Archive for August, 2012

The large FW.

August 22, 2012

Dare I even talk about the FW? It could get ugly pretty quick! Don’t worry, this is a fairly simple, light-hearted one. Naturally, I am an unashamed proponent of the small flat white. And the only-small. It’s all about less-is-more, quality over quantity, richness and preservation of (good) coffee-flavour, sincerity to the coffee, and the craft, etc, etc.

That, together with the fact that flat whites have generally been offered by those skilled independents who really care about great coffee (until more recently, at least…), is why they have risen to almost infamous (and often misinterpreted) fame within the UK artisan coffee scene, and beyond this sector, over the last several years. And that’s why I put them on our menu some years ago, some time before the chains decided they wanted a piece of the action.

This week, we have happily been discovered by many of the Aussie Olympians, who are currently in Cardiff, before heading on to the Paralympics, which has been great, a joy, as I know Australians generally sniff out a good coffee, and are really appreciative guests when they find it. Anyway, as part of this, there have been a few requests for large flat whites! I have encountered some bemused consternation occasionally in the past from Aussies (and others for that matter) about the lack of a large flat white around here. Usually I try to politely explain that we only make it in the small size (and diligently remain true to my craft, and concept of the flat white, as above). And that we can do a large latte instead..? I will usually, happily, explain the (previously mentioned) reasons for the small-only offering.

But when it comes to coffee, I don’t like to disappoint, and this week I have been a little outnumbered, and faced with this quizzical confusion about the issue more than usual. So, I have been making a few large ‘flat whites’, on request. I could insist dogmatically about the philosophy. But at the end of the day, within reason, I think it is about trying to give the customer what they want, whilst simultaneously retaining the integrity and quality of your craft/product. So I am serving this as a 10-12oz (in/out) drink (our large latte size) with an extra shot (3), and flat white milk (I normally texture just a touch thicker for lattes). This maintains, as best I can, the richness, and nature, of what I see as a flat white, in a bigger drink, for those that want it (it won’t be going on the menu though!). I might be totally bending over backwards for no good reason, and maybe a simple large latte would suffice. But I cannot bring myself to serve that, if someone is asking for a flat white! So, somewhere in the middle, we meet, and everyone’s happy!  And I really don’t mind, when customers are this enthusiastic, and appreciative, about the final product. It’s a pleasure.

Is this large FW more of an Aussie thing as opposed to  NZ? Or does it just vary region to region? Ouch, actually, I really don’t want to open that whole can of worms, there are so many different permutations as to what it is, where it’s from, what its components are, and everything about the drink, as it is!! And it varies a little here too – I know I might make ’em a little differently on our set-up to how some other places that I hugely respect in the UK make them (although the basic concept is about the same). All I know is, the coffee made (various types!) has been well received this week, it’s always a pleasure making coffee for coffee lovers, and, sometimes they’ve gone in completely the other direction and opted to try a piccolo anyway! All good fun.

Today was La Malacara single estate espresso from El Salvador. Tomorrow will be a real mixed bag (three coffees, one after the other!), ending with Naturelle espresso, which will then continue on through the weekend, and until our next Guest Roaster for espresso starts mid next week!


August 15, 2012

It’s true, when it comes to coffee, it doesn’t take much to get me excited. A couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a certain little bit of extra info appearing on our bags from the roastery, I admit I was quite elated!

Roast dates. This is something I have enquired about with our roaster (pestered?!) quite a bit in the past. But numerous logistical reasons have prevented them from adding it. Until now!

This is such a great move that does an already amazing product more justice. JGC is one the (The?!) very best micro roasters in the UK, which is why they are my regular roaster. I’ve known from the start that it’s always been about quality and freshness at the roastery, but this detail confirms it more obviously, for others. They were about the only remaining top craft-roaster of this calibre not adding this crucial little bit of info on the bags, which seemed a shame …until now! Although, perhaps it was all part of the best-kept-secret thing, and I should be sad (the roaster I mean, not the dates)?! Anyway, there it is.

Of course they always knew the roasts dates, and so did I. And I have always carefully and fastidiously noted down and monitored this aspect of freshness, so that I could in turn pass the knowledge on to both interested staff and customers, and learn from it myself. But it’s a lot less hassle when it’s already on the bag, and it’s even more precise, whereas before there were occasions where it was difficult to be sure about the exact day of the roast, which can be frustrating when you’re trying to get to grips with this ever fascinating aspect of the craft.

 Happy box. It’s lovely having lovely roasters!

The whole freshness thing is fascinating. Over the last few years, I think I’ve gone full circle from thinking ‘fresh is best’ when great, fresh coffee was quite new to me, then thinking this was a bit naive after some bad experiences with very-fresh coffee, and so consequently going through the ‘more rest is best’ thing, and then right back to really fresh very recently, after thinking that maybe the ‘more rest thing’ might have been misplaced…

OK, so naturally, it does depend on the coffee. And how you handle it. And how well you know a certain coffee. And sometimes it can be about differences rather than right and wrong (all else being equal). Suffice to say, this week, I’ve been brewing Naturelle espresso between day 9 and day 1 (yep, I said day 1) from roast. Perhaps the very best results were toward the latter end, but moving (deliberately) onto coffee just one day off roast today was not the meltdown I might have feared …quite the opposite (admittedly, although this was something of an experiment, I didn’t make this move by accident or without due consideration). There was a blip, sadly, for a period midafternoon as it hit the burrs, but the slightest of dose adjustments ironed this out… But with coffee, there’s always a curve-ball ready to fly at you from somewhere, just when you think things are making sense, and going well. And it’s probably the next shot. Which is all part of the fun! 😉

During all this, some of my reading this week has been

A few coffees coming up for espresso over the next few weeks. This weekend will be a Formula 6 weekend, with Naturelle, and new-crop El Salvadoran La Malacara ‘A’ next week for a day or so, either side. Then, soon after, we will also be re-welcoming some recent guests for another visit, with new coffees from them, which I am still arranging. I think there will be two different current seasonal blends, and two wonderfully exciting Single Origin espressos from these other roasters.

