London Coffee Jobs website

Today I created a simple website with a simple goal:

Connect quality focused cafes/coffee roasters/coffee suppliers with potential staff.

I get a lot of emails, and meet a lot of people looking for barista jobs in London, and I know shops are always looking but I forget to keep track of exactly who.  The idea of the site is very simple – shops can easily create a listing for a range of positions and hopefully we can drive people towards it who are looking for jobs.

There is the potential to monetize it but I’d rather it worked, so at some point I might put on a small posting fee to cover the cost of the website.  If there is sufficient demand I might open it up to outside of London, to maybe the whole of the UK.  Thoughts on this are welcome?  In order for it to be useful then it needs people to know about it and use it.  I’d really appreciate people’s support on this one.

London Coffee Jobs

I know I am technically biased when it comes to coffee in London but the site is completely neutral and open to anyone, I won’t be moderating/editing unless there is some genuine misuse/spam.

Brewed coffee and the UK

This is something of a summary of the short talk I gave at the Allegra Strategies UK Coffee Leader Summit a week or so ago.  Please also bear in mind that this talk was directed at the UK market specifically so won’t necessarily hold true for other national coffee cultures.

For me this talk was a moment of crystalisation about how I feel about coffee right now, and what I want to focus a lot of my energy on.  I had initially planned to talk about how quality focused businesses were doing well right now, but in the process of writing the talk that seemed to shift.  I should add a final caveat to this by saying that I do love making and drinking espresso.

My talk was titled “How the coffee industry lost the public’s trust, and how good coffee can win it back again.”

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A grand unified theory of espresso

Not too long ago I posted on Home Barista about trying to find a good way to measure the density of coffee beans.  1

As always the paricipants there were way smarter than me and offered several interesting options. I dropped into the thread that this was part of my idea of a grand unified theory of espresso, and subsequently a few people mailed and pm’d me asking what on earth I was talking about and what density had to do with it.

Well, I should probably explain what I have been thinking.  2

Continue reading “A grand unified theory of espresso”

  1. There really is no better place on the web for these kinds of questions!  ↩︎
  2. Some of this is based on personal preference, some on what seems to be fairly well agreed upon within the community of people who worry a lot about their espresso.  ↩︎

A bit of (bad) news

When we started Square Mile our goals were fairly traditional for a startup roastery.  After the last Nordic Barista Cup that changed.  We had the chance to hang out with (the now newlywed) Chris and M’lissa Owens.  As anyone who has met them can attest – they are astoundingly wonderful people.

We had a new goal – to be the kind of company that they would want to come and work for, and to be big enough to sustain them.  This is a much healthier goal for a new company and we worked very hard to achieve that.

Chris and M’lissa (unbelievably) wanted to come to London to work with us and that was incredibly exciting.  We, foolishly, got excited and told people about this.  However one final hurdle stood in the way – the UK visa process.

The UK visa process has changed this year and try and try as we did we couldn’t overcome the challenge.  We, with great sadness, couldn’t get them over to work legally for any length of time and so disappeared an incredible opportunity to work with some of the most talented, inspiring and undeniably wonderful people we’ve met.

We’re gutted.  No other words for it.

Usually I wouldn’t post about this kind of thing on here.  However, with SCAA/WBC coming up I am sure a few people are going to be asking them about London and I am sure it isn’t something they are wanting to talk a great deal about – not for any secretive reason, it just makes us all quite sad.

I can’t wait to see them and hang out in the next few days, and it was lovely to find out Gwilym’s barista buddy was Chris.  As you’ve probably gathered we think the world of Chris and M’lissa and are sure they have an amazing coffee career ahead of them.  We just wish we could have shared some of it with them.

Unblended espresso

Forgive the ugliness of the title, but I think talking about SO (Single Origin) espresso does a great disservice 1 to what people are beginning to achieve and push for.  I am aware that in a way every lot of coffee is a blend on some level but that isn’t what I want to talk about.

