About Brian Williams

Author of Brian's Coffee Spot, you can read all about me in the "About Me" section of the blog (www.brian-coffee-spot)

The Philosophy of Wine

The cover of The Philosophy of Wine, written by Ruth Ball and published by the British Library.Welcome to the third in my series of four posts about the British Library’s The Philosophy Of… books. Having covered The Philosophy of Cheese and The Philosophy of Tea (as well as my own book, The Philosophy of Coffee), I’m moving onto The Philosophy of Wine, the first of the series that deals with alcohol.

Like its siblings, The Philosophy of Wine is a compact volume, packed with interesting, entertaining facts. Indeed, its bite-sized chapters are just the right length to be read while sipping a glass of wine (or two).

The only problem about writing such a concise book is that wine has such a rich and incredible history that there’s no hope of squeezing it all in, even at the highest level. I thought I had problems deciding what to leave out of The Philosophy of Coffee, but Ruth Ball, author of The Philosophy of Wine, had it ten times harder!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Phoenix and the Grand Canyon

Making coffee with my Travel Press on the flight on the way to Phoenix, October 2016. Grinding by Knock.I made my first visit to Phoenix, a city I’ve since come to know very well, at the end of October, 2016. I’d not long since returned from my first around-the-world trip, travelling west-to-east via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago. As a result, this trip, my last of the year, was rather hastily arranged. A rather concise affair, the whole trip lasted just eight days, in marked contrast to my return to Phoenix a few months later.

I flew in on the Monday, landing late in the evening, then spent the next four days in a meeting. However, I was determined to see something of the area and, knowing nothing about Phoenix itself, I decided that I would skip exploring the city and instead head north to the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. I drove up on the Friday night, spent the weekend there, and then drove back to Phoenix on Monday afternoon to catch the evening flight home.

As usual, I’ve spread this trip over several posts, starting with this one, covering my flight out, my first impressions of Phoenix and the drive to the Grand Canyon, which included an overnight stop in the town of Williams.

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Temperature-Sensitive Milk Steaming Jug

My temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug, sitting under the steam wand of my Sage Barista Express home espresso machine.Some of my coffee-making equipment, such as the subject of last weekend’s Saturday Supplement, the Sage Barista Express espresso machine, are quite valuable pieces of kit. Some, on the other hand, are fairly cheap, and yet have had a huge impact on my coffee-making. The humble digit scale is a good example: costing as little as £10, scales really helped improve my coffee brewing. Today’s Saturday Supplement is all about a similarly inexpensive piece of kit which has helped my milk steaming (although, alas, not my latte art): the Sage Temp Control, a temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug.

Getting the temperature of the milk just right is really important when it comes to coffee. No-one wants a lukewarm flat white, but neither should it be too hot. If the milk gets above around 65°C, it undergoes a series of irreversible chemical reactions which significantly change the way it tastes. I know that skilled baristas can judge the perfect temperature just by touch, but mere mortals such as myself, who make a once-a-week milky espresso drink (I hesitate to call what I make a flat white) need a little help, which is where the temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug comes in.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part V

The sun, directly behind the lighthouse at Pigeon Point, on the California coast, south of San Francisco.Welcome to the final instalment of The Grand Adventure,  my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, which I undertook in January 2017. So far, The Grand Adventure has taken me from Phoenix to Los Angeles via the Joshua Tree National Park, followed by a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, with a stop at Hearst Castle and a detour around the Big Sur due to landslips, which got me as far as Santa Cruz on the northern edge of Monterey Bay.

This last post in the series covers my final day, which started with a quick exploration of Santa Cruz and was followed by the last stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, which took me north to San Francisco (where the highway continues north over the Golden State Bridge). However, it was the end of the road for me, as I had to return my hire car in downtown San Francisco. In the middle of a very busy Friday afternoon. Which, I’ll be honest, went about as well as could be expected. It was not, I have to say, my finest bit of planning. Before that though, I had some more coast to explore.

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Sage Barista Express Revisited

My Sage Barista Express in action, making an espresso with the Coffee Spot cup.Just before Christmas 2016, my home espresso experience was significantly improved by the arrival of a Barista Express espresso machine, a kind (unsolicited) gift from Sage. I already had a Rancilio Silvia, which I’d bought four years earlier, but I’d largely fallen out of love with home espresso due to problems in pulling consistent shots (with hindsight, this was as much to do with a replacement grinder which wasn’t able to grind finely enough).

In contrast, the Barista Express has a built-in grinder. It’s also remarkably easy to use. Within a couple of days, I was pulling consistently good shots and, it was fair to say, I was converted. I carried on using the Barista Express for a couple of months, then I wrote up my experiences in what has gone on to become the single most popular post on the Coffee Spot!

