Sage Barista Express

My Sage Barista Express in action, making an espresso with the Coffee Spot cup.Soon after starting the Coffee Spot, my faithful Gaggia espresso machine gave up the ghost and I was on the market for the replacement. The Rancilio Silvia, by overwhelming consensus, was by far the best single-boiler home espresso machine for under £400, so four years ago, I became a proud Silvia owner.

Fast-forward a year and Sage launched its dual boiler home espresso machine, instantly becoming a market-leader. However, it was well beyond my price-range (£1,200) and, well, I had my Silvia. A year later, Sage extended the range, introducing two single-boiler machines, the entry-level Duo-Temp Pro (£380), and the Barista Express (£600), with a built-in grinder.

Again, I was impressed. I only managed to play with them at various coffee festivals, but even I managed to pull decent shots on them. I also heard nothing but good things from friends who owned them, so I began recommending Sage if people asked about home espresso machines. Despite this, I didn’t actually own one, largely because Silvia still had plenty of life left in her and represented a significant investment. Then, shortly before Christmas, Sage asked if I’d like a Barista Express. Well, I wasn’t going to say no, was I?

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Reusable Cups

A flat white from Pitch in Fulham Broadway in my Therma Cup, a double-walled, thermally-insulated china cup which I take with me on my travels.I was inspired to write this Saturday Supplement after reading an article earlier this week by Ashley Tomlinson on The Little Black Coffee Cup about the issues surrounding disposable coffee cups. If you have been following the Coffee Spot for a while, you will know that I really, really dislike disposable cups, although I’ve come at it from a very different direction. While I don’t like the waste that comes with disposable cups, my primary motivation is one of taste. Put simply, I can’t stand the way most coffee tastes when drunk from disposable cups.

This has led me to adopt a somewhat evangelical attitude to reusable coffee cups and, while I’ve been championing them for some time now, I realise that I’ve been doing it in a rather haphazard fashion, writing about cups as I’ve come across them (usually at coffee festivals). I’ve also been making the argument for them (and hence against disposable cups) in a similarly piecemeal fashion. This Saturday Supplement attempts to rectify that by bringing everything together into one place in the form of a new Reusable Cups section of the Coffee Spot where I can add new cups as and when I find them.

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The Coffee Spot Christmas Gift Guide 2016

Some lovely latte art from Rag & Bone Coffee in my Therma Cup, one of this year's Christmas Gift suggestions.It’s that time of the year again, when everyone publishes their Christmas gift guides. Well, never one to be accused originality, here’s the Coffee Spot’s entry into the fray, an eclectic selection of gifts for your coffee-loving friends/relatives.

Let’s be honest, the coffee-loving community can be awkward to buy for, particularly 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’s 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 to help those of your coffee-loving friends who’re at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom and who just need a helping nudge to start them on the headlong descent into the rabbit-hole of speciality coffee.

Of course, while this is styled a Christmas gift guide, feel free to return to it throughout the year. It serves just as well as a birthday or anniversary gift guide…

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Bonavita Gooseneck Kettle

A 1 Litre Bonavita Gooseneck Kettle, a kind gift from Bonavita.Since I started the Coffee Spot almost four years ago, I’ve changed both the way I make my coffee at home and the way I drink it. From primarily using a cafetiere and putting with milk in my coffee, I now always drink it black. Along the way, I’ve picked up a variety of coffee-making methods, including my trusty Aeropress, several different types of pour-over filter cone and I’ve even got a travel-friendly equivalent to my cafetiere in the shape of the Espro Travel Press.

With these new methods have come new techniques and, inevitably, new tools. For example, I now use scales, not just to weigh my beans, but also to measure the amount of water I use when making filter coffee. However, until recently, the one item I lacked was a gooseneck pouring kettle. Initially, poured from a jug, before progressing to an old coffee pot with a long spout that I picked up from Oxfam.

At that point, I rather fancied the gooseneck kettle to be an unnecessary luxury, a stylish accessory that added looks, but not substance. Then I actually used on and suddenly, everything was turned on its head…

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World of Coffee 2016: The Kit

A beautiful flat white, with latte art by Dhan Tamang, the reigning UK Latte Art Champion, made at the World of Coffee 2016 using the Conti Espresso 60th Anniversary espresso machine.I can’t believe it’s only been two weeks since I was in Dublin, attending the World of Coffee Event. As I pointed out in my round-up last week, I’d never been to World of Coffee before, so I didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, I really liked it. A cross between the London Coffee Festival and Caffè Culture, it incorporated the best of both events and, as is always the case, there was far too much to for me to see, even though I was there on all three days.

I spent a lot of my time at The Village, catching up with various European roasters, which I’ll cover in detail next week. The rest of the time, when I wasn’t bumping into people I knew, I had a look at some of the kit on offer, which is what I’ll talk about this week.

