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Entries in Food & Drink (38)

Monday
Jun142004

Cranky Al's & Mrs. Java

Suzy & Al BrkichThis weekend, my wife and son visited Cranky Al's & Mrs. Java, our favorite local coffee and donut shop. Of course we had a great time in their little storefront shop, sipping good coffee, eating hand-cranked donuts, and interacting with fellow visitors.

Al and Suzy are quite the fixture in the small community where they operate and they have done this in just a few short years. Its as if they're a community gathering spot, offering a welcome place for kids to grandparents and everyone in-between — even hip young singles and couples in the area.

It has something to do with good coffee, donuts an pastries, but it also has something to do with their real personalities and the environment they've created at the shop. They are active participants in creating this friendly, homey environment, which is quite different from a more corporate setting of a Starbucks. It's something more like being in a small town bakery, coffee shop or greasy spoon diner.

For instance, it's not unusual to walk into the shop and have Cranky Al bark some friendly, yet cranky comments at you. If someone orders an espresso drink, Al will shout "FANCY COFFEE!" and immediately move to the next customer, letting the barrista handle the lattés and cappuccinos. To the kids he might offer, "Hey, line up along the counter and have your choice ready, this is a donut shop, not K-Mart!". In between friendly jibes at customers, comments pop out such as "Cranky Al's donuts, they're Krispy and Kremey!"

On the surface it sounds cranky, but you immediately know it's an endearing welcome, similar to the crankiness waitresses feign at Ed Debevic's 50's burger shops. Of course you have to have a sense of humor to detect this — which I imagine might be a problem for too-uptight, literal visitors. :-)

As a final example of this cranky yet funny and friendly humor, this is the text of sign posted on their donut counter:

"Unattended children will be given two shots of espresso and a puppy"

I think it's wonderful that a place like Cranky Al's and Mrs. Java exist for people to visit. In a world where chain stores and corporate attempts at homeyness are so prevalent, a genuine instance brings a smile to my face and my tummy. :-)

Friday
May282004

CoffeeGeek.com visits a McCafé

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of coffee. One site I enjoy visiting from time to time is CoffeeGeek.com, for interesting and informative articles I find there. Even though I'm not quite as fanatical about technical details as many of the CoffeeGeek writers, I do enjoy learning about coffee.

Thursday, I came across a very intriguing article called McEspresso Comes to Town, about McDonald's exploring the coffee chain arena with a McCafé in Raleigh, North Carolina. Just the idea of McDonald's going after Starbucks' was curious to me, as I often think of Starbucks as the McDonald's of coffee joints.

Peter Giuliano's entire article is quite good, but there were a few tongue-in-cheeks portions I got a chuckle from:

As I approached the counter, Bonnie, the register keeper, hollered “Welcome To McCafe! Can I help you?” with a big smile. I don’t mean to review Bonnie’s personality here, but it occurred to me a couple of times that she was almost aggressively friendly. She had a take-no-prisoners kind of cheerfulness that clearly was a big big part of what she wanted to communicate to the world.

Maybe Bonnie had a few too many McEspressos that day? ;-)

Here's the other favorite bit from that article:

The big moment during the Cappuccino preparation was when she produced a special customized tool designed to shield certain parts of the drink from the shower of cinnamon she poured from a shaker. This operation resulted in a cute little “M” on the top of the cappuccino, reminding me that I was, indeed, in a McDonalds. Cool! The coffee was for some reason given to me in a paper cup, and I got the whole thing on the same kind of brown plastic tray McDonalds had when I was a little kid.

If you're a coffee fan, I suggest reading the whole article.

So, what was Peter's verdict? Weak, thin and less than hot specialty coffees, but he found the drip selection pretty decent. I imagine that for those who dislike the strong, burnt coffee at Starbucks, weak but smooth McCafé coffee might actually be attractive.

Not for me. I much prefer an expert cranking out a fresh shot of espresso at a local coffee house like Alterra Coffee. But of course I'd give a McCafé a whirl out of curiosity, if that opportunity ever presents itself.

Have a great and long weekend everyone! :-)

Friday
Apr022004

Mike's Rooibos Chai Recipe

Been having much more tea of late, including a little black tea and red Rooibos tea from South Africa. I especially enjoy Rooibos, because it tastes so good and is quite healthy for me, since I have a tendency toward kidney stones (related to tannins).

I actually love British style black tea, milk and sugar, but just can't have a whole lot of it, due to the tannins. Rooibos has freed me a bit from worry, since it's tannin and caffeine free and has many other health benefits.

Anyway, about a week ago, I decided to try a chai-like version of Rooibos after hearing about Rooibus being blended with chai-like spices.