For the next few years, I travelled a lot for work, so was only intermittently using the Sage. However, for the last year, I’ve been making an espresso pretty much every day and, as a result, I’ve refined my recipe and technique. In light of this, I decided to was time to revisit the Sage Barista Express…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part IV

Enjoying a flat white at the Big Sur bakery, looking out over the mountains of the Santa Lucia Range in January 2017.Welcome to the fourth part of The Grand Adventure, my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, which I made in January 2017. I went from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, spend a day hiking there, then drove to Los Angeles. After a day in the city, I took the Pacific Coast Highway to San Simeon, where I spent another day, this time visiting Hearst Castle. I had planned to carry on up the coast, through the Big Sur, to Santa Cruz and from there to San Francisco, but winter storms had washed out the road.

This led to a sudden change of plan. Instead of driving through the Big Sur, I doubled back on myself, cutting over the Santa Lucia Mountains on SR 46, before picking up my old friend US 101 for the drive north through the Salinas Valley on the other side of the Santa Lucia range. However, I was determined to see something of the Big Sur, so rather than carry on north to Santa Cruz, I doubled back on myself at Salinas, driving south down the Big Sur as far as I could go before turning around and heading up to Santa Cruz.

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The Philosophy of Tea

The cover of The Philosophy of Tea, published by the British Library.Welcome to the second in my series of four posts about the British Library’s The Philosophy Of… series. Astute readers will realise that this is a little self-serving since I wrote one of the early books in the series, The Philosophy of Coffee. However, since I’m now selling the rest of the (food-related) titles on the Coffee Spot, I thought I should say something about them. Having started just before Christmas with The Philosophy of Cheese, today it’s the turn of The Philosophy of Tea.

Like all the books in the series, The Philosophy of Tea is a compact volume, packed with interesting, entertaining facts and is the perfect companion to my own book, The Philosophy of Coffee. Just as some people raise an eyebrow when they discover that a Briton (ie me) wrote The Philosophy of Coffee, more eyebrows are raised on learning that Tony Gebely, the author of The Philosophy of Tea, is American. However, Tony has form in this area, having previously written Tea: A User’s Guide, as well as founding the tea evaluation website, Tea Epicure. He’s also a thoroughly nice chap, having introduced me to Mojo, where we met when I was in Chicago in 2018.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Hearst Castle

A view through the "Portal on the Big Sur" at Ragged Point Inn, looking north along the coastline.Welcome to another instalment of The Grand Adventure,  the week-long drive which I took from Phoenix to San Francisco, part of a larger trip to America in January/February 2017. The journey began with a drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, followed a day spent hiking in the park. That evening, I drove to Los Angeles in the rain, then spent a day in the city before setting off on the last leg, following the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to San Francisco.

The first part of the drive took me as far as San Simeon, where I’d planned to spend the day visiting Hearst Castle, before carrying on through the Big Sur to Santa Cruz, my last stop before San Francisco. However, California had other plans for me…

Rainstorms had been battering the coast that winter, resulting in a large landslip in the Big Sur which had taken out the Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately, I only discovered this when I arrived at San Simeon at the end of my day-long drive from Los Angeles, leading to some hasty rescheduling that evening. The following morning, I’d worked out my new plan and was all set to go.

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Guildford (2021 Update)

Saint Martha's Church, looking glorious in the sunshine on top of Saint Martha's Hill just outside Guildford.Last weekend I presented a brief history of speciality coffee in my hometown of Guildford. It was very much an introduction to this post, a round-up of what’s going on in Guildford in 2021, which itself follows on from my 2020 round-up. Back then, things were looking good, the town’s existing speciality coffee businesses having survived the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was even a new opening, Ceylon House of Coffee, to celebrate.

Since then, speciality coffee, like the hospitality industry as a whole, has taken another battering due to the pandemic, so as 2021 gets underway, I thought it was time to take stock of where things are. In this post, I’ll cast my eye over the town’s existing speciality coffee shops, as well as taking a look at the new openings, which have been springing up around the town, despite COVID-19’s best efforts.

Overall, while we’ve still got a long way to go, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about speciality coffee in Guildford. There’s a healthy mix of established players and newcomers, each of whom brings something different to the town, all backed up by a couple of great local roasters.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part III

The picnic area at Sycamore Cove Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway just west of Los Angeles.Welcome to another Travel Spot, part of my series detailing my trip to America from January/February 2017. These particular posts are all about The Grand Adventure, the week-long drive which I took from Phoenix to San Francisco. So far, I’ve described my drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, followed by a day hiking in the park and an evening drive in the rain to Los Angeles. After spending a day in the city, I was on my way again, driving along the Californian coast on my way to San Francisco.

This post, Part III of The Grand Adventure, covers the first part of the drive, from Los Angeles to San Simeon, following SR 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) and US 101. The route I took followed the coast as much as possible, with some spectacular views along the way. In all, I covered 260 miles which, including stops, took me just over six hours.

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