Nick Cho highlights the potential advantage of the simplicity of using a single estate or lot in competition over on Portafilter but what is most interesting about all this is that I think we can acknowledge how far we’ve come in coffee recently.

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  1. as well as diverts away from the traceability we often want to highlight  ↩︎

5 more tips for barista competition

Last year I wrote a post with 6 tips for barista competition.  This year, with the rule changes and all, I wanted to write another little post (though still give the first a quick re-read…).

I really want to  encourage people to enter, it isn’t as difficult or scary as it seems.  Everyone who competes, as long as they do it for the right reasons, gets a lot out of it and doesn’t regret a minute of it.  What’s more – I guarantee it will make you a better barista.

1).    Make sure you put an espresso into every sig drink.

Now to begin with this might sound painfully obvious, but every year people make this mistake and up until now the rules haven’t been very clear.  Just brewing those 4 espressos isn’t enough.  If you blend them into something and don’t pour it all out then it doesn’t count as an espresso per drink.  Under the new rules you would get 0 from all sensory judges for this category so DO NOT make that mistake.

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Who is to blame for bad coffee?

I’ve written a lot recently with an industry readership in mind.  This post I write with the consumer firmly in mind.  This isn’t about exonerating lazy cafe owners and baristas, or excusing the chains or making allowances for restaurant coffee.  Anyone who loves or even likes coffee will often complain about how bad a lot of it is, how hard it is to get a good cup.

You, the consumers, are to blame. 1

Now you certainly can’t take all the blame but consumers have an enormous power over the people making the coffee.  After all – you’re paying for it.  You are staggeringly tolerant of incredibly poor product.  You can do something very simple that would have a huge effect on the quality of coffee served:  when it is bad – take it back.

Continue reading “Who is to blame for bad coffee?”

  1. I ought to make it clear at this point that obviously consumers are not really to blame, but to start a discussion about the power of the consumer and also – heaven forbid – have a little fun with this topic!  ↩︎

SCAA/USBC

(warning – long post and lots of big photos)

So – many of you know I was very kindly invited to Minneapolis to be part of the blog team updating the SCAA Blog. I was in esteemed blogging company – Erin Meister, Travis (quiet but awesome videoist) and Katie and Zachary who happened to change the face of coffee blogging back in Tokyo last year. Our remit was simply to cover the show, and to some extent we were making it up as we went along.

This was my first USBC and my last SCAA show had been Seattle in 2005. I had never attended any SCAA workshops before, so didn’t really know what to expect from that angle. Covering a talk ate up a lot of time, and often resulted in what seemed like not that much text. I think all of us were aware that we were writing for the SCAA, at their expense so we just tried to find the best of the show.

Of course the real draw for most people was the USBC. This has to be the most hardcore of the barista competitions outside of the WBC. The open rounds had 50 spots, and those baristas were whittled down to 16 who joined the 9 regional champions in the semifinals. Some amazing baristas didn’t make it through round one, which was oddly depressing and inspiring.

Chris Deferio

A very calm Chris Deferio in the semis pouring lovely tulips

Bronwen Serna

Bronwen watching the clock

The highlight of the competition for me was getting to MC the finals with Nick Cho. It wasn’t getting to be onstage, or talk rubbish into a microphone. It was getting all six of the finalists to make us an espresso after their performance was over. I know what you are thinking, it is what everyone has been asking – which was best?

It is a difficult question to answer. Drew certainly had the advantage of making my first shot of the day, and it always tastes better when your body wants caffeine. Nick’s shot was really interesting though I was more focused on looking for the leather/sweet suede he described (which I totally got!). Heather’s shot reminded me of the WBC blend she brought to machine testing – quite heavy and with some prominent naturals. In contrast Chris Baca’s single estate Brazilian natural was not very naturally and super clean and complex. Pete’s blend was, in my humble opinion, more a traditional espresso blend (certainly in contrast to the three other single estate shots I’d taste) – quite heavy bodied and sweet. Kyle’s shot was stolen by Katie and he very kindly remade me a double. At this point I was quite caffeinated but his pull was very different to Nick’s – shorter and more intense, with the acidity a bit louder. Looking back it is tricky to pick a favourite but I told the people right after that it was probably Drew’s – though that isn’t to demean those other shots that were also truly excellent but suffered an increasingly caffeinated taster.

