Thursday, April 28, 2005 

Coffee , HoJo's and Class of 2003

Java journey: Starbucks HQ the place to be if you know beans about coffee

A pretty cool story about one of six Starbucks "coffee education specialists". Coffee roasting is compared to making wine. Here's a couple of paragraphs from the article.
The eye-opening flavors and aromas we associate with our morning coffee are released from these tasteless green beans after just a few minutes in a roasting drum. Cohen's tasting room contains miniroasters where visitors can watch - and listen - as a half pound of green peas turn into black, oily, flavorful beans in just eight minutes. As the beans heat up, they pop twice. The first is a loud, sharp pop, just like the sound of popping corn. The second is a fizzling, Rice Krispies-like crackle. The beans lose about a quarter of their weight but double in size as their oils heat and expand, covering the beans in a slick coating.
Then, towards the end of the piece we learn more about "cupping".
Back at the tasting room in Seattle, the effects of the roasting process are evident as Cohen demonstrates the art of "cupping." A generous portion of a dozen Starbucks coffee varieties are placed in glass coffee cups and steeped with near-boiling water. The ground beans rise to the top of the unfiltered cup of coffee. Cohen uses a special metal spoon to agitate the thick liquid and holds his nose down to the cup to judge its aroma. He then sips from the spoon, swishes it in his mouth and spits it into one of the tasting room's brass spittoons. He's looking at two major components, acidity ("nothing more than the tingle you get on your tongue like lemon, grapefruit or orange") and body ("the weight you get on your tongue"). Through the cupping method, it's easy to tell the difference between the soft, floral aromas of Ethiopia Sidamo and the spicy complexity of Guatemala Antigua - the coffee, said Cohen, "that's most respected by Starbucks partners."
Sounds good to me. It does sound like a wine tasting, doesn't it?

As the last Howard Johnson's in New York City closes, Jacques Pepin recalls his days working in one of the restaurants during its heyday.

So how are the European class of 2003 wines turning out? Michael Lonsford has a report on this class from a very dry summer.

Hands off Dim Sum! It seems that heath experts are speaking out, saying that the "steamed or fried pastry dumplings stuffed with anything from pork and beef to shrimp and egg custard" may not be so healthy for you.

"Longtime dim sum lovers are indignant."

I don't know that I have much to add to that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005 

Wednesday Food Links

In the Boston Globe Stephen Meuse has a look at the documentary 'Mondovino' - a look at winemaker both from the artisanal side and the commercials, noting the stark differences in both sides. The winemakers are the focus of this movie, not a sideshow. The filmmakers are not without their biases in the film however, a Meuse notes:
It's clear that Nossiter's sympathies lie with the artisanal winemakers, whom he portrays as a kind of endangered species driven to the verge of extinction by global capitalism and professional arbiters of taste. We meet Battista and Lina Columbu, an elderly couple patiently engaged in the reclamation of an ancient varietal on a rugged hillside in Sardinia. "It's an ethical commitment," says Battista Columbu, his face as weathered and rugged as the landscape.

In their rustic dignity, the Columbus are offered as a reproach to the likes of Napa aristocrat Robert Mondavi -- whose PR staff insists he cannot be photographed from the side where a small Band-Aid may be visible. His son Michael is with him. Others singled out for a thorough skewering include winemaker-to-the-world Michel Rolland, the powerful Maryland-based critic Robert M. Parker Jr., and Wine Spectator staff writer James Suckling. Each -- with the exception of Parker, who appears merely naive -- acts and speaks like a caricature, making the filmmaker's task easier than it might have been. Why, one wonders, don't they have the good sense to just shut up?
Elsewhere, David Shaw in the LA Times discusses the topic of being the "wine guy". When you go out with friends or family, there are times when you might be the one who has to make the choice on wine that night...a terrifying prospect for some. In the NY Times, Monica Bhide looks at a new craze in India...eating out. Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune has a look at Illinois' claim to Horseradish fame...perhaps not the most stimulating subject, but an interesting history of the subject.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 

