Tag Archives: Houston

Cuvée Coffee

[Old Draft]

Turns out, this blend is much more flexible and much less finicky than I first thought.
Just tried (June 22) a few shots on a LaPa EDL12 with pressurized portafilter. Though all my shots on this machine are severely underextracted, I get some nice high notes in the middle of the taste and a dull but clean finish. In fact, it seems to work as a canvas since adding a drop of milk in it actually featured the milk. Also, I recently did some burnt caramel and I can pick up a caramel taste in the cup.
I’m also getting a lingering acidity, even though there’s little acidity up front.

Update: Tried the Meritage on several occasions. For a number of reasons (having nothing to do with Cuvée itself), I only got the package after the coffee had already lost much of its flavours and aromas.

Even after several weeks, it can still “work” in a moka pot, especially when blended with other beans.

Thanks a lot to Cuvée for all the coffee! I’m really glad I could try it on my own. It’s just really sad that I wasn’t able to taste it at its peak. In fact, as soon as I got the package, I tried to find a way to use it with a quality espresso machine at a friend’s place but wasn’t able to do it. The LaPa was decent but, with a pressurized portafilter, there’s really not that much you can do.

Edmonton:Calgary::Austin:Houston

Or “Edmonton is to Calgary as Austin is to Houston.” (Can’t remember how this form is called but it’s pretty common.)

At the risk of inflaming some city rivalries, I propose that Edmonton and Austin might be functionally equivalent cities in their respective contexts. I say this without having been to Alberta or even to Houston. But I get the feeling my analogy isn’t too far off.

An newspaper article about Edmonton confirmed my earlier suspicion (been thinking about this for a while, actually).

Alberta and Texas have several things in common, including cattle and oil (along with cultural correlates like rodeo and external signs of wealth). Texans seem to know relatively little about Alberta but I get the impression Albertans can relate to some dimensions of Texas culture. Possibly more than most other Canadians.

Some Albertans I’ve met in the past have described Calgary and Edmonton as radically different cities. One (Calgary, I assume) is taken to be quite representative of the province as a whole, including its financial potential. Edmonton, on the other hand, was taken as a “different” city from the rest of the province. If, as that newspaper article implies, Edmonton used to be Alberta’s ”cultural capital,” it all seems to make sense, to me. Even if it’s not that accurate. Significance and truth are different things.

Alberta as a whole is likely to be misunderstood by the rest of Canada. Typically, at least in the East, that province is perceived as the Canadian equivalent to the (legendary) “American Old West” (complete with cowboy hats). I’m certainly not saying that this association is accurate, especially given the level of inaccuracy involved in images of the “American Old West” in movies and literature. But I think that, in the Easterners’ skewed perception of Alberta, images from Western movies are more prominent than those of UofA. My feeling is that Edmonton is somewhat further from this “Western” stereotype than Calgary is. Yet both cities certainly have their own “personalities,” far away from stereotypes.

(As an aside. It’s customary for me to address stereotypes on diverse occasions. I know I’m walking on eggshells. My attitude is that stereotypes are important because they inform relationships between groups of people. I don’t condone stereotypes but I do enjoy taking them apart.)

Coming back to Texas. Like Alberta, it seems to be misunderstood by the rest of the country. And while the “American Old West” stereotypes are quite inaccurate, many people throughout North America (and even Europe) do perceive Texas through the “Western” lens. Several comments made by Austinites and visitors to Austin have demonstrated how far Austin is considered to be from the Western stereotypes. My impressions is that the Texas capital’s unofficial motto of “Keep Austin Weird” (used as a slogan for local businesses) partly refers to Austin’s eccentricity by opposition to stereotypes about Texas. Not exclusively, but partly. At least, this is the impression I get from intellectuals who talk about Austin.

So, both Edmonton and Austin might be cities which are specifically trying to break away from regional stereotypes. They both host important festivals with themes of marginality or independence.  As it so happens, both cities are capitals and neither city is the largest in its region. They both have important universities which have traditionally been better-known than universities in their respective rival cities. And they seem to be unofficial sister cities.

Now, how about Calgary and Houston? Well… Both are big oil cities. Does that mean anything? I really can’t tell. People seem to assume a lot from these broad impressions about cities. And I’m quite convinced that these assumptions eventually imply the influx of people who are seeking a specific lifestyle. My guess would be that both Calgary and Houston may attract people who enjoy the same kind of thing, including driving and attending rodeos. (I’m only half-joking.)

