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Back Buzz - November 3, 2002

[pumping heart] Diedrich Coffee, 732 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA, USA

For readers of both my coffee and my beer columns, it must be confusing that I'm writing about Doncaster pubs and a Santa Monica coffeehouse in the same week. How do I do it, you may ask? Ah, but this is the age of the Internet, when people like me can be in at least 2 different places at the same time. Telecommuting, you might call it...or electronic conjuring. The truth is I'm currently (stuck) in Southern California, where coffee is at least as good as it is in the UK. Proper beer, on the other hand, can only be found in Britain, with the Pacific Northwest and Northern California making the best American effort to follow the tradition. Before I raise the wrath of Los Angeles microbrewers I'll stop...after all, this is a coffee column.

On my first Southern California coffee-seeking sojourn I found myself in Santa Monica with my Bay Area friend Mistah Rick. It was a sunny summer day and the streets were littered with scantily-clad sun worshippers and their dogs. On the corner of Montana and Lincoln, kitty-corner from the Roosevelt Elementary School, we found Diedrich Coffee, featuring sidewalk tables all around and a large picture of Freda Kahlo in the window. We ordered two single macchiatos which were properly made (in a conservative sort of way) and served in pleasantly rounded but very sturdy cups. My shot of espresso was pleasant but definitely not a knockout -- perhaps a bit too tame on the roast. It was a typical Santa Monica day, with fat-wheeled bicycles, chicken cars, and dogs in abundance. In fact, I would call it a Weimaraner kind of day, because we appeared to be sitting on the Blonde Dog side of Lincoln Boulevard. I kept seeing Fay Wray strolling past --the William Wegman dog, not the King Kong actress. Having moved back temporarily from England I was still in culture shock, and here it was one of those typically cloudless summer Southern California Sundays, with sunglasses and shorts and tans and convertibles and rich people everywhere. When a passer-by admired the blonde dog sitting next to us, the dog's owners told the admirer she could pet their dog if she petted it "from underneath". Uh-huh, right. These Angelenos are so weird and self-centred...

Apparently Diedrich Coffee is an Orange County coffee company, with coffeehouses and coffee carts all over Orange and Los Angeles Counties and an online worldwide coffee delivery service. In a recent news release it was announced they now supply coffee to 300 Albertsons supermarkets in Southern California.

Diedrich Coffee has roots dating from 1916, when Charlotte Diedrich inherited a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. In 1946 her son, Lieutenant Carl Ernst Diedrich, began travelling the world to find coffee beans. He studied the art of coffee roasting in Naples and travelled through the Middle East, most notably Yemen. In Vienna he obtained the formula for Cafe Sacher's espresso blend, Wiener Melange, and the famous Vienna ferris wheel is still featured on the Wiener Melange label. In the early 1950s Carl and his wife Inga settled in Guatemala; 20 years later they shipped coffee beans up from Guatemala in their VW van and settled in Orange County near Newport Beach, where Diedrich Coffee was founded by son Martin in 1983.

Today Diedrich Coffee is run by some ex-Taco Bell executives, according to Nathan Callahan of the Orange County Weekly. Martin is no longer in charge, and Diedrich Coffee is in heavy competition with Starbucks. Whereas employees used to spend months learning the business, now store managers are trained in two weeks. Ah, well, this is progress...

Speaking of the migration of coffee aficionados in search of beans, I'm reminded of a very recent e-mail exchange with my coffee-loving friend about a different sort of migration:

I have come to the realisation that the pen migration trend which has followed me throughout my life is genetic. My mother, which whom I'm currently staying, constantly loses pens, and my pens go missing as well. I don't like most of the pens my mother uses because they're those erasable-ink things which she insists on buying large packets of in order to do her crossword puzzles. I'm sorry, but I want a permanent relationship with my pens! If I write something, so be it -- whether I mess up the crossword or not. My Answer, Right or Wrong!

