It’s been three weeks since I was invited to brunch at the Cavalier in downtown San Francisco, hosted by Tablehopper Marcia Gagliardi and the Food Should Taste Good (FSTG) snack food brand. It’s never too late to write about great food, right?
The brunch was part of FSTG’s national promotional tour that’s been challenging star chefs, like the Cavalier’s Jennifer Puccio, to make inventive dishes featuring FSTG’s products. Obligatory disclaimer! The brunch was entirely free. The invitees were a fun mix of new media types in a variety of industries, and we were thrilled to be ushered into a reception in Marianne’s Room, a speakeasy-style nook concealed from the restaurant proper and full of lush red furniture and saturation-drenched artwork.
As we mingled, Bloody Marys and Pimm’s Cups flowed.
Our expectations rose with our hunger; the Cavalier was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant award last year, after all. Light appetizers included FSTG peppercorn crackers topped with deviled egg salad, provolone, and pickled jalapeno and FSTG’s “the works” chips with smoked salmon, avocado, spices, and sprouts.
Both provided an appeasing nibble before the much heavier—and mouth-watering-delicious—roasted garlic and cheddar fondue appeared.
The fondue was served with FSTG sweet potato kettle chips. While great on their own, the chips weren’t really large enough to hold up to fondue dipping. But that didn’t stop us from making messy attempts to scoop it all out anyhow. Hot cheese! Must eat hot cheese!
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The America’s Best Espresso Competition at the Atlanta Coffee Fest
The crowd watches Bout #1 on Saturday, 2/7.
One of the fastest-moving events at a Coffee Fest is the Best Espresso Competition. I’m not just saying that because an integral part of the espresso-making process is using intense water pressure to extract a shot of espresso in around 30 seconds, give or take 10 of them. I’m saying it because the baristas competing in this event do a lot more than simply press a lever and a button. Rather, they work their way through all the major steps of pulling a shot with precision and intent. Those steps?
- Selecting the beans for their espresso. Arguably, this is the most important part of their preparation, and ultimately, they compete as the coffee roasting company, not as an individual. But you can bet these professionals have sampled and combined multiple types of beans ahead of time to find what they think will make a unique, memorable blend that will impress the judges.
I should note here that the judges and competitors tend to be Third Wave coffee aficionados, meaning that the traditional Italian roasts most associated with espresso by consumers, especially in Europe, are not what you’re likely to find at a Best Espresso Competition—or at least not at the bouts I saw. Instead, Third Wave fans prefer single-sourced, often washed, lightly roasted beans and blends as such processing leaves more of the beans’ unique flavor profiles intact. I spoke with Head Judge Cortney Kern of Barista Maniac, however, and he assured me that “sometimes a darker roast will come into the element—you’ll notice what it is visually and by smell. But most [competitors] do use a specialty light roast.”
Judge Cortney shares his rankings.
Let’s continue with the other steps in a Best Espresso Competition!
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Everything that goes into a David Rio Chai.
You can find fast-paced, ongoing barista competitions in any corner of a Coffee Fest show, but at their heart, these events are trade shows. And I had far more fun than expected discovering up-and-coming products among the many established brands. This isn’t a list featuring my favorite coffee beans from the weekend—that would be expected. Rather, it’s a list of my favorite unexpected finds, all products I hope may be appearing at a coffee shop near me soon.
1. The Airflow Cooling Lid
Founder Akiva Shapiro with his prototype.
This lid is designed to deal with a very important problem of coffee consumption: how to cool down coffee with a lid on! I understand that many of you enjoy super-hot coffee, but I prefer mine only a few notches above lukewarm. And while taking off a lid does create a beautiful steam show, it’s not very convenient in many circumstances, especially if the liquid threatens to spill over.
Apparently I’m not alone in that concern, because Akiva Shapiro has invented the Airflow Cooling Lid to solve the problem! With its double-hole design, you can blow through one end to cool down your coffee, and hot air will exit out of the back hole.
Up-close with the Airflow Cooling Lid.
This product is still in the prototype stage and seeking investors, so I avidly await the day it’ll be mass-produced.
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