Predictions for 2011

I can’t work out if these posts are getting tired or becoming a nice traditional thing. My success rate certainly hasn’t improved over the last few years! Nonetheless here are this year’s predictions:

1. Scales in drip trays

I’ve been going on about weighing espresso for a while, as have many others in the industry. This year we are going to see busy retail operations implement scales into drip trays for use with every drink. I also think this year a manufacturer of espresso machines will start to take this seriously and start R&D on building them in a standard.

2. C-market will peak, but won’t drop back too far

A lot of people are watching the C market, aware that it will have a frustrating impact on coffee quality as producers may have less incentive to pick/prep the highest quality when the prices are high for “ok” quality. There are certainly a number of factors at play in the high prices beyond the straight supply/demand relationship. Brazil’s entry into the C will probably have some effect, but I think we’re likely looking at small crops from places like Kenya and Colombia again which will help keep prices relatively high.

3. The WBC Prediction

This is going to be hard to quantify, but I think holding the WBC in a producing country will have a rejuvenating effect for those involved in the competition. I think it will be a great event and I hope people take full advantage of it being in a coffee producing country. Also I think the Scandinavians will be back in contention again.

4. A focus on service

We’ve had some focus on one cup brewing for a while now, and I don’t think the cycle is coming back round to espresso yet. I think there will more focus than before on the practical side of customer service in coffee. More discussion, some actual techniques and ideas being shared. The coffee industry will start to pay more attention to other industries. The winning routine at WBC will drive this idea home too.

5. More brewed coffee in the UK

I think that brewed coffee will continue to grow its market share. I say this without knowing what its current market share (if anyone has any data I’d love to see it.) Starbucks have long been the only chain in the UK to really do it properly. I think that the chains will join the independents in helping grow this market, though I think they’ll likely use it as a low cost, recession focused item whereas independents will be using it to produce higher value drinks.

Thoughts, comments and your predictions always very welcome in the comments!

The Cappuccino

If we were to say that brewed coffee is to be like wine, and espresso perhaps akin to creating an intense, complex spirit (like whisky), then I would say that the cappuccino is my favourite coffee cocktail. The combination of espresso and milk might seem a little simple, but calling a martini simple because it contains only gin and vermouth would be rather missing the point.

I’ve wanted to write about the cappuccino on here for a long time, for a lot of different reasons. The way I’ve thought about the cappuccino has changed a great deal over the years, but what has really prompted this post is pure selfishness. It is much easier now, in London certainly, to get a great espresso. If you enjoy milk in your drink then likely the best thing you’ll find is a flat white. A good cappuccino still remains pretty hard to find, and as I discovered when I logged my coffee consumption, I drink quite a lot of them!

Cappuccinos have never really been cool. It’ll be a long time yet before the word stops conjuring everything we hate about espresso based drinks gone wrong: badly brewed espresso, scalding hot milk, a looming, wobbly peak of milk froth all lovingly smothered in cheap cocoa. Delicious, no?

Around the cappuccino there remains a great deal of myth. One to get out of the way quickly: the name for the drink has nothing to do with the hoods of monk’s robes, nor the bald spot on their head. The original name for the drink was a kapuziner, and it was a Viennese drink was the 19th Century. It was small brewed coffee mixed with milk or cream until it attained the particular shade of brown that matched the colour of the Capuchin monks’ robes. Essentially the name implies the strength of the drink. If you want a genuinely traditional cappuccino then don’t even bother firing up the espresso machine. 1

This moves me onto the next frustration I have with myths of the modern cappuccino. The strange mystery of the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is passed around to this day, and describes a traditional cappuccino as being a third espresso, a third milk and a third foam. I was taught this very early on, as were a good number of people reading this. It didn’t take long for the oddity of it to dawn on me. Are we saying then, that if a single espresso is 25ml then a single shot cappuccino ought to be 75ml total? Nonetheless I still see cappuccinos that are labelled as being traditional with a recipe of being a double shot in a six ounce cup. This certainly fulfils the rule of thirds, but outside of the last 5 years I’ve yet to find any evidence or history of a double shot six ounce cappuccino existing to give it any form of tradition. This doesn’t make this drink any less tasty – it is a very tasty drink done well – I am just saying that traditional isn’t really a word that is accurate in its description. Would one describe a 12oz cappuccino, with a double shot at the bottom pulled long to 4oz, as traditional? I’m not slavishly devoted to, nor infatuated with, tradition. I just think we ought to use the term appropriately.