But back to this genetic thing. There is a certain offshoot of Darwinism at work in my mother's house which can be demonstrated by the following phenomenon: No item, when moved from its current position of gravitational rest, will ever be returned to the same position or at least within 3m (9.84 ft) of said position, unless enclosed in a refrigerator, in which case the distance will be no less than 38cm (14.82 in), and never on the same shelf. This law applies to all pens and writing implements, pairs of scissors, remote controls, key sections of the newspaper, cartons of coffee cream, pots of yogurt, jars of nut butter, telephone directories, sharp knives, cordless telephones, and reading glasses. The physical nature of certain items causes them to cycle through these changes in global positioning so rapidly that they quickly vanish from present time and space, destined to reappear in 3-dimensional reality at some point in the distant future. These items include shopping lists, flat-head screwdrivers, 2-for-1 restaurant coupons, and JC's glass of water.

So that the entire contents of the house are prevented from becoming a churning cauldron of omnidirectional chaos there are 5 constants which are destined to return to the same place no matter how often and how far they are moved: the dog bowl, the iBook, JC's purse, JC's slippers, and the jar of Marmite on the kitchen counter.

Consequently I shall refer to this as the Marmite Theory of Migratory Evolution.

Fortunately the physical entity known as JC is not directly affected by any of these forces -- although if you suddenly don't hear from me for a week or so I'd check my mother's fridge, perhaps in the produce drawer lodged between the month-old head of iceberg lettuce and the cordless phone.

(Update: approximately 5 seconds ago my mother came in and said, "I've lost the Press-Telegram! I brought it in this morning..." Proof that this new theory is constantly being tested in our dedicated laboratory...)

Whereas most people are limited to three dimensions, I think it is true that certain classes of inanimate objects exist in n-space and are free to drift in and out of the range of our perception. This includes individual items of food (although it would be extraordinary for an entire meal to disappear), utensils, one's spectacles of course, important documents, socks (particularly vulnerable just before, during and after the time of laundering), and, I suppose, jewelry and clothing accessories.

When we are infants the things in our visual universe and within our limited reach are in a constant state of flux. It's as if the toys themselves "know" that they can take a brief respite in other dimensions without arousing the suspicion of the beholder. As we mature, things tend to become more stable. To some extent this is merely delusion on our part that objects remain where we left them; but it is also true that our minds at their youthful peak actually exert power over perceived objects, forcing them to remain rooted in 3D.

As we age, however, and as the perceptual waves projected from our brain become less distinct, certain objects regain the power to break loose, usually when we need them most. The effect may be diminished by people living together whose minds tend to act in concert. On the other hand, two people in the same household whose minds are out of sync may encourage all sorts of objects to break loose.

I was motivated to ponder this subject all day today (as I attended our quarterly safety meeting and heard the presentation about backing a truck safely, then went to donate blood), because somehow during my sleep I lost my undershorts. I had gotten up during the night, as usual, to feed my cat, then went to the bathroom to urinate sitting down in the dark. (Avoiding the lights, I have learned, facilitates falling back to sleep quickly.) I must still have had my shorts at that time (else I would have noticed I was naked), but sometime after that point they disappeared, and I couldn't find them (a particularly colorful pair of Pocos) anywhere.

You didn't find them in your fridge by chance? Maybe I should look in mine. Did I write myself a note: "Boxers and chicken to fridge"?

This would explain what happens to a Chinese meal. Approximately 30 minutes after consumption, various popular Cantonese, Mandarin, and Szechuan dishes tend to drift out of the perceptive range of the digestive track, only to re-enter 3-dimensional space at some other time and place, often producing those inexplicable loud belches heard in late-afternoon office cubicle areas. Meanwhile the Chinese meal consumers have drifted off to late-night takeaways to allay their temporarily displaced hunger with Happy Meals.

As far as your observation of toys taking "a brief respite in other dimensions without arousing the suspicion of the beholder", this would be further supported by my Ball of Superstring Theory (as described in my Caffe Lado review.)

And the concept of two minds living in sync: would this explain why, as soon as I left the Yorkshire house I share with my housemate and a mobile phone and temporarily relocated myself 5000 miles away, suddenly the mobile phone disappeared? Has it possibly been attempting to text me from the 6th dimension? Does it need to dial 001 first? Perhaps I should reconfigure my e-mail handler...

By the way, I just went and checked the fridge, and I found nothing unusual in there except for five large pots of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, a cat toy, and a bed pillow. But earlier, when I went out to see if the newspaper might have arrived, I saw a very colourful pair of boxers hanging from the side-view mirror of a truck that was backing slowly down the street.