorbed in their depressive loneliness. Still, they will not be left alone. And everything around coffee.
We have been celebrating coffee, while celebrating ourselves. Or we have been celebrating ourselves – while indulging into coffee, without noticing how much we have been celebrating these roasted seeds and not ourselves. Recollecting the flow of coffee history, much of which I have recounted here, considering which international powers coffee has as second most important commodity and admitting which important role it plays in the wide world of pleasure, it is fair to say that coffee is a loaded thing.
The third wave.
Dozens of hot drinks and well over a hundred of cold ones are called coffee. Its potency as a spice has yet to be expanded, we have barely dealt with its surface. The various coffee cultures have each succeeded in their own realms. Italy is not Italy without its coffee and machines, its espresso and coffee palaces, its baristi, its coffee design and coffee technology. Vienna is not Vienna without its Coffeehouses (called Kaffeehäuser) with their Melange, newspapers and Apfelstrudel. Turkey is not Turkey without its mocca, and coffee is not coffee without the third wave we have seen being spread in the last couple of decades. A passion, dedication and at times exploitation of coffee as specialty and less as a routine pick-me-up brew, which shows how much coffee indeed is.
Yet, a bit beyond this wave, a bit beyond this multi-layered approach to coffee, there is the concentrated approach: the redutionistic “back to coffee” attitude. Quite contrary to the tradition of the Penny Universities, the new London’s Penny University, the coffee bar of the Square Mile Coffee Roasters has chosen enhancement through concentration and extravagant reduction. It is almost anti-social! Six persons may be seated only. No milk. No sugar. No espresso. Penny University has ‘only’ a source for hot water (Über Boiler) and three coffees could be ordered, prepard with “flannel drip”, V60 pour over or siphon.
Why Coffee? Penny University seems to be simply about just humbly answering the question. The concept may be seen as a bold step, snobbery, a religious statement, business strategy, but it may also be seen as the greatest form of shwoing the most honest respect for coffee. With Extroverted and Introverted Espresso I thought to have clearly seen that a ‘simple”, though proud, Italian barista could count as introverted, if compared to another barista working with a Synesso machine, using not 7, but 14 or even more grammes for one shot after meticulously measuring the tamping. I must rethink a bit. Perhaps compared to an Italian barista James Hoffmann and Tim Williams from Penny University are the real introverted coffee makers. And they are not alone, and not the first ones. Japanese Sekiguti Itirou (or Sekiguchi Ichiro) has roasted and served coffee at his Café de L’Ambre in Ginza (Tokyo) for over 60 years and has never done this by using coffee machines or by serving espressi. More and more coffee drinkers, including experts like Scott Rao and Jeffrey Steingarten, realise that espresso is a wonderful drink, but neither the only way nor the best way – just the espresso way.
Are we entering the fourth wave?
- “Ristretto” in the New York Times by Oliver Strand
- “Everything but Espresso” by Scott Rao
- “Brewed Awakening” in Vogue by Jeffrey Steingarten
Coffee Grounds turned into Furniture
One of the most wonderful coffee qualities is what attracts even many tea drinkers and others who due to matters of taste, health or intolerance, refrain from drinking coffee: its unique aroma. A firm has managed to combine ecological solutions while combining very different aspects pertaining this cultural phenomenon.
Axion Polymers is an innovative firm specializing in recyclable plastics, which has newly developed ‘polymer’, made with coffee grounds. After collecting coffee rests from many offices and factories they used these to make pellets, which in turn were molded into plastic sheets to create a hard surfacing product called Çurface. This may be the very first time that coffee has been used in this way.
Using this coffee-scented material, Re-worked, an industrial design and product development firm from London, has produced furniture.