This coffee is for you

I hibernate in winter.

Living in Utah it’s frequently brought to my attention that I do winter wrong.

I don’t snowboard, ski or whatever the hell else people figure out to do in frigid temperatures to stay warm. I’m not completely opposed to the idea of outdoor fun. I just like to be warm.

I stay inside. I drink absurd amounts of coffee. I make soup. I sleep. I read books. I write stories about murderous cowboys on desert planets. Some days I even bake. Mostly I do everything I can to not leave my house so long as there is snow on the ground.

Snuggled up and cozy in blankets, sipping hot drinks and pretending the world is all wrapped up in white, wintery fluff keeps me from making a last minute airport stop to a beach.

In my perfect world winter exists as the best ready-made excuse to ignore the universe and pretend that I’m the only person in the world and all that matters right now is me and this love affair I’m going to have with a pile of unread books. No worrying about the Grand Bargain, no lapping up the Petraeus scandal, no staring at a snoring hummingbird, just me, my books and drifting thoughts of tropical beaches.

Winter’s also a good excuse to put a plethora of personal drama on hold indefinitely.

Although I am thinking this may just be the winter to try out snowboarding. Who knows, maybe I’ll start wintering right after all?

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Coffee is coffee is coffee

One of the strange things about the past few months in my life, is that I’ve accidentally become a barista (not a very good one). I only know the basics, but hey, if you need an espresso, I can probably wrangle something out of the machine that is drinkable.

I’ve also seemingly without meaning to learned quite a bit more about coffee in the past year or two than I ever set out to do. So here are some of the basics of coffee.

1. The Bean

I picked up most of this knowledge from the locals in Indonesia, the fourth largest producer in the world, in August 2011. Here’s what I’ve learned, the beans are actually the pit of a fruit on a coffee plant. There are pretty much only two types of beans available to the average coffee drinker Arabica or Robusta, the biggest difference between them is their caffeine content. The more caffeine you want, the more robusta you need. However most people seem to agree that Arabica has a better taste, which is why most coffee roasters (we’ll get there) mix the two together in an 80/20 or 70/30 combination.

Most coffee berries are handpicked in order to remove the flesh of the fruit and retrieve the seed for roasting. That’s one of the reasons why a quality coffee is going to cost more than $5 a pound. The beans are then processed in either a wet or dry method, the dry method is cheaper and therefore more common. The way a bean is processed is (not surprisingly) going to affect the flavor.

2. The Roasting

This is the area, I’m most fuzzy on since I’ver never hung out with a coffee roaster. But generally this step is carried out by a company in the U.S. Let’s focus for a second on one of my favorite Utah roasters, Caffe Ibis. They buy their coffee from a grower, ship the raw beans to Logan, then roast them to taste at their business before they send it out to their cafe and shops for consumers to purchase.

There are several different types of roast and each roaster may choose to call them by different names. However if Sweet Maria’s home roasting guide is anything to go by, the lightest roast is usually called a City roast, next is the Full City roast, then there’s the Vienna roast and finally the French roast. As the beans get darker, the flavor will become more bitter and the coffee taste stronger.

3. The Brew

If you’ve ever drank more than one cup of coffee, you know how different a drip coffee is from an Americano. The simple fact is every step of the coffee-making affects your java from growth to grind. So whether you grind and roast at home or pick up a ground bag from the grocery store flavors will change. Connoisseurs recommend grinding at home, and they probably roast their coffee at home too. But lazy people like me, buy pre-ground coffee because the last thing I need in the morning is whirling blades of finger death. My one piece of advice for any coffee that’s nicer than Folgers, please for the love of all that is hot, black and right keep the beans or grounds in an airtight container.

As for the actual brewing process, make sure you have a machine that does two things well. It gets the water hot! (Like just under boiling hot.) And it’s slow! Every pot of drip coffee should take at least five minutes to brew. As for that little espresso machine, it also needs to be HOT and SLOW. (Not as slow since it’s just a little bit each time, but still slow enough to make sure the hot water absorbs the flavor and caffeine of the beans.) It also helps to be good at packing the grounds smoothly with somewhere between 30 and 35 pounds of pressure.

