Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 2: Four shops and 10 shots later

It's day 2 here in Portland, and it has been an incredible day. I started out by making Andy a wonderful cup of Amaro Gayo from Ethiopia in his fancy new V60 coffee maker (happy birthday/christmas/engagement/holy week). Late nights and early mornings are really starting to take a tole.

Yes, that mug does have a picture of Kristin and I on it--Andy must be obsessed with us.

The first stop after dropping off my formally clad amigo was The Albina Press.  This shop was truly a coffee shop, complete with sofas, regulars, strange art, and baristas that could be models at a Salvation Army store.  They brew all of their coffee using giant press pots, and it is only $1 for a mug.  I felt very comfortable there, so I stayed for a while and read and wrote.  This is the perfect place to study or take a friend for a long chat.  The coffee was Stumptown and the brew was mediocre.  It just might have blown my mind 3 days ago, but when you have had so much of the best...

Next stop, Red e.  This definitely was one of my favorite shops so far.  The barista I talked (and talked and talked) with was super friendly and informative.  He pulled me two shots with their single origin yergacheffe from Coava--a micro roastery that roasts in #3 batches. I bought 250g of his Kenyan Kiamabara (for Kristin of course!)  The first shot was not so hot.

It was like getting a good look at a racecar driving by your house at 90 mph.  The second shot was much more developed and left a round, floral aftertaste.  I sat there and let my brain sizzle for a second as I pondered my next destination (and let the GPS load).

I then drove to a new location of the shop Extracto.  Many people recommended Extracto, including my barista friend from MN who used to work their.  It was tiny, but the espresso was some of the most unique and "best tasting" I have had yet.  The first I had was their Solutionary blend. It was very mellow and flat, and had a powerful tart cherry finish.  Very strong fruit flavors.  The second shot that I shakily poured down my throat was called the 11 of Spades--I have never had anything like it!
It was so clearly chocolate and lemon, that you could have told me it was flavored.  The lingering taste reminded me of eating a good super dark chocolate bar.  Wow, can I have a mug of that please?  It was a blend of Guatemalan and Sumatran.  Did I mention they had a garage door? Cool, literally.

After that, I walked over to the new Barista shop on Albina. It was all that they claim it is. It reminded me a lot of the Intelligencia in Venice, CA.  Lots of concrete, wood, exposed duct work.  Super fancy yet lots of mechanical things. I had a Guatemalan Edlyna from Barefoot Coffee in CA (as a Little Buddy/Italiano, my new favorite drink.)  This is totally the place to take your friends if you want to impress them and make them think that you are classy.  Needless to say, I didn't fit in.  The coffee was wonderful. It was warm and buttery, like a buttercake. The cool thing about Barista, is they carry many different coffees from around the country.  If it is good, they have it.

I had a chance to talk with Billy Wilson for a moment, and asked him if I could get a picture with him like a creepy fanboy (even though I am not a fan).  He obliged. Check my previous post for the picture, my creepy side smile is not worth posting twice. This is on my list of "You have to visit, if only once" coffee shops.

That concluded my coffee tour for the day.  Tomorrow we are planning on going to Stumptown for a public cupping. Oh Portland!



Just a teaser.  Mostly for Dan and Tagge. Yes, that is Leila in the back.  Billy says hi Dan.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 1: Bow Ties and Not So Nice Guys

I have seen so many great shops this morning--and it's not even noon!  Portland truly has a lot of excellent shops, and they are reletively easy to access.  After dropping Andy off at work, I headed off to shop number 1--Coffeehouse Northwest.

Everyone told me that Coffeehouse Northwest brews and pulls Stumptown coffee better than Stumptown itself brews and pulls Stumptown coffee. I can't say weather I agree yet, since my Stumptown visit will probably be tomorrow, but the coffee was incredible.  I walked into the reletively small and homey shop and was greeted by friendly baristi. I told them about my pilgramidge and they were happy to meet me.
I had a shot of the Hairbender (Stumptown's espresso) and it was incredible.  I have never had a shot that was so pleasant and fruity in the finish.  I could have drank 8 ounces of it--luckily I didn't, or I might not be able to control my fingers enough to type this.  I asked where I should visit next, and they told me that their owner had just opened a shop a few blocks away called Sterling Roasters.

