Tuesday 28 June 2022


cutting-corners: skimpflation and other consumer caveats   

section 30 order: Holyrood to hold second independence referendum in October  

edutainment: a new volume on poet Emily Dickinson concludes with a Math Blaster style game from LitHub  

wade in u.s.a.: protest is the court of last resort  

white rabbits: an unsung group of women sculptors employed during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—via Messy Nessy Chic  

adobe flash: watch a time-lapse of a luxury villa with pool built out of mud and bamboo via Everlasting Blรถrt  

allons-y alonzo: assonances, alliterations and vowel harmonisation in French and other languages

coffee siren: the origins of the ubiquitous cafรฉ mascot (see also here and here)

Saturday 4 December 2021


In what’s become an annual treat, Tom Whitwell again shares fifty-two items he has gleaned from the past year. In the compilation, drawn from experiencing editing projects for Fluxx / Medium, Whitwell’s shared new facts learned include that daily over a million images of coffee grinds are uploaded to a fortune reading app (the process of divination called tasseomancy), advice on how to solicit better answers, the MSG hoax, the truth behind the mystery seeds from China hysteria, and a few we’ve previously covered like how cowpox vaccine was transported around the world, traditional Japanese microseasons, how film was formulated to privilege lighter complexions, and how the threshhold effect applies even to a doorway on screen. Many more astonishing correlations at the links above—do let us know your favourites.

Friday 25 June 2021

local flavour

Though again not a fan of ubiquitous coffee giant and what impact it has had on independent ventures, we can support this other jimoto-oriented initiative planned to mark a quarter of a century’s presence in Japan by the company later this summer in August by making every surprising, palette-pleasing local lait frappรฉ drink available in every outlet across the forty-seven prefectures. The province of Aichi has red bean paste coffee, Yamaguchi has green tea with sesame and matcha, and Hokkaido has creamed corn flavour.

Wednesday 10 February 2021

jimoto made

Though not a big fan of the coffee magnate and its cafรฉ culture hegemony, we can support this latest collaboration with local artisans to create distinctive mugs and tumblers that reflect the ceramic and pottery vernacular of the areas where it’s produced—and only available at local outlet. The title and project (ๅœฐๅ…ƒ) refers to the Japanese concept of being locally sourced, and pictured is porcelain cup from Ehime prefecture whose signature indigo patterns on bold white backgrounds are meant to be seen only when one takes a sip. More to explore with Spoon & Tamago at the link above.

Sunday 7 June 2020

mug shot

Via Colossal, we are treated to the hundred-day challenge and rather incredible achievement of potter Lalese (Lolly) Stamps with her project exploring variations on the design of handles on coffee cups with all manners of rings, knobs, grips and treads. See more examples of tool and ornament at the links above.

Thursday 14 May 2020

i loved that waiter—jean luc!

Enjoying a quite delightful concluding post-script to a podcast miniseries on I, CLAVDIVS recently, there was an interesting panel discussion about what artefact of culture one might be willing to impose on others to reveal either a shared-experience or a telling shibboleth that landed on the idea of swapping familiarity with television commercials. The below Pure Moods really struck a chord, as did memories of another vintage ad for Stovetop Stuffing suggested independently by another fine show and could probably merit a podcast on its own. What are some of your strongest advertising reminiscences? Re-watching have you found that you misremembered them?

Thursday 16 April 2020

saint drogo

Coming from noble stock in Flanders but orphaned as an adolescent then dispossessing himself of his inheritance and devoting his life to penance and pilgrimage—making the sojourn to Rome no less than ten times—and settling down to become a shepherd after a disfiguring disease confined him from the public, Saint Drogo of Sebourg (*1105 – †1186), who is venerated on this day, was reportedly given the power of bilocation and was seen—shrouded due to his hideous countenance—in attendance at Mass while, as witnesses attest, still tending his flock in the fields.  Drogo’s patronage includes those whom others find repulsive, coffee house proprietors (that is someone to turn to at these times), midwives (presumably due to his great empathy and for the mother he never knew) and sheep. While it is unclear why coffee might be one of his attributes, it is not just a modern gimmick with documents from Mons showing that in the 1860s, the city’s guild of cafetiers were already claiming Drogo as their patron—and possibly is connected with his miraculous power of bilocation (a virtue of coffee) or his ascetic diet and insistence on only drinking hot water.

