The heat is on.

I know, I know – it wasn’t as if no one said Tokyo was going to be this hot but still – every time I set outside I am a little amazed at the feeling walking into a wall of moist heat.

Getting over the jetlag now, and feeling ok.  Yesterday was a gentle introduction to the city (we are staying in Ginza).  I was amused to see the Cup of Excellence logo up outside a coffee shop and when everyone else flagged and went napping I wandered back for my first cup of coffee in Japan.

I chose the Guatemalan CoE offering they had and settled back to watch them brew from afar.  The cup was well brewed, but tasted a little lacking – could be the beans were a little old (at least they were ground to order in a nice old Santos) or that the greens are now over a year old (I only noticed halfway through the cup that the sign was dated 2006).  I had hoped the caffeine would help me last a little longer but it failed miserably and I crashed out.

This is a coffee blog, so I am not going to bore you all to death with the touristy things we do and all the things on sticks I am eating (I have no idea what most are, and for the most part they’ve been very tasty).  The only coffee highlight so far today has been visiting one of the Paul Bassett cafes.  We stumbled upon it by accident and were quickly ushered to a seat.  I think staff have probably been warned that this week they better be on form.  It was interesting, and inspiring, to see that when you order and espresso they pull a test shot, then pull your single and taste the other one.  The espresso I had was very antipodean in style (as you’d expect) – a lot of coffee in the portafilter and a short, short shot.  Interestingly clean at first sip, the full coffee hit didn’t get you til the finish.  The milk drinks Stephen and Jenny had were very tasty though.

Hopefully we’ll manage to hook up with some coffee folks tonight and catch up over something deep fried (how I love thee tempura) and a few drinks.

In other news – I am first up on the second day with a 9.00 am prep time.  I have long since given up on whether the opening slot is good or bad, or any slot for that matter.  Looking forward to performing.

The Roadtrip – San Francisco

Being on the road like this is far more draining than I expected. Dragging ourselves out of bed the next morning was difficult and we rolled into Ritual mid morning. They knew we were coming but we still ended up spending 5 minutes casting furtive glances across the room at Chris Baca who eventually made the first move and came over to introduce himself.

Gabe was at the roaster, somewhat nervous because it was his first day or production roasting on his own. Their roaster is insane. I am sure most of you reading know it is a 5 kilo Probat from 1919 (Quite possibly the oldest working Probat outisde of the Probat museum in Germany). It belongs to Duane from Stumptown who found it down in South California somewhere.


The most unusual thing about it is the cooling – they dump into a rotating tray and for the initial cooling then the entire tray is transfered to another base that has a big fan to speed the cooling up. Very cool.

We had a few coffees and then Chris organised a little cupping for us. Their two Kenyans really stood out, nothing against their Gio Gio but I am a sucker for their Gethumbwini – complex, sweet, amazing fruit and delightful mouthfeel. I love it.

It is definitely worth mentioning that Ritual have a very cool Steampunk styled Robur working away there – it looks so cool:

Having hung out long enough we got out of their way and ventured down to the Blue Bottle Kiosk. Their espresso was great, perhaps because I had no idea what to expect from it. Stephen had a little chat to them and they were really friendly and gave us a couple of cups of a Colombian they had on the Melitta drips. (Their porcelain drippers are so pretty I had buy one!). Stephen even managed to blag a bag of an African blend which I am looking forward to trying. Stephen and I were chatting and we thought it only fair to do a Steve Ford tribute shot:

And that was about as much coffee as we wanted that day. Having upgraded out of an evil Best Western into the lovely Phoenix Hotel we decided to maybe spend some downtime in San Francisco and try and catch up on feeling human.

That evening we met up with Chris and Ryan from Ritual and wandered down to get some food. The table wasn’t ready yet so we nipped over to a bar called The Knock-Out. It turned out to be an odd memorable experience and I have never played highspeed bingo in a bar full of people yelling back the numbers called with such force. I could have stayed another couple of rounds…..

The meal at the Blue Plate was absolutely delicious. We were also joined by Lindsay who works for Zoka and had been hanging out at Ritual earlier in the evening. The food was great and Baca and Ryan make me laugh my ass off.

We drank no coffee then next day, as if to prove to ourselves we weren’t addicted. We did spend a little tourist time round the city and spent enough time snoozing to feel ready for the last leg down to LA.

