Elwood 5566

Seduced by a Guatamalan Beauty

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Food and Drink, podcasts by 노강호 on May 10, 2011

Podcast 81

Finding a decent coffee in Korea is not difficult, but finding one where coffee’s sophistication isn’t assaulted by tasteless music, is. Most of the large coffee franchises and restaurants pump out shite music which has a broad appeal but I don’t particularly want to drink a coffee or eat lunch to the same music I’ve also been forced to listen to in the gym or by those teenagers zig-zagging down the road on their noisy hairdryer-powered mopeds.  I suppose it could be worse; it could be muzak!

Coffee and Bun - calm, intimate and cosy... plus a buttery bun

I used to love a good cup of English tea, preferably Earl Grey though Lady Grey is also a favourite. Tea is one of the most refreshing beverages but I’ve learnt that there is something amiss with tea in Korea as there is something amiss with soju in the UK or Pimm’s No. 1 consumed indoors, in winter. My local Home Plus was selling boxes of Twinning’s Earl Grey last year at the amazing price of 2500 Won (£1.25) for 50 bags. However, whether it was the water or the milk, I could never brew a cup that was decent, let alone one the experience of which was sublime. And now I’ve become a coffee head!

 If you follow the correct procedure you can guarantee a decent coffee with every brew but  the perfect cup of tea is elusive and the method not as quick to reveal the full potential as is coffee. No matter how many cups of coffee I make, or which procedure I follow, every cup is simply okay and certainly coffee’s reliability to produce a good brew is its failing because in the randomness and unpredictability of tea, lies its greatest strength. And no matter how many different types of coffee I sample, they all seem to taste the same which I suppose is a reflection of my ignorance. Teas however, are much more distinct and their flavours and subtleties don’t require learning to be appreciated – and least not if your British.

Almost one hundred and fifty pounds of pot

The perfect ‘cuppa’, worthy of a lengthy, ‘shi-won-hada’ (시원하다) which in this sense approximates, ‘oh, heavenly,’ is dependent upon something beyond the brewing method and even the closest adherence to brewing principles fails to guarantee its attainment. With tea, you accept that while most cups will be good, perfection is elusive. Yesterday, I decided to have an Earl Grey in Mr Big; it was a disappointment, the tea was served in a glass mug and I had to ask for milk. Earl Grey with milk never looks appealing in a glass cup as it is so pale and insipid and though it had a perfumed bouquet, as you would expect, and seemed to contain fresh tea leaves, though  they could just as easily have come from a tea bag,  there was something missing.  So, until I’m back on British shores I guess I’ll have to be content with coffee.

My favourite coffee shop is the ‘Coffee and Bun’ near Migwang and almost directly next to the new football stadium sized coffee shop, (Korea’s most popular), ‘Coffee Bene.’  ‘Coffee and Bun’ is run by a young man who is totally obsessed with coffee and who has almost taken me under his wing as an acolyte. I can no longer venture here without being shown the latest coffee brewing paraphernalia or being asked to compare some beans. I don’t particularly mind, the café has an intimate atmosphere and usually the music is gentle and in the background and certainly has more sophistication than the pop-pap which is universally pumped out. If you thought coffee tasting was simple, let me assure you it is every bit as complex as wine tasting and among connoisseurs is known as ‘coffee cupping.’

coffee paraphernalia

Unlike tea tasting, which is a fairly cheap hobby, coffee cupping can be expensive. Over several sessions Chong-min has paraded his entire range of coffee brewing utensils. Two pots in which boiled water is allowed to cool before pouring, one stainless steel, the other copper, cost 140.000 Won  (£70) and 180.000 Won (£90), respectively. As the water needs to be poured at 195-205 degrees Celsius, a suitable thermometer is needed. Next, he has a collection of 5 coffee drippers in differing designs one of which is made with a fabric, while another, at 50.000 Won (£25) is copper. You would think coffee drippers a fairly standard item but in several of the books from the growing coffee library in a corner of his café, I can research their various designs and their pros and cons. Even the cheapest dripper (5000 Won) is cataloged in his books.    Another glass utensil combines a coffee pot and dripper and the paper filters, almost the size of A4 paper which Chong-min folds with the dexterity of an origami  master, are bought from the USA and cost around 200 Won each.  In my ignorance, I’ve always used a food processor or blender to grind my coffee and now I learn this is vastly inferior to the conical burr grinder which guarantees consistency of grain. ‘Blade grinders’ simply smash the beans about producing an inconsistent ground of both powder and more sandy grains.

and more...