I own a good number of coffee books, and I’ve gone through a lot of them. The first reference to the cappuccino recipe of thirds I’ve found was in the 50s and it was described as being “an espresso mixed with equal amounts of milk and foam.” This sentence appears, pretty much verbatim, a number of times. It is a little ambiguous as it could be saying that only the milk and foam are in equal quantities, or that all three are. So the recipe of 1:1:1 could easily be meant to be 1:2:2. The single shot, 5-6oz cappuccino does have a long tradition, and is incredibly easy to find through much of Italy and the parts of Europe that haven’t succumbed to more generous portions of coffee as retail. It is also, when done well, absolutely delicious.

I used to be a little resentful of cappuccinos, to tell the embarrassing truth, because they were really hard to pour nice latte art into. (Bearing in mind that for almost all of my coffee career I’ve worked for companies that didn’t have cups bigger than 6oz). Barista competition didn’t help. I was guilty, as most competitors are, of prioritising the six point box for appearance (latte art or traditional) over the 24 point box for taste. I’d keep the foam as close the 1cm line (that was then the minimum) as possible – despite this meaning I was adding more milk than necessary and diluting the espresso further. This spread into my coffee making outside of competition. I began to resent foam (for want of a better phrase) and the cappuccino as a result. When people would complain about the lack of foam I wouldn’t be receptive – I thought this implied being out of touch, old fashioned. The arrogance of youth….

This is not all coming to a conclusion where I detail out the perfect cappuccino (though I will share what I currently really enjoy) I’m all for interpretation and individual presentation. I’m also for differentiation and definition and all too often I see cappuccinos that are nearly identical in recipe to other drinks on the menu, and that in the hands of different staff the drinks become completely interchangeable. This is true across the entire coffee industry, regardless of city or nation, of independent or chain.

In an odd way this is a plea for foam. I love really well textured milk foam. I like a decent amount of it in my cappuccinos too. I am not ashamed of this, though a more youthful me might have been. I really don’t mind if all that can be poured in the top is a heart of maybe a tulip. I love Intelligentsia’s policy of no rosettas in cappuccinos. Latte art is a good thing, but it still carries more weight than it is worth.

Our aversion to foam has created our own worst customers. Every barista I know hates making “dry” cappuccinos. 9 out of 10 people who order one, when asked why they want a dry cappuccino, explain that they are sick of getting drinks that are basically caffe lattes with a little chocolate on top. The only way to get the amount of foam that they want (that they have found) is to order the cappuccino dry. If you don’t believe me then ask them yourself. (Not in an accusatory way, but be genuinely interested and they’ll be happy to tell you.)

So – my current cappuccino recipe. Be warned, it is detailed (though with tolerances).

– Brewed into and served in a 5oz (150-160ml) bowl shaped porcelain cup. 2
– 15 to 17g of espresso 3
– 80-90g of milk, steamed to around 50-55C. 4
– The rest should be creamy, marshmallowy foam with bubbles so small they’re pretty much invisible. 5

I’m not going to label this “the perfect cappuccino” because that sort of thing makes me angry. It is just what I am really enjoying and I’d be interested to know what people think and what they are enjoying too. I suspect some people might take my thoughts about “traditional” cappuccinos above as an attack on their menu/store/brand/business. They are not. Hopefully it will generate a little discussion instead. Now don’t even get me started on flat whites….