No idea about Edmonton on this point but I must say that Austin attracts drivers. Of SUVs. As a compulsive pedestrian, I perceive a disconnect between the “absolute necessity” of having a car in Austin and the ideals many Austinites seem to have about pedestrian-friendly lifestyle. As compared to Boston, Montreal, or even Chicago, Austin is not a pedestrian-friendly city. Some people want to change this state of things but it’s possible that their efforts are doomed unless they carefully assess the situation.

Going back to my original analogy… I would add New Brunswick to the mix. Fredericton is like Austin and Edmonton while Saint John is like Houston and Calgary. Funny that Saint John should be an oil city the site of a major oil conglomerate [Edit 11/04/08 1:11:21 PM] and that Fredericton should be a capital. But I mean it more in terms of cultural associations.

The pattern doesn’t apply everywhere. It’d be very hard to fit cities in most other parts of North America or Europe in the model. In fact, I’m convinced that people will describe, in detail, how wrong I am in my associations between the four cities in the title.

But I still find it a fun thing to talk about.

Although I really enjoyed Fredericton and I’m currently enjoying life in Austin, I don’t mean to say that I’d dislike Calgary, Houston, or any other city. I feel that I can live in just about any city and, in the ten or so cities where I’ve lived for at least a month in the past eight years, I’m not always sure which I preferred. Actually, chances are that what I can do in a city is much more important than the city itself, in terms of my liking the locale.

Ah, well…

Texan Coffee Scenes, Cuvée

As I prepare to move away from Texas (unforeseen circumstances), Texas’s coffee scenes seem to be going through an interesting phase.

Case in point, recent media coverage of Houston’s Cuvée Coffee Roasting Company and its founder, Mike McKim.

These two newspaper articles complement one another in providing both the business model and human angles. I find the first one to be more insightful than the second one but I think the principles behind “relationship coffee” (the focus of the second one) is more important. In fact, these two articles could probably help Houstonians and other Texans see that there is much more to be done in “ethical coffee” than the Starbucks-friendly “Fair Trade” labels. In some contexts, “Fair Trade” has become little more than a marketing label while in others, it hides the complexity of coffee trade around the world. “Relationship coffee” and initiatives like Cup of Excellence are, IMHO, better approaches to fairness in the coffee world.

But I digress… ;-)

Going back to Cuvée.

A very minor point… As a French-speaker, I find the term «cuvée» more general than what is said in the two articles. According to the English Wikipedia, “cuvée” can in fact designate a specific portion of the juice used for Champagne and sparkling wines. Seems like this is what «tête de cuvée» means in specific winemaking contexts in France. But in colloquial French where it is quite common, «cuvée» mostly means something close to “batch” («lot») with a temporal emphasis (like “vintage” or even “cohort”).

I do enjoy Cuvée coffee. Wouldn’t say it’s my favorite coffee ever, but it’s quite complex and flavorful. In a way, it reminds me of George Howell’s Terroir Coffee. Maybe not in specific profiles but in approach to blending. Feels to me like, in both cases, the blends are a bit “finicky” in the sense that they may require very specific values for different variables in the brewing process. Some other espresso blends are somewhat less sensitive to changes in, say, temperature or grind. But I say this without having really worked with Cuvée or even Terroir. It’s just an impression.

In Austin, Cuvée blends are served at an increasing number of cafés, including Caffè Medici, clearly one of the best espresso shops in town (though I’ve had some very good shots elsewhere). I do hope Cuvée will replace the coffee sold at some other places, especially at so-called “coffeeshops.” A big part of Austin culture, these coffeeshops seem to mostly act as hangouts than as “temples of coffee awesomeness.” In fact, in some cases, coffee seems to be really secondary and there is little incentive for owners to improve its quality. Yet, this coffeeshop scene could easily become the stage for a kind of local “coffee revolution.”

Some Austinites seem ready to help others shift their perception of coffee. I’ve met a few baristas, roasters, and other coffee people who seem open to the idea.

