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Java and jive

February 27, 2009
By Bob Seidenstein,

Of the things that annoy me most, the top three are fleas, TV sit-coms and connoisseurs.

I hate fleas because they're the Anti-Christ.

I hate sit-coms because they're not funny.

And as for connoisseurs? Well, I don't dislike connoisseurs, per se - only the self-declared, self-promoting ones. Their most egregious example is a passing acquaintance of mine - E. James von Gott.

Connoisseurs understand a whole lot about a few things, unlike the rest of us who know a little bit about a lot of things. Von Gott is unique in that he knows everything about everything.

You name it, he knows it. From Fellini to flashlights, from pastries to pasties, he not only has an opinion, but the authoritative one.

While he knows what he's talking about in some realms, he has no clue about others, but he never lets his ignorance interfere with his certainty. For instance, if he was with a group of people talking about a wine - Chateau le Dreque - and a bunch of them agreed Chateau le Dreque was a fine wine, von Gott would then take over.

"Well, Le Dreque's a pretty good wine but hardly a fine one," he'd say. "It's all a matter of vintage."

"Yes," agrees one of his wannabe peers. "As I recall, '99 was an excellent year."

"Ninety-nine?" says von Gott. "Which month?"

Now he's got them - they're confused. After all, who ever heard of classifying plonk by month?

"There was a bad month in '99?" someone aks.

"That's right," he says, as much to himself as to them. "The May batch was a disaster."

"Ur, why's that?"

"The storm of '99," says von Gott. "Don't you remember it?"

Of course, no one remembers it - because it never happened. But since everyone in the crowd is a phony baloney, they can't admit they don't know. And this gives von Gott his chance to shine.

"Raised hell in the vineyards," he says. "When rain bruises grapes, they can still be made into winebut only a skid row bum'd drink it."

It's all nonsense, of course, but he's so certain and supercilious, no one dares question him, and instead they end up nodding and deferring to his superior knowledge.


To grind, or not to grind

I said he was a passing acquaintance because people like that don't have friends. They only have fellow pompous asses and acolytes. The FPA's are there to reinforce each other's bumpf. The acolytes are there to bolster the pompous asses' egos.

Nonetheless, for all the snobbism involved with food, there are people who know what they're talking about, and recently I needed to find one to answer a question I had about coffee.

Here's the thing: I refuse to make a big deal out of anything that gets filtered through my kidneys. Designer waters, premium wines, micro-brewery beers, exotic fruit juices - I don't care about their fine points - especially if I have to pay through my fine Semitic nose for them.

But it's different with coffee.

While I won't spend a fortune on the stuff, I do have my standards. First, it has to taste good. And second, its octane rating has to be off the charts. Sure, coffee's a beverage, but more important in my case, it's a drug and I'm addicted to it. So when I get up in the morning, what I brew better wire me up high and hard. Otherwise, I won't have the fine motor skills needed for such complex chores as turning on the radio, putting on my socks and measuring kibbles.

My favorite jump-start java comes from the Storza family's business, Adirondack Bean-To. It's called Hammer and it gets me from sleeping to leaping in no time flat. But I also like its taste, which is why my question arose.

The question was which tasted better - coffee ground in the shop, or coffee I'd grind right before I made it?

I asked a bunch of friends and, as you might expect, I got a bunch of different answers. Finally, I ran into the Boy Barista himself, Jeff Couture.

"Tell me," I said, "what's the story with grinding your own coffee? Does it really make a big difference?"

"Well," he said, "the longer you go between grinding and using the beans, the more flavor you lose."

"So if I grind them at home, the coffee'll taste better than if I have them ground at the store?"

"Depends," he said.

"On what?"

"On what kind of grinder you use."

"Well, I was thinking about one of those little electric ones," I said.

"Dunno," he said. "They spin so fast they tend to burn the bean and hurt the taste."

"So it's better if I have it ground when I buy it and then keep it in the freezer?"

He shrugged.

"Freezing tends to dry out the beans," he said. "You can lose taste that way, too."

Suddenly I realized this conversation could go on forever, I'd have more questions than answers, and would be more confused than I was when I started. So I cut my losses and bade Jeff a fond farewell.

My final decision was to keep having the beans ground when I bought them and let the grinds fall where they may. All that fancy-shmancy coffee ritual was for the birds and the connoisseurs.


Dopish one-upsmanship

And speaking of birds and connoisseurs, I had an interaction with the Uberconoisseur himself, E. James von Gott, and managed to get in the last word.

We ran into each other downtown and, of all things, he started holding forth about coffee, raving about his new roaster.

"It's magnificent," he said.. "A Swedenborg 6000."

"Really?" I said, hoping he'd hear the boredom in my voice.

He didn't.

"Oh yes. Automatic temperature control, Rolex timer, stainless steel case, titanium racks - very sexy."

"Sounds great," I said. "I'll go to the Dorsey Street Exchange right now and see if they've got one."

He missed my subtle irony because of a small quirk of his - he never listens.

He went on.

"Of course, you roast your beans, don't you?" he asked.

"No," I said, "Not yet."

"Oh?" he said, eyebrows raised in a signature gesture of condescension. "What are you waiting for?"

"Only one thing," I said. "I haven't harvested my crop yet."

"Your crop? he said, completely taken aback. "You mean you grow your own beans?"

"You don't?" I asked, straight-faced.

"Why ur no," he said, his confusion evident.

Then I gave him a dose of his own medicine.

"I can't believe," I said, shaking my head in mock disgust, "that you, of all people, allow yourself to drink coffee made from the beans of strangers."



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