The importance of being wrong

I feel it is about time I broached this subject.  With an eye to the last posts, as well as to the response to my Chemex videocast, I feel the need to make something very clear.

The internet is full of information, though it is also full of keyboard heroes, and has something of an issue with its signal to noise ratio.  Identifying who is a useful purveyor of information is tricky and, while there is growing use of indicators in forums, often it is he who shouts loudest that wins.

Continue reading “The importance of being wrong”

Is dead?

I love a dramatic title…. However, the question remains valid! I have barely posted in the last three months, and I can’t just place the blame on Square Mile commitments. In truth lots of little things have contributed – no more internet at home, a broken macbook that I keep forgetting to buy a new battery for, and just having less time.

I remain a little torn about continuing this blog. There are a lot of things on my mind that I would like to put to a public forum, to discuss and perhaps even opinionate upon! However I have to acknowledge that my previous compulsion to blog has gone.

When I started this blog it was mostly because I was struggling to learn and develop and it was a way for me to advance my learning. Let me be clear here – I am not stopping writing because I think I know all I need to know. Quite the opposite – I am confronted with new challenges and opportunities to learn and develop every single day.

Still – there are a few things I want to post about and maybe get some discussion going on. This may turn into a very long post.

Coffee, Labels and Descriptions

I am going to start with labeling. Labels have been a bit of an issue for me since I started to have to write them. I felt it was very easy to slip into a formula, one created and maintained by the industry as a whole. I felt that I was writing very generic sentences, even though the descriptions were precise and accurate to the coffee (I hoped!).

So I started to look around for inspirations. I did have some reservations that we write descriptions like this because this is the best way for the public to receive the information we are trying to deliver, and that in stepping away I would break a line of communication. If anything this was only re-inforced when I looked at labeling in wine. Here was one industry that we are jealous of, in terms of increasing consumer awareness and (ultimately) spending. Wine labels are still very much the same. I didn’t find anything particularly inspiring or interesting there so I moved back to the web.

Tag clouds always appealed to me as a method of delivering weighted information. I felt that with espresso in particular labels needed to embrace the multitude of flavours coffee is capable of offering and how brewing can influence the cup and change the emphasis on particular tastes. The problem I had with tag clouds was that they are generally pretty ugly.

I am grateful to our designers for being patient with me as I demanded beautifully typeset tag clouds from them, and more grateful for the hard work they put in on their own time. I am delighted with the results, and I hope that customers respond to it. It is by no means perfect but if it works then it may be something worth developing. Right now we are only using this on our seasonal espresso labels because it is such a time consuming process to typeset everything.

square mile espresso

New Square Mile Autumn Espresso Label

I am curious as to how customer reaction will be, and I hope they like it!

French Press/Cafetiere/Plunger

I have never been more in love with this little brewer than I am now. I think anyone who is a coffee professional has been both saddened and heartened at the same time that just about everyone has one of these at home and most people rarely use them, and when they do – they use them badly.

french press

I love the Bodum 1 cup Columbia

We’ve been brewing the ‘Wendelboe’ way – there will be a short videocast of this very soon – and it is about as sludge free as it gets. And I hate sludge. I really do. I hate that when I get to that last mouthful, and the coffee is usually at a perfect temperature, that I am put off it by the fines lurking at the bottom of my cup. I hope to get my hands on a Mahlkoenig Vario home grinder very soon, and I am hopeful that the burrs do a good job at this grind setting, more than I hope they do a good job for espresso. Which is probably wrong but hey ho. I just can’t help but look at an espresso machine and worry that for all we spend and how hard we have to work, compared to how often we are satisfied. (Not that I am have fallen out of love with my Synesso, it still makes me worryingly happy).

Environment, Ethics, Sustainability and Business

For a long time now it seems that just being organic, or being fair trade was a good enough reason to be in business. This may seem a harsh judgment but I think the service sector jumped to supply the growing consumer desire for ethical produce and in focusing solely on that forget the rest of the customer experience.

