Saturday, August 14, 2010

Home again

Eastside Road, August 14, 2010 —
THREE DAYS AND TWO NIGHTS on the road, even in California, even in an area that's generally hip and all that, reminds you that this country is abysmally deficient in the matter of coffee. This morning's breakfast was taken at a place recommended as perhaps the best in Grass Valley: Lindsey's latte was bitter and unpleasant, and my "normal" coffee was hardly any better. The cappuccino I'd had the day before was even worse. These indy cafés are enough to drive you to Starbuck's, where the machines, at least, are generally kept fairly clean. There's nothing worse than the rancid coffee-and-machine-oil stink-flavor imparted to even a decent blend and roast by these espresso machines (and their grinders) which, however expensive and technologically up-to-date they may be, seem never to be cleaned: it's as if splendid wines were to be poured from decanters never rinsed, from year to year, introducing the deadliest of vinegars to the rarest of vintages.

Lindsey and I ordered the simplest of breakfasts: an English muffin and one egg, over easy, for her; exactly the same for me, except two eggs. What could go wrong? Well, he brought me only one egg. In fact, he was doing me a favor.

We stopped for a lunch of sorts in Auburn, where Lindsey's iPhone promised an organic, sustainable, thoughtful bakery-cum-café. And here in fact I had a decent albacore tuna sandwich on rye bread, with a hint of horseradish in the mayonnaise; and we washed our sandwiches down — in truth they were a little dry — with a tasty Meyer lemon lemonade. (We had miles still to drive.)

What did we feel like doing for dinner, once home? You won't be surprised: toast rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, salted a bit; and a nice green salad. A handful or two of cherry tomatoes. Some of our nectarines afterward.
Rosé, Syrah, Lucchesi Vineyards (Nevada County), 2009
  • Flour Garden Bakery, 340 C Elm Avenue, Auburn, California; tel. 530.888.1011;
    The bad coffee: Carolines Coffee Roasters, Grass Valley; South Pine Café, Grass Valley

    Curtis Faville said...

    Bad coffee.

    I'm not sure how soon I noticed that Starbuck's was a fraud.

    We began buying boutique coffee beans sometime back in the early 1970's, after we moved back from Iowa. There were a number of independent coffee stores in those days, many of which have since disappeared over the years. My experience is that with every coffee seller, the quality is variable from batch to batch. They can't maintain a standard, even with their "usual sources" and brews, so it's always a crapshoot. But Peet's is always head and shoulders above the rest. Lately, I've had some incredible cups at restaurants--Dopo uses some outfit that turns out extremely rich French/Italian grounds--the "Americano" brew was unbelievable the first few times, but has fallen a little since. Illy Cafe is offered at a lot of places--but that isn't the company Dopo uses. The espressos served at Cesar's are usually good and rich.

    I can't figure out why Starbucks succeeds. Very, very bitter taste, with a variety of very sweet mixes which mask this bitterness. Are people stupid, or what? I can't understand it.

    We've been using Garuda beans for the last year or so. Good, rich stuff.

    Charles Shere said...

    "Fraud": strong word. I've never found bitter or rancid coffee at a Starbuck's. Bland, yes. Illy is the Starbuck's of Italy, as far as I'm concerned. In every Italian village with two cafés, one's Illy; the other isn't, and has better coffee. Maybe that's the Starbuck's-Peets relationship. I hear they're both owned by the same company anyhow.

    The big problem with espresso drinks in the United States, in my experience, is not the blend or roast of coffee; it's the lack of maintenance of the machines — and, of course, the variability of the baristas. These problems grow out of the routine American problem: lack of pride in work. Don't get me started.