Friday, January 08, 2010


Intelligent Conversation about Starbucks

In the process of making my film, I noted a couple things:

1. EVERYONE has an opinion on Starbucks. I mean everyone. Even people who don't drink coffee.

2. Point #1 notwithstanding, it is extremely difficult to have a rational, measured discussion of Starbucks. If you utter any criticism of Starbucks, you are an anti-corporate hippie who is hopelessly out of touch with WHAT AMERICA IS ALL ABOUT. (If you doubt me, please view the comments section of my film's trailer on youtube.) If you praise Starbucks, you are a soulless capitalist stooge. In either case, your comments are immediately de-legitimized because you are assumed to have a position that is based on your politics and not on any kind of rational assessment of Starbucks' pros and cons. And if you are mostly interested in Starbucks not for Starbucks itself but for what its existence says about the society that gave rise to it? Well, forget it. That's too complicated. People would much rather size you up as either a Starbucks Hater or a Starbucks Cheerleader and leave it at that.

So one of my greatest pleasures in making my film was getting the chance to meet and interview Bryant Simon. Bryant is a history professor and Director of American Studies at Temple University, and he's also the author of the recently released Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks. I first learned about Bryant when he appeared in the pages of the New Yorker in early 2006. (Yes, I read the New Yorker. I guess that makes me a Starbucks-and-America-hating hippie.) I was intrigued by the thought of a man who made an academic pursuit out of spending days and days and days of his life in Starbucks, observing what went on around him. So I called Bryant to see if I could interview him for my film. And what I remember most about our first phone conversation is this: Bryant said that in his opinion, Starbucks is a mirror. It's a mirror of who we are and what we want. And by looking into that mirror, we can learn a lot about ourselves. I was gleeful when I got off the phone. Finally! Someone with whom to have intelligent conversation about Starbucks! My visit with Bryant in Philadelphia was certainly one of the most interesting days I spent shooting my film (and there were MANY interesting days).

I'm pleased to report that Bryant's book is a continuation of that intelligent conversation. Books about Starbucks tend to fall into the Cheerleader or Hater categories too - either corporate hagiographic fluff or anti-corporate rants. And while there are entertaining examples in both genres, Everything But the Coffee is refreshing in that it stays true to Bryant's notion of Starbucks as a mirror. Starbucks is not the point. We are.

Bryant will be doing some readings on the west coast this week, in Tempe, Seattle, and San Francisco. So if you happen to be in one of those cities, go check him out! You won't be disappointed. You can find out more about it on Bryant's blog. And if you are not in one of those cities... well, you can always buy the book. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


The 2008-09 Round-Up

It has been a ridiculously long time since I updated this blog. Reason #1 is right here in the picture.

This is my daughter Adele. She was born last April, in what was for me 16 hours of patient spectating while my body worked its evolutionarily determined magic. I have become one of those wacky people who walks around rhapsodizing about the incredible joy of natural childbirth to anyone who will listen. I think I am still high from the experience. Since then, I have accumulated a running list of all the parenthood clichés that have turned out to be true… about how childbirth was so transformative an experience that my whole life is now divided into Life Before Adele and Life After Adele… about how I didn’t really understand love to the fullest until I met Adele and experienced a shared love for her and our family with Michael… about how I am standing by ready to eviscerate anyone who breathes on her wrong. It has been a strange, intense hormonal trip-out.

Nothing like having a baby to remind you that you are an animal.