When the water reaches the magical temperature of around 92 degrees Fahrenheit, I am required to drip the water over the grounds in a spiraling motion after which we wait for several minutes. Naturally, we have scrutinised the beans, feeling them, smelling their aroma, assessing their oiliness, observing their colour and the grounds we have sniffed and sifted between fingers. We eagerly wait to sample the brew but as usual, the taste is not much different to the coffee I produce in my cheap coffee press using fairly regular beans smashed up in a blender.

and the buns are delicious

I was beginning to perceive a good cup of coffee, more like an okay cup of coffee and in much the same light as I perceive a glass of Coca Cola, ie, as simply a fizzy drink with no greater potential to satisfy than any other fizzy drink, but the mediocrity of which is inflated beyond the realms of reason. I was beginning to think I’d been hoodwinked into searching for something that did not exist and learning a language, a jargon, that made something out of nothing. That was, until Chong-min presented me a cup of Guatemala (COE – cup of excellence). It wasn’t even brewed by means of his epicurean paraphernalia all of which I was beginning to suspect were the implements of an international coffee conspiracy. Even if I had not been aware of the superiority of this particular coffee, it would have made an impression. It’s announcement lay somewhere between an oral orgasm and a sledge hammer.  I have no idea what was fantastic about it any more than I can really tell you what constitutes that elusive cup of sublime tea. To have deconstructed its superiority with descriptors like, ‘rancid/rotten’ and ‘rubber-like’ would have destroyed the moment. Like tea, once perfection is presented, it’s potential lasts only a few minutes. The ‘moment’ becomes even more appreciated when Chong-min tells me the beans cost  40.000 Won (£20) for 100 grammes. That’s a staggering 8 times the price of the most expensive supermarket coffee where 100 grammes costs around 5000 Won (£2.50). To the ignorant at least, and in the eyes of coffee cupping connoisseurs, I’m ignorant, no descriptor bolsters the taste of coffee more than ‘cost’ and I’m glad I was hit by the oral orgasm before I learned its price because price often has the capacity to turn shit into gold. Monk fish, in Korea for example,  is prolific and cheap but in Britain, where at one time it was a poor man’s substitute for scampi, a massive hitch in price has reinvented it as an exotic, expensive delicacy patronized by the numerous celebrity chefs who entertain the nation while they sit down to TV dinners and food largely the product of factory systems. Monk fish is now the gentry of  the sea, infinitively superior to that former bulwark,  the salmon and vastly more sophisticated than the old scampi it used to mimic.  Nothing inflates taste more, or subjects it to more scrutiny, or provides for it a jargon which only erudition can elicit, than cost.

I am pleased I appreciated the Guatemala (COE) before being made aware of its price and had considered giving up the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee, which in effect really entails the acceptance of my ignorance. Now I can dispense with trying to learn perfection and in this case treat myself to the experience when I feel the need. Sadly, at 40.000 for a 100 grammes, my average weekly consumption, I’ll drastically have to reduce the number of cups I drink.

Coffee and Bun - a minutes walk from Song-So E-Mart.

Find Coffee and Bun on Wikimapia

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


Castrated Cake and Bollockless Beer

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Food and Drink, podcasts by 노강호 on April 1, 2011

podcast 78

Recently, a blogger whose posts I regularly read (The Supplanter), has been condemning Korean cake and ridiculing its ersatz quality (Happy Spam Day). The Supplanter has made similar accusations against Korean beer (cASS and sHITE) but he is not a member of the substantial army of westerners that live here, some of them for decades, who continually berate Korean society. And I have to agree with him; Korean beer is shite and their cake, as scrumptious as it looks, is not much better.

Real beer! Beer with bollocks! From one of the many British micro-breweries.

