The plan in July …Images

July 9, 2013






Fun with new phone – just playing!

naturelle esp july

Naturelle seasonal organic espresso. Currently featuring Guji Shakiso (washed single farm/Coop in the Guji mountains, Oromia region, southern Ethiopia) combined with Finca Bourbon washed Guatemalan single estate. 

And, I’m pleased and excited to announce that Caffeine Magazine will be available at the plan cafe from later this week – for all our customers!!

Also (rare non coffee related news allowed on my site – sorry!), Cardiff Comedy Festival 2013 continues at the cafe: Every Thursday evening in July, the plan is hosting Storytelling, with a different theme each week. 6pm. £3.50 on the door.

And, New Guest Roasters for our espresso approaching …fast! Watch this space.

 La Paz plan

Rested and Dialled to… ON position!

June-July recent images

July 4, 2013





Grounds… I could look at grounds all day. Sometimes I almost do!

Shapes, size/s… populations…

Laser particle sizing completed (for the time being). Now reassessing with… eyes, fingers, and mouth! 







(Tanzania, Rocky and Santos grinders. Brazilian Crioulos COE, and Kenya Kirimahiga)




Keble Aricha espresso, as it was meant to be…


Simple Tulip pour.



Kirimahiga AA 2013

9th June 2013

June 9, 2013

The laser particle sizing analysis results are back for my samples of coffee grounds (see previous posts), and they make for fascinating reading! I’m currently digesting the information; pulling and playing with key segments of the data (there are about 50 data points of size/% between 0.02-2000um for each of the 13 samples), replotting graphs in different ways, and generally trying to interpret the meaning of the findings overall, and make them translate into practical usefulness. Potentially, we might also look at having some of the samples rerun, or remodelled, or even test for new things with new samples. 

Samples analysed by a Mastersizer 2000 using the general purpose analysis mode.

Many of the results concur closely with expectations, and suspicions, arrived at through more simple, manual methods – simply adding a greater level of detail and transparency to what’s actually happening. Whereas some of the results are confusing, and some are wildly surprising …and might surprise many people, I think.

At the cafe, Naturelle is currently my predominant selection for the espresso even more so than usual (although as ever, I will of course be putting other coffees on in-between here and there as well!) – but the blend is going through almost constant change right now, so it remains continually fresh and exciting, and so, even more than usual, this blend in some ways far from just one static offering. Almost each new batch from the roastery recently has had new components, or new flavour possibilities, on offer, and often some more significant redialling from the get-go has been required …as well as the usual constant tweeks to keep it happy! But as ever, the variations within the best shots are loosely based around balanced combinations of clean, juicy, light, sweet/candied citrus and stone fruits, delicate florals, melon, brown sugars, chocolates …and more! 

We are currently still offering Rwandan Koakaka, and Colombian Santa Barbara, and now also new crop classic Kenyan Kirimahiga AA – as cafetieres, or as beans for home.

So far I admit I have not got around to watching anything of the 2013 WBC – apart from Mat Perger’s set, after a customer sent me a Tweet regarding his use of nutation (as this is something they know I have utilised for some time now). This made fascinating viewing. It was great to see someone challenging so many conventions; pulling shots into frozen cups to rapidly chill shots down to body temp, brewing lungos with a filter roast for signature drinks, and grinding for all espresso with a unimodal filter grinder no less!!! All this made me quite excited, and optimistic. In the end, the nutation was actually probably the least noteworthy part, for me! Sure, elements of many of these points that he highlighted, although unconventional, are not new, and actually reflect ideas that people have been talking about and using for some time (for instance, I almost routinely prefer to pull shots for myself into room temperature cups, and then rest them even further before tasting, and then also taste through to cold. And even more so with filter. And I know I am not alone). But still, as there are many things with speciality coffee that are held as almost absolute, and which are backed-up by countless references on the top forums and blogs, it’s always refreshing see people questioning the way we are ‘meant’ to do things (rest time is another good one), and suitably inspiring to see these points taken to the highest level, on stage. The only trouble is, each time you remove any of the few supposed ‘certainties’ from processes that are already subject to a vast range of interrelated, complex, constantly moving variables, they get even more complicated …but also more interesting!