But don’t worry. I will spare you my clog-wearing California mommy musings on cloth diapers and the joys of lactation. Rather, I bring this up by way of explanation. It’s been almost a year (!) since I last updated this blog, and during that time, my coffee habits just haven’t been what they once were. I did drink coffee during my pregnancy, although I definitely cut back quite a bit. And I am continuing to drink coffee while nursing, although, again, I am trying to take it easy on the caffeine. And on top of that, given how clumsy I am and how frequently I am carrying Adele in what I think of as Baby-As-Napkin position, I have switched to drinking A LOT of iced coffee. (which I drip on her pretty regularly, alas; people think I put hats on her because they are cute. But my little secret is that hats protect her from getting cookie crumbs and iced coffee drips in her precious few strands of hair.) Also, the last year saw me relocate to Oakland – a fascinating city full of a great diversity of humans and all kinds of surprises, one of which, unfortunately, is a total dearth of decent espresso. So in spite of the fact that I live in lovely Rockridge, walking distance from butchers, bakers, produce markets, a slew of incredible restaurants and a kick-ass weekly farmers market, the coffee around here, in a word, BLOWS. I mean, it has been hard times. There’s so much good coffee in the bay area, but most of it has somehow skipped over Oakland and Berkeley. So what was there to write about, other than my dissatisfaction, which you can read about in plenty of other places?

However, I recently stumbled across a brand spanking new, not-even-really-open-yet coffee place here in Oakland that is actually very good. And it got me thinking about this blog and how long it has been since I have gotten all excited about a new coffee joint. So I’ve started stealing bits of Adele’s nap time to work on this blog and will be reporting on the new place in Oakland very soon. In the meantime, I figured it might be worth running down the list of highlights of the last year…

September 2008: While in Kansas City for a screening of my film at the Kansas International Film Festival, I had the good fortune to get a cappuccino at Espresso Dell’Anatra. Holy God. It was simply amazing. It was rich and delicious and overwhelmingly chocolate-y for a drink with no actual chocolate in it. It was easily the best cappuccino I had all year, made all the more tasty by the fact that it was improbably located in a strip mall across from a Target and an IHOP.

November 2008: I took a quick trip to Houston to screen my film as part of Real Films, an ongoing documentary screening series there. A referral from Mike McKim of Cuvee Coffee led me to Catalina Coffee, a (then) newly opened shop in Houston. The guys from Catalina came out the screening, made some kick-ass cappuccinos for the crowd and participated in one of the best post-screening discussions I have ever been a part of. The next day I went back to Catalina with my cousin Derek to try another one of their cappuccinos. Yup. Still good.

February 2009: I went to Reno for a community screening at The River School, a community event space and sustainability study center on the Truckee River. This event was a lot like the one in Houston, only this time the coffee was served by the folks from Walden’s Coffee House (which serves Barefoot Coffee). Again, the discussion after the screening was among the best I’ve ever been a part of. Most of the time when you make a movie, you have some vague ideas about wanting to stimulate discussion with it, but it’s so rare that you actually get to be a part of it. The Reno screening was one of those rare times when the movie was just the starting point for a much larger conversation about consumption, sustainability (environmental and financial) and aesthetics. I felt lucky to be there.

March 2009: While in San Luis Obispo for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, we did a couple of additional screenings at Joe Momma’s in Avila Beach. It was great to get to know Micheal and Mary Kay Kidd a little better, and the audiences at both Joe Momma’s screenings were terrific.

OK, that’s the wrap-up for the year. (Ha!) Hopefully I will have plenty more to report soon… it would be nice to NOT be able to count the good cappuccinos I’ve had in the past year on one hand.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


A Happy Accident - Joe Momma's in Avila Beach

A couple months ago, I took a little road trip down the coast, and something happened. Something that never, ever happens to me anymore. I accidentally stumbled across a near-perfect cappuccino. The home of this spectacular cappuccino was a cafe called Joe Momma's in tiny Avila Beach, California, population 797.

I have traveled a lot and tried plenty of cappuccinos, even in towns as small as Avila Beach. But at this point, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to find (more or less), because I've researched the hell out of it on the coffee internet. So when I know I'm going somewhere new, I generally get on, say, coffeegeek and look up the city I'm going to, find out which coffee shops are supposed to be decent, and then go try them. And I've found, over time, that the hive mind on the internet is not often wrong. The places people say are great are usually pretty great. And vice versa.

