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Last week, a friend of mine gave me a bag of Starbucks Anniversary Blend.  She had won it in a raffle of some sort, and is not a coffee drinker.  She knows I enjoy trying all types of coffee, from all types of places, so her gift was much appreciated.

Those of you who know me know that I, unlike many other coffee people, don’t hate Starbucks.  In fact, I admire them.  Say what you will, but their hard work has built a market for the rest of us.  If you follow my blog, you know I have actually had more things positive than negative things to say about them, such as this post when they launched the Pike Place Blend, and this one about the new Via instant coffee.  Yes, that’s right, I gave an instant coffee a “doesn’t suck” rating.

So I think it’s safe to assume that when I post an unfavorable review of a Starbucks product, you can rest assured that it’s actually… bad.

Such is the case with their Anniversary Blend.

Starbucks has developed a reputation for over-roasting coffee.  Their nickname – Charbucks – speaks to this.  I’ve been saying for at least a couple years now that I thought they had gotten beyond that phase; coffees like Pike Place are actually pleasant.

But this one…. this one is burnt.  There’s just no way around it.  This is darker than my French roast.  The first reaction as I poured it out of the bag was, holy heat, Batman, somebody really leaned into the throttle on this one.  Burnt beans are brittle, and as expected, the contents were full of broken bits.  The pock marks from 2nd crack + explosions were abundant on the whole beans.

And the taste… well, burnt.  And flat as a board.  A whole lotta charcoal flavor, and not much else.  My typical coffee descriptions are effusive, starting with initial impressions and progressing through the cooling cup, identifying as specifically as possible every fruit, floral and other nuance I can nail down.  My cupping notes on this one are telling… the only words written are “burnt” and “flat”.  It wouldn’t be fair to the origins and the farmers to judge a coffee as badly mistreated by a roaster as this one obviously was, so there were no more notes, and no score.

They should be ashamed to promote this coffee.  I’d avoid it at all costs – the rest of mine has been composted.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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One year ago, President Obama came to office in the US with a wave of enthusiasm. Yes We Can was the mantra. Yes We Can to all kinds of things. Yes We Can end war. Yes We Can fix healthcare. Yes We Can promote equality. Yes We Can address climate change. Regardless of how you may feel on any of these topics, it’s the last point I want to address here. And I’ll give you a prelude to my opinion: the mantra should have been We Don’t Really Care. At a minimum, it’s safe to say, We Haven’t Yet.

This week, I have the opportunity to be penning this missive from Europe. On this trip, I realize that I’ve been coming here quite often, for quite some time now (several times per year, for nearly the past 20 years – it’s safe to say I’ve probably been here 50 or 60 times in the last two decades). The advantage of being in Europe is that one is acutely sensitive to world news here. (To be fair, one reason for that is that world news in the only English-language television or newspaper available, aside from porn.). In addition to Europe, I realize I’ve been exceptionally privileged to have traveled extensively throughout the world. I used to keep track of the statistics – dozens of countries, hundreds of cities (thousands of excellent meals and probably an equal number of dreadful cups of coffee), but honestly, I’ve lost interest in scorekeeping. For one reason, I have nothing left to prove. But more to the point, everything is becoming the same, everywhere. It is a small world, after all. As one of my graduate engineering professors liked to point out, everything is connected, it’s a matter of how tightly. That extends to you, your coffee, and your future. As well as mine, and everyone else’s.

The news in Europe this week is the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen (show of hands – how many of you even knew it was going on?). The world must act, is the punch line of all the coverage. (Despite all the coverage, it’s not clear to me whether President Obama will be here; presumably he will send representation, at least.) So what does this have to do with your morning cuppa? That’s a fair question. The answer is, hardly anything. And that’s part of the problem. It’s hard to care about small things. But it’s hard to act on big things. The classic Catch-22.

Climate change, driven by man-made carbon emissions, is a multi-faceted problem. The elephant in the room is building heating, cooling and electrification generally, accounting for approximately 50% of emitted carbon by some estimates. Nobody seems interested in addressing this (not easy, or sexy), so we make noise about chipping away at other stuff. Auto emissions, maybe high single digit percentage on the Bad Actors list. Aircraft emissions, 2%. Coffee – the proverbial pimple on the ass of the elephant.