  1. If you don’t believe me, that’s ok – I haven’t linked to any information here to back up my claims. There is plenty of information but if you are genuinely interested in this then the person to speak to is Professor Jonathan Morris, who wrote The Cappuccino Conquests. More information is pretty easy to find with a minimum of google-fu.  ↩︎
  2. No tulip cups, though they are easier to find in the smaller size.  ↩︎
  3. One spout of a double basket, I am going to presume you’re making too because they ought to be shared, or the other espresso should be consumed to alleviate a lack of caffeination. This liquid dose is dependent on the amount of coffee brewed, so we’re going to say 20g of coffee, brewing time of approx 28s and an extraction of 19-20%  ↩︎
  4. The cooler the better really. UPDATE – original post suggested 45C, which might be too cool for general enjoyment  ↩︎
  5. This will give you a coffee strength of around 1.8-2.0% which means there is plenty of strength in your single shot coffee drink. Ironically an underextracted short double, in a 6oz cup without much foam isn’t much stronger than this – 2.0-2.4%  ↩︎

Aida’s Grand Reserve

I am very much aware that promoting my own products or business on a personal blog very quickly spends any currency of goodwill that I might have built up.

There are, however, rare instances where I think it is entirely worth it and this is one of them. There is more information about the coffee on the product page, but we want to keep up the spirit of generosity of people like Aida Batlle and Gwilym and we want to raise as much money as we can.

You can read more about this coffee and what we are doing here. I hope you’ll consider buying a bag.

Aerated coffee

I’ve another post coming on why I blog, but this reason deserved a post in its own right.  A few days ago Shaun dropped me an e-mail about the Vinturi.  He’d played with it a little bit and thought it was interesting, and thought it might be something that would interest me. I admit I was curious – so I grabbed one from the UK website.  (Clicking through may help explain the image above!) Continue reading “Aerated coffee”

Upcoming events

Two events I am very excited about, one very soon and one in a few months:

London Gastronomy Seminars

This month is the second in the London Gastronomy Seminars series.  The title is “From plant to cup: flavour in coffee & wine” and I am presenting along with Jamie Goode.

Those of you into wine will know Jamie from and his blog is great too.  I saw Jamie present a few months ago and I learned a great deal, and hugely enjoyed his presentation.  The bar is set high for me, and I am going to work hard to make my part of the presentation as interesting and useful as I can.

If you are in London then do come down, feel free to ask me awkward and difficult questions and drink some coffee and some wine!

From plant to cup: flavour in coffee and wine
21 January 2010, 7pm
Senate House, University of London (directions are here)
(Hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Senses, Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study)

Tickets (£10)

SCAA Symposium

I’m also very excited about being involved in the SCAA Symposium this year.  I helped out in one of the workshops last year, but due to WBC commitments couldn’t get as involved as I would have liked.  This year’s event looks amazing and I am delighted to be attending.

I am taking part in the first session alongside some big names in coffee.  I hope I can bring something of value to the discussion! The program looks amazing and I look forward to catching up with a lot of people there.

See you at one of these soon I hope!

Predictions for 2009 – Analysis

Well.  I really didn’t do well this time!  Having done ok on my 2008 predictions I must say that I can’t quite claim the same level of success for 2009.

My predicitons were:

1. Coffee Packaging takes a step forward

Nothing here to report.  I don’t know if anyone has done anything interesting in 2009 with roasted coffee packaging but I certainly haven’t seen it, and I don’t think it has had an impact.  A poor prediction.

2. Improved Green Coffee Packaging

This is a tricky one.  I am sure that this year people have received record quantities of vac-packed, or grainpro packed coffee.  I know that a substantial amount of coffee that we’ve bought this year has come this way.  I also know that it leaves me conflicted over the amount of waste this packaging generates.  An OK, passable, but not great effort at prediction.

3.  Someone invents a grinder worth getting excited about.

Nope. Nothing here.  I know why, from an R&D cost Vs sales perspective, this hasn’t happened.  For some reason I guess I thought it just would.  A complete failure of a prediction.

4.  Decent Coffee Press in the UK.

I am going to claim this one.  You could argue that the quality of writing hasn’t been where it could be but I think this year we’ve seen unprecedented levels of coverage for speciality coffee – mostly in response to Gwilym’s win – but also covering the blossoming of London’s coffee culture.  I hope it continues.  A pretty successful prediction.