I get to this point and I realise I haven’t really talked about the first round or the semis. I didn’t get to see all of either though it was kind of fun to be allowed onstage (to photograph) whilst a few awesome people performed. I enjoyed Ben Helfen go job hunting in Finland, and Lem Butler… what can I say – Lem was a pure drama, rollercoaster-ride of a performance that brought tears to my eyes when against all odds he came in on time despite luck being against him and scuppering the start of his set. Watch the video…..

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Sexy Foam

Come to think of it that stage was crazy – being up there was not a comfortable experience. The combination of the lights, the sound and the stadium seating meant you felt very distant from the audience and I think the overall experience threw a good number of the competitors. Perhaps those who had to go through round one had an advantage over those in the semis in that they knew a little more of what to expect from that. It looked great as a stage though!

Chris Baca dosing

Chris Baca in the Finals

For onstage photographing I was often accompanied by Meister who was far better at being out of the way than I was, and also by Liz “Twitchy” Clayton. Talking to Liz we would often joke and aim to get the best possible intense judging pictures. This is one of my favourites, in my mind the portafilter is glowing like gold…..

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Intense Judging

Jay’s libation (I know Jon isn’t a God technically, but I couldn’t think of a better word – “toast” just doesn’t seem to do it) was a lot of fun – people always have high expectations of Jay’s performance and this was more touching than shocking.

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Jay Handing out the beer

One thing was clear this year – lots more talking about the coffee. Lots more, which I something I thoroughly approve of. Baristas were there representing their coffee in a different way, seemingly more aware of a barista’s position in the coffee chain. It seemed to be the first competition I’d seen where the espresso upstages the sig drink and that is something no one can complain about.

I didn’t taste as much as I would have liked to – in terms of all the drinks, but I did manage to snaffle a few glasses out of the bussers trays. I’d like to apologise to the busser who tried to stop me tasting a drink, telling me I wasn’t allowed but unable to stop me because she was stuck holding the tray with both hands. (And no – I didn’t give it the “don’t you know who I am?!” crap, despite several people suggesting that this is the way to go in such situations…)

No doubt Kyle’s individual sig drink preparations were a great little concept, in line with espresso being a drink prepared to order, for an individual opposed to other bulk brewing methods. Scott Lucey’s sig drink was also great – simple, yet very tasty and totally ticking the texture box for me with its custard component. I would have killed to taste Baca’s drink but the judges drank it all every time (as asked) so we (me, hopefully bussers, audience members, friends and bloggers) were left salivating but unsatisfied. I have to just add that the whole Ritual crew were very inspiring to me, as were the Intelli crew. People like that get me excited about coffee and I don’t think it is out of place to say that if there were a barista’s barista award at the show (as there have been at some regionals) then Baca may well have picked that up.

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Those crazy

Scott Lucey

The ever awesome Scott Lucey

One more note on the competition – the live feed. I can’t believe how well it worked out, how much fun it was to interact with people watching and on occaison to pick up the laptop and do a little backstage cam stuff. Sorry for my silliness. The quality of the feed will only improve and I hope to online as well as live at the WBC, interacting again with all those online watching things unfold.

There is lots of other discussion circling around online – from the SCAA blog coverage to the grinders baristas were using onstage and the techniques that went along with them. The doserless Roburs are terrifyingly fast (2.5s for around 19-20g by the look of things) but I suspect the Anfim’s scored higher. It was great to talk to John Ermacoff about the mods he has done on the ones Ritual are using. I suspect that if you put John Ermacoff, Greg Scace and Andy Schecter into a workshop for a month, gave them unlimited budget, then they would come up with something that would totally change the way we brew espresso.

