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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Most apps I have used focus on London, and do it really well. They are mostly comprehensive and easy to use, perfect for the coffee enthusiast who’s fortunate enough to live in London. CoffeeGuru is not like these apps, as it has tried to extend its reach to the whole of the UK – and not just the UK. CoffeeGuru attempts to list all direct trade, speciality coffee shops in the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada! Quite ambitious, and obviously there’s no way I can describe its comprehensiveness given the scope of the app. However, the first thing to say is that it picks up many of the good coffee shops I know in small-town areas. It achieves this through a strong user-recommendation system which allows people to upload their local coffee shops. This is a dream for people outside of London, or people travelling, because they would previously have had to go through websites to get this information.

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The user interface, though, is rather lacking. It almost looks like it’s unfinished. The design is crude in some ways, and the coffee-shop search is lacking in the kind of fluidity that one gets from more shiny and opulent apps. In a way this is disappointing, but it kind of adds something to the edginess of the app. This might not be to everyone’s tastes, but what this app provides is something fundamentally different to the other apps on the market. It feels like it’s been designed for no-nonsense baristas. There are a few features that back this up, and make it a real alternative, despite its simple UI.

Firstly, it has the SCAA flavour wheel embedded for whenever you need it. This means that tasting coffees or cupping coffees can be joined by this app. It’s a simple touch, but well worth having for a serious barista. Next, there is an (incomplete) list of direct trade roasters, each with some information on the roaster. I was particularly interested in this as I know very little about roasters in the US and Canada, so if I see one on a guest roast in a coffee shop, I can check up on them before I decide to try. Lastly, anybody serious about coffee wants to know where they can get good coffee when they’re outside of London (or outside of the UK), this app provides a seriously needed service by including more coffee shops than just what can be found in London.

As a result, I think this app feels primarily like a tool. A tool that has been designed to provide alternatives to the other coffee apps. In that sense, it’s definitely worth the £1.49 simply because it fills some gaps that baristas and coffee geeks will find handy and can’t be found anywhere else. The UI could definitely be better, and so could the search function, but where most of the UK apps designed for coffee do exactly the same thing, the CoffeeGuru app is refreshingly unique.

The @CoffeeGuruApp is £1.49 in iTunes and can be found here.

Most of my blogs are about other people behind the bar. But on Saturday I had cause to actually brew some coffee myself. Browns’ Coffeehouse hosted an evening event between 6 and 9 showcasing some great beers, provided by the Bottle Shop, and some amazing coffee. The coffee served was filter only, and there was certainly a worry that the complexities of the coffee, and the fact that there was a ‘no milk no sugar’ embargo in place, would not be fully appreciated.

The evening exceeded our wildest expectations. Not only did no one ask for milk or sugar in their coffee, people were fully engaged and enthusiastic when it came to hearing about the different processes of the coffees and how they were made. Seeing so much passion for black gold outside of London was truly inspiring. The beer tasting gave an interesting dimension to the event, and made it feel informal and chilled out. A link between the two was achieved by serving a pairing between a chocolate porter and a shot of espresso, designed to be sipped alternately to enhance the flavours of each. And it was busy, not just for a little while, but for all three hours, with people alternating between coffee and beer, treating the two as interchangeable (coffee is the new alcohol!).

The coffee layout was 3 baristas, serving 3 coffees in 3 different brew methods. Chemex, aeropress and V60. This gave people the opportunity to try very different coffees through the equipment that made them the most interesting. Josh, the owner of Browns, was brewing an Origin Finca Potosi through Chemex, whilst Thom, head barista, made Workshop‘s unique Finca Tamana (which, with this recipe, tastes unquestionably like tomato soup). Finally, I was using Caravan‘s Dumerso Yirgacheffe – used by the 2013 UK Barista Championship 3rd placer, Estelle Bright – in the V60 to make a creamy-strawberry mix of subtle flavours.

These had a brilliant reception, and I was thrilled to hear, many-a-time, people say, “I never knew coffee could taste like this!” To see a coffee shop so busy after 6, outside of London, was really an experience of which to be part. I don’t think Browns will be abandoning their espresso-based coffee any time soon, but it suggests a trend that change in coffee is capable of happening outside the square mile.

