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Something’s Brewing

Posted: March 21st, 2017

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Home baristas (and home baristas hopefuls) listen up! I’m planning to hone in on a theme for my next round of espressoCrazy blogging endeavours with a series of posts about coffee brewing methods and equipment.

Options for how to make a cup of coffee at home – and increasingly how to have it served to you in cafes and restaurants – are myriad. Opinions about the topic are strong and sometimes polarizing. Without a good idea of how and why you like your coffee made, contemplating a choice of one method instead of any other may feel overwhelming and perplexing. Furthermore, if you’re unfamiliar with the range of methods out there, such decisions can seem needlessly and annoyingly nerdy – especially when all you may want to do is make or order a decent cup of coffee that’s reasonably priced and ready to drink in a jiffy.

Through my “Something’s Brewing” series, my aim will be to demystify the process of making coffee so that you will be able to make more informed and tasty choices. I’ll describe the most common ways to brew coffee at home while sharing my firsthand experience having a go with these methods. I’ll consider the pros and cons of each and try to compare them all to each other in

Based on the general knowledge I already have about coffee, I suspect that rather than one brewing method coming out as the absolute best way ever and for always, I’m more likely to discover that an ideal cup of coffee often depends on personal preference and specific circumstance. But we shall see!

I’ll be back soon with my first trial: filter coffee from a drip coffee maker.

 

Shaya, New Orleans

Posted: January 10th, 2017

I wound down my tour of the States with a visit to one of its yummiest cities: New Orleans. A couple of posts back in my write-up about Breakfast in America, I listed some of my fave brekkies from my stateside travels, including a couple from the Big Easy. But it wasn’t just the breakfasts that blew me away while there.

One of the best meals I had – and not just in New Orleans … or America … but this year – was at Shaya. Only a few years old, the restaurant has established itself as one of the city’s most popular and celebrated – and can boast a James Beard Award for Excellence among its many accolades. Food at Shaya reflects Executive Chef Alon Shaya’s Israeli roots and centres round use of a wood-fired oven to cook seasonal ingredients sourced locally and responsibly.

I won’t have thought a meal at an Israeli style restaurant would have been among the best had in a city so steeped in its own traditions. Nor would I have reckoned such an eatery would be such a hit. A busy schedule had me dropping by for an early lunch at 11.30am on a Monday. The place was already packed.

A few bites into my meal and I could see what the fuss was all about. Tastiest dishes? The highlight for me – not to mention an amazing homage to both Israeli and New Orleans cuisine – was the wood roasted okra oven-dried tomatoes, tahini and duqqa. Other delicious wonders included mixed greens with smoked dates and buttermilk, apples, spicy pecans; ikra (paddlefish caviar spread with shallots); Chanterelle hummus with wood roasted corn, sunflower seeds, and brown butter; and maybe the best falafel I’ve had outside the Middle East. A watermelon sorbet was as palate cleansing and refreshing a dessert as it sounds.

And the coffee offered at the end of my meal? It was illy. Of course.

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Coffee at The Fairmont San Francisco

Posted: December 6th, 2016

As mentioned in my last post, I was away for quite a while travelling in the US for the month of September. First stop on my tour was one of my all time favourite destinations, San Francisco. As with past visits, I had an amazing time. One of my all time favourite destinations, the city was a beautiful and welcoming as I remembered, and maybe even a little tastier this time around … or at least my coffee was.

This time round, I did San Fran right and stayed in a great hotel, The FairmontSan Francisco.

Set loftily atop famous Nob Hill, the iconic hotel is home of the America’s oldest tiki bar (The Tonga Room), the setting for the Tony Bennett premiere of his signature song (I Left My Heart) in San Francisco, a key fixture in the Hitchcock masterpiece Vertigo, and an all round historic and gorgeous hotel. Yep, the Fairmont’s as SF as they come.