I spent virtually no time on the show floor, which was quite frustrating as there were lots of people I wanted to see, but I had a few good drinks – the Chemex of Ethiopian Konga from Lindsay at 49th was delightful as was my espresso from Jeremy on the Synesso booth. Getting into lectures and workshops at the show was a privilege but I don’t really have anything to add to the stuff on the SCAA blog.

So congratulations to Kyle. I am a big fan of his, it was a pleasure to watch him perform three times and to see that performance evolve onstage. He is not only technically outstanding as a barista but a great ambassador for specialty coffee in the United States. That and he makes me laugh quite a lot. Hopefully I’ll catch up with him before WBC, but if not I can’t wait to see him again there and see what he brings to the stage.

I know I’ve missed out people, coffee and things and I apologise – I always forget stuff and my head still isn’t on the right way around. I am sure people reading this will have questions and I will try and answer them – and if I have forgotten obvious stuff (not unlikely) I will add to it asap.

Post 500: Espresso…..

It only just dawned on me that this next post would be a milestone post (thank you wordpress dashboard) so I thought I should post in an opinionated way about coffee as a couple of things have been eating away at my brain. It has been a real pleasure writing this blog over the last few years and again thanks to all of you who read, comment, correct and interact – it makes learning for me a pleasure.

    Fear of Dilution

This is something that I think we all agree on at Square Mile HQ – a little dilution is not a bad thing.

As coffee is forced onwards in an online game of one-upmanship it seems shots have been getting shorter and shorter. No doubt the very visual medium of the internet means we are more terrified than ever of even the vaguest signs of blonding.

A paler pour does not equal bad taste, it just means that there are less coffee solubles in that pour.

From the colour we can not gauge the quality of those solubles. Empirical evidence certainly suggests that the longer the paler pour continues the more increased the bitterness in the cup. However for me it is all about balance I struggle to find balance in super short shots. Even from a technical standpoint I struggle to see how a complete extraction of all the goodness the coffee has to offer can be done with such a small amount of liquid. (Even though, as Andy Schecter points out here, more energy is being spent in the cake in these type of shots)

The constant chase for the heavier bodied, “sweeter” shot sometimes makes me sad as I wonder how many good flavours and desirable aspects of the coffee get knocked out with the spent puck.

blonding

This shot may be blonding to some people but it still tasted good

    The rapidly disappearing single espresso

This one also turns me a bit ranty I am afraid. Maybe it is the bigger, better, harder, stronger thing but in many places around the world when you order an espresso you get a double. Whether the volume is 30ml, 45ml or 60ml this is irrelevant. I like coffee, I like drinking espresso and I like tasting different things. Whilst I may worry about coming across as the curmudgeonly Italian we specialty people all complain about who gets angry about our excessive dosing of coffee, I can’t help but agree that too much caffeine really limits my ability to enjoy my coffee. I really like a single espresso I think one of the most attractive things about great espresso in Scandanavia is that they are all just as hardcore about the quality but don’t feel the pressure of the big drinks to need every espresso brewed to be a double.

This isn’t really a rant about the single basket. I know a lot of people lament its rapid disappearance and I know it is a damn finicky thing to work with. That said one of my most viewed is this one – a single basket naked pour:

naked single basket

Naked single basket

    How to enjoy espresso

This one is less rant and a bit more fun I guess. Tasting shots you brew, or shots you are assessing is rarely, if ever, fun. Inspecting the shot in minute detail with your tongue and olfactory system you quickly find the flaws – a touch of astringency, or a hint of underextraction or maybe the shot shows itself a little overextracted in the finish. It is easy to demolish just about any shot (ask a competition judge if you don’t believe me!) but it is often very difficult to enjoy it.

