Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Caffe Della Pace (literally, “cafe of peace”) is a gorgeous cafe that evokes another era, both glamorous and romantic, and serves one of the best cornetti and cappuccinos in Rome. The gilded interior is crowded with antique mirrors, statues, and various trinkets; the facade is covered in ivy, and the surrounding sidewalk tables are the perfect place to people watch. During the holiday season, it is decorated with glass ornaments dangling from the ceiling, and a large display of garland and cotton pods.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
“I’m not passionate about coffee.” These words flow out from a grin that Todd Carmichael always seems to have, both honest and a little devious; this grin reflects his child-like enthusiasm for everything, as well as his awareness that most of what he says will probably shock you.
“Passion dies out. Coffee is who I am. I am dedicated to coffee.” One thing I quickly learned from spending time with Todd at his Philadelphia roasting plant was that his ideas, no matter how wild or aspirational they may sound, will likely materialize before your eyes — just give it a few weeks, maybe months. His ideas bounce off the walls as much as he does, it’s hard to keep up. Once the idea is sparked, he is relentless in the execution. One of his many ideas that proved successful: he and partner (and Frenchman) JP Iberti’s successful roastery La Colombe Torrefaction, which they built with bare hands in Philadelphia in 1993.
That dedication also led him across Antarctica, the first American to trek from the coast to the South Pole, solo and unaided. He has visited nearly half the world’s countries, including Ethiopia, where he adopted his three daughters. He most recently traveled to Haiti, where he rented a truck and trudged up mountains, following the terrain to seek out a coffee plantation he didn’t know was there, but intuitively knew he’d find — the Blue Forest plantation. Since then he’s been the first American to export large amounts of Haitian coffee to the US in nearly thirty years. I met with a Haitian farmer from Blue Forest in New York named Robinson. Never in his wildest imagination would he have thought he’d wind up in New York City, meeting many of the greatest chefs of our time, all who served his coffee in their restaurants — the coffee he and others labored over for years. This is just a day in the life with Todd.
In the mid ’90s, La Colombe was the first of its kind — a sophisticated coffee roaster that elevated coffee to a more unique experience, one where different flavors and notes were brought out with great roasting and concern for origin. They called it “culinary coffee.” Todd and JP opened up their first cafe near Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and immediately built up accounts with restaurants in Philadelphia and New York City.
Founded on a certain ethos (both Todd and JP come from farming families) their focus was, and always has been, farmers. “Early on we decided that whatever became of coffee, whatever pressures were on us, we would first and foremost do right by the farmers,” Todd explained. “To us that meant – and means – sticking with our source farms through thick and thin, lukewarm cuppings and the like, frost, rot, disease or bumper crop. We were in it with them.” La Colombe has a certain trademark taste. “I tend towards smoky flavors in food, and I like the same to come out in my coffee,” Carmichael told me. He and JP roast dark, enough to make it smoky while maintaining the complex flavors.
La Colombe may have brought us culinary coffee, but a few years later a new movement emerged, later deemed the “Third Wave.” So Todd, a writer himself, took to Esquire in 2010 to create some dialogue on a movement he felt alienated from. Not one to soften a blow, he published a guide, “7 Steps to Avoid the Horrible Hipster Coffee Trend”, and recently broke the news that “Stumptown Sold Out,” referring to Sorenson’s controversial transaction with a private equity fund. “It was never against Third Wave, per se. It was more about extreme hipsterism,” Carmichael explained. What followed suit was a barrage of intense hate directed at Todd and his coffee, circulating the Internet.
When I arrived at Philadelphia train station to spend some time with Todd, this current controversy was unraveling. Todd’s assistant, Renee, was waiting to take me to the La Colombe roastery. She’s equally quick-witted, a friend of Todd’s since his youthful, wild days; one could imagine she’s seen him through it all.
I arrived at the compound to find a large operation unfolding. The building itself, a converted warehouse, is big, mostly taken over by large machinery. There are desk jobs, too: I met people from branding and sales, as well as roasters and packers. It was a warm, family environment, each person an important cog in the La Colombe machine.
Todd immediately ushered me in, and began the tour — he moves fast, and conversation never ceased. He was kind, funny, animated, and honest; his passion and enthusiasm is evident, if not a bit overwhelming. He could talk at length about his expeditions and adventures, about coffee, music, and Ethiopia. He can simultaneously provide the perfect sound-byte while remaining authentic.
In one room, there were vintage espresso machines that Todd collects, repairs, and sometimes, sells. In another, a distillery for whiskey. Coffee was being roasted as well, of course.
