Archive for March, 2010

…GOD arrives at the plan.

March 27, 2010

Too melodramatic? …Maybe a little …Maybe not!

I’ve had manual Grind On Demand in constant operation at the plan since I arrived, but now it’s official, and unavoidable, achieved with an accurate digital timer on our brand new Anfim Super Caimano! Does this mean we’re all automated and soulless now? Of course not – the grinder still needs frequent adjustment by the human hand of the barista to ensure it’s on-the-money, and everyone at the cafe is trained to use Gloria in a semi-auto fashion, resulting in (hopefully!) sentient command over every shot. This new grinder, used properly, just means a whole array of subtle improvements for the crafting, and the taste, of the espresso.

I spent some time researching this grinder for the cafe, and, whilst I don’t have much experience with a wide range of grinders, this (thankfully!) seems to be as awesome as anticipated (especially for the mid-range price), and certainly worlds away from our old one. It perfectly fits our budget, our volume, and our pretty broad staff needs – empowering our more experienced baristas and myself with more precise control and greatly improved grind/distribution/shot quality, whilst helping to aid consistency for those less practiced and attentive with the espresso.

This ‘2nd revision’ Super has 90 rather than 70 adjustments for the stepped grind, and our version has a timer for two preset doses (adjustable by tenths of a second, with a digital display), enabling us to maintain shot parameters in an ‘infinite’ manner, and also accurately dose for single baskets, as well as doubles. The mods that have been available for a little while in the UK with Delta/Omron timers are great (and marginally more ergonomic, and more rapidly adjustable), but do not allow for two presets, so this new version is ideal for the plan …because we serve standard single shots in our small drinks (except for Flat Whites, naturally, or when a double is requested!). Some folks just don’t want a double in a 6oz drink, and it would be wasteful to only grind for doubles when it’s quieter (that said, I won’t write-off a move to ristrettos across the board at some point just yet! This grinder has allowed me to achieve a few blindingly beautiful 100% brew ratio ristrettos, outside of service. The problem with 53’s being a practical one of the implications of dose and resulting shot volumes to some extent). We also have a neat free-dose button, which is great …even though I’ve not really needed it yet!

The quality of the grind (large 75mm flat burrs, with relatively slow/cool grinding at 800rpm), and especially the dosing, and the distribution of the grounds into the basket from the Anfim is much fabled (and old news to many people) …and the legends are indeed true. I was a staunch advocate of additional finger levelling – for distribution as well as dosing – but since Wednesday when the Anfim arrived, I haven’t felt the urge. Touching that neat, fluffy, perfectly central pile of grounds would perhaps just seem detrimental if anything! Two gentle pats to settle the cone a little, two taps down on the counter to further settle, then a tamp, concentrating now more than ever on levelness (‘cos there’s worryingly little else to do ;)!). Naked extractions are clearly (visually) beautifully even, to the point of perversity. And the wastage under the grinder? Even in narrow 53mm groups? Even after a busy shift? Don’t get me started – what wastage?!

But there’s still lots to learn, and understand, and improve, and tweak, and experiment with, to allow the coffees to shine as they should, as often as possible …but as a tool, this grinder makes searching for the secrets that little bit more …realistic.

I’ve been rather agitated of late, trying to put my finger on the cause, and solution, for frustrating problems with the taste of shots. It’s an ongoing endeavour, that is of course part of a complex fabric of variables, and these problems when they arise (whether severe, or more subtle, or imagined!) are no doubt now largely our (my!) fault, rather than that of the equipment …but it was interesting to note today, upon starting a fresh batch of coffee, just a few days off roast, that many of my concerns seemed to mellow, slightly, to the point of cautiously thinking *oh! that actually tastes about right!*. Another detail to monitor even more closely than usual..!

…Some pics – for those (like me before!) wanting to get a better idea of this grinder:

March 21, 2010

Fingers crossed, Gloria’s new bit-on-the-side arrives this week!

I anticipate minor teething troubles initially …but also hope for improved shots once we’re better acquainted! …and as a consequence decaf shots will also be available again at long last *feeble cheer*

March 21, 2010

…We’re strolling up Brick Lane out of curiosity on Saturday whilst in London, and it’s about time to stop for a coffee …but not having been able to get the Good Coffee Map working properly on my phone (horror!), haven’t got any leads for where to stop, and so just keep my eyes peeled …then down a side street I spy a sign ‘Nude Espresso’ *Ah! That’s a name I know*. Lucky find. Delicious espresso! …Back to the drawing board.