We never wanted to be labeled as a “green” company, or an “environmentally friendly” company. We wanted to be labeled as a high quality speciality coffee roaster first and foremost. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t be green, it just means that we don’t try and trade on it. This doesn’t just apply to coffee. As a customer of any company I driven primarily by product and customer experience. I won’t buy from somewhere just because they are a green company. In a way I am glad of the growing omnipresence of certifications of ethical or environmentally sound trading, because it has the two-fold effect of increasing the benefit from people working like this, along with removing it as a USP. I hope this makes sense, though it probably doesn’t.

For this reason we’ve been pretty quiet about the whole coffee bucket thing. That and we wanted to check the valves we put in were working, and that the coffee was aging properly and there were no ill effects in the cup. These days I feel quite bad whenever I pack coffee into disposable packaging, it feels so wasteful – and yet I completely believe and rely upon the benefits of proper packaging for coffee.

buckets for coffee

Roast dated buckets waiting to go out

This brings me onto another subject.


I worry we’ve shot ourselves in the foot as speciality coffee people. We’ve used “fresh roasted” as a tool for sales for so long that I think it might have started to backfire. I really don’t like very fresh coffee. I hate brewing it, it’s a complete pig. I like coffee 7 to 10 days old, I really, really do. Yet the consumer would likely be very disappointed that the coffee was a week old if they bought a bag and it arrived that far off roast. I’ve yet to find a way to brew very fresh coffee that overcomes the challenges of that much CO2 (we are talking espresso here) that I’ve had the acidity where I wanted it very quickly. Then again being this close to coffee so much, and being so analytical, one begins to worry if I even like coffee… (I do – and people like Gwilym are making me happy by pulling shots I can just sit back and enjoy.)


Last one for now – this post is easily long enough already and I don’t want to overdo it…

I am staggered at how good this is. In truth part of me expected it to be ok, but to be more of a novelty than anything else. The first time we brewed it I was a little surprised, and every time since then I’ve come to love it a little more. Having this available is the only reason we left the description of “coffee fruit” in one of the labels because it really is there in the coffee, and being able to taste that – even in a very unusual way – I hope makes a really nice taste connection for people. If we had been opening the cafe sooner (we’re not – perhaps another post when the economic climate doesn’t irk me so much) then we definitely would have been serving this as our ice tea. Aida did an amazing job and I am sure we are one of many companies hoping to see more of it next year.


Delicious dried coffee cherry flesh and skin

Ok. Rant over. Maybe there will be a new post tomorrow, maybe in 2009. Who knows…

Harangue me in the comments….

2007 – A review of the year


The year started like every year started with the UKBC heats and once again I was part of the crack team (read Steve Penk and me) driving up and down the country building stages and setting up the heats. Ed Buston won in a quiet Midlands heat, and Se Gorman won convincingly in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile people argued about Teflon killing you and I had a pleasing moment of enlightenment thanks to Andy Schecter’s idea of extraction ratios.

weighing a short double

Espresso Extraction Ratios


More heats – the North won by Lou Henry, the Southwest won by Hugo Hercod and then the London heat which, though very stressful, I managed to win after which I posted the blend recipe to stop myself using it again.


So – the UKBC final rolled around and I managed to win again, though the competition was much closer than the year before – I won by about 30 points opposed to around 200 in 2006. I also realised at this point that this would be my last year competing as three years in a row of competition and all the work that goes into it had been enough. Lugging a refrigerated centrifuge onto the stage probably hadn’t been worth it but the Coffee and Donuts drink was very tasty, I thought at least! Still – I was very happy though Tokyo seemed a long time away…. The other highlight of this month was my first tv appearance of the year on Ready, Steady, Cook! I was up against Se Gorman and was a happy loser on this occaison (you get a nice hamper of edibles!)

Klaus and my sig drink

Klaus finishing off the last of one of my sig drinks


On the most popular posts of this month was my photographic guide to some green coffees but as I had announced I was moving on from La Spaziale it was mostly a month of good old fashioned work, bar a quick trip over to Copenhagen to watch the awesome Lene take first place in the Danish Barista Championships.


