I’ve just returned from 10 days in Rome, five for work, followed by five days of sight-seeing. It’s a city that I adore, but I must confess that I approached the trip with more than a little trepidation, looking forward to the sight-seeing far more than I was the coffee. I last went to Rome almost 10 years ago, long before the Coffee Spot, back when I thought that Italian espresso (and Italian espresso culture) was the pinnacle of coffee. It’s also the city, where, almost 20 years ago, I first gained my love for espresso.
Since then, many things have changed, including my taste in coffee and my opinions of it. I feared that I wouldn’t enjoy the coffee, which in turn might spoil my memories of Rome. Coffee in Rome, and Italian coffee more widely, divides opinion. There are those who dismiss it, saying that Italy has not moved on, that the coffee is rubbish, while at the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty who still hold Italian espresso as the pinnacle of coffee culture.
As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.
Yesterday, I wrote about About Life Coffee Brewers, a lovely coffee stand in Shibuya, next door to both my office and my hotel for the week I was working in the area. Using the rear entrance to Shibuya’s Mark City (my hotel was on top of this long, thin shopping mall) and turning right, the office was a two minute walk down the hill. However, left, if I turned left, About Life was two minutes up the hill. So, naturally, I started my day by going to About Life for coffee…
One of the frustrations of being a coffee blogger is that I rarely go back to places on a regular basis, nor do I get to sample the full range of coffee on offer, particularly somewhere like About Life, which has six single-origins available as either pour-over or espresso. However, it struck me as I ordered my two-shot latte on the first morning that there were no other decent coffee options near the office and, with two or three long breaks each day, there was every chance I could actually sample all the coffee.
So, I set myself a challenge: to try all six single-origin coffees in a week…
Regular readers of my Brian’s Travel Spot posts will know that I have a poor opinion of airline coffee, and, as a result, I’ve taken to making my own coffee on long-haul flights over the last few years. However, to its credit, British Airways has also recognised this short-coming and has recently partnered with Union Hand-roasted to up its coffee game. Union is supplying coffee to the British Airways lounges and, in the first instance, to the First Class add Club World cabins on long-haul flights, although there are no immediate plans to roll it out to World Traveller cabins or to serve it on short-haul flights (I had originally thought that this would be the case, but I since learnt that I was wrong!).
As luck would have it, on Friday I flew with British Airways from Manchester to Tokyo, via Heathrow, not long after Union’s coffee was introduced, giving me the chance to experience it first-hand. Normally I would write this up as part of my longer Travel Spot covering the flight. However, these take me absolutely ages to write and, since there’s quite a bit of interest in this, I thought I would put it on its own, self-contained post, rather than burying it in a longer post.
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 this, the final one of my detailed write-ups from this year’s London Coffee Festival. So far I’ve written about sustainability, kit & cups, and my coffee experiences, as well as kicking things off with my traditional festival round-up. Today I’ll end as I normally do, with a discussion of the actual coffee. Plus a few other random items.
I’ve never yet been to a coffee festival where I’ve managed to visit all the roasters I’ve wanted to and this year was no different, so apologies to everyone I missed. This year was a bumper one for smaller roasters, with the London Coffee Festival building on the introduction last year of the Roasters Village, with an expanded version this year. Indeed, it was so big that it had to be split into two: north (which was upstairs) and south (which was downstairs).
As before, I’ll start with introducing you to some old friends, roasters who are well known to the Coffee Spot, before moving onto all the new roasting friends that I made at the festival, then some of my coffee highlights. I’ll end with a round-up of all the food on offer, including the excellent White Label Kitchen.
Welcome to the third and final part of my detailed write-ups from the third Glasgow Coffee Festival, which took place earlier this year. In Part I, I looked at the venue itself, the wonderful, soaring hall that is the Briggait, before continuing with a round-up of those exhibitors who had travelled from outside of Scotland to attend. I followed that in Part II with arguably the person who’d travelled the furthest to attend the festival: me! I’d just come back from Japan and brought loads of coffee with me. Using the coffee, we held a Japanese coffee cupping on the last day of the festival.
