Archive for the 'Drink' Category


Starbucks closes 600 stores

The Starbucks sign is seen outside one of its stores in New York July 3, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

It’s fascinating how one dimensional the media can portray a piece of news. Today on Yahoo! there was an article entitled “Some coffee fans get grim delight in Starbucks woes.”

The article briefly mentions that the company is planning to close 600 under performing U.S. stores. It then quickly states that this “is evoking glee and little sympathy from aficionados who say they resent the coffee shop giant and favor small independent cafes.”

The bulk of the article contains interviews with people mainly in favour of seeing the demise of the coffee chain.

I have a problem with this.

Before I get into my reasons, and get a lot of hate mail,  I want to state for the record that I am not a loyal Starbucks customer. I haven’t set foot in one in over a year.

I have no personal feelings or money invested in the company in question, nor do I work for an independant coffee company. I therefore consider myself generally unbiased.

Where my concern with this article comes from is in the way that it glosses over the reasons why a company like Starbucks has to close 600 stores in the first place.

Think of it this way. Starbucks is massive. It is able to utilise economies of scale to keep it’s costs down. It is also able to afford marketing experts and PR people that small independent coffee companies don’t have access to in order to keep the public interested.

One of the few truths of the article was this:

“Starbucks has really created a coffee culture, raising awareness of good coffee, which is good for independents,” said Carol Watson, owner of the Milk and Honey coffee shop in Chicago. “But on the other hand, they’re on practically every corner, and that makes it tough on the little guy too.”

Frankly, I think independent companies should be worried. 600 stores represents approximately 10% of all Starbucks stores worldwide. How many small companies can afford a 10% total loss (or more) and thrive?

In my opinion, a lot of the aggression towards Starbucks comes from jealousy. How many of those small companies are trying very hard to be the big dog? Business is and always has been competitive. Don’t like the fact that another business is doing better than yours? Improve or fail. In the end it’s the consumer who will determine the winner. 

The customer is always right.

At this point, the customer is broke.

That’s the real story behind Starbucks closing 600 stores. People can barely afford to fill up their cars and get groceries, let alone spend several dollars on a coffee.

600 stores are closing. Thousands of jobs will be terminated. I guarantee that 600 independent coffee shops will not pop up to replace the stores being closed. So why is this a victory for anyone involved?

The truth of the matter is that big buisness doesn’t just create jobs and offer cheap products, it also offers a place for small business to sell their products too.

A car plant recently closed in a city several hours north of where I live. People lost their jobs in that city. The trickle down of that plant closing is that a lot of places that had contracts with that particular company are now having to scale down their operations and lay off employees.

Nobody wins when big business closes up shop. We can’t all work at local coffee shops and in turn patronize local coffee shops. The economy just doesn’t work that way.


hot buttered rum

So I had a root canal about a week ago, which has slowed down my blogging considerably. The pain in my jaw, however, has sparked a new hobby…

I’ve also been reading a lot about Victorian era street food. It’s not all as ghastly as what I related in the previous post. Many of the baked goods of that era were taking advantage of, and experimenting with, the new flavours being introduced to Britain from the far corners of the Empire.

So, to blend these two seemingly unrelated topics, I present a recipe for hot buttered rum:

 6  cloves  (whole)
• 1 1/2 oz.  dark rum 
• 1 generous tbsp.  brown sugar 
• 1  Cinnamon stick 
 Boiling water 
 Grated nutmeg 
 Lemon peel 

Mixing instructions:
Rinse a large mug with boiling water and add brown sugar, cinnamon stick, and a lemon peel studded with cloves. Pour in a little boiling water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add rum and fill with boiling water. Stir, then place pat of butter on top of drink, and sprinkle with grated nutmeg.




Chai Crème Brulée

 creme brulee

During the recent move, I uncovered a ridiculous amount of tea scattered throughout my kitchen cupboards. There is everything from orange pekoe to pumpkin spice, in a wide variety of colours, from black to green to white.

This got me thinking, “What’s the deal with all this tea?” I barely even drink tea. Most of it I recieved as a gift.

Then I recalled the specialty tea store that had recently opened in a local mall.

Actually, in the past few years, at least three stores devoted exclusively to tea have opened up in this area. Has the world gone tea crazy?

I’ll assume the baby boomers are partially responsible. The search for eternal youth, or at least a tonic for creaky joints, makes them an obvious demographic.

Then again, Tim Hortons has been running those “steeped” ads a lot lately (at least here in Canada). I know a lot of media susceptible people who just have to have whatever the newest trend is.

Then there’s the first time away from home crowd. You know who I mean. Their the “I’m deep because I study at starbucks and drink tea just like my cool Asian roomate” group of “unique” individuals.

