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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Highlights
Ozone Coffee Roasters
Alchemy frozen Cascara
L’Accademia di Cimbali

 

The annual London Coffee Festival is the culmination of the charity-driven UK Coffee Week, a celebration of coffee. It’s not just speciality coffee and, unfortunately, there aren’t huge amounts of independents there. It is, at its heart, a trade show and so for every coffee stand, there are a few tea, chocolate or beer stands accompanying it. The Festival takes place in the upstairs of the Truman Brewery in the depths of, now hipsterfied, Brick Lane. It really is a perfect setting for this, though the people lining the bar, listening to a live singer/songwriter are distinctly fashionista rather than hipster. It’s another sign of coffee becoming more than a cultural niche.

There was so much going on that I will just focus on the speciality side of the festival. In particular, the roasters that had stands there. This was not, by any means, the biggest London roasters, though they are playing a part in taking control of the brew bar at various points this weekend. One of the most interesting chats I had was with the people at Volcano Coffee Works, who were putting their coffee through some Rocket Espresso machines. Volcano are an up-and-coming roaster in West Dulwich, who are new to the scene, but making strides. The espresso they made was a very consistent taste, drinkable from start to finish, with smooth floral after-notes. Their barista informed me that they supply a lot to bars and restaurants that take coffee seriously, as well as some coffee shops around London.

The Festival had an entire room dedicated to makedecentcoffee.com, a company that demonstrates how it’s possible to brew great filter coffee at home, an idea that I always try to push. They had several members of staff making Chemex, Cafetiere, V60 and Aeropress for people who could come along and see how easy it is. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed with the coffee itself, and I really felt that this would have benefitted from good beans. Everything was measured and timed properly, but the coffee lacked any flavour. If anything, this would achieve the reverse of what it intended, with people going away and thinking that it was impossible to make coffee to the same standard as you can get in a coffee shop.

Allpress Coffee started in New Zealand 25 years ago, and then spread to Australia. Their antipodean way of making great espresso blend has recently made a foray into London, with a new UK Allpress opening in Shoreditch. They are attracting a whole lot of wholesale. The barista pulled a shot of espresso to try. It was quite characteristic of Allpress, not for the fainthearted. A sweet, but bold taste that calmed down as it got cooler. The Allpress space was a cool, laid back area where you could chill out on a sofa for a bit. Not that I could sit down after so much caffeine.

Several important trade exhibitors were there, including La Marzocco (the industry-standard espresso machine) and Marco, who make boilers. Their most ground-breaking product is the Uberboiler that provides the barista with all the tools they need to make the perfect filter coffee. Hario importers, Brewed by Hand, had a massive selection of cool brewing tools, ranging from V60s to some bizarre looking siphons. Also, industry-leader Coffee Hit were selling anything tea or coffee related. La Cimbali were also there, but not in a trade capacity. Their stand was designed to show how espresso machines have changed over the last 80 years as pressure profiling has changed. The ability for an espresso machine to control how long the coffee is left to soak before the pressure starts pushing through can have a huge impact on how watery the taste is. Modern technology has enabled much more control and understanding of how pressure can affect espresso.

The Alchemy stand was serving both espresso and cascara (a tea made from the cherries of the coffee seeds). Alchemy roast great coffee but also pride themselves on experimenting. To this end, I was served a cascara, which provided a huge caffeine hit, and then I was given what can only be described as a slushy. It was cascara that had been put into a slushy machine, and mixed with a touch of elderflower. The effect was remarkable: caffeinated slushy. Cascara has a good deal of caffeine in, so the buzz was real, but it was from something textured like a solero!

However, the real pinnacle was the coffee that Ozone served up. Two excellent filter coffees, brewed to perfection. One was balanced and spiced, whilst the other was floral and just exquisite. The complexity of the latter coffee was beyond belief and unlike any coffee I’ve ever had. I’ve not yet written about Ozone coffee in full, but after this experience I will be. Ozone had a really cool bar at the festival, where they were serving both brews and espresso. This was definitely the most enjoyable coffee I had that night, though my preference for filter my have skewed this! Despite the commercialness of the Festival, there are some real gems to seek out, and either way it’s a fun event with loads of free stuff to be had and new companies to discover.

