Shopping for an espresso machine

My steam powered Krups machine died.  It went BOOM, the glass carafe broke, the cat jumped about 3 feet backwards, and the machine never made coffee again.  It lasted maybe 15 years, but not all those years was I a daily coffee drinker.

The internet said my steam powered machine wasn’t really an espresso machine because it produced low pressure steam.  I kind of agree, my drip machine often produced better tasting coffee.  But ignorance was bliss and it made better coffee than Folger’s instant.

I’ve read tons of consumer reviews.  My conclusion is that all espresso machines have limited lives and can fail at any time. So I have to pay attention to the quality of the retailer to make sure they have take backs or service.  And warranties.  And maintenance.  Because the machines submerge parts in water, over time the water will try to destroy your machine.  Machines differentiate themselves based on what strategy they use to resist the water.

I’ve watched a ton of espresso movies posted by ordinary people on youtube. This has got to be a most peculiar variety of movie.  Many of them are video complaints about an espresso machine that broke, the rest are tutorials and show-offs.  There are about 30 factoids you need to absorb to make reasonable espresso. O  r so they say.  Many people are inadvertently showing off the fact that they don’t known the customary recommendations for making espresso.

I’ve learned that espresso machines can take a long time to warm up and can use a lot of electricity, but it a lot for a short time, so it still doesn’t amount to a lot compared to the dryer, electric stove, and heaters.

I’ve learned my blade grinder is probably making my coffee worse.  Blade grinders create chunks and powder, burr grinders create a lot of coffee particles the same size.

I’ve learned that the most common number used to differentiate espresso machines at home goods store is a crock.  All espresso machines, (except mokka and steam) brew at about 8-12 bar, usually the lower of that range.

I’ve learned that espresso machines all have the same design, but vary by parameters.  This is great for the industry, they can serve consumer niches from coffee shops to gourmets to nitwits with too much money.  Now comes the big question: what niche am I in?

Wine Review: Fabbioli Cellars Tre Sorelle

I got this wine by asking if there were any Virginia Organic wine growers.  The shop keeper said that Fabbioli had a reputation for being a responsible grower or possibly near-econoganic.  The Tre Sorelle was very tasty and my cat decided it smelled pretty good.  My favorite red wines are Tempranillo Red wines, so it was nice to find a new wine that tastes good but isn’t a repeat of an old favorite.

I can’t tell if you can save money by buying direct, but you can save money by returning their Raspberry Merlot bottles. Tomorrow I’ll check at the farmers market in Falls Church and see how the prices compare against the website.

DC Locavore, some partial notes

To be a locavore, here are some topics you’d need to research:

Why. Local food is all about sustainability. Civilizations do collapse from time to time and our is not exempt. Our food system is based on petroleum. If that supply of petroleum is interrupted, either by running out or losing a war in the middle east then Iowa and California will stop shipping food like they used to. When I was discussing this with my son, he said, “I don’t want to talk about it–this is scary.” I think that is the crux of the problem when you see people on the internet reacting violently against the local food movement.

While Iowa and California have a comparative advantage at growing animal feed and vegetables respectively– this comparative advantage is unsustainable. But the economy gives consumers only one signal for efficiency and sustainability: price. If given the choice between subscribing to a supply of food that will be initially cheap and then disappear forever and a supply of food that is expensive and last forever it would be false economy to rely on the former. The problem is that price gives us no signals on the sustainability of supply.

Rational humans do care about sustainability–in fact many of the moral arguments for saving and investment are based on sustainability arguments. Hence, it is rational to favor a sustainable food supply over a unsustainable food supply even if it is more expensive.

Geography. Measuring distance is tricky. Personally, I think anything shipped over water (such as shipping wine from Spain to DC), should be considered more local than shipping it over land (such as shipping wine from California to DC). Food on major transit routes should be considered more local than food that is local but has significant geographic barriers (such as mountains or sparse roads). At the very least, one should learn the names of the counties. Food is also normally shipped through hub and spoke shipping centers, so to ship food from say 1 block away from your grocery store to the grocery store, it will still go through a distribution center, possibly hundreds of miles away.

CSA and PYO. That means Community Supported Agriculture and Pick Your Own respectively. CSA gets the transaction costs for farmer’s market food down to an affordable amount. Some of the economies of scale lost by using a local producer are regained by increasing the transaction size. Pick Your Own shifts the labor onto the consumer to make labor intensive products like raspberries affordable.

Comparative efficiency of local goods versus distant ones. If you are living in Murmansk, Russia, growing oranges locally is just as unsustainable as shipping them from around the world. Crops that are local block busters are likely to be efficient, for example peanuts in Virginia.