Oh my goodness.  This was the coolest coffee "shop" (it was more of a coffee nook) I have ever visited!  Tucked into the entrance of a flower shop, this little shop had it all.  They had a Synesso, pourovers, siphons, the hold kit-n-kaboodle.  But the best part was their roaster.  They roasted all of their coffee right there on a 1 pound Sanfransiscan sample roaster.  Does it get any cooler?  No.  Not only that, but the decor reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe--only not so creepy.  They all had on vests and ties (bow ties!) and there were candles on the walls and all the coffee was in tall skinny glass jars.  They made me a coffee called "The Little Buddy."  It consists of a shot of Rwandan single origin espresso pulled into about 3 ounces of water (like a little stout americano).  Lovely little nook full of friendly people. I like friendly people. Only in Portland!

The next shop I visited was Billy Wilson's "Barista."  This was a very classy place.  Sinatra playing, wood everything, two La Marzoccos, and a row of siphons greeted a constant flow of espresso craving Oregonians.  I talked briefly with the baristas and gave them the coffee I had brought.  They thanked me and made me a beutiful Macchiato also using Hairbender.  This was a cool place, not as hospitable as Coffeehouse Northwest, but the baristi were friendly. Billy Wilson stopped in for a minute, but I didn't get to talk with him since he cut out pretty quickly.  Maybe I will see him at his new Barista II on Alberta street.  This is definitely a shop worth visiting.
Finally, I headed over to a fairly new shop called "Heart Roastery."  This place is really cool inside.  With a huge Probat roaster and custom espresso machines, it was undoubtedly the coolest looking shop I have visisted so far.  I was told not to go their by a friend, because, as he put it, they were snobby.  I figured that he probably came on a bad day.  Well, they were actually snobby.  I didn't recognize the espresso machine (since it had a custom cover), so I had to ask.  This personal ignorance turned out to be the end of my short lived conversation with the barista.  Too bad.  The espresso was not the best (probably tainted by my highly subjective emotional condition and caffienation).  She blamed the fact that it was cloudy. Mmm-hmm. Right.

Well, off to eat lunch with my brotha.  Hooray for Portland!  Hooray for bow ties!  I need a sandwich!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I have arrived at the airport. That train is really fun.
Here comes the train! note: the busses smelled better in LA. 10:52
About to hop on the city bus headed downtown. Let's see how long it takes... 10:30

The Upper Left

In about 6 hours I will be on a plane on my way to Portland, Oregon (technically, I will be flying to Detroit, MI, then to Portland).  I am off to discover the best that the city has to offer: Andy, frozen pizza, hippies, and caffeine.  For the 2.5 of you that actually read this (including myself), be checking as the week progresses.  I will be posting pictures and stories that are sure to keep you up at night with excitement.

Here's to the Upper Left! (Did I mention I shaved my head?  Well, I did.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pizza...sort of.

I can't eat gluten.
I admit it.  One of the most wonderful staples of human existence has been removed from my diet.
Some would see this as a curse.  I, however, see it as an evolutionary advantage.  Perhaps sometime in the near future, wheat will be eliminated by the careless act of a genetic scientist.
Then what? I'll tell you what.  I would be happily adjusted to consuming loads of tapioca flour and ground up rice, and the rest of you un-evolved primates would be left hungry.  Who is cursed now?
[End of self-pity induced rant]

One of the things that I was the most saddened by when I learned that I could not eat waves of amber grain was the thought of an existence without pizza.  As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.  Tonight Kristin and I created gluten-free pizza (that actually tasted good!)

Using a recipe for a thin cracker bread made with polenta that I made back in the golden days of kernel consumption, we replaced the wheat flour with rice flour.  I assumed it would taste like eating cheese melted over shredded bills and junk mail.  But, lo and behold, it didn't!  It actually was pretty good.  The crust has fennel seeds and crushed black pepper, so there is a good flavor.  The soft consistency is backed by corn meal, giving the edges a bit of a crunch.  On top we placed artichoke hearts, green olives, and mozzarella cheese.

Being evolutionarily advanced has its perks.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Da nort-land

Yesterday afternoon I decided to go on an impromptu camping trip up to Lake Maria State Park (outside of Monticello, MN).  I packed quickly, grabbed my tent and bag and headed north.  When I got there the office was closed, so I self-registered through the mail slot for a backpack site not too far from a parking space.  Unfortunately, the site was taken.  Reluctantly, I hiked to the north side of the park up Anderson hill to find the next available site.  This was the best mistake I have made in months.  The site was gorgeous--I was up on a hill overlooking one of MN's 10,000 lakes.  An eagle flew over. I didn't have a camera, so I did some quick, photo-realistic sketches.  It looked like this, only less fish like and more majestic:

I set up camp, started a fire, and just hung out.  Usually I try to spiritualize everything by forcing myself to read or journal excessively, but this time I just enjoyed being outdoors.  This was a great idea.  God is actually easier to notice when you don't strain so hard to see Him.

