Archive for October, 2010

25th Oct 2010

October 25, 2010

A shot of a typical shot in beautiful Taormina, Sicily …which could almost have been taken anywhere in the town …which is what made the espresso there both wonderfully consistent and perfectly pleasing, but equally very predictable and unremarkable.

For a bit more about what I encountered, there are my comments at the end of the previous post. 

Italy calling

October 14, 2010

I’m about to set off on holiday to Italy (Sicily) for the first time since I became a barista several (many?!) years ago! This is not a working holiday, or some sort of coffee-exploration holiday – it’s just a very welcome holiday! But, it IS Italy, the birthplace of espresso, and one of the few places in the world where espresso is drunk regularly as part of daily life and often taken pretty seriously.

Some people’s reaction might be ”Ooo! So you’re going to Italy? You’ll get some proper coffee there then, and see how the experts do it!”. As it is, I’m really not quite sure what to expect. I think the stereotype for southern Italy is for very dark roasts and very ristretto shots… For sure, it will be really interesting for me to experience a very different perspective and some very different shots from my day-to-day experience as a barista here. Hopefully I will get to try some inspiring, well crafted espresso, and it should in some small way be valuable and educational, regardless (I’m by no means so assured of my own limited coffee knowledge or ability as to think it won’t). But at the same time, I’m not necessarily expecting to be blown away by anything remarkably ‘artisan’ or cutting edge, or wowed by beans of exceptional quality while in Sicily. Contrary to popular belief, general Italian espresso quality and practices are by no means necessarily considered to be the be all and end all of what great espresso is capable of, by the most skilled speciality espresso folk elsewhere in the world (although this isn’t based on any specific knowledge or experience, just my generalised understanding from what I’ve heard and read). As far as I understand it, Italian espresso is quite traditional in its flavours and preparation, and while it’s more commonly understood, and MUCH more commonly prepared better than it is here, generally …at the same time it’s also not particularly modern, ‘gourmet’, or ‘3rd wave’ (awkward but sometimes useful concepts), and it is perhaps even more rarely really exceptional (from a 3rd wave perspective) than it is here in the UK. (Controversial..? Have I said too much? Will there be a horse’s head waiting for me in the hotel bed?!)

That said, I don’t think anyone in the speciality espresso industry anywhere in the world wouldn’t admit that Italy has a wealth of espresso understanding and experience that we can all learn from, and a much more widespread, well accustomed understanding of the basic principles that are all too easy to overlook, and is also quite progressive in some other areas like machinery development.

It might be true that Italian blends are generally of a more commodity quality, and blended with robusta for a more traditional, homogenous, balanced taste and texture, rather than top grade, traceable, single estate arabica beans (blended or not) that are sourced, roasted and prepared meticulously so as to showcase various wonderful and inspiring inherent natural characteristics to the utmost. It may be that Italian espresso is not ground fresh on demand very often, and beans may be much older (or deliberately ‘rested’ for longer) than I would normally leave them myself. But equally, I can often guilty of putting forward beans that I don’t understand well enough (thoroughly), because I’ve only put them in the grinder an hour or two ago, of sometimes dancing with coffee that is fizzing and harsh from being too fresh, if anything, and of using awkward coffees (however beautiful potentially) that could be perceived as too unbalanced, one-sided, acidic/sour, or wacky – even when well prepared, and more so when not (which is all too easy, especially if it’s not a blend) – all for the sake of attempting to experience, and demonstrate, a variety of different, amazing flavours, rather than simple consistency and dull, roasty, expected flavours.

Anyway, needless to say, I’m pretty curious and excited, and I hope to experience, taste, and learn just a little more about espresso while I’m there, if only in a very casual, snapshot kind of way. Any last-minute tips on what to expect, or recommendations, anyone? …Coffee might just be the last thing on my mind while away anyway (possible?)!

8th October

October 8, 2010

News Flash! I thought Kenyan Miroroma for espresso was all out at our roasters, but there seems to be just a few kilos of this wonderful coffee left!! I had it on at the cafe today, and it will be on for a little while on Monday as well. I LOVE this coffee – I have experienced few single origin coffees for espresso that are so different and ‘Wow’ (this is very fruity and blackcurranty), and yet which work so well, when handled properly. As with many S/O or S/E espressos, it’s harder to get right (the fruit element with this can easily tend towards sour if you take your eye off the ball), and so there is unfortunately an element of risk, but it’s SO worth it when it’s successful! …This is one coffee where I have to really force myself to not be afraid of taking the blonding a touch further, as this can provide the balance and sweetness it needs.