But on this particular day, back in June, I hadn't been on the coffee internet in a while. I'd been insanely busy finishing my film (it is finished! Visit the website for more info on screenings, etc.), and I just hadn't had the time to make my usual rounds of coffeegeek,, home-barista, coffeed, etc. So I found myself sitting on a very windy beach on a sunny afternoon. And I turned to the Very Wonderful Michael and said, "Let's go find some coffee. It'll probably suck." So we walked up to the row of shops facing the beach and wandered into Joe Momma's.

The first sign that this place was out of the ordinary was the fact that on the menu board they list a "traditional cappuccino." I asked what the difference was between traditional and non-traditional, and they said that the traditional was the only one they serve - small, porcelain cup, single shot, wet foam... music to my ears. They just put "traditional" on the menu board as a warning to folks who might be expecting a 20-ounce cup of meringue on top of their espresso. Then I noticed that Joe Momma's serves coffees from both Ritual Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia. I started getting excited.

And this was the result. It was delicious. Even Michael the Picky Drinker had to concede that it was among the best he's ever had. I felt joyful for the rest of the day. And then we went back the next morning - still wonderful.

It seems to me that the world is definitely changing when I can stumble across a top-notch cappuccino in a town this small. It's no longer unusual to find espresso bars in small towns (although I can very well remember when that was impossible), but it is definitely still unusual to find good espresso anywhere, much less in a tiny town. So... Joe Momma's may be an anomaly, but I'm hoping not. And I think the coffee internet is probably to be credited for this. The thing that has continued to fascinate me about the third wave is that it does not seem to have a geographic center, and it is in no way the sole property of big cities. Having been raised in San Francisco, I was kind of force-fed the idea that big cities are the origin and center of all cultural developments, and that it takes a while for said cultural developments to reach the provinces (or, as my sound design professor in film school used to call it, "Cupcake, Indiana." As in, "Sure, we like it, but how's this movie going to play in Cupcake, Indiana?")

But the third wave defies that model in a lot of ways. You can certainly argue that third wave ideals had their origin in big cities, but the movement is definitely thriving in Cupcake, Indiana. In fact, if you look at this on a per capita basis, I think Cupcake, Indiana might be kicking San Francisco's ass right now. Seriously. I've had some really great coffee recently in towns that most San Franciscans (who, I'll hasten to add, are mostly just transplants from Ohio themselves) look down their noses at: Sacramento, Capitola, San Luis Obispo, Walnut Creek... and that's just here in California. (Just wait till I get around to blogging about my recent trip to Kansas City.) I mean, if San Francisco had one coffee shop as good as Joe Momma's for every 797 inhabitants, I'd be in HEAVEN right now. My work here would be done. If the city of Oakland (pop. 397,067) had even ONE coffee shop half that good, I'd be pretty happy.

But let me get back to my earlier point: I attribute the de-centralization of the third wave to the internet. I'd be curious to hear from shop owners and roasters on this, but I am a pretty regular lurker on some of the industry chat forums, and it seems that there is an active online community of people who are exchanging advice and support pretty freely from all over North America and even the world. All the coffee pioneers seem to have banded together on the internet to learn from each other how to succeed in this business and how best to continue the pursuit of quality coffee. So as much as I have previously lamented the internet's negative influence on our interpersonal skills, and as much as I have insisted that there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction, I have to rejoice a little in the existence of the coffee internet. I love the idea of democratizing something that has previously been considered "high culture."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Call me Ishmael

OK, so this is not a cappuccino review (more are coming, I swear... I'm just way, way behind on my blogging. But some articles are in the works.)

Anyway, my film has started screening around at festivals - mostly in the midwest and south. And the following mini-review appeared on the Pegasus News website as part of a preview of the upcoming Dallas Video Festival, where my film will be screening on November 9. And... well... it cracked me up. So I had to share...