The London Coffee Festival is open this weekend and tickets can be bought on the door. If you’re around today or tomorrow, be sure to check out the True Artisan Bar, which has some of the best roasters in London pouring espressos. Also, the UKBCs are on, where you can see baristas from around the country fight it out to be crowned the UK Barista Champion.

 

The London Coffee Guide is pretty well recognised as the premium list of coffee shops in London. Published annually, the 2013 edition came out a couple of weeks ago, along with, for the first time, an app. As a promotion, in connection with UK Coffee Week, the app is £1.49 (saving you a massive 50 pence toward your next coffee). There are other app offerings for less, so I downloaded it to see if it was worth the extra wonga. Currently iPhone only.

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The first thing that strikes you about the app is how smooth it is. The design is clean and beautiful, as well as intuitive. Flicking through the map, and finding your own, small existence amongst the multitude of coffee houses is easy. As is standard with most London coffee apps, you can choose to view in list mode or map mode, and sort coffee shops by distance to your location. So far, not so different from other apps.

But where this app really shines is by channeling the immense wealth of well-researched material into a small, bite-size chunk. Each coffee shop is ranked, and a detailed description of everything you need to know, from the ambience and owner, to the more geeky specs, such as the beans on bar and the espresso machine. But what makes this the app for the connoisseur is the inclusion of ‘alternative brew equipment‘ details: it tells you whether the coffee shop sells filter coffee! Hallelujah. It’s worth the extra few pence for this alone!

There’s also an interesting facts section, that lists coffee roasters, as well as giving a brief history of coffee, going back to Classical times. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s certainly not something the other cheaper apps have. Also something worth noting is that the ‘rating’ system, giving coffee shops marks out of five for ‘coffee’ and ‘overall’ is a bit unhelpful. The lowest ranked coffee shop has a rating of 3.75, so most of the coffee shops are over 4. It may be that all the coffee shops are amazing (I wouldn’t be surprised), but it seems a slightly pointless exercise.

But I think those tidbits are unimportant. The ease of use and the attractiveness of this app, matched by a big body of research means this app is well worth the money. What’s more, even though there are doubtless some great coffee shops missing from the app, the professional nature of the London Coffee Guide means they won’t be missing for long.

The London Coffee Guide App is on offer this week, and can be found on iTunes, or on the Apple website.

This week is UK Coffee Week! This is a short, fragmented consciousness FAQ explaining it, and letting you know how to get involved. (Stole the format a little bit from the Guardian’s passnotes.)

UK-Coffee-Week-Logo


What is UK Coffee Week? It’s a week where the coffee industry celebrates the glorious black, caffeinated substance that keeps the world spinning.

Does that really deserve a whole week? Yes.

Okay… But is it really just about coffee? Not just coffee. The purpose is dual. Coffee professionals and coffee enthusiasts come together to raise money for ‘Project Waterfall’, a charity that works with coffee-producing countries to improve infrastructure that provides clean water.

That sounds worthy! How does Project Waterfall work? The need for cleaner water in these countries is great, and they are frequently amongst the poorest countries in the world. Despite this, they produce much of the best coffee in the world, and coffee is the second most consumed beverage in the world.

So it’s a way of giving something back? Exactly.

Is contributing as simple as buying coffee? Amazingly, yes. Different stores are participating in different ways, but you can find a list of participating coffee shops here (just scroll past the chains to the indie shops at the bottom).

It seems like a great time to support non-chains too, and celebrate the quality coffee that the UK is producing right now. We’re at the forefront of a wave, and it’s rare that you can say that of the UK. It really is a celebration.

Is there anything else? No.

Are you sure? What will you be doing this week? Drinking lots of coffee, but no change there.

 

… Oh right. This weekend is the London Coffee Festival. It’s a once-a-year showcase of coffee talent and industry in Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery. Tickets are still on sale (50% of the ticket price goes to Project Waterfall), and it’s set to be awesome. I’ll be there on Friday eve taking snaps, and preparing a blog for those who can’t get there.

Are you going? Yes, you are too.

Am I? Yes.

