It’s always a tricky question, isn’t it? What to get for that coffee-loving friend of yours. It’s particularly tricky, if, like me, they’re towards the far end of the coffee-geek spectrum, when any choice runs the risk of being ill-informed. Do you get them coffee? Or coffee-related kit? Or a book about coffee perhaps?
Never fear, the Coffee Spot is here to help you out, whether you’re a novice, looking for pointers for gifts for your coffee-obsessed friend, or if you’re that coffee-obsessed friend, looking for a handy guide to point your friends towards. There’s also a few suggestions for presents for your coffee-loving friends who’ve not yet disappeared down the rabbit-hole of speciality coffee and just need a little nudge along the way.
As with all things Coffee Spot, this guide’s not definitive, nor is it a “best-of” list. Instead, my suggestions are all things which I’ve come across over the past year and thought “that would make a good present”. With one or two exceptions, they’re things which I own, having either bought them or been given them during the year, so don’t worry, it’s not a proxy list of things you should be getting me this Christmas!
You can find my suggestions after the gallery.
Let’s start with the obvious: coffee. What could go wrong with buying your coffee-loving friend some coffee? Well, plenty, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Of course, if you do know what you’re doing, then go for it: there’s nothing better than a well-chosen bag of beans. If not, then read on.
The first thing to understand when buying coffee is, if in doubt, buy whole beans, not ground coffee. Once ground, coffee starts to lose its freshness, no matter how well packed, and there is no method known to mankind that can turn ground coffee back into beans. On the other hand, whole beans can always be ground; worst-case scenario, most speciality coffee shops will happily grind beans for you if you ask them nicely enough. Of course, if your friend really wants ground coffee, then perhaps you should consider the gift of a grinder instead.
However, sticking to coffee. Two questions spring to mind: what to get?; and where to get it? Fortunately, the internet is your friend and there are plenty of places selling beans on-line. A good starting point would be a tasting set, such as the Hope & Glory Taster Packs, which offers you a trip around the (coffee) world with five different single-origins, each in a handy 50g packet, the perfect introduction to the variety inherent in speciality coffee. If you want to push the boat out, try Press Coffeehouse’s limited edition Christmas Taster Box. This has three 150g bags from roasters from Yorkshire (Dark Woods), New Jersey (OQ Coffee) and Amsterdam (White Label).
However, rather than giving coffee itself, perhaps the best gift of all is a coffee subscription, which allows the recipient the freedom to choose the coffee. Hope & Glory offers a range of gift subscriptions, as does Union Hand-roasted and coffee-by-mail specialist, Pact. If you don’t want to be tied to a single roaster, The Coffee Roasters offers subscriptions from a large number of small, UK roasters, while Press Coffeehouse offers pre-paid gift subscriptions, with a wide range of roasters from either the UK or all over the world!
Finally, when it comes to coffee, how about a gift with a difference? Early this year, Apasionado Coffee gave me a coffee tree in Bolivia. Well, technically I wasn’t given a tree, the Coffee Spot adopted one, in the Finca Las Tacanas in the cloud forest of Bolivia. As well as a warm glow, I got a certificate, a picture of the tree the Coffee Spot had adopted and a bag of very tasty coffee.
I feel obliged to point out that numerous other roasters and subscription services exist; just ask that nice Mr Google (note: other search engines also exist). However, I’d be here all day if I listed them all!
Rather than coffee itself, how about improving someone’s coffee-drinking experience with some interesting coffee-related kit? Many roasters offer gift kits of coffee and brewing equipment. For example, the Hope & Glory range provides excellent value for money, with both Edgcumbes and Union having more upmarket ranges.
If you’re looking to nudge a coffee-drinking friend to that next level of coffee-geekery, how about the gift of a pair of scales? I use the On Balance Envy Scales, a lovely bit of kit that’s small and robust enough to carry around with me. You can get a set from various on-line retailers such as Coffee Omega and Espresso Solutions. If you want to push the boat out, try the Brewista Smart Scale from Coffee Hit which I wrote about at this year’s London Coffee Festival. Talking of things I wrote about at the Coffee Festival, you could also consider getting the handy CoffeEasy brewing stand.
Another gift option is a reusable cup, a great gift for someone who drinks a lot of takeaway coffee. You can read all about the latest crop of cups, which I also wrote about at the London Coffee Festival. Having tried them all, each has its own merits, but if I had to pick one, I’d go for a Keep Cup Brew, the glass version of the Keep Cup. Other than a propensity for my Keep Cups to hurl themselves to their deaths against hard, unforgiving surfaces, which smash them into a thousand pieces, I can’t fault them (and, fingers crossed, I’ve gone a whole year now without breaking one!). You can get them direct from Keep Cup, or from a variety of stockists.