5.  Producing countries in the WBC Top 6.

Another utterly failed prediction.  Raul was just outside the top 6, and I think there was some surprise at who made the top 6 and who didn’t.  Nonetheless I can’t even vaguely claim this one as successful.

So…  Barely 1.5 out of 5 I reckon.  Not good work.  I shall have to try harder for my prediction for 2010, or just give up entirely!  I hope next time I don’t confuse speculation and prediction with wishful thinking!

The one interesting thing, in terms of me trying to salvage my credibility, are the two main predictions that I got wrong in 2008 – the rise of pressure profiling and increase in green coffee pricing – have somewhat come true in 2009.

There can be no argument on the pressure profiling front.  From the Slayer to Strada, but also to Cimbali’s rather impressive pressure profiling machine – the technology is now here and seems to have perhaps captured the interest of manufacturers more than baristas but I think it will continue to be incorporated into new machines.

As for green coffee – it may not yet have reached the peak of March 3rd but after a steep drop it is definitely back on the rise:

(couresy of Wolfram Alpha – the rather splendid search engine for this sort of thing.)

I’ll post my predictions for 2010 around New Year.

Recommended Coffee Reading List – Part 1


Back in 2006 I published a recommended reading list. Since that time my collection of books has (worryingly) increased so I thought I should probably update it. I could easily write a list of coffee books that one should avoid (having learned the hard way) but I suspect that would get me into rather a lot of trouble, so I shall leave that for now. I’ve broken it down into two parts and then down into sections, and have indicated which are nice to have, and which I would consider are essential on that subject.

I will try and keep this one updated – if you think I’ve missed something obvious then let me know.  I haven’t recommended books I don’t own, so this means some books may be missing that you would expect to see here.

Continue reading “Recommended Coffee Reading List – Part 1”

Agitating the industry

Last week I had the opportunity to pop over to Vienna for 24 hours.  It was the Allegra European Coffee Symposium, and I got to dress up in black tie and go to the Hofburg Imperial Palace for the awards dinner the night before.  I even got an award 1 which was amazing and I am very grateful!

I wish I could have wandered around Vienna for longer, in the end I only had a chance to pop into one coffee house – Hawelka – and those places are just no fun unless you have an afternoon to kill with a newspaper and an unusual desire for large quantities of whipped cream with your coffee.  They are possibly less fun if you are looking for an excellent shot of straight espresso, but I didn’t sample enough to know where local expectation lay, and how my own preferenes would fit into that.

The day after the awards was the symposium.  I don’t mind confessing that I felt a bit like the odd one out again – the speakers and fellow attendees came from Europe’s larger coffee companies and manufacturers.  However I am always interested in how that section of the industry views things, what is important, what their challenges are and what I can learn from them.

Continue reading “Agitating the industry”

  1. Outstanding Contribution to the European Coffee Industry 2009  ↩︎

I know this isn’t a video

And now you do too.

However, it is probably a bit of a rant.

There was much discussion on Twitter the other day (I know, that sentence still seems awkward and embarrassing to me too) about naturally processed coffees.  The discussion had started about how everyone seemed to be ignoring washed coffees from Yirgacheffe, having become distracted by the naturals – often the microlots from Beloya and Aricha.  1

The problem wasn’t so much that people weren’t excited by washed Yirgacheffe coffees – more that these new darlings of the coffee industry contained flavours that many would consider defective.  Reading this I began to worry in an odd sort of way about our approach to coffee, as well as our approach to the consumer.  2

Continue reading “I know this isn’t a video”

  1. I am aware that it really start with the discussion of the rather disturbing word “Beloyagasm” but that is kind of beside the point  ↩︎
  2. It should be added that if twitter could work out a way to nicely present a conversation amongst multiple users then I would be very happy!  ↩︎

Video 10 – Labelling results

In case I don’t make it clear enough in the video – if you can do this (if you are a cafe or roastery) then I would highly recommend this simple experiment.

Arthur Benjamin’s formula for changing maths education

The coffees we used 1:

Blackburn AA

El Carrizo

Ngunguru AA

Tegu AA

  1. this is more so you can read the descriptions than me trying to flog you coffee!  ↩︎