Saturday 19 October 2019

lion’s tooth

To discourage the agricultural practises that hold our environment in disdain the most—production of those staples for consumption in the West whose distribution network is so well established and seemingly seamless, that we as consumers can easily be blind to the human and ecological toll it exacts, a UK designer is developing a coffee substitute brewed from the roots of dandelions (previously here and here).
I’m a little skeptical and prepared for disappointment, inulin, the researcher’s target compound for extraction, we’re already familiar with in the form of chicory and camp coffee but the chemistry bears out and the roots do contain what’s metabolised as caffeine (my target compound) as well and would be willing to give it a try. It makes me wonder too how estranged in the first place might my beverage and its taste and aroma be already, encapsulated and shuttled through an inscrutable supply-chain estranged from the bean I associate with. The designer has additional, circular aspirations for composting the spent grains into a medium for home mushroom cultivation.

Friday 4 October 2019


Celebrated in Sweden and Finland on this day since first organised in 1999, Kanelbullens dag (Cinnamon Roll Day) is a way to increase awareness on traditional Scandinavian baking traditions (see also) and has proved to be a popular holiday domestically and for Swedish and Finnish communities abroad. Though we might be comfortably familiar with the above term for “coffee break,” the Kanelbullen that could go with it might also be infiltrating the language.

Saturday 13 July 2019


fly me to the moons: an interactive atlas of the Solar System’s two hundred known natural satellites—via Maps Mania

favourite things: ten things beloved by US president John Quincy Adams

canopies: stunning forest photography from Manueli Bececco—see also

placฤƒ ceramicฤƒ: an introduction to the incredible geometries of Romanian socialist era tilework

fine deerscald: a neural network brews up a cuppa—previously

sinistral teichopsia: antique illustrations of aura signatures (scintillating scotoma) that precede the onset of a migraine

republic of minerva: how an utopian micronation and sea-steading caused an international incident in the early 1970s

orrery: four thousand confirmed exoplanets charted in sight and sound

Wednesday 10 April 2019


Architect David Chipperfield has redesigned and reissued the iconic Moka Pot for Italian design line Alessi, launching it at the Salone de Mobile of the Milan Design Week.
The original was introduced to the public in 1933, invented by engineer Alfonso Bialetti (*1888 – †1970), this percolator making it possible for more of the coffee-drinking public to enjoy an espresso at home—since previous contraptions were large and unwieldly and not well-suited for domestic use. The trained metal-worker also introduced aluminium for kitchen-use whereas it had not been a common feature beforehand. The redesign is of course informed by Bialetti’s conception but is a hendecagon and closer to circular than the octagon. Perhaps this homage, Alessi being known for commissioning architects to create signature everyday items, will give the struggling Bialetti company the boost to recover and become fiscally solvent again, the once ubiquitous and must-have appliance having lost ground to coffee pads and pods.

Sunday 29 October 2017


We’d previously encountered and were delighted with the imaginative fusion of the found-object as the anchoring artefact of a composition but had not seen the entire gallery of the brilliant Christopher Niemann gathered into a single portfolio before. Via the equally brilliant Everlasting Blรถrt, these sketches might inspire some abstract and effort-added, breakfast table pareidolia in you the reader.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

tea. earl grey. hot.

