10th December 2010

Can this be a first for us? A 100% African espresso blend? I think so! I’ve had some S/O Kenyans, Tanzanians, and Rwandans, etc, on previously, but this is a blend of, I believe, 3 (or even 4) Ethiopian coffees (two from Sidamo coops and one from Yirgacheffe OCR), and a Kenyan AA. As such, this is quite extra-ordinary! This is… the ‘Winter Hoard’.

A guy who knows the London coffee scene quite well popped in first thing the other day whilst visiting Cardiff and had a macchiato with the 67% Ethiopian OCR Sidamo and 33% El Salvador Brambly, and remarked how he was not very used to blends with Ethiopian coffees in, but enjoyed it very much (which was a nice way to start the day for me). It struck me that this is probably true for a lot of folks, whilst conversely I seem to work with blends like this most of the time. This all African blend is something else again though, and very intriguing. I have more work to do with this coffee over the coming week or two, but am initially finding the ideal window to be quite tight – a marked difference between 28 and 29 seconds for instance. I’m finding the same thing true with the Brambly blend (and many other coffees) – but perhaps even more distinctly so with the Winter Hoard so far.

And so, from the soft, gentle ripe fruits of the Brambly, the fruits are now that much brighter, and multicoloured – it feels like a string of Christmas lights! It feels a little strange to attach a seasonal blend to our seasons… but this is pretty fitting. There IS blackcurrant there too – I can smell it and taste it here and there, but it is by no means an overly, or simply, blackcurranty shot. Brambly has been one of my favorite blends recently, and I will continue to keep this running at the cafe as well, on and off, alternating with Winter Hoard, and probably others too!

My adjustment with my flat whites continues to receive my attention – it’s a move that can achieve the most tantalising results, but it’s by no means an easy route, as there are new subtleties and pitfalls that come into play with the technique, alongside more standard preparation for most others drinks. It seems to be about 3 or 4 out of 5 landing on the money at the mo, with 1 or 2 falling a bit short, which needs to be better!

Also, I have to say it’s not every week Intelligentsia Coffee and The Arcade Fire come into the cafe together (or separately even) for coffee! A great surprise! Todd from Intelli is a gracious fellow doing them proud, and it was nice to chat briefly. It would have been wonderful to talk more, but every day here just seems to get busier and busier recently, to the point of lunacy, and as such I felt a bit too distracted to stop for as long as I would have liked (a perhaps misplaced sense of diligence sometimes stops me from making time for things when I should). But the gist of it seemed to be that Intelli are going round with the band as they tour the UK, and taking them to cafes they’ve had recommended, in search of good coffee. Could there be a cooler scenario?! It was only when I spoke to Todd later in the day that it clicked though ”…Ah yes – I thought I recognised those guys from somewhere earlier!”. And don’t – I KNOW we’re in an arcade …it’s just too easy! I think a few of the guys had espresso and milk drinks, and hopefully these were OK, as this, when successful, is what we specialise in more, and it’s what I’ve worked to gradually raise the bar with. I think the lack of a specialised filter brew bar convenient for take out came as a bit of a surprise though, and hopefully our simple french press (totally unsuitable for take out, and still lagging a little behind our espresso in various ways) was quaint, rather than disappointing! It’s something I would love to do, but only in a more specifically coffee, quality, and skills focussed setting, because it would be impractical for the plan. It does mean we’re behind ‘the trend’ in that respect, but then doing manual filter brewing properly is not something to go into just for the sake of it if you’re not going to deliver a good product. Gradually progressing and maintaining the now pretty firmly cemented espresso side of things here has been quite a successful, but lengthy and challenging achievement in itself for me, and bringing yet another, skilled, labour intensive brew station into play is beyond my control, and not realistic, in this type of environment. I have hinted at it once or twice to some people, and there have been raised eyebrows… and the look of ‘but why?!’. It’s best left there! My pourovers and better filter grind stay at home for now.

Also (if I have been a good boy) new gram scales are on the way for Christmas! These will be slimline and more practical for shot weighing (directly on the drip tray hopefully), and will be able to stay in work with me …all the better for fine tuning and obsessing over the details.

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