Cooking. Most people cook about a dozen recipes at most, over and over and over. Changing to a diet that uses local foods means tracking down some new blockbuster recipes that use local foods.

Locally grown vs locally processed. If you are eating locally raised dairy or eggs that ate food that was shipped around the world, how local is that? Processing is where most of the value is added to the raw materials. It isn’t clear where the best place to process something is, we do know that factories are most efficient when they are very big. Since petroleum factories are not all that sustainable, we might as well process foods where ever it is most efficient and prices should accurately reflect that. If it is cheaper to ship coffee from Kenya to New York for processing then ship it to DC, then that is what we should do. Thinking about coffee processed in Virginia is asking the wrong questions. The better question is how to make coffee out of locally grown chicory and tea.

Countries, States, Counties. Hawaiian coffee is no more local than Kenyan, don’t be fooled by the fact that you live in the same country as the former. With distribution centers, food bought at stores probably is all just as local (travelled just as far), for your entire quadrant of North America.

Distant Organic vs Local Organic. Consumers have to send a signal to producers somehow. Just like I wouldn’t want to buy products made with slave labor, I don’t want to buy products that involve factory farms (hyperdense livestock feedlots), GMO (it’s about intellectual property laws more than health risks), and I do want to buy products that involve fair trade, organic production, etc.

Happy Milk

A vegetarians now has a modern challenge of finding milk and eggs that are compatible with an ethical vegetarian philosophy.  The other two common reasons for being a vegetarian– environmental and health impacts.  A vegetarian diet eschews food that requires killing for food, especially sentient beings.  If we are to be ethically consistent, then we should find out how our dairy is being produced:

From an ethical standpoint,

What happens to the excess calves?  What happens to old cows?
What is the quality of life for the cows? Are the in tiny pens or fields?

Do the cows eat their normal diet they would eat were they wild?

From an environmental stand point,

Does it require feeding large amounts of pesticide treated food to the cows?

How much pollution is created in creating and shipping milk?

And from a health standpoint,

What are the scientific facts about rBST?

Milk has always been a tricky product to get from cow to table without bacterial contamination: who performs best– organic, small, medium or large dairies?

Existing Movements
Organic:  This means the cow ate organic food.  The could could have been raised in inhumane conditions or fed grain, which isn’t what makes for healthy happy cows.

rBST Free: This is a very limited filter and means that the cow didn’t get hormones to increase milk production.
Local:  Food shouldn’t be shipped from far away. Often local also means “small farms” and “traditional farming methods” as opposed to factory farming, but not necessarily.

Vegan: This is something of an animal liberation ideology– that animals shouldn’t be part of the human economy.

Family Owned Farm: May mean that the farm is able to take in consideration non-market criteria in choice about production, where as a share holder owned farm is likely to choose inhumane farming techniques as long as it cuts costs, raises output more than any expected losses in sales from customer outrage.
Grass Fed.  Cows don’t like eating grain. It’s bad for their health and makes them get fat rapidly.
The Future
Certified Humane. This program looks new. At the store I’ve only seen certified humane eggs, nothing for milk yet.

Wine According to MS Excel

A bottle of wine has 750 mL.  In medical studies, a drink equals 4 ounces of wine or 1/2 measuring cup or 118 milliliters, so there are a bit over 6 drinks in a bottle of wine.  This works out to being just about the number of days a bottle of wine is supposed to last unrefrigerated.

This probably could be further complicated by the fact that different wines have different amounts of alcohol in them.

Wine: Australian Pinot Noir

This has already been written about elsewhere and elsewhere.

The first glasses were better than the last.  It takes me about two or so weeks to finish a bottle of wine.  I got this one from my family in Ohio.

Pros
It did taste like red wine.
It uses a fake cork.

Cons
It didn’t taste like tempranillo, not that I expected it to. 

I recommend this wine with spicy vegetarian hot wings.

In comparison to the $20 Bordeaux I took to the book club, this wine had some weird chemicals in it, where the Bordeaux didn’t.

Advice to me.
I wine needs to be good enough to incite me to drink a glass a day or it will get too old like this one.  The wisdom of the crowds says wine lasts only about a week after it is open, maybe less. Some common rules of thumb for open wine: 2 days, 7 days unrefrigerated.  30 days refrigerated.  Longer for white.  Don’t forget you’ll need to warm up a red wine before drinking it.

The Coffee Maker: A Critique

My Krupp’s espresso coffee maker has been working for about 15 years.  After ragnarök, all that will be left in my apartment will be cockroaches drinking coffee from my Krupp’s espresso machine.