A friend of mine once told me that a different part of your brain assesses things than makes hedonic decisions 1. One part of your brain decides if it like, and the other part analyzes it. One part tends to dominate (the mean, cynical part going by personal experience). Recently I’ve taken to trying to trick myself. (I am aware I am starting to sound crazy now). It all started when we were pulling shots of Coffee Collective’s espresso that Stephen used to win the Irish Barista championship. He pulled me a great looking shot and just as I got it to my lips he asked a distracting question and instead of paying attention to the shot my mind was elsewhere. When my brain finally reconnected with my mouth all that was left was an overall awareness of deliciousness but little more. Suddenly I was like a normal customer, a person who drinks coffee for money because they like it. It had been a long time since I had thought like that, and I really liked it.

So now I will either drink espresso as a harsh judge, and look for every flaw or I will try not to pay attention – to distract myself so I can just switch that part of my brain off to enjoy an espresso now and again.

  1. Though I confess, while I completely trust him – he is painfully smart – I never did go and find papers online to back this up  ↩︎

East Coast Roadtrip – Ashville and Charlotte

Ashville seems to be something of an odd place considering its location. I wasn’t aware of its reputation as being one of the more relaxed, liberal (though I hate the word) cities in the South, but when you get there it does have a very different feel. I also appreciated the rocking chairs in the Counter Culture training centre there!

Rocking

Happily rocking away

The presentation was in the evening, so we wandered around town a little with Mary who runs the training centre there. I bought a book or two (on Chris Deferio’s recommendation – Thanks Chris!) and we drank too much chocolate ganache of various flavours. The event that evening was very different to the one in Durham, but not in a bad way. The focus was a bit more onto espresso techniques and it was mostly baristas from nearby shops and one lovely chap who was a pro cyclist and also a bit of a coffee nut who trains in the mountains when Canada is too cold. Latte art seemed pretty popular…

pouring latte art on the floor

Kneeling and pouring latte art

After the event a few of us hung out for drinks and we got chatting to a couple of guys from the Dripolator, a shop in town. We vowed to make it there for breakfast before leaving town, and we I ate my first vegetarian meal of the trip – I’d never had tempe before so I was curious!

The shop was cool, a big space but its layout meant it felt quite intimate wherever you were in the room. Coffee was drunk, and thanks again to Jay the owner for his hospitality and also for the awesome Dripolator mug.

Me, Jay and Anette

Me, Jay and Anette

After Cindy had purchased a suspicious green smoothie we hit the road heading back across to Charlotte for the event that evening.

Brent and Banks have a great space to work from, and the event that night was pretty full. We tried to sneak in a quick dinner at Dish before hand, but it was quickly becoming clear that sneaking in a meal in the South is pretty hopeful.

A good mix attended the talk, though a fair few from a rival local roastery which was interesting. I always like the bit afterwards where you get to chat people, hang out and it becomes a bit less formal. One couple had driven up from Greenville for the event, which was cool – especially as they were huge hardcore coffee people and a few other local enthusiasts had turned up as well.

Talking in Charlotte

Talking to the audience in Charlotte

The hotel we stayed at was lovely – the Blake, and it cemented itself as memorable by having a member of staff who was convinced Anette was someone famous “under cover”.

After a fine breakfast, and some NASCAR discussion we hit the road towards Atlanta, with a pitstop ahead at the home of the chemically imbalanced – Greenville.

Stephen Morrissey – Irish Barista Champion 2008!

Massive congratulations to Stephen on winning the Irish Barista Championship (as well as winning the latte art and the cupping, the talented swine!)

Both Anette and I were gutted we couldn’t be in Dublin to support Stephen, and to watch him win. I know from Tokyo that Jen (Stephen’s better half) is great at supporting someone competing and Tim Styles no doubt did a great job of helping do all the things that make competing a little bit easier and a tiny bit less stressful.

I am looking forward to finding out more about how Stephen did and reading his write up of the event. In the meatime I hope he got very, very drunk after the event as I believe is fitting.

Thanks also to the Coffee Collective for roasting awesome coffee, and as they have set the bar very high when it comes to working on a coffee for Stephen to use in Copenhagen once we start roasting.

Stephen is a great barista, and a great ambassador for coffee in Ireland and in general. I can’t wait to watch and support him in Copenhagen!

Congratulations again.