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!


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.

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.

East Coast Roadtrip – Washington, DC

Washington’s event was the first one in a Counter Culture training centre, and I was curious to see how it would be set up. We were due to cup at 10, but first we headed to a place called Tryst for a little breakfast and coffee (thank you David, for coffee and for suffering my request to make me whatever was good – sorry for being difficult!)

Cindy and animals

Cindy makes her animals fight for our entertainment

Anette thought the animal crackers were a nice touch and I realised I was drinking my first proper milk drink of the trip!

Then it was time to cup. The open cuppings at Counter Culture have a different approach to most cuppings I have been to. They tend to only cup three coffees, and the discussion afterwards is quite intense with a lot of descriptors going up on the white board.
I agreed with Aaron on my favourite coffee of the three – for me the new Peruvian Valle de Santuario microlot beat out the Rwandan coffee and the Idido Misty Valley on the table. Most people liked the Rwandan Nyakizu, and I can see why – very clean, high acidity (I thought) but still balanced. Amongst the cuppers was Greg Scace, and I confess to getting sidetracked talking about pressure and all things a bit nerdy.

Cupping in DC

Cupping in DC



At the end of the cupping Nick Cho and Trish arrived, but then were hustled out of the room along with everyone else so I could do a phone interview on NPR (which apparently is a big deal around here!) Having not said anything too stupid we headed out and everyone piled into cars and vans to get some lunch at Open City, before eating way, waaay too much gelato (and excellent gelato I might add) at Dulcezza. Rob, the owner showed us the production area and I loved this old bit of kit for making churros:

churro machine

Old machine for making Churros

Post gelato coffee and lounging around was provided by the Big Bear cafe, and the press of the Biloya there really hit the spot.

The presentation that evening was on a few things – my background in coffee, food pairing and some competition/signature drink stuff. There was a nice crowd and the training centre was beautifully set up (I chose the 3 group FB-80 to play on, over the 3 group Linea…) but still these sort of talks do make me nervous when there are a lot of very wise coffee people in the room. It went pretty well and a fair few people stayed behind after to chat about the sig drinks, more about food pairing ideas or just to talk coffee. Some of the baristas from Easton had made it down so they must have had an overload of my ramblings!

Talking in DC

Starting my talk in DC

Not many went out to dinner, and I enjoyed some calmer coffee talk and debate with Nick, Trish and Cindy over some fine Peking Duck.

A quick thank you must again go to the Jensen/Ultimo household for hosting us during our stay in DC – much appreciated. The next morning we headed to Murky Coffee in Arlington for a quick cup and also for me to have a chat with author Michaele Wiseman who joined us for lunch afterwards. Finally the sun came out (until then it had been Londonesque rain) and once lunch was done it was time to hit the road again and head down to Durham, NC and the home of Counter Culture.

inside Murky Coffee

Inside Murky Coffee Arlington


Aaron looks especially happy to be in the school photo

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!

The Roadtrip – Los Angeles

Missing the 101 down the coast, and taking the I-5 may turn out to be one of the few regrets of this trip but the thought that 2 weeks wasn’t enough was hardly new to our journey.

The route down is quite boring with occaisonal pockets of beauty.  It must be a road full of accidents though because it is so straight and dull, there is no real driving to be done.  Anyway, from time to time you see something quite photographable.  I quite liked this alien water tower:

Ah but the coffee, what of the coffee?  Well we arrived into LA without much in the way of caffeine urges and we just hung out at the (now) legendary Intelli bungalow with the crew (Kyle, Ryan, Nick, Devon, Colin and Tony was around too) before having a quick look at the cafe in progress, getting some drinks, some damn fine tacos (I could get very addicted to them) and then hanging out and talking rubbish til late into the night.

The next day we went down to the roasting works which are absolutely stunning, the roaster looks so damn good it is criminal and the training room and cupping room both are great.  I was delighted to cup there and there were some great coffees on the table, especially their Idido Valley Natural that was a crazy cup of coffee – when it was hot it had this incredible pineapple (to me anyway!).  The Panama and Kenyan on the table were pretty damn good too.

