Scandinavian Travels

February 5th, 2012

I used to write a lot more on here about what I was doing, where I was visiting etc.  I realised today that I’ve pretty much stopped doing that.  Explaining why that is wouldn’t be particularly interesting, but instead I’ll write a little about a couple of trips I’ve taken recently.

Unsurprisingly I have a few air miles stocked up, and with Anette travelling (Sumatra and Kenya) I had some weekends to spare and the chance to travel very cheaply indeed.  The first trip I took was over to see the Coffee Collective.  This is embarrassing:  Despite being in Copenhagen for the WBC in 2008, and being there again for NBC last year, I had never been to the Coffee Collective’s shop on Jægersborggade.  This needed to be fixed. It was good to see both of their shops, drink some tasty coffee, cup a bit and just hang out in their shops.

This weekend I went to visit Oslo, and of course see the Tims at Tim Wendelboe.  I also managed a quick visit to Java (thank you again for coffee!) and also Kaffa (thanks Björnar!) – I love seeing other roasteries because I’m fascinated by the different way companies overcome challenges and manage processes.  I hope I’m not alone in finding weigh and fill machine workflow interesting….

Again – embarrassing:  This was my first visit to Tim Wendelboe.  I hadn’t been in Oslo since August 2006 - before Tim had found a space.

These are both businesses that I feel a bit of an attachment too, if only because they’ve been operational for a similar amount of time.  They’re run by people my own age, and the whole WBC connection is a thing I suppose.  They are both businesses that have inspired me over the years, as well as made me jealous or annoyed that their coffees were so good.  They’re also run by people who’ve been totally honest in their feedback when tasting our coffee – for better or worse – which is an absolute rarity in this industry, and indescribably valuable.  We face, in some ways, common challenges – though each have different markets and consumption trends.  For example – London may have the advantage in population density but we don’t have a strong culture of brewing, serving or drinking drip coffees which obviously impacts buying practices.

On both occasions I brought our coffees to taste.  On both occasions the coffees had been roasted on Thursday, I had cupped them in London on Friday and then cupped them again on Saturday in either Copenhagen or Oslo.  The impact of water on the coffees blows my mind.  Worrying about water isn’t new – brewing coffee with London water pretty much obliterates any interesting or unique flavour characteristics in a coffee.  In Copenhagen we were cupping with reverse osmosis treated water (we have similar systems) and in Oslo the water is very soft, and just taste/odour filtered. 1

Technically both times the water was within spec – not too hard, not too much TDS.  The coffees in Copenhagen were suddenly flat, though we later cupped one at different water TDS quantities and got better results from a slightly higher TDS than the Collective would usually use.  This higher TDS would turn out to negatively affect their coffees.  In Oslo one coffee noticeably improved (I had worried it was bordering on a touch light in London), others were good and one tasted  much worse.  I know water effects coffee taste – it was just shocking to be reminded how much of a difference small changes make.

This wrecks my head.  The idea that each company is roasting based on a feedback loop of cupping, and in each case water is throwing a variable into the mix.  As much we might roast espresso to work at a certain dose and extraction, we may be roasting coffee to work well with the water in our roasteries.  This probably merits a whole other post when my head doesn’t hurt so much from thinking about it.

The result from each trip was the same – I was inspired, full of ideas and grateful for the chance to talk about all the stressful stuff of running a business with like minds.  On each occasion I am exceedingly grateful for the incredible hospitality shown by my hosts.  I’m looking forward to seeing them in London soon, and I definitely won’t wait so long to go back….

  1. I am aware that flying with these coffees may have had an effect, but I am increasingly skeptical of the excuse of air travel on poor cup quality  ↩︎

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