Tick, tick, tick….. boom.

The internet is quite talkative at the moment.  The coffee sliver of the internet anyway.  Lots of talk about seasonality, which is a good thing.

This does beg the question – how long is coffee good for?  Green coffee I mean – we’re still arguing about roasted coffee’s shelf life and a great deal more time and money has been spent on that topic in the last 100 years.

If anything, and we are getting into the realm of personal opinion here, green coffee is trickier because green coffees don’t age the same way.  Each lot is an individual little time bomb.  As much as we can look after it as well as we can in storage/in roasteries – we are still working with an individual fuse whose approximate length was determined before the coffee left the producing country. Continue reading “Tick, tick, tick….. boom.”

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.

5 Predictions for 2009

I suppose I consider my previous predictions (with your support) reasonably successful.

Just for fun I am going to make another 5 predictions and we’ll wait and see how they turn out!

1).    Coffee packaging takes a big step forward

Think for a moment about how many kilos of espresso are brewed every day.  Think about how many bags are thrown away each day.  Good packaging is a necessity for quality, but it isn’t recyclable and that is becoming more and more of an issue.  The reusable, valved buckets we’ve been using at Square Mile have been great, and I am glad the bulk of our production goes out in them, but we still have to bag a good deal up.  Hopefully this year we’ll see someone clever devil make a breakthrough and move coffee packaging at least a little closer to closed loop recycling.
Continue reading “5 Predictions for 2009”

Rate my predictions for 2008

On January 2nd this year I made five predictions – you can read them here – and I guess before I put up my predictions for 2009 I should probably decide how well I did last year.  Or better still – you guys decide!

1 – The spread of the Clover.

I could be really brave and predict that Starbucks will start using
them, but I think the guys at Clover would curse me for jinxing them!

I think I did pretty well here – though no one predicted Starbucks buying them outright.  You could argue that Starbucks haven’t really spread them around, but as I am not in the States I don’t know how often they are cropping up.

2 – World Barista Championships

I am not going to be as bold/stupid as to try and pick a winner but I
think the shift away from a Scandinavian-heavy final will continue.

2 of the 6 finalists were Scandinavian, but neither placed in the top 3.  I feel pretty safe claiming this one!  Congrats again to Stephen!

3 – Coffee prices continue to rise

I am not sure I am going to be able to claim this one.  Whilst things did look good (briefly) for this prediction earlier in the year prices seemed to have slumped at the end of it.  (Don’t worry – I am not going to go on about the media exaggerated financial issues).


4 – Pressure Profiling in Espresso

I am not sure on this one.  Synesso released the Hydra – the first machine with a pump per group as far as I know, LM released their new paddle group, John “The Awesome” Ermacoff kindly built me a pressure profiler that makes my head hurt but makes me happy, and the new Slayer machine also is big on pressure profiling.  All the above says yay, but I don’t feel we’ve come much further on understanding it all.

5 – The continued rise of the Microlot

Again I feel the need to plead my case here.  Certainly this was the year of the Ethiopian microlot – the numbered lots from Aricha and Beloya getting everyone very excited for good reason.  This was the year that Esmeralda divided their crop into micro microlots for the auction.  This was also a year that my understanding of microlots got a little more nuanced, and I felt less sure that they were all I had wanted them to be 12 months ago.  From this point on I leave it up to you dear reader – how well did I predict the year?



(You can add your own half point answers if you feel the need)

Would love to hear your comments on this.  I think I’d like to claim 4 out of 5, but that is up for debate!  Look out for my next set of hilarious predictions come January 1st!

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 Intelli.la 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 intelli.la 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!

Colombia 2007 – Armenia

Occasionally being jetlagged can be a good thing.

Anette and I arrived into Bogota on Sunday evening, and collected by our host – Luis Velez – and dropped at our lovely hotel with the worrying news that in order to catch the 6.15 flight to Armenia we would need to be up at 4.30am. Thankfully we slept
straight away and the as we were still 5 hours ahead internally it wasn’t too painful to wake up then.