But pretend for a minute that we really do care about chipping away at the small things. Organic. Fair Trade. That’s the answer, right?

Let’s dismiss the obvious. Fair Trade has to do with prices, not the environment, per se. But to some small extent, the ability to make a living wage on a small plot might prevent some slash and burn to plant more coffee (though from a pure carbon perspective, the coffee trees are good, too), so Fair Trade probably has some de minimus positive influence.

Organic? It’s hard to argue that organic practices aren’t better for the environment than conventional agriculture (at least you avoid fixing nitrogen from fossil fuels), so you get some points there. But both of these things, organic and Fair Trade, are pimples on the pimple of the ass of the elephant. It’s been observed that better than half of the carbon emitted due to coffee consumption is due to things that happen after beans leave origin, namely roasting and consumption. (I should observe here that I am very favorably impressed with the Rainforest Alliance and what there certification implies for sustainability. They are really about much more than rainforests, and my opinion is that they have missed an opportunity to reach American consumers because they are narrowly branded with a topic that most Amercans, frankly, do not really care about. Maybe that can be the topic of a separate post.)

On the consumption side, it’s the disposables that are the big culprit. Want to make a difference? Reusables are the answer, wherever possible. Bring your own cup, in other words. But packaging is an opportunity, too. At Muddy Dog Roasting Company, we package all our coffees in biodegradable, compostable bags. How do I know they are compostable, aside from the claim printed on the bag? I compost them myself. Three months in my Earth Machine and there is no sign of coffee bags, just rich fertilizer. Buy one from us and try it, I dare you. To our knowledge, we are the only company in the southeast using this particular compostable bag, and one of the few in the nation using any type of environmentally friendly packaging.

So what about roasting? Well, in most cases, this is an activity that has not technologically changed in a hundred years or more. Essentially, most coffee roasters (machines) operate by continuously heating room air, and blowing that hot air out the ceiling in almost instantly. This activity requires a prodigious amount of fuel. Say what you want about natural gas being better than other forms of fossil fuel, burning less of it is better than burning more of it. At Muddy Dog Roasting Company, we partnered with US Roaster Corp to help develop a new type of eco-friendly roasting machine, one that oxidizes smoke and recirculates heat. We use 94% less energy than conventional roasters. We can roast coffee in North Carolina and ship it anywhere in the US with less total emitted carbon, from roasting PLUS shipping, than the same coffee roasted on site with a conventional system. We are one of only a few of these systems installed in the world. You would think that people would care about these kinds of improvements. To be fair, most people, when they learn of our environmental leadership activities, are favorably inclined (the rest don’t care, and they say so). But it’s also fair to say that they were going to buy from us anyway, regardless. They buy from us because we’re local, they like us, and in some cases, it’s convenient. And we sell excellent products. By and large, they don’t make environmental responsibility part of their purchase criteria.

And therein lies the opportunity.

All else being equal, selecting the organic, Fair Trade, locally roasted option is usually the best course of action. And nine times out of 10, when you ask the right questions, you’re going to find that your options are roughly equivalent in terms of roasting and packaging technology. Same circus, different clowns, as it were. But occasionally, when you peel the onion, and ask the right questions, there is something new. Something different. Something better. When you find them, select them. And make a difference.

Yes We Can.  Change We Can Believe In.  CHOPE.  Call it however you like it, just DO something.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Many years ago, I spent a lot of time traveling in Japan on business. During that time, I came to fall in love with all things Japanese – especially the food and beverages. Probably not surprisingly, one of my favorites is a beverage called Hojicha, which is fired, or roasted, bancha (green tea).

When we decided to start selling tea, I knew that while much of what we offered would be essentially resale, I wanted to make my own attempt to replicate the hojicha I came to love in Japan. So I practiced, practiced, practiced. And the result is, I must say, outstanding.

I call my fired bancha “hojicha yasashii”. Japanese is a complex language that I did formally study, but was never fluent. As I understand the word yasashii, it generally means “soft”, as in not harsh. I’ve also understood it to mean “sweet”, as well as “slow and gentle”. I thought this was a good description of my particular style of hoji, since I start with an especially good bancha, and I fire it with a process that is a little more gentle than the traditional charcoal process.