When I wasn’t admiring The Fairmont’s gorgeous interiors and singular atmosphere, I found myself in awe of the lovely panorama just outside the window of my room. 12 stories up in the hotel’s tower, the best thing about my accommodation was the flipping amazing view over San Francisco Bay.

The hotel was indeed an ideal place to lay my head for the few nights I stayed in town. So what could make my time there even better?

Check this out. The coffee served at The Fairmont? It was illy – a classy cup for a classy digs. A great and familiar flavour to accompany the epic breakfast buffet in the elegant Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar, a quick shot at Caffé Centro before embarking upon a day of Golden Gate sightseeing , or contemplative sips while admiring sunrise in my room, illy was there and added extra comfort to a wonderful few days in San Francisco.

Stay tuned for more caffeinated adventures from on the road.

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Breakfast in America

Posted: December 6th, 2016

Sorry for the radio silence folks. I’ve been travelling even more than usual, spending five weeks on the road in America. Anyway, I’m back in London now with the intension of staying up for at least the next month. I hope you’ve been well and enjoying your coffee.

To be sure, I’ve been having a lot fun. And the coffee – for the most part – has been terrific. The tastiest aspects of my US escapades often took place in the morning. So I thought I’d share with you a few especially memorable breakfasts from my time in the Land of Plenty.

Aretha Frankenstein’s
518 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee 37405

Whoa! Whatta breakfast! As the name might imply this laidback and fun restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennseess offers monster-sized soul food favourites and devilishly good southern-style dishes. The biscuits (American, not British) were the biggest I’ve ever seen – and among the tastiest too. Low brow art jammed on the walls and ceiling, an ever-refilled and above average cuppa joe , and somewhat sassy but nonetheless hospitable service made this one of the best morning feasts I’ve had in ages. I don’t think Aretha’s has a book policy. Expect to wait on the front porch during popular dining hours.

It’s alive! Alive! … at arethas.com.

Brennan’s Restaurant
417 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130

Lauded as one of the grand dame’s of the New Orleans dining scene and celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, Brennan’s is an institution of Breakfast is considered by many local diners as the best times to dine at Brennan’s. From what I experienced, I can taste their point! The creole and Cajun inspired things they do with eggs and such in the kitchen are phenomenal. I loved the egg yolk carpaccio with grilled shrimp, crispy sweet potato, andouille vinaigrette and “rabbit rushing” with fried Mississippi rabbit, creamed collards, eggs over easy, and pickled pork jus. Be sure to book ahead if you plan to enjoy a meal here.

Find out more at brennansneworleans.com.

Elizabeth’s
601 Gallier Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70117

One more New Orleans breakfast – and it’s a down and dirty yummy one at Elizabeth’s in the city’s up-and-coming neighbourhood of Bywater. Elizabeth’s Chef Bryon Peck takes pride in making everything on the menu “from scratch” for vibrant and authentic Louisiana flavours to match the vibrant folk art adorning the walls (inside and out) of the restaurant. A hearty portion (even by American standards) of shrimp and grits with a side of praline bacon “pig candy” put me in a comfort food coma.

Get stuck in at elizabethsrestaurantnola.com.

Solvang Restaurant
1672 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang, California 93463

“Home of everything aebleskiver,” this expansive yet still quaint diner in downtown Solvang is a great place for a filling brekkie enjoyed at a big cushy booth or at the counter. What’s an aebleskiver? It’s a Danish pancake puff. Where’s Solvang? Solvang is a little town in California, about 100 miles north of LA. Originally settled by Danish immigrant families, it’s famous for its kitsch downtown with faux medieval architecture and fake windmills. It’s best known as the setting for the hit movie Sideways.  Oh yeah, that place! In fact Solvang Restaurant was featured in the film. I got to dine in the booth where Scene 5, Breakfast was shot!

For details go to solvangrestaurant.com.

