World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Coffee

The Pursuit of Deliciousness

A short little documentary for coffee lovers providing a window into the soul of being an artisan coffee roaster.  All of the featured roasters are based in California: LAMILL Coffee and Handsome Coffee in Los Angeles, and Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland. The documentary is the latest in the Subculture Club series by Thrash Lab.


Bicerin – Gusto de Torino


I wrote this post over a week ago as it is related the Olympics. The longer I waited to post the more irrelevant it seem to become as others had the same idea.  But you know what, not so much.  Every post I came across had a different voice and angle.  So without further hesitation here is my version of the story. 

A renowned Torino specialty drink, not to mention a passionate favorite of many is the bicerin (bee-ched-REEN) . To simply call it new-fangled mocha would be wrong.  The drink is going through a bit of a rebirth on the Piazza della Consolata. According to a recent NY Times article the drink "returned in fashion about 10 years ago, with the recuperation of traditional and authentic foods."  Thank you Slow Food.

The elixir was created at the café of the same name and evolved from an 18th century drink made there called the “bavareisa.” It was a favorite of writer Alexander Dumas and many other writers of the city including Giuseppe Culicchia. The Italian contemporary writer once said that this drink is “served with such finesse here, that many customers would come risking the barrage of machine-gun fire in order to procure a chalice.” 

The name bicerin comes from the Italian word for glass, bicchiere, but in its diminutive form means "little glass". There are three ways to order this beverage:

  • pur e fiôr – coffee and milk/cream

  • pur e barba– coffee and chocolate

  • un pô ‘d tut– coffee, chocolate and milk/cream

The concoction is made of 3 equal layers of heaven, a bottom layer of espresso, topped with sweet Florentine hot chocolate prepared with water, intensifying the chocolate taste and topped with whipped cream.

It’s a heavily kept secret recipe in fact café employees’ lips are sealed by contract.  In 2001 the drink was elevated to the “traditional Piedmontese drink by the publication Bollettino Ufficiale della Regione Piemonte. Today it is often served in espresso cups personally I think it’s best served up in a glass in order to enjoy the mélange of dark liquid mixing together as you drink it.

Other relateed sites worth a look:

Cafés of Turin (via Exploring the Globe)

David Lebovitz post (such a tease with all this talk of chocolate!)

Faith Willinger’s Version of Bicerin

Brew the Right Thing

Auduboncoffee Today is International Migratory Bird Day and World Fair Trade Day.  And it seems that we should all have a cup o’ coffee. 

Now I want you to know that I am a pretty cynical consumer when I see big corporations jumping on causes for their own gain.  When I started this post I wanted to challenge Starbucks.  However, I’ve altered–if ever so slightly–my perceptions.

You see Starbucks is wrapping its fair trade coffee arms around World Fair Trade by featuring fair trade coffee as the "Coffee of the Week" until May 15.  In 2001, Starbucks purchased 1 million pounds; in fiscal year 2002, 1.1 million pounds were purchased; in fiscal year 2003, the Company purchased 2.1 million pounds; and in fiscal 2004, the amount more than doubled to 4.8 million pounds. The coffee giant is committed to purchasing 10 million pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee, which according to TransFair USA would account for nearly 25 percent of all Fair Trade coffee imported into the United States in 2005.

Starbucks also works with farmers and co-op managers in Costa Rica with its team of agronomists and sustainability experts to develop best practices for growing quality coffee responsibly and on improving the quality of coffee crops

And what I didn’t know is that Starbucks Fair Trade Blend coffee is promoted as Coffee Of the Week on a quarterly basis and can be brewed anytime upon request in the U.S. and Canada.  Of course, there’s a premium charge placed on the specialness of the beans. But even this small price means a lot to the producers, who are mostly small family farmers. While most bean growers receive about 20 cents per pound, the fair trade price is $1.26 – a difference that can provide a decent life in countries such as Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

According to Transfair there are about 400 companies that sell fair trade products, including Dunkin’ Donuts and Proctor & Gamble, makers of Millstone. Just this week Cadbury-Schweppes announced it’s purchase of organic-fair trade confectionery maker Green & Black’s.  Unilever, owners of Ben & Jerry’s, has joined the party with Coffee Heath Bar Crunch and Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz flavors which has been certified by Transfair USA with it’s "Fair Trade Certified" mark.  Transfair is an Oakland-based nonprofit group that audits the books of U.S. companies to ensure that the ingredients come from farmers who get fair prices for their goods.