I’m not much of a beer drink and if anything prefer what we Brits refer to as ‘real ale’ and I was also spoilt by ten years living in Germany where there is a vast range of decent pils-type lager. Korean lager never quite satisfies and drinking it tends to make me yearn for the real thing. Not only is it weak, watery and blatantly bland, but in every sip is the constant reminder of a chemical process and a factory production line.


Korean cake, at least in appearance, is certainly comparable with the fabulous creations of German torte and such delights as Schwarzwälder Kirchetorte, Sachertorte and kaβekuchen. In terms of taste however, you can expect a tragic disappointment.

German torten

Several weeks ago, I had a coffee in one of the numerous Sleepless in Seattle cafés to be found around Song-So, in Daegu. Having learnt not to coax disappointment, I rarely buy anything other than a coffee bun but when I noticed Camembert cheesecake on the menu, I couldn’t resist. Quite a strange concoction, Camembert, chocolate and cream, I thought, especially if you’ve experienced the almost putrefied, overripe Camembert which exudes the slightly pungent pong of ammonia. And Camembert in Korea is also strange as decent cheese is one of the hardest products to buy. I had heard that certain cheeses could not be imported because there were restrictions on foods with certain bacteriological properties.  Then there is the theory that Koreans, like the Chinese, haven’t developed a taste for cheese  or many other milk products as the climate and pastures for rearing cattle don’t exist as they do, for example, in Europe. Korean cheeses are usually always mild, stretchy and in terms of cheese, totally synthetic.

the Vienese Sacher torte

Well, the Camembert was quite delicious and there certainly was a tinge of Camembert flavour; present but not pronounced and as distant almost as Europe itself. The combination worked but the cheesecake was really just mildly cheesy syntho-cream.  And then, last week, when I had some spare cash in my pocket, I noticed a complete Camembert cheesecake sitting in a Paris Baguette bakery. It was certainly very vocal and for a good ten minutes I stood outside the shop deliberating whether or not to buy it and apart from the calories with which I knew it would be loaded, I don’t usually spend 16.000 Won (£8) on a cake. Well, it was Friday and my boss had given me a bonus, so I bought it!

Camembert cheese

However, my reasoning wasn’t purely gluttonous as I’d hoped to salvage the reputation of Korean cake after reading the Supplanter’s condemnation. I was going to pen a response basically agreeing with his observations but  forwarding the Camembert cheesecake as an exception and as soon as I got home took a few photos to help secure my intended argument.

Looks fantastic!

Korean bakeries are certainly adept at creating visual feasts and cakes covered in cream, chocolate and fruit, in a fascinating and artistically inspired range of designs, mesmerize and tempt the viewer. Unfortunately, visual creativity far outweighs culinary inspiration and innovation. My beautiful cheesecake, which looked like an entire mould encrusted round of Camembert, was nothing other than a boring sponge with a lick of creamy substance providing the filling and a thin painting of Camembert forming the facade, and a facade was exactly what it was! As far as sponge cake went it was delicious but cheesecake – it was not!

exposed as a sponge centered fraud

a real Camembert cheesecake – not sponge, not aerated cream, but Camembert!

I have now come to the conclusion there is more value and taste in a humble coffee bun than the entire gamut of glamorous gateaux where a thin wall of creamless-cream, coffeeless-coffee and chocolateless-chocolate hide a either a basic sponge cake or simply more aerated syntho-cream.

The simple coffee bun, nothing more, nothing less

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Chemo-Concoction Coffee

Posted in Comparative by 노강호 on June 16, 2010

Coffee galore! In plastic cartons.

The kimchi is great but what the fuck have you done to the coffee? As much as I love Korea their coffee is generally crap!  I remember being in E-Marte ten years ago when a working coffee filter machine was on display, it attracted a small crowd. ‘Coffee’ shops at the time were in their infancy and I can remember paying around 4000 Won (£2) for a pretty poor cup. Buying coffee beans or ground coffee was difficult. Today there are coffee shops on every street corner and while their individual atmospheres and ambiances are amazing, the coffee served has usually been castrated. I like my coffee  barbaric and with balls! I like it thumping my system first thing in the morning and I like a strong taste and aroma. There is more coffee sediment in the dregs of my one-room coffee cup than in any coffee you will drink in a Korean coffee shop and have you noticed that cafes rarely even smell of coffee!