Before we left we had to head to Ritual again. I love that place, and every one of us loves it. If I lived in San Francisco I would spend a great deal of my life in there. Eileen and Gabe once again made us feel welcome and thanks to Matt and everyone behind the bar for looking after us and for yelling goodbye to us so loudly on our way out. I look forward to going back.

The Roadtrip – Seattle

With sadness we left Anette behind for a day as she had to collect her visa and the rest of us ventured down in the United States of the Americas.  It was nice there – warm, sunny and not as cold and mean/rainy as Vancouver had been.

We went up to Elysian Brewing for some beers and some food, which was pretty good, suffered a terrible mojito on the way home and were up and raring to go the next morning.

First stop was the newer Victrola up on Pike.  It is a lovely old building, formerly an garage for car repair (I refuse to lower myself to the American terminology!).  I love the colours on the outside and it looked great in the sunshine.

We went in and had a few shots that were pretty good and then introduced ourselves to the manager Sarah Jane and Keith and Perry who were doing the roasting in the space through the glass.  Sarah Jane then made us a press of their Yirg that was really great, and sitting in the wide open space at a massive table with the sun streaming through the large windows it was a great coffee experience.  We had a little look around the roastery and around their training rooms and it really is a good place to be on a sunny day.

Just up the road was Caffe Vita and we snuck in for a quick espresso and also to press our faces up to the glass wall into their roastery.  Their Probat looks beautiful and you can see a little up into their offices where the sample roaster is.  It is beautiful.  The coffee was interesting – mine had an odd parma violet note that I’ve never had before.

By this point my camera battery had died and my charger was in a car with Anette and Alistair stuck at the border in a big queue.  Which was very frustrating – hopefully Stephen will upload a few.

The final serious cafe moment of that day was up at Vivace Roasteria on Broadway.  I gather they are tearing the building down to make way for a light rail station which seems a shame.  Vivace seems to have a very strong identity and the roasting room in that store, whilst clearly now barely used, is very pretty.  Apart from the obvious espresso and capps in there I also tried a Cafe Nico.  It was pretty good – orange zest, a little syrup, coffee and milk in a small cup with some spices on top – nicely balanced and not screamingly sweet.  Interesting to see someone basically offering a signature drink, especially a cafe that doesn’t have a strong interest in barista competition.

Whilst in Seattle it would seem criminal not to go over and catch up with the guys at Clover.  It was great to see David and Zander again, and to meet (the now infamous) Tatiana.  Despite being extremely full of tongue tacos and burritos al pastor, I had room for coffee.  They had some of George Howell’s coffee up there and whilst it isn’t my place to say how or what they were doing they were finding innovative ways to get his coffee to really sing in the cup.  We tasted the Mamuto and it was stellar, really clean strong fruit in the cup that remained loud and balanced as the coffee cooled.  We tried a couple more and then went to meet up with a few people from Zoka and other places that were planning to go and roast on the beach.

Beach roasting was memorable.  It was also very hot and having to slowly rotate the metal ball roaster by hand over a very hot fire pit was challenging (in the good way of course).  All the roasts I got involved in were a little uneven but the last one before the light completely went was great and surprisingly even.

Trish from Zoka and Chris from Atlas (who owns the roaster) led the way and it was great to meet Dismas and a load of other people and to get a feeling of the community down in Seattle.  It was also nice to see Anette freshly allowed into the States and we went and had more amazing Mexican (it has become the official cuisine of the trip!) food with Bronwen to celebrate.

The next day we went back to Victrola so Anette could see it as well the newest Vivace.  We were all sat down at a table and one of the guys with us went off to order 4 capps.  He asked for them to be wet in his very Irish accent and the looked pretty good when they arrived.  The first sip was a confusing experience.  They were sweet, but not ordinary sweet – more like someone had stirred 2 sugars into every drink.  I know their milk is well textured and sweet but it was just ridiculous.  Turns out wet had been misheard and instead we had order white – as in 4 white chocolate capps, which explained everything.  We went back for a load of espressos and I have to say that the taste of their coffee is very distinct and consistent store to store.  (Anette is visible in the spoon).

A little later that day word had gotten out and David from Clover was on the phone (rightly) mocking us drinking white mochas in Vivace.

From speaking to a few people they recommended we try and find a new start up called Seven.  Its a small neighborhood shop near Greenlake and they are roasting in the back on a little 2 kilo Ambex.  The feel of the store was great and Carl (or maybe Karl) made us feel very welcome.