I was relieved there was no latte art smackdown to be had, as my one pour there was so bad is was funny.   A highlight of the day was a little Gelato at a great place working with Intelli to do single origin ice-cream – a Bolivian and a Kenyan, and it was weird how much the characteristics of the coffees came through.

Our final day was spent with Tony as the rest of the crew had to head to the Roasting Works for training.   It was nice for Anette and I to just hang out with him, he’s so great and I loved chatting to him about all things coffee and all things not coffee.  He tooks us down to Venice beach so we could dip our toes in the Pacific.  It is not my place to comment on Tony leaving Intelli, but I do think that whatever he does next will be amazing and I hope to keep in good contact with him.  He’s truly awesome.

From there we were pretty close to Caffe Luxxe so we went in for our first coffee of the day.  They have a couple of three group Synessos on the bar (under a great skylight) and I had a great macchiato (which was a proper macchiato with just a little marking of milk not the new macchiato that seems to be everywhere where you pour essentially a mini capp, popularised no doubt by it being an opportunity to pour difficult latte art).  Tony’s capp had some nice latte art and we chatted to Mark about coffee and some incredible bars of chocolate he was stocking.

From there it was to the airport and spending 11 hours in a tiny seat pretending to be luggage.

Thanks to everyone in LA, it was a shame I didn’t get to say goodbye to Kyle (who I’d love to chat to more as well) and we lose Stephen to Intelli for a month or so til he comes back to help me in the final stages for WBC prep.

So now I am back in the UK, I have one more post on the roadtrip to come (which is kind of a best of) so if anyone has any questions then go for the contact form or leave them in the comments.

Flickr Set

The Roadtrip – San Francisco

Being on the road like this is far more draining than I expected. Dragging ourselves out of bed the next morning was difficult and we rolled into Ritual mid morning. They knew we were coming but we still ended up spending 5 minutes casting furtive glances across the room at Chris Baca who eventually made the first move and came over to introduce himself.

Gabe was at the roaster, somewhat nervous because it was his first day or production roasting on his own. Their roaster is insane. I am sure most of you reading know it is a 5 kilo Probat from 1919 (Quite possibly the oldest working Probat outisde of the Probat museum in Germany). It belongs to Duane from Stumptown who found it down in South California somewhere.

The most unusual thing about it is the cooling – they dump into a rotating tray and for the initial cooling then the entire tray is transfered to another base that has a big fan to speed the cooling up. Very cool.

We had a few coffees and then Chris organised a little cupping for us. Their two Kenyans really stood out, nothing against their Gio Gio but I am a sucker for their Gethumbwini – complex, sweet, amazing fruit and delightful mouthfeel. I love it.

It is definitely worth mentioning that Ritual have a very cool Steampunk styled Robur working away there – it looks so cool:

Having hung out long enough we got out of their way and ventured down to the Blue Bottle Kiosk. Their espresso was great, perhaps because I had no idea what to expect from it. Stephen had a little chat to them and they were really friendly and gave us a couple of cups of a Colombian they had on the Melitta drips. (Their porcelain drippers are so pretty I had buy one!). Stephen even managed to blag a bag of an African blend which I am looking forward to trying. Stephen and I were chatting and we thought it only fair to do a Steve Ford tribute shot:

And that was about as much coffee as we wanted that day. Having upgraded out of an evil Best Western into the lovely Phoenix Hotel we decided to maybe spend some downtime in San Francisco and try and catch up on feeling human.

That evening we met up with Chris and Ryan from Ritual and wandered down to get some food. The table wasn’t ready yet so we nipped over to a bar called The Knock-Out. It turned out to be an odd memorable experience and I have never played highspeed bingo in a bar full of people yelling back the numbers called with such force. I could have stayed another couple of rounds…..

The meal at the Blue Plate was absolutely delicious. We were also joined by Lindsay who works for Zoka and had been hanging out at Ritual earlier in the evening. The food was great and Baca and Ryan make me laugh my ass off.

We drank no coffee then next day, as if to prove to ourselves we weren’t addicted. We did spend a little tourist time round the city and spent enough time snoozing to feel ready for the last leg down to LA.

Before we left we had to head to Ritual again. I love that place, and every one of us loves it. If I lived in San Francisco I would spend a great deal of my life in there. Eileen and Gabe once again made us feel welcome and thanks to Matt and everyone behind the bar for looking after us and for yelling goodbye to us so loudly on our way out. I look forward to going back.