And one of them is at Cuvée. Since my arrival in Austin, I had the chance to talk on a few occasions with Dan Streetman who works for Cuvée out of Austin. His passion for coffee is obvious and he has told me about interesting possibilities for developments in Austin’s coffee scene. Though I won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of these developments, I’m hoping that they will have lasting effects on Austin. The city certainly has the potential to be a neat coffee destination.

I have almost no insight on other parts of Texas. This thread over on the CoffeeGeek forums is one of few resources I’ve found on coffee in this huge state. There’s another thread, specifically about Austin. But it seems a bit hard to get much information on diverse coffee scenes in Texas. In fact, several people seem to downplay the state of their own cities’ coffee vitality. Yet, if the rumors are true about the speed at which Calgary’s coffee scene has improved, I have high hopes for Texas. After all, isn’t Teas the United States version of Alberta? ;-)

(I’m still trying to figure out if Calgary is more like Houston and Edmonton like Austin, or the reverse.)

Anyhoo… I remain enthusiastic about the potential for good coffee in Texas and chances are that Cuvée will be able to tap this potential.

New/Old Media: NYT Groks It

As an obvious example of “Old Media” in the U.S., The New York Times is easy to criticize. But the paper and the media company have also been showing signs that maybe, just maybe, they are home to people who do understand what is happening online, these days.

Back in September 2007, for instance, the NYT decided to make its content freely available. While The Times wasn’t the first newspaper to free its content, the fact that the “newspaper of record” for the United States went from a closed model (TimesSelect) to an open one was quite consequential. In fact, this NYT move probably had an impact on the Wall Street Journal which might be heading in a similar direction.

The Times‘s website also seems to have progressively improved on the blogging efforts by some of its journalists, including composer and Apple-savvy columnist David Pogue.

Maybe this one is just my personal perception but I did start to read NYT bloggers on a more regular basis, recently. And this helped me notice that the Times wasn’t as “stuffy and old” as its avid readers make it to be.

Possibly the silliest detail which has been helping me change my perception of the New York Times was the fact that it added a button for a “Single Page” format for its articles. A single page format is much more manageable for both blogging and archiving purposes than the multiple page format inherited from print publications. Most online publications have a “printer-friendly” button which often achieves the same goal as the NYT’s “single page” button yet, quite frequently, the printer format makes a print dialogue appear or is missing important elements like pictures. Not only is the NYT’s “Single Page” button a technical improvement over these “printer-friendly” formats but it also seems to imply that people at the Times do understand something about their online readers.

This “Single Page” button is in a box, with other “article tools” called “Print,” “Reprints,” and “Share.” The “sharing” features are somewhat limited but well-integrated. They do make it easy for some social networkers and bloggers to link to New York Times content.

FWIW, my perception of this grande dame of print publications is greatly influenced by my perception of the newspaper’s blog-friendliness.

Speaking of blog-friendly… The major news item making the New York Times Company seem even more sympathetic to bloggers is the fact that it has contributed to a round of funding which provided WordPress.com’s parent company Automattic with 29.5 M$.

Unsurprisingly, Automattic’s founder Matt Mullenweg blogged about the funding round. Candidly recounting the history of his company, Mullenweg whets our appetites for what may be coming next in WordPress and in other Automattic projects:

Automattic is now positioned to execute on our vision of a better web not just in blogging, but expanding our investment in anti-spam, identity, wikis, forums, and more — small, open source pieces, loosely joined with the same approach and philosophy that has brought us this far.

While some of these comments sound more like a generic mission statement than like a clear plan for online development, they may give us a glimpse of what will be happening at that company in the near future.

After all, chances are that integrating technologies will be one of the Next Big Things. In fact, some other people have seen the “social networking” potential of WordPress.com, though this potential is conceived through a perspective different from my original comments about WordPress.com’s network effect. Guess I’ll have to write a wishlist for WordPress.com features (including support for ubiquitous social networking, podcasting, and learning management).Still, what the funding announcement means to me has more to do with the integration of “Old Media” (print publications like The New York Times) and “New Media” (online services like WordPress and WordPress.com). As luck would have it, I’m not the only blogger who thinks about the positive effects this Old/New Media integration may have.

As an aside, to this Austinite and long-time sax player, Matt Mullenweg’s Texas and saxophone connections are particularly endearing. Good thing I’m not an investor because I would probably follow my gut feeling and invest in Automattic for such irrational reasons.

Ah, well…