London Coffee Festival 2019: Coffee Experiences

Three different types of cup: open (front), tulip (back left) and split (back right) at the La Cimbali Sensory Session at the 2019 London Coffee Festival. What impact do they have on your perception of taste?Welcome to the third of my detailed write-ups of the 2019 London Coffee Festival, which took place last month at the Old Truman Brewery. Along with my overall Festival Round-up, so far I’ve written about the coffee and the coffee kit. Today’s the turn of one of my festival highlights, my coffee experiences.

But what do I mean by “coffee experiences”? These are the events that go around the coffee itself, such as coffee cuppings, roasting demos and coffee/food pairings. They’ve been very popular over recent years, with the festival running practical, skills-based events such as Latte Art Live and Home Barista Workshops. There have also been experiences such as The Tasting Room (with subjects ranging from tea to Vermouth) and The Flavour Discovery, a multi-sensory journey from Union Hand-roasted!

As in previous years, most of these events were pre-ticketed, with limited numbers at each event. As a result, I only attended one, the annual La Cimbali Sensory Series, which I only managed to attend thanks to a kind invitation from La Cimbali! Hosted by the fabulous Rob Ward, he manages, year after year, to invent with some new way to challenge the senses and educate at the same time.

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Keeping Coffee Beans in the Freezer

A bag of Ethiopia Rocko Mountain from Rebel Bean in the Czech Republic, which I enjoyed after keeping it in my freezer for almost two years...I want to tackle a subject that is, to some speciality coffee people, anathema. No, not decaf, I did that already. Today, I’m talking about storing coffee, long-term, in the freezer.

There’s a wide consensus on how coffee should be ideally stored: as whole beans, in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place. Never store ground coffee (ie always grind just before you use it) and never store your coffee in the refrigerator. But what about the freezer?

You see, I have a problem. These days, I’m never short of coffee, with people regularly send me things to try. More often than not, though, the bulk of my coffee is given to me at festivals, where I usually return with two or three kg of coffee, many times more than I can drink in a reasonable timescale. Some I will use immediately, some I will give away, but the question is, what to do with the rest?

Since I can’t face letting it go to waste, my solution has been to store it in the freezer, something that’s created a bit of storm on twitter, if the impromptu poll I put up last night is anything to go by…

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Pour-over at Roscioli Caffè

Our barista at Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria, making a V60 at our table.My trip to Rome at the start of the month was, as might be expected given Rome’s espresso culture, dominated by espresso. I also didn’t help myself, visiting the likes of Tazza D’Oro and near-neighbour, Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffè. That said, if you look hard enough, you can find pour-over, usually hand-in-hand with speciality coffee. Most prominent of the places I visited was Faro, the self-proclaimed first speciality coffee shop in Rome. Pour-over was also on offer at The Tram Depot, although when we ordered some one evening we were told that the barista who knew how to do pour-over had gone home. To the staff’s credit, they didn’t want to serve us badly-made coffee, so politely declined (we had espresso instead).

Perhaps the most surprising find was Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria. A few minutes’ walk from the hotel my friend Amanda and I were staying at, we became daily visitors, enjoying single-origin espressos from Laboratorio Di Torrefazione Giamaica Caffè, along with some excellent patisserie. It was only on our fourth visit that I noticed V60s nestling alongside the bags of coffee, which is when I realised that Roscioli serves pour-over too. That evening we naturally popped back to order some…

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When in Rome…

A typical espresso in a typical Italian espresso bar, Dami Bistro, near the Spanish Steps.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.

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Improving Airline Coffee, Part II

An espresso from the British Airways north lounge in Heathrow's Terminal 5, made using coffee from Union Hand-roasted.Airline coffee has a pretty bad (and, frankly, often well-deserved) reputation, but around the industry, steps are being taken to rectify this, with British Airways and Union Hand-roasted leading the way. The two have teamed up to provide Union coffee at British Airways’ UK lounges and, on long-haul flights, in the First Class and Club World cabins. Last month, I flew to Tokyo and back in Club World, giving me a chance to sample the coffee both on the ground and in the air.

