Feb 21, 2012

kodawari

more writing on craft and care in work here.

the new york times may have figured it out: instead of short, unpolished articles, how about some quality journalism? today's nyt contains two good reads about quality. the first one was about timothy barrett, the second was about not mocking the artisanal pickle-maker.

corky introduced me to a great japanese word: kodawari (こだわり). the word is now often used to describe cafes in japan where the baristi pay uncompromising attention to detail and quality in the preparation of coffee. (from darryl, other source of information about japan-related esoterica: "kodawari = unrelenting, exhaustive devotion to a chosen small area of expertise.") those interested in kodawari may also enjoy the wall street journal's report on how things are made better in japan.

i get flak all the time about buying into the single-origin, time-temp control, calibrated grind size, ritual of coffee (or chocolate, or wine, or cheese, or whatever). does this kind of nearly fetish-level obsessiveness always translate to a better cup of coffee? and, more important, can you tell even if it did? i lack the discernment necessary to distinguish reliably between the aromas of beans grown in different countries. the real reason i buy into this kind of thing is because it increases my expectation of getting a decent to excellent cup of coffee.

too many times, i've had junk coffee drinks. these are always made by someone whose mind was elsewhere, or who wasn't trained to notice the details that good craftspeople notice. nothing induces more of a sinking feeling in me than ordering a latte and seeing the characteristic greyish tinge of what will inevitably be a bitter yet tasteless brew. this is invariably accompanied by the barista spooning froth onto the top of the drink to imitate the microfoamed texture of correctly-steamed milk. the final insult is to be asked to pay an enormous sum for this junk beverage (i always do, filled with resentment).

if junk coffee (or food, or furniture, or software) is the price of spontaneity and openness to serendipity, sign me up for having the guy behind the counter calibrate his grind several times before pulling my espresso, time my pourover's extraction with a stopwatch, and measure his water temperature with a thermocouple. there is an element of showmanship and ritual here, but also the reasonable expectation that the coffee will, at very least, be made with an attempt at care.

and then, on the other hand, there's patience gray on winemakers:

In Apulia, the cultivation of the olive has always gone hand in hand with the vine. Planted together, the olive trees come into their own forty years later when the vines are in decline. It would be odd indeed to make your own oil without also making your own wine. For this an apprenticeship, not scholarship, is required, which the Sculptor served during the years we spent in the vineyards above Carrara. Everyone agrees that the magnificent wine he makes is better than the neighbours'. There are many reasons for this, one is that nothing is put in it, medicaments I mean. An artist who has taken risks all his life accepts the risk of his wine "going off" and only takes the more care of his barrels. The agriculturalist spoils his wine by "making sure."

from honey from a weed, which is certainly worth a read

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