And let’s not forget International Migratory Bird Day, which celebrates the incredible journeys of migratory birds between their breeding grounds in North America and their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central, and South America.  Today’s goal of the three sponsoring organizations–Audubon, the Rogers Family Coffee Companies and the Rainforest Alliance–is to promote environmentally and socially responsible products that protect bird species, wildlife habitat, and dwindling rainforests, and raise the quality of life for people in the world’s coffee growing regions.

The beans can be found in San Francisco and around the bay at Andronico’s, visiting the Audubon Coffee Club or by calling 800-770-9381.

So while I still have a problem with Starbucks non-stop aggressive expansion policy because it pushes out the small, locally run coffee shops I am willing to let up on them a little bit. Grab a thermos of fairly trade, organic, shade grown coffee and visit your local Audubon sanctuary or rent the remarkable and beautiful Winged Migration.

Earlier post on Fair Trade Chocolate

Indonesian Coffee Shake


When it’s hot nothing picks me up more than an iced coffee. The combination of caffeine and cold is revitalizing. And it was warm this weekend in the City by the bay. Several days of over 90 degree temps. So what you say? Well, there is not a lot of relief to be found here as air conditioning is not prevalent. It’s never been needed until recent years as we’ve had significantly longer and warmer spells. It might be a worthwhile study to document ice coffee sales for same period for the last 7 years and correlate it to global warming numbers.

In anticipation of a possible winter trip I’ve been reading about Indonesian and Southeast Asian cooking. I came across this most unique combination of ingredients for a milkshake. Surprisingly tasty. The color was vastly different than the one in the cookbook. While mine was pea green the other was a nice latte color. I don’t think I would have made a pea green drink.

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Greek Breakfast


Greeks, my well-traveled friends tell me, are not big on breakfast. Many Athenians consider coffee and a cigarette or two sufficient to start the day. Traditionally, breakfast is not a big affair. Often people on the go will enjoy a Greek coffee or these days a frappé paired with a hard roll or with loukamades, fried doughnut holes drizzled with honey.

The Greek islands have been the crossroads of the Mediterranean since the time of Homer. Over the centuries, Phoenicians, Athenians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, and Italians all stirred the pot in this region, putting their distinctive stamp on the food. One example is the coffee served in Greece which is similiar to Turkish coffee.

In fact until the 1974 Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus, coffee in Greece was called Turkish coffee; it’s in your best interest to not call or refer to it as Turkish coffee for many reasons historical and political. Just know that the coffee you drink in Greece is not for the meek or those with heart conditions!

Typical of most local cafés the venues serve as the place to catch up on the news and, of course, gossip or to play backgammon. In Greece it is not uncommon in the bigger cities to see employees of coffee bars delivering trays of coffee to local businesses on foot. How many times has this been my want at 3:30?

Greek coffee is made in a briki traditionally bronze but today they can be found in stainless steel and aluminum. The vessel also has a lip for easy pouring. The long-handled shape comes from the days when it was placed in the dessert sand to prepare the coffee. The coffee is not served with milk and if sugar is added, it is always added before boiling. The grind of the coffee is finer than espresso, often called Turkish grind. It is served black, in small and thick cups called flitzania. Before drinking it let the coffee stand a minute to allow the grounds to settle to the bottom of the cup. This also allows for a professional coffee ground fortune teller to turn the demitasse-like cups upside down for readings. In Greece, you will usually be served a cold glass of water to accompany the coffee.

Today’s hip crowd prefer frappé, instant coffee with milk (pictured above). I’ve include two recipes, one for the frappé and another with an influence of a traditional American breakfast.

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