The Roadtrip – From Portland to San Francisco

Halfway through the 640 mile drive the answer to the question of why we didn’t fly this leg instead of driving it was finally answered.  The view had been pretty as we headed south through Oregon but it took crossing a truly beautiful lake to finally put doubts to rest.

We’d left Portland mid morning, instead of at the crack of dawn, mostly because we are all a bit lazy and fond of our beds.  Having grabbed a breakfast sandwich I snuck off down to Voodoo Donuts.  Now, I do not profess to be an expert on donuts, but in many ways I’ve dealt with enough of them to feel vaguely authoritative…  The dozen they choose (which is actually 13 donuts) may well be the best possible way to spend $8….

The weather was good in Portland but as soon as you crossed the border it was like someone turned the sun up to 11.  Certainly through Northern California it was nothing much but a lot of space and a lot of heat.

Still – sunshine makes for good photographes:

Not sure how snow exists there though?

We came into San Francisco as the sun was setting and it was perfect, so beautiful and the sky really took its time shifting through the colours.  We were all utterly fatigued but pretty happy to have done it.  Next stop Ritual……

The Roadtrip – Portland

We arrived into Portland in time to shower, feel human for half an hour and then head into town to meet various peoples for a beer or two.
I have no idea what the bar was but it was a great place. The beer (Ninkasi I think – some wise Portlander should probably correct me) was fantastic and it was good to see a load of people again – like Duane and Kyle as well as to meet David, Stephen Vick, Katie ‘fucking’ Carguilo and others before heading down to the Horsebrass pub (the excuse being I might feel more at home there) where I would meet Ryan Wilbur, Sarah Allen as well as Phuong who was down from Lava Java. It was a great evening and Portland taxis drivers showed themselves (that night and others) to be the most pleasantly mental people you can hope to meet….

(credit to Ryan for the Photo)

The next day it was pretty hard to get into a coffee frame of mind. I blame Alistair and his enthusiasm for beer. We hung out in the Ace in the morning and chatted quite a lot to Shane of Habit who was down for a few days. His place sounds amazing and he had so many great ideas and such great attention to detail.

The Ace is great too. Compared to some of the places we’ve stayed it is ridiculously cheap, I love the individuality of each room and having Stumptown in the lobby is such a good idea. The massive table in the lobby was always occupied by people drinking coffee, usually Clover rather than espresso and it was a nice friendly place that wasn’t stressful should one have accidentally drank too much the night before and feel a little delicate. The machines look so beautiful in there and I love the Stumptown logos in the machine panels:

Eventually we went by the main Stumptown roastery which was great.

They had a group of trainees in with Kyle and we got a chance to chat with Stephen Vick a little more. After a very necessary visit to the massively tasty Taco truck (I did mention the Mexican theme to our food right?) over the road we drove up to the old roastery on Division to see Joel. Joel is great, not only a lovely guy but when he talks about roasting you get a strong sense of his understanding of the process.

They still have an old UG-15 from the late ’50s up there which they still roast on. Whilst there he offered us a coffee and I had my first of the day – just a single to be difficult. It was stellar, a genuinely great shot (I have no idea who pulled it). Everything balanced, everything nice and clear and a real pleasure. I had no more coffee that day.

That evening was the screening of the American Barista School’s new DVD called Training with the Champions. On the DVD were Billy, Phuong, Bronwen, Kyle and Klaus, as well as others and footage of the last NWRBC all introduced by Sarah Allen. It was the first time I’ve met Billy which was very cool, and it was nice to see lots of other people there. I was also surprised and pleased to meet Terry Z who popped over quickly to say hello and give me a tamper and then I didn’t really get a chance to speak to him the rest of the evening which was a bit rude on my part (sorry Terry if you are reading this! And Thank you!). It was also good to meet Zachary and I was quite relieved that later on that evening when we were in the bar eating and drinking his battery ran out half way through me getting taped. It was good to chat to Katie a little more too.