Our own Hojicha Yasashii, or Hoji for short. We start with an awesome Bancha, and use a gentle firing process to reduce the astringency and caffeine, while bringing out flavors of nuts and grains

Our own Hojicha Yasashii, or Hoji for short. We start with an awesome Bancha, and use a gentle firing process to reduce the astringency and caffeine, while bringing out flavors of nuts and grains

This tea has a nutty aroma, and results in a brown colored tea that, to me, is reminiscent of grains. If you know other Japanese teas, think soba tea. In any case, it is a lovely and very different tea than most Americans have experienced. For a really interesting comparison, buy our bancha and compare the two.

You can buy some HERE.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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<Read this post in your best Anthony Bourdain voice and I promise you it will sound better>

Tonight I made my first fired tea.  In several batches.  It was harder than I thought it would be, and it didn’t come out exactly right each time.  In fact, it came out exactly right only once, curiously enough the first time I tried.  My shop smelled like a 1970’s Pink Floyd concert.  But it worked.  And thus begins another life-long obsession, I suspect.

What is fired tea, you ask?  It’s green tea, roasted.  The one that got me started on this is hojicha, a tea I first tried while Japan.  Hojicha, the traditionally charcoal-fired version of bancha, or second blush of sencha, sounds like a romantic, artisan creation.  And it is.  But in that uniquely Japanese way, it is also eminently practical.

You see, bancha is an inferior tea.  The first of seasonal green tea is called sencha, and it is universally prized around the world.  After the branches are bare, the second push arrives, and is harvested.  This ugly duckling of a tea, coarse and twiggy, is called bancha.  If bancha were coffee, it would be Vietnamese robusta.  Yuck.   So in true Japanese fashion, they take something undesirable, and turn it into something prized.  With fire.  Hojicha.

Sencha

Sencha

Bancha.  This is actually the best looking bancha Ive ever seen; it looks better than some sencha.  I wouldnt fire anything that looked this good.  Well, OK, maybe I would.  Fire, heh heh.

Bancha. This is actually the best looking bancha I've ever seen; it looks better than some sencha. I wouldn't fire anything that looked this good. Well, OK, maybe I would. Fire, heh heh.

It’s understandable why the Japanese were driven to do this.  Any of you who have been to Japan know that real estate is at a premium.  They can’t just farm more land and harvest more sencha to make enough to earn a living.  No, they need to utilize the land to its fullest.  And hojicha is one way of doing that.  Hoji magically transforms the rough and relatively flavorless bancha into a beautiful, less astringent tea, with lovely grain and cereal flavors.  It’s just short of miraculous, really.

Hojicha.  This one is a little twiggy.

Hojicha. This one is a little twiggy.

So once again, I had the distinct advantage of knowing just enough to be dangerous, and not nearly enough to be useful.  If there’s one thing I can do, I figured, it’s roast.  And roast I did.  How hot?  How long?  How much air?  How much agitation?  All complete mysteries to me.  And they pretty much still are.  But I got it right once, and that was all it took.  I am hooked.

It turns out that hojicha is usually pan fired over charcoal.  In retrospect, I can clearly see the wisdom of this technique.  As you might have guessed, that’s not exactly what I did.  What I did… is to remain a secret.  Why? Well, the obvious reason is proprietary competitive advantage.  And that’s true, to a certain extent.  But the real reason is embarrassment.  I know I looked like Rube Goldberg, but with enough BTUs to torch a house.  What I did tonight was dangerous and silly.  And fun.  And unexpectedly productive.  And my secret.

I would offer you some of my hoji to try, but the batch I got right yielded just enough for a few servings.  I sent what was left after my sampling to a friend in Atlanta with his coffee order.  I look forward, as always, to his sometimes harsh, but always honest feedback.  I suspect he will encourage me to continue.

And as I research the field, I realize that hojicha is but one type of fired tea.  People have been doing this to all kinds of beverages for a very long time.  Looks like I have some catching up to do.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?): Hoji!  I drank all of the batch that worked, now I’m working on some of the less perfect batches, and they’re still good.

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Looks like we were ahead of the curve.  Keep in mind that we actually made the commitments to start this business in September 2006, with the purchase of real estate.  I signed a contract with Dan for the roaster in January 2007.  Ahead of the curve on what, you ask?