Wow, I just realized how mean spirited my posts sound when I haven’t had my coffee.

Don’t get me wrong. In the right context I love tea. I just have my doubts as to how much of my new found wealth I’ll be able to drink in this lifetime. I guess that means I’ll have to get creative…

Chai Crème Brulée


  • 2 tsp loose chai tea, good quality (10 ml)
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping (35%) cream (375 ml)
  • 1/2 cup homogenized whole milk (125 ml)
  • 1/4-cup sugar (60 ml)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • Sugar, for brulée toppingPreheat oven to 325 degrees F.1) Put the whipping cream, milk, sugar, vanilla bean and the chai tea in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to just to a boil. Remove from heat and cover. Let mixture steep for 15 minutes to develop flavor
    2) In a stainless steel bowl whisk the egg yolks. To make the custard, continue to stir egg yolks as you slowly pour the hot cream mixture over the yolks. Strain custard. Pour or ladle evenly into four 6-ounce ramekins or gratin pans.
    3) Bake in a water bath by placing ramekins into a shallow baking pan. Carefully pour enough boiling water into the baking pan so the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
    4) Bake just until custard centers jiggle slightly when pan is moved, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from water bath. Cool custard to room temperature. Refrigerate and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
    5) Sprinkle 2 tsp. of sugar on top of the custards. Caramelize the sugar with a crème brulée torch or directly under the broiler. Decorate as desired.

Coffee: espresso, cappuccino and more

I am by no means a coffee connoisseur, however, I do have an above average working knowledge of the different terms and equipment used to make good quality coffee, so i figured I’d share a little of what I know.

Coffee – there are two main species – robusta and Arabica. Robusta is inexpensive and not very flavourful, and is used in canned or instant coffees. Some coffee producers blend this type with Arabica to keep costs down and increase production yields. Arabica beans are slower growing, allowing for more flavour developement. These are the ones used in specialty coffee places.

Coffee is often named for the country of origin (Columbian, Kenyan, Sumatran etc.) The beans start off in a raw state and must be roasted and ground up, then water is passed through the grinds to produce the beverage. Much is written about coffee’s shelf life once roasted, and generally it’s best for consumption as soon after it is ground as possible. For more information, check here:

Barista – a barista is a professional coffee preparer. They are trained in the art of making a wide variety of specialty coffee drinks. These people, who work at specialty coffee shops, tend to be a good source of information about all things coffee related. They tend to be passionate about what they do, and take pride in their work. Just be aware that not all coffee shop employees are baristas. If you find a good barista, befriend them, and you are sure to get good quality everytime.

Equipment –

Espresso machine – essential for making espresso based drinks. Many different types exist, it all depends on their intended use. I have a home model on my kitchen counter, complete with group heads and steam wand. My wife likes getting creative with usin steamed and frothed milk to come up with new variations of old classics. (We’ve made a killer hot chocolate, and impressed guests with a unique “irish coffee” using baileys).

At one of the bakeries I worked at, one of the other employees, from Lebanon, used to have a small stove-top espresso maker that he would fire up every day at 2pm. I found one at a local thrift store for a dollar, and use it frequently for a quick pick-me-up. This would be the route I would suggest for someone just getting started with espresso, who doesn’t have the money to go out and get an espresso machine.

Grinder – Allows you to grind whole bean coffee just before brewing, which keeps the product fresh longer. I started out with a small hand held electric one, the type some people use to grind up spices. I have since upgradedto a more reliable countertop model, which allows for more consistent results.

Steaming pitchers – used to pour foam and milk. Generally made out of stainless steel. One with a pointed spout is required for making Latte art.

Tamper – for packing grinds evenly into the porta filter.


Espresso – 30ml (1.oz) of concentrated coffee, served in a demitasse (one of those tiny coffee cups). Very strong, if you are only used to drinking the typical North American cup of joe. Espresso is the base from which all other espresso based drinks are made. Note: it’s spelled espresso in North America, and Expresso elsewhere. Neither spelling is right or wrong, as long as you know what is being reffered too.

Cappuccino – Can vary widely depending on region, the basics of a cappuccino include espresso, milk foam, and steamed or heated milk. A lot of commercial coffee places that serve “ice-capps”, and other cappuccino-named drinks tend to sweeten the heck out of them. Keep this in mind when ordering at specialty coffee places, where no sweetener has been added by the barrista. I was used to Tim Hortons cappuccino, so the first coffee house cappuccino I had, I regret to say, ended up in the garbage because I thought it was burnt or something.

Doppio Cappuccino – Doppio means double; made from two espressos. May not be double sized, but double strength.

