Cupping Vs French Press

I like cupping coffees, especially delicious ones. I am occasionally guilty of liking a coffee so much that I swipe the bowl after we’re done for drinking. This is obviously a disgusting and shameful habit, but hey – tasty is tasty.

Cupping is something that occupies a constant pocket of my mind – the process, the purpose, the results and everything in between. Like many people who often fall in love with coffees on the cupping table I also like full immersion brewing a lot. Often that means the french press. Continue reading “Cupping Vs French Press”

Return of the Uber

For a while all has been quiet on the Uber front.  We shuffled some stuff around at the roastery, and as part of it we chose not to cut the old Uber into the new worktops as we planned to upgrade – the new Uber having a different (smaller) cutout.

The new Uber arrived today and I am very excited.  This probably could have been a post for the Square Mile Blog, but there are many more exciting/important things to post on there!

What’s different about this Uber?  The capacity is bigger.  We sometimes used the old one for cupping, but it had more of a cafe use/quick recovery capacity so couldn’t do many bowls.  This one has a 6 litre boiler – very exciting!  This one has a flow control dial, instead of an button control.  It also has some beta software for us to test out.

I missed the Uber when it was gone.  My brewed coffee consumption dropped (a bad thing).   My experimentation also dropped off a little (also a bad thing).  I hope to get that going again.  I also grew irrationally annoyed with kettles (a weird thing?).

Before anyone accuses me of spam (perhaps fairly) I should make clear that we don’t make any money from the sale of Uber boilers, though yes – they are now available for sale.  It is just a project that we’re really excited about and it has been, and will be, a great tool for exploring coffee.  We’re extremely grateful to Marco – they are splendid!

8 steps to develop your coffee palate

This post is really for coffee consumers who want to develop their palates, which leads to coffee becoming more enjoyable.

I had been in coffee well over a year before I really began to develop my vocabulary and descriptive skills, and that is probably more embarrassing as I had done some work in wine beforehand.

What does the coffee professional have access to, that the consumer doesn’t, that allows them to progress so fast?  It isn’t cupping bowls, or spoons.  It isn’t scoresheets, or large amounts of data about where the coffee is from.  It is regular opportunities for comparative tasting. Continue reading “8 steps to develop your coffee palate”

Thoughts after a public cupping


I’ve really enjoyed the discussion going on after this post.   One comment that stuck in my mind was Aldo’s Fazenda Kaquend COE Vs Maxwell House experiment. It definitely affected some decisions I made when I was choosing coffees to take with me to a public cupping I did in East London as part of a charity fund raiser.

I knew I would have two separate groups, of between 10 and 20 people each time.  I had agreed to do a cupping, rather than a tasting of brewed coffee (which I would prefer to do with the general public usually), because they were paying for a bit more of an experience.

Continue reading “Thoughts after a public cupping”

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.  ↩︎

Morning coffee

I have a confession to make:  I used to, in a very snobbish way, hate the idea of a coffee being an “after dinner coffee” or a “morning cup”.  I thought it was one of those really stupid ways of selling coffee – like how supermarkets use the word “strength” to communicate how dark a roast is.  1

In recent conversations someone has said to me that they love a certain coffee, but not first thing in the morning.  Maybe mid-afternoon instead.  Initially I didn’t get it.  My very narrow mind assumed that good coffee was good coffee and that the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun shouldn’t have too much impact on how that coffee, my tongue and my brain all got along.
Continue reading “Morning coffee”

  1. That still does make me angry, and a bit frustrated.  It is probably the most common misconception – that the coffee itself has something to do with the strength of the cup.  ↩︎

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!  ↩︎

UK Cupping Competition

Just a quick post really about entering the Cupping competition today. I initially was told I couldn’t enter because they had 8 entrants and couldn’t possibly accomodate a 9th. Thankfully a couple of people dropped out so I had a chance to enter.

However I was also due to give a lecture/seminar at the Caffe Culture trade show right at the time I was now scheduled to cup. I asked for 5 minutes delay at the start of the table and just went for it. I think I did my table in 2 and a half minutes then ran off to go and start my seminar leaving someone else to do my reveal. A little while later I got another knock on the seminar door letting me know I was in the final and could I possibly pop out and cup quickly. Stephen kindly took over for 5 minutes as I breathlessly jogged across to the stage, I cupped as quickly as I could (2:26 I think) and then ran back to the seminar. I was very pleased to receive another knock on the door 5 minutes later to let me know I had won! Woo and yay! I shall now be taking on Stephen (and trying to scupper him the night before with a good curry – any info on good curry in Copenhagen appreciated) and being nervous tasting coffee with lots of other lovely people next month.

