In October 2016, I was in Hong Kong at the start of my around the world trip. As a result of an intriguing e-mail I’d received from John, of Decent Espresso, I found myself in a multi-floored factory building in an out-of-the-way part of the New Territories. It was there that I first laid eyes on the Decent Espresso machine, a high-end home espresso machine that John and his team had under development.
What I saw was just a prototype, still on the lab bench, but I could see its potential, particularly as John explained his design philosophy. The goal was certainly ambitious: to produce performance equivalent to that of a professional espresso machine, but at a price which would be in the reach of the home enthusiast.
Perhaps most exciting of all was the use of a dedicated Android tablet, running bespoke software from Decent Espresso, to control the machine. Using the tablet, you would be able to control every aspect of the process, from pressure to water temperature, from flow-rates to shot times.
However, that was a prototype, and there was plenty of work still to be done. Would the final product live up to the promise?
Last week I received an intriguing e-mail from Aniko Somogyi from the Anikona coffee farm in Hawaii. Aniko hosts a show called My Favorite Coffee Story on VoiceAmerica, an internet-based talk radio station. I must confess that I’d not come across My Favorite Coffee Story before (or VoiceAmerica for that matter), but I was intrigued. Each week, Aniko interviews someone from the world of coffee and they spend an hour talking coffee. The shows are pre-recorded and broadcast, unedited, every Tuesday at 4pm Pacific Time (midnight in the UK), with all the previous episodes available on-demand on the VoiceAmerica website or as a podcast (just search for My Favorite Coffee Story on your podcast software/service).
The purpose of the e-mail was to ask whether I’d like to appear on the show. Me? Talking about coffee? For an hour? Hell yeah! As anyone who saw my talk at the British Library last weekend will attest, I can talk about coffee for a long, long time. So, naturally I said yes, and last Wednesday I sat down (virtually) with Aniko and we talked coffee for an hour. Then, last night, the show was broadcast…
One of the disadvantages of having to miss the last day of London Coffee Festival to fly off to Thailand for two weeks is that it seriously messes up my posting schedule. So, with apologies for the delay, here’s my round-up of 2018’s London Coffee Festival. As in previous years, this will be the first in a series of posts on this year’s festival, and is a general round-up, including what differed from last year, what I made of the festival, finishing up with the highs and lows. Each of the subsequent posts, to be published over the coming weeks, will cover different aspects of the festival.
This year was my sixth London Coffee Festival. In previous years, I’ve either attended all four days of the festival, or, as I did last year, the Friday (the industry day), and the two consumer days (Saturday and Sunday). Obviously, with having to fly to Bangkok on the Sunday, I couldn’t do that this year, so went on the two industry days (Thursday and Friday) and the first of the two consumer days (Saturday). This, as you will find out, had both its upsides and its downsides.
It’s that time of year again! No sooner has one festival finished, than another looms on the horizon. In this case, it’s the fourth Glasgow Coffee Festival, now firmly set in its new timeslot of May. For its first two years (2014 and 2015) it was a one-day even which took place in the chilly months of October/November. However, it skipped a year in 2016 to move warmer times in May, as well as expanding to occupy the whole weekend, putting it on a par with the likes of the Manchester Coffee Festival, which it closely resembles in scale and atmosphere (compared to, say, the London Coffee Festival). This year it takes place over the weekend of 19th/20th May.
Although called the Glasgow Coffee Festival (it’s held in Glasgow, after all), it’s more a celebration of Scotland’s excellent specialty coffee scene, with lots of contributors from further afield as well. Perhaps the biggest news this year is that the festival has done away with disposable cups, a subject close to my heart. Don’t worry, if you don’t bring your own cup, KeepCup will be on hand to lend festival-goers a cup for the weekend, in exchange for a £5 deposit.
Hideout Coffee is, quite literally, Portsmouth’s best kept secret when it comes to coffee. Right in the city centre, a few minutes’ walk away from Canvas Coffee, it’s tucked away down a side street with no external advertising, not even a name. You really do have to know it’s there. And that’s how Hideout likes it, giving it a speakeasy-like atmosphere, like you’re in a secret, members’ only club.
Hideout opened in the summer of 2017, effectively the in-house coffee shop for design agency I Love Dust, whose offices are above Hideout. Indeed, to get to I Love Dust, you go through Hideout first, which is in the small entrance lobby to offices. There’s room for just 10 seats, the coffee coming from a La Marzocco Linea tended by head barista, Jordan, who serves a standard espresso-based menu using a bespoke house-blend from Coffee@33, just along the coast in Brighton.