Four of us travelled to Armenia – Anette and I, Martin Velez (Luis’s son) and the Mexican barista champion Salvador Benitez. The flight across is surprisingly short, possibly the shortest I’ve ever had – you only just get up to cruising altitude before you plummet back to earth. In Armenia we were hosted by Jaime Raul from Agrado. Agrado is an extremely interesting place. It is the focal point for the coffees in that region – Quindio – and the local FNC organisation have decided that for Quindio the only way to go is towards quality. So at Agrado – a medium sized farm – they have set up an impressive cupping lab and research facility. I’ve never seen anything like it. Talking with Jaime Raul gives you a very different perspective towards coffee. He dislikes the idea of a coffee chain, a very linear path for coffee to take. He would rather that the ends of the chain met to create a circle through which knowledge is traded and coffee improved. It was great to wander amongst the trees on the farm and taste the cherries at different stages of ripeness (the difference is amazing!) It was important for me to better understand the raw materials and the growing and picking.

Anette amongst the trees

Anette amongst the trees

Jaime Raul also turned my focus onto coffee pickers. The quality of the crop that they pick determines so much, but picking only the ripest cherries is hard work especially when you are paid by weight and there will always be some level of temptation to pick indiscriminately. At Agrado they not only pay a premium for a better quality harvest but try to look after the pickers as much as possible and get them as involved in coffee as possible. I don’t know of anywhere else in the world that provides espresso and cappuccino from a Linea in their lab for free to all the pickers – brewing coffee from the trees they harvest.

La Marzocco Linea at Agrado

La Marzocco Linea at Agrado

We toured the farm a little and then had a beautiful coffee break. They have a large section of bamboo forest and in the middle, down by their water source, they have built a place to sit and have coffee. The lab hosts growers from all over the region – to teach them to cup, to teach more about agronomy and when groups visit they all head down to this patch to drink coffee and talk about what they taste. It is probably the most incredible place I’ve had a cup of coffee.

Coffee break at Agrado farm in Armenia

Coffee break at Agrado farm in Armenia

We spent most of the afternoon cupping – first coffees from other regions, some familiar (like Huila) and some not. We did three flights, and then we played with the espresso machine for a while. One of their staff was practicing as she planned to enter the National Barista Competition this week. After that we cupped more coffees – this time from Quindio and there was some really lovely stuff on the table. I confess it was not a region I knew much about, but I think their drive towards quality is paying off and it is a name that will become well known in the next few years.

Anette and Jaime Raul at Agrado

Anette and Jaime Raul at Agrado

After this the rain came – the huge, torrential rain that we never get in the UK, and we headed back through the washed out roads to our hotel in Armenia. The next morning we went to the local FNC headquarters to talk more with them about driving towards quality in Quindio and to get our reactions to Agrado. From there we headed over to Almacafe to see the parchment coffee being processed. I’d seen something similar in El Salvador but you always learn something new and it is always interesting.

Parchment warehouse at Almacafe

Parchment warehouse at Almacafe

We also cupped in their lab a little too – Anette’s razor sharp tastebuds picking up a little phenol in a couple of cups, though it wasn’t very strong. I wish I was better at defect cuppings! (Something we did a little more of in the afternoon). Having stolen fruit from a tree growing outside the warehouse we headed back to Agrado to cup some more and also see some processing that they do there.

Cherries being weighed and checked at the mill

Cherries being weighed and checked at the mill

I had missed the harvest when I was in El Salvador so this was the first time I had seen processing of coffee cherries up close. As much as you can understand from books and pictures nothing beats seeing unripes float, or watching a pulper squeeze the seeds from the flesh. They do quite a rigorous pulping and selection before the coffee hits the fermentation tanks at Agrado, but the coffee they end up with is great. The are also constantly using their own crop for experiments – be it different drying methods or different shade systems. They log everything with great detail at the cupping table. I find it very exciting and promising for coffee in the future.

Pulping coffee

Pulping coffee

And this was all we had time for – we had to head back to the airport for another bumpy hop across the mountains to Bogota so we could land in more torrential rain! Up next will be a post about the barista competition happening here. I am judging and Salvador and I did some demonstrations but I will post more with pictures soon.

I know I’ve missed a load out but I will try and update when I get the chance!

There are more photos at Flickr or have a browse below:

Independent branding of microlots – Aida Batlle and “Los Luchadores”

I read as much as I can these days to try and keep abreast of what is going on and today I stumbled across something very interesting that Peter Giuliano had written.