The complete blog links page (now updated) becomes the most popular thing I’ve ever published. Anette and I go over to Antwerp and whilst I suck at the Latte art competition, Anette storms to victory becoming the World Cup Tasting Champion! This is far more interesting and important to me than an auction lot generating $130/lb but the press don’t agree.

Anette wins!

Anette celebrates her win (mostly for the UK!)


I know no longer work for La Spaziale UK. For 2 and a half years I’d been their barista and training manager and in that time I don’t think there was another coffee company in the UK that I would rather have worked for. No one else was as forward thinking, as interested, invested or passionate about espresso and coffee. However we have big plans for something else so it was time for me to move on, and also for Anette to leave her position at Mercanta. The first thing we do is hop on a plane and head to the West coast of North America for a little roadtrip. We head from the wonderful hosting of the Elysian guys in Vancouver to hanging with Schomer and seeing Synesso in Seattle, then on to Portland (everything I expected) for lots more good coffee before limping down to San Francisco to sleep and hang out with Ritual. The final stop being a couple of days in LA with the new crew, and be driven around a little by Tonx. A truly inspiring trip – my only regret being not able to take four times as long to do it.

cupping in LA

Cupping at Intelli LA


At this point I realised that Tokyo was now looming very seriously on the horizon so it was time to retreat indoors with a GB5 and practice, practice, practice. I do love competition but I don’t love the long hours and stress that come with serious practice and rehearsals – Anette’s ability to cope with me during these times still amazes me. However the stress clearly starts to get to us and the absurd latte art comeptition is born the night before we head to Tokyo.

absurd latte art competition

Our absurd latte art pour


WBC time – I compete in the heats first up on the second day. Things go wrong – I have to repull my first set of capp shots, my burners blow a fuse and I don’t realise they haven’t worked until the very end. I smile, forget to call a technical and finish – I am offered another run but turn it down. I assume I’ve messed up – I’ve seen so many great baristas compete I think I haven’t a chance. Little do I know I’ve qualified in second and when I realise I’ve made it into the finals I aim to go out and have some fun. Which I do, and it turns out the judges had fun as well. Becoming World Barista Champion was the most amazing surprise and an indescribable feeling. It still hasn’t sunk in completely. People say lots and lots of nice things! I am very grateful to everyone who worked so hard helping me and asked for so little in return.
I am also delighted the cups I had signed get auctioned off for $500 – Poul and Steve are both incredible and generous people.
At this point I realise that the plans we’ve been making may get a little delayed with likely WBC duties.

finals presentation

About to begin my finals routine


The travel begins! We head off to Toronto to judge the CBC and pour latte art in Arthur’s ear for the now hotting up Absurd Latte art challenge. My first time judging and I love it though I get very nervous. From there it is straight into the Nordic Barista Cup which is in Gothenburg and is great. We mostly hang out with the lovely Chris and M’lissa and laugh at a cafe roasting in a domestic oven. The absurd latte art competition comes to a close and is rightly won by the guys.


The UK go and get our asses kicked by the Russians on home turf in the European Team Coffee Challenge. Moscow doesn’t endear itself to me – mostly due to endless traffic jams. Outside of barista-ing but still coffee related is my doing the photography for the Espresso Warehouse catalogue which was a great challenge and I think turned out pretty well. A trip to Milan for HOST is a welcome chance to remind myself exactly what Italian espresso is all about and to catch up with some of the guys from Ritual who are over working a booth. Robusta makes us pull faces.

Russia wins the ETCC

The Russian teams wins the ETCC


Anette and I go to Colombia – to Armenia for coffee farms and Bogota to judge their barista competition. I love the place and wish we could stay longer and see beyond the exhibition centre. Anyone who travels a lot for work to the inside of boring exhibition centres in interesting places probably feels the same quite often. It was, however, great to hang out with Salvador (the Mexican Barista champion) and some of his family. On returning home I get my GS3 from La Marzocco – part of my WBC prize to go with my Compak Grinder and Mahlkoenig K30 from the UK comp (I am spoiled, I know…..)

