EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: specialty coffee

On Leaving San Francisco & Loving Oaxaca

View of San Francisco looking north from  Bernal Heights Park. © 2017 EZdrinking

August 1st, my family and I gave up our rent controlled studio apartment in San Francisco and moved to Oaxaca, Mexico. Given the current housing market in San Francisco, we are well aware that this probably means we will never be able to afford to move back. But, we made our peace with that and embraced the adventure. Two months in we have seen a riot, a four week garbage strike, and two major earthquakes.  That being said, there is a lot to like, even love about Oaxaca.

Moving away from the Bay Area and the only home I've ever known, I expected to be somewhat homesick and pine for all that San Francisco has to offer. But after some time to reflect, I can honestly say there are not many things that I miss about San Francisco. While I have yet to find a substitute for the perfectly portioned cappuccinos from Ritual and Four Barrel, much of the food and cocktail culture that makes the City an exciting place to live was quickly moving out of economic reach for us.

That being said, the thing I miss the most about San Francisco are the people. My my work, our church, and our neighborhood allowed my wife and I to create a fantastic and supportive community that continued to grow and expand. One of the things that I like most about San Francisco is the opportunity the City provides for networking within your field and the ability to meet people from very different walks of life. I could walk into any number of bars or cafes in my neighborhood and meet tech entrepreneurs or an electrician, Chinese immigrants or gay transplants from Georgia. But, despite our fantastic community and all that the we love about the City, the mundane activities of buying groceries, paying for healthcare and childcare were beginning to take a financial toll. 

Through a series of conversations with friends and family, we decided to move to Oaxaca, Mexico for a 6 month trial period. One of the great advantages of living here is the reduced cost of living. And, after being here for a couple of months I was able to realize the emotional strain the financial stress of San Francisco had caused. I now feel much more at ease which has made it easier to deal with a new cultural as well as the difficulty associated with living outside Oaxaca City without a car.

Oaxaca has a very strong sense of pride in its culinary contributions to Mexico and the rest of the world. Coffee, chocolate, mole, mezcal, and new to me, the rich and creamy chocolaty drink called tejate. In addition to enjoying this rich culinary tradition, Oaxaca City and the surrounding areas are large enough to be a thriving metropolis with lots of interesting events, and small enough that lots of people know each other within a given field making it somewhat easier to network.

Oaxaca is a vibrant, bustling, fun and at times chaotic, and confusing place to live. Most people we have met love our kids and have been very warm towards us, which has made living here much easier. Here we can afford to put our oldest son in preschool which has been great for him. And, like San Francisco, the best part of Oaxaca has definitely been the people and their willingness to welcome us and share their rich lives full of family, food, drinks and history. These new relationships have allowed me to deepen my knowledge of mezcal and Oaxacan coffee but, more on that later. 

View from our back patio in Huayapam, Oaxaca, Mexico. © 2017 EZdrinking

Review: Left Coast Roast

Hanna Neuschwander, Left Coast Roast: A Guide to the Best Coffee and Roasters from San Francisco to Seattle, ( Portland: Timber Press, 2012), 296 pages, $16.95

Hanna Neuschwander is the managing editor of Democracy & Education a scholarly journal published by the Lewis & Clack Graduate School of Education and Counseling, where she is also their Director of Communication. Outside of education, Neuschwander is incredibly passionate about coffee; she has judged a number of barista competitions and written about coffee for Travel + Leisure, Portland Monthly, Edible Seattle, Roast Magazine, and the Oregonian. Neuschwander first learned her love for coffee working as a barista at Extracto Coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon.

Left Coast Roast is a great introductory book for any burgeoning specialty coffee enthusiasts. In her introduction, Neuschwander outlines the history of the economic and culinary revolution that is transforming coffee from an unsophisticated food commodity into a refined beverage full of complexity and subtle nuance. The next seventy pages of her “coffee primer” is a crash course in where great coffee comes from and how it is made. Neuschwander explains the common lingo used to describe the cultivation, processing and consumption of coffee such as “shade-grown,” “pulped-natural,” and “cupping.” From there she summarizes the general flavor differences found in coffees grown in a variety of African, Asian, Central and South American countries.

Throughout her “coffee primer,” Neuschwander emphasizes how delicate coffee is and the potential pitfalls it faces at each step in its journey from the field to the cup. Coffee can only release its full potential when it is roasted and brewed with precision. Neuschwander also succinctly describes the dramatic impact roasting has on the myriad flavors coffee can express. She concludes this opening section with instructions on how to roast and brew a superb cup of coffee at home. Roasting and brewing at home allows the reader to experience the nuanced changes in flavor and aroma that can take place by changing one aspect of how the coffee is prepared.