I recommend dropping by if you are in that area and have a little time.  Some nice details in the place.  Afterwards we popped over to the Zoka store in Greenlake.  We wanted to swing by the roastery but (typically) time got the better of us.  The Zoka store was totally different, bigger and pretty much packed out.  By this time I had had a lot of coffee, and at that point yet another cup (no matter how good) was going to be hard.  I hate leaving behind half finished cups of coffee, but they dose quite heavy with their Clover and it was a 12oz cup – I am just not man enough I guess.  However, just around the corners is the masterful Hiroki who does rather splendid desserts.  Naughty but nice.

Breakfast the next morning was a chance to see Bronwen one more time before we left as she was working over at Sitka and Spruce.  I wish I lived near a place like this – I would be happy and fat.  The brunch was amazing and the cappuccinos Bronwen made really hit the spot.

We then got a phone call from David Schomer saying he would love to meet us and make us some coffee.  This is not a call you say no to, so after a very brief visit to Trabant we were shamefully running late.

We headed back down to his new store and the bar setup means that one machine can very much look after a busy queue and yet there is still a three group available for “guests”.  David jumped on the machine straight away and started pulling some shots.  What was interesting is that his were better than his staff’s.  Maybe he just knows his coffee inside out.  Mine had a really great, light fluffy mouthfeel and whilst the actually flavours may not be what I am into I can understand why his coffee tastes like it does.

He was very chatty about his coffee and his equipment and it was clear that he really looks after his staff and there is a nice friendly, family atmosphere there.  One of the barista’s mothers was there and he was making her drinks and she was clearly proud.  Pretty soon conversation turned to latte art and a couple of his baristas started to pour.  It is interesting to watch people with a totally different style to my own – back to the whole fat leaves thing I guess.

What really surprised me was when David dragged both Stephen and I behind his bar to steam some milk and pour some drinks.  I know David is strict about who works his machines and you have to really put your time in and earn your place, so I guess I felt a little uncomfortable just jumping back there.  I also had to ask for the small cups to pour in because I have yet to get my head around anything bigger than a 12!  Both Stephen and I were a little disappointed with our pours though one of the baristas pointed out that you never pour better than when you are working the line and it becomes automatic and you stop thinking so hard.  It was surprisingly nerve wracking too and I felt very much on show and I am sure Stephen felt the same.  Still – I doubt there will ever be another opportunity to work behind the bar next to David Schomer.

Our last stop in town was a small place called Zeitgeist near Pioneer square.  They have a beautiful set up and a nice vintage GS paddle group Marzocco.  I loved the feel and theme of the place and just the building itself.  Worth a look.

And that was Seattle, Portland was beckoning and we needed to get in the car and go.  I think that every one of these city reports will have a tinge of regret for the places we didn’t see and people we didn’t get to meet despite really wanting to.  I have to say that Seattle on a sunny day is a great place to be, and it has a lovely feel to it.  That, however, was totally different to the feel of Portland….

UK Coffee Map

I started this map back in February last year, and then pretty much forgot about it until some folks at TMC brought it back to my attention.

Since then the same idea has been done in a bigger and better way in the US by EspressoMap but I wouldn’t mind too much if people wanted to add a few more things to the UK one which can be found here:

UK Coffee Map

A weekend in Dublin

For the Easter weekend Anette and I went over to Dublin to hang out with Stephen Morrissey and his girlfriend Jenny.

We were staying at his house and for the occasion he had blagged a Dalla Corte Mini to add to his coffee corner, as well as a Mazzer Mini E. Inevitably, what ensued was childish one-upmanship in the presence of a D-SLR. It was fun to spend some time messing around with latte art with someone who is not only very good, but has a totally different style to you.

I was quite pleased with some of the mid pour shots:

Pour Part 1

Pour Part 2

Stephen’s art in espresso cups (I am sorry but I just cannot stand the term “macchiarti”) was much better than mine, and it looks like he could have had space for a double in that Kontra cup:

Little art

If I am honest we probably didn’t spend enough time pulling shots and tasting espresso, but I think we were just in the mood to mess about. It is amazing how messy espresso in the home can be though it is nice to pull shots right next to a sink. The Dalla Corte was interesting to play with though the temp dial seems a very odd addition, I wasn’t really sure what was going on there…

On the Saturday we did a little coffee tour of Dublin. First stop was the little farmer’s market where Ariosa coffee have a stall. Michael, the owner and roaster, was working flat out pulling shots and selling his whole bean coffee. Stephen tipped him off and before we’d even got to the front of the queue we were presented with two espressos. They were really good, lovely and nutty on the nose and in the cup and quite sweet. Easily the best coffee we had that day, and one of the best “commerical” shots I’ve had in the UK. This photo makes me laugh – Michael smiles as Anette and I bury our faces in the cups, clearly unable to enjoy espresso like normal people!

