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.  ↩︎

Thoughts from the last week

As hectic as everything is here, it hasn’t stopped by brain going off on one during spare moments (a couple of hours commuting is plenty of time to think about stuff.)

So here are a few of the things I have been thinking:

  • Tasting every roast of every component is slowly but surely breaking my head and teaching me a huge amount.
  • This could probably do with a post of its own, but we have a fairly consistent set up here around the grinder yet it is staggering to see how far apart grind settings can be for two different coffees. Thus when you blend these two coffees is this a compromise too far? Roasting coffees so they all perform very well at a certain brew temp (or small range of temps) makes some sense to me (though of course is not the only way to do things) but surely it must also make sense that combining coffees that shine at similar doses and grinds makes good sense? Am I just over-caffeinated? Either way the odd one out coffee isn’t in our espresso right now.

  • Sample roasting continues to terrify me
  • Like a giddy child I muscled in at the Gothot for a quick play, and very quickly discovered I wanted out. I am not a roaster and the speed and precision of sample roasting makes me a bit edgy. I am happy to be the one who just gets rid of the chaff after roasting. However I am loving cupping so much, and I am very excited about coffee right now. (that said I really should be practicing cupping a bit more for the competition!)

    alt text

    Before chaff removal

  • Blending coffees in the cooling tray is substantially more fun than it has any right to be.
  • It is also a nice moment to give the coffee just one more hand screening, and it is so hypnotic….

  • I want to be better at more brewing methods
  • My cloth brewing failures have been a little frustrating but I am determined to improve. Mark Prince has long been a big fan and I admit to just being a bit too scared of it. That said I did have a lovely cup (for many, many reasons) at Herbazu last December, brewed in a kitchen overlooking the coffee trees. Thanks to Ben for some recipe assistance – I know the brewer I have has a very, very long sock. So to speak. Anyone’s input welcomed? And if anyone can point me somewhere I can buy a nice hand pour kettle I will be eternally in their debt!

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    Cloth brewer

  • Really enjoying Roast magazine
  • This isn’t to disrespect any other coffee magazines – just been enjoying some very interesting and educational articles there recently. I don’t mind admitting that I have contributed articles to the last couple of issues, but then I don’t mind admitting that I have a very different point of view to the author of those articles on espresso and blending for espresso, and don’t agree with a lot of what he said. That is hardly a bad thing though. Still – I find myself interested in stuff I didn’t think I was interested in. I don’t want to drink aged Sumatras (I really don’t) but I do want to read about them. There is no hope for me.

  • I miss competition and I don’t
  • Copenhagen and the WBC is looming, Stephen is practicing and worrying about all the right things – though that doesn’t make the process of worrying any easier. Competition this year is going to be insane. Looking at some of the champions through to CPH makes me very glad I got out whilst the going was good! David Makin’s massive score, and Kyle Glanville’s high profile victory make them both ones to watch for sure but there are one or two champions returning (I am not going to list them all because I will forget somebody and they will be rightly upset with me!) who are going to be very exciting to watch. Can’t wait to catch up with everyone, and it is fun reading the blogs from competitors or the people assisting them. Plus Stephen’s soundtrack will pwn all you barista n00bs.

    What are you all thinking this week?

    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.

    The Probat Museum

    I am not going to write up the visit to Probat too much – Klaus has already done a great job at the Coffee Collective Blog.

    However I think the photoset from the Probat Museum will be of interest to quite a lot of people. I’ve tried to add a little info to the pictures – size of batch, date of manufacture etc…

    Probat Museum Photoset

    I have the museum guide so if anyone has any questions I will try and answer them. If you

    Probat Roaster Museum

    Probat Museum Roasters

    A trip to Probat

    I haven’t managed to get around to sorting through the photos I took whilst there with Klaus, Casper and Anette. It was one of the WBC prizes – a trip to Probat to learn more about roasting.

    I will post more once I’ve sorted the photos – the museum alone is worth the trip to Emmerich. I had my video camera with me and took a few things. It is my first effort with iMovie, and probably doesn’t make much sense – it is just a bit of fun really. I’ve uploaded a version to YouTube if you want a quicker loading version (I don’t like the encoding youtube does much though)

    [flv:/video/probat.flv 320 240]

    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.

    A few bits and pieces before the US

    Kind of a quick roundup post really (I struggled to think of a title!)