Coffee is like a fine wine or cheese (or any food) where its origin strongly influences taste, of course, the picking process, roasting, grinding and brewing also affect the final product. The key to the perfect cup is knowing your likes and dislikes, which means drinking lots of different coffees from different roasters and farmers to find out where on the over caffeinated spectrum you prefer your brew.

For me and my SLC life, it’s Caffe Ibis’ Full City roasts with a toss up between Highlander Grogg and Organic Highland Sumatra. What’s your perfect cup?

A coffee shop playground

Recently Matt and Daesong took Jennifer and I to his new favorite coffee shop, “Noriter.” We were greeted in the elevator by an image of a  1940s-esque flight attendant advertising the coffee shop. Daesong explained that “noriter” is Korean for playground which led to general wondering about the flight attendant logo.

We stepped into the coffee shop to be greeted by an amazing playground. The space has been left open with lofts creating a faux second floor. In lovely Korean-Western fusion fashion the loft spaces are floor seating so shoes must come off. As I climbed up the ladder, I realized being barefoot only made me feel more like a kid.

The owners have decorated the shop in a colorful and fanciful way. It looks a bit like my childhood bedroom might have if it had been taken over by a grown up. A few of my favorite touches are the family travel photographs showing where the owners have been in the world, a Texas license plate and huge windows looking over downtown Chungju. Nearly every nook and cranny is stuffed with a surprisingly playful treat. The owners are happy to supply Wi-Fi, board games, books and blankets, not to mention, the usual coffee and desserts.

Oh my! What desserts! I immediately ordered the honey butter bread envisioning something like a scone, but knowing it would be completely different. I was pleasantly pleased to be presented with a plate of cinnamon bread topped with whipped cream, caramel and almonds.

Of the Western-influenced food I’ve eaten in Korea, Noriter’s honey butter bread is by far the most delicious. The bread is toasted just right–crispy on the outside, soft and melty on the inside. The caramel, almonds and whipped cream were all fresh. It’s one dish I’m looking forward to recreating when I’m back in the States.

The peppermint hot chocolate is delicious. I’m not a huge hot chocolate fan so I was surprised to throughouly enjoy this drink. My cup was so full of cream and chocolate I ended up with cream on the end of my nose in a failed effort to keep the cup from overflowing. It was indeed delicious drink anyone.

As for the coffee, it was a little less than awesome. Admittedly I’ve only tried the mocha coffee, so maybe the other drinks will fare better. However my “hot” coffee was served lukewarm. The mocha and coffee seemed to be overwhelmed by water. It was bitter, flat and flavorless. I won’t be ordering it again.

Despite the failed coffee mocha I am looking forward to another visit. The staff is sweet and helpful. The atmosphere is relaxed and fun. And that honey butter bread, I just can’t eat enough of it.

Besides I still need to photograph the cuteness.

Coffee shop couture

Coffee shops are for women,” Mina said.

“Oh really?!”

“Yeah, it’s cool too dress up and go hang out with friends and just talk,” she said.

Coffee shops are certainly thought of differently in Korea. Koreans love their coffee. They also love their corporations. This love has combined to bring the world Papa Rotini.

The father of buns.

I couldn’t make that slogan up.

The father of buns.

Uh-huh. I know what you’re thinking. Just laugh.

Back with me? Good.

There are quite a few of these around, but my favorite shop is a tiny closet-sized space near Lotte Mart in Chilgeumdo, Chungjusi.

The shop workers are obnoxiously happy. They always greet me with smiles and a menu in English. (Because neither of us have the patience for me to work my way through hangeul while other customers crowd the small space.) They have the usual confection of ridiculous fluffy drinks like lattes and cappuccino drowning in whipped cream, but they also have the holy grail of coffee in Korea. Drip coffee! Good ol’ American style boring black drip coffee made fresh and served hot.

During my latest venture I decided to test out the cupcakes on display. They were just so cute! Tiny little heart shaped sprinkles on white cream frosting and an itty-bitty chocolate cupcake. Too sweet to resist, I caved and forked over an astonishing 3,000 won for the sweet treat.