Zimzala
500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, California, 92648

Situated within the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach (aka Surf City USA), this seaside eatery features a menu of classic California coastal cuisine. My plate of chilaquiles (tortilla chips, two eggs, red onions, coriander, queso fresco, salsa roja and sour cream) with short ribs was so awesome I had it both mornings I stayed at the Shorebreak. I’m craving it still.

Visit Zimzala online at restaurantzimzala.com

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Best Breakfast Blogs

Posted: August 24th, 2016

In today’s post, our coffee-loving blogger, Chris Osburn, shares his picks of the best places on the net to get some breakfast inspiration

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Coffee: it’s the ultimate morning drink and a quintessential part of any quality breakfast. But just what is a quality breakfast? Check out this quartet of blogs for top brekkie ideas on where to go, what to eat and more a.m. inspiration.

London Review of Breakfasts
http://londonreviewofbreakfasts.blogspot.co.uk/

It’s been almost a year now since the final post of the London Review of Breakfasts blog was published. But this long-running blog is still a brilliant and often enlightening read. The last “Let’s call it a morning” post serves as a “best of” list of LRB’s “522 reviews (and op-eggs) it contains, written by 106 contributors.”

Symmetry Breakfast
http://symmetrybreakfast.com/

This wildly popular Instagram feed and blog (and now soon to be published book) concentrates on the aesthetic aspects of the day’s most important meal. Everyday on Instagram, Symmetry Breakfast publishes “a single post showcasing the best in breakfast from around the world, from pastries to arepas, pushing the desire to expand our palettes beyond toast and cereal to see how other people break the fast.”

What Should I Eat for Breakfast Today?
http://whatshouldieatforbreakfasttoday.com/

Wow. Gorgeous photos, delicious recipes and smart ideas about what to have for your next morning meal make this blog a must-read. According to blogger Marta Greber, “it’s so much nicer to start a day early in the morning and spend some time with people you love or with a good magazine and some music.” Hear! Hear!

In Love with Brunch
https://inlovewithbrunch.com/

Does brunch count as breakfast? They’re essentially the same. It’s just that brunch starts later in the morning and lasts into the afternoon, varying slightly with a few more lunch-y dishes thrown in for good measure and the possibility of including some booze. And coffee is definitely a key component! If you love brunch then you’ll love this blog with lots of reviews and ideas and featuring a well travelled Aussie’s take on brunch around the world.

Jamaica’s Blue Mountains

Posted: August 18th, 2016

In this post, our resident blogger, Chris Osburn, explores the wonders of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains its Arabica coffee beans26268078333_98fe6f9183_k

As ubiquitous as coffee is, it actually can only grow in very limited areas of the world, basically high on mountain slopes in the tropics and a few subtropical regions. To grow quality coffee beans – or at least quality Arabica beans – the climate needs to be the right mix of heat, humidity and rain (lots of rain, like 100-200cm every year) with an average temperature range of 20-27°C. Countries well known for coffee production include Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Another such place on the planet with ideal conditions to produce great tasting Arabica beans is Jamaica, but in only a small section of the island’s Blue Mountains. And guess who got to go there back at the end of April? Yep, work led me to Jamaica recently (don’t hate) where I had the pleasure of spending one afternoon touring the Craighton Estate coffee plantation, famous for growing what many consider to be among the best coffee beans (and some of the most expensive) available on the market.

Located at an elevation of 3,000ft with plenty of rainfall, balmy heat during the day and relative cool at night, Craighton Estate is set in a ‘Goldilocks’ spot for producing excellent coffee. To the untrained eye, the plants seem haphazardly placed and precariously so along steep slopes which present a tough climb up or hard scrabble down for pickers (and the coffee there can only be picked by hand). But that’s what the coffee needs, to be planted among mixed vegetation with plenty of shade.

With a historic “Great House” constructed in 1805 at the centre of the estate’s expansive grounds and a veranda with panoramic views at the highest point of the property, it was beautiful and interesting enough to be worth being drawn away from the beach. As for the coffee – I could definitely see what all the fuss is about. I had a cup there and brought back some roasted beans too. Delicious and mild with notes of caramel.

