Pintxo Astearteak (Tapa Tuesdays)

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There are a lot of mini burgers in pintxo land, but this one is special.  It's called hamburguesa chicha, and it's made with fresh ground spiced pork meat, basically a chorizo burger. Perched on its artisan brioche. it is super juicy and brings to mind freshly packed pork sausage. 

Casa Urola
Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 20 (La Parte Vieja)
Closed Tuesdays
http://www.casaurolajatetxea.es
+34 943 44 13 71

La Rosa Vermutería : Palma de Mallorca, Spain

I love vermouth, so much so I made this little International Society devoted to it. So it stands to reason that, in every city I visit, I turn on the vermut radar to see out spots to try new and old favorites.

So on a recent trip to Palma de Mallorca, of course we ended up at La Rosa Vermutería.  Palma de Mallorca is a strange town.  Invaded several generations ago by Germans, much of local tradition has been pushed to the outskirts or even denied completely, by locals themselves.  This has left room for global trends, for trends imported from the mainland peninsula, and for resurgence of things from the forgotten past.  However, it is still very much a city re-discovering itself—and its appetite.

La Rosa Vermutería is a lovely spot that couldn't possibly be more on-trend.  Part of a breed of new-old bodegas where vermouth is the star drink, this place is a Disneyland for the vermouth lover.  Over 20 vermouths dot the bar, with the most expensive ones coming in around €5.50, vermouths imported from France and Italy. Truly, though, there is no need to splurge on these imported versions of vermouth, when Spain's artisan scene is EXPLODING.  Order a vermut Montaner instead, keeping your drinking roots closer to home.

In the tradition of Barcelona's Casa Mariol, there are nods to comida viejuna, like an extensive list of conserved seafood ranging from mackerel (above) to sardines to octopus.  This Spanish version of "fast food" has a long history, its raison d'etre being to make perishable food readily available all year round. And to pair magically with vermouth.

Like another Barcelona favorite, Bodega 1900, there are also aspirations to modern cuisine glory, like the above dish of anchovies, mahonés cream, and pepper "crystals". It was tasty, but a bit clumsy, and in the end kept me wishing for more old-fashioned canned fish.

Vermutería La Rosa is hot....you can catch Palma's young in-crowd gathering at night and on the weekends, and a table can be hard to find.  And the decor is equally "on-trend", that perfect combo of vintage and modern, of carefully curated yet somehow happenstance aesthetic. 

God bless it, Vermutería La Rosa has something that just makes me happy.  A must visit on the island.

Coffee In San Sebastián : Sakona Coffee Roasters

Your first relaxing cafe con leche in Madrid or Barcelona is unforgettable. However, in Spain, coffee is something that, upon closer inspection, sucks. Just yucky flavors, burnt coffee with boxed milk, albeit a satisfying proportion of milk and espresso.

Fortunately for coffee, as with many things, Spain is globalizing.  The meticulous and careful barista has popped up over the last couple of years in San Sebastián, in various forms: Caffe Terzi in Antiguo, an appearance by Javier Garcia in The Loaf, followed by a spattering of pop-ups in the local markets and the Tabakalera.

There's a new coffee shop in town. Sakona is not just a shop; they are roasters, based about 10 miles outside of San Sebastián.  Javier Garcia left his spot behind the espresso machine of The Loaf to break out and make his own coffee, and Sakona is the result: a coffee shop for the new century, as on trend as on trend can be, and also the best spot to grab a coffee in town.

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Yes, a chemex! Welcome to the 21st century, San Sebastián! 

So I have sat down with Javier Garcia, founder and jefe of Sakona Coffee Roasters. Javier has been the Barista Champion of Spain FIVE times, dominating from 2008-2011 and then again in 2014. He was also fourth in the World Barista Championship 2011, celebrated in the cafe mecca of Bogotá.  It doesn't stop him from patiently explaining coffee to even the most clueless, sourpuss citizens, totally turning the stereotypical hipster barista prototype on its head.

 This is a small introduction so that when you have the chance to pop into their beautiful, light-filled space on the river in San Sebastián, you'll already feel part of the Cool Coffee Kids Klub.

Javi! I knew you were expert at pouring espresso and gently explaining why people shouldn't put sugar in their lattes. But where did you learn how to roast coffee?

In my case, roasting is a challenge. I have had the opportunity to be with a good number of roasters in my life that have shared roasting techniques and tastings, but I had never had the chance to roast and roast batches and batches, capturing the best of every bean.

The exciting thing about roasting is that it goes hand in hand with tasting and the appreciation of flavors. Tasting and recognizing qualities of each roast turns roasting into a constant learning process. We have access to a lot of theory nowadays, and there are great books to recommend, but the experience of roasting many different cafes and tasting the results is what is truly teaches you and helps you form your own identity.

And what distinguishes your coffee?

Our coffees were conceived always thinking of the quality of their flavor. Coffee is a seasonal fruit and we should respect freshness. Generally, they are coffees that are obtained from specific farms, where we have a ton of information on how the coffee has been treated at all times. The price of this coffee is higher, and it's not part of the commodity markets.  The quality of the coffee allows us to roast it in a way that allows us to capture the lovely flavors while avoiding the bitterness and burnt flavors. Our bags have the date of the roast on them and we always sell them as a perishable product.

How did you come up with Sakona as a name?

We didn't look for a name based on meaning. The goal was for our work to give meaning tot he name. Our objective is that, with time, when people hear 'sakona', they identify the name with the quality of what we do. It's easy to pronounce for nearly all the inhabitants of our planet.

sakona cafe con leche

You roast in Irun but the cafe is in Donosti. Explain!

I am originally from Irún, and the idea of having a roaster in my hometown has always been a dream of mine. For a shop, Donostia is without a doubt the best spot, a city open to the world.  It's a new time for specialty coffee, and being the one to help bring it to a city as known for food and drink as San Sebastián is a seductive proposition.

Will you sell your coffee in other places?
The goal is to sell coffee wholesale, and to support and participate in the new specialty coffee market that is awakening in this country.

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We've known each other for a few years now. What does it mean that I still love French Press more than any other preparation of coffee?

You got me! That's a question I have had for years.  You probably like it because the way it filters coffee is with a metal web, which in most cases allows the smallest particles of ground coffee to pass through. Because of that, in the cup you can feel a slightly sandy texture and the flavor in general is a lot stronger. Let's say you like French press because you like to chew on coffee.

sakona french press

What is the perfect cup of coffee for you?

It doesn't exist. Coffee, like fruit, has a diversity of characteristics and flavors that allows us to experience and enjoy very different, wonderful coffees.

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Sakona Coffee Roasters

Bajo, Ramón María Lili Pasealekua, 2

20002 Donostia, Gipuzkoa

http://www.sakonacoffee.com