Notes
Browns’ Coffeehouse
Bottle Shop
@BrownsCoffeehse (@thomburrows – head barista)
@bottle_shop
@CaravanRoastery
@OriginCoffee
@WorkshopCoffee

Last night I was lucky enough to be in London for a free event at Look Mum No Hands, celebrating coffee and cycling. There’s a great crossover in the Venn diagram for ‘coffee people’ and ‘cycling people’ and so it seems like a natural partnership for a series of talks. Being a geek and a fan of lectures about all subjects, the opportunity to be in a whole room of people being generally geeky about a general selection of things seemed too good to pass up. The event was hosted at Look Mum No Hands, and organised by CycleFit (my gratitude to both!).

 

I’m going to be woefully unfair and give far too little space to the cycling portion of the evening (this blog isn’t ‘no bicycle left behind’ after all!). The talks were given by James Hewitt and Phil Cavell, very passionate and knowledgeable people who work at CycleFit. These talks ranged from the techie – where an assistant cycled whilst the pressure on the saddle was being relayed to the projector, allowing the audience to see how different shaped saddles suit different riding styles – to the visceral: including a heated discussion with audience members about the utility (versus the sentimentality) of steel as a material for bikes. Very interesting, even for only an amateur cyclist like myself. It was so refreshing to see people with the kind of passion I have for coffee, but around a different centre (i.e. cycling).

But anyway: to the coffee! The first speech was by Stephen Leighton of Has Bean, well known for his profile in the coffee community. He gave an interesting talk about the different ways of buying coffee in from other countries. The three ways he spoke of were using an importer, using an exporter and direct trading. Commonly held is the idea that direct trade is the holy grail of coffee buying, and the other two are ‘evil’ in greater or lesser degrees. Stephen’s point was that these methods are not intrinsically good or bad, but rather they can be made good or made bad dependent on the circumstances. He gave a list of examples where each of these methods had been good for Has Bean, and also good for the farms; but also an example where the method had been bad for the farm or for Has Bean. I think his talk was accentuated too by the knowledge that last year Has Bean got seriously burned by taking the direct trade route, and so it was interesting to hear Stephen’s nuanced discussion of the pros and cons of different methods of import.

The next coffee oriented speech was by a chap called Dan Webb. He’s the owner and head roaster of Crediton Coffee in Devon. They specialise in something that is increasingly rare: in-store roasting. However, Dan explained, this had been problematic from an environmental point of view: the roaster pollutes (and not in the good coffee smell way). The clean-up of this involved installing a carbon filter and electrostatic precipitator, basically a way of filtering the air. The technology is at the forefront, and far exceeds the amount of carbon they are actually producing in case they ever need to expand. The technical nature of this talk was certainly a good level, and I learnt things about the environmental output of a roaster that I didn’t know before. It was also good to hear a roaster putting ecology first: Crediton use enviro-packaging to further limit their impact.

The final coffee talk was by James Hoffman, WBC 2007 champ and owner of Square Mile, and general ambassador for the UK speciality coffee industry. His talk ‘the Hidden World of Well-Brewed Coffee’ was well pitched: everybody could take something from it, so long as they liked drinking coffee. James enthusiastically persisted that ‘making good coffee was easy’, something I thoroughly agree with, but that we need to give consideration to the things going into the coffee. First, he asked, “who owns a pepper grinder?”. Everybody owns a pepper grinder! “Who owns a coffee grinder?” And far fewer people raised their hands. A grinder is essential for well-brewed coffee; and a burr grinder even better. Second, water forms the vast, vast majority of the coffee, and yet our tap water that we use everyday is full of impurities, and dissolved solids that can alter the flavour. Filtration in coffee shops is a huge investment, but without this investment, the espresso machine would clog up within weeks from all the impurities within the water. “Water is the enemy.” At home, a filtration system is hardly plausible, but a Brita filter is an easy way to improve your coffee. Bottled water, even better, though there are still solids that affect the coffee. Lastly, there’s the actual coffee itself, and how you’re brewing it. Only the first 20% of the coffee is tasty, after that bitter flavours start coming out. If your coffee is too bitter, it’s possible that you put too much coffee in, but, more likely, you’re getting more than the first 20% of the coffee out. To combat this, grind a little coarser, and you will extract less bad flavour from the coffee, getting you closer to that 20% mark. Similarly, if your coffee is under-extracted, just grind a little finer next time. This, James maintains, will improve your everyday experience of coffee and allow the beans of speciality roasters to taste as good as they should.