    Whilst wandering in London the other day it crossed my mind that I had never been to St. Michael’s Alley where London had its first coffee house. In fact it is likely that it was England’s as well as Oxford’s claim of 1650 is a little dubious – not much more than an account of someone consuming coffee privately rewritten years later with different claims.

    I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see, if anything at all. The alley really is tiny and on the wall of a pub I found this sign. Not quite a blue plaque but better than nothing!

    Elegant enough I suppose, something that cannot be said about this rather example of how not to use coffee in your logo (assuming you want it to be even vaguely tasteful):

    On a completely different note Anette added another book to the coffee library. If the roasting chapter in the Illy book is a little light on the chemistry for you then this may well be a book for you. Written by Gerhard Jansen just before he left Probat. Not a long book, just lots of condensed information. I have no idea if it is for sale, as it was a gift.

    So now all I have to do is pack a few things (I plan on shopping aplenty in the US, as my pound is strong against your puny dollar!), find enough reading material for some long flights and drives and sort out a way to charge my camera battery over there (why can’t we all just agree 240V is better and make everyone use that?) and I am ready.

    Looking forward to those of you we will see at this:

    Torrefacto Roasted Coffee

    Had a weird one today – a bag of coffee roasted in Spain that at first glance looked a very odd mixture of roasts:

    It wasn’t until I broke one of the shiny ones open that I worked out what was going on.  Inside the dark, sticky beans the colour wasn’t nearly as dark and in fact was pretty light.  I stuck one in my mouth and the weird sticky, sweet outer coating (the person I was with suggested sugar puffs as a description and he was spot on) pretty much confirmed that these were the result of the weird and rarely seen (in the uk anyways) practise of throwing sugar in the with the beans to help disguise qualities of the coffee.  Back when I was just getting into coffee chemistry I managed to get hold of my first scientific paper and it was about this style of roasting.  Sadly (sort of) I didn’t get to taste them.  I sort of want to know more – do you need special equipment for this?  How much sugar do you add?  Do you spray on sugar water?  Can it ever possibly actually taste nice?  Anyone ever had a go?

    Looking towards Caffe Culture 2007

    For a long time the biggest and best trade show for coffee was Hotelympia which is every 2 years, and this is probably still the case but Caffe Culture is a really interesting show, and is now in its 2nd year.

    Last year the show was crazily busy for me.  Apart from an amusing and brief appearance on BBC breakfast tv on one the first day that meant people at the show kept asking if they had seen me somewhere before without being able to remember where, I strongly remember plowing through a lot of coffee (the remnants of my UKBC blend of that year) and serving the majority of it as espresso which seemed a pretty good thing at the time.

    I am spending a bit of time today working on my presentations for the show.  What is interesting is that this is a tradeshow that has realised that the internet has pretty much killed the traditional tradeshow (you can see most products in almost infinite detail online, and get most prices too) and has turned to education to add value.

    Aside from traditional seminars – I am doing one about barista competitions – they have gotten involved with the SCAE UK Chapter to run an impressive selection of workshops in 4 separate classrooms.   Each workshop has a different theme – Espresso, Filter Brewing/Cupping, New Start Up, Advanced skills.  I like that they are trying to get away from espresso as a central theme.  It is good to see Clover will  be there, as well as shop roasting workshops and good solid basics like how to layout a bar so it actually works (all too rare in the real world sadly).  I think Se’s presentation on how to improve your UKBC performance will be well attended as well.

    I openly admit I am involved in one session – the advanced barista skills one – but if people get behind this I think it is really going to be excellent and set a very high standard for what the SCAE can offer.  All the classes and the instructors are listed on the website here.   We need to see education spread further in the UK, we need people to see the value in it – though I don’t think anyone reading this will seriously question that – and I think this event is a really good step in that direction.  And at £20 a session (if you buy 5) it is absurdly cheap (I think they’ve sold a fair few already).

    The last time I did an advanced barista workshop was in Ireland (For the SCAE chapter there) I think I misjudged the audience a little bit.  I maybe went too much science not enough fun.  I hope not to make the same mistake twice!

    I guess I am posting about this because I want to spread the word about an event with strong training and education (that has been my role for the last 2 and a half years)  that I see as being really positive and would dearly love to see it be the success it deserves.  That and (if I am honest) I really hope people come to my workshop!