Vietnamese Coffee Part II

Traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter coffee with condensed milk from The Espresso Station in Hoi AnWelcome to the second (I think) of my three-part exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee. As I explained in Part I, I’ve been exploring the local coffee culture during my time in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are volume coffee drinkers: I’ve not been anywhere with this many coffee shops! They are literally on every corner, often open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

However, traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using the cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter, served either hot or over ice, and often with condensed milk, has a reputation for being strong, sweet and heavy on the Robusta. Sadly, much of that does not appeal to me, but, despite my initially scepticism, I found, to my surprise, that I liked many aspects of both the culture and of the coffee itself.

In Part I, I shared my initial, rather unsuccessful, forays into traditional Vietnamese coffee, followed by my conversion when I tried the combination of speciality coffee and the cà phê phin. In this, Part II, I continue my exploration with coffee over ice plus coffee with condensed milk. Finally, Part III will cover my experiments of using my own cà phê phin to make coffee.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam By Train

My sleeper compartment on the TN2 train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.Welcome to the second instalment of the latest Brian’s Travel Spot, the occasional series in which I attempt to catalogue my travels by means other than the coffee shops I visit. This trip began just over a week ago, when I flew out to Vietnam, a new destination for both me and the Coffee Spot. Since then I’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was), first exploring the city (through the lens of its speciality coffee shops), then attending a week-long meeting for my day job.

In an ideal world, I’d be writing things up as I go, letting you know what I made of the city, with regular updates documenting my various adventures and experiences. However, if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that trying to combine travelling, working, keeping the Coffee Spot regularly updated and writing Travel Spots in real time just doesn’t work. Something has to give and, sadly, it’s the Travel Spot.

Instead, let’s skip over Ho Chi Minh City to the second part of my trip, which began yesterday. It’s an epic 36-hour train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, stopping along the way at Hoi An and Hué.

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Alex Does Coffee

Details from the sign hanging on the door of Alex Does CoffeeAlex Does Coffee, part of Bristol’s growing speciality coffee scene, has graced Old Market Street, just  east of the city centre, since June last year, where it’s been joined more recently by 25A Old Market, which sits across the road. Located in spacious surroundings on the ground floor of Two’s Company, a creative hub and studios, Alex Does Coffee pretty much does what it says on the tin, with Alex doing coffee from an espresso machine on a counter at the back of the main space.

Alex Does Coffee has a concise espresso-based menu, focusing on doing a few things well, rather than trying to be all things to all people. The coffee is from the local Extract Coffee Roasters, while there’s also tea, hot chocolate, cold brew and soft drinks. If you want something sweet with your coffee, there’s a small selection of cake, including cookies, waffles and pastries.

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Vietnamese Coffee Part I

A traditional Vietnamese Ca Phe Phin cup-top filter in use at Shin Coffee, Ho Chi Minh City.In the run up to my current trip, I’d heard an awful lot about the Vietnamese taste for coffee. There’s no doubt that the Vietnamese like their coffee. There are coffee shops everywhere, open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, ranging from tiny independent hole-in-the-wall operations right through to massive national chains. Starbucks is also here in strength.

However, volume of consumption is one thing, but what about the quality? Yes, you can find speciality coffee in Vietnam, and pretty good coffee at that, but I’m talking about traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using a cup-top metal filter, strong and sweet, served either hot or over ice, often with condensed milk.

I confess that this did not appeal to me. I gave up sugar in my coffee over 25 years ago and the idea of coffee with condensed milk makes me shudder. I’m also no fan of cold coffee, except a good quality filter that has been left to go cold. Cold brew, coffee over ice, anything like that, I really don’t enjoy.

That said, I’m not one to dismiss an entire coffee culture out of hand, so I thought I’d better give it a try…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another new destination for the Coffee Spot and for me personally as I set off for Vietnam. Having hardly set foot outside Western Europe and North America, the last 12 months have seen me visit China, Japan and now Vietnam for the first time. As it was with the two previous trips, this is for work, with time for some Coffee Spot duties tacked on at the start/end.

In another first for me, I flew out (and will be returning) on Vietnam Airlines. Again, this last year has seen me flying on a variety of airlines, having previously tried to travel only on British Airways or Virgin for long-haul flights. Other than the annoyance at having my airmiles spread around all over the place, my (long haul) experience has been very positive. Hopefully Vietnam Airlines will continue the trend.

The trip itself will take in a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, followed by a week there for business, then a week-long trip all the way up the coast by train to Hanoi, with stops at Hoi An and Hué along the way. I then fly back from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh and, from there, home.

