Archive | January, 2012

Record Low for Coffee Bean Crops

28 Jan
2011 was a devastating year for coffee growers; for growers in Columbia, it was especially catastrophic, with crops shrinking to a 35-year low after excess rainfall, diseases and a lack of sunshine took their effects on the coffee yields.

Columbia – the second largest coffee bean producer in the world, second to Brazil – saw the harvest tumble 12% in 2011 to under 8 million bags, the lowest level since 1976. The crop usually levels out about 8.92 million bags a year, though this is still a lower number than previously experienced.

However it’s not simply the dreadful weather which has caused the massive drop in production. Rising prices for fertiliser have increased overhead costs and a stronger Colombian peso against the American dollar has seen a decrease in revenue for farmers. As mentioned in our earlier post on Colombian coffee crops, these farming communities are certainly feeling the pinch.

This, of course, translates into a higher price for our beloved coffee. We can only hope that 2012 will see better weather and better news!

Giant Cake Baked in India

27 Jan
This past weekend, the Indian port town of Thalassery celebrated a slightly delayed anniversary of the first cake to be baked in the country. It is said that on the 20th December, 1883, a Brit associated with the East India Company asked the owner of India’s first cinnamon plantation to bake him a cake for Christmas.

To remember the occasion, modern day Indians have baked a 350 long eggless cake, weighing in at 1200kg; it took two days and a team of twenty to bake and put together. The cake will be layered with icing and strawberry jam, and topped with cornflour and sugar paste figures of well known personalities such as President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

As this is the celebration of the first cake baked, how about telling us what your first baking memories are? Mine are of following Mum around the kitchen and of using my Easy Bake oven.

Kylie to Join Mardi Gras Parade

27 Jan
The Mardi Gras parade in Sydney, Australia, will have a special guest atop one of their floats this year. The Australian singer Kylie Minogue will be making her way back home to participate in the event, which is a celebration of the Australian LGBT community.

She said in her YouTube video announcing her return to Mardi Gras, “Your support over the years has just been phenomenal and I can’t wait to come home and share that with you. So see you in March.” This will be her third time attending the event.

Kylie began her career in showbiz on the popular soap ‘Neighbours’, before moving into the music industry in 1987 with the launch of her first single, ‘Locomotion’. She will be celebrating a career milestone – 25 years in the music business – with a community in which she has always had a strong fan base.

You can find out more about the Australian Mardi Gras by visiting their website here; it looks like it is going to be a very exciting, special day!

Super Trooper

26 Jan
Visitors to this year’s Arisia Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention were in for a sweet treat; a 6’4” lifelike Stormtrooper cake, made specially for the event. The convention, named after the famous ‘Lensman’ books by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, took place from the 13th-16th January, 2012.

Created by the husband-and-wife team Tiler and Amanda Oakleaf of Oakleaf Bakery, it took a week for the team of ten to bake and build this 300lb (136kg) masterpiece. Internally supported by an iron and plastic framework, the cake was vanilla flavoured with vanilla Italian meringue butter cream and Rice Krispies Treats; marshmallow fondant was used on the outside and made up most of the detail.

Arriving on Friday, the team had to come up with new cake building methods – their creation just wouldn’t stay put! They devised a way of constructing it using a modular system and built it on site, and say they are “incredibly proud” and that “it may be the greatest sculpted cake ever created”. We think they are right to be so proud of their achievement!

The cake was quickly consumed by 600 eager convention-goers, with more waiting in line. While there aren’t any more ‘geek cakes’ in the pipelines, Oakleaf says they may take on special commissions. Take a look at their blog to see more images of the cake being built, and to learn more about this intrepid bakery.

Boy or Girl? Cake reveals all!

25 Jan
It’s big news, and what better way to tell the surprise than with a cake? The newest craze in America, parents are hosting Gender Reveal parties where friends and family (and often the parents themselves!) find out what sex the baby will be.

When going for an ultrasound, parents are asked if they would like to know the baby’s gender; in the case of parents who want to host a reveal party, instead of looking at the slip of paper, they’ll slip it into an envelope. The parents will then take this envelope to a baker.

The suspense builds until the parents cut the cake; inside, the pink or blue sponge reveals the gender. It’s a wonderful tradition, and a great way to share good news with everybody at once.

DiB in the Aloha State

24 Jan
Hawaii is the only state in the USA that produces coffee; it is grown on every major island in the State with seven million pounds (3181818.2 kg) produced annually. Hawaii is not only known for its coffee – the most famous being the Big Island’s Kona – but for their herbal teas as well.

One company in Hawaii has dedicated itself to serving its customers with the best quality Hawaiian coffee and providing opportunities within the community. DiB, standing for Deaf in Business, is the only company to run deaf-only cafes in the world.

Their mission statement declares that they will provide employment opportunities for deaf or hearing-impaired (DHI) people in Hawaii and Malaysia and ensure that they have good career prospects. Operational and management training is offered alongside instruction to become a barista, and they aim to motivate and coach DHI people to become business owners themselves. The idea is to start a franchise company, run by DHI who have been trained by DiB and open cafes throughout Malaysia.

