This time last week I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, the Specialty Coffee Association’s annual European jamboree. If you’ve never been to World of Coffee, think London Coffee Festival, but with a more relaxed feel. London Coffee Festival on decaf perhaps? Although general consumers are welcome, it is more of a trade event, which contributes to the relaxed atmosphere.
All the usual (big) names are there when it comes to coffee equipment, in a large, spacious main hall dominated by big stands. There’s a dedicated Roasters Village, home to the small (and not so small) speciality roasters. The stands are much smaller and closer together, which gives it a London Coffee Festival-like atmosphere, but without the annoyingly loud music. World of Coffee is also home to one or two of the world coffee championships, this year hosting the World Barista Championships.
I’ve not been very good at attending World of Coffee, first visiting two years ago in Dublin. I really enjoyed it though and had every intention of going to last year’s event in Budapest, but work sent me to Vietnam instead. I know, it’s a hard life. However, this year I was free and determined to go…
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?
If you have been paying attention on social media (or indeed, reading my posts!) you’ll know that for the last four weeks, I’ve been travelling around the USA, first in Florida/Miami, then in Phoenix/Arizona. In the past, I’ve written about my travelling coffee kit and I’ve also written extensively about making coffee on planes and at airports, which makes the long journeys bearable.
On this trip, I’ve been doing a lot of touring, which means not that many visits to speciality coffee shops along the way. In the past, this has meant either not having coffee or having to put up with bad hotel coffee in the morning and bad diner coffee during the day. However, since getting my Travel Press, all that has changed.
The Travel Press has meant that I can make coffee in the morning and take it with me. Then I began to get a bit obsessed (me? no! surely not!) It started with a trip to the Grand Canyon where I took a photo of my Travel Press and Therma Cup overlooking the canyon, then last year I took a picture of them on the Great Wall of China. Then it got out of hand…
It’s that time of the year, when everyone publishes Christmas gift guides. This year, due to my recent trip to Shanghai/Beijing, I’m a little bit behind, but if you’re looking for some last-minute presents, here’s the Coffee Spot’s entry into the fray, an eclectic selection of gifts for your coffee-loving friends/relatives.
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 your coffee-loving friends who’re at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom and just need a helping nudge to begin the headlong descent into the rabbit-hole of speciality coffee.
While this is a Christmas gift guide, feel free to return to it throughout the year. It serves just as well as a birthday/anniversary gift guide…
For a long time, my go-to hand-grinder has been made by Knock, which produces a range of top-quality hand-grinders. I actually have two Knock grinders, Woody, the world’s first wooden feldgrind and Red, which is a feldfarb, the metal version of the feldgrind. I wrote a comprehensive article about Woody two years ago and since then both Woody and Red have received extensive use.
What sets Knock’s grinders apart from the cheaper hand-grinders on the market is the use of a high-quality steel burr set. This gives far superior grind consistency (not to mention being easier to use) when compared to the ceramic burrs used in entry-level grinders. The Knock grinders also have the easiest adjustment mechanism I’ve seen on any hand-grinder.
Earlier this year, Knock created something of a stir by launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new grinder, the Aergrind, which was fully subscribed in less than a day. I got my first look at a prototype at this year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival, and I have to say I was impressed. Then, towards the end of last month, there was a knock at the door and there was the postman with a package for me. A cylindrical package…
A little while ago, a reader, Linda, got in touch to ask me how I managed when travelling to places where there was no good coffee. This made me realise what a very good question that was. While I’ve written on several occasions about my penchant for making my own coffee on long-haul flights and overnight trains, as well as hinting on other occasions about making my own coffee in hotels, I realise that I’ve never really addressed the issue in a comprehensive matter.
Over the five years I’ve been writing the Coffee Spot, I’ve gone from drinking whatever I’m given to being quite obsessive above bringing my own coffee and coffee-making equipment. I’m not quite sure when this started, but it’s become increasingly important with the amount of travelling I’m doing. As an example, tomorrow I’m off to Manchester for a week for work, then the weekend after that, I’ll be in Leeds, before flying to Chicago for three weeks (work + play). I can’t imagine being away for all that time without decent coffee, so I’ve assembled a basic travelling kit which, give or take a few items, comes with me wherever I go.
Welcome to the third and final part of my exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee following my recent visit to Vietnam. Part I covered my introduction to Vietnamese coffee and the traditional cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter. I explained how, after a few false starts, I discovered a taste for speciality coffee made with the cà phê phin when I tried it at Shin Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City.
In Part II, I continued my exploration, trying traditional Vietnamese coffee, both speciality and non-speciality, over ice, and with condensed milk, with mixed results. I also tried the (in)famous egg coffee, traditional Vietnamese coffee with a layer of whipped egg yolk and condensed milk. Think of it as a liquid pudding rather than coffee and you’ll be fine.
In this, Part III, you can see how I got on making traditional Vietnamese coffee in various hotels and back at home using my own cà phê phin which I bought at The Espresso Station in Hoi Ann. I’ve tried a number of different beans, and used a couple of recipes which I picked up simply by observing baristas making coffee at the likes of Shin Coffee and Hanoi’s The Caffinet.
Welcome 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.
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?
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.