When I was with Aida in Salvador in January, we talked about her identifying really awesome coffees she came across as “Aida’s Selections”, and brand them as such. She would be acting like a wine negociant, finding great coffees and snatching them away from the mill before they are processed. We brainstormed on some “mill mark” type names that could cover certain coffees. Her favorite was “Los Luchadores”, a reference to the Lucha Libre wrestlers so popular in Latin America. We thought it would be perfect for a Pacamara.

Now this to me is interesting on a number of levels. With the recent discussions about Ken Davids, reviewing of espressos and other coffees – which is essentially a form of endorsement – this throws up a different possibility. There is a slow growing number of people gaining recognition for their work the other side of the roastery – and while some like Peter Giuliano and Geoff Watts are attached to one particular company there are others with growing profiles like Aida who could effect some sort of influence on to the consumer. To me this also suggests another possible role – the freelance traveller/cupper working through origins and essentially branding high quality lots with their mark that would then likely add a premium to the lot, paid by interested (likely micro-)roasters. Not quite the Man from Del Monte but I am sure you get the general idea. (I will be jealous if anyone does manage to pull this off!)

There is increasing pressure on the Specialty community to find unique, high quality lots and many simply do not have the resources to travel the globe shopping for coffees (certainly the fledgling roasteries). Direct relationships are undeniably desirable/preferable, for the most part anyway, and of course marks or brands like this are not a solution but if we are out to reward quality perhaps they are another weapon in the armoury.

I would be interested in hearing other people’s opinions on this and its potential implications.

Green Coffee – A Photographic Guide

(Please let this page load completely before clicking a picture)

I’ve been thinking about doing a green bean gallery for a while, and when I had a little spare time this evening I thought I’d have a go at it. Right from the off I should make it clear that this is not my area of expertise, and certainly down in the second half I might get the order a bit wrong, but it should still be of interest.

This post is mostly pictures. For some people this will all be very familiar, for some perhaps very new. I think the diversity in how green coffee looks is so fascinating that it deserved a post. If you are reading this in a feed reader it won’t be nearly as much fun. If you are reading it here you can either click each picture as we go or you can click on one and cycle through them as they pop up – they are all labelled. For now I just want a gallery, I will try not to rant too much about my personal opinions on certain coffees….

So, from the very beginning…..


The Cherry and the Parchment:

I broke open one of them, and scraped off a little parchment from the corner so you can see all the layers properly. I wish I had some fresh cherries to photograph…

Natural, Pulped Natural and Washed:

For me it is interesting to see how the colour changes across the processing methods (though these coffees are not all from the same farm or region, but hopefully they are “typical” enough to be benchmarks)

Kenyan Peaberry, Harrar Longberry and Sulawesi Kalosi:

I thought it would be interesting to have the slightly orange/yellow tinged Harrar next to the swampy green of the Kalosi.

The evil aged coffees – Monsooned Malabar and Old Brown Java:

I find it odd that the two aged coffees seem to have gone polar directions from their original colours, the Malabar fading away and the OBJ developing that disconcerting brown colour.

Supercritical CO2 Decaf (Colombian):

I’d like to find some more methods of decaf to photograph, and when I do I will add them in here.

Unwashed and Washed Robusta:

The washed robusta is a really clean prep and is a good robusta, even if it isn’t my kind of coffee.

Defected Maragogype and Triage Coffee:

I took my SCAE Barista Level 2 (though I never got round to paying for it, which means I don’t officially have it!) and one of the questions was about Triage coffee. At that time I had no idea what the term meant, and had to ask Alf Kramer who explained that it is pretty much the sweepings that no one would ever admit to buying but some people clearly do….


The next part is something might be of interest to quite a lot of folks. All of the next coffee is from the same mill in Kenya, and we go from AA all the way down to the sweepings. Because grading is partially based on size, sometimes distinctions may not be very clear from the photos.

Kenyan AA, Kenyan AB and Kenyan C

Kenyan PB, Kenyan TT, Kenyan T

Kenyan MH, Kenyan ML, Kenyan Madres/Elephant Ears

Kenyan E (Large screen, fat beans)

Just to be clear the E isn’t the lowest grade – I just couldn’t figure out where to put it. I will stick this post in the Articles section and in time (I hope) keep adding to it.

Comments and suggestions are very welcome….