Welcome to the annual Coffee Spot Christmas gift guides. If, like me, everything ends up getting done at the last minute (I like to this it’s because I’m busy, rather than unorganised, but I’ll leave that to you to decide), then here’s some inspiration with 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 are also some suggestions for presents for your coffee-loving friends at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom, who 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…
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 or two 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!
Let’s start with the obvious: coffee. What follows is some general advice on buying coffee, so if you are already well versed in the art (or if you read it last year!), feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph. However, if you are thinking of give coffee as a gift, then there’s one key rule: if in doubt, buy whole beans, not ground coffee. Once ground, coffee starts to lose its freshness, no matter how well packed (although pods seem to be the exception to this rule). On top of that, there is no method known to mankind that can turn ground coffee back into beans. Whole beans, on the other hand, can always be ground; worst-case scenario, most speciality coffee shops will happily grind beans for you if you ask them nicely enough. Of course, if your friend really wants ground coffee, perhaps you should consider the gift of a grinder instead.
However, sticking to coffee, there are plenty of options these days. Most roasters offer on-line ordering services for their coffee beans, while many also offer a subscription service, either sending out a selection each month, or allowing the recipient to choose the coffee each month. One roaster that jumped out at me this year while I was doing my research was Union Hand-roasted, which has a wide range of coffee on sale, including gift boxes, as well as a range of subscription options. I was particularly pleased to see that it’s doing a Decaf Gift Box this year!
Another roaster I’d like to bring your attention to is the Three Roasters collaboration between Dear Green, Steampunk and Glen Lyon Coffee. Three speciality coffees, from three coffee growing regions (Rwanda, Guatemala and Peru) roasted by three female-founded, independent Scottish roasters, with 10% of sales going to the charity, The Circle. You’ll need to be quick though, since Sunday, 15th December is the final day for orders!
An alternative to buying direct from a roaster are the many web-based multi-roaster subscription services. These curate coffee from various roasters, often providing access to roasters you rarely see in the UK. One of the more exciting launches in this field is The Right Roast, which has a true impressive range of coffee on offer from roasters from around Europe (when I looked, there were 113 different coffees on offer). If the choice is too much, you can go with Right Roast’s featured coffees, or browse the new arrivals. Alternatively, dive in and explore, searching for coffee by flavour profile, country of origin, or by roaster. Be warned though: you can spend hours in there!
Two subscription services I will highlight are from Wales. The first is Sarah’s Caring Coffee. Sarah is from Holywell in North Wales, the town where I was born and grew up. More to the point, Sarah’s coffee business supports her charity, The Cariad Project, which supports people with disabilities living in Africa. Sarah is also building direct links with coffee farmers in Africa. You can read more about Sarah and her bricks-and-mortar store, The Coffee Bean.
The second is from Manumit in Cardiff, who I met at this year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival. Manumit works with survivors of modern slavery, providing them with employment and training, teaching them, amongst other skills, how to roast coffee. As well as roasting, Manumit works directly with farmers in Uganda and Malawi to help some of the most impoverished farmers earn a fair price for their coffee. Manumit offers a range of subscription services.
Finally, have a think about coffee capsules for your friends who want coffee without the fuss. Getting capsules from a speciality roaster is an easy way to introduce someone to the joys of speciality coffee. For example, there’s Colonna Coffee (who converted me to the idea of speciality coffee in capsules) and Volcano Coffee Works, with a range of fully-compostable coffee capsules. I also learnt that Lost Sheep, in Kent, now have a range of compostable coffee capsules.
When I say coffee-related publications, this includes books and (you probably saw this coming) calendars. It would also be remiss of me not to mention my book, The Philosophy of Coffee, a short but entertaining history of coffee from its origins in Ethiopia to the present day. It’s available around the world on-line (in physical and eBook form), in all UK and US bookshops, plus you can order signed copies direct from me!
Staying with books, an annual recommendation is the Independent Coffee Guide series from Salt Media. This started off with the South West and South Wales Guide, which has since been joined by the North and North Wales, Scottish and Irish Guides. Listing both coffee shops and roasters, along with a smattering of interesting articles, the guides are organised geographically, by city or region. Salt Media is dedicated to keeping these guides up-to-date, with the South West and South Wales plus the North, Midlands & North Wales guides up to their fifth editions already! I should also mention that Salt Media also does a related Independent Coffee Box subscription service.
I have a couple of new books to recommend this year. The first is Dear Coffee Buyer, by Ryan Brown, published by Twenty Six Letters. It’s a lovely book and although it’s quite niche (the subtitle is “A Guide to Sourcing Green Coffee”) I learnt so much from it. It’s beautifully written (and I don’t say that very often), with Ryan Brown’s first-hand knowledge shining out on every page, shot through with his personal opinions, which I value even when I disagree with them (I like naturally-processed coffee, damn it!). It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. I bought mine from Origin, but it’s available on-line from several other roasters.
My second recommendation is Coffee, A Global History by Professor Jonathan Morris of the University of Hertfordshire (who recently appeared on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, talking, naturally enough, about coffee). Coffee, A Global History covers much of the same ground as The Philosophy of Coffee, but takes a more in-depth look at the subject, with Professor Morris’s academic background coming through in the writing style.
Finally, there’s a reminder of two of the books I recommended last year, which are worth a look. The Coffee Visionary by Jasper Houtman, which tells of the life and legacy of Dutchman, Alfred Peet, founder of Peet’s Coffee (this is what I said about it last year) . The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers, needs no introduction from me. It’s the true story of how Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Yemeni American, raised in San Francisco, travelled to Yemen to help revive its speciality coffee industry. I was able to try some Yemini coffee at this year’s London Coffee Festival and very good it was too!
One of my personal hobby horses is disposable cups, something I’ve written about over many years on the Coffee Spot. I now own a remarkable number of reusable cups, made from a variety of materials, including plastic, glass, ceramics, bamboo and recycled coffee grounds! Any and all of these would be a great gift for your coffee-drinking friend who keeps instagramming pictures of their coffee is a disposable cup. To help you out, I’ve written a handy guide to all the reusable cups I own, many of which feature in my Travels with my Coffee series, which has four new entries this year.
Another option is to help improve someone’s coffee-drinking experience with some coffee-related kit. Many roasters offer gift kits of coffee and brewing equipment, ranging from a humble pour-over kit to some quite sophisticated gift pacts. Although it’s not really the Coffee Spot’s remit, I have written about the coffee equipment I own, from my home espresso machine and temperature-controlled pouring kettle to my range of coffee hand grinders. Finally, I have quite the collection of travelling coffee kit, to which I recently added a new, light-weight pouring jug and collapsible dripper.
If you are looking for further inspiration, how about the Bean There At Coffee Lovers Gift Guide? Or, for something more Canadian-focused, there’s always the Vancouver Coffee Snob gift list. Finally, if you like your gift recommendations in video form, here are 10 suggestions from James Hoffman.
In the spirit of disclosure, I was given (almost) everything that I have written about in this guide. I should also point out that I wrote the copy for Volcano’s website, while the Coffee Spot Calendar is my own production, the proceeds of which go directly to me. The Philosophy of Coffee is published by the British Library and I get a (very small) percentage of the proceeds of every copy sold.
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