For next week I have a brand new rich and floral/fruity single estate natural process Nicaraguan espresso resting as we speak, ready to hit the cafe for Tuesday/Wednesday!

After that, I will be away on holiday for a couple of weeks (:D), and the Bold Red blend will be in full effect while I’m away. Please bear with us during this period; not only will I be away for a brief spell, but we are also already experiencing an unprecidented level of busyiness, and a simliar level of all-new staff (who I am doing my level best to train as fast as possible, but skills, and understanding of the craft, take time) – so there may be a few hiccups here and there that we are working hard to iron out asap!

Matt J’s coffee has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few months though, amongst others, and there are rumours that a certain Kiwi has flown back towards the nest as well, and so there will be some safe hands on deck to prepare the wonderful coffees we use with due care for you!

OMG – OCR

October 2, 2010

Wow …open a box to see these three letters, and it makes for a pretty special morning!

(Oh! And I should explain that this signifies the return of none other than coffees from Operation Cherry Red, roasted by JGC – last seen making waves in 2008-9) …Can’t wait!

the plan Cafe Cardiff reviews

October 2, 2010

After noticing some recent comments on local review sites (like these on Yelp) from people who’ve been to the plan cafe, I thought I’d post a response to clear up one particular point which cropped up a few times and seems to have caused some confusion, resulting from our advertisement of our inclusion in the Independent newspaper’s 50 Best UK Coffee Shops, and other reviews and articles in The Week magazine, etc. As it’s not always possible or appropriate (because I’m employed by the cafe), to post on these review sites, I am posting here on my blog, in the hope that some of the customers, and others in the future, might find this. It’s not my intention to influence people’s personal views, merely to clarify this one point to avoid any misunderstanding.

Firstly, let me say thankyou SO much for the many kind comments from customers regarding the cafe, and the coffee particularly!! Really, really appreciated.

But, regarding the point mentioned above, I feel it’s important to make the distinction that the publicity was gained more specifically for what I’ve been doing with coffee, both in the official UK Barista Championships (in which I ranked 4th in the UK Finals in London this year), and with the team at the cafe, in terms of raising the standards of everything we do with the coffee specifically (and the espresso coffees especially) over the last few years since I arrived there in 2007.

Whilst there are lots of other things which make the cafe lovely as well (and for which visitors and our regulars alike love the cafe), it’s for the coffee side of things in particular that we have gained this recent recognition, rather than everything else the cafe does, as such.

It’s unfortunate that some people might see these reviews advertised, and as a result be tempted in, only to then feel that perhaps various other aspects of what the cafe is/does doesn’t reflect these listings. We certainly don’t want to disappoint anyone, and if you read the actual reviews (Independent, ‘The Week’, South Wales Echo, Radio Wales interview), their coffee-focus is clear – and this is something I endeavour to deliver on, especially when I myself am at the cafe.

The posters that the owner printed say ‘Top 50 Cafes’, whereas more precisely it should be ‘Top 50 Coffee Shops’, as this is the listing we have been included in by the Independent. This subtle distinction might make things more clear.

I can wholeheartedly confirm that I’m something of a professional coffeegeek, and that there are few others in Wales at present who are as sincerely (ridiculously and obsessively!) passionate about the craft of espresso, and as dedicated to trying to offer great, hand crafted, ‘3rd wave’ coffee as I am!! And so, if you come looking particularly for flat whites, cappuccinos, and freepour latte art, etc, I hope we can provide you with something really special, and deserving of the publicity!

Great coffee also depends to a large extent on the barista making it. Whilst I work tirelessly to implement and monitor standards, train all our staff, and keep standards high throughout the cafe (and some of our more experienced baristas are now able to do great things), there will be some natural variation in skill level and experience between different members of staff. So please feel free to ask for me personally, and I’ll be happy (busyness permitted!), to prepare your coffee myself, and, if you like, share my passion for what I do with you, by telling you more about where our coffee comes from, and the specialist techniques we use to prepare it!  I’m in-house full-time, usually Monday to Friday 9-5.

There’s lots of info elsewhere on this blog about what I do as well.

Thanks, Trevor Hyam, Head Barista @ the plan