Wine & Strawberries in the NY Times

There was an interesting article in the Food section of the NY Times (Always a must-read for food buffs on Wednesdays) on the subject of rising alcohol content in California wines. Eric Asimov writes that some people are concerned about this, as it might be changing people's wine experience.
"You raise the alcohol just a couple percent in wine, and you change people's experience," said Andrew Murray, a winemaker in Santa Barbara County, who says he has tried taming the alcohol in his wines. "The old concept, my wife and I can split a bottle of wine with dinner, is no longer true."
Others disagree, saying that the alcohol content is secondary to the balance and taste of the wine. Some are calling these wines "on steroids" and towards the end of the article, R. Michael Mondavi recalls that in his grandfather's day, they actually used to water down the wine a little bit. Interestingly, that practice still is somewhat common.
In fact, Mr. Mondavi's grandfather used a technique not that different from what some winemakers do to avoid having wines too high in alcohol. They add water to their grape juice before fermenting it into wine, resulting in less alcohol by volume.
I'm not sure how I feel about this.

There is another article in the Times today that I found interesting which deals with California strawberries. David Karp looks at how strawberries have changed in the last fifty years due to breeding. He also notes that the now-familiar clamshell container in which you buy many of your strawberries these days was only invented in 1989. I feel like it's always been around, but I guess now that I remember way back then, I can recall those green, fuzzy boxes in which the berries used to come, topped with plastic wrap and a rubber band. He also looks at the wild strawberry, popular in Europe, but very rare in California.

Monday, April 11, 2005 

Review - Cafe Mediterraneo - Portsmouth, NH

Friday night we went out and tried a restaurant I hadn't been to before. The relatively small city of Portsmouth, NH has a plethora of dining choices. (Partial listing here) The downtown area is full of different restaurants, with a full variety of food types and tastes. One thing I may try to do on this blog is when I visit a new place, give my impression of it here.

Cafe Mediterraneo is a place you could miss if you didn't know where it was, but the place was still pretty packed. It's located on a small connecting street between two parallel streets. The walls and tables are pleasingly decorated with an Italian theme, the only drawback in the decorations was the drop-ceiling, such as you would find in an office building. The tables are pretty small and close together, as they try to pack as many people as possible into the place. There is a version on the menu online, but the actual one was slightly different.

I started with a 1/2 litre of house wine - a Cavit Pinot Grigio. It came in a carafe and was well chilled. The bread brought to the table was good, with a chewy, crunchy crust. Herbed Olive Oil and butter was provided.

We selected the Salmon Bruschetta as an appetizer. It was one of the specials of the day. It came out fairly quickly, 5 pieces on the place. It was very good, and the smoked salmon was not overpowering, which is a good thing. It all blended together nicely and while I had never considered using salmon on bruschetta, but it worked out well. It all quickly disappeared.

I selected the Lobster Ravioli, Darcy had the Chicken Mediteranean and her mom had the Chicken Piccata. My Ravioli was delicious. The green striped triangular ravioli was arranged around the plate in a single layer, almost like slices of a pizza. They were stuffed with lobster meat and cheese and topped with a great cream sauce. In the middle of my plate was meat from an entire lobster claw, which was an unexpectedly great treat.

The Chicken Mediteranean is described as "Boneless breast of chicken sauteed with leeks, prunes, sundried tomatoes and pinenuts in a brandy orange sauce" it looked good. I got a bite of it, with a prune and found the combination interesting. Darcy raved about the dish and especially loved the pine nuts. The Chicken Piccata is a "Boneless breast of chicken sauteed with lemon, capers and roasted peppers in a garlic, oil and white wine sauce" I didn't try that one, but it looked good as well. Each dish also came with a bowl of pasta with sauce. The marinara sauce was very sweet. The alfredo/white sauce was also very good.

This is definitely a place to come back to. Reservations are recommended. The address of Cafe Mediterraneo is 152 Fleet Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801 and the phone number is 603-427-5563.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005 

KitchenAid Mixer for $105?

Anothr great deal at I've always been in stores and looked longingly at the KitchenAid Mixers which I've always seen priced at least at $250 minimum. Today you can get one from for $105...shipped.

The window above probably says the price is $150, but if you follow it and put the mixer in your shopping cart, it will be only $129.99. Then during checkout enter code APRLKTCHNPC2 and that will get you another $25 off. The item also qualifies for free shipping, so your final cost will be $104.99.

