I won't be writing a lot more on coffee, and there's a reason for that.
I've raised my game considerably when it comes to my morning cup: I'm now roasting all my own coffee; I got myself a good burr grinder (the #1 most important purchase if you want good coffee), and I've put together a small "personal library" about coffee and learned an awful lot about it. As with most subjects, it's much more extensive than meets the eye, and much more fascinating than you'd think, once you get into it.
Aye, but here's the rub: I can't be a coffee connoisseur. Why? A very good reason: I can't smell. (I was going to say "I don't smell good," but hey, I shower.) That is, I don't have a good sense of smell.
They say that dogs' sense of smell is ten to 100 times as good as ours, but that they can't taste very well at all. Food is all in the nose for them. It's long been known, anecdotally and scientifically, that for humans, too, the most exquisite and sophisticated appreciation of flavors is a confabulation of taste and smell. Well, I've become convinced that half of the appreciation of coffee, if not more, is in the nose as well. And I just have a very poor sense of smell.
That isn't just the way I was born: I had chronic sinus infections for years, acquired a dependency on nasal spray for a time, and finally had to have an operation on my sinuses in 1988. I've probably had 80 to 100 sinus infections in my life, and used to have to get my sinuses flushed regularly. (Stop me if this is too much information). I breathe clearly, now, finally, but can't smell worth a damn.
The bottom line with coffee is, I can't appreciate the nuances. I like the good stuff, and I can tell the difference between what I like and what I don't, but I'm convinced I'm not getting the whole picture. So I figure I'm just not suited to be a coffee connoisseur. That fits with what I've long known about myself: I like good coffee, but I don't really mind bad coffee all that much. It has to be really bad before I can't drink it.
However, I have discovered that roasting your own is very easy—almost too easy. The roaster I bought is easy to learn and simple to use, although it takes up a significant amount of room and you need a Shop-Vac to clean up with. It's only as big as a large toaster oven or small microwave, but it needs clear space around it when you use it. Cleanup takes 30 seconds if you do it slowly, so don't be put off by that. They say it can be expected to last for 2–3 years of regular use, but green coffee beans cost 1/2 to 2/3 what roasted coffee costs, so I figure, for me, the roaster will pay for itself 1 1/2 to 2 times over before it goes to the big roastery in the sky. If you drink a lot of coffee and have the space, the money savings alone could be reason enough to learn to roast.
And even I can smell the aroma of roasting coffee.
I'm frankly astonished by the Subaru-Toyota sports car that's just been introduced (and that I've been writing about). See if you follow: Subaru's version is called the BRZ, which, among other things, is Serbian for "quick"—or so I've heard; Toyota's version is called the FT-86, but will be sold as the Scion FR-S in North America, Scion being Toyota's budget brand targeted at young people. The two companies' cars are mechanically the same, but have different styling, tires, and options lists, and, more importantly, different suspension setups. Toyota did the styling and contributed some engine technology, but Subaru did the engineering and is building all of them.
Why astonished? Despite being talked about since almost forever, this thing comes completely out of left field. To begin with, it's small, and it's light, at least by today's standards—Ron Kiino in this month's Motor Trend calls it a "Miata coupe," and he's not far off, except that you can't get 200 hp and 150 pound-feet of torque from any known unblown Miata engine. And Mazda no longer sells a blown Miata. Yes, the Subaru-Toyota has a stick shift and the all-important rear-wheel drive, which are getting uncommon, and the engine's just a four-banger, albeit a boxer like in a Porsche. I love four-cylinder engines. Give me one any day, as long as the car it's in suits it.
All business: the BRZ from the helm. Photo courtesy Motor Trend.
Made by Subaru, you did get that? Subaru, which virtually forged its identity on full-time all-wheel-drive cars long before they were so common (remember when AWD vehicles were called "4x4s" and you had to switch manually into four wheel drive whenever you needed it?) And it significantly bucks some some very pervasive trends: the engine (at least for now, as introduced—the enthusiast base is already salivating for the inevitable STI version) is naturally aspirated, when everybody and his uncle is building turbos and putting them in everything (have you heard the one about the Turbo Chevy Sonic? It's true, and is reportedly a great improvement). It's dedicated to handling, in this day of horsepower über alles, when luxury carmakers will drop in engines that are too big even to the detriment of handling. (Mercedes AMG, I am talkin' 'bout you.)