Electricity. Someone somewhere did a review of environmentally friendly coffee machines.  Outside of the cold coffee and cold coffee devices, coffee machines mostly use the same amount of energy– they all need to boil water.  Coffee machines do fail in the area of knowing when to turn themselves off.  A coffee machine should know it should be off in five minutes no matter what, preferably off as soon as the water reservoir is empty and certainly not be allowed to be on all night.  A coffee machine should not let itself be turned on without any water at all in the reservoir.  Both of these catastrophic wastes of electricity have happened to me before with this machine.

And my drip coffee machines at the office that has a hot plate could use some intelligence, too.  They should be off when the coffee pot is empty and no hot plate should keep coffee warm more than one or two hours.  In the future, I prognosticate, coffee machines without the sensors and programmable controllers will become false economy. 

Coffee Waste.  The energy savings from cleverly designed water boilers is nothing compared to the amount of energy the entire economy saves by reducing the amount of wasted coffee.  Getting the ratios of coffee to water should be something that happens by default, not something that happens after reading the instructions.  For example, a 10 cup pot coffee usually comes with a bag of coffee that recommends x scoops per y cups of coffee.  Again, leaving out the programmable controls and sensors, we tend to waste coffee by making too much, making coffee too weak and pitching it, making too strong coffee, diluting it and having to reheat it again.

Cardamom.  Another thing, my coffee machine can’t deal with ground cardamom mixed with the grounds. Some of the best coffee to be had is ground coffee with ground cardamom pods.  The cardamom jams the metal bin’s holes and causes steam to start escaping from the wrong end of the espresso machine. This also has the interesting implication that cardamom coffee can turn my espresso machine into a water pressure bomb, if I can tighten the lid tight enough.

Vegetarianism: Animal Welfare and Happy Meat

[This post was inspired by someone mad at Katzen, a cookbook author, who used to be vegetarian but switched to eating Organic Meat, aka happy meat.]

There are three main arguments in favor of a vegetarian diet. Two arguments for vegetarianism and veganism are unrelated to animal welfare: environmental concerns and health.

The third is mighty complex. Killing sentient beings is unethical. But so is cruelty and inhumanity, if only for the brutal state of mind it evokes in those who practice it.

On an ethical basis, vegetarianism rules out food derived from killing animals. This leaves edge cases such as insects, animals that die of old age or other natural causes, and products that don’t require the immediate death of an animal, such as honey, milk, eggs.

Except for Jains who favor not killing anything, insects are little sympathy, especially termites, mosquitos, flies, and other pests. Viruses, yeast and bacteria, likewise, are generally considered insentient, and fair game for breakfast.

Milk on the other hand, has evolved into factory farming. The cattle industry in the US is not like the one in India, where cows are sacred and generally not killed at all. The economics of milk encourage farmers to be inhumane to the cows and to kill the extra calves. An ethical vegetarian can’t leave these issues alone.

The story is similar for chickens. In egg production, old chickens, roosters are extra and will likely be killed, again, economics encourages farmers to overcrowd chickens and raise them in appalling food factory conditions.

There is also a few more edge cases relevant for vegans. The farming of nuts, a vegetarian and vegan staple, usually involves shooting, trapping and killing squirrels, chipmunks. O-L-P vegetarians who do mind killing highly evolved an intelligent mammals, but don’t mind eating fish, also have to remember that net caught fish often entails the death of bycatch, which can include dolphins, porpoises, turtles and other marine life at least as evolved an sentient as their landbased counterparts.

What can be done?

Organic Milk and Eggs. The Organic label doesn’t necessarily require humane farming, but often as a side effect, organic milk comes from cows raised in more humane conditions, where they are more likely to be in a field instead of a factory.

Organic Meat.

If anything, the state of farm animal welfare has gone backwards in the last 200 years. The pragmatic vegetarian should be encouraging their non-vegetarian friends to switch to fish, beef, chicken, and pork that puts animal welfare and the environment first. No one is served by the hog farms that turn entire counties into stinking cess pools, no one is served by gratuitous cruelty to animals, slow & painful deaths, no one is served by fishing stocks until the fisheries collapse. Vegetarians, who are often the most interested party in animal welfare, need to be engaged in the discussion on happy meat and not attack it as a rationalization for back sliding vegetarians or as a sign of insincerity.

If vegetarians exit the discussion on happy meat, the condition of farm animals will continue to deteriorate, even if vegetarian movement in the US could double or triple in size, which is rather unlikely.

Can’t we all get along?

Vegans, I supposes, could and maybe do begrudge the vegetarians their milk, eggs and honey. However, vegetarians begrudging the omnivores organic or happy meat helps factory farmers much more than the vegetarian movement. Without a happy meat movement, there is no economic pressure on the farm industry do do anything but to make the extraction of calories from animals more cost effective, regardless to pain, cruelty and inhumanity.

to be continued….