Coffee grounds samples for laser particle sizing analysis, May 2013

May 26, 2013

This post follows on directly from the previous post (and other recent posts) about grind, grinders, grind size, and the laser particle sizing tests I’m having carried out on a set of grind samples.

A lovely customer, @mathewsmith1, to whom I’m extremely grateful, is making this possible, and I admit I’m very excited to see the results, which I think will be fascinating!

Ideally, I might have liked to a compare a washed to a full natural process coffee, but a suitable natural was not available at quite the right time, so the comparison/s is between two completely different washed, filter profile coffees, which will be equally illuminating, I’m sure.

The grounds being tested are all in the fine-filter through to coarse FP range. 

Below are my notes of the details of the samples submitted, the testing of which is currently in progress.

As ever, this is just very casual research I’m doing to satisfy my own curiosities and obsessions with everything coffee, and to try to learn more, some of which I’m putting ‘out there’ in case it happens to be of interest. As such, much of the specifics are over my head, and my interpretation of the subject is not necessarily accurate, relevant, or anywhere near as properly or scientifically conducted or presented as it might be by those actually skilled in these matters, for which I apologise. 


Two coffees (coffees roasted by James’ Gourmet Coffee Roasters):

1) Rwanda Koakaka Coop Filter profile (Washed process) 

Roaster’s notes:

“Rwanda Koakaka 100% Red Bourbon

Late harvest, super fruity balance

Farm 1,316 Cooperative members

Town/City:  Huye

Region:  Karaba district, Southern Province  

Process: Fully Washed and dried on screens

Farm Owner: Karaba Coffee Growers Cooperative (Koakaka)

Varietals: Red Bourbon

Altitude:  1,700 – 2,000 Meters above sea level”

2) Colombia Finca Santa Barbara Lot 238 Filter profile (Special, unique washed processing for this Lot – I have additional details from the roaster and farmer.)

Roaster’s notes:

“Farm: Finca Santa Barbara

“La Joyeria”= The Jewelry

Owner Pedro Miguel Echavarria

Varietal: 100% Colombia (Caturra and the Timor Hybrid. It is highly productive and resistant to coffee rust. First released in 1982 Expect to see this ALOT MORE AS CLIMATES CHANGE)

Area :Antioquia


MASL: 1400-2000 with an average of 1630 for this lot”

Three grinders:

My home Mahlkonig Tanzania (T) (main focus of test). An essentially brand new Tanzania with new burrs (having only seen light domestic use for two months plus some old beans through for seasoning – maybe 5-8kg max total). Still at original factory calibration.

My home Rancilio Rocky (R). My (largely retired) domestic filter and FP grinder for last 5 years with original burrs and only light use – perhaps 40-80kg total. True zero on my grinder is roughly +5 dynamic/running and -1 static.

Santos (S). The cafe’s FP grinder. Set at a coarse FP setting. Ancient model. Fitted new burrs about 8 months ago. These have maybe seen maybe 60kg +/-20 since then.

Two roast ages:

Fresh Rwanda Koakaka and Colombia Santa Barbara Lot 238 for majority of samples (Roast date 1st May 2013 for both coffees. Samples ground on the 5th and 6th May). Sealed one way valve bags. Both bags opened (and subsequently resealed) at the same time, about 24-48 hours before grinding samples, and treated to exactly the same conditions at all times.

One sample of much older Koakaka (Roast date: 28th March 2013 with the bag also having been open for about 4-5 weeks already, although resealed during this period whenever not in use) (admittedly, and necessarily, a different roast batch, so the precise filter profile may have been adjusted accordingly by roaster between the two batches, but the same identical bean, at a similar or even identical filter profile, nonetheless).

Two batch sizes:

All samples are at 15 grams (into grinder) (samples are therefore equivalent to the amount of coffee that might be used for an actual, small batch, brew size).

Except, in addition, one larger sample of 30 grams (I, T7) (fresh Koakaka).

The aim:

To accurately determine and compare the precise grind sizes in microns, the % amounts of these particle sizes (including the average, and median sizes), and therefore the shape of the distribution curves, produced by each grinder with each sample submitted. The different grind settings being tested are from fine filter, through medium, to coarse on the Tanzania, around fine to medium filter on the Rocky, and coarse only on the Santos.