No CVT, no turbo- or supercharger, no cylinder management, no AWD, no keep-up-with-the-Joneses horsepower for guys who are afraid their masculinity will be threatened if they don't cart around a whacking big thirsty engine they never need.
Yeah, it will have sat-nav available and a nanny or two. But it's not loaded down with a bunch of features. For the most part it's just basic, pure, old-fashioned sports car.
If you've been reading me on cameras for any length of time, you know what a breath of fresh air this is to me. I mean, BMW should really be ashamed of itself for not abandoning that old tagline "The ultimate driving machine." (Although it does seem to be gradually replacing it with "Sheer driving pleasure," which is more accurate.) Did you know that there's actually a BWM that has a cabin so well insulated from sound that buyers complain they can't hear the V8 well enough—so BMW actually pipes fake V8 engine noise into the passenger cabin through the stereo system when the car is switched to "sport mode"? I am not making this up. They're nice luxury cars, and I'm not slagging you if you own one, but, really, the days of the "ultimate driving machine" are completely over and gone even at BMW. Everything's market driven and the market is focused on "luxury" to a fault or "economy" in the breach.
And now here comes a pure driving machine, a Miata coupe with the engine Mazda won't give us. And it's been engineered from the ground up. All new. Any idea how uncommon that is, in this day and age? You can count the number of clean-slate cars on your fingers and toes, and if you lop off the one-percenter end of the market you won't need your toes.
It's like a camera coming along that had a 6-MP full-frame sensor, no viewing screen, no JPEG engine, buttons and knobs assignable by loading in third-party apps, and that had a viewfinder like an OM-4T*. And that was made of metal with leather gripping surfaces. The whole photography world would do double-takes. No, triple-takes. We'd all be shaking our heads and wondering, from what alternative universe did that thing come?
That's the BRZ. I can't wait to drive it. This, you will probably hear about from me again.
"Open Mike" is your host going off-topic and astray. Sundays only.
P.S. Here's my coffee library:
Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival by Kenneth Davids. The basics of home roasting. Contains most of the information found in his more basic Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying.
Everything But Espresso: Professional Coffee Brewing Techniques by Scott Rao. The science behind brewing the perfect cup (essential). There's a companion volume for espresso if that's your interest.
The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug by Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer. (You might have to buy this one used!)
Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast. The history of coffee from its mythological origin-story to the advent of Starbucks; some overlap with the title above, but a different focus.
Javatrekker: Dispatches From the World of Fair Trade Coffee by Dean Cycon. On-the-ground view of direct trade and fair trade. Entertaining. Coffee is the world's second most valuable legal commodity, after oil, so the economics of it are important.
There's also a lot of information on the web, of course, although a lot of it is pretty far-flung.
*Don't say B&W-only, Mike. Don't say it. Don't say anything about a square sensor. These things will just make people crazy. Do not make people crazy.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Karl: "To be honest, I'm not crazy about the body styling. After driving one it might well become beautiful, but as I see it now it looks a bit over- styled. The sculpture to it feels a little forced, a bit too much. The line is clean then broken. Just my opinion."
Mike replies: True, its looks are only so-so. But then, the major requirement in terms of appearance is to, let us say, keep the lack of appeal at bay, which they've more or less done. I mean, look at the parentage here: Subaru, whose WRX is one of the strangest of modern designs, to put it politely; and Toyota, whose previous sports car was the MR2. Considering that lineage, it's pretty amazing that the new baby isn't quite a bit...er, less attractive.
Featured Comment by Earl Dunbar: "Oh man, the new OM-D is going to be a sexy OM-4T with a big B&W sensor! Yaaaa hooo!!!"
Mike replies: I know nothing. Unfortunately, I mean that un-ironically.
Featured Comment by JH: "When I read that BMW was using this sound system to pipe in engine noise for the new M5, I collapsed in laughter. When I had a E46 M3 and was a BMW Club Instructor for track days, I cornered the M brand manager at a club gathering and gave him an earful about the car being so quiet. He calmly explained they could not make loud exhausts or engines because of the European laws regarding noise. So I suggested, jokingly, of course, the could at least put the noise through the sound system (which is networked with the engine management system). Oh my god, am I responsible for this travesty?"
Mike replies: Oh, so you're the guy!