Coffee and craft

Julian Baggini writes in a thoughtful essay that high-end restaurants in the United Kingdom have thrown out the idea of “artisan” espresso and bought Nespresso machines, which use factory-sealed capsules of precision-ground coffee and can be operated with the push of a button. In fact, as Baggini discovered in a blind taste test, Nespresso is consistently better, or at least more consistently good, than “artisan” espresso made by hand. But, he asks, is a cup of coffee just a cup of coffee — just the momentary pleasure it gives us, a mere utilitarian instrument? Or is it something more — the sum of its relationships to other things? Continue reading “Coffee and craft”

The idea of a sandwich

A couple of weeks ago I spent the morning with the family at an art museum, and we wanted to stay past lunchtime, so we decided to grab a sandwich at a temporary café they had opened. “Temporary café” is a phrase that makes me nervous. I tried to size the place up. There were some upscale things on the menu that cost more than I wanted to spend. On the flip side, I suspected that anything potentially greasy was likely to be severely greasy, perhaps disastrously so. The only vegetarian option I could see was a kids’ PB&J. So I ordered what looked safe, a turkey and brie sandwich.

Which the guy promptly handed me from a refrigerator case.

The turkey was at least recognizable as roasted turkey. The bread appeared on sight to be some sort of foccacia-like thing, but refrigerated it was just bland and chewy. The brie had no flavor whatsoever. Even good brie served cold is pretty bland; cheaper stuff straight from the fridge might as well be cream cheese or commodity baby Swiss. To make matters worse, the architect of this sandwich had determined curry mayonnaise and chutney to be the appropriate accoutrements. Had the sandwich been toasted, the brie gooey and aromatic, the condiments might have set off the strong flavor of the cheese.. Cold, I couldn’t taste anything but curry. Cold, chewy curry.

The sandwich was, in short, a waste of cheese, bread, meat, and money, all because somebody stuck it in the refrigerator for a few hours. Did I mention this sandwich set me back nine bucks? Did I mention we were a captive audience?

My first impulse at times like this is to gripe about attention to detail. For want of a nail, etc.. They made other sandwiches to order (including a Reuben); why not this one? Why not make the little extra effort to do it right? Or else serve me a decent plate of beans and rice, with which I’d have been perfectly happy.

On reflection, though, I hadn’t paid nine dollars for a sandwich. I paid nine dollars for the idea of a sandwich. Continue reading “The idea of a sandwich”