If I find any photos I will put them up. No trophy for the cabinet, but a certificate and someone to pay my airfare to the WBC which is very nice. Thanks to everyone involved – I will perhaps write up Caffe Culture at some point too.

East Coast Roadtrip – Counter Culture Roastery, NC

I confess I knew more about Counter Culture’s coffee than I did about the company itself. I was excited to visit their roastery and also we were honoured to stay in the House of Chang.

I also confess that the change in the clocks caught me off guard and it took me a little while to realise that all the people rapidly filling the Counter Culture training room were not overly punctual!

I wasn’t sure how many to expect for the event, and it turns out the NPR interview had been heard by more people than I’d expected. The idea of the presentation was to do a little introductory talk about my history in coffee and then to move into some single estate espresso, first cupping the coffees then pulling them as shots. What we didn’t bank on (or I didn’t anyway) was that around 75 people showed up to listen and that is a lot of people to have cup at once, especially as the majority hadn’t ever cupped before.

Peter Giuliano did an amazing job of organising and guiding them through it and then Anette and I pulled shots of the Kenya Gaturiri and Biloya on the FB80 whilst SERBC champ Lem Butler pulled shots of the Finca Mauritania PN on the their Linea. The response was amazing from those that were already well into coffee and those that were merely interested. I think we often underestimate the general public’s capacity for coffee and taste exploration, and it was a crowd I really enjoyed talking to. I won’t pretend that Dan Kehn of home-barista didn’t make me nervous by filming the whole thing, and in truth I’ve yet to bring myself to watch all the video he posted.

talking in Counter Culture

Talking to the Counter Culture training room, full of people

Sig drink speaking

Standing room only, which was nice

It was the kind of audience you really want to talk to. A mixture of people, backgrounds and interests that were all motivated by wanting to drink better (in every sense) cups of coffee. I really enjoyed the event, and it was kind of odd signing lots of stuff afterwards. (I never know what to write! Sorry if I scrawled anything stupid on a reader’s card.)

The roastery itself was very cool, and I am grateful to Counter Culture for them being so transparent about their operation. I was incredibly jealous of their setup – with the one bag (60kg) Roure and the one bag Renegade as main productions roasters and then 10 kilos Samiac (I think I spelled that correctly) for smaller batches of really special stuff. Tim Hill did a great job roasting up the coffees I sort of asked for (my e-mail about the single origins was more philosophical than direct…) and I wish I could have chatted to him for longer.

After we’d finished cleaning up Peter Giuliano appeared with some dried coffee cherries (minus the beans) and proceeded to make a variation on qishr, which is a tea made from the dried husks. I think it was traditionally sweetened but just steeping the cherries in hot water was surprisingly sweet and the general agreement was that it was like rosehip tea. I didn’t expect it to be as delicious as it was.

Peter and Qishr

Peter and Qishr

After a quick drink with the CCC crew we headed out to eat at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. Cindy, Anette, Peter and I were joined by Brett (the co-founder and co-owner of Counter Culture) and I had the most memorable food experience of the trip (just) with the Shrimp and Grits there. Everyone who has had it there talks about it fondly and it could well be my ultimate comfort food. I want to eat it again right now, because I am writing about it. So good. If you go to Chapel Hill and don’t eat it there then you are officially crazy. The chef, Bill Smith, briefly appeared to say hello and talk to me about a meal he had once had where they had roasted the fish in tobacco leaves (he also had been listening to NPR!)

The next day we hung out at the roastery again, and also I talked a little with Lem about his performance for the upcoming USBC and also about his sig drink and the like. Lem has a very natural, relaxed charm and it was a fun couple of hours.

Lem practising

Lem pulling shots and making drinks for us

We couldn’t leave Durham without a quick coffee at 3 Cups (I am such a coffee tourist, I have to buy all the t-shirts) and also to the Loco Pops just around the corner (the cookies and cream one is so very, very good) before filling ourselves way to full at Mama Dips. A final coffee at Open Eye and we hit the road and headed down towards Ashville.