I was just catching up on my mail queue, reading the June/July issue of Worth Magazine.    The Thought Leaders column was on Environment.  They observe that sometime in 2007, “American industry has moved from ambivalence about the dangers of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the gritty realization that it must contain them and learn to operate in a carbon-constrained world.

Well, No Shit.  What the hell took so long?  Pardon my French.

So why the sudden change of heart?  Worth cites GHG reduction as “now a national priority” with “stewardship… a new measure on which companies need to compete”.  That’s a nice thought, but I doubt it.

I think they (and in this case I include ME in they) realize it’s just cheaper in the long run to operate a clean business.  I know it is for me – my energy consumption is next to nothing.  I figure the differential capital cost for a clean roaster will be recovered in about three years.  Maybe less at the rate y’all are buying our coffee (thanks!).  We are also packaging in biodegradable bags that are not coincidentally less expensive than high barrier poly valve bags because, hell, there’s nothing to them.  Nor should there be.  I admit, our coffee bags really aren’t much to look at, and they aren’t the right tool for storing coffee for weeks.  But you shouldn’t store coffee for weeks, and if you’re hell-bent to do so, you can put it in a mason jar, or I’ll sell you a reusable canister.

In the case of big business, I think leaders are finally waking up to the reality governments will impose charges for GHG emissions, proportional to the amount emitted.  While no self-respecting Libertarian likes the idea of any tax, this seems to me to be the most appropriate use of “sin tax” levys.  And it’s not likely to be applied to just the final product steps, it will be pushed across the entire supply chain, hence the term “supply-chain environmentalism”.  In other words, you won’t be able to make your component or ingredient suppliers do your dirty work (ha!)… you will pay for GHG across your entire supply chain.

Whatever the reasons, it’s about time.

I get kind of testy on this subject.  I am justifiably proud of the environmental responsibility of our little operation.  I wish consumers cared more, but the uptake is slow, slow, slow.  People are becoming trained to ask for organic and Fair Trade and that’s where they want to stop thinking about enviromental and social responsibility as relates to their morning cup.  But when you realize that certified coffees, including organic, Fair Trade and others, constitute less than 5% of coffee production, and that the vast majority of pollution produced in conjunction with coffee consumption occurs OUTSIDE of origin, you begin to realize that consumers aren’t asking the right questions.  And that’s no accident – the industry doesn’t WANT them asking the RIGHT questions, because the answers are too painful.

We have seen the enemy, and he is us.

Anyway, enough ranting for now.  I’m going to go look for investment opportunities (outside of my own business!) to buy into companies that are on the leading edge of supply-chain environmentalism.  If you have any suggestions, let me know.

http://www.greenroasting.com

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Photo Source: http://www.freshandeasy.com/blog/2007_05_01_archive.html
I can’t wait to have one of these stores near me

I’ve been so busy roasting, cupping and adding new coffees that I haven’t had time to pontificate on deep and meaningful things in the space lately.  So here’s a little something to chew on…

I’ve been thinking about carbon footprints lately.  We’ve spent a lot of money to help design, debug and install the ultra-efficient Revelation roaster (note that the photos on Dan’s website are of our roaster).  I would like to promote the environmental advantages of our roasting system, and locally that’s really a no-brainer.  Our machine utilizes catalytic oxidation to eliminate smoke, then we recirculate the hot air back to the roaster.  The net effect is a MUCH more efficient system, as I will describe.  So if you lived here and required no shipping for your coffee, and you had a choice between buying coffee from us, and from somebody with a conventional roasting system, you would have less carbon impact if you bought it from us.  This much is certainly true, as I will describe.  The question I would like to answer is, what if you lived far enough away that it required shipping?  Does efficient roast + ship equal less carbon impact than local roast on conventional system?  What is the shipping distance where efficient roast loses out to shipping?

I was inspired by a paper from Tyler Coleman and Pablo Paster, entitled “Red, White and Green: The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade”, published by the American Association of Wine Economists.  I exchanged email with Pablo, and was able to adapt his work to my coffee question above.