In Part III, I’m looking at everything else that I got up to at the festival. This includes a round-up of Scottish coffee shops and roasters at the festival, including plenty of old friends and several new ones. There’s also a look at various bits of kit, including tampers, grinders and a shiny espresso machine. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a coffee festival without lots of glorious food!
As usual, there was never enough time to see everyone and visit all the stands, so if I have missed anyone out, I apologise.
So there I was, minding my own business at the London Coffee Festival, when I ran into Lisa of Dear Green Coffee, organiser of the Glasgow Coffee Festival. Rather foolishly, I mentioned that I was flying to Japan that week, returning just in time for the festival. Well, said Lisa, in that case, why not bring back some Japanese coffee and we can have a cupping? Why not indeed…
Fast-forward two weeks and there I am in Tokyo, thinking that I really should get do something about my rather spur-of-the-moment agreement to Lisa’s proposal. Fortunately, I’d just embarked on a week’s travelling around Japan, so was able to pick up a rather eclectic mix of Japanese-roasted coffee.
Like my trip, there was no great planning involved in my purchasing, which might explain why I brought back with three Kenyans, two Ethiopians and a pair from Costa Rica. Typically I either bought something I’d tried (such as the Ethiopian I picked up from Kaido Books And Coffee) or I asked for recommendations. With hindsight, I rather wished I’d got some of the aged Kenyan coffee I had at Café de L’Ambre, but alas that thought only came to me five minutes ago…
On Thursday evening, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Leyas to attend the launch of Coffee Break Delirium, a display of artwork by the wonderful Timothy Shaw which will be hanging in Leyas for the rest of the month. The event also doubled as a launch for Assembly, the new roasters/coffee collaboration, who over two new coffees for us to try. Leyas, as part of its regular roaster rotation, will be switching over to Assembly this month, so you can try the coffee first-hand if you want.
You may have come across the work of Tim when he graced the cover of Issue 4 of Caffeine Magazine (which some still consider to the best front cover). He also drew the amazing illustration on the counter at White Mulberries, while his work has graced several other coffee shops.
Assembly, which launched at this year’s London Coffee Festival, is a collaboration between the roaster Volcano Coffee Works and various leading figures in the coffee industry. Assembly was represented by Michael, who I knew from his time with Dunne Frankowski at Sharps, and Nick, who does all the quality testing. They had with them two new coffees from Kenya and Nicaragua.
I celebrated my birthday last weekend by inviting a group of friends down to the closest thing I have to a local, Guildford’s Bar des Arts, for a coffee tasting. I’d originally been given the idea by Lee Hall of Matthew Algie when he did a similar demo at the Caffé Culture Show. There he put two different coffees through a V60 and a Chemex and I was astounded by how different they tasted.
So, when thinking about how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, I could think of nothing better than surrounding myself with some friends and replicating this experiment. I approached Bradley of Horsham Coffee Roaster, who supplies Bar des Arts, and he provided three very different coffees for us to try. Meanwhile, I brought along my trusty Aeropress (and one of the guests, Richard, brought his down) to go with Bar des Arts pour-over filters and cafetiere.
So, the scene was set for an afternoon of good company, coffee tasting and cake (although, very disappointingly, I seem to have taken exactly no pictures of the cake!).
On Monday I was lucky enough to be invited along to a coffee tasting at my favourite Guildford Coffee Spot, Bar des Arts. I’ve always liked the ambience at Bar des Arts, but Sara, the owner, wants to take the coffee up to the next level. To this end she invited local roaster, Bradley, from Horsham Coffee Roaster, to come along with some samples of his blends and single origin beans. I was asked pop down to help her and one of the baristas, Jon, to try them out!
Note that strictly speaking this wasn’t a cupping; we weren’t taste-testing lots of coffee, just trying a few of Bradley’s samples (three pour-overs and two espresso blends) to see how they shaped up. We were also trying out Bar des Arts new brew bar, with its ceramic filters, for the first time. Finally, we ambushed a few unsuspecting regular customers and got their opinions too!