Ariosa

We bought a little of his espresso blend and some of his Guatemalan, the latter of which was consumed in vast quantities far too late at night because it tasted really good!

From there we popped into Fallon and Byrne who also use Ariosa but they weren’t up to the same standard as the guy roasting it, which seemed a bit of a shame. The concept is great though – almost a little indoor market, loads of different deli style goods and a few counters and downstairs a bar with all the wine they have on offer. Definitely worth popping into if you are in Dublin.

After that it was up to the Bewleys cafe on Grafton street. The espresso was ok, well brewed but just not my kind of cup. It was nice to see them roasting away on the Probat in the window as we sat there.

Dublin, or at least the carefully chosen parts we saw, has a lovely feel mostly down to the lack of chain cafes. We walked past dozens of independents and I love that – lots of different styles and more of an old school cafe culture. It was a sunny day and loads of people were sat outside having a coffee. I do like Dublin.

Overall a great weekend, and thanks again to Stephen and Jen for the hospitality. Look forward to going back again.

Cafe Review – Caffe Vergnano

Caffe Vergnano

62 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0BB

Map

Caffe Vergagno have become the coffee darlings of the mainstream press of late.  They have used interviews and articles to rant freely on what they think espresso is and what it should be.  Cappuccino should be served at 44.5C for example (I love they are specific to half a degree!), and that anything with milk in is not coffee.

They have had a lot of positive write ups about the coffee and have a board outside proudly stating they won Time Out’s Best Cafe in 2005.  I’ve been a few times so today I went by and ordered a double espresso.  I didn’t really want that much coffee, but singles often tend to come out of single baskets and their dose doesn’t really do it for me when brewed like that.

They are using 2 Elektra machines, 1 Belle Epoque which looks lovely and then a standard two group that seems to sit pretty idle on the back bar.  Interestingly they are also using a rebadged Mahlkonig K30 grind to order machine.

So, my coffee was at least ground to order, a quick air-tamp and then in the machine.  It sat in the machine for about a minute as she wandered off to make some sandwiches for another customer and then returned slightly surprised to find nothing was brewed.  This was probably for the best as she hadn’t found a cup yet.  Anyway – the pour wasn’t too bad, a little quick for my tastes so thin and lacking texture in the cup.  From the picture it looks a lot better than it tasted, and I think some of the credit goes to the grind to order set up.  However, it was by no means utterly awful.  It is a little better than most espresso served in and around London so I can see how it might have gotten some better press.  Again I wouldn’t be negative about a cafe after just one shot but I’ve had five or six coffees in there which seems a fair amount in order to write it up.  Considering the hype – disappointing.

 

[tags]coffee, cafe review, barista, cappuccino, latte, espresso, caffe vergnano[/tags] 

Cafe Review – Bar Italia

Bar Italia

22 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4RF

Map

When I started in espresso Bar Italia was quite an inspiring place.  I was working for Gaggia and they had a massive old 4 group Gaggia lever machine.   It seemed classic, with a lovely old cash register, and so very Italian. They just seemed to turn out hundreds of coffees in an effortless way and they were better than the ones I was making.

Over the last couple of years my opinion began to change and that was rammed home by my visit today.

I really like it when a barista makes me feel welcomed.  I arrived to Bar Italia and was made to feel as if I was very much in the way, and the guys behind the bar just oozed arrogance and condescending.  The barista kindly allowed me to order a single espresso and slung a saucer in front of me whilst preparing other drinks.  I was stunned when the guy working the machine was a little short on milk for a latte and the other barista just picked it up, put it under the tea boiler and topped it up with hot water.

My espresso duly arrived and I was pretty much robbed for it.  £2 is a lot to ask for an espresso, especially when it tasted like it did.  It was clearly a pretty quick pull, and despite the massive robusta content (I could taste little else) any crema on the shot lingered only very briefly.  Harsh, watery and very bitter.  Not a good cup of coffee.  Looking at the other drinks going out the milk texture seemed pretty good, though I wasn’t really dying to taste a cappuccino.  I wouldn’t be this rude about a cafe after only one coffee but I have been several times over the last year or so and every experience has been pretty much the same.  Sorry there aren’t many pictures but they weren’t very friendly when I got the camera out and asked if it was ok.