Bottled coffee

Recently, I was eating in one of my favourite western style restaurants, New York, New York; you’d be tempted to think they might make a decent coffee, coffee that can put hairs on your chest but an association, however tenacious with the USA, is no guarantee; the most disgusting coffee ever is that muck served in McDonalds, and I don’t particularly rate Starbucks but then the USA has always excelled at reinventing the cultural achievements of other nations and in the process both destroying them and creating some abortion which subsequently becomes a defining icon of US culture. Hershey’s pseudo chocolate, American mustard, hamburgers, hot dog sausages are all abominations recreated for a largely undiscerning population in whose tracks most other nations follow.   The hamburger was a respectable food item until the USA assaulted it and much the same can be said of  Hollywood’s rape of Charles Dickens, Wells, Wyndham and Golding.  There should be a law forbidding  the USA from cultural rape. Yes, they have definitely produced some awesome assets, weaponry for one, but cynicism aside, the Simpsons, Science Fiction,  Copland and a string of great authors etc,  provide the US with enough credibility without having to recreate the rest of the world in its image.

Castrated coffee -there's something in the bag but it ain't balls!

My New York, New York coffee was served as ‘serbis-a,’ which in Korean means it’s a loyalty perk for which you aren’t billed.  Being a regular customer along with my boss and friends, the coffee is generally ‘on the house’ which passifies me as I’d hate to pay for it. Neither is it cheap  and  costing about the same price per bag or cup as it does in the UK, makes it an expensive item. It was insipid and  looking into the mildly tainted water, I could see the bottom of the mug. I doubt it contained more than a few beans worth of coffee probably dipped in it at that. More disturbing is the fact I find it palatable, even pleasant. The dumbing-down of humanity on a global level is largely facilitated by sweeping aside all forms of discernment.  The most successful market is one where consumers seek pleasure in shit, shit at every level. The perfect  economy would be one where  consumers brains and mouths are simply plugged into a sewer system and  subsequently billed for both consuming  shit and expelling it.  You know discernment is disappearing when you hear  kids praise fast food as ‘delicious,’ or claim books are boring, (ie their own imaginations are boring),  when it is assumed the opposite of ‘fast food’ is ‘slow food,’ or hear people argue about pop music versus classical music. It’s for this reason I don’t want to enjoy that pseudo coffee as it’s only a step away from being plumbed into a sewer society where everything shit is superior.

I wouldn’t mind the billion other ‘coffee’ products available in Korea if I could actually enjoy a real coffee but, if you don’t approach these beverages with expectations, and that’s the disturbing part,  they fulfill the role of most hot or cold drinks.  Not including cafe coffee,  coffee flavoured beverages appear as instant powders in plastic cups, ready-made in bottles, cans, cartons and plastic cups.  Most of the coffee probably contains no more coffee than the banana milk contains banana, but they are quite pleasant. However, some of the bottled and canned versions are revolting. Maxim  Espresso T.O.P, ‘Master Blend,‘ has neither the slightest aroma of coffee or is reminiscent of an espresso. Cantata,  ‘black, with a hint of sweetness,’ is rank, pure polyphenol in your face and ironically, named after Bach’s Coffee Cantata, Bwv 211, which highlighted the problem of coffee addiction in 18th century, Leipzig, would be enough to terminate any such association. Considering the rather stylish Cantata advert from several years ago, I can’t belief this horrid drink is the advertised product!

Instant coffee in plastic cups

Cafe coffee is much better though I have never really had a cup that ‘kicks.’ If I find a coffee insipid I’ll generally add sugar and if I know it’s going to be such I’ll order a fancified one, with milk or laced with some kind of syrup supplement – hazelnut, vanilla or caramel and usually topped in cream which is decorated with a pretty pattern. It’s all a facade to detract you from the fact it’s pretty coffee-less but having a sweet tooth I find these types of drink, basically hot milkshakes, closer to sweets (desserts) than actual coffee.

Minimal coffee - maximum pretty

Coffee at its worst!.

If you want a partially decent coffee in Korea you have to buy whole beans, avoiding ones drenched in essences, and grind them yourself. Even then there is something missing but it’s minimal enough to fade within a few months taking you one step closer to enjoying chemo-concoctions.

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