Me, Salvador and Fabian

Me with Salvador and Fabian (Colombian champ 2007)


A quieter month but a highlight was definitely a trip to Probat with Anette, Klaus and Casper. The museum itself is reason enough to go – so many amazing machines. Not long after that I sneak off to Costa Rica for a week to talk about all things barista related and to see Herbazu and meet the farmers to whom I am so grateful. It is all a bit hectic but it is good to sneak away to Norway for Christmas to think about the next year and wonder what will happen. I promise updates and explanation with regards to Square Mile Coffee Roasters and the UKBC gets into full swing too – but no reports this year as I’m judging, only photos of ones I attend as a spectator.

It has been an amazing year and I am really looking forward to 2008. Hope it is a happy and prosperous year for you too!

Some changes to the blog

I know the last time I tried to change the look of the blog there was some “resistance”.

Well – I was still struggling with the old style, and I have been looking at the way people use the site and it seemed that this kind of layout would work better. There may be the odd problem with the formatting of old posts – let me know if you find anything (a comment in that post would be great!) This layout should also mean that the front page loads a lot quicker because there are less big images (though I can now post bigger, prettier images in posts which is nice).

Hopefully you’ll all like it – there shouldn’t be any changes to the feed so if you usually read like that then don’t worry.

This ever expanding blog

This week a small change caused me to go back and have a look at the growth of this website. It was a small change, good only in a geeky way: My google page rank went up to 5.

I know, I know – not very interesting. However it caused me to have a look at the Analytics page (is there anything Google doesn’t do brilliantly?) and see who’s visiting and why. Since the WBC the readership jumped up, and I was pleased to see we had retained quite a few of those readers – about 10,000 more visits a month in fact, pushing me up to an average of about 25,000 a month. This seems a lot, but then I don’t really know what to compare it to except what I had before.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my higher page rank in google means that when you search for roasters or products that I’ve rambled on about, my blog is often on the first or second page of results. Not sure how I feel about this, though I do notice a lot of clickthroughs from these sorts of google searches.

People have asked if I’ve considered making money from it, and I have. However I am a long way from generating enough traffic to seriously bother my bandwidth allowance (for which I pay very little) and whilst this may not be the most beautiful site it would look much worse with ugly ads running through it. Maybe when I hit 100,000! I’ve had occasional e-mails from people asking if they could pay me to promote something on here and I’ve turned them down.  What started as a place to post thoughts and progress back in 2004 seems to have become something else, and I confess that keeping it interesting does play on my mind from time to time.

To try and do just that I am hoping for a series of guest posts over the coming months, as well as some more trip reports from my future travels.

Also despite never having to compete again my brain hasn’t quite shut down on the signature drink front so I will probably continue to post various ideas and recipes in the future. There will also probably be the odd article on science-type stuff whenever I get long enough sat down with a serious book or two (I am thinking plane flights probably!) though if there are any requests I’d be interested in hearing them.

Overall I just want to say thanks for reading, and in many cases contributing. Whilst this isn’t really a community, it has been great that so many people have argued, corrected, schooled and helped me over the years. I hope you keep coming back.

Updating the blog’s stlyes

EDIT/UPDATE: OK!  Changed back!

For the last week or so one or two of you might have noticed that the blog was a very strange looking colour or had an unusual layout.

I’ve been experimenting with a few things to try and change the layout and the feel of the blog. I wanted to keep a clean, simple look and yet move it forward a little bit. I like the navigation for this template and plan to spend a little more time making it more my own and adding a bit of colour!

Updating a few previous posts seems to have messed with my recent posts block but hopefully things will be back to normal pretty soon once I’ve played around with it a bit more. If you hate it then please drop me a line!

The coffee-porn headers will be back shortly!

(If you only ever read this blog through an RSS reader then this probably makes no sense!)