"The Perfect Cappuccino (screening Sun. at 10:30 a.m.) serves up 90 minutes of creamy caffeinated goodness as filmmaker Amy Ferraris chronicles her obsession with a beverage that has led her by the taste buds from Bologna, Italy to Tulsa, Oklahoma in search of - you guessed it - the perfect cappuccino. Amy's documentary plays like the Moby Dick of coffee house culture - and guess which white whale stands to receive a good harpooning? After presenting us with a primer on the history of espresso and the variables in play during cappuccino creation (hint: it's all about the barista), Amy dives into her more challenging subject matter: why is it that Americans are so enraptured with Starbucks? She presents her theory that we, as a coffee-drinking nation, are entering into the "third wave" of coffee culture, defined as: 1. Folgers, 2. Starbucks and 3. Independent, quality-conscious coffee bars that foster community while dispensing deliciously-addictive coffee beverages."

HAHAHAHAHAHA!! (Why does the phrase "90 minutes of creamy caffeinated goodness" make me feel dirty? If I wasn't worried about winding up in the porn section of the video store, I would totally make that a review quote on the DVD packaging.)

Also, I love how this reviewer gives me credit for coming up with the "third wave" idea. HUH?? I don't take credit for that idea! That's not "my" theory! Somebody got up to get some popcorn at the wrong moment.

Anyway... if you are not on the mailing list, go check out the news/screenings page of my website for all the latest details on screenings.

(And if you're not on the mailing list, why not?? Go to my website and sign up!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008


A visit from a fellow obsessive seeker

Last week I had the pleasure of getting a cup of coffee with Nathan Slabaugh. Nathan's a trumpet player with the circus and therefore has the opportunity to travel all over the U.S. constantly. On his travels, he has been searching for... the perfect mocha.

I'm not kidding. He carries around a little black book in which he has obsessively cataloged his impressions of over 500 mochas he's had at coffee shops all over the country. He also has a podcast, and he roasts and serves coffee to his fellow circus performers out of his trailer.

A while back, Nathan found out about my own interest in the cappuccino and got in touch with me. And last week, he found himself in San Francisco for a few days, so we went and sipped some coffee together and had a chat. I took Nathan to try a mocha at Blue Bottle Coffee, because I know they make their mochas with chocolate from local chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. Nathan was a little coy about what he thought of it - but I gathered it was pretty good, although maybe not the best he'd ever had.

It was awesome to chat with someone who doesn't find it in the least strange that I have been mentally cataloging cappuccinos for the last dozen years. And I was forced to admit that while I may be obsessively interested in the cappuccino, I am remarkably inattentive to what makes a mocha a mocha (one thing I learned from Nathan: mochas made with powdered chocolate have a chalky aftertaste). I admit it: I have been guilty of looking down my nose at the mocha. Of believing it is what you drink when a coffee shop makes such terrible espresso that you need something to adulterate the flavor of the coffee. But Nathan has a reverence for the mocha as a culinary creation that I can't help but respect. And listening to him explain his interest in the drink, some parts of what he was saying sounded familiar. I mean, just because the vast majority of coffee shops make a terrible mocha and the vast majority of coffee drinkers don't appreciate what they're drinking, does that mean that someone shouldn't give a crap about what a good mocha actually is?

I guess not. So... hats off to Nathan and his quest. I'll continue to be curious about what he finds.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008


The Best Cappuccino I've Had in a While

So I went camping in the Sierras this weekend (lovely but still a little chilly), and on my way back home I stopped at Temple Fine Coffee and Tea in downtown Sacramento and had one of the best cappuccinos I've had in a good long while.

(OK, actually, I judged at the Western Regional Barista Competition in late March, and I had some good ones there. The blog entry on that experience is still forthcoming, with all my usual blogging urgency. So let's say that this capp at Temple was the best one I've had in an actual coffee shop in a good long while.)

When I ordered, I was offered the choice between two espressos - a blend called Element 114 and a single origin Ethiopian coffee called Ghimbi, both roasted by Barefoot in Santa Clara. I chose the Ghimbi, and WOW. The cappuccino was basically delicious burnt caramel in a cup. And the milk was frothed to perfection - ideal temperature, ideal texture. I think I literally smacked my lips. It had the flavor of the crackly part of a creme brulee.