Finally, if you want to push the boat out, why not get one of the amazing hand-grinders from Knock? I’ve got two of these beauties, Woody, the world’s first wooden feldgrind (now a product in its own right called the feldwood) and a bright red feldfarb (although technically this is on loan, it’s just that no-one’s asked for it back yet…). They are, in my opinion, both elegant and the best hand-grinders that money can buy. Your biggest issue might be getting your hands on one, and no, before you ask, you can’t have one of mine!
My last gift category is coffee-related publications. These range from books, through maps and magazines, to (and you probably saw this coming) calendars. Starting with the books, there’s quite a selection of coffee-related books out there, some of which I looked at last year. All of these still make excellent gift ideas, as does a little something I picked up earlier this year (it was, in fact, a gift from Mat of Full Court Press). Coffee: A Modern Field Guide, is available direct from the publishers and is a tiny thing, just 64 pages in a handy, hand-sized notebook. This makes it an excellent stocking filler, partly because it does actually fit into a stocking (or its modern equivalent, the sock).
Although small, it takes you all the way from the coffee plant, through growing, harvesting, milling, roasting and brewing, with a neat section at the back on tasting coffee. As compact guides go, it’s pretty comprehensive and, being so small, makes an ideal go-to reference source. You can pretty much find and read the basic outline of a given subject in a couple of minutes, which is about as long as it takes me just to find the relevant section in some of my larger reference books.
Moving onto field guides of a different type, there’s the ever-popular London Coffee Guide, which I wrote about at last year. This has been joined by (from a different publisher, SALT Media), the Independent Coffee Guide, which started off with the South West Guide (since expanded to include South Wales). The South West Guide has now been joined by the Northern Guide, followed in 2016 by the Scottish Guide, and in 2017 by the Ireland Guide. Listing both coffee shops and roasters, along with a smattering of interesting articles, the guides are organised geographically, by city or region.
Unlike the London Coffee Guide, the new, independent guides shouldn’t be taken as definitive; a bit like the Coffee Spot, they’re more of a suggestion of places to go, and they both have some notable exceptions. These arise as a result of how the guides are constructed and funded. A committee, consisting of respected figures in the speciality coffee industry, nominates independent coffee shops and roasters in a region. Each coffee shop or roaster is then approved for inclusion by a majority vote of the committee, based on various quality criteria.
In order to fund each guide, anyone approved for inclusion is required to order a minimum number of copies, which they can then sell at a profit. This ensures that the guide covers its costs, but has proved to be rather controversial, leading to some well-known coffee shops and roasters to decline to be part of the guides. While I understand the concerns, it doesn’t seem to me to be an unreasonable route for a small publisher to take, particularly as the guide is providing otherwise free publicity for the coffee shops and roasters.
If books aren’t your thing, then how about a stylish map? The Speciality Coffee Map of London, from Blue Crow Media, has been my go-to guide for some time now, the folding map having a permanent place in my rucksack until it was superseded by the app. However, it still makes an excellent gift, as does the poster version which adorns my study wall. Since its original publication, it’s been joined by a number of other maps, including New York, Paris & Berlin. There’s even a London Chocolate Map now!
Talking of things that can go on the wall, how about a nice calendar? I still have copies of this year’s Coffee Spot Calendar (as well as a few spare ones from 2014 and 2015!) or there’s always the Café Art Calendar, which I buy every year and which supports the homeless. Each year, hundreds of disposable cameras are distributed to homeless people in London and the best photos are chosen for the calendar. I was at this year’s launch event and it was really impressive to hear from the winner of this year’s competition and how the calendar had helped him turn his life around.
Finally, why not give the gift of a subscription to Caffeine Magazine? It’s the ideal gift for the coffee lover in your life who doesn’t live near any stockists…
A slight after-thought, and not necessarily coffee-related, if you’re stuck from presents, some friends of mine have written some excellent books. There’s Robert Leigh with From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe (which is coffee-related) and a couple of thrillers, Kill Line and Any Man Joe (which aren’t). Robert Kibble has written the excellent Girl in the Wave, while Jo Platt will never forgive me if I don’t give Reading Upside Down a plug. Finally, in this category, there’s prize-winning novelist, Frances Hardinge, who has written far too many books to mention, and Andrew Rilstone, who is rapidly getting there!
If you’ve been inspired by this little guide, then I’ve done my job. If not, see if the Christmas gift guides from Manual Coffee Brewing, Abe’s Coffee Column and Perfect Daily Grind can help. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that the latest issue of Caffeine Magazine also has a neat gift guide as well.
In the spirit of disclosure, I was given all of the books and maps mentioned except the London Coffee Map. I should also point out that I write for Caffeine Magazine and the Coffee Spot Calendar is my own production, the proceeds of which go directly to me.
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