While no one was looking, under the cover of darkness, the magnificent Italian hand built La Marzocco machines were replaced one by one with fully automatic computerized press-a-button versions. (This took place in thousands of Starbucks across the land.) This is the day when the romance and theater of Starbucks died.
This disturbing trend is taking place on many levels of society.
Many argue that removing the human (error) factor makes for a more consist product and increased customer satisfaction. But really, truth be told, it is because of training costs, speed of service and efficiency. Not bad things in themselves from a overly worked Barristas point of view. (The solution for a busy store is to have two to four machines and double the staff, like they do in Buenos Aries. Really, they do.)
However they are ignoring the romantic factor. Where is the romance and theater of pushing a button? Where is the skill and passion of the Barrista?
For a quick lesson in romance, look to the humble Volturno. One of the things that the Italians brought with them to Argentina was this little stove stop espresso maker. (Made internationally famous by Bialleti.) While not true espresso and I am not comparing it to espresso, it deserves a place in every coffee lovers arsenal.
We brought ours back from Buenos Aires, a national brand called Volturno. Although it mostly gets it use when we travel, there are still many a days when we when we opt for the intense room filling aroma and the seductive whisper it makes to tell you when its ready. Where Bialetti has compromised to appease the North-American hordes by making a stainless version, the humble Volturno still uses the time honored and tested traditional aluminum which gets better with age.
Simply follow a few simple rules handed down from the old Italian bubbas. First, you need to condition the pot before use by brewing a pot with just water, then a second time with coffee that you leave sit overnight. The second rule is to never wash the inside with soap, just rinse with hot water and air dry. This way you do not want to disturb the coating left by the oils in the coffee. The third rule is to pile the slightly coarser than espresso grind coffee in a mound with the peak passing the top of the filter basket. This way the coffee will be compressed to just the right amount for optimum extraction.
While these basic rules seem to defy normal coffee logic, in the Volturno they unexplainable work. Enter the romance factor. While producing good coffee is based on scientific principals, fully automatic press a button espresso machines can never compute nor replicate the romance (human) factor.
Those old Italian bubbas know best. Please leave button pushing to accountants and Starbuck Barristas. Stay original… it’s only human.
Terroir (no, not terror, try to stop thinking about terrorism for at least a day) is a term used in wine that explains how wine speaks of the earth is comes from. What a wonderful and romantic way travel to the earth. The next time you visit your favorite wine market, pick up a bottle of an Argentine Malbec and travel to the Mendoza region of Argentina. The picture below is a traditional Argentine wine decanter that is still used in many homes and Parrillas (Grills). (More on our favorite Parrillas in Buenos Aires in a future blog.)
Somehow, the wine tasted better served from the friendly and humble Penguin. A perfect companion to the grilled Provelleta. (Cheese aged for a minimum of 30 days, grilled to perfection and topped with olive oil, oregano and chimichurri) Each Parrillero (Grill Master) has his own style based on a custom mix of tradition, skill and intuition. Was the house wine as good as last week? Or is the Provelleta better today? There too many variables to even contemplate. It is all part of the experience that can never be duplicated or replicated the same way twice.
Terroir helps us to remember that while consistency is good to a reasonable degree, if abused, it can choke out and kill originality. Good wine, like good food should never be consistent. It is not natural. Huge restaurant chains (think McDonalds) are successful for their consistency not necessarily because the food is of high quality. They can never replace the romance of the cozy local Parrilla or some other little gem that you have discovered where you live.
There in the Parrilla, accompanied by the penguin, one remembers that good wine like other good things in life (do we even need to even mention original art?) has little to do with the label on the bottle, marketing dollars, or snobbery. It has to do with terroir. It is nature way of putting balance back to life. No matter how large or how sophisticated a winery is; it is the earth that has the final say. It is natures way of making sure that we all stay original.
So the next time you pop the cork out of a bottle of wine, or seek out a place to dine (hey that rhymes), remember Terroir, the humble Penguin and the Parrilla. (Wow, now that would be a great Batman movie.) Stay original… it is beautifully inconsistent.