Nice cups though.

[tags]cafe review, coffee, espresso, latte, cappuccino, barista, bar italia[/tags]

Trieste

Just got back from Trieste yesterday, having been there for a tradeshow over the weekend.  The city is beautfiul, incredible architecture and a really nice feel to the place.  This is going to be a slightly disjointed post, but lots to cover.

The Show – triestespresso

This show alternates every year with the HOST show in Milan.  Because of this I kind of expected it to be a massive show, and it wasn’t really.  However, I don’t think this stops it being a high quality show for exhibitors and everyone I spoke to seemed to have had a good show.  I was there mainly because La Spaziale were there and it was a great chance to catch up with them.  (We all stayed over the border in Slovenia, in Portoroz which is a beautiful place with such good seafood… I digress).

Also at the show were a few people I knew including Stephen “The Flying Thud” Morrissey, who was working for Espresso Warehouse on the Elektra Stand.  They seemed very tolerant about me coming by and hanging out, pulling shots and messing around with some new steaming pitchers.

My rosetta from the new pitcher

The new pitcher

There was all sorts of stuff at the new show (from new syrups including a Fair Trade one – which takes me to the uncomfortable zone of the Fair Trade brand outside of coffee, about which I know very little so tend not to be quite so dismissive of! But then I hardly ever use syrups so I should probably worry less)

 There were all the major cup manufacturers there, and IPA in particular had a great stand with two corners taken up with some suspended cups displays over mirrored floors.

 

Also on show in their booth was the much lusted-after gold illy espresso cup with the bizarre hole in it.

Beautiful, if deeply impractical. 

Stephen catches me catching him browsing the cups

 

Vintage Espresso Machine Show

I was delighted to find that this show was on, for free, in Trieste.  It is one thing to own the book and to lust from afar, quite another to see them all up close.

The backs of machines just aren’t as good these days.  (This is possibly my favourite picture of them all)

I have no idea how this works, and frankly – I don’t care.  I love it!

Beautiful old logo

Monster groups like this wren’t really there for brewing anything like espresso, instead it was quick brewed filter coffee, by the cup expressly for the customer.  This is probably another post in itself.

The Illycaffe Concept Bar

Trieste is also famous for being the home of illycaffe and I was extremely interested to see their own concept bar that they had opened.  Inside the baristas were doing about 10 kilos of coffee a day, plus one kilo of decaf, through a four group San Marco lever machine.  There were lots of cups and other bits and pieces on sale.

Pulling my shot

Really wasn’t that great.  Tasted a bit dirty and sour.  Of course this is only 1 shot of 1000 a day, I am sure most were better.  Just my bad luck!

Handles rising….

Wall of different cups on display

Outside the tables were embedded with coffee beans.

 

It was a great trip, a lot of fun and also put a better perspective on what Italian Espresso really is all about (yet another post I guess).  Would love to go back again and explore a little more.

Trieste Flickr Set

 

[tags]trieste, coffee, caffe, espresso, barista, illy, illycaffe, la spaziale, cappuccino, latte art, latte[/tags]

Cafe Review: Flat White

Flat White

17 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0PT

Map

I’ve been visiting these guys since they opened, and make no secret of the fact that I get on well with them.  It is always nice to walk into a cafe, say hi and have a cup of coffee pushed into your hand with an enthusiastic “try this!”.

The cafe is pretty small, kind of long and thin with a line of seating facing the bar.  In summer it gets unbelievably hot, but the coffee is good enough to still have it packed out.

The way they brew coffee is a long way from espresso’s origins, exported from Italy to New Zealand (the owners and staff are all kiwis) and then dragged back to London.  Some serious updosing is done here, so a single espresso is brewed from maybe 20g+ of coffee.  The result is very sweet (they use Monmouth’s espresso blend), intense little shot.  For some it could be too much, too intense, but I quite enjoy it.

They have a great reputation for their milk drinks, and they do a great job with them.  Latte art of just about everything and you get a feeling their is a little competition amongst the guys about this.  I don’t usually drink milk drinks, cos I don’t really like milk all that much, but I don’t mind a flat white or cappuccino here because they are nice and small and they taste really good.

Their hot chocolate.

A cappuccino

They’ve had plenty of good press, most of which adorns the back of their machines so you can read it whilst you are waiting to order.

A very successful cafe and rightly so.

[tags]coffee, barista, london cafe, cafe review, flat white, espresso[/tags]