The next morning we went by to see Joel again and to chat to him as he was roasting. After a few roasts we headed to the Annex for the 11am cupping. It was quite busy with staff members so we quietly joined in the line of eager cuppers. There were six coffees on the table and whilst many people went for the Panama Don Pache which was really interesting, I really liked the Honduran Micro Lot they had in whose name I must double check. Really interesting coffee, great acidity that gave superb clarity to the cup and it remained excellent even when it finally reached room temperature.

We met up with Sarah and Ken from Barista Magazine for some pizza then we headed up to North Portland starting at the Fresh Pot. I really liked the place, nice feel to it and Michael, the general manager greated us with espresso and some freebies (how we love the freebies – especially when the t-shirts are as good as Fresh Pot’s!). This cafe really rammed home people’s attention to detail that is so missing in most of the UK. Care goes into the feel of the place, little touches to give character to these places that make them home.

From there we snuck over to Ristretto roasters (we had to see another roaster than Stumptown!) and had a few drinks. The cafe is pretty small and the roaster is in a separate room with a big window into it, looked like a Probat L12. They also had a Strong espresso machine which I hadn’t seen outside of Google Video.

A sneaky espresso in Extracto before heading over to meet Billy in the Albina Press. Billy was supposed to be on vacation but very kindly offered to come for us and pull us a few espressos. It was interesting to taste the Hairbender done a different way to the Stumptown cafes – they give the coffee a couple more days rest and pull slightly shorter shots which shows a different side to the blend. His shots were consistently excellent and he is great to watch work behind a bar.

Having had plenty of good coffee and having picked up a few t-shirts we headed back to the hotel to relax and then that evening we went out for some dinner with Anastasia from Clover and Sarah Allen before hot footing it over town to meet up with Stephen Vick and David George who had been working late. One last drink in Portland and some great stories (credit to Stephen) and then we headed home. I could have spent another week in Portland quite easily. So much to discover and explore, and we had so little time.

I can see why Stumptown makes such a strong impression on people. I’ve worked with a lot of coffee companies in the UK and I’ve seen a fair few in other places and all would be impressed by not just the coffee but by the whole company. I look forward to coming back, especially as they are such great hosts.

Full photoset is here

The Roadtrip – Seattle

With sadness we left Anette behind for a day as she had to collect her visa and the rest of us ventured down in the United States of the Americas.  It was nice there – warm, sunny and not as cold and mean/rainy as Vancouver had been.

We went up to Elysian Brewing for some beers and some food, which was pretty good, suffered a terrible mojito on the way home and were up and raring to go the next morning.

First stop was the newer Victrola up on Pike.  It is a lovely old building, formerly an garage for car repair (I refuse to lower myself to the American terminology!).  I love the colours on the outside and it looked great in the sunshine.

We went in and had a few shots that were pretty good and then introduced ourselves to the manager Sarah Jane and Keith and Perry who were doing the roasting in the space through the glass.  Sarah Jane then made us a press of their Yirg that was really great, and sitting in the wide open space at a massive table with the sun streaming through the large windows it was a great coffee experience.  We had a little look around the roastery and around their training rooms and it really is a good place to be on a sunny day.

Just up the road was Caffe Vita and we snuck in for a quick espresso and also to press our faces up to the glass wall into their roastery.  Their Probat looks beautiful and you can see a little up into their offices where the sample roaster is.  It is beautiful.  The coffee was interesting – mine had an odd parma violet note that I’ve never had before.

By this point my camera battery had died and my charger was in a car with Anette and Alistair stuck at the border in a big queue.  Which was very frustrating – hopefully Stephen will upload a few.

The final serious cafe moment of that day was up at Vivace Roasteria on Broadway.  I gather they are tearing the building down to make way for a light rail station which seems a shame.  Vivace seems to have a very strong identity and the roasting room in that store, whilst clearly now barely used, is very pretty.  Apart from the obvious espresso and capps in there I also tried a Cafe Nico.  It was pretty good – orange zest, a little syrup, coffee and milk in a small cup with some spices on top – nicely balanced and not screamingly sweet.  Interesting to see someone basically offering a signature drink, especially a cafe that doesn’t have a strong interest in barista competition.

