Aida’s Grand Reserve

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

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

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

A bit of (bad) news

When we started Square Mile our goals were fairly traditional for a startup roastery.  After the last Nordic Barista Cup that changed.  We had the chance to hang out with (the now newlywed) Chris and M’lissa Owens.  As anyone who has met them can attest – they are astoundingly wonderful people.

We had a new goal – to be the kind of company that they would want to come and work for, and to be big enough to sustain them.  This is a much healthier goal for a new company and we worked very hard to achieve that.

Chris and M’lissa (unbelievably) wanted to come to London to work with us and that was incredibly exciting.  We, foolishly, got excited and told people about this.  However one final hurdle stood in the way – the UK visa process.

The UK visa process has changed this year and try and try as we did we couldn’t overcome the challenge.  We, with great sadness, couldn’t get them over to work legally for any length of time and so disappeared an incredible opportunity to work with some of the most talented, inspiring and undeniably wonderful people we’ve met.

We’re gutted.  No other words for it.

Usually I wouldn’t post about this kind of thing on here.  However, with SCAA/WBC coming up I am sure a few people are going to be asking them about London and I am sure it isn’t something they are wanting to talk a great deal about – not for any secretive reason, it just makes us all quite sad.

I can’t wait to see them and hang out in the next few days, and it was lovely to find out Gwilym’s barista buddy was Chris.  As you’ve probably gathered we think the world of Chris and M’lissa and are sure they have an amazing coffee career ahead of them.  We just wish we could have shared some of it with them.

I’m very excited!

Got a phone call this evening about a little machinery project that we embarked upon with Marco, telling me that they will be debuting the machine at CatEx – Ireland’s HORECA tradeshow – between the 9th and 11th of February.  It was an idea we had that they agree to R&D, and the data coming back from testing was impressive.

At the moment I still can’t give much away, it is nothing to do with espresso, it isn’t a coffee brewer either but I hope it will be great.  I have yet to see a finished unit, and I gather the aesthetic side is still quite open.  I’ll likely be heading over on the 1oth for a quick play with it, and to make coffee for people at the show and to talk about the project a little more.

Like a kid in a candy store…….

Vacancy – Part time position at Square Mile

We have a part time temporary position coming up at Square Mile.

15-20 hours per week, reasonably flexible hours – to start in the new year.

The role will involve assisting with all aspects of the business – from cuppings, to production, delivery to helping support training classes.

Applicants should be warned that the work involves a good amount of heavy lifting.  A valid drivers license would be useful, but not essential.

A huge/broad coffee knowledge is not a pre-requisite, though a passion for coffee is extremely desirable.

If you are interested then e-mail james at squaremilecoffee dot com, with “Part Time Position” in your subject line, along with a copy of your CV and a short letter about why you might want to come and work with us.  We’ll then ask a few people to come in and have a cup of coffee with us before we make any decisions.  We look forward to hearing from you.

WBC 2008

Well, where to begin?

Copenhagen was not what I expected, in just about every way. I thought I’d get more time to roam the streets, visit cafes and hang out. Somehow it ended up being very busy indeed. That didn’t mean, however, that I missed out on my favourite part of these events – seeing lots of great people. Too many to list, and all of whom I wish I could have hung out with longer and in more relaxed circumstances.

Did I mention Anette and I drove to Copenhagen? No? Well when we got there it didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. Six countries in a day, 14 hours on the road, and the autobahn actually gets pretty boring pretty quickly (unless, I guess, your car can do 150mph – which our rental could not). It was nice to be able to bring all the competition stuff, spare stuff and lots and lots of our coffee. Seeing as the roastery had only just gone live I have to admit that this being our first real public showing for our espresso was quite terrifying. We had a quick chance to taste it with a few of the Intelli folks at the LM Denmark distributors place. It didn’t taste how we wanted it to and that was a bit stressful, but then it came back to life at the event during Stephen’s first practice time. Then we got quite excited. We got to share a couple of shots with people and the reaction was great – especially what the lovely Barista Magazine folks wrote on their blog about Stephen’s performance.

MCing was interesting. I have to be honest and say I didn’t love MCing on my own, but it was an honour to be on stage with those baristas – even if some of them put me through the emotional ringer whilst I was up there with them. MCing the finals was a great pleasure though. It felt like Carl and I made a good team on stage, and the differences in our styles seemed to compliment each other well. I was pretty relieved to have something to do instead of worrying about Stephen’s set up and water glasses etc. I think Stephen and I were very pleased to have Jenny there to help keep things on track as she did before in Tokyo – so much thanks due to her. On the one day I wasn’t MCing the cupping competition provided the distractions – I was very pleased to get 5th. I don’t think I could have expected more, and Casper was an inspiring winner and it was just a lot of fun to be up there with some great people like Jorge and Edwin. The afternoon of lecturing also helped distract me – I suppose it is quite funny my lecture was titled (not by me) “Breaking the WBC code”. Didn’t appreciate getting locked out of the complex by the staff.

