Archive

Features

Quick post to inform everyone that Danish Review 2013 has been published. This is an online English language journal addressing Danish/Scandi culture, produced by various members of UCL staff/students. It’s fairly new, and next year it will hopefully become print. Thanks to Jesper Hansen, the editor, and teaching fellow in the Scandi Studies dept at UCL. I contributed a small interview with Klaus Thomsen (of the Coffee Collective and previous World Barista Champion) on coffee culture in Copenhagen uniting my passion of coffee with my heritage of Denmark. The full pdf can be found here. Here’s a short excerpt:

‘London has been very lucky’, Klaus Thomsen tells me in his impeccable English. ‘There are so many cafe chains’. In fact, Klaus started his coffee days in a Starbucks in London: an ironic, if unsurprising start to a prestigious career. ‘This was in 2001 and I didn’t know better back then!’ In fact, London as a whole didn’t know better about quality coffee, but Klaus contemplates, ‘having a Starbucks or Coffee Republic on every corner started getting people interested in coffee’. This, in turn, laid the groundwork for a really successful speciality coffee business environment. In Copenhagen, however, ‘people don’t go out as much for lunch. There’s not this culture of popping out of the office at lunchtime to get a coffee and some food’. This is changing, Klaus mentions, and more and more people are taking time at lunch to sample coffee in Copenhagen.

Please give it a read. At any rate, the timing of this is great because next week I’m going to Copenhagen to experience the culture – and the coffee – first-hand. Expect pictures and blogs!

Advertisements

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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

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).

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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).

DSCF3757

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.