4 Great Cafes in Vienna

Posted: April 19th, 2016

In this post, our resident blogger, Chris Osburn, lets us in on Vienna’s best kept coffee secrets.

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4 Great Cafes in Vienna

Last month found me in Vienna for a week or so of work and sightseeing. To be sure, I made time to snoop around town for exemplary cafes that lived up to Vienna’s reputation as a famed coffee lover’s destination.

Here’s the scoop of four of my faves from my visit.

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Café Korb
Brandstatte 9, Vienna 1010

In business since 1904 – with a more modern 1960s interior – this classic Viennese café near St Peter’s Cathedral is a comfortable place to take a break whether it’s for a quick espresso pit stop or a long and leisurely lunch. Go for the coffee, stay for the apple strudel – Korb does an especially yummy version of the famous Austrian pastry. Apparently it was good enough for Emperor Franz Joseph and Sigmund Freud.

Find out more at cafekorb.at.

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Café Landtmann
Universitätsring 4, Vienna 1010

Immerse yourself in the grandeur of Vienna’s imperial past while enjoying an outstanding coffee at this elegant and historic café dating back to 1873. Located near the Parliament, Volksgarten and a number of must-see attractions, Café Landtmann is an easy and popular place to enjoy a drink or meal presented with cordial service.

Visit the café online at landtmann.at.

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Daniel Bakery at Hotel Daniel Vienna
Landstraßer Gürtel 5, Vienna 1030 

If you like a bit of quirky charm with your cuppa, consider dropping by Hotel Daniel near the Belvedere Garden. The lobby is a maze of postmodern accoutrements. Despite the charming clutter, the no-nonsense centrepiece behind the bar is much used – the highly revered Faema E61 Legend is always ready to pull the perfect espresso. They do a mean lunch here too with a menu that’s a smart balance of contemporary international favourites and local specialties.

Have a look here: hoteldaniel.com.

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Supersense
Praterstraße 70, Vienna 1020

Anybody remember life before the internet and all the digital doings that keep us so preoccupied these days? Such halcyon days of the analogue era can be relived at Supersense, a non-digital/totally analogue café/restaurant/shop/studio that’s an excellent place to hang out and marvel at a recent past that now seems so very far away. Coffee is taken super seriously at Supersense. No matter if you’ve fully embraced 21st century living or you’re still clinging to the past, you’re sure to find the coffee here among the best to be had in town.

Go to the.supersense.com for more details.

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Got My Stojo Risin’ (and Conveniently Collapsing)

Posted: March 31st, 2016

Got My Stojo Risin' (and Conveniently Collapsing)

When it comes to having my morning Joe, my preference is to make my own at home and have that time to myself to savour and reflect before revving up to take on the outside world and running the gauntlet of daily tasks to do.

In addition to the small luxury of pressing the pause button on life for a brief moment while I enjoy a cup of coffee, having it at home – as opposed to grabbing it on the go – is more affordable and generally better tasting (I make a mean cup if I do say so myself).

However, the reality of the situation quite often is that I’m running out the door only to find myself sitting on public transport. Maybe I can buy a coffee en route, maybe not. When I do get the chance to make my own coffee, it’s a quick slurp before I’m out the house. And when I’m out, I’m usually out for the day and probably lugging a laptop and maybe some camera gear with me. So my experience has been that a typical thermos takes up too much space and weighs down my load.

I think I might have come across a sort of happy medium solution though: the Stojo, a leak-proof “collapsible pocket cup.” Stojo stands about five inches high and can hold 12oz (355ml) of liquid but collapses to 1.75 inches and stows neatly away in just about any bag or pocket. I’ve been using mine for about a week now. No spills. No mess. Less cumbersome in my backpack as I navigate the London streets and it allows me a little more “me time” during my commute.