Whilst in Seattle it would seem criminal not to go over and catch up with the guys at Clover.  It was great to see David and Zander again, and to meet (the now infamous) Tatiana.  Despite being extremely full of tongue tacos and burritos al pastor, I had room for coffee.  They had some of George Howell’s coffee up there and whilst it isn’t my place to say how or what they were doing they were finding innovative ways to get his coffee to really sing in the cup.  We tasted the Mamuto and it was stellar, really clean strong fruit in the cup that remained loud and balanced as the coffee cooled.  We tried a couple more and then went to meet up with a few people from Zoka and other places that were planning to go and roast on the beach.

Beach roasting was memorable.  It was also very hot and having to slowly rotate the metal ball roaster by hand over a very hot fire pit was challenging (in the good way of course).  All the roasts I got involved in were a little uneven but the last one before the light completely went was great and surprisingly even.

Trish from Zoka and Chris from Atlas (who owns the roaster) led the way and it was great to meet Dismas and a load of other people and to get a feeling of the community down in Seattle.  It was also nice to see Anette freshly allowed into the States and we went and had more amazing Mexican (it has become the official cuisine of the trip!) food with Bronwen to celebrate.

The next day we went back to Victrola so Anette could see it as well the newest Vivace.  We were all sat down at a table and one of the guys with us went off to order 4 capps.  He asked for them to be wet in his very Irish accent and the looked pretty good when they arrived.  The first sip was a confusing experience.  They were sweet, but not ordinary sweet – more like someone had stirred 2 sugars into every drink.  I know their milk is well textured and sweet but it was just ridiculous.  Turns out wet had been misheard and instead we had order white – as in 4 white chocolate capps, which explained everything.  We went back for a load of espressos and I have to say that the taste of their coffee is very distinct and consistent store to store.  (Anette is visible in the spoon).

A little later that day word had gotten out and David from Clover was on the phone (rightly) mocking us drinking white mochas in Vivace.

From speaking to a few people they recommended we try and find a new start up called Seven.  Its a small neighborhood shop near Greenlake and they are roasting in the back on a little 2 kilo Ambex.  The feel of the store was great and Carl (or maybe Karl) made us feel very welcome.

I recommend dropping by if you are in that area and have a little time.  Some nice details in the place.  Afterwards we popped over to the Zoka store in Greenlake.  We wanted to swing by the roastery but (typically) time got the better of us.  The Zoka store was totally different, bigger and pretty much packed out.  By this time I had had a lot of coffee, and at that point yet another cup (no matter how good) was going to be hard.  I hate leaving behind half finished cups of coffee, but they dose quite heavy with their Clover and it was a 12oz cup – I am just not man enough I guess.  However, just around the corners is the masterful Hiroki who does rather splendid desserts.  Naughty but nice.

Breakfast the next morning was a chance to see Bronwen one more time before we left as she was working over at Sitka and Spruce.  I wish I lived near a place like this – I would be happy and fat.  The brunch was amazing and the cappuccinos Bronwen made really hit the spot.

We then got a phone call from David Schomer saying he would love to meet us and make us some coffee.  This is not a call you say no to, so after a very brief visit to Trabant we were shamefully running late.

We headed back down to his new store and the bar setup means that one machine can very much look after a busy queue and yet there is still a three group available for “guests”.  David jumped on the machine straight away and started pulling some shots.  What was interesting is that his were better than his staff’s.  Maybe he just knows his coffee inside out.  Mine had a really great, light fluffy mouthfeel and whilst the actually flavours may not be what I am into I can understand why his coffee tastes like it does.

He was very chatty about his coffee and his equipment and it was clear that he really looks after his staff and there is a nice friendly, family atmosphere there.  One of the barista’s mothers was there and he was making her drinks and she was clearly proud.  Pretty soon conversation turned to latte art and a couple of his baristas started to pour.  It is interesting to watch people with a totally different style to my own – back to the whole fat leaves thing I guess.

What really surprised me was when David dragged both Stephen and I behind his bar to steam some milk and pour some drinks.  I know David is strict about who works his machines and you have to really put your time in and earn your place, so I guess I felt a little uncomfortable just jumping back there.  I also had to ask for the small cups to pour in because I have yet to get my head around anything bigger than a 12!  Both Stephen and I were a little disappointed with our pours though one of the baristas pointed out that you never pour better than when you are working the line and it becomes automatic and you stop thinking so hard.  It was surprisingly nerve wracking too and I felt very much on show and I am sure Stephen felt the same.  Still – I doubt there will ever be another opportunity to work behind the bar next to David Schomer.