Being inspired, I throw Rooibos and my favorite spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, allspice) into a cone-style tea infuser, and put a teaspoon of honey in the bottom of the mug. Then, I pour boiling water over the tea and spices, steep for 4-5 minutes, remove and stir.

Wow! This is wonderful stuff. Easy drinking and smooth, it's a little exotic, and very chai-like. Now I need to pick up some cardamom and throw in a little black pepper for full effect.

My espresso maker's frother might have to get some use, if I try to create a Rooibos Chai Latté. Hmmm, I'm getting thirsty! :-)

Food & Wine also has a Rooibus Chai recipe that's more complex than mine, in case you're curious.

Have a great weekend!

Update 2004-04-02: FYI, I bought my organic Rooibos from Rishi Tea, through a local coffee shop. I think Rishi also does online ordering.

Tuesday
Mar022004

Arrogant Yogurt Packaging

Today for lunch, I enjoyed a nice cup of Yoplait yogurt. After I'd finished, I happened to read the package (something I often do). I found a bit of text in red letters on the back of the cup:

PROTECT WILDLIFE
CRUSH THIS CONTAINER BEFORE DISPOSAL

I thought about this for a moment and said to myself "Hey, what a great gesture by Yoplait. Being a good corporate citizen and all that."

But, after thinking about it and considering the industrial design of the container a little longer, I actually got a bit angry. Why?

Well, the reason a Yoplait yogurt container is more dangerous for animals is that the opening is smaller than the base of the cup, so if an animal tries to lick the yogurt inside it, their head can get stuck.

So, here's Yoplait, telling me its my responsibility to crush the container so an animal can't get its head stuck inside? I don't mind crushing the cup before I recycle it, but that's not the point.

The point is, why doesn't Yoplait change the design and shape of their packaging, so it's like every other yogurt container (wider at the opening than the base) so it slides off an animal's head (should that situation arise)?

Funny how design can seem to be a surface or graphics issue, until you face something like this. Just goes to show that design is often critically important in more ways than just how something looks.

Monday
Feb232004

A Tough Coffee Decision

French PressLooks like my love for french press coffee will be short lived. Since I spent time extolling the french press coffee on the weblog, I felt an obligation to tell you why I've decided to severely limit my intake of french press coffee, for health reasons.

Last week, I visited my doctor about my under-the-weather status after returning from PalmSource DevCon. Turns out that my heart is good and strong, but my cholesterol and weight must be reduced. I have already been working out, and that's good — but I need to really focus on my eating, which is a whole another issue.

So, this weekend I began plans for modifying my long term, lifelong diet with the goal of reducing weight and cholesterol. This included changes to what I eat, why I eat and how much I eat. I've been inspired by Mashby, who's lost about 10 pounds last month on the South Beach diet, and and my friend's father, who lost 50 pounds over 2 years, by eating less and exercising. I'll just be eating less and better... no fad diets for me.

I know... that's a long explanation about limiting my french press coffee intake! You may be thinking to yourself "What's the deal, Mike?"

Well, back when I first got my press, I vaguely recall coming across an obscure tidbit in my research that mentioned increased cholesterol with press coffee. At the time I this seemed a minor concern, but now, after facing up to a high cholesterol number, that nagging tidbit bugged me into digging deeper.

So, Sunday night I did a Google search. Well, it appears there was a study done in the Netherlands (second link), comparing drip and press coffee drinkers over several weeks. When the study ended, the press coffee drinkers all had significantly elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol. The oils in french pressed coffee which taste so good, also contain high levels of cafestol and kahweol. These two compounds, heightened cholesterol levels in the french-press drinking study participants, but not in those drinking paper-filtered drip coffee.

Espresso also provides these same coffee oils with cafestol and kahweol compounds in them, but in much smaller quantities. I'll still have espresso and cappuccinos during the week, in place of drip coffee (maybe 2 or 3 days per week). Unlike french press and espresso makers, drip coffee makers and paper filters apparently keep a large majority of these nasty compounds out of the brew.

So, I've made a hard decision about my french press and the tasty coffee it produces. I feel I can't have the daily carafe of coffee I've enjoyed each morning, knowing my cholesterol has to drop. This morning I brewed my cuppa in the Braun drip maker with a paper filter and it was pretty good, but I will still miss my french press.

By the way, there is also an alternate source questioning this study, but I think I'm still going to limit my french press intake for now to be on the safe side.

Of course I'll still use french press, but its use must now become a Saturday morning ritual rather than a daily one. I still love the manual nature of brewing good coffee in the press, and the good coffee too... so I don't want to abandon it completely.

But hey, life is all about tradeoffs. I can still have my coffee, I'll just need to adapt. In the end the change in my overall diet and outlook is to enjoy foods for their taste, texture, and flavor rather than their quantity... the same holds true for coffee, especially if my health and life may be in the balance.