La Colombe is rapidly growing due to an endless stream of creativity and quality. They have collaborations with companies and individuals — Leonardo DiCaprio being one of them — to bolster their humanitarian efforts affecting both coffee farmers and climate change. They have new coffee shops popping up in nearly every big city (Chicago, L.A., D.C., more still in New York and Philadelphia).
Carmichael and Iberti recently set up a bottling plant at their Philly roastery to create Pure Black, a cold-brewed coffee. Steeped for 16 hours, then pressed and filtered twice, it’s a rich and strong cold brew drink in a beautifully designed bottle.
Below, some photos of Todd and JP, as well as a few from my trip to Philly to tour the roastery.
Monday, September 5, 2011
Walking the streets of Lisbon, through steep and winding urban hills and valleys, one may be in need of a coffee break. Bright hexagonal cafes topped with peaked roofs are dotted throughout the city as a haven, the perfect place to stop called the quiosque. The concept is simple and convenient: the structures function as tiny freestanding espresso bars, most notably located in parks, yet also along the riverfront and on various street corners. One can grab an espresso and pastel de Belem any time of day, since they are open late into the evening.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
“Wise is he who enjoys the show offered by the world” – Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa may be Lisbon’s proudest resident, past or present. One walks the streets and feel his spirit in every cafe and book store. He was the poet of Lisbon, productive in the early 20th century, though his great fame came posthumously. Today, his words are well known by all of Portugal, and his likeness is seen in photographs, statues, and mementos littering the city.
Born in Lisbon, he moved to South Africa with his mother and stepfather at an early age, following the death of his father. There, he focused on his studies, mastering the English language and penning many of his first works under pseudonyms — many which he used throughout his career, it’s hard to keep track. He returned to Lisbon at the age of 17, where he would live out the rest of his life, rarely leaving his beloved city. He was a lover of coffee, lingering in the cafes, most often alone with an espresso and his notebook; he used the cafe as a meeting place, often debating with his contemporaries literature and philosophy. I decided to have coffee with the spirit of Pessoa by frequenting his favorite coffee haunts, attempting to absorb a bit of his genius, and to see the beauty and character of Lisbon through his eyes.
Cafe a Brasileira (R. Garrett 120, 1200 Lisboa)
One of the most famous and oldest in Lisbon, A Brasileira is still as bustling and significant to Lisboans as it was when it opened over one hundred years ago. A center for meeting and sipping, it’s located in the chic neighborhood of Chiado. The inside is gorgeously decorated with mosaic floors, a long oak bar and intricately carved paneled ceilings. Brass chandeliers light up the walls, which are covered in eclectic art deco paintings. The expansive bar is a great place to grab an espresso, but I prefer to sit outside and enjoy Lisbon’s ever-present breeze. Many famous literary, political, and artistic giants have congregated here, but Pessoa may be the most celebrated — outside of the cafe, a statue of him seated at a table rests amongst the others, as though he’s having coffee with you.
Cafe Martinho da Arcada (Rua da Prata 4-8, 1100 Lisboa)
Situated under an arcada overlooking the Praca do Comercio square along the Tagus River, Cafe Martinho da Arcada is the place to be seen. Dine al fresco on whole grilled fish and perfectly roasted potatoes (both Portuguese staples) and then move inside to the bar, where all the baked goods are housed. An espresso at the bar will complete the experience, and a Belem pastry for dessert is a must. The espresso is strong and good. Inside, one can explore the main dining room, where Pessoa’s presence is undeniable. The corner table where he most often sat is now a display of affection for the writer, postcards with his image and copies of his beloved books. In fact, nearly every wall is covered with photographs of him in his signature fedora, overcoat, and thick dark eye frames. He is said to have treated this cafe as an office, meeting fellow writers and artists to debate and discuss their work.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Vacuum coffee pot, syphon, siphon — whatever you want to call it, it looks like it came out of your tenth grade chemistry lab.
But in many circles, it’s the chic way to brew coffee, and it’s no different in Portugal. At the beautiful new culture club in the Palacio Belmonte — one of the oldest palaces in Lisbon, now a gorgeously appointed hotel — one can enjoy a siphoned cup while listening to the likes of brilliant Israeli concert pianist, Elisha Abas.
Maria, owner of the Palacio along with her husband Frederic, fixed me a cup. A mid 19th century design, popularized in the 1960s, the concept is quite simple, and the result is clean and aromatic. The siphon is made up of two glass carafes connected by a glass stem; the coffee grounds are placed in the top carafe, the water in the bottom. A flame is lit at the bottom, causing the water to heat and create a pressure vacuum, that forces the water up into the coffee grounds. Once all the water has reached the grounds, the coffee is stirred for one minute. Then, the flame is removed, and the brewed liquid passes down through the filter, back into the bottom carafe.