After this introduction, Neuschwander dives into the heart of the book, a detailed examination of coffee roasters on the West Coast. California, Oregon, and Washington each get their own chapter which is organized by cities with the most roasters, and roaster are listed alphabetically within their city. Left Coast Roast is not meant to be an exhaustive reference, but a collection of some of the best, most well known, and infamous West Coast coffee roaster.

Besides being a great introduction to specialty coffee roasters, the book has helped me discover some great coffee roasters. Living in San Francisco's Mission District, I was familiar with Ritual, Four Barrel, and Blue Bottle but Left Coast Roast helped me find some great coffee coming out of North Beach and other parts of the Bay Area. The book was also very helpful during my last visit to the Pacific Northwest. I was able plot out the coffee roasters I wanted to visit while I was on a work trip to Seattle. While I wasn't crazy about every single cup I tried, a closer read of each entry would have helped me zero in on the few shops I liked the most. And while one of my new favorite North Beach roasters wasn't included in the book, I will continue to use Left Coast Roast as my starting point as I continue to explore the West Coast coffee scene.

My beverage biases

I want to acknowledge upfront that the tastings of spirits, beer, wine and coffee that I write about will be skewed by my own judgments and biases about different beverages. Like anyone else, these judgments and biases are formed out out my own life experiences and the physical limits of my ability to taste and smell. For example, I tend to enjoy drinking rye based whiskeys over wheated whiskeys, or I tend to like coffee made from lightly roasted beans more than dark roasted coffee. While drink writers very rarely write about their own biases, my hope is that by reflecting on them from time to time I may be able to improve my ability to think objectively about what I'm drinking and allow the reader to think critically about my or any other drink writer's work.

One of the primary judgments I make about beverages is that, if it isn't good on its own it's not worth drinking. While I do enjoy a good cocktail or cappuccino from time to time my first instinct is to drink the spirit or coffee on its own without adulteration. Which often means, given the choice between drinking something with a poor tasting base, gussied up to become palatable, and water, I'll chose water. One caveat to this is that, during graduate school I became willing to drink bad coffee with cream and or sugar, simply as a caffeine delivery device.

 My Coffee Conversion

Up until 2009 I was pretty sure that I would never be a coffee drinker.  All my experiences up to that point had left me wondering why people were so enamored with a drink that was thin, unpleasantly bitter, tasted like blackened toast and for many required cream and sugar to make it palatable.  Then one day that all changed.  I was helping a friend do some construction on a space he hoped to turn into a coffee shop.  A couple of times he offered me a coffee and I declined because I thought I didn't like coffee.  While taking a break, one of the investors convinced me to try the iced coffee because it was one of her favorites.  At the first sip I knew my life and my self-conception as a non-coffee drinker would be forever changed.  The iced coffee was refreshing, bright, flavorful completely lacking in bitterness and slightly sweet even though it had no added sugar.  When I asked my friend why it was so good he told me it was from two primary reasons. First, he use a lightly roasted coffee from Ritual Roasters in San Francisco, which allowed the bright fruity flavors of the coffee to shine through.  Second, he used a cold brewing method that extracted the flavors from the beans without the bitterness.  Since then I have become a huge fan of people refer to as third wave, or specialty coffee.

IN THE BEGINNING...

Growing up, my first exposure to people drinking alcohol was with my family in the context of a meal. Whether it was an aperitif before the meal, wine with dinner, or a snifter of finely aged spirits afterwards, alcohol was enjoyed in moderation and for what it added to the dining experience. I am certain that this early experience has helped shaped my own attitudes and practices around alcohol consumption. While I had some knowledge of wine and beer, once I was legally able to buy alcohol I wanted to figure out what kinds of distilled spirits people my own age were drinking. Spirits were at that time an undiscovered country with a bewildering number of options. I naively thought that people who drank spirits did so because they liked the way they tasted. What I discovered, was a lot of young people drinking for the effect and adding juices or other flavorings to mask the taste of the alcohol. To me this did not make a lot of sense.

The first alcoholic beverage I really enjoyed drinking, was a glass of Macallan's 12 years old Single Malt Scotch. It was an amazing sensory experience that captivated my imagination and my intellect. I began comparing it to the small number of other whiskies I had tasted and a question began to stir in my mind: Why did this whisky surpass all the others I had tried up to this point? This question compelled me to learn more; specifically why that glass of Scotch tasted the way it did, and generally about how Scotch was made.  Since then the question, “what makes a drink stand out from the rest?” has fueled my passion for spirits, sustained my interest in craft beer and has piqued my interest in wine, and specialty coffee.