The automatic filter coffee crowd was out in force, but having spent a lot of time with them at the London Coffee Festival, I gave them a miss this time around. Instead, I caught up with a couple of espresso machine manufacturers and a manual method that was new to me.

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London Coffee Festival 2016: The Kit

My surprise favourite bit of kit at this year's London Coffee Festival, the Marco Beverage Systems Bean Counter, doing what it does best (and indeed all it does), count (well, weigh) beans.Welcome to the third of my detailed write-ups of this year’s London Coffee Festival (if you want an overview of the whole festival, take a look at my round-up). Here I cover individual aspects of the festival, starting with some automatic filter machines and continuing with last week’s look at cups. This week I’ll be casting my eye over some of the other kit I found, before covering, in future Saturday Supplements, my coffee experiences and the coffee itself.

I’ve already looked at one specific aspect of the kit, the surprising proliferation of automated filter/pour-over machines, which I covered two weeks ago. This time it’s a round-up of various miscellaneous bits of kit that I came across, starting with my surprise favourite, the automated bean-counting machine. Another area which particularly excites me, as a coffee shop customer, is the emergence of the modular espresso system, typified by the Mavam, which made its London Coffee Festival debut this year. Finally, I take a look at top-end grinders which are making espresso extraction ever more reliable. In this instance, it’s the Mahlkönig Peak, which was launched the festival.

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London Coffee Festival 2016: The Cups

The Kaffeeform cup, made from recycled coffee grounds, in action at the London Coffee FestivalWelcome to the second of my detailed write-ups of this year’s London Coffee Festival (if you want an overview of the whole festival, take a look at my round-up). Here I cover individual aspects of the festival, starting with last week’s look at automatic filter machines. This week I’ll be taking a look at cups, before covering, in future Saturday Supplements, miscellaneous coffee kit, my coffee experiences and rounding things off with the coffee itself.

In previous years, my posts on cups at the London Coffee Festival proved surprisingly popular. This year, however, cups were somewhat thin on the ground, with the familiar (to me, at least) JOCO Cup, UPPERCUP and Frank Green all missing. Keep Cup was there, but since I managed to go a whole year with destroying either of my glass Keep Cups, for once I didn’t need to visit the stand.

However, if you looked, there were still some cups to be found, including those made from interesting materials (porcelain, bamboo and recycled coffee grounds), while one was claiming to be totally spill-proof (although I managed to get it to spill…). I also saw the all-in-one portable coffee maker, Cafflano, and its new product, the Kompact.

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London Coffee Festival 2016: Automatic Filter Machines

The Ratio Eight automatic pour-over brewer in action at the London Coffee Festival 2016Welcome to the first of my detailed write-ups of this year’s London Coffee Festival. If you want to know what I made of the festival as a whole, take a look at my round-up. Here I’ll be covering individual aspects of the festival, such as the cups, coffee kit, my coffee experiences and the coffee itself. However, I’m going to kick things off with a look at something that really surprised me with their abundance at the festival this year: automated filter machines.

There have, of course, always been automated filter coffee machines, ranging for your simple drip-machine at home, all the way up to the large bulk-brewers found in coffee shops. However, they generally don’t make great coffee. Things started to change with the Moccamaster, an automated filter machine that many speciality coffee shops use to make small batch-brews.

Then, a couple of years ago, Alpha Dominche burst onto the scene with the Steampunk, a machine designed to make a single cup of filter coffee as good as any barista could make a V60, Chemex or Aeropress. And that, it seemed was that, until this year, when the London Coffee Festival appeared to be overrun with automated filter machines!

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The Coffee Spot Christmas Gift Guide

The Christmas Logo from Press CoffeehouseIt’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!

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Cup North 2015 Part I

Sonali Tailor, who finished third in this year's Tasters Cup, in action at the final in Cup North.Last weekend saw my annual visit to Manchester for self-styled two-day Northern Coffee Party, Cup North. Regular readers will be pleased to learn that, true to form, it rained almost constantly, stopping for brief intervals so that I could pop outside to visit the excellent food stalls. The rain also obligingly held off for the first-ever UK Coffee Throwing Championships (more of which later).

Last year, Cup North was my favourite coffee festival, small, friendly and intimate. This year, it’s taken things up a notch, with a new venue and a significant increase in size. While retaining its friendly nature, it felt, with its multiple spaces, more like a mini-London Coffee Festival. Having come from the smaller, more intimate Glasgow Coffee Festival just a few weeks earlier, it took a while to get my head around the change of scale.

There was, of course, that much more to see and, sadly, I didn’t make it to everyone, so please accept my apologies if I didn’t catch up with you. For now, let’s kick-off with this, Part I of my round-up, with a look at the venue, kit and competitions. Parts II and III will focus on the coffee & food.

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