The Aussie Olympians have found the plan this week, via various coffee-sources, which has been a pleasure – good luck all!

Average flattie… where’s the camera when you need it?!

The team continue to astound me with how far they’ve come (see previous post). Considering we don’t really have many true ‘coffee’ people (professional or obsessive) amongst our ranks,  it’s heart-warming to see somebody pulling something surprising and awesome out of the bag every day, ever more effortlessly. All the more pleasantly surprising, when you consider it is not a profession-choice, or even a genuine appreciation or interest, and is relatively temporary, for most of those involved. Admittedly, there’s a ceiling, or plateau, that most don’t rise above, because of this. But it is inspiring, nonetheless. But this level of skill is a fragile thing, that doesn’t ‘just happen’. It takes a long time to grow, and it needs constant sustenance to be maintained and to progress, which is sometimes oh-so subtle (for those already further on), sometimes not. 

Still awaiting judgement from Germany… I will be patient!

9th August 2012

August 9, 2012
A nice way to start the day:
“I been quite a few times and I think I’ve been served by someone different every time …but it’s always been a cracking coffee …how long do you train your baristas for?!”
Credit to the (extensive) Team!
The answer is: A lot. Indefinitely. And that includes me. I find myself continuously obsessing about everything coffee, and always looking at all the flaws (so many!), and the puzzles (as many!), amongst the highlights, and trying to understand how to make it better next time. I’m always (increasingly) conscious that there is always more (for all of us) to learn, and that we don’t always get it right. In truth, my/our efforts are really relatively embryonic.
But I guess this obsession can be positive, and is what drives and sustains things. Along with the fact that the training and guidance is in-house, full time, and not just the result of brief visits from (or to) trainers. And those humbling, uplifting comments like this from the very first customer of the day, help to put things in perspective, making you realise that all the hard work, from everyone, continuously, does in fact pay off, and provides many customers with something special …which makes it all worthwhile!


August 6, 2012

A jolly looking package arrived for me from China today (for home)…

I have only had a quick play so far, with a Chemex this evening at home after work, but …wow! I thought my gooseneck drizzler was pretty adequate, and to be fair, it was. But this is something else! Anyone not into coffee (and even some who are) will think this sounds extremely lame, but I don’t care: This pouring kettle is fantastic!

The precision, control, and degree of subtlety available is another level completely.

And it was, relatively, cheap!

Stainless steel 1.2ltr.

Got that thermometer recalibrated too (after some issues), which is giving some interesting results, and which involved discovering that my house is 95 M.A.S.L! No coffee plantation here then, just one in the window… 😉

Still awaiting judgement from Germany though…

New season coffees for cafetiere …IN!

August 1, 2012

My latest selections for our in-season cafetiere menu arrived from the roastery today, and are available right now, on request, and will be out fully by the end of the week! 

These newest lovely coffees (along with the usual favorites) are:


Shegole Cooperative.

Sparkling, juicy citrus. Syrupy sweetness.

Composed of mixed Heirloom Arabica varietals. From the Limu region of Ethiopia. Process: Fully washed. 


Mzuzu Coffee Farmers Union.                  

Floral, fruit tea-like, with apricotty stone fruit notes.

100% Geisha Arabica varietal. Geisha is one of the rarest and most coveted coffee varietals. It originated in Ethiopia, and has become especially famous in recent years, after a Geisha lot from Panama fetched record prices at auction. This lot is from the Viphya region, in the northern highlands of Malawi. Process: Natural.

I fell in love with the Geisha as soon as I cupped it …and the Shegole is currently a component of one of my favorite espresso blends – great to try it on its own as a filter profile, and it is coming home with me this weekend!

In other news…

I’m eagerly awaiting a pouring kettle upgrade from China! I have been using (when a controlled stream is necessary) a 1 litre gooseneck oil drizzler at home for some time, and it has been a really great buy. Very temperature stable too. But it perhaps lacks a little finesse, and this should be a touch better, I think. After some consideration, I have not opted for the Buono…

Grinders, grinding, grind quality, and burrs, are currently doing my nut (when don’t they?!), to put it politely, and in brief. I am currently awaiting some feedback from Germany about some grind samples…

BTW if you use a thermometer of any sort, be sure to calibrate it regularly. I have yet again been caught out by mine. Taking readings and notes, at home and at work (obsessively, compulsively?!), is something I do more and more of these days, as a sort of component amongst the variety of measures I use to continuously monitor, cross check and record, in an attempt to ever better understand everything I do with coffee (which seems to get harder!). Recording this data, along with tasting, visuals, etc, is good. It helps. And gradually, I find I can combine a variety of these measures more fluidly, to put a picture together better. But you need the devices to be recording accurately, or it throws the whole process off! I was confident that my fairly new ultra fast response needle probe thermocouple and digital meter were reading correctly. But it has in fact been about 3C off for X amount of time. Hence various recent information from kettles, jugs, Chemex’s, V60’s, Clever’s, other pourovers, and cafetieres, has been a little inaccurate. A bit like when you realise your espresso PID isn’t properly calibrated! 😉