Our last stop in town was a small place called Zeitgeist near Pioneer square.  They have a beautiful set up and a nice vintage GS paddle group Marzocco.  I loved the feel and theme of the place and just the building itself.  Worth a look.

And that was Seattle, Portland was beckoning and we needed to get in the car and go.  I think that every one of these city reports will have a tinge of regret for the places we didn’t see and people we didn’t get to meet despite really wanting to.  I have to say that Seattle on a sunny day is a great place to be, and it has a lovely feel to it.  That, however, was totally different to the feel of Portland….

The Roadtrip – Vancouver

Well, I confess I have been very quiet of late. It is a mixture of traveling a lot, taking a lot of pictures, having no laptop (until the Macbook I acquired today – I do love a weak dollar!) and generally being a bit of a burnt out mess. Thankfully I have been keeping a notebook so I will try and do my best to recount each city as fairly as possible.

Monday was a long day, 8 hours longer than usual due to Vancouver being an inconvenient number of timezones from where I live. We arrived and dumped the stuff and wandered down towards Elysian Rooms stopping off for a quick espresso from Alberto in Wicked. I wasn’t really ready for any serious coffee and had only a quick Clover of a Novo coffee in Elysian before we wandered down to Feenie’s for dinner with Lindsay, Matti and Alistair.

Jetlag is an inconvenient thing. The next morning both Stephen and I were up and raring to go and 6am. Not much is open then, but we wandered down to Wicked to see who was opening up. We were hoping that the sudden appearance of the two of us would startle Arthur, but no – merely a two fingered salute and a lot of coffee! We put out some tables whilst he brewed us up some capps and then an espresso or two with some waffles and then a couple of cups of Tres Santos whilst we messed around on the espresso machine.

About now would be a good time to make clear that the roadtrip isn’t about cups of coffee, or at least certainly not in an evaluative way. It is about people, cafes, ideas and inspiration and having some fun. Hence I am not going to go on and on about every shot I have had, though the odd moment of excellence will have to be mentioned.

After a bit of faffing around, a visit to the Norwegian Consulate and various concerns about Anette getting into the US (which obviously got sorted later on, thankfully!) we headed on out to see Lindsay over at 49th Parallel Roasters (sadly Vince was out of town, as it would have been cool to catch up.)

They have a really impressive set up there and it is interesting to see they are vac-packing the greens and have a massive walk in freezer for storage. I am really looking forward to seeing the results of work being done in this coming out in the next five years but I don’t see how it can be anything other than good to get the coffee away from air, moisture and jute. Anyways – Lindsay pulled us a few shots of Epic which were great and we poured a few things whilst chatting about the coffee.

That evening was the now infamous ham in the Van, hosted by Alistair and Robert of Elysian in the training rooms and offices. There were too many people there to possibly list but I have to say the best shot I had up until that point was pulled by Jake (thecoffeelover) who terrifies everyone (in a good way) by being that good and knowing so much and being so young. Damn him. It was fun to see Mark pulling shots whilst everyone got out their cameras (some sort of revenge for competing baristas perhaps!) and he also brought along a little of last year’s Panama winner to Clover (along with other things I think – didn’t taste them all as I was already a bit coffeed out).

It was good to see Bronwen again, as well as meet Logan (who hung out with us for half our cafe crawl the next morning –  he is the nicest guy and I wish I could have gotten up to see his business.  Also I think he is one to watch for competition…..) and I could go on for half a paragraph listing names but I will spare you (unless you really, really want to know). It was a long and amusing evening.

The next day was our cafe crawl. This was a learning experience for me – in a town where people use a lot of coffee, and everything is a short double it is very easy to overdose and stop having fun. However that day had the best possible start – a few tasty treats at the market at Granville Island and then in to watch Bronwen roast at Hines (or Origins – I get confused!?). The old Royal they have is great to watch working and I love the hand craft feel to how they roast – the cooling is done very much by hand.