Et voila, the coffee is ready to serve, straight out of the glass carafe. The coffee has little sediment and clean flavor. And at the culture club, it’s an homage to the vintage idea that good aperitifs and coffee are best served with Chopin floating through the air (compliments of Elisha), which makes it the most fabulous place to have coffee in Lisboa.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Portugal is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, full of culture, architecture, food and a vast coast. Yet it’s often passed over by tourists in lieu of more famous locales.
After a short six hour flight, our plane neared the coast of Lisbon on a strikingly clear day; I gasped at the beauty. Even from above, the winding coast, the jewel blue sea, and the white and yellow homes covered with tile roofs were breathtaking.
Lisbon is comprised of two parts: young and old. Built on seven hills, each neighborhood rests on either a hill or in a valley. This makes for an easily navigated city by map, but a difficult one by foot (excellent exercise routine: move to Lisbon). A violent earthquake in 1755 destroyed much of the city, which they rebuilt in a more nineteenth century fashion. This newer “valley” neighborhood is now known as Baixa, reminiscent of most other European cities, with large boulevards and expansive city squares. Alfama and Castelo are some of the oldest areas of Lisbon; winding, steep cobblestone roads that survived the earthquake because of their bedrock foundation. It’s magical weaving under arches and down stone steps, descending and ascending (and sliding — wear shoes with traction!) past buildings of yellows, blues, and greens, decorated by intricately painted tiles called azalejos. Decidedly older inhabitants make it even more charming, a step back in time.
Chiado, up the hill from Baixa, is by far the trendiest neighborhood, full of local art galleries, cafes, and bookstores. Lisbon’s culture is incredibly rich, with a beautiful local art scene and a love of literature — nearly every block of the city had a bookstore — not to mention home to the oldest bookstore ever, Bertrand, built in 1732. New restaurants are sandwiched between historical cafes, all still retaining the colorful architecture that makes Lisbon unique.
The way they take their coffee is unique as well. Not too big, not too small — “the Portuguese way,” as they call it. They prefer an espresso, always. Ask for um caffe, a coffee, etc., and you shall receive espresso. Unlike the Italian single shot, the Portuguese espresso is served in a larger cup, giving you a little more to savor.
Portuguese people drink coffee all the time. I mean — All. The. Time. It is part of their daily routine to have a coffee every few hours, up to ten cups a day. Every meal ends with um bica — the Lisbon name for an espresso, an acronym for the typical espresso machine.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
The New York weather has kicked off it’s hot, thick, smelly, sticky summer party. It makes you kind of lazy, in need of a shot of caffeine — but nothing too hot. It’s definitely iced coffee weather.
Granita di caffé is an Italian specialty, a variant of iced coffee unlike any you’ve ever had. Like a snow cone for adults, it’s Italian shaved ice laced with espresso and a bit of sugar, sandwiched between two heaping scoops of unsweetened panna.
Tazza d’Oro is known to have some of the best granita di caffé in all of Rome, but I was told of a place that was even better. Described as small and “ugly” (though to my eyes, it was still quaint as ever) — it was a low frill kind of place. But many Italians agreed, it had the best granita di caffé. So I crossed the bridge to Trastevere, a youthful bohemian district of Rome full of art galleries, boutiques, and cafes.
I found Bar San Calisto on a little street off of Piazza di Santa Maria (and a gorgeous church worth going into). A tiny bar full of locals. The granita di caffé was rich and strong, the espresso soaking each bite, and the homemade panna providing the perfect balance. Simple, yet divine, and perfect for a summer day.
If you can’t make it to Rome, the Washington Post has a recipe here; it’s easy to prepare at home.
Also in the neighborhood: Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini, housing a lovely Caravaggio — amongst other works — and Villa Farnesina, with gorgeous frescoes completed by Raphael. It’s also fun to wander, popping into the art galleries and boutiques featuring local designers.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Rome is an ancient city full of history and tradition. It is also a city with an economy built on tourism, so it often adjusts to modern life in a rapid way. Much to my chagrin, this includes new coffee spaces with WiFi and organic juices. I’m partial to the old establishments. But Barnum Cafe is a perfect union of Italian tradition and youthful modernity.
I took a sunny stroll down one of my favorite streets near Campo de Fiori. My favorite area of the city, this square fills up each morning with a maze of tents, selling the sweetest fruits, vegetables, exotic spices, cheeses, pastas, and flowers. Adjoining the square, Via del Pellegrino is a chic and quaint winding street of restaurants, bars and shopfronts for local designers. It’s truly a special street to peruse.
Barnum Café, located on Via del Pellegrino, is a different kind of bar for Rome. Daniele, the owner — a photographer himself — has created a uniquely designed space for art, music, drinking, eating (healthy and often vegetarian, none-the-less). Café by day, bar by night. A kid named Maurick creates beautiful latte art. His portfolio includes cats, dogs, people, pigs, flowers — and all thanks to a YouTube education.