To test all submitted variances of the two coffees (freshness, batch size, etc) at one same setting on one grinder (T7), as well as at the other various settings across the 3 grinders.

Detail (excuse the rather repeated waffling):

To compare two different coffees of exactly the same freshness at the same grind setting (T7).

To compare the effects on the distribution curve with just one coffee (fresh Koakaka) over a variety of grind settings, on three different grinders (settings T4-9, R24, 28 and 33, and S coarse) (some reports often indicate progressively more fines at finer filter grind settings as opposed to coarser settings for grinders similar to the Tanzania).

To establish this size and spread of particles at the different settings, in order to better understand the current calibration of the grinders, to compare grinders’ distribution curves both individually, and also relative to each other, and to better understand the grinders’ settings, as well as the brewing and taste results.

To compare the effects on the same identical bean (Koakaka), at the same grind setting on the Tanzania (T7), when ‘stale’ compared to when fresh.

To establish the effects on the distribution curve, of a larger single dosed weight of beans (100% more) (equivalent to a larger batch size) going through the Tanzania, of the same identical coffee (fresh Koakaka), at the same freshness, and at the same setting (T7), as also tested for the other samples.

To see the distribution curve produced by the cafe’s Santos, also with the same coffee (fresh Koakaka) at the same freshness, at its coarse FP setting.


Many reports indicate that the Tanzania settings generally approximately correspond to the average size in microns at each setting, for example T6 might equal 600 microns. Although, as there will be a variance between the calibration of each different grinder, this might not always be true, and so these tests will confirm/clarify this in relation to my grinder specifically, at its current calibration.

Samples for Tanzania and Santos fed into already running burrs. Rocky samples fed into static burrs, then switched on. This accurately replicates my current normal usage for each grinder.

For all samples, a minimum of 4 grams of a bean precisely identical to the sample, were purged through on each new setting on each grinder before taking the main sample for that bean and setting, in order to try to ensure the integrity of the sample, and achieve an accurate, uncontaminated sample (applying this to every single sample – different coffees, roast dates, grind settings, dose sizes, etc).

Grind samples all taken on 05/05/13. Except for the Santos – this was taken one day later on 06/05/13.

Samples then due to be analysed at the lab at some point during the following month or so (all analysed on the 29th May in the end).

The same zip-lock plastic bags used for the containment of all samples to try avoid the samples being compromised in any way, and to standardise the samples.

Samples ground directly into these bags, then sealed.

It’s my understanding that the lab will separate each sample into several portions, and thereby take several readings from each sample – to create a more accurate overall picture of each sample. This should maximise the overall accuracy of the readings, and the validity of the analysis as a whole, by counteracting and minimising any effects of static, mixing, settling, or any other factors that might result in any declassification of the grind particles within each sample as a whole.

The samples (13 in total):

A)  T4

B)  T5

C)  T6

D)  T7

E)  T8

F)  T9   (all fresh Koakaka)

G)  T7   (old stale Koakaka)

H)  T7   (fresh Finca Barbara)

I)  T7   (larger 30 gram weight of fresh Koakaka)

J)  R24   (fresh Koakaka)

K)  R28   (fresh Koakaka)

L)  R33   (fresh Koakaka)

M)  S   (coarse FP setting – fresh Koakaka)

24th may 2013 evening pours

A gratuitous, almost completely irrelevant, and quite unexceptional picture of brewed, lovely, Santa Barbara.

Aside from this interesting diversion of grind size analysis, brewing at home recently with the Tanzania has rather turned everything on its head. With this grinder now as a sound benchmark to work from, and whilst readjusting and reassessing all the parameters for each filter brew method to get to grips with the new grinder, the infinite range of different techniques possible with each brew method has become more evident, and has been brought into sharper focus, than ever…

13th April 2013: Grounds

April 13, 2013


Lovely, beautiful, clean, even grounds…


But where’s the dust? (There’s always dust, after all) Ah! There it is (a little):


Predictably, the Tanzania for my home coarse grinding (whilst being really quite something, naturally), is raising as many questions as answers. One direction that I find it leading me towards (contrary to what one might expect) is to consider investigating various aspects of sieving in more depth. But it’s a pretty deep rabbit hole to go down, especially as there are now already so many other newly designed avenues to explore with simple brewing alone. But it is tempting. After all, how else can one know certain things for sure?! Hence, I am trying very hard to not justify ‘investing’ in the next coffee gadget (an inevitability?). It seems that Compulsive Coffee Upgraditis will always find a way; even when you have already upgraded as far as one can go, there are always interesting tangents and diversions where it can find the path of least resistance. …Oh! And there is that other important measuring device I should really think about saving for as well!