I'm pretty excited to get this, as I mentioned above. These things also seem to last forever, so I look forward to having it for many years to come. I know some people who have had theirs for 20 years or more.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005 

The Curious History Of Wine Consumption In America

The Curious History Of Wine Consumption In America
by: Ben Bicais

The history of wine consumption in America has been frought with starts, stops, and inconsistencies. The American population has always had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. Historic prohibitionist attitudes amongst much of the American population have blurred the line between moderate wine consumption and detrimental alcoholism. As a result, regular, moderate consumption of wine by the American public continues to face ideological and legal impediments.

The History of Wine Consumption During the Colonial Years

Since its origins, the history of wine consumption in America has been both encouraged and despised by different demographic groups. Spanish missionaries produced the earliest New World wine during the early 17th Century. Shortly thereafter, French immigrants began to cultivate grapes in the Hudson River Valley. They made wine, juice, and preserves.

The early history of wine consumption in America was dominated by immigrants whom were primarily Catholic, and of Central or Southern European descent. The bulk of wine-drinking immigrants came from the wine loving nations of France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. They descended from cultural traditions that valued social wine consumption with the evening meal.

The aforementioned wine drinkers were counterbalanced by immigrants from Northern Europe. Many held Puritan belief systems that discouraged or banned alcohol consumption of any kind. The nativist movements of the early 18th Century cast suspician on immigrant groups that retained Old World customs and did not entirely assimilate into American society.

Wine consumption was a lightning rod for these discriminatory points of view. Although not accurate, alcoholism was seen as a problem only associated with certain ethnic groups that enjoyed wine. Whiskey and beer was the actual source of vast majority of problematic inebriation. Nonetheless, early prohibitionist forces were very effective at linking wine to the ills of American society.

History of Wine Consumption During the 19th Century

In the 1830s, Americans consumed massive amounts of whiskey and beer. Alcoholism was extremely widespread and was affecting the stability of the American family. Husbands spent time in the saloons instead of with their families, and rampant drunkedness increased instances of philandering and crime.

Ironically, as Prohibitionist fervor gained national momentum in the nineteenth century, the American wine industry boomed. From 1860-1880, Phylloxera devastated the vineyards of France. California wine production greatly increased to fill the international void. Huge tracts of vineyards were planted in Southern California to satisfy the international demand for wine. However, most of this production was exported and it did not have a major impact on the history of wine consumption in America.

By the mid-1880s, European wine production rebounded, causing a glut of American wine. To make matters worse, Pierce's Disease and Phylloxera simultaneously struck Southern California's vineyards. Rising population and real estate values in the Los Angeles Basin was the last nail in the coffin of extensive viticulture in the region. With Prohibitionist attitudes constantly gaining momentum, American demand for wine was insufficient to make up for the loss of the much larger European market.

History of Wine During the Prohibition Years

In response to the massive outcry of many Americans against alcohol consumption, Congress passed the 18th Amendment in 1917. It banned the commercial production and sale of alcohol in America. The Volstead Act was ratified in 1920 and expounded on the actual implementation of Prohibition. It also mandated several loopholes in alcohol production and consumption. Physicians could prescribe alcohol and it could be consumed for religious purposes. Additionally, a head of household was legally allowed to produce 200 gallons of wine a year for personal use. This was largely a concession to the significant Italian-American electorate.

Because of the Volstead Act, American wine consumption actually increased during Prohibition. The traditional American alcoholic beverages of beer and distilled spirits were illegal to produce and sell from 1920-1933. As a result, regions like Lodi saw a massive increase in demand for grapes used for home winemaking.

Prohibition did not curtail the American apetite for alcohol, it merely destroyed the legal framework that governed alcohol sales. Due to the inaccessibility of alcohol, the use of other drugs, including cocaine and marijauna greatly increased. Additionally, the government lost a major source of revenue from taxing alcohol as organize crime took over the means of production and distribution. The American public became increasingly dissolutioned with the government's stubborn attempt to attain the impossible.

The 21st Amendment: Repeal of Prohibition

After a decade of the "noble experiment", Congress passed the 21st Amendment. It ended national Prohibition and transferred the authority to allow or ban production and sale of alcohol to individual states. Many states relegated this authority to the county level. Counties in some states prohibit alcohol to this day. The history of wine production and sales since the repeal of Prohibition has been governed by the 21st Amendment, not the free trade mandates of the U.S. Constitution.