March 17th 2010

March 17, 2010

*Crumbs!*

It was really humbling to see our inclusion in ‘The Week’ magazine last week, amongst just 7 recommended best UK coffee shops – with the others mentioned really being some of the very best – mightily skilled legends, that are inspirational, hugely experienced, and more coffee-focussed establishments. Kind of feels like an episode of Faking It recently – *I actually haven’t a clue what I’m doing in comparison to these guys, and often think my espressos taste wrong!*. I guess to some extent it’s this continual realisation that I have so much more to learn about coffee and espresso, and this aspiration to always try to improve what I (as a barista) and we (as a cafe) do with the coffee, that has led to the achievements so far, and the recent recognition for the hard work getting there.

There are some members of the team at the plan who’ve learnt well, over time, and developed a real skill for the techniques with the espresso drinks, and who can hopefully help to sustain and deliver some coffee and customer service for all coming through the doors, that is worthy of our recent publicity, along with all the food, etc!

It doesn’t seem possible to link to ‘The Week’ article online – so here’s a photo of the page! (click to enlarge)

 

March 11, 2010

…12 fairly random double shots measured over two days this week resulted in an average dose of 17g, an average time of 30.42 seconds, and an average brew weight of 33.5g – giving an average brew ratio of 50.75%, using Caffe Naturelle at 92C. I was particularly happy with the taste of one of these when sampled which was 17g, 32 seconds, and 36g brew weight (47.22% ratio), and so hopefully this overall result is a promising one…

March 11, 2010

A nice write-up in the South Wales Echo following my achievements in the ukbc this year, along with our inclusion in the Independent’s top 50 cafes in the UK, has generated a lot of interest, and new faces at the plan recently – who we welcome, along with all our regulars!

Our team at the plan are doing a great job – with some of our more experienced baristas especially really flourishing of late, and crafting some seriously nice coffees for people to enjoy. It’s taken a lot of perseverance and dedication to gradually nurture the coffee and the barista skills to this level, which is quite unique in the area, and which hopefully enables us to offer something special to those now seeking us out. 🙂

UKBC 2010 Semis and Finals

March 2, 2010

Congratulations to John Gordon – the new UK Barista Champion!!

Big congrats also to Dale – so pleased to see him achieve 2nd, with a fantastic score that could easily have won it, had it not been for John’s phenomenal 687 points. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, as I’m sure his gaggle of fans will agree!

It was a real privilege to be performing again in the final 6 yesterday, with so many great baristas competing, and coming 4th in the UK is just nuts! Great to be able to represent Cardiff and Wales as well in a (predictably?) London dominated final. I was shocked to hear I’d got through (just being in the top 10 would have been great), and I was honestly a little aghast at the prospect of competing again the next day – being totally unprepared to do another set, I knew it would mean a long evening washing up, ironing, re-organising, and stressing in the hotel room, missing out on the after semis party at Cafe Mahoe, and another 5am start squeezing limes and separating eggs! We were absolutely shattered on arriving home yesterday, but it was well worth it in the end.

So …no spills …all 4 shots served for each category …remarkably mishap free this weekend (apart from chasing an ice-cube around on the floor at the start of my final set)! Really happy with my blend for the finals too. Had to rebuild the blend in the weeks before the finals, and the new blend seemed even better when I tried it during backstage practice. Having only had  just enough of the final rested version for use at competition, I had hardly tried it during the week – so it was a relief to find that it was doing lovely things. Peter and Co did an amazing job as always, and it was reassuring to find that the coffees I chose for the blend actually worked together in the way I had hoped. Not so happy with my cappuccinos though – my milk and latte art were completely pants, both days.

A really good experience all in all, despite all the hard work, that has been a great process yet again, helping me to learn a little more, step out of my bubble, and meet so many others who also care about coffee. Once again I’m left feeling enthused, and with an awareness that I really know so little about coffee and espresso, and that there’s so much more to learn …but as ever, this aspiration is contrasted with the fact most people think what I try to do with coffee is a little ridiculous, because coffee is just coffee! *mustn’t be negative – must have faith*!

Thanks so much to Claire, without her I simply would not have been able to do it. Thanks to her family for all their support too – new fans of the coffee world, who have been watching the live streaming avidly! Thanks to mum. Thanks to Peter and all at JGC for the wonderful coffee, endless samples, inspiration, and for putting up with my harassment and inability to judge coffees properly so often. Thanks to David at the plan for use of the cafe for quite a few late evenings practicing. And also to all the UKBC organisers and judges, and the San Remo team, for creating a great event this year, that is friendly, fun, and highly professional all at the same time, with lots of little improvements from last year – excellent work.