The space they have is lovely. Lots of room, and a great place to roast coffee. Anette pulled me a truly great shot and I had a mouthful of a cappuccino that had a certain wonderful quality. They have some great old artifacts and I loved the old schematics of the Marzoccos they had on the walls.

From there the serious the serious coffee consumption began. Later in the day Aaron DeLazzer would describe the local espresso as being hit in the head by a two by four and pretty quickly I overdosed. We started at a new opening called Re-entry that are running a Synesso and Vivace and the baristas were very friendly and very keen. The shop was very different with a kind of rocketship based theme. From there it was down to the very busy JJ Bean on Main. They were quite busy, but not slammed and they had two staff on two tills and two baristas working two separate machines and I have to say I expected the drinks to happen faster, but that was overshadowed by the pigeon sat inside up on the beam making the people underneath a bit nervous.

From there it was over to the JJ Bean on Commercial that was my best shot of their coffee from a barista that Stephen knew from his time in Vancouver last summer. Totally different feel to the place which was interesting. Very different to the typical chain model that looks for a consistent feel to the space. They were also much more relaxed about photos than the JJ on Main (which isn’t a criticism, I have no problem at all with people saying no – its just to explain why there are pictures of some places and none of others.)

From there we went over to Prado which was another pivotal moment in the trip but for a different reason. We were in a bit of a hurry and knew they weren’t big on people taking photos. We had had a fair amount of coffee by that point and it felt really bad to turn up somewhere, order two espressos and a short capp and knock them back and leave. We weren’t there as customers, we were there to look/evaluate/judge/not be real everyday consumers of there coffee. I think it might have been better to have been honest and to have gone up there, said we just wanted to see the space and not had coffee instead of not being able to finish the very judgmental round of drinks. From this point on we tried to avoid a “smash and grab” attitude to drinks in places. Apologies to Prado.

We were a bit late getting to Ethical Bean to meet up with Aaron De Lazzer (if you haven’t read his milk guide on CG then you really should, he was a great and positive influence on me and my attitudes to coffee) and have a little look around the roastery. It was interesting to see a roastery of a similar size to 49th that were a different kind of approach (not about better or worse though). We also cupped our first coffees of the trip and they were pretty interesting.

We planned to see a couple more places and then I wanted to try and swing by Mark Prince’s place but a car crash right in front of us (and the waiting around and statements that go with that) meant that the only other place we saw that day was Mink Chocolates that aren’t really coffee focus (apart from the Synesso and Clover!) but all about great design/layout and great chocolate.

We barely had time to shower and pick up a gift before arriving at a great dinner at Chow organised by Mark, which so many people showed up to that we overran the restaurant out into the bar. It was cool to meet Colter and Barrett T. Jones but we didn’t really manage to talk shop/competitions too much, in fact the whole night was a bit of a blur (I wasn’t drinking that much, honest!). The next morning it dawned on us that we had criminally underestimated the amount of time to allocate to each place and it meant that not being able to see people (and often – due to technological limitations – being unable to get in touch) has become a very, very frustrating theme to our journey and we wish we had twice as much time so we could properly hang out with the people we wanted to.

We were very grateful to everyone that hosted us and looked after us and made sure to perpetuate the stereotype that Canadians really are the nicest and politest people on the earth. I look forward to finding an excuse to come back. Vancouver was fun:

So the next installment is Seattle (accompanied by Alistair from Elysian/Coffeed), pouring drinks with Schomer himself, eating fine food, some wonderful spaces and being very cross with Budget rent-a-car. Stay tuned.

Just to explain

Things are quiet on here for a few reasons.

1 – I am busy having far too much good coffee in this fine city of Vancouver, and enjoying wonderful hospitality from all here.

2 – I have no laptop with me, so the 300 photos or so that I have taken are stuck in memory card limbo.  (I might try and buy one today if I am feeling flush).

3 – We are having a few documentation problems due to the fussiness of the US that may well mess with our itinerary a little bit.  (hopefully these should be sorted by tomorrow).

4 – I can’t think of a fourth reason, perhaps cos I am a bit lazy.

Stephen has posted, and David is posting as well.  I will post soon (I have a notebook so I don’t forget anything).  Soon.  Honest.