The experience also ran contrary to one of my pet theories, which is that it can be hard to get a top-notch cappuccino if you go at kind of an off-hour. I've had the experience dozens of times of going to a supposedly-wonderful shop that is home to championship barista or two and getting a cappuccino that is (let's be frank) kind of crappy, because I don't happen to be there during coffee prime time (i.e., a weekday morning). So the people working behind the bar are kind of the bench warmer baristas, and you can taste it. But I was at Temple at 4 pm on a Sunday. Honestly, I was expecting the D Team to be behind the bar. But it was still a gorgeous, perfectly-made drink. For the first time in many months, I am impressed.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Attention, Jay Caragay! I suck.

Last fall I took a trip to Kentucky to visit my parents, during which time me and my mom drove out to Maryland together to visit my brother and his family for a few days (nine hours in the Buick with a box full of Rodgers and Hammerstein CD’s – I won’t deny it: some seriously cheesy white people singing went down). My brother lives in Eldersburg, a smallish community west of Baltimore, so in between catching up on General Hospital with my sister in-law and attending my nephews’ little league games, I got a chance to pay a visit to Spro Coffee in nearby Towson, Maryland. Here’s what I think about Spro Coffee: FUCK YEAH!!!

Seriously, I have been dreaming about that coffee ever since. I think I may have encountered the platonic ideal of espresso. No joke. But let me get into the particulars…

Spro Coffee is owned and operated by a character named Jay Caragay. I was familiar with Jay because he is the co-host of the portafilter podcast (which I have mentioned in this blog before) and because I saw him compete in the 2006 U.S. Barista Championships in Charlotte, N.C. I particularly remember his presentation, because he made a specialty drink involving a liquid (was it half and half?) that had been infused with cigar tobacco. Not for the first time, I found myself sitting in the audience at a barista competition wishing I were one of the judges so I could TASTE this stuff. I also knew of Jay prior to visiting his shop because he is something of a vocal presence on the coffee internet; he’s outspoken, irreverent, and not one to back down from a verbal online tussle. So… imagine my surprise when I learned that this man’s coffee “shop” is actually a kiosk located inside the local library. That’s right. Mere feet away from the spot where Miss Nancy treats the children of Towson to heartfelt readings of Where The Red Fern Grows during story hour, this shit-starting, smartmouthed badass of the Third Wave plies his trade.

I love this.

Anyway, over the course of an afternoon spent hanging out with Jay, I tried three different drinks, and they were all stupendous. The first was, of course, a cappuccino, made by Jay himself. This was it (yes, I took a few sips before I took the picture. Sorry to ruin your viewing pleasure.) It was textbook: smooth liquid-y foam and espresso that complemented the sweetness of the milk perfectly. Jay had recently made the decision to switch from commodity milk to organic milk from grass-fed local cows; in my estimation, the change was worth it. (You can read more about the agonizing decision to switch to better-quality-but-more-expensive milk on Jay’s blog.)

After I drank the cappuccino, the lovely barista in the picture (whose name I am blanking on because it’s been MONTHS since I was there – see title above) made me a house specialty drink that was equally impressive. In the intervening months, the memory of exactly what that drink was has failed me. But I remember that it involved honey, and it was nice and small – about the size of a macchiato – and it reminded me of Italy, where they know how to make flavored drinks without blenders and without the need for a 20-ounce plastic cup with a domed lid.

