New Blends and Coffee Lust

10th July, 2006: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

For some time, I’ve been working on a couple things behind the scenes. Lots of good have come from the exploration, but one thing in particular, a blend currently code-named Westminster, has really captured my heart. 

This is the first “full” style English blend that I’ve done that tastes as good to me on a miserable, hot, steamy day like today as it does in what some consider to be inclement weather. (Personally, I love Latakia blends when it’s cool and damp, and generally smoke lighter blends or virginias when it’s hot.) I’m smoking a bowl now, and it’s just rockin’ stuff. The flavour builds, the richness and intensity develop throughout the bowl. It’s not an overtly complex blend, but neither is it uninteresting or monotonous. I’ve been smoking this one for weeks, almost exclusively, and have yet to tire of it. I’ve taken the occasional foray into Fillmore to see how it is developing, puffed the odd bowl of Samarra when I want something a little sweeter, a little lighter, and filled a few pipes with various vintages of London Mixture, just to see how my “version” compares. I pronounce it good. And, it’s quite similar to London Mixture in one way, at least.

In my early days of piping, I had access to all the great blends. Drucquer’s, once my haunt, and more than once my employer, was well stocked, and I got to smoke anything that was there. Of the tinned blends, I zeroed in on London Mixture fairly quickly, deciding that it, above all others, would be the one blend that would truly satisfy me if, in the words of the Highlander, there could be only one. (As silly as I find the dreaded “Deserted Island” games people seem to love to play, this would have been the tobacco I’d have taken with me on a reality TV adventure.)

Later versions of the blend seemed to lose something, though I give Murray’s credit for not emasculating the recipe. Even the last tins of Murray’s that I’ve sampled have had a lot going for them. The recent production by Orlik is, while a fine blend, yet one more deviation from what London Mixture was in its more glorious past, until the bean counters got involved. It has retained some of its flavor, but has lost its depth. Time will be good to it, and I’ve laid away a dozen tins, just in case, but I doubt it will never be the One True London Mixture. My understanding is that the blend will no longer be produced (I’m not positive, but my sources are generally reliable), and once the vast quantity currently in the supply pipeline is exhausted, it’ll disappear forever. Word of the possibility of this happening was what sparked my interest in doing the new blend, so it’s not all bad. From the ashes (dottle?) will rise a new GLPease blend.

So, Westminster, or whatever the hell I’ll ultimately call it, is like the old London Mixture in at least one sense. I find I can smoke it any time of day, in any weather, under any mood, and enjoy it immensely. It’s not ponderous, like Renaissance was. It’s not as palate bruising as Odyssey or Abingdon, the California Cabernets of the range. It’s not as sweet as the Raven, may it rest in peace. It’s full enough to satisfy, without being heavy. The orientals do what they do best, providing a nice richness, while the Latakia is still allowed to strut its smoky, leathery stuff. It’s got a delightful balance, excellent depth, and loads of that “English” character that typified many of the great blends of yesterday. Am I saying it’s a great blend, worthy of comparison to one of the grand and legendary tobaccos of yore? Well, yes. At least to my palate, I suppose I am. Shoot me. I’m loving this stuff. Expect to see it released in the early fall.

But, what about coffee?

As some of my readers may know, I’m an espresso fanatic. To me, there are two kinds of coffee - espresso, and its derivatives, and something that can be a nice beverage, but isn’t REAL coffee. I like a good caffe latte in the morning, a cappuccino after breakfast, and a double espresso any time after the morning has passed.

I drink plenty of regular coffee, too, brewed in the traditional French press. Usually, I drink it black, or sometimes in a café au lait.

On occasion, I’ll pull out the Ibrik to cook up a heady middle-eastern coffee, very sweet, and spiced with cardamom. The grounds must be cooked with the water, brought to a boil three times, and allowed to settle just enough between the boils. It’s delicious stuff, and the ritual is worth the price of admission, but it’s not always what I’m after.

For my daily coffee, I want espresso.

Feeding this habit can be expensive. I’ve been making passable caffe lattes, and half-assed cappuccinos for a while, using stove-heated milk that I froth up with one of those little whirring contrivances. It gets the job done, but it’s not *right*. The bubbles are too coarse, and it lacks the mouth feel of a great steamed milk. I’ve come to understand what so many baristas know; there’s only one way to make steamed milk, and that’s to steam it, allowing the steam tip to surf gently over the rising surface as the foam develops until the frothy, rich mixture of milk and micro-bubbles reaches the perfect temperature and consistency. (It’s important to get it JUST right if you want to engage in the cappuccino art that seems to be rather popular in some coffee houses lately.)

For the caffe part, I use a stove-top espresso maker of the sort typically found in Italian homes. The water steams in the lower compartment, is drive up through the basket, and percolates out into the pitcher as a tasty brew. The thing that’s missing is the wonderful, ephemeral crema that defines a truly exquisite espresso - the so-called God-shot. I can see the crema forming in the pitcher, but by the time the liquor gets to my cup, it’s gone.

So, I’ve been investigating real espresso machines. There are the cheap consumer models that barely deserve to be called coffee makers, let alone espresso machines. The seem to produce a brew that is completely lacking in character. It tastes like coffee, more or less, but nothing at all like espresso. No God-shots here.

The higher-level machines seem to do a good job, but only at a price. There are great machines, it seems, ranging in price from about $450 to over $1000. Too ’spensive for this poor tobacco blender.

But, in my poking about, I’ve learned about the espresso lover’s equivalent to an industrial robot-operated assembly line. These things grind the beans, fill the group head, make the shot, and dump the grounds, ready for the next shot. I SO love gadgets. If the price of gasoline continues to go up, I might sell my car and buy one of these, instead. I can have beans shipped to me, and the grocery store isn’t so far away that I can’t walk. I’ll just sit in my house, blending tobacco, wired on robot made cappuccinos, and puffing away on my new blend.

I’ll have to get a Flowbee for the occasional haircut, and it’ll be the end of having my dress shirts laundered. But, if I never leave the house, I guess hair cuts and dress shirts are a luxury I can live without.

Yep. I’m destined to become another victim of mechanization and the increasingly automated industrial society.