Thursday, September 23, 2010

Liquid Connoisseurship: Wine and Coffee in East Austin

I don't know if it's a part of being settled or more about the lifestyle choices I make, but since moving to Austin I've been exposed to "connoisseurship" of many different sorts. And I like it. It's as I tweeted a few days back:

"Just put in a millwork order with Somehow that feels special."

Why is it special? It feels more "human," I guess. The idea of individuals performing the act of creation. Apprenticeship. I can picture someone at Austin Lumber milling each board and focusing intently on what they're doing. Touched by human hands, rather than a Home Depot forklift.

Modern movements have been built around this principle. Slow food. Slow living. And of course slow travel. Which maybe is what I'm doing here, just a prolonged pit stop in the greater journey. Experimenting with place.

From the website
One place in Austin I visit a lot is called East End Wines. It's located in the little pocket of coolness that's blooming where Rosewood splits off from E. 11th (the shop is actually in a restored 1890s Victorian home right at that intersection, 1209 Rosewood Ave).

It's owned and managed by Matt Miller, who's worked hard to "bridge the gap between 'geeky wine-snob land' and everyday enthusiast." He's succeeded. My first time in the store, he brushed aside my anxious admissions that "I didn't know much" about wine and that "I probably couldn't afford any really good stuff." I've felt pretty comfortable there ever since. Plus, the purchase records he keeps for me have shown that my tastes trend towards "New World varietals" (makes sense, as I first really got into the stuff down in Mendoza).

The buyer at East End is Sam Hovland. I suspect he has a photographic memory, because he can quote vineyard stats and nose, flavor, and finish tones of most bottles in the shop. Even better, both he and Matt can listen to the characteristics I'm after (even if I just make them up on the spot) and pair me with a relevant bottle.

Prices seem reasonable. I usually spend $10-$15. My favorite so far has been the Postales Cabernet 2009 from Northern Patagonia. I'm also psyched to have gotten in on the "ground floor." The shop opened this past May.

They hold tastings at least once a week. Follow them on Twitter to find out when.

Photo: sheeshoo

This is another acquired-taste beverage that I've found the purchasing of nearly as enjoyable as the drinking. That's thanks to Texas Coffee Traders, at 1400 E. 4th.

It took me awhile to stop in despite driving by often, because the warehouse-ish building gives off a strong wholesale vibe. But they do sell straight to consumers like me, and if you ask, they'll even give you a tour behind the scenes of their massive roasting operation, showing the differences between various beans and roasting times/temps.

TCT is committed to offering Fair Trade products from all over the world (though they also sell conventional beans). So far, I've sampled brew from Ethiopia, Bolivia, and Mexico. They also partner directly with the Fair Trade Cafe Monteverde project of the Santa Elena Cooperative in Costa Rica.

But the best part about shopping there is that, just like Matt and Sam and their wines, the folks at Texas Coffee Traders know their product. They can explain why Ethiopian beans tend to have a fruity, almost "gamy" taste, while those from neighboring Kenya are more traditionally flavored. And they let you "blind smell test" the beans before buying.

Prices are on the high end, from $11 to more than $15 per pound. This reflects both the fair prices they pay their suppliers and the generous salary/benefits packages their Austin-based workers get. Oh, and it smells really, really good in there.

Looking Local: New Blog Concept at WayWorded

Living room paint color. Japanese-inspired bamboo blinds and noren curtains. Bathroom tile demo. Table saw and topsoil purchases. These are the things in my head on a daily basis. I've tried, but I either can't or don't want to twist them to fit a "travel" perspective fit for writing about here.

So I've decided to start a new series of posts instead, profiling points of interest around my new home: Austin, TX. The master plan is to compile writeups like these into some sort of "travel guide" to the city (or at least the East Side, where I live) down the road. For now, I'll see how it goes posting individual reviews here at WayWorded.

First trial coming shortly.