Macchiato – like a cappuccino with chocolate

Caffe Latte – espresso and milk

caffe mocha – like a chocolate Latte

Caffe Americano – I love the story behind this one. After the second world war, when tourism started to pick up in Italy, a lot of American tourists were dismayed to find that they couldn’t get a “normal cup of coffee”, and instead were given a tiny cup of a very dark, very strong brew. Some Italian baristas started using a larger glass, and thinning the espresso out with water, the whole time shaking their heads and mumbling “Americano!” That’s a basic caffe Americano. Espresso topped up with water. It’s good for anyone not yet used to the strength of a shot of espresso, or someone wanting something closer to a cappuccino, but who may be lactose intolerant. Also, not every barista will know this one, so it makes you look pretty knowledgeable (even if you aren’t).

There are many other variations you can try, and it’s fun to be able to make fancy coffee-based drinks when company comes over and you want to whip up a quick treat. Experiment and enjoy!


Wine Primer

I find that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about wine. Far too often I hear people tell me they really like wine, but they don’t know anything about it. I also hear a lot of opinions about wines based on some percieved notions about how sweet or dry, or how dark or light a wine is. I also dislike wine snobery based on a single origin. For example, I recently had someone tell me they only drink Italian wines. I asked which type, and they said they didn’t care, it just has to be Italian. While I’m sure this is based on a good experience with an Italian wine, not all Italian wines are created equal. Also, this perspective on wine assumes all other wines are not fit for consumption, which I strongly disagree with.

Wine Basics:

Wine is basically fermented grape juice. Anyone familiar with bread baking will be familiar with how yeast works. Yeast is a living organism which, in the case of wine, occurs naturally on the grape skin (although some wine makers use lab grown strains of pure yeast instead of “wild yeast”). Yeast consumes the sugars present inside the grape, and converts it into carbon dioxide and alcohol. When the alcohol level hits around 15 percent, it kills off the yeast. Now picture the classic episode of I Love Lucy, with Lucielle Ball stomping on grapes. I bet you didn’t know all that science was going on at the same time.

As for grape types, red grapes traditionally need a slightly longer growing season, therefore wines from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Napa Valley in California tend to be made from red grapes, while colder climates tend to favour white grapes. Remember, also, that it is the skin that colours a wine, so it is possible to drink a white wine made from red grapes.

The weather can also play a major roll in how a certain vintage (year the wine was made) turns out. Frost can wipe out a crop, drastically reducing the amount of wine produced in a certain area. Windstorms, too much or not enough rain, all wreak havoc on the outcome of a crop. Consider, also, that grapes have a higher amount of sugars, acids, and water at different stages in their growth. If you were to try a grape off a vine early in the season, it would be very dry and acidic. A grape pulled from the same vine later in the year will have had time to develop more sugars (called Brix by winemakers). Too much rain before a grape is pulled will give you a very diluted, watery wine. Not enough rain will give you the opposite effect. A wine specialist will want to keep this in mind when choosing a certain wine from a certain region, with a certain vintage.

For the beginner, I would suggest trying to get familiar with whatever wines are locally available to you. Try different wines from the same wine growing region until you find one or two that you personally like. If the “experts” are raving about a wine that you find tastes bad, then don’t drink it. One of the worst wines I’ve ever tasted was an award winning fruit wine from a highly esteemed winery. I’m sorry, but if I think it tastes like cough syrup, no amount of flowery description will make it taste any better.

So what do you do with a wine you have sampled but don’t particullarly care for? Use it to cook with, of course!


Coffee Porter

Coffee Porter, originally uploaded by adelphos24.

For a while now, I’ve been in the habit of occasionally picking up a six pack of individual beer. I always try to get a good mix, rarely picking up more than two of the same kind. Doing this has allowed me to sample a wide variety of beer, without having to go through an entire case of one I don’t necessarily care for.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that this coffee beer I had picked up, admittedly for novelty more than anything else, was not only locally brewed at the mill street brewery in Toronto, but made using coffee from my favorite local coffee house, Balzacs coffee.
Two of my favorite things in one bottle.
I’ve been a fan of dark beer for quite a few years now, and I can really appreciate the smoothness of a well made porter. The coffee flavour is admittedly subtle, but rounds the flavour out nicely.
Just a note for anyone unfamiliar with dark beer: don’t chug it!
Dark beer tends to get a bad rep for being too heavy, bitter and strong. All of that is true, to a certain extent, especially if you try to down a bottle in one gulp.
As a general rule, a pint from a tap is the best way to have a dark beer. From a bottle is a convenient way to get it at home. I can’t stand dark beer from a can. Also, just a personal quirk, I only tend to indulge in dark beer in the colder months.
It’s ideal for sitting around, chatting with friends, on an evening when you’d rather not be outside.