Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coffe Night in Canada

What happens to dyslectic agnostic insomniacs? They lie awake at night wondering if there really is a dog!!!

For many people, morning is just not morning without a cup of coffee to start the day. Although probably few people actually contemplate the origins of their black elixir in the half light of early dawn, it may come as a surprise to some that how their daily caffeine fix made its way from equatorial regions to cafĂ©’s in north central Alberta.

The legend behind the origins of coffee is linked to goat herders in the African country of Ethiopia. Apparently shepherd’s noticed an elevated level of hyperactivity in the livestock following the consumption of coffee leaves and fruit. In fact the word coffee comes from the Kaffa region of Ethiopia where the tale is said to originate.

Although there are ten species of coffee (Caffea) worldwide, there are only two types grown commercially; Robusta (C. canephora) and Arabica (C. Arabica), comprising approximately 30% and 70% of the market respectively.

Robusta plants are not only easier to grow, but they are also resistant to many of the diseases and pests that plague other varieties, making them much cheaper to grow. They also have 50% more caffeine and higher foaming capacity that makes more suitable for specialty coffees. Unfortunately their harsh flavour restricts their use to lower price blends.

Arabica beans produce a smoother coffee with less bitterness but at a premium price. Although Kona coffee from the Hawaiian Islands is one of the most expensive coffees around, it is really just Arabica coffee with a great marketing agency

Monday, February 16, 2009

Getting Corked

What do pirates do with vintners that make cheap wine? Make them walk the plonk!!!

For many couples in north central Alberta, a romantic dinner is accompanied with a favorite bottle of wine. A decade ago in finer establishments, before the vintage was poured, the waiter would bring the cork from the newly opened flask for the clients close inspection. While such outings may offer a touch of nostalgia, it may come as a surprise that nowadays fewer than 40% of all stoppers are made from cork.

The primary reason for the switch from natural to synthetic plugs is due to the $250 million annual loss to the wine commerce due to poor-quality natural corks. According to industry experts, the culprit is trichloroanisole (TCA) which imparts an off-flavour that can be detected in concentrations as small as two parts per trillion. Although just 6% of high quality natural corks are found to be tainted with TCA, when multiplied by the millions of litres of fermented grapes that are produced annually, the damage is staggering.

Unfortunately, the reduction of natural cork usage is actually detrimental to the cork forests. Unlike many other forest products, cork production does not actually harm the tree. The cork grows as the bark on the cork oak tree Quercus suber which is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. Cork trees are usually 25 years old before the cork is thick enough to be harvested initially, with additional bark removal occurring every 10 years or so for the entire 200 year life of the tree. With cork sales no longer paying the bills, many groves have replaced with other revenue generating crops.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wave of the Future

Why did the corn plant dial 911? Because she wanted to report a stalker!!!

For many young males in north central Alberta, a wave from a pretty girl is all that is required is all that is required to arouse enough interest to initiate a conversation and perhaps an evening out. In the plant world, pretty flowers use the same approach with similar results.

As surprising as it may seem, competition for a date in the horticultural world is extremely intense with individuals pulling out all the stops in an effort to reproduce. Different species use vibrant colours, exquisite aromas and most amazing of all, seductive movement to entice pollinators to stop by “for a good time”

In a study of sea campion, a common wildflower on the Welsh coast, scientists discovered that mobile flowers are not only visited by more insects but they produce more seeds as well. While the rooted plant cannot actually move from place to place in the soil, the flower heads actually have a large range of motion as they waft in the breeze. Researchers determined that the longer the flower stalk the greater the degree of movement.

But excessive flirtation has it drawbacks. While the wavy flowers with longer stems attracted more insects, it was harder for the bugs to land on the blossoms that exhibited excessive oscillation. To make matters worse, the longer straws tended to break more frequently in extremely windy conditions, thus reducing their reproductive capacity to zero. It appears the sea campion that is most successful at setting seeds are those individuals that exhibit a perfect wobble.