It turns out that it might be possible to quell at least part of this latest urge for more coffee gadgetry, and have at least some of the questions that I have answered without going too deeply down the sieving route. This is one of the wonderful and surprising benefits that can materialise when one of your very BEST customers is also a scientist, who has access to a pharmacy lab with laser particle sizing equipment. This really makes my month!! So in terms of analysing the size(s) and distribution of particles within grind samples at certain (coarse) settings from certain grinders, this could satisfy some of my curiosity. And, far more accurately than sieving would. Actual brewing with separated or otherwise manipulated grounds would however, obviously still require those sieves… And I might still require them to do any extensive, repeated, multiple analyses at home, as potentially it would be really interesting to see the effects on the shape of the distribution curves caused by different bean types and densities, roasts, and different levels of freshness, at the same, and multiple, and recalibrated settings, and also the effects of small single doses popcorning vs larger amounts in the hopper – meaning numerous samples – many more than would be viable or polite through my contact! Like I said – a pretty deep rabbit hole. If I had all the time and gadgetry in the world, it would be great though (I think I’ve said before that the coffee world could do with a millionaire enthusiast with time on their hands to conduct all this sort of research – just imagine!). Although, having said that, much work has already been undertaken, and documented, by the coffee community regarding these topics (and there are various thoughts as to the relevance of fines, and/or any benefits regarding their removal, for brewed coffee), and there are those who understand the findings and the science much better than I could ever hope to.

I think the analysis will probably be Laser Diffraction based on Equivalent Spherical Diameter of particles, as it’s the range of roughly 0-1500 microns/um/micrometers that I’m interested in for my coffee grind samples. The sample/s from the grinder/s I am interested in testing might be a mixture of Mono or Unimodal (for the Tanzania), and potentially some Bi or even Multimodal grind profiles for the other grinder or two, all being ‘polydisperse’, naturally, and all measured on this same volume diameter/ESD basis. Laser diffraction is more accurate than sieves for a number of reasons. However, there is also still a degree of inaccuracy involved with expressing (assuming) the size of irregular particles in terms of ESD – because they are not spherical. The scattering of light from an irregular particle is not the same as from a sphere, even one of a similar volume. And also, in brewing terms, irregular shaped particles will not extract in the same way, or at the same rate, as a spherical or similarly uniformly shaped particle. Some laser diffraction measurement systems however, are equipped with an irregular particle analysis mode, which counteracts the inaccuracies when measuring irregular particles like coffee grounds.

This should theoretically provide data, and sizing, and graphs, which are more accurate to the actual individual particles within the sample. Quite how the irregular shapes are assessed for their size in this way, or how successfully the compensated irregular sizing analysis distinguishes the actual size and shape of the irregular particles, and how well it therefore correlates to the way that the irregularly shaped coffee ground particles actually extract, I am not sure. For instance, from what I understand, a fairly flat-shaped coffee particle that is 1800 microns wide, but only 600 microns thick, will extract in roughly the same time frame that a 600×600 micron diameter coffee particle with a much smaller total volume (more cube or spherically shaped for example) will extract in. Admittedly three 600x600x600 um coffee particles would probably extract a bit faster than the single 600x600x1800 um particle, due to their larger surface area. But nonetheless, the extraction rate of the 600×1800 particle would still be related more to its lowest measurement than its highest – the extraction rate of a particle is essentially defined by its smallest diameter (although admittedly the reality is more complex than this – coffee grind particles are utterly ‘organic’ in shape, and each will usually have a whole multitude of varying measurements, which will affect its extraction in incomprehensibly complex ways…! But, you could still attempt to generalise the basic shape and dimensions of an irregularly shaped coffee particle, to anticipate its general extraction characteristics and extraction rate). And therefore, hopefully this compensating irregular particle analysis mode would read that larger particle as something like 600 microns, not 1800 or anywhere near that. Whereas the ESD system might read it as a larger measurement. (This issue of individual particles is of course very different to the rate/way in which a whole coffee grind sample extracts, as that contains a population of many different sizes, and perhaps shapes.)