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For the Good of the People Coffee (Bean About Town South Bank Update)

A shot of espresso from For the Good of the People at the Southbank Centre Food Market in my Kaffeeform cupA long time ago (at least, it feels that way) when I regularly visited London, I’d often wander past the Southbank Centre Food Market. Conveniently on the route from Waterloo Station to Hungerford Bridge (as I stubbornly still call the Golden Jubilee Bridges) it was made even better by the presence, at the foot of the stairs, of the Bean About Town coffee van, a lovely, old Citroen, run by the equally lovely, but not so old, Claire (who shares, by the way, her nationality with the van, both being French). It was one of the first places I wrote about on the Coffee Spot.

However, things change, I ceased to be such a regular visitor, and I didn’t notice when the van disappeared from the bottom of the stairs. Then, last Sunday, with an hour to spare, I decided to wander out of Waterloo and have a nose around the market, whereupon I stumbled upon a big sign saying “Coffee” at the far end of the market.

That’s new, I thought to myself. Only it wasn’t. It was the old Citroen van, with Claire still there, pulling shots. “What’s going on?” you might well ask. What’s going on indeed!

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London Coffee Festival 2017: Coffee Experiences

Four different coffees, four different flavour groups. Just match them in the Union Coffee Flavour Challenge at the 2017 London Coffee Festival. How difficult can that be?Welcome to the third of my detailed London Coffee Festival write-ups, covering individual aspects of the festival, ranging around subjects such as sustainability, kit & cups, and the coffee itself. If you want to know what I made of the festival as a whole, you need my festival round-up. Today it’s the turn of my coffee experiences, always a highlight of my London Coffee Festival.

But what do I mean by “coffee experiences”? These are the things that go around the coffee itself, things like coffee cuppings, roasting demos and coffee/food pairings. As I mentioned in my festival preview, the festival really went to town on coffee experiences this year. There were eight in all, ranging from practical, skills-based events such as Latte Art Live and Home Barista Workshops to pairing events, such as the Tasting Room, where you could pair coffee with chocolate, for example. There was also a Coffee & Food Pairing, consisting of a full three-course meal hosted by Grind!

Unfortunately, most of these events were pre-ticketed, and, by the time I got around to organising my festival, most of them had sold out. Fortunately, there were still some free events, including Union Hand-roasted’s ever-popular roasting demonstrations.

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017 Part II

The seven coffees which I brought back from Japan for a cupping at the Glasgow Coffee Festival.Welcome to the second of my detailed write-ups from the third Glasgow Coffee Festival, which took place earlier this month. My original intention was to split this into two parts, but events have overtaken me, so I’m going to split it into three instead. Or possibly four, the way things are going, but hopefully not!

In Part I, I looked at the venue itself, the wonderful, soaring hall that is the Briggait, before going on to look at those exhibitors who had travelled from outside of Scotland to attend. This week, I’m continuing the theme of those who had travelled a long way to get to the festival with someone who could argue that he’d come the furthest. Me.

Exactly one week before the festival, I’d been in Japan, sent on a mission by Lisa of festival organisers (I still refuse to call them curators), Dear Green Coffee. My task? To collect coffee from various Japanese roasters for a cupping at the festival. Well, there was also the small matter of a business meeting, plus a week spent travelling around Japan afterwards, which might have had something to do with my going out there. However, I prefer the first explanation…

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Lever & Bloom

My flat white in my Ecoffee Cup on a lovely patterned tile at Lever & Bloom.Lever & Bloom is a coffee cart on the corner of Byng Place in Bloomsbury, London, with the magnificent Church of Christ the King as its backdrop. Come rain or shine, Lever & Bloom is open throughout the year from eight to five, five days a week, serving top-quality espresso, the shots pulled on a lovely lever machine.

Lever & Bloom has been on my radar for a couple of years now, ever since it moved onto its new pitch in fact, but it wasn’t until yesterday, on my way to Euston Station, that I was able to actually stop by and say hello to Mounir, the owner. Serving Climpson and Sons’ Baron on espresso, there’s also decaf, a range of Birchall teas and a small selection of cakes, all made by Mounir’s wife. Needless to say, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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London Coffee Festival 2017: Kit & Cups

The Ottomatic automatic Chemex pour-over maker at this year's London Coffee FestivalWelcome to the second of my detailed write-ups from this year’s London Coffee Festival, where I cover individual aspects of the festival, ranging around subjects such as sustainability, my coffee experiences and the coffee itself. Conversely, if you want to know what I made of the festival as a whole, take a look at my festival round-up.

For previous London Coffee Festivals, I’ve dedicated entire write-ups to the subject of cups, particularly re-usable cups. I’ve also devoted entire write-ups to coffee-related kit, while last year, automatic filter machines got a post of their own. This year, however, the pickings have been a bit slimmer, not because there isn’t the kit around, but because a lot of it is stuff I’ve covered before.

I’ve therefore chosen to bring kit and cups together in one post for this year’s festival. There are innovations such as the automated milk steamer (there were two this year), another automated filter machine, a top-end hand-grinder, my favourite personal hobby horse, reusable cups, finishing with a quick round-up of what else I found at the festival.  As always, I never did get to see all the stands, so if I missed anything out, please accept my apologies.

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