There are numerous blends on offer, and tons of teas. All are Hawaiian blends and recipes. However, the cafes serve freshly baked cakes and other bakery treats as well; their passion fruit cheesecake is said to be especially well regarded.

This a wonderful opportunity for many people, and it’s great to see such support within the community. If you’re lucky enough to live in Hawaii, make sure you pop over and see them; if not, their website delivers to the main islands. Here’s hoping they offer international shipping soon!

Community Pillar Closes After 14 Years

24 Jan
It’s a sad time for the Tel Aviv LGBT community; the final bastion of lesbian glory has closed in the city centre. After 14 years, the lesbian bar Minerva has finally shut its doors. Its history had been long and varied, being over the years burnt down, reopened, sold to different owners and frequently finding itself under new management. It spent the last three years of its existence under the name of ‘Beit Hasho’eva’ run by community pillar Adi Keizerman.Minerva wasn’t just a bar, it was a community hotspot, the place to go for lesbians living in and visiting Tel Aviv. After all, Tel Aviv is known as one of the friendliest gay holiday destinations, and Israel the most progressive and LGBT-friendly country in the Middle East.

The closing of the only exclusively lesbian bar in Tel Aviv is a real blow to the community. This city is meant to be a refuge for all those who face prosecution elsewhere in the region, and Israel has the most well developed LGBT rights policies of the Asian countries.

It’s a discouraging development for the future if community strongholds are finally closing their doors, and we can only hope that another venue will pick up the slack and offer the lesbians of Tel Aviv a new space that will not only serve as a hangout, but as an inherent and important part of the LGBT community life.

Give Blood; Get Coffee.

23 Jan
The American Red Cross and Dunkin’ Donuts – an American donut and coffee shop -have teamed up in a scheme dubbed ‘Give a Pint, Get a Pound’. In the hope of raising the number of people who donate blood in the colder months, the scheme has been implemented in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. For every pint of blood that’s donated, the participant will receive a gift voucher for one pound of coffee.

So far, this has been a very popular campaign. Since its launch, there has been a 16% increase of blood donations in January. The colder months of the year have always seen a dip in those volunteering to give blood; American Red Cross Communications Program Manager, Elaine St. Peter says ‘January is a much better month because people love to come get their Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and help those in need.’

Should you wish to donate blood and live in England or Wales, you can find out more here

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

19 Jan
If you’ve been in any university library recently, you’ll have seen one of these. My KeepCup has exploded on the scene of ethical coffee enjoyment, and has quickly become the new ‘it’ thing to be seen with in the local coffee shops.

Inexpensive and with a great deal of customisation available, KeepCup is reusable for over 1000 uses, and is guaranteed for one year. A medium sized cup, holding 340ml, is priced at £8.40. Through using these reusable coffee cups, KeepCup users have stopped 70,000 trees from being felled for paper pulp. Pretty impressive.

What’s more impressive is KeepCup’s dedication to the environment and to the people who interact with it. They currently are in a supportive partnership with Coffee Kids, a non-profit organisation that works with coffee farming families to improve their quality of life. Coffee Kids helps educate and support the welfare of children of coffee plantation families.

There are several coffee shops that provide discounts or loyalty points for bringing your own mug; Leila’s and Bean About Town are two coffee shops which only serve take-away coffee if you have your own mug. With hundreds of different colour and size combinations, KeepCup is a fashionable and ethical way to enjoy your coffee. They even offer gift vouchers if you’re looking for that perfect gift for a coffee lover!

You can personalise and purchase your own KeepCup here.

Miss California

19 Jan
It took two very brave women to make history in California this year: in the sixty years that the Miss USA pageant has been running, Jenelle Hutcherson (26)  and Mollie Thomas (19) were the first openly gay contestants to compete.

Hutcherson, from Long Beach and Thomas, from West Hollywood, both stated that their platform was that of acceptance. Whilst the Miss USA pageant has very conservative roots, organisers insist that the pageant is all about women being role models and promoting individuality – and who wouldn’t admire these women?

Whilst there have been other lesbian contestants in the pageant world, many of them blend in and don’t make it a known thing. This is a world of long hair and high heels, in a general sense. However, the contestants aren’t judged solely on their super-model looks; this pageant is about charisma, self-confidence, poise and knowing oneself. When Hutcherson wore a tux for the Evening Gown phase, there was no questioning her self-confidence and poise; truly, it’s something to admire.

Carrie Prejean could stand to learn a thing or two from these women.

While the media made rather a large fuss about Hutcherson sporting a mohawk, piercings and tattoos, I don’t think that has much to do with her sexuality. Hopefully, this will encourage other ‘alt’ girls to participate in pageants and not feel that they wouldn’t fit in – you don’t need to be gay to wear a ‘hawk, after all! Her girlfriend, a journalist, wrote a wonderful piece on the entire event. The amount of community support that the Long Beach contestant received is heart warming to see.

For Thomas, this was her first pageant. A part-time student at UCLA, she decided to run to promote awareness for the LGBT community and hopes to become a youth advocate and role model. Having volunteered for a school for handicapped children in Mongolia as well as helping to rebuild homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I’d say that she was already a role model before setting a foot on stage.

Whilst Thomas and Hutcherson won’t be wearing a crown this year, we can only wish these exemplary ladies the very best of luck in their future endeavours.