Woz: Why Robots Will Never Make Coffee

Woz: Why Robots Will Never Make Coffee

What’s not to love about Steve Wozniak? Think of the steps that a human being has to do to make a cup of coffee and you have covered basically 10, 20 years of your lifetime just to learn it. So for a computer to do it the same way, it has to go through the same learning, walking to a house using some kind of optical with a vision system, stepping around and opening the door properly, going down the wrong way, going back, finding the kitchen, detecting what might be a coffee machine. You can’t program these things, you have to learn it, and you have to watch how other people make coffee. … This is a kind of logic that the human brain does just to make a cup of coffee. We will never ever have artificial intelligence. Your pet, for example, your pet is smarter than any computer. — Steve Wozniak I have no doubt that robots *can* make coffee. I’m certain there are coffee-making robots in Japan right now. But I’m pretty confident that they’ll never consistently make, say, a really good cappuccino. There’s just too many variables at play. Now, however, thanks to Woz I hold out some hope I can teach my dog to make a decent cappa. Right after I can teach her that my socks really aren’t chew...
Coffee Notes from All Over

Coffee Notes from All Over

I resolve to stop collecting coffee memorabilia. ‘Cause the repercussions are daunting — Barbara and Lowell Shindler’s coffee cup runneth over. The couple, who have a coffee-distributing business, have turned the basement of their Roslyn home into something of a coffee museum that’s filled to the brim with java-related items: antique bins, clocks, artwork, shoehorns and more than 2,500 pre-1960 coffee cans adorned with everything from a picture of Benjamin Franklin to jungle animals, all arranged alphabetically on shelves. Shoehorns? Excuse me… but is your cup glowing? A spiffy temperature sensitive addition to a plain ‘ol plastic lid may make your to-go cup a little bit safer. The lid looks like a regular plastic lid, like the ones placed on top of to-go cups at the coffee shop. It’s normally dark brown. But if the coffee or tea inside is hot, the top portion turns bright red. The red will fade to brown as the beverage cools down, so people who’ve used the lid a couple of times will presumably learn what stage of coloration indicates their preferred temperature. And so the unstoppable engine of technology has made hot lips history. Sorry Margaret. This just in! If I see just one more “wacky news” feature about Kopi Lewak I think I’m going to go cat shit insane. (Though I have to admit, the civet lolcat is kinda cute.) Finally, if you thought that cold-brewed coffee required fussy gadgets, well… think again.1 Tip o’ the hat to SlashFood....
Coffee Geneology — A Varietal Family Tree

Coffee Geneology — A Varietal Family Tree

…and Typica begat Bourbon; and Bourbon begat Caturra; and Caturra begat Catui and Villa Sarchi (which should not be confused with Saatchi & Saatchi.) And it was good. Well, much of it, anyway. No, it’s not yet another lost book of the Bible. It’s James Hoffman’s budding effort to map coffee’s family tree. Have a look and see if you can figure out where your cup comes from.1 And yes, I worked every bit as hard as you might imagine to *not* use the phrase, “Who’s yo daddy?” in this piece....
Roasted ’til the Bitter End

Roasted ’til the Bitter End

Science Daily reports that chemists have identified those chemical compounds largely responsible for coffee’s bitterness. More, their findings suggest that most of the bitterness is introduced during coffee roasting. “Everybody thinks that caffeine is the main bitter compound in coffee, but that’s definitely not the case,” says study leader Thomas Hofmann, Ph.D., a professor of food chemistry and molecular sensory science at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. Only 15 percent of java’s perceived bitterness is due to caffeine, he estimates, noting that caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee both have similar bitterness qualities. “Roasting is the key factor driving bitter taste in coffee beans. So the stronger you roast the coffee, the more harsh it tends to get…” This isn’t news to anyone who’s roasted coffee that they know to be exceptional, and ended up with something that could grow hair on a wildebeest’s chest. (And yes, that includes me. Er… as the roaster, not the wildebeest.) The bit that leaves me scratching my head, however, is this: “We’ve known for some time that the chlorogenic acid lactones are present in coffee, but their role as a source of bitterness was not known until now,” Hofmann says. I have a number of books on coffee — books that have been popular references for years — that, I believe, speak at some length to the links between chlorogenic acids and bitterness. Maybe I’m missing something here. Or maybe there’s more to come still from the...
iPhones, Black Holes and Stickin’ It to The Man

iPhones, Black Holes and Stickin’ It to The Man

The state of Vermont is a black hole so far as AT&T is concerned… they offer no direct cellular service here, only a roaming agreement through Vermont’s regional carrier, Unicel. Which is neither here nor there, unless you want to buy an iPhone. And then it’s… well, anywhere but here. When Apple revealed early this year that it had inked an exclusive agreement with AT&T for the iPhone’s data service the collective groan from techies and Apple enthusiasts across Vermont was audible… “It was a pretty big letdown,” said Don Mayer, CEO of Small Dog Electronics, an Apple dealer in Waitsfield. “I would have much rather seen them come out with a variety of carriers so places like Vermont won’t be left out in the cold.” ‘Course, there’s always some who want to strike a blow for parity… or just enjoy a fairly nifty gadget: A digital ax is hanging over John Canning’s head these days. Two weeks ago, Canning bought an iPhone, a new gadget from Apple Inc. that combines a cell phone, iPod digital music player, and Internet and e-mail applications. That made Canning something of a risk-taker. The device is tethered exclusively to AT&T Wireless, which offers no service in Vermont and threatens in legal documents and media interviews to terminate the contracts of anyone who buys an iPhone while living here. Curiously, if AT&T should cancel Canning’s contract he would still have a Wi-Fi enabled, widescreen iPod that runs Mac OS. He could continue to surf the web, and download tracks from iTunes and videos from YouTube. He could get Google maps and directions, and...

Shade Grown Coffee — Just How Shady Is It?

All third-party coffee certifications are not equal. I’ve touched upon this idea before, most recently in How Many Labels are Too Many Labels. I think it’s a point that bears repeating, and some critical examination, too. To our good fortune Coffee & Conservation is doing both, by digging deeper into some of those certifications. They’ve recently offered a closer look at two labels that certify shade-grown coffee — Rainforest Alliance, and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s “Bird Friendly” mark — and found that not all shade is equal, either. [T]he criteria having to do with vertical stratification — the number of layers of vegetation and the leaf volume in each — are critical components for preserving a rich mix of species. Many ecological studies support the key role of structural diversity (sometimes referred to technically as floristic heterogeneity) in increased biodiversity — of many types in many ecosystems well beyond the realm of coffee growing. — Coffee & Conservation If that’s a little hard to follow, then the pictures and tables you’ll find at Coffee & Conservation will help. ๐Ÿ˜‰ For more, Intelligentsia’s RoastMaster Gerneral, Geoff Watts, has written a thoroughly accessible piece on the subject. In particular he compares and contrasts shade-grown certifications with Intelligentsia’s own Direct Trade model. Too many of the programs marketed as “solutions” are really just patchwork attempts to fix historical mistakes and seek immediate gratification without trying to rebuild the system from the ground up in a way that can be enduring and self-sustaining. At their worst they involve a lot of moral posturing without providing a great deal of benefit to anyone...
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