While not exactly the replicator from Star Trek that’s just as adept as whipping up a spot of tea, delivering an advanced 3D printer to the International Space Station to make spare parts is a pretty big leap forward—which is seeming really obvious now—that will surely begin to untether the team of explorers. Scheduled to be included in the payload of a launch for next month, this new model will replace a more rudimentary device that the crew has been experimenting with already. It’s curious how the problems of logistics can drive technology in unexpected ways.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

choose your poison or balance of trade

Not terribly keen on Western goods and for the most part self-sufficient, for European naval powers—especially the British with their particular weakness for Asian luxuries and tea—Imperial China from the early nineteenth century became known as the Silver Bone Yard. This comparison to a gilded grave was employed as the only enticement for the Chinese—the only reserve-currency that they’d accept, not wanting truck with pelts, flagons of beer, bales of wool, missionaries or whatever else was a typical European export at the time which was not derivative of what the Chinese culture had already perfected, like gunpowder and the printed word—was silver dollars minted from bouillon from the colonies in North and South America.
The discovery of New World silver had initially glutted the market and the commodity temporarily lost some of its shine. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British were willing to part with huge sums of specie in exchange for keeping up the trade in tea, silk and porcelain. As more and more silver went into China and none came out, however, a market-correction was due and again prices rose and the demand for precious metal grew, especially with wars to finance at home. In order to reverse the outflows of hard currency, merchants (with support of Parliament) plied the Chinese market with opium culled from poppy fields in Turkey and British-held India—which was an acceptable swap for a spot of tea, in lieu of coinage. Although used recreationally and for medicinal purposes—reintroduced to Western medicine as laudanum—use of opium as a war with drugs does strike me as rather unique, to flood one market to secure cheaper access to another, ostensibly equally habit-forming and ritualised item. Faced with a growing drug problem and traders flagrantly overstepping the bounds that had been proscribed for them, China capitulated (and the degree to which China was compromised is a matter of debate) by expanding access to British merchants that extended beyond a few select entrepรดts and granting leases in perpetuity to foreign traders. Though of strategic importance and to modern eyes a serious territorial incursion, China had a standing practise of ceding land in the name of peace-keeping and appeasement, and in addition to the special administrative areas of Hong Kong (UK) and Macau (Portugal)—there was also Tsingtau (Prussia), Tianjin (Italy), Shanghai (Japan) and Shantou (jointly controlled by the English, French and Americans).

Monday 1 June 2015


quilting-bee: fantastic gallery of modern quiltmaking

corpse bride: vis-ร -vis those paranormal paramours, a guide to posthumous marriage

rapper’s delight: woman walking her dog dances her heart out for a Bruxelles street performer

uncommon-grounds: coffee cups moulded from recycled coffee dregs

demarcation: a look at twenty-two plus international borders

Monday 16 March 2015

high-fructose or beet, beet, sugar beet

Just as I was under the mistaken impression that coffee cultivation and consumption for Europe was a New World discovery, I was sure that the same was true about sugar—thinking of the cane-breaks of Caribbean islands and sprawling plantations.

I knew that the process to extract sugar from the native sugar beet was a later, eighteenth century discovery, patronised by the same Prussian royal family that sponsored the search to make porcelain and silk without relying on China—and assumed it was a another case of corporate raiding to bypass England’s dominance of trans-Atlantic trade. Researchers in Germany discovered that the sucrose of the sugar beet, which did not need tropical conditions to grow but thrived in temperate Germany, was the same substance found in sugar cane and figured out how to isolate and harvest it, though beet sugar was never able to supplant cane for its surplus. Sugar cane originated on the Indian subcontinent and was first described by visiting Persians, and was first cultivated in the Middle East around a millennium after this first documentation. Western Europeans, despite their familiarity with honey as a sweetener, were immediately taken with sugar cane, grown at farmsteads at the port city of Acre (‘Akka), headquarters of the Order of Knights Hopitaller.
The confection’s introduction to Europe, like many other commodities, however, experienced centuries of delay, with not all Western palettes ready to taste this exotic import, along with the range of culinary spices that the Crusaders adopted when they went more or less native. Europeans were altogether repulsed by some of the indulgent habits that generational pilgrims had adopted—like regular bathing, and the public was not sold of sugar, as with coffee, tea, cotton, said-spices and tobacco—until colonialism necessitated markets and consumers needed to be conjured up. As somewhat of a coda to the spice wars of the Far East traders, France was willing to drop its claim to Canada in exchange for keeping its Caribbean cane-growing islands, and the Dutch relinquished their title to Old New York (then Nieue Amsterdam) once it was decided they could retain its plantations in South American Suriname.