I don’t know yet whether the laser system analysing my own sample/s has this feature nor not, but either way, it will still provide a much more accurate measurement than the sieves.

Apparently some laser diffraction systems are also capable of measuring particles smaller than a micron – down to nanometers. Whereas measurement of particles smaller than nanometers (sub-nanometer) would require something like a Dynamic Light Scattering measurement system, or ultra microscopes – but fortunately this is not necessary for my purposes where coffee grounds are concerned. The fines occupy (as far as I know) the 0-150 um region, roughly (depending on your definition), with the rest of the general grind population, depending on the setting, going up to as much as 1.5-2mm at the coarsest press settings (1500-2000 um), with some particles (at their widest points) even going as high as 3-4mm (3000-4000 um), but with most particles usually occupying the 500-1500 um range for most filter and press purposes – and normal Laser Diffraction sizing is ideally suitable for this range. What it might be able to tell me about the shape of the particles, if anything (and what it would mean), I’m not so sure (casually, for instance, I have observed that the largest Tanzania particles at the coarsest settings are often quite wide and flat in shape (flake-like), meaning they would extract faster than their widest diameter/sieve mesh size might suggest).

But what I’m most interested in for now is simply confirming the size in microns at certain varied grind settings, and the % distribution/spread of sizes within the sample. Fascinating and exciting!

Please excuse any cack handed, poorly informed, misinterpretation of any of the science/equipment terms, some of which I have gleaned rather rapidly this evening whilst looking into some aspects of this topic a bit further than before!

Naturally, I’m aware of those fascinating Marco/Ditting/Mahlkonig filter profile graphs that are out there (and the HB Titan Grinder Project espresso profile graphs). But the data is limited, and not necessarily precisely specific to my own grinder/s.

27th March 2013

March 27, 2013

Lovely mention from Ibby Tarafdar (with latte art pours courtesy of Kasparas):


Keep up to date with this year’s UKBC:


Currently available, and coming up, at the cafe:

Brazilian SOE’s: Sertao pulp, and Passeio Topiazo varietal natural, and the latest seasonal versions of Caffe Naturelle and Formula 6 blends from JGC. We have New Rwanda Koakaka Coop and Bolivian Manco Kapac Colonia from Caranavi for cafetière …or for your filter methods at home!

New Guest espresso roasters also approaching in the near future..!

16th March 2013: Sri Lanka

March 16, 2013

Just back from a two-week cycling ‘holiday’ (expedition!) in Sri Lanka with my father in law. From the baking hot coast, through rice fields and jungle, then up over 2000 MASL along steep hairpin bends, to and around the central highlands, and back – by bike the whole way!

Sri Lanka’s a really amazing place, especially if you take the time to get around and explore. But I won’t go into general details, as this is a coffee blog!

In terms of coffee and tea, Sri Lanka is really all about the tea, and has been ever since the original coffee crops were abandoned due to serious cases of rust in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when tea was planted instead. They have never looked back.

It’s the tea that Sri Lanka is known for, and which dominates the scenery of highlands, and I can’t really not give it a mention and a few pictures here. This scenery is stunningly beautiful. The tea estates shimmer and glisten like emerald-green blankets of gems, swathed across high mountains, softly undulating hills, steeply sloping valleys, and terraced gardens, interspersed with taller trees throughout (all reached by bicycle!). The imagery, and the particular colour, was like nothing I have seen before, and it will stay with me. 

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And finding out a little about the tea (and its processing at a couple of factories) was interesting.

Coffee is not the reason I went to Sri Lanka, and it is not what Sri Lanka specialises in, so it was never fair to expect too much. 

But, obviously, coffee is my passion, and when I found out I was going to a country that is geographically and climatically suitable for coffee growing, I was excited to try to find some growing in origin, and to taste some fresh cherries for the first time.

