Archive for February, 2009

And you thought it was simple

February 27, 2009

I like my coffee like I like my men. That’s right, you’re thinking it: COMPLEX. Turns out, I’m in luck. According to the experts at Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters, coffee beans have about 800 flavor characteristics, more than twice the number found in wine.

The staff at the Southeast Belmont Stumptown offer twice-daily “cuppings” (at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.) to inform people about the finer points of the beverage. My sister Laura and I attended one with our aunt and uncle, who were visiting from Spokane last weekend.

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Coffee buyers carry out the ritualistic cupping process before each purchase to determine the quality and qualities of the beans in question. And really, they approach the whole thing with a mug-half-empty mentality: they’re in it to find the defects.

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We were encouraged not to share our observations during the cupping so as not to influence each other’s impressions.

At our cupping, a Stumptown coffee master lined up seven trays of coffee beans — from Guatamala, Panama, Ethiopia and Kenya — along the shop’s low, wooden counter. We sniffed, snorted and sipped our way down the line five times, evaluating the beans each time in a different way.

The process took about an hour and went something like this:

  • We smelled the dry grounds of each bean, making sure to inhale the fragrance through our noses AND our mouths.
  • We sniffed the grounds again, this time soaked in just-boiled water.
  • We used spoons to break the crust that developed on the surface of the solution and and inhaled the aroma again.
  • We dipped our spoons in the coffee mixture and slurped it up as loudly as possible, trying to get the coffee droplets to reach both our tongues and the back recesses of our nasal passages. (The Stumptown staff member demonstrating had this part of the process down, but when I tried to execute with as much gusto, I ended up just inhaling the coffee. Cough.)
  • We slurped down the line again to taste the coffee at a slightly cooler temperature, when its true qualities are said to reveal themselves.

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Some are fruity, some are nutty, and now I can tell you which is which

I’ve been aware that different blends of coffee have different characteristics, but I’ve never paid attention to what those differences are. I just drink whatever’s in my cup and have a general sense of whether I like it or not. The process of tasting coffees back to back enabled me, for the first time, to note the nuances that make each bean distinctive — and realize I have a lot to learn when it comes to café.

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How do you accidentally purchase a vibrating pillow? Well, I’ll tell you…

February 19, 2009

I didn’t realize the corduroy cushion I purchased for $2.99 from Goodwill the other day had any special features until, after hours of using it to pad the seat of my wooden desk chair, I noticed it was especially hard in the center.

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When I unzipped the back (yes, it zips) and dug around in the foam stuffing, I discovered… THE LARGEST BATTERY PACK I’VE EVER SEEN. The clear plastic apparatus inside the cushion was larger than my outspread palm and contained two D-size batteries (of the four required for operation). How I missed the extra firmness and heft of this pillow in the Goodwill store and under my ass for four hours, I cannot tell you.

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I’ll be honest: I’m not quite sure what a battery-powered pillow is capable of. During optimistic moments, I convince myself that if I purchased two more D-size batteries and flipped the switch, it would sing me a Christmas carol.

During more realistic moments, however, I’m positive that I never want to touch my pillow again.

Oswald West State Park: BEACH TRIP ’09!!!

February 10, 2009

It was February, and it was the Pacific Ocean off the northern coast of Oregon, but we dove in anyway. Stripped to our skivvies and plunged headlong into the waves. The shock was invigorating, paralyzingly so, but by the time all 45 degrees had fully registered, we were sprinting toward dry sand and a large rock in the sun.

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My sister Laura and I and our friends Beth and Benjamin spent the entire day on the beach at Oswald West State Park, located in a secluded cove bounded by old-growth spruce, fir, hemlock and cedar trees. The 2,400-acre park, a mere 90 miles northwest of Portland, stretches four miles between Arch Cape and Neahkahnie Mountain and contains a section of the Oregon Coast Trail that we didn’t explore but would like to.

We’d expected weather typical of the Oregon coast in winter, but the day was so unseasonably warm and sunny that between our arrival at 10:30 a.m. and our departure after sunset, we never pulled the fleece hats, winter jackets and rain gear from our backpacks.

Here’s how we kept ourselves occupied:

  • Tiptoed into and bolted out of the ocean.

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Note the wet hair. Yes, we went in all the way.

  • Accepted the Cartwheel Challenge (meaning 30 in a row) and eventually became unable to distinguish the up from down.

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  • Ate mass quantities of Parmesan-flavored Goldfish crackers and chocolate that melted in our mouths, but first, in our hands.
  • Scaled the rocks as menacingly as possible.

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I don’t know how I remained so calm in this situation.

  • Bumped, set and tried to spike a small yellow volleyball that we dubbed “Big Red” until our forearms could not take it anymore.
  • Tried to imagine why women in skorts and a large group of children were carrying around My Little Ponies and a life-sized plastic dummy with well-developed calves.
  • Stared into the ocean, listening to the waves crash into the jagged rocks offshore.

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  • Read our books, which pretty much digressed into taking naps.

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  • Watched the setting sun cast the sky in shades of gold, then sink into the horizon.

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All in all, a perfect day.