Before I headed to bed, I heard something large trying to walk on the ice by my camp.  It kept breaking through as it walked, so I assume it was not a giant raccoon, or opossum.  Maybe it was a bear, or a disgruntled snowmobiler.  This is what I imagine it looked like:

I slept well, got up at 5:30am, and made coffee in the Mocha Pot (using my new hand grinder!).  It was ideal.  After I packed up my gear and the tent, I headed out as the sun began to rise.  As I crunched through the leaves on the trail, I heard a ton of loud turkeys.  I would assume that turkeys have trouble with self-confidence, but these turkeys were very secure.  It was at this point that I heard an animal scream.  Was it a panther?  I don't know.  Perhaps it was just that eagle, or an enormous fox.  If it was a panther, it probably looked like this:

As I stood on the trail and just listened, I felt as though God was reminding me that I was not the point of creation.  I was a part of it.  I should be happy that He stills loves me, and chose to use me despite my history.  We can't be proud of our accomplishments, because those are His.  Like He said in Luke 17,
"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "
 As a servant, I should be excited that I have someone to serve.  My accomplishments are for His purpose, not my own.  It is easy to feel very large and important when you live indoors.  The world seems to revolve around your wants and efforts.  But reality in God's world is very different.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I saw two adults fighting by the Light Rail today while I was on a bike ride--physically fighting.

They both looked like big children, the man dangling keys in front of the woman, both of them shoving each other, throwing punches.  Eventually the woman had the man on the ground and was kicking him in the head.  He ran off and I biked up to the woman to see if she was ok.  Flustered, she said she was.  The cops pulled up a minute later.

I hate the world right now.
I don't know how to feel.

What do you pray in moments like this?  "Help.  Please intervene," is all I could get out.  It makes you want to get into your apartment and lock the door and hide.

The world is not how it should be.  There is a lot of darkness.  We have to make a choice--either we can hide, lock ourselves up, and pretend that the world is neat and tidy, or decide that we are going to do what we can in a small way to bring God's kingdom to earth.  I want to choose to bring light, to choose to give hope, to love instead of avoid or hate the world.

Well, maybe right now hating the world sounds like a better option. I'll come around eventually.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Electric "Hand" Grinder

I got a new toy today.  After a few months of deliberation/obsessing/dreaming, I finally bought a new grinder.  It is a Hario (Japanese) skinny hand grinder.  All over the internet are great reviews.  The problem with home grinders is that there isn't a market for grinders that do a good drip grind.  The money all comes from people with $1000 espresso machines, not me.  So finding a quality grinder that can suit a pour over is problematic.  

This Hario grinder does a great job.  It is able to make powder fine enough for espresso (with a lot of laboring), a consistent grind for drip, and an excellent crush for the press.  Here is a picture of its range:
The only problem is that you have to crank it.  Of course, after having it out of the box for only about 12 minutes, I already began thinking of a solution:  

When you take the handle off, there is a convenient hex rod--perfect for my electric drill.  Now I can clamp it on, and barely pull the trigger--simulating the speed I would crank at.  Will I actually use this in the morning routine? No.  But if I didn't try it, it would have swam around in my head until I was attempting it in my sleep.

What could be better?

Today was a wonderful day.  Kristin and I try to be sure that at least one day of the weekend is reserved for rest.  That means no check-lists, no school work, no talking about behavior management strategies (I shouldn't even type those words!).  We just do things that--as stated eloquently by Andy Scott--that feed our souls.  We decided that we would try to ride the bikes to Rustica in Uptown to get coffee.  It was such an awesome ride, Minneapolis is made for long bike rides.

We rode through the ruins of old flour mills:

Over cool bridges:

Through foggy downtown:

And on the incredible Greenway (the bike "highway"):

And we didn't end up hating each other!

Today was great.  It is so needed to be human as often as you can.  So enjoy your life wherever you are.  Those that have tons of free time, don't feel guilty! Take advantage of it, because someday you might not have it.  Those of you with no free time, find it.  If you don't make space in your life for the things that you will remember, they will never happen.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Angry Catfish

I can now say that I have a list of favorite places named after angry fish.
  1. The Angry Trout (a hippy-dippy, we made the mustard and the toilet paper today out of recycled bio-organic vegan after market coop goods restaurant in northern Minnesota)
  2. The Angry Catfish (a half Intelligencia, half bike shop serving awesome coffee and expensive bicycles in south Minneapolis)
First, if you live in Minneapolis you should visit the Angry Catfish. It is large, unique, quiet, and they have a Synesso, siphons, and pour-overs. It is a great 3rd wave shop to add to our collection in the Cities. You have Black Sheep in South St. Paul (for those of you visiting your Grandma), Rustica on Lake Calhoun (a coffee snob playground), Kopplin's in St. Paul (for those who love to sit in the laps of strangers bonded by the fact that you both now have slightly thinner wallets), and now The Angry Catfish (for hipsters with pants that match their super skinny custom bicycles).