Finding out any significant detail about coffee growing in Sri Lanka is very difficult! It is currently not really drunk, grown professionally, known about, or given any thought whatsoever by most of the country, I think.

Research lead me to Hansa Coffee as seeming to be the only company obviously producing and roasting its own coffee on the island. From what I read, it seems their coffee comes from small farmers (probably growing coffee fairly casually in their gardens, rather than as part of more specialised or professional coffee farms), situated around the Kotmale area in the highlands, and with their Roastery (run by Lawrence) being situated in Nuwara Eliya. After finding this out, I contacted Hansa twice by email, and also via Twitter, asking if it might be possible to simply see some coffee growing in any of the farms, as I was touring these areas by bicycle. Unfortunately they never responded, and so I was not able to organise any visits to the farms growing their coffee, or find out any detail about their cultivation, harvesting, processing or roasting. Whilst I was actually in Nuwara Eliya (which, at 1900 MASL is the highest town in Sri Lanka!), I still searched around the streets for the roastery, but never found it. Whilst I was there, my wife (back at home) actually managed to get a response from Hansa via Facebook about the roastery itself – but they said Lawrence was away for the week, so no visit was possible, and an address was still not provided, so I couldn’t even take a look at the roastery from outside..!

But it was simply seeing (and tasting) some coffee growing (anywhere!) that was my main aim, rather than the roasting or drinking side of things in this case, and I didn’t let the lack of information discourage me! We set our route to take in Kotmale between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, so that I could at least look out for coffee as we went along.

Sure enough, on the day we traveled from Kandy (500 MASL), through Kotmale, and up to just above Ramboda (1000 MASL), coffee suddenly started to appear everywhere! I didn’t see any signs of specific or organised cultivation or production of coffee as a crop, but I soon recognised the odd plant or two growing here and there, wild along the roadside, and also in people’s gardens.

Most of the plants I saw (some with cherries on as well as flowers) where tantalisingly just out of reach, and we had to keep pushing on, so it was photos only.

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Then, above Ramboda, we needed to stop for the night, and fortunately found a space at last, tiniest, guesthouse (luckily, as we discovered the next day there were no more for miles of steep climbing up to Nuwara Eliya!). I noticed they had one sole little coffee tree growing in their driveway, and enquired about it with the owner. He kindly and eagerly arched the top of the bush down, where there were a few ripe cherries, so that I could pick them to eat. Delicious! The flesh was juicy, sweet, and unique in flavour. Probably not as perfectly sweet and ripe and those grown skilfully on the best farms around the world, and almost certainly nothing special in terms of bean potential, I’m sure, but very tasty and exciting to try for the first time all the same. Mission accomplished!

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The small coffee tree, on the left.

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This was a doubly lucky find, as the next day, as we started travel up the next 1000 meters to Nuwara Eliya, the coffee plants disappeared rapidly, despite the suitability of the elevation, and the landscape became dominated almost exclusively by tea, and later also cool-climate vegetables higher up, along with even more tea!

Coffee is really hard to come by in Sri Lanka, currently, not just the plants, but to drink, as well. Most places simply don’t serve it, and usually the only times we had it where in the various lovely guesthouses where we stayed, for breakfast. Even some of them didn’t have any, and almost without exception, the coffee was very, very odd indeed. A kind of hot composty/mouldy pond/ditch water or drains aroma and aftertaste, with a charcoal edge, that was drinkable only with milk. I’m not sure what substances or processes were deployed to prepare this. But I was missing coffee a lot, so it was still always welcome! I did then have a pretty nice Americano in IceBear cafe (a more modern, quirky, Swiss owned place serving coffee and tea in Negombo) when back on the coast. This was made with coffee advertised as being grown around Nuwara Eliya, via someone called Century for You. It was pleasant and tasty (simple chocolaty and dried fruit flavours), in comparison to most of the other coffees I tried (at this stage I was craving a half decent coffee so much that just a fairly ‘normal’ tasting coffee was very nice, and didn’t need to be anything too special!). I’m not sure what Hansa’s coffee is like in their own cafe, as this is situated in the main city Colombo, where we didn’t visit…

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But like I said, Sri Lanka’s all about the tea rather than coffee, so these findings where to be expected, I guess. I wasn’t really hoping or expecting to find really high quality beans, or great brewed coffee in any form anyway – my (humble and unambitious) main coffee-goal of the trip was just to find some plants growing, and some fresh cherries to taste, which I achieved, and which was fantastic!!