Because every state has the power to make their own laws regarding wine sales, it has effectively made commercial wine distribution a convoluted mess. Marketing wine in the U.S. continues to be a difficult and frustrating task, especially for smaller wineries.

The effects of the 21st Amendment have had a major impact on the history of wine consumption in the U.S. during the 20th and 21st Centuries. Its legacy is a tangle of state and county laws that regulate the production and sale of wine.

The Fortified Wine Years

Immediately after the repeal of Prohibition, wine consumption dropped as Americans had renewed access to spirits and beer. From the repeal of Prohibition to the late 1950s, high-alcohol dessert and fortified wines dominated the market. These were the darkest days of the history of wine production and consumption. Many fortified wines were produced and sold extremely cheaply, and catered to the "misery market". "Winos" drank these overly alcoholic concoctions becauses they were the cheapest way to get drunk. In the quest for short-term profits, unscrupulous producers stamped a black mark on the history of wine in America.

From 1934 to the early 1950s, immigrant families consumed the majority of table wines. Unfortunately, many of their offspring did not follow their parents traditional drink choices and began consuming beer and cocktails as they assimilated into American society. Table wine was a mysterious beverage to most Americans and was associated with high-society and recent arrivals from Southern and Central Europe.

The Jug Wine Years

America's taste for non-fortified wines finally began to develop in the early 1960s. The majority of these new wine drinkers were young, well-traveled, and relatively affluent. As the Baby Boom generation came of age, the ranks of wine drinkers increased. Even still, the majority of consumers bought simple, sweet wines.

The early 1980s saw the height of the frenzy to promote and sell inexpensive wines to the American public. The White Zinfandel rage was and continues to be a major part of the market. Total American wine consumption reached an all-time high due to a massive influx of capital and advertising. Despite predictions of continued increases, it did not materialize.

At the same time, overall alcohol consumption decreased in the United States during the 1980s. The anti-drug and alcohol movement justifyably discouraged dangerous levels of drug and alcohol ingestion. Unfortunately, extremists in the movement also attacked the history of wine consumption in America. Zero-tolerance attitudes portrayed moderate wine consumption as not only hazardous to the individual, but also as detrimental to the entire population.

The Renaissance Years

In the late 1980s, jug wine consumption fell sharply. American tastes were changing, and the market began to demand wines with defined characteristics. Mike Benziger's Glen Ellen Winery entered the void, creating the hugely popular "fighting varietals" genre. These wines bridged the gap between the generic production of the past, and the boutique wineries of the following decade.

Much of America's current interest in quality wine stems from a 1991 60 Minutes Program that examined the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. The "French Paradox" is the fact that the French consume fatty foods, significant red wine, and have a very low incidence of heart disease. This news had a major impact on American wine consumption, especially in aging, affluent demographic groups.

The Future...Factors to Consider

As American society becomes increasingly more fast-paced and hectic, fewer families are sitting down together for dinner. This is not a positive sign for American wine consumption as few people open up a bottle of wine to drink with their drive-thru or take-out dinners.

Wine enjoyment is symtomatic of relaxation, and these days American society is anything but relaxed. The history of wine is also synonymous with stable family relationships, and the divorce rate in the U.S. is currently about 50%.

Furthermore, wine is a complicated subject that generally requires a certain amount of leisure time and money to become a true adherent. Additionally, wine has an unflattering image amongst many American alcohol consumers who prefer beer or liquor. In my opinion, there are limits to how large the quality wine market can increase.

On a more positive note, the American population is aging, and older, more affluent people tend to enjoy wine more than other demographic groups. Hopefully they will pass their appreciation of wine to the next generation.

In many ways, the history of wine consumption in the U.S. is a microcosm of both the positives and negatives that have come with the innate American experience. Studying the history of wine consumption in the U.S. illuminates the political, cultural, religious, and racial diversity that has made the nation what it is today.

America has a relatively small but growing population of wine-lovers. Although the number of regular wine drinkers are far from being a majority, they will continue to grow as the population ages. Future trends will probably include an increase in consumption of quality varietals grown in specific, terroir-driven locations.

About The Author

Ben Bicais lives in the Napa Valley and is the webmaster of