Kaffeine is a well-respected name around London, and puts an emphasis on providing quality coffee. The influences are obviously Australasian, both in the interior and the staff, who are fantastically friendly. The space inside is pretty small, and at lunch can get a bit busy, but as we approach summer there’s a lovely area to sit outside as well. Great Titchfield Street is full of other interesting independent shops, and so getting over to Fitzrovia is well worth the journey.

The coffee on bar is Square Mile, and I was a little disappointed to find out that there was no filter coffee available. The lead barista, Shaun Young, is award-winning, but he made his name originally in the Aeropress championships, so I had hoped to try an awesome filter. Instead I had a flat white, well made with a beautiful colour to the espresso. The coffee made the most of the Red Brick blend, which comes through with quite an earthy and full flavour.

Overall Kaffeine is very reminiscent of some of the original independent coffee shops with the influx of coffee-mad Australians, and focus on pulling the best espresso possible. The ‘Coffee Philosophy’ on their website goes into a lot of detail about what they regard as important to their craft and demonstrates the passion that goes into their cups. In retrospect, I would have liked something more, but maybe that was provided by the outstanding, tattoo-clad staff.

Notes
Kaffeine
@KaffeineLondon
Square Mile
@SquareMile

Brown’s is a favourite haunt of mine in Kent for good coffee, my original blog about them is a bit out of date but can be found here. They’re starting regular cupping sessions. In a nutshell, cupping is the process of brewing beans to get the most flavours out of them. Coffee shops and roasters often do this to come up with flavour profiles, and really is the best way of understanding how a coffee develops. Coffee cupping is about getting to know the coffee, as intimately as possible.

The process is straight-forward: the beans are measured and then ground. 12g of beans to 200g of water (a ratio of 60). Take a moment to smell the freshly ground coffee to discern some of the early qualities of the aroma. Pour off-boil water over the grounds, which then begin to bloom. Soon a crust of coffee grounds will form, once this happens, take a spoon and break the crust. This will release the most powerful burst of aroma you are liable to get, and will enable a thorough analysis of the scent of the coffee. Take a long breath of the coffee.

The next stage is to let the coffee cool a little before skimming the grounds out of the cup and you’re ready to taste. Take a spoon and take a little drop of coffee, and then slurp quickly. The slurp is important because it aerates the coffee, and helps move the coffee across the whole tongue, maximising flavour. Bear in mind that the coffee will change as it cools, and flavours will evolve and interact differently with other qualities of the coffee as time progresses. Make notes, pick out distinct flavours, or just enjoy being as close to the coffee as you are ever likely to be.

The coffees on offer this time round were from Has Bean, Origin and Workshop. The cupping itself was also an experiment. Two of each coffee were prepared to see what factors appeared to effect the clarity of the coffee. One cup of each coffee was prepared with mineral water, and the other with tap water. The low pH and impurity rating of the mineral water had a massive impact on the qualities of the coffee –  this was expected, but the unanimity and vociferousness behind the superiority of the mineral water coffees was unmistakeable.

The results explain why such efforts go into water filtration in coffee shops these days. But they also bring up wider questions surrounding the experiential side to coffee. Is taste really subjective? And what does that even mean?

A big thank you to @BrownsCoffeehse in Canterbury for putting this free event on. It’s set to be a regular fixture, so watch their Twitter for details. Thanks also to @ThomBurrows for hosting the cupping and educating everybody.

A shot of two coffees: one decaf, the other normal. This is from a quality roaster, and the darker roast is the decaf. As a rule of thumb, darker roasts are stronger, and the darkest roasts are worse. Baristas dislike decaf because most of the time, it has to be roasted dark to get it to taste. Baristas dislike decaf because the coffee is, on the whole, worse. Witness also the oiliness of the darker roast (more obvious in person).

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However, I also feel compelled to add that there is hope for the unfortunate drinker of decaf. Has Bean posted a blog discussing a new form of decaffeination known as EA (Ethyl Acetate) which supposedly perfects the process, in an all-natural way, without losing any of the flavour. Only Has Bean retails a coffee like this in the UK currently, but it may provide some hope to those that both love the taste of coffee, and have no choice but to drink decaf.