I sat at a small table lining the wall. The decor is Victorian-esque and provided a perfect setting for the well-dressed women gossiping at the only table big enough for more than two in the establishment.

Soon my coffee and cupcake were brought to me by the always cheerful barista. The coffee was delicious! They’ve definitely worked out the coffee to water ratio correctly at this place. (A tough find, I promise.) I enjoyed sipping my caffeine as I wrote for a few minutes before feeling brave enough to take on the CUPCAKE.

I try to lower my expectations whenever I eat something I know and love from home because it just won’t be the same. But even with the lowest low expectations in mind the cupcake was disappointing.

The sweet frosting tasted as though it was made from shortening. Although the white color was lovely, the greasy blandness was not.

The cake itself was dry to the point of stale. The texture was such it made me think perhaps it was made with rice flour. And despite being chocolate looking, I couldn’t actually detect any chocolate flavor. I knew the chocolate would be mild, as I’ve come to expect here in Korea. But this cupcake was appalingly flavorless.

Wheat flour and butter would go along way towards improving your cupcakes, Papa Rotini.

Sadly, the best part of the cupcake was its appearance. I won’t be eating any more cupcakes from Papa Rotini.

The hour I spent writing and reading at the coffee shop was absolutely lovely, the cozy space is great for curling up with a hot cup of java and a good book or for a chat with friends. The other patrons generally talk quietly among themselves, the music that plays is a nice mix of Korean, Japanese, European and American pop music. It’s quiet enough to not be intrusive, but provides enough background noise to make the cafe comfortable.

Papa Rotini’s excels at providing an excellent atmosphere in which to taste test terrible cupcakes.

Korean men and me

Or a story about a couple of them anyway.

One beautiful Sunday afternoon I walked to a nearby coffee shop. My plan was to bask in the sun while writing and enjoying a delicious coffee. When I arrived, the owner (let’s call him LP) greeted me. LP was very nice and we chatted for a few minutes before I ordered my iced caramel latte. Pretty soon I was happily slurping away on my delicious caramel coffee milk drink. I wrote for a few minutes. Then LP came by again this time carrying a blanket.

It was perfectly timed. The sun had just set and I was starting to shiver. I gratefully took the blanket and then was given a quick lesson in how to say “kamhamnisada.” I sat for a few minutes more just enjoying the incredible view. I love this coffee shop. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.

As it got colder, I decided to head home since I had a walk before me. I paid 5,000 won for my drink then LP offered me a ride home after a quick conversation with his mom. I said, “Sure.” Thinking at the very least it would be warmer than walking.

LP headed out for the short drive to my place. As he dropped me off, he asked if we could “meet” later. I must’ve been feeling good about life because I said yes again and we set a date for a couple days later.

Since we are both late night workers, LP picked me up at 9 a.m. for breakfast. The Land of Morning Calm disappointed us. Most restaurants were closed and none of the local coffee shops were open. So we opted for a chain and headed to Paris Baguette. We took our muffins and juice to Hoamji Rervoir where we talked for a while longer. In a couple hours I learned about 10 more Korean words and phrases while testing LP on his English.

Walking back to the car, LP asked me what I wanted to do next year. I started talking about all the things I want to do travel, make movies, write and enjoy my life. At first he likes the plan, “If you go to Spain, I would go with.” At the end of the craziness (I may have brought up this.), he said, “I think you want to do too much. I would like to get married. Would you?”

Well at least he’s honest.

A week later I headed out with Jamie and Ray. We went for some machu. (I think. It was cow bone, marrow and head.) We met with two of Jamie’s friends Lance and Won. I managed to order hanna mikju juseyo. (One beer please. Oh yeah, I’m making progress.) Won started a three way conversation with me and Jamie. Jamie translated as we talked. Won soon decided I look like Angelina Jolie. I’m sure she looks just like me while she trying not to panic when she sees an eyeball in the jiggae everyone is eating.