Someone should organize a tour.

I had a ton of time to chat with the baristas, write, read, and be human. I am so glad that Jesus said that sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. Otherwise a day of cross-town biking and coffee chat would make me feel like I was wasting time. But it isn't wasting time. In fact, whatever you need to do in order to realize (or remember) who you are is more than worth the time.

Rob Bell once said that very few people have done the long hard work of the soul, and I understand why. We are good at the world's variety of hard work--busyness, rushed schedules, merciless efficiency. But we are novices at the slow, introspective and contemplative work that can make you whole.

Whatever slows you down, do it. Find a way to build that routine into the rhythm of your life. Set aside time to do whatever it takes to simmer enough to hear that quiet and fleeting voice of God. It will be worth it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Geeked-Out Boiler

I have a problem.
I love coffee too much, and since becoming a super-busy teacher I have now had to move my passion for coffee into the part of the brain reserved for thoughts of tropical beaches, mountain overlooks, and fresh pancakes. This part of the brain is deemed the "Happy place" by scientists.

In the Happy Place, coffee is given unrestrained access to 80% of the operating capacity of my brain for about 3/4 of the day. Above is the result.

What is it? Well, I have been tinkering with my Chemex coffee brewer for a few weeks, and have discovered that thermal stability is everything. In order to maintain the ideal 195-205 F for the duration of the brewer, either you need to insulate the kettle or find a way to manually reheat the water during the 3-4 minutes that it takes to brew.

Today, Kristin is at the Mall of America with her folks, so that means a free kitchen, car, and no voice of reason. So, I went to Home Depot and purchased a length of sink-hose and a valve and began tinkering with a way to siphon water out of the tank without pouring...I now have a burned mouth and upper lip!

2 hours of fiddling later, and now I have a fully functioning siphon (that doesn't burn your mouth). Instead of worrying about keeping the kettle within the target temperature range by trying to better insulate, now I can simply press the boil button whenever the temp (read by my probe thermometer) drops to about 198. A 3 second pulse brings it quickly up to 200.

Will it make better coffee? Who knows. If you know me, you know that I am often satisfied more with the pursuit than the result. Yes, I will use it to make coffee, but more importantly it was fun to build.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Time to Be, Just Be

Does anyone know why President's Day is a holiday? I definitely didn't celebrate anything presidential this weekend. Don't get me wrong, I will always advocate for as many meaningless holidays as possible.

Because this holiday has no point and no time consuming associated celebration, I was able to take time just to be. I haven't just been in a long time. School is consuming, and if you allow it, it will find a way into every minute of your life. Planning, delivering, considering, and stressing are all possible to do at any time of the day--including right when you wake up, while you are having a meaningful conversation, when you are eating, when you are showering, and while you are dreaming. There is no clear division between work and rest, and so you quickly forget what it means to not work.

I had forgotten what it meant to be, to just be. I once heard someone say that he took a sabbath rest because he needed time to remember that the world gets along fine without him and that he was loved just because he was alive. Today I finally felt like I was alive. That I had permission to just exist without marking anything off of a checklist (I could wallpaper the apartment in checklists). I need sabbath to be free from checklist thinking.

I thank God for Presidents Day. I thank God for a meaningless holiday that allowed me the space to remember who I am, and that I am more than the sum of my accomplishments.

Here's to Presidents Day.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Smoggy LA

It's the last week of Teach For America institute* and I find myself once again thinking about how little I have thought this month. What I needed was a good Charles Dickens style visit from the ghost of Nick past. I would have told myself in inflated Mars Hill vocabulary to "be fully present" despite my circumstances. That "existence is sacred" and to long to get through something is to desecrate a holy thing. He also would have ranted about slowing down and defying the speed of that which is happening around me.

Unfortunately, I was not given this pep talk by my former self. Now I am here, in my dorm room overlooking a city that looks a lot like I feel--smoggy, covered in a haze produced by my own need to go fast. What Los Angeles needs isn't a day of no driving, but rather a new lifestyle. A lifestyle where people reconsider their need to hurry. A lifestyle where people decide to enjoy that which is immediately around them. So it is with me. I need this lifestyle. I need to slow down so that the smog dissipates and I am left with a clear view of this gift of a life.

*A month of teacher training/brain washing/rigid schedules