Barnum was named after the circus – Barnum and Bailey – and also as a play on words (Bar…Num…), and the aesthetic follows suit, with (cardboard) girls doing acrobatics from the ceiling. As much an art space as a café, local artists can showcase their works upon the exposed brick walls.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
If American coffee is to-go, and Costa Rican is to linger, then Italian coffee is to pause. Pause at the bar, then go; pause at a café with a friend, 15 minutes and then off to start the day. This is Roman life. Rome is a vibrant city — different energy fills each neighborhood as one navigates between modern life and ancient history. On a walk to the market, it’s possible to pass a Borromini Baroque masterpiece, a Caravaggio painting tucked away in a church on the corner, or a piazza designed by Michelangelo. One can roam the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum, or stroll past the Pantheon — that amazing structure built by Hadrian in 120 AD.
The coffee culture teeters between modernity and history as well. Nespresso, the European Starbucks (we have a few in New York, too) has become a large part of the Italian coffee culture; “everyone has one,” my Roman friend tells me over aperitivo, referring to their “instant” espresso machines. Many of the old, traditional bars are slipping in favor to more popular, modern cafes. Regardless, the best place to get espresso or a cappuccino is the corner bar — cheap and good, it will always remain a lovely place to sit amongst the locals.
Yet there are a few historical landmark cafes that have been part of Rome’s history for a long time, and are an essential part of touring this city.
Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè (Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, 82) – It seems like everyone and their mother, upon hearing of my Roman adventures, remarked “have you been to Sant’Eustachio?” It’s famous. Because of this, it remains packed and lines of tourists form outside for a bag of their house-roasted beans or an espresso at the bar. But the locals frequent it too, because when a place is really good, it can be both a tourist attraction and a local spot. It’s extra nice (and an extra fifty cents) to sit outside and people watch as Italians move through the piazza. The coffee is served on silver trays, and they are best known for their “gran caffe:” Perhaps one of the only places you’ll find a double espresso on the menu, it is a special of theirs, served with a thick and creamy crema on top; the true process, I’m told, remains a secret.
Caffe Antico Greco (Via dei Condotti, 86) – One of the oldest cafes in Rome, there is a picture adorning the walls of Buffalo Bill enjoying a spirit there during his European tour (yes, the real Buffalo Bill.) Located near the Spanish Steps, on Via dei Condotti, one of the most premiere shopping streets in all of Rome (Gucci, Prada, Hermes, and Italians drenched in the aforementioned), Caffé Greco’s interior reflects this grandiosity. Plush red velvet seats, marble floors, chandeliers, and golden cases holding sfogliatelle and crostini lure one inside, but the coffee may keep one there. The barista described the espresso as having notes of florals, roasted and blended just for them, as “part of the great Italian tradition, a beautiful tradition.” An ancient Roman site in and of itself, this cafe has been serving coffee for over 250 years — and though it might be overpriced, it’s an experience to sit in a seat where Hans Christian Anderson may have sipped his coffee, perhaps absorb some of that genius.
Tazza d’Oro (Via degli Orfani, 84) – Perhaps the most famous of the bunch is Tazza d’Oro, around the corner from the stunning Pantheon (which gets me emotional every time.) Founded in 1946, everyone from Audrey Hepburn to famous politicians have taken their coffee here. Literally translated to “The Golden Cup,” the aesthetic is rather gilded, and fairly simple inside, with only a bar to rest on. They export “the best coffee available,” from South America (namely Brazil) and Jamaica (Blue Mountain). Locals, tourists, businesswomen (and men) — all come together at Tazza d’Oro for the best espresso or macchiato, usually taken at the bar. It’s one of the cheapest coffees I had in Rome, despite its location behind one of the most heavily visited sites in Rome.
(Art Historical note: on your way to the Pantheon, stop at the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, sandwiched between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Inside are three of Caravaggio’s greatest works in the Chapel of St. Matthews.)
Bar Alberto Pica (Via della Seggiola, 12) – Everyone has their own “best gelato in Rome” pick; this happens to be mine, as recommended by the NY Times. The inside of this more than 40-year-old bar isn’t fancy, and mostly the staff is rather curt (though don’t be fooled, after going in quite often, I saw a softer side). The flavors are seasonal, and if Fico (fig) is available, it would be a sin to pass it up. Riso (rice) is also particularly good — like a frozen, chunky rice pudding. The outside patio is more charming, where one is served gelato and espresso under canopies adorned with greenery. Despite the press, Bar Pica remains cheap and strictly local — I spotted few tourists while there.