Have you got any tricks to adding a bit of pleasure to your less than ideal daily doings? Is having your coffee your way an essential part of your morning? I know a lot of people that consider purchasing a coffee at their local to be an intrinsic part of their day. But for me, the queues, prices, and knowledge that in many cases I can make a coffee just as nice as what I would drink at a café keeps me craving a taste of home.

Coffee Break Inspiration

Posted: February 24th, 2016

After famous American novelist George R.R. Martin’s recent announcement that he has been suffering from writer’s block, our resident blogger, Chris Osburn, reveals his very own solution to the problem.

Coffee break inspiration

A short while ago, I sat back and settled in to write my latest post for the EspressoCrazy blog … and drew a big fat blank. Usually, I’ve got a coffee-related idea in mind that I’m keen to tap out on my keyboard. But this time, I couldn’t come up with anything at all to write about. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Conceding writer’s block, I headed to the kitchen to make myself a cup of … yep, you guessed it … coffee! And then it dawned on me with a thud of a duh.

A topic to write about! The great inspiration of so many creative lives, the mighty conqueror of writer’s block, the black gold of inspiration! Coffee has really been there for more times than I can count over my many years as a writer. And I reckon if I were to look back on the better writing and more interesting projects that I’ve worked on I could measure my success by how much coffee I drank while working on whatever piece of wordage or otherwise was before me.

I don’t know if it’s simply the act of focusing on something else and freeing up my thoughts, or if it’s the ritual of making myself a drink, or the trigger of the aroma, or just the quick kick of caffeine – but there’s something about making myself a cup of coffee that unclogs the brain and gets my creative juices flowing again. Other little things can help me combat writer’s block (washing the dishes, taking a shower, going for a walk) but nothing else seems to do the trick quite as well as having a cup of coffee.

How about you? Is coffee a major inspiration for your creative endeavours? Does a coffee break lead to a burst of quality work? Is there something about when/how/where you have your coffee that helps you with your ideas?

My Preferred Cup of Coffee for My Joburg Layover

Posted: February 8th, 2016

Airport illy sign

I’m back from a trip to Namibia in Southern Africa, where I spent about two weeks on a self-drive safari. Yes, I had a blast – and would highly recommend a trip to this vast desert country for anyone interested in wide open spaces and viewing wildlife.

To get there I had to first fly overnight to O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I had a couple of hours layover before my short connector flight to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city. So what’s the first thing I saw once through passport control and walking to the gate for my flight to Windhoek? A sign for illy coffee of course!

It’s not all that unusual for me to spot illy’s cheerful red and white logo when darting through an airport – but usually that would be at an airport here in Europe (there’s a great Espressamente café at London City Airport; similarly a handy illy café in Milan’s Malpensa airport… and plenty more I reckon too). So, I was surprised to see it.

I was also very pleased.

As is usually the case on overnight flights, I hadn’t slept well. It was really early in the morning. I was groggy but needed to stay alert in order to find my gate and catch my next flight. Coffee was just the thing required to keep me going, and I’d have settled for a less than tasty cup. Luckily I didn’t have to resort. I was able to get my preferred drink anyway.

And yep, it tasted great. Just like home.

Googling around the web, it seems illy isn’t all that rare in South Africa. I can’t say I encountered any during my time in neighbouring Namibia though (but I was mostly out in the bush on safari). As for the café at the airport in Joburg, it’s got its own Facebook page and at least one sister café at another airport (George, Western Cape) in the country.

Coffee had during the rest of my trip was pretty mediocre. But I imagine if you’re visiting somewhere like Namibia for the coffee you’re kind of missing the point. Although one exception was an espresso machine in the remotest destination I visited – the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, in the far north west of the country, a region where people in an area of more than a few hundred square miles probably numbered in the dozens. The quality of coffee beans was pretty good and the staff at the camp had real barista skills. Having a cup there in the morning as the sun rose over the vast expanse of desert was definitely an ideal way to enjoy my favourite beverage.

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