After two excellent drinks and some hangout time at the library, Jay took me over to nearby restaurant Woodberry Kitchen. And that’s where I saw god. We were just hanging out, taking a look around, and shooting the breeze with the restaurant’s owners (who formerly operated Artifact Coffee out of that same location) when Jay jumped on the restaurant’s 2-group Synesso and pulled me a plain old shot of espresso. Holy heck. It’s hard to put into words just what made this shot of espresso perfect, but it was certainly my idea of perfect. It was round and full and delicious; it was simply the coffee-est tasting coffee I’ve had in a very long time. And that is saying something. As has been noted repeatedly in the recent press about specialty coffee, the world of high quality coffee has adopted some of the attributes and affectations of the world of wine. Among the people who are doing exciting things with coffee, a lot of effort has been going into raising awareness of the terroir of individual coffees, and this often involves isolating or emphasizing the component flavors that make a particular coffee unique – a note of cherry over here, a floral aroma over there. Roasters, baristas and tasters alike, we’re all sitting around marveling at the melon-rind flavor in this coffee or whatever. Last time I was in Tulsa, I had a Guatemalan coffee that tasted a lot like pork chops. I kid you not. I mean, we are talking delicious, wonderful pork, king of the beasts. But still. This is something new. Espresso made from single-origin coffees rather than blends is new. Third Wave shops using their clovers to get customers to pause and identify the hint of hibiscus in their coffee is new. The cappuccino I had at Lulu’s in Santa Cruz a few weeks ago that was like somebody shoved a fruit basket up my nose is NEW. Don’t get me wrong. I have been REVELING in all these coffee experiences. I love all the experimenting that’s going on. I love that American roasters are playing around with espresso (and coffee in general) in ways that are standing Italian conventional wisdom about espresso on its ear. I love coffee that tastes like pork!

But it was nice, on this particular day back in September, to have a shot of espresso that was so perfectly espresso-ey. It was complex and simple at the same time; there were multiple taste sensations, but they were in such perfect balance that it would have been very difficult to single them out; they just gave me an overwhelming sensation of… COFFEE. That single shot of espresso has had some serious staying power in my psyche too. I’ve been tasting it over and over again in my imagination in the months since, which is extremely rare for me. (No kidding, the sense memories I have been having of this particular espresso would impress even the Norma Desmond-esque old bat who endeavored to teach us the Stanislavski Method back in film school.) Both Spro Coffee and Woodberry Kitchen get their espresso from Hines Public Market in British Columbia. So I guess a big shoutout goes to them. And to Jay for pulling such a beautiful shot on a machine that had mostly been sitting around doing nothing all day. And (I guess) to the folks at Synesso for making a good machine, and to the folks at Woodberry Kitchen for maintaining it.

(How did this suddenly turn into an oscar acceptance speech? All that’s missing is god and my agent.)

Anyway, thanks, Jay, for giving me a memorable coffee day! And sorry for taking so long to get around to writing about it! (see title above.)

I got the following update from Jay Caragay yesterday about his barista and about the coffee they serve at Woodberry Kitchen (owned by Spike, referenced below)...

"The barista that you met in the picture is Arianna Travaglini. She's a great barista who's been with me pretty much from the start of Spro. Like me, she likes to get up and travel the world from time to time.

Oh, and just a correction before Spike's roasters get their feathers ruffled. It's only when they run out of coffee that I give them a bag (or two) of Hines to tide them over until their next shipment. Their main roaster is Counter Culture Coffee of Durham, NC."

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Friday, January 25, 2008


Milk in the Land

I know this was very, very predictable of me, but the other night I went to the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley to see a documentary about... MILK. That's right. One half of the dynamic duo that make up the cappuccino. My favorite source of sugar, fat and animal protein.

It was an experimental documentary entitled "Milk in the Land: Ballad of an American Drink," and it centered around the idea of milk as the all-American wholesome beverage, picking apart where that perception came from and what this mundane food product and our way of looking at it reveal about us and our history and culture.

I was riveted.

You can find out more about the film here.

On another note, I know it has been three months since my last post. This does not mean that I have given up tasting cappuccinos. On the contrary, I have visited a bunch of interesting new places in the past three months, and I would like to write about a few of them, at least. I just haven't had time to, because I have been up to my eyeballs in work. (Work on my film, which is a heartbeat away from being done, and editing work on another reality TV special, this one about an all-women's chain gang at a jail in Phoenix, Arizona. Go ahead and ask me what "booty duty" is.) In any case, more cappuccino reviews are forthcoming, I promise!

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Go to Intelligentsia. Do it now.