Many thanks to Kevin for taking me along.

16th March 2013

March 16, 2013

Good luck Kasparas!! Top plan cafe barista, and my current right-hand man, Kas, is set to compete in the UKBC regional heats for his first time soon, so very best of luck to him! He has been with us for a couple of years now, and has come a long way, becoming one of the ‘few’ who continue to develop their techniques, expertise, interest and knowledge above and beyond that which is simply ‘required’. In terms of the competition itself, I have not been coaching him, as such, just giving some tips and support along the way; my involvement has been minimal, which seemed healthy, and he has essentially done all the preparation off his own back. He was making progress before I went away, and I’m sure he has been practising in earnest whilst I’ve been on ‘expedition’ (!), so I am eager to see how the set is shaping up, and I know he will do a great job. 🙂

23rd February 2013: Tanzania

February 23, 2013


Now, that’s a burr.



My new Mahlkonig Tanzania for home (crazy, I know). For medium to coarse brew methods. See previous post, and Brew Methods at Home page for details.




An afternoon spent grinding and bagging reference samples from the Rocky and the Tanzania for calibration and comparison. Eventually got around to making a first coffee! A Woodneck of Idido natural.


17th February 2013

February 17, 2013

At work, for the plan, I have currently been selecting the newest Caffe Naturelle (bright, sweet, fresh, juicy, lemony-citrus and tropical fruity, sherbet, brown sugar, melon, honeyed fruit salad, floral), and (with it being that time of year!) Fazenda Samambaia, and Fazenda Sertao Lot #16 (ripe red fruits, chocolate, green tea, marzipan. So much more than you might expect). We’ll definitely be seeing a LOT more of the Sertao after I trialled it over a 26hr period last week. It will be back soon.

So, over the last year (or two?!), I have become a little obsessed with grind and grinding (amongst other aspects of coffee, as usual), and with the search for the ultimate filter grinder for home. This has been quite a journey already, and the catalyst has been my increasing love of manual by the cup brew methods at home over the last several years (see my ‘Brew Methods at Home’ page). Throughout all this, for about five years, I have been using a Rancilio Rocky doserless grinder at home for these methods, and, perhaps surprisingly, it has really done me proud. But I have been itching for a long time to upgrade to something that can provide an even more uniform grind quality at the medium to coarse range for filter, full immersion, and hybrid methods (a grind profile that displays an even, homogenous, unimodal, narrow, ‘single peak’ particle size distribution is generally considered a good thing for these methods). Lots and lots of reading and deliberating. Then, a little while back, I bought a used Ditting KR1203 in good condition, expecting wonderous things. But throughout the entire time that I had the Ditting, given its reputation, I was surprised, and disappointed, by the grind quality. Even my (relatively) humble Rocky continued to produce a much better coarse grind quality, and better brews.

Then there was the huge and immensely frustrating effort to try to find out why this was, during which I was willing to pay for improvements to be made to the grinder. Huge, long story. As part of this I paid for the (original style pressed) burrs to be resharpened by the official Ditting service in Switzerland. However, same results as before. In the end it was determined by analysis of the grounds in Germany that the functionality was healthy, and that this was simply as good as it got, for those burrs. I remained dissatisfied though. I could have tried investing further in the newer style milled/machined burrs, but that was a move I wasn’t prepared to make if I couldn’t be sure that there would be a huge improvement in the grind quality, and I decided to part company from the grinder. I put together a lengthy lament of a post about all this, with lots of measurements and comparisons between the Rocky and the Ditting (percentages of sieved fines, etc, etc). But that is a past chapter now though, and publishing that post seems unnecessary. I still don’t know why my Rocky beat the Ditting hands down at the medium to coarse grind ranges. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