The first question to answer is the difference in carbon output between my roasting system and a conventional system of the same size.  For sake of comparison, I went to the specifications for a conventional system that I was considering before I went with the Revelation; I made sure to use the specs for a system that also utilized catalytic oxidation to eliminate the smoke contribution, hence the differences I’m comparing are carbon due to energy consumption.  I’ll skip the calculations here and jump to the results: our Revelation produces 0.00004 ton CO2e per pound roasted.  A comparable, new conventional system produces 0.00181 ton CO2e per pound roasted.  Ours is favorable by 0.00177 ton CO2e per pound, or a whopping 97.7%.  That’s how much emitted CO2 you eliminate by buying your coffee from us instead of another local alternative, assuming you require no shipping.

So the question is then whether shipping generates more than 0.00177 ton CO2 per pound.  That’s 1607 grams CO2e per pound of coffee.  At some point it’s bound to happen, so how far can I ship it to you and still have favorable carbon differential?  Turns out the answer is pretty darn far.  Anywhere in the country, in fact.  Pablo’s research enabled me to answer the question; here’s the summary.

Let’s assume air freight for a minute.  At the end of a long string of math, it turns out that air freight generates 0.459 grams CO2e per mile shipped.  So I can air freight coffee up to 3500 miles and still produce less CO2 than roasting the same coffee locally in a conventional system.  Truck shipping is 2.26 times MORE favorable, i.e., lass carbon production, than air shipping (0.203 grams CO2e per mile).

So let’s say you live in Charlottesville, Virginia, 231 miles from my shop in Morrisville NC.  Buying a pound of coffee from me generates 36.3 grams CO2e.  Shipping it generates another 46.9 grams CO2e, for a total of 83.2 grams CO2e.  If you bought the same coffee locally and required no shipping, a conventional system would generate 1643.5 grams CO2e.  You achieve a 94.9% reduction in emitted CO2 by buying the coffee from me and shipping it.

What if you lived in Providence, Rhode Island, 683 miles away, and required air freight?  Your local alternative is still 1643.5 grams CO2e.  My roasting is still 36.3 grams.  Shipping adds another 313.5 grams CO2e, for a grand total of 349.8 grams CO2e.  You achieve a 78.7% reduction in emitted CO2 by buying from me and having it shipped by air.  California?  You still achieve a 14% reduction via air freight, and even more if shipped by truck.  Pretty cool, huh?

So if you buy local to keep your food dollars in your local economy and maintain relationships, you should keep doing that.  If you buy locally because you think food miles are adding to your carbon footprint, you would be right if you bought some coffee roasted on a conventional system.  But if you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint while still getting great coffee, you should buy it from us.

http://www.greenroasting.com

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And so it was in the City of Brotherly Love for me this week. I expected Philadelphia to be a coffee Mecca, given the large Italian influence on the place. Well, maybe not Mecca, exactly, that would be Seattle. But I expected a decent espresso. Turned out to be quite a chore. Ultimately, I prevailed (of course), and we’ll get to that – but I have to warn you that for a change I have extra time on my hands as I type this, so it’s likely to be a long one.

I was in The City for a trade show. As a former southeast Pennsylvanian, I can refer to Philadelphia as “The City”, even though we all know New York is The City. The fact that Philadelphia is not much of a city by New York standards gives us no pause in our mischaracterization. While attending my other trade show, I had the pleasure of crashing the National Association of Produce Managers convention – kind of like Wedding Crashers, only not nearly as entertaining. But I ate well. They really need better security if they want to keep the riff raff out. Nice carrot sticks, guys.

Speaking of eating well, this trip was a gastronomical delight. It started with dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, when I offered to bring some groceries and spend a few hours cooking together. In anticipation, I wandered through the Reading Terminal Market RTM Signlistening to the vegetables. My sister-in-law has taken to calling me The Food Whisperer because I possess the supposedly unique talent to converse with produce, but I refuse to believe that the rest of you never hear a beautiful tomato call out your name and say, “Hey, big boy, use me in a sauce”. Only this time it was the mushrooms. Beautiful fungi from the Mushroom Capital of the World (in this case, a legitimate and indisputable title dating to the late 1800’s) called out from the Fair Food Farmstand. In the end, it was a pretty little yellow oyster mushroom that won my heart when she whispered “mushroom cream sauce, Chef”. Mushrooms know that flattery will get them everywhere with me, but truth be told, she had me at hello. Add a little double smoked bacon, some fresh butter, raw milk and fresh cheese, a few free range eggs, assorted herbs (damn lying marjoram passed itself off as oregano – last time I ever take the word of an herb) and some flour, and we were all set to make fresh pasta and cream sauce. A loaf of artisan bread and bottle of Pennsylvania wine (the ’05 Merlot from Blue Mountain, please don’t give me any crap over choosing a clearly inappropriate wine, of course I would have preferred a big buttery white, but this falls into the “best of what’s available” category) made it the beginning of a perfect meal. Oh, and don’t forget a couple brownies from The Flying Monkey…. mmmm.