So – the result. Calling out those names was always going to be intense. Each card hoping it wouldn’t be Stephen and then having the excitement tempered by feeling bad for each of the amazing finalists who had come so close. I had some really great drinks up on that stage – Dave’s sig drink was a lesson in working with fruit and using its natural acidity to very cleverly and simply compliment a coffee. A simple idea that is incredibly difficult to execute. I had snuck a shot of his espresso that morning and it was tasting great too. I also have to say that Daniel’s coffee was a lot of fun to drink – and passing them out to the audience always makes me think that the baristas on stage should be sharing more of the coffee with the people watching.

Stephen entered both the competition and the finals in a great psychological position – what I would consider the ideal position: excited, nervous and aiming only to give the best presentation he could and not worry about his final result. The mistakes in the first round gave us focus for the finals and he gave a great performance. I’d seen it many times before but never enjoyed it that much. Seeing the scores his drinks got afterwards was wonderful – he did a great job preserving and delivering what we love about those coffees to the judges. I hope that Stephen’s win will be a signpost to future competitors, and I think the judges are sending a clear message that I hope the community will hear and understand. Already I am curious about next year’s competition.

Stephen is going to have a great year, and I hope I can help him in any way and pass on my experiences (both good and bad) to help him get the most out of it. It is an amazing year of learning and a great privilege coupled with a great responsibility. We are all excited about what the year will bring.

Now it is back to relative normality. Anette is back doing incredible things at the roaster and we are all excited about the potential we have to improve and explore what we are doing. Talking to Andrew Barnett (something I could do for hours) we were talking through the geeky facts of competition and I think we have two firsts – Anette is the first person to roast WBC winning coffee twice, and this is the first winning coffee to be all washed coffees. (Do correct me if I am wrong on these).

Usually these long posts are peppered with photos, but my camera is almost as broken as my mac (let’s not even start on how borked the macbook is – sorry to those suffering email issues with me) so no photos were taken. Anette took a few I think, and they should end up online soon I hope.

I didn’t bring home as much coffee as I initially wanted to, but then winning kind of changed my plans. We are planning to run open evenings of espresso tastings for other baristas around London and surrounding area and the first one was going to be the top 6 WBC blends, but now it seems a bit commercial. Instead we will be doing one country at a time, getting coffee from 5 or 6 of our favourite roasteries and sharing them over the course of an evening once a month or so. Instead the first one will probably be Norway but more on that another time – I am way off topic here!

Thanks to everyone who helped us, who helped Stephen and massive thanks to Anette for not only being awesome but for doing great things with coffee in a very quiet way. I hope to see lots of you soon, either in London or if I end up travelling more again. And once more:

Congratulations Stephen!

English Coffee Culture

Having done so on several occaisons, I feel it is quite acceptable to talk about Italian coffee culture. An intertwining of taste preference, lifestyle and culture with the drink. I feel pretty comfortable defining elements of Scandanavian coffee culture, or French coffee culture. I could keep listing different countries – the USA is a particularly interesting one due to the role coffee plays in the history of American cultural identity back to the Boston Tea Party days. But I digress from the title of this post.

Square Mile Coffee Roasters takes its name in part from a time when London had a coffee culture – one of the strongest in the world, and in what is now the financial heart of London there were hundreds upon hundreds of coffee houses that would morph and evolve into different businesses and exert many and varied effects on a cross section of culture and commerce.

What is English coffee culture now? Sadly it is one of two things:

1). A semi apologetic, continued embrace of instant coffee. We managed to move past most freeze dried food (though I know some people have a weird fondness for Smash!) The thing is we all know it is bad, as a nation we joke about it and then get away with it by playing the anti-snobbery card.

2). An embrace of Americanised Italian coffee retail – chains dominate our high street (in all areas of retail) and we are served faux-Italian coffee drinks in convenient (for the retailer) portions.

All of this is very negative, and this isn’t a negative post. It really is a post with a hypothetical question:

What would I wish English coffee culture to be like ten years from now? What would be its defining qualities that distinguish it from other strong coffee cultures?

This is a wish list remember, and we can discuss how to get there afterwards. If I were treat English coffee culture as a blank canvas then I think there are a few priorities:

Traceability – people understand what they are drinking, and understand the factors influencing their choice. I really have no issue with labels like Fair Trade as long as the consumer understandings what the label means. More than that I wish people would want to know exactly where and how the coffee was grown.

Preference – people making concious and informed choices about their coffee, based on an understanding of the range of tastes, flavours and possibilities within the spectrum of coffee. This is just a long way of saying: death to the phrase “coffee is just coffee.”

Seasonality – this is a growing movement in food, and I hope coffee gets the opportunity to be included and swept along with other seasonal products. There is no downside to people understanding and embracing seasonality, enjoying fresh crops for those months where they really do taste fresh.