Last week I took the sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a journey I related in the previous instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. I had no firm plans for Chiang Mai, but a variety of circumstances (the poor air quality, the high temperature/humidity and, above all, my bad back, which has been getting steadily worse as the week’s gone on) conspired to convince me to stay in Chiang Mai itself for the whole week, where I spent my time exploring the local coffee scene, which, as it turns out, is excellent.
My plan had always been to return to Bangkok for the weekend before flying home on Monday, but I’d left the how/when open in case I decided to venture further afield when in Chiang Mai. With that ruled out, it was a simple question of how to get back. I briefly considered flying, but at twice the price of the sleeper, plus the hassle of getting to/from the airport, and the need to pay for an extra night in Bangkok, the balance was conclusively tipped in favour of the sleeper. Once that was decided, all I needed to do was work out which of the three available trains to take…
Over Under Coffee is a relatively new name in London’s speciality coffee scene, but one which I’d heard mentioned quite a few times. So, when I had an hour to spare and a desire to escape from the madness that is Piccadilly Circus, I made a beeline for the relative oasis of calm that is Ham Yard, home to the second of Over Under Coffee’s two branches (the other being out in Hammersmith).
It’s a relatively small spot, but that doesn’t stop it from offering an impressive menu. There’s the seasonal espresso from Assembly (which supplies all the coffee) along with a regularly-rotating single-origin on V60, Aeropress or, if you’re in a hurry, there’s a very reasonably-priced batch-brew option. There’s also a decent brunch menu from the kitchen at the back (which stays open until six o’clock), a decent selection of cakes and, on Wednesday to Saturday evenings, cocktails.
Welcome to the latest instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which is, I appreciate, posted somewhat out of order, since I’ve not finished telling you about my previous American adventures. However, I’m sitting on the Chiang Mai sleeper as I write this, not long after dawn, and we’ve just begun our ascent into the mountains, so I thought this was the perfect time to publish this.
I flew into Bangkok on Monday morning (having left Heathrow on Sunday afternoon) and spent the rest of the week in western hotels, cocooned in meeting rooms and air-conditioning, rarely being let out for long enough to see anything of the city, although I will have a weekend there when I get back from Chiang Mai. I can tell you, from the odd times I ventured out, that it’s hot (~35⁰C most days) and incredibly humid, with the river, which I was staying by, providing a welcome breeze.
After five days of this, I escaped and made my way to Hua Lamphong station in the centre of Bangkok to catch the Chiang Mai sleeper, 13 hours on a train (the “special express” no less) to the heart of Thailand’s mountain country to the north.
Having grown up just over the border in North Wales, Chester is, in many ways, my home city. I frequently pass though on my way to/from my Dad’s, but rarely stop, partly due to circumstance, but also because, when it comes to coffee, there’s not much to entice me to get off one stop earlier at Chester Station. However, with the arrival of the likes of Moss Coffee, that’s slowly changing.
Chester has struggled a little with speciality coffee. Apart from the well-established The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat, coffee shops, such as Moon Beer & Coffee, have tended to come and go. Hopefully Moss Coffee can buck that trend. It’s off to good start, serving an espresso-based menu with the Arboretum blend from Dark Woods, along with a small selection of locally-baked cakes. The owner, Daniel, is keeping things simple for now, with plans to expand in the future.
Welcome to this instalment of what I have somewhat ambitiously called Another Grand Adventure, part of my occasional Travel Spot series. It follows my second long-distance American train trip, which saw me travelling from Boston, in New England, to Phoenix, in the south west, by train. Well, almost.
I actually went from Providence to Tucson by train, driving the first and last legs. If I’d had the courage of my convictions, I’d have carried on from Tucson to Los Angeles so that I could have completed my second coast-to-coast train journey. However, given that I actually had to be in Phoenix for work, this would have required me to turn around and come straight back again once I got to LA. That would have been rather extreme, even for me.
The trip started with my flight to Boston, while the second instalment covers the series of short journeys I took along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Providence to Manassas, south of Washington DC. This instalment takes us from Manassas to New Orleans, travelling on Amtrak’s Crescent Service, while the remaining two instalments will cover the leg from New Orleans to Tucson on the Sunset Limited and my flight back from Phoenix.