So I taught my brother to make herb pasta from scratch, a process so easy my twelve year olds could do it if they had the strength in their hands, though Andy clearly needs rolling lessons, as evidenced by the “pasta rustica” he churned out. While we drank wine we also whipped up a bacon infused cream sauce. After dinner we chased the brownies with a press pot of Brazil Fazenda Catuai that I had sent them a week or so earlier – again, no comments on my sommelier skills, we were using up a bag that I had preground. And we enjoyed some great family time doing it. I honestly don’t understand the infatuation with going out to eat, especially for a special occasion when you want to share some quality time with special people. There is not a chef on the planet that can make a more special meal than we enjoyed that evening (more technically perfect, maybe; more special – never), and it’s so simple that even Rachel Ray could do it. It took less than an hour and could easily be done ahead for weeknights, so the “I don’t have time to cook” argument holds no water; you will spend more time waiting at Maggiano’s Little Italy (ugh), which bears not even a passing resemblance to any Italy, than you will preparing this meal. I spent about $40 on all the ingredients, not including the wine, to be fair, and we figure there was enough ingredients to prepare at least ten meals, including some breakfasts. And at that you would have some extra herbs, flour and a few other odds and ends of staples leftover. So at about $4 per meal I’m afraid I don’t understand the “good food costs too much” arguments, either. It’s convenience that costs too much, both in money and in the part of your soul that is assaulted and left for dead each time you succumb to the Big Food marketing machine.

Now no trip to The City would be complete without a jaunt to South Philly. First stop, cheese steaks. I’ve always been a Geno’s man myself, no so much because of the steaks, but because that was our occasional later night road trip when I was an undergraduate. So I got in line on 9th Street and waited about ten minutes to get to the window. It was then that I saw the “Order in English” signpic-0081.jpg, which apparently has been big news nationally. I only had to think for a second. Since when is the phrase “one wiz wit” English, anyway? (For the uninitiated, the way to order a Philly steak is to specify “wiz”, meaning Cheese Whiz, the secret ingredient of a real Philly steak, or to remain silent on the subject of cheese, signifying its omission. They are also available with American or Provolone; Provolone is an acceptable, if less desirable alternative, but I can’t recall ever seeing one with American or even hearing one ordered. The utterance “wit” is used to signify “with onions”. So “one wiz wit” means a cheese steak with Cheese Whiz and onions.) Anyway, I stepped out of line and went across the street to Pat’s, where I will go from now on. And got one wiz wit.pic-0083.jpg

Regarding the Geno’s sign, I thought about how I treat my own customers. Which is, order in any language you please, just give me enough of a hint that I can figure out what you would like. And pay me in any currency you like; hell, I’d prefer Euros. The whole situation reminded me of a night in France a few years ago. I was with my friend Ishaq, who is Afghani but speaks better English than most Americans. We went to a café in Lyon, or maybe it was Grenoble or Avignone, and sat at the bar next to a couple guys and a very large dog. I realize this sounds like a joke, but it’s not. They spoke not a word of English, and us not a word of French, but it ranks among the best conversations of my life. I learned that they were both painters, and married, though not to each other. And that they both liked good liquer more than wine, and were not at all fond of beer. I know that they were not fans on the Bush administration. They had been at the bar a few hours, and were regulars. The dog was named Bouche, liked lamb bones and ear scratching, and had very nasty flatulence. They learned that we were both engineers, married (also not to each other), and that Ishaq was from Afghanistan. They did not believe me when I told them I was Canadian, my standard cover story when speaking to strangers abroad; must have been my southern accent. We bought each other drinks in Euros and Dollars and Swiss Francs, all of which were handled with equal ease and correct change. We left singing at 2 AM. I’m really glad that bar had no sign that said “Order in French”, and no Joey Vento bartender. So sorry Joey, no more Geno’s for me. Ever.

