Mundane observations

It is snowing in Cardiff- are we having April fools day a week late this year?

I tried to keep a window of time clear this year to have time to help out with Sam after his arrival. Since I travel so much of the time, I always tend to enjoy extended interludes at home when I can not only enjoy family time, but also sample some of the pleasures of life in Cardiff, like shopping at the market downtown, sampling some of my favourite restaurants like Café Menuet, or walking in Sophia Gardens. Not all are practical with a newborn, however. Still, I’d much rather buy my dinner from the local butcher and greengrocer than from some huge multi-national corporation-run supermarket, which can be the only option when you’re in a terrible rush all the time.

Along these lines, I recently returned for the first time in a long while to the local coffee roasters in Pontcana. In every other city that I’ve lived in, there has been a coffee house central to the rhythms of my life- Baba Budans in Cincinnati (I actually dreamed about their coffee last night), Café Espresso Royale in Madison (Café Depresso as we used to call it- a classic wear black and read Kafka coffee joint in those days), Stump Town coffee has made my many residencies in Portland all the happier, and then there is the lamented Pendleton Coffee Bean in the hometown of the OES. Sadly, after all these years, I have yet to find such a place in Cardiff, nor have I found a satisfactory local coffee roaster- a terrible irony given that I have the best coffee machine at home I have ever owned.

Anyway, I went back to the local place last week after a dog/baby walk- it’s a beautiful little shop with the roaster on show, run for many years by a local family. Should be perfect, but, sadly, as I remembered, the espresso beans were stale and under-roasted, didn’t generate enough crema and produced a thin, shallow-tasting coffee. It feels like a betrayal of principals to say this, but it was a relief to open a bag of Starbucks espresso beans this morning- when the best you can get is the coffee of corporate power, it’s not a good thing. This reminds me that I need to get to work on my design for the perfect 2nd suitcase- one with a built-in wine case which will hold 12 bottles safely packed in coffee beans…. The UK has alot going for it, but it is not a good place to be thirsty compared to the Pacific Northwest.Speaking of getting it wrong…..

I’ve been trying to get thank you notes out to everyone who has sent a card or note since Sam’s arrival. If we’ve failed, you must remember, we’re not firing on all cylinders yet. Fortunately, we’re not the only ones- there are the friends of Suzanne’s family who were at our wedding who sent us a very sweet card to “Susan and Norman- congratulations on the birth of your beautiful daughter.” No, that wasn’t received on April Fool’s Day.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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4 comments on “Mundane observations”

  1. ComposerBastard

    Can’t stand Starbucks coffee and I assume other NW varieties aren’t much better. If you never had Peets, you should have a taste. I’m a die hard Peets fan. Learn more about Mr. Peet HERE who recently passed away.

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Well, this is my chance to sound like a grouch- Peets coffee has never done it for me at all. Ick!

    I’m not heralding the merits of SB’s coffee (I’ve seen the bastards try to kill too many lovely cafe’s over the years), but merely pointing out the urgent need for a better coffee roaster in Cardiff, lest we are forced into supporting SB against our better judgement (and at least it is better than Peets).


  3. ComposerBastard

    Sorry you don’t like Peets. I’ve been pulled into other Coffee Bean shops here in town. But can’t tell the difference. Starbuck’s is absolutely too weak for me.

    With respect to Starbucks closing down the locals, I used to have that view. Then I read some SF Chronicle article recently that countered the argument with facts and interviews (cant find it). You would think this would be the case, but it actually drives people to these smaller shops. Customers get tired of the lines and chaos at SB, and flock to the mom and pop shop so they can get their fix and be treated humanely. The smaller shops get better revenue and more customers by the overflow.

    Despite the bad coffee, I dislike SB because of the calorie content they hide from the customer – those cakes and lattes are heart killers. And there are no choices around it.

    Perhaps you can start a small side business there in Cardiff to supplement your tours – “Ken’s Roasted Koffees of Kardiff”?

  4. ComposerBastard

    Speaking to my family Barista at Peets, he carefully reminded me that because they take special care in their roasting, its best practices with Peets to grind it a bit courser than you normally would with other lesser brands. Tried a Costa Rica brand this morning to good results. Their Sumatra and Major D is my usual course. .And rememer, if you dont use a French press to remember to clean your dripper once a month and use filtered water. Of course you could roast your own beans..

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