Notes
@CycleFitUK
@1ookmumnohands
@jimseven
@CreditonCoffee
@hasbean

There’s a real trend at the moment towards guesting international roasters. Coffee shops across London are showcasing coffees from all across the world next to their standard roasters. And they definitely should be providing this, as some great coffee is being roasted outside of the UK and it would otherwise be difficult to get hold of without the coffee shops acting as importers. What has really been a hit is the best of the Scandinavian roasters. The culture in Scandinavia is strong, and these countries have a great modernising attitude towards speciality coffee. Previously I have taken a look at the Coffee Collective, from Denmark, this time I was able to taste some Koppi.

 

Koppi was founded by two Swedish barista champs, Anne Lunell and Charles Nystrand, and is one of the pillars of Scandinavian coffee. The coffee I tried, a Honduras Los Pinos, prepared by the top baristas at Store Street espresso, was a great example of filter I have tried before from Koppi. A characteristically fresh and clean flavour, more towards the dry fruit flavour, this coffee was very subtle and light on the tongue (previous Koppis I’ve had have struck me as apple-y). It left me with the distinct aftertaste of a grassy field. The taste is consistent through the cup, and did not change greatly as it cools. As a gross generalisation, I would say that this coffee is quite indicative of a Scandinavian feel: light and nuanced, resulting from a tendency towards fully washed beans.

Notes
Koppi
@koppi_anne
Store Street Espresso
@storestespresso

L'accademia di Cimbali

Pressure-profiled espresso

On this blog, I always try and write about issues in speciality coffee in a way that your everyday, engaged coffee drinker gets. I want these things to excite them as much as they excite me. Partly that’s to do with my writing, but mostly it’s to do with what I write about. The following post may be boring to many, but I think it’s important. I call it a dummy’s guide, not because it is for dummies, but because it’s aimed at people who don’t use espresso machines regularly. Like myself. This is the product of secondary research rather than my own experience.

So, why is pressure profiling ‘exciting’? When you pull an espresso, water is pumped through at a certain pressure, determined by how much force is exerted to push the water through the coffee. This pressure is typically around 9 bars, and this will pull you a perfectly acceptable espresso. But, consider this, if water is allowed to go through at a slower pace, will that change the flavour? It works on the same principle as leaving your cafetiere/aeropress brewing for longer. Though of course just letting the water trickle down has its own disadvantages.

Pressure profiling allows you to control this factor. In particular, pressure profiling allows you to alter the beginning and end of the extraction to give an even flavour. In the middle, particularly when the coffee is still relatively flavourful, you want the pressure to be high. This allows for the best quality flavour to come through. The end of the extraction can then be levelled out so that whatever flavour DSCF3787left in the coffee is drawn out slowly and not given too much prominence. By the end of the extraction most of the good flavour has gone.

Of course, that’s just one type of journey profiling allows. I was shown a whole set of graphs of how pressure changed over time, and what impact this would have on the taste of the espresso I was drinking. There is debate over whether profiling can actually change that much about the flavour. This is compounded by it being notoriously difficult to test. A thought for the barista, sitting experimenting with espresso, not sure if the flavour has changed because of the dose amount, the temperature of the water, the coarseness of the grind, environmental factors OR the pressure profile. And then there’s tastebud fatigue on top of all that.

How is the pressure controlled? More and more espresso machines are being built with pressure profiling as a feature. Some of this is manual, and controlled with levers, and others are automatic, and controlled electronically.

Another accessible guide to profiling can be found here. If you want to read more on this fascinating subject, James Hoffman’s complex but comprehensive thoughts can be found here (basic) and here (not basic).