A strong base of brewed coffee – right now espresso drinks are the launching pad to getting people into coffee. Brewed coffee just isn’t as sexy as espresso, but I think a little coffee grinder and a french press in every home doesn’t involve a huge spend but would re-ignite people’s fondness for ritual and make coffee more accessable (more on this very important topic in a paragraph or two). Right now a lot of espresso machines are going into people’s home and the resentment of the process and the spend is just another reason to justify digging out the Nescafe. I don’t want to get rid of espresso, I just want it to be another weapon in the arsenal of coffee brewing. Espresso shouldn’t be the only method associated with quality.

These are all fine ideas but where is the roadmap to get there. It all comes down to one word: accessability. Right now the hardest thing to overcome isn’t monetary – we aren’t very precise spenders, despite the credit crunch and all – but we are terrified of appearing to be snobbish about anything. Snobbery has a terrible name. How the idea of not wanting to accept something below standard, something simply not good enough got a bad reputation I don’t know, but it certainly did. I am a snob. I don’t want to drink something that tastes bad. I don’t want to eat something that tastes bad and will probably hasten my demise (I am looking at you Ronald McD.). Yes, anti-snobbery is also linked in to anti-intelluctualism which dogs many cultures (but not all). I don’t really understand how knowledge and understanding aren’t desirable but many aspects of our cultures do really tell us this is the case. Maybe this is just the little bullied geek in me talking, but ironically it just seems a very stupid way to go about things.

Essentially we need to make it ok to love coffee, the way it is sort of ok to love wine, or beer (but not real Ale, we are still suspicious of them), or great food or cinema. I don’t think the super premium stuff is the way to do that, though it could certainly be a tool. The problem with the super premium lots of coffee is that because of the price it gets special treatment, exclusive treatment and it is very easy to dismiss as coffee for odd-ball enthusiasts. Exlusive by its very definition is not where I want to go.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need quality coffee – we need coffees that show distinct characteristics, often (but not always) indicicative of their geography and process and we need to roast and serve them as transparently as possible. We need to get people to fall in love with the product and not just the business that serve retails/serves it because if that business closes it must leave behind coffee aware and coffee thirsty consumers who still want to drink coffee, not just brand-x coffee. (though that doesn’t make that much sense for those of us starting up brand-x coffee!)

I really wanted to write this article as a roadmap for us, as well as (hopefully) a jumping off point for debate. Thoughts are welcome in the comments.

Square Mile Coffee Roasters and this blog

So the time has come to clarify where this blog is going to go. Many businesses – cafes, roasteries and the like have blogs and I read most of them and enjoy them too. However this is not what jimseven is going to become. At some point in the future there may well be a Square Mile Coffee blog – used as a forum for all the company as a forum for learning.

As for jimseven – our latest offerings, pricings, business stuff in general – this will not appear on here. As you’ve probably noticed we decided not to chart our progress online but to quietly work away until we had something so exciting we wanted to share. We do have a few fun events planned that I will probably post about on here but only because it is a nice way to spread the word and it is pretty non-commercial stuff.

I will still continue to post, though if the last few months are anything to go by, at a much reduced rate. This blog has been very good to me, and I enjoy the community and communication it brings as well as an excuse to bury my head in the books for an evening and write something cohesive.

However it would be rude of me not to give a little update on where we are. The first time we roasted coffee together was my coffee for the WBC in Tokyo. A lot has happened in the year since but it is a lot of fun to be roasting for the WBC again. Stephen will probably post more about his preparations on his blog in the future so I will leave that for now. We are also now roasting for our first few wholesale accounts and are enjoying the coffee we are roasting a lot, and looking forward to new crops arriving and becoming part of our espresso offering. Both Stephen and I are getting stuck into our customer training and support program, and a lot of credit for it should go to all the people and companies that have inspired us the last few years by setting that bar so high.

More and more people are coming by to hang out, have an espresso and just talk all things coffee and not coffee. It feels like London could have a real sense of community and we all hope that continues to develop. (If you are reading and do want to come by then shoot us an e-mail)

We are working on the website and once that is done there will probably be some sort of launch. As you can tell from the link we are pretty much done on the branding and that will be more fully revealed in time. Creating a brand has been less of a corporate exercise for us and more a development of an identity for the company that we will want to carry forward in the coming years.

I have also become a recent convert to the Jepy style Anfim mods – as seen on Baca and Drew’s grinders at the USBC. I’d like to thank John publicly for all the help he has given me in getting the thing wired in and working – the joys of owning and actually using a soldering iron! That coupled with the Synesso means I am really enjoying making coffee these days, actually taking pleasure from the equipment which I suppose is unusual for us grumbling baristas. (Though saying that does already feel a little commercial as we are distributors for Synesso!)

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Jepy-style Anfim and some nice espresso

So in theory – life is ok! Still, like anyone else starting a business I’d like more sleep, more stuff and to find huge wads of cash lying around in the street. A man can dream…….