On the way up 9th Street, with the smell of cheese steak on my hands, I stopped the car in the Italian market section north of Pete’s Live Produce. It was there that the lyrics of “I Saw God Today” started playing in my mind. If there is a Deity, surely this is the place She calls home. I knew I was in earthly heaven when I saw the animal carcasses in the windows. Above the sweetbreads, which are neither sweet nor bread. No attempt to camouflage it, to insult our intelligence with sterile Styrofoam packaging and shrink wrap. No sir, this was very clearly a dead animal without its skin. Hung over its entrails. With no apologies. And it made me hungry. It was then I realized just how utterly culinarily bankrupt the place I now call home is. Don’t get me wrong, I do love North Carolina and there are several fine food traditions here – but not this, not even at Cliff’s Meat Market, or Capri Flavors, or that market on Person Street whose name I always forget but is across from the original Krispy Kreme and its Hot Donuts beacon of light. So I wandered the market, and left only after my carry on bag was full of tonno in oil with salt, sopressata, lard, and Italian pastry, and when my jacket was permeated with the aroma of fine cheese and charcuterie. I can smell it now as I type (cue the George Strait). My only regret is that I didn’t think the fresh sardines could make the trip.

And so we come back to the coffee. I searched and I searched. But clearly center and south Philly is nearly as much a coffee wasteland as the rest of Dunkin’ Donuts America. Then I met Jack. Actually, I saw the 12 kilo Probat before I met Jack. Jack is the Roastmaster at Old City Coffeepic-0073.jpg, which has its aforementioned roaster in the Reading Terminal Market. He was roasting up a batch of French Roast, or at least that’s how it turned out, as we spent a few pleasant minutes chatting. He has been in business since 1985 and acquired his Probat in 1988. He has been through a couple failed locations but is “doing alright” in the RTM. I had my morning (and afternoon) espressos at Jacks for the three days I was in Philly. I must admit that the first morning I was disappointed – my single espresso of his Six Bean Blend was a bit flat, which I guessed before I tasted it by virtue of its light crema and the rapidity of its delivery. But then I met Dirk, quite by accident. Turns out that OCC has two locations in the RTM – the main shop near the entrance, and a “satellite” counter on the east side of the market. Dirk was manning the machine when I encountered him on my first afternoon. When he pulled a proper ristretto for me I knew this is the place I would return. The Six Bean Blend had acquired a Whole New Life under Dirk’s capable management. Way to go, Dirk.

As a reward for listening to the ranting of a homesick foodie, I thought I would share my pasta recipe and cream sauce with you. The pasta starts with about 3 cups of flour, two eggs, a generous pinch of salt, and a little (tablespoon) olive oil. Herbs are optional – if you want some, mince them and mix with the flour. On a large board, make a mound of flour (into which you mixed salt and herbs) then a crater in the center. Add the eggs and oil to the crater. Beat the eggs, then start pulling flour into them with a fork. Mix, then knead till it’s dough. You may have to add a little water(teaspoons at a time) if it’s too dry, or a little flour if it’s too wet. When you have a nice, elastic, nonsticky ball of dough, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour while you make the sauce. When you are ready, cut tuna-can size hunks off the dough and roll them really thin. Slice them into ¼” ribbons.

For the sauce, start with a couple slices of bacon (or better yet, pancetta) and dice into ¼” cubes. Cook in large skillet till just crispy, then drain off the grease (save it!). Add a big hunk of butter to the warm skillet, then a quart of milk and some shredded hard cheese like parmesan, asiago or whatever you have around. Simmer a while. Drink wine while simmering. Add herbs if you like. If it’s too thin, dissolve some flour in water, increase heat to a hard simmer, then add flour water slowly a few teaspoons at a time till the thickness is as desired. Taste and season with salt and pepper. You can add a little more bacon fat for some more flavor. We added the fresh mushrooms and some frozen peas just before serving, allow them to heat through.

When the sauce is ready, cook the pasta in boiling water. Depending on thickness it will only take a minute or three, till al dente or not even quite that much. Toss pasta and sauce together. Serve with a green salad. And more wine.

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