Anyhow, since then, I’ve been planning (and trying to justify!) my next move, and have considered every top-end coarse grinder that there is (both commercial and domestic) (more info here The upshot is I have decided to bite the bullet and go all out, and be done with it. I have ordered THE ultimate filter grinder, which is widely recognised as the absolute benchmark (with really only one exception, currently, which probably does exceed it, at a huge jump in price). I feel duly obsessed, and insane. But no change there, I’m used to that when it comes to coffee! Who knows, perhaps I will still feel the grind quality could be better (and I am under no illusion that it will be ‘perfect’; no grinder or grinding process is ever perfect), and I don’t expect it to magically make all brewing issues go away. But at least I will now know for sure that I am using about the best grind that is possible (short of a roller). That peace of mind in itself will be worth the spend, because now when brewing, tasting, and trying to learn more, I will be able to just focus on all the other variables without always having that nagging thought *hmmm, but what would it be like with better grind quality?* It’s going to be SO fascinating!

Some of my recent reading, along with God in a Cup (and of course, grinder stuff!), has been this little thread:

I have mentioned my note-taking once or twice… These also border on the obsessive! But perhaps that ridicules and belittles its value unfairly. I find it really useful, and, although everyone does things differently, I would recommend the process to anyone continually trying to learn more. It’s nothing highly refined or conclusive, more just a logging of data, and some digestion of this, day by day. Almost every day, I note down all the parameters I’m using for each coffee I’m working with (primarily for espresso at work, and also for manual brew methods at home): The bean and origin information (as much as I can get hold of), freshness, grind settings, tamping, temperature settings, brew pressure settings, temperature measurements from various equipment and devices, machine performance and effects of any engineering works, dose weights, dose volumes and headspace, dwell times, shot/brew weights, brew times, puck characteristics, times of day and relative busyness, ambient conditions, visual indicators in the stream (naked and spouted) and the cup, and, of course, tastes and impressions (you know, all the parameters!). I don’t have access to Mojo type measurement (which is perhaps a Godsend?!).

I note these things down, and then write them up, in separate files for each brew method. Quite religiously. I usually end up with something in the region of 5000-10,000 words every month.

I’ve been doing this for about 15 months, and I find it useful. It’s been a couple of years since I last took part in the UKBC, and, once people have seen you do that, there is sometimes the (odd) assumption that if you don’t keep doing it all the time, you are somehow not still learning, progressing, and improving further. Far from it, I have quietly and diligently, away from (the theatre of) the stage, continued to learn so much more since then, just through simply practising my craft, continually working with lots of different coffees, reading and researching, and doing the things I mention regarding these notes. Looking back, it surprises me to think how little I knew back then, even as a UKBC finalist, and how much I have progressed since – and there is always more to learn as well. Competitions are a great way to learn more, in an accelerated way, and in a different environment. And they make it clear to everyone that you are doing so. But it is just one way. The truth is of course, if you genuinely care about what you do, and you apply yourself, you continue to learn and advance continually (try to, at least!) – whether you decide to go out and try to ‘prove’ it or not. I’ve had that experience, achieved as much as I wanted to, and feel no desire to repeat it at present. At present, I prefer instead to learn more by immersing myself in what I do as a barista, individually, and by focussing on and refining what I do as Head Barista and Trainer for all our staff, and for the cafe. 

Even though I only reread the extensive notes I write here and there for certain pieces of information, the sheer process of just documenting it helps to crystallise what is actually going on, and from there I can draw some conclusions from it, which makes it helpful and valuable, for me, however basic and rudimentary the information might be. 

At home, for several weeks, I have been bringing back bag after bag of the Idido natural Yirgacheffe, which I’m loving, a cycle only broken for a short spell by a bag of Miravalle El Salvador COE Lot #8. The Idido is a really lovely natural, with possibilities of candied citrus marmalade, red liquorice laces, figs, heady florals, crushed roses, ripe fruits, soft acidity, strawberry, and chocolate. I have had a great time brewing these coffees through my new Sowden and Woodneck brewers, amongst others, and both brewers have revealed and required all sorts different techniques and perspectives. 

Nice little review in Visit Wales recently, courtesy of Ed Gilbert.

Soon to be seen on Liquid Gold too, I believe..!

Soon I will be heading to Sri Lanka for my mountainous biking ‘holiday’ (!). Still attempting to source some more definite information about the location of coffee farms! Nuwara Eliya and the Kotmale area are looking pretty promising though, and we will be swinging past there on our way!