The restaurant is pretty close to my house. And the jiggae was delicious–hot, spicy, flavorful. I just had to get passed the cow everything-ness going on. Jamie continued to translate as Won told me I look more like Julia Roberts. I said thank you once I managed to choke down my soju. Eventually Won got around to asking for my phone number. I gave it to him with every confidence he would never call.

He hasn’t.

So it looks like I’m safe from another wedding discussion–at least for now.

Dear diner, Don’t touch my coffee!

Apparently all it takes to get service is man parts.

On Sunday I went to Blue Plate Diner with CBC and I had the best service from the wait staff there ever. Really, when I walked in by myself I waited about five minutes for the owner (who I blame Blue Plate’s awful service on) to notice me and put my name on the list. Even though the line looked obscenely long, he said it would be about a 15 minute wait.

The second CBC shows up, we were seated on the patio. This never happens to me and the girls. We always wait forever to get our name on the list, then wait to be seated at an indoor table then wait another ten minutes for a server to ask us if we want coffee. Blue Plate is sexist or at least the wait staff seems more inclined to treat the men better than the ladies. That’s it-I’m dressing in drag next time I go there. Maybe if I look like I belong on the wait staff, I won’t have to wait.

I have very strong feelings about my coffee. What is with a server’s need to put coffee in my cup every time they walk by? Coffee is a delicate balance of cream, sugar and coffee. Why are servers so intent on messing it up? I have it down to a science–one part sugar, two parts cream and three parts coffee. If a server adds coffee, they ruin the ratio. And my coffee is not the delicious sugary mess it was before.

I told my server three times, I didn’t want her to add coffee to my cup. And every time she looked at me like I was crazy. What? I don’t want you to ruin the deliciousness going on here, lady. Why would I knowingly let you corrupt my coffee? Geez. Maybe, I should explain the coffee ratios to her–that will totally help me sound less crazy.

Both CBC and I had the Blue Plate Breakfast, which is eggs, toast and hash browns. The eggs were fried just right and the toast was slathered with butter, which makes my tummy happy. But the hash browns? I just don’t get it, Blue Plate.

I’m not sure why the fried potato chunks mixed with onions and bell peppers are even called hash browns. Breakfast fries would be more appropriate. Also they should come with a warning that they are unevenly cooked and the potatoes spend part of their life in a freezer without the onions and bell peppers. You will be able to taste the difference no matter how not-picky-about-potatoes-weird you are.

In the end, it was my best Blue Plate experience, which means they topped out at just above mediocre. There are still other breakfast places in town I like more. But I have a little more faith in this 50s-esque diner on 2100 South 2100 East as long as I bring my man parts.

Sugar House Coffee

Originally posted here: Sugar House Coffee

You knew it was coming…the coffee talk. That special time in a person’s life when they get to hear all about the ins and outs of coffee beans. Okay maybe that isn’t what you were expecting, but how can I resist the chance to discuss one of my favorite beverages?

I can’t.

Mmm…coffee. Undoubtedly, one of the best smells to wake up to coffee is the undisputed king of mornings. Coffee starts it’s life as a seed the little seed grows into a tree. The beans are harvested, roasted, ground and brewed. Finally, you have a cup of coffee.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like too much work for my 6 a.m. wake up call. That is why coffee shops are successful. My favorite coffee shop is Sugar House Coffee at the corner of 2100 South and McClelland Street (about 1050 East).

Sugar House Coffee has had a difficult year. They were evicted from their previous location and with the move across the street they have lost the majority of their clients. But they haven’t lost their charm.

This coffee shop embodies the soul of the Sugar House neighborhood. It is eclectic, sweet, independent, friendly and liberal. The baristas offer some of the greatest coffee in the world with super cool latte art to compliment your muffin and coffee bar therapy. It is immediately apparent that these guys care about their profession–coffee and their customer–you.

Although Sugar House has a menu including food, I stick to the lattes. I definitely recommend their mazurka bars, muffins and fruit. Everything on the menu is bought locally and vegan-friendly. Coffee is about $1.50 a cup. A latte will run you at about $3.

If you don’t find your service tip worthy, it must be a sign of an apocalyptic ending just moments away.