I am a very bad blogger. Seven very short weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of being present at the grand opening party at Intelligentsia’s new coffee shop in Los Angeles. And I am only now getting around to blogging about it. (This blog is many things, but up-to-the-minute it ain't.)

Anyway, I was in Los Angeles for four days, and I found the opportunity to get my ass over to Intelligentsia every one of those days for one simple reason: the cappuccinos are out of this world. They are fantastic. They are my idea of perfection: 5-ounce porcelain cup, delicious caramel-y sweet espresso, perfectly frothed microfoam. And all of these cappuccinos undoubtedly tasted even better because they were accompanied by memories of the YEARS of agony I endured wandering all over L.A. County in search of a drinkable cappuccino.

Beyond the quality of its cappuccinos, though, Intelligentsia is a really interesting company. It has gotten a fair amount of attention for its Direct Trade model, which was born from the very Slow Food-ey conviction that many food producers are artisans and should be recognized as such. Direct Trade also requires environmentally and socially sustainable practices and full disclosure of prices/contracts from all parties (i.e., you really CAN find out how much money actually went to the farmer). You can read more about it on Intelligentsia’s website, or in this article from the NY Times. And Intelligentsia co-owner Geoff Watts does a brilliant job of explaining the differences between Direct Trade and Fair Trade in this letter. (Seriously. I know that sounds boring, but it’s a fascinating read. Well worth it.) What it all boils down to, though, is that Intelligentsia is one of the companies that is leading the way in taking the radical position that if we acknowledge coffee’s unique qualities as an agricultural product and stop treating (and trading) it like a commodity, everybody benefits. And what I LOVE about this is that you can actually taste it in the cup. You might not give a crap whether farm workers in Colombia are earning a living wage. But if you give a crap what your morning coffee tastes like, Intelligentsia’s business practices are good news for you.

However, I have to be honest about something: the thing that made me more excited than Direct Trade (even almost as excited as I was about the cappuccinos) is the following: when you walk into the shop, there are no cash registers visible anywhere. The first thing you see is the espresso machine, with the baristas facing you. And although there are tables in the very large patio area outside, there are none inside. There’s just a large, three-sided bar. One side has the espresso machine (a synesso); one side has two clovers (the cup-at-a-time coffee brewers); and the third side – back against the far wall – has counter seating. (Coffee blogger tonx actually posted a number of photos of the interior of this place on his flickr page, for those of you who want to get a clearer mental picture of what I’m talking about.)

In short, this place is set up more like a bar bar than a coffee bar. There are no signs saying “order here.” There are no airport-style cordoned paths to keep everybody in line. You have to sidle up to the bar and order your drink. And then you have to stand around and wait for it. And maybe, just maybe, during that time, you might think about chit-chatting with the guy standing next to you. I saw a lot of that kind of chit-chatting while I was there. (Strangers talking to each other! It filled my heart with joy.) But I’ll be very curious to see if it continues. Part of me fears that people were unusually chatty the weekend I was there because Intelligentsia was brand-new. Part of me fears that we Americans are so used to getting our morning coffee in an orderly, assembly-line fashion – as quickly as possible on the way to work or whatever – that eventually Intelligentsia will succumb to consumer desires for a more regimented system. Or maybe customers will form their own regimented system spontaneously. Just because there are no cordoned paths, that doesn’t mean people won’t stand in an orderly line and avoid looking at or talking to each other. (You can take the customer out of the Starbucks, but can you take the Starbucks out of the customer? I don’t know.) I’ll be spending a lot of time in L.A. this fall, so I will be watching attentively to see what happens.

Monday, September 17, 2007


You'll laugh! You'll cry!

For those of you who navigate directly to the blog without visiting my website first, I wanted to let you know that the new trailer for THE PERFECT CAPPUCCINO is now online. Hooray!

Unfortunately, that in-a-world guy was busy, so I had to settle for doing the voiceover myself. But other than that, I'm pretty happy with how it came out. So go have a look-see!

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