Monday 9 March 2015


paper-doll: McCalls Pattern Behavior adds dialogue to the models posing for sewing block patterns

i’ve been everywhere: map pins songs mentioned in popular music

siesta: researchers found that coffee-naps are more effective than either respite, stimulus alone

you see with your hands: being endangered and against the law to touch, selfies with the very gregarious quokkas of western Australia take off

on the wagon: a look at England’s last remaining temperance bar, herbal tonic emporium

Monday 5 January 2015


Learning that ritualising coffee and tea as national beverages and past-times, with plenty of celebrity endorsements to bolster acquiring the taste, carried aloft by these habit-forming tonics, was done on such an institutional level, in part to perk-up and pacify a proletariat given to drinking more adult beverages that were needed in the factories and in a condition to operate heavy-machinery. Beer, wine and spirits were still the safer alternatives to water, since Europe had been cursed with bad plumbing and poor sanitation since the fall of Rome, and had of course the added benefits of antiseptic properties and inebriation. Required to be brewed and seeped which killed germs in the process, coffee and tea, as production increased and came under colonial control, however, could be released into the mass-market.
Unlike tea, whose cultivation and ceremony maybe as far back as five-thousand years in China (allegedly due to a fortunate mishap that blew some tea leaves into a pot of water on the boil, the government having decreed ages before that all water must be boiled before it is drank) and slowly leached to the rest of Asia, coffee’s properties were discovered relatively late—possibly by observing the behaviour of birds and goats fiending after the berries, which were too bitter for human-consumption. This late entry and South American plantations had me convinced, considering the timing during the Age of Exploration, that coffee was purely a New World import. Introduced to Yemeni dervishes by Ethopian planters, the devotees sipped the strong wild coffee (qahwat al-bun, wine of the bean, loaned into Turkish as kahve, whence it was discovered by European merchants) to help them keep awake for all-night vigils. A domesticated variety of the plant was cultivated in the port city of Mocha and the drink gradually expanded beyond religious use. Conflating New World chocolate with the souqs of this Yemeni port is similar to the word for the quintessentially North American poultry coming indirectly to England via merchants from the Ottoman Empire. Just as the methods of silk and porcelain production were a highly guarded industry secret for China, so too was coffee for Yemen, East Africa and Persia. Only beans already roasted were allowed for export to prevent propagation. Another Sufi Bada Budan smuggled seven cultivars from the Middle East to India, where, like the British despoiling China’s monopoly on tea, the plant and coffee-culture thrived and promulgated to the rest of the world.

Monday 13 January 2014


 Some enterprising minds have opened up a new cafe in London, the Presurfer reports, where time is money and patrons pay only based on the time that they are there, clocking in and out with the mug given them at the door. Coffee and light-fare and use of the internet and kitchen are free. Ziferblat (in Russian) and Zifferblatt (in German) is the word for the face of a clock and a similar concept was already debuted here in Wiesbaden in the early summer by another Russian entrepreneur with the same amenities. I think it's a pretty keen idea and I wish both cafes success but I do wonder where people put more a premium on loitering—or are both locales inviting the same, like-minded clientele.

Sunday 15 December 2013

a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

Next time you are enjoying a cup of fine steamy hot coffee, you may want to conider the culture  and conceptions that quickly expanded around this New World import and these five historical counter-revolutions from Mental Floss blogger Emmy Blotnick that attempted to ban coffee consumption. Frederick the Great's rallying against the bean and brew may have just been a strongly-worded suggestion, as his majesty was raised on beer for breakfast.