I wrote up my experiences of the coffee on my way out to Tokyo and, on the back of that article, got an invitation from Geoff Cliff, the man at Union responsible for the day-to-day management of the British Airways account. A week after I returned, I popped over to Union’s East London roastery, where Geoff and I talked about the considerable undertaking of providing not just coffee, but also the training that goes with it, across the entire British Airways long-haul fleet.

Today’s Saturday Supplement is a follow-up to my original piece, where you can discover what I made of the coffee on the way back from Tokyo and what I learnt from meeting Geoff.

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Six Single-origins in a Week

Making a V60 pour-over at About Life Coffee Brewers in Shibuya, Tokyo, one of six single origins I tried in a week.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…

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Improving Airline Coffee: British Airways & Union Hand-roasted

An espresso at the British Airways lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5, made with Union Hand-roasted coffee.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.

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A Passion For All Things Coffee

My Favourite Coffee Story with Aniko Somogyi (used with persmission)Last week I received an intriguing e-mail from Aniko Somogyi from the Anikona coffee farm in Hawaii. Aniko hosts a show called My Favorite Coffee Story on VoiceAmerica, an internet-based talk radio station. I must confess that I’d not come across My Favorite Coffee Story before (or VoiceAmerica for that matter), but I was intrigued. Each week, Aniko interviews someone from the world of coffee and they spend an hour talking coffee. The shows are pre-recorded and broadcast, unedited, every Tuesday at 4pm Pacific Time (midnight in the UK), with all the previous episodes available on-demand on the VoiceAmerica website or as a podcast (just search for My Favorite Coffee Story on your podcast software/service).

The purpose of the e-mail was to ask whether I’d like to appear on the show. Me? Talking about coffee? For an hour? Hell yeah! As anyone who saw my talk at the British Library last weekend will attest, I can talk about coffee for a long, long time. So, naturally I said yes, and last Wednesday I sat down (virtually) with Aniko and we talked coffee for an hour. Then, last night, the show was broadcast…

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Reusable Cups, A Year On

A lovely flat white at Flat Cap Victoria in my Therma Cup, made with a single-origin Brazilian coffee, roasted by Notes.This time last year, I kicked off 2017 with a plea to stop using disposable coffee cups. In a piece of remarkably good timing, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee published its report on disposable coffee cups yesterday, almost a year to the day after my piece. Now, I can’t take all (any?) of the credit for this: plenty of people, some of them a lot more influential than me, have been making the point for several years now, although seemingly with little effect.

According to the report, at least 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, with ½ million coffee cups being dropped as litter each day. What’s worse is that a lot of these cups are put into recycling bins by well-meaning consumers who think that they are recyclable when in fact they are not. This potentially contaminates the whole load, which means that it’s worse than just throwing them away. As the report notes, a depressingly small 1 in 400 disposable coffee cups are recycled.

In response to this, the report’s proposed solution is a minimum 25p levy on each disposable cup, something which has met with mixed reactions within the speciality coffee industry.

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Vietnamese Coffee Part II

Traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter coffee with condensed milk from The Espresso Station in Hoi AnWelcome to the second of my three-part exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee. As I explained in Part I, I’ve been exploring the local coffee culture during my time in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are volume coffee drinkers: I’ve not been anywhere with this many coffee shops! They are literally on every corner, often open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

However, traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using the cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter, served either hot or over ice, and often with condensed milk, has a reputation for being strong, sweet and heavy on the Robusta. Sadly, much of that does not appeal to me, but, despite my initially scepticism, I found, to my surprise, that I liked many aspects of both the culture and of the coffee itself.

In Part I, I shared my initial, rather unsuccessful, forays into traditional Vietnamese coffee, followed by my conversion when I tried the combination of speciality coffee and the cà phê phin. In this, Part II, I continue my exploration with coffee over ice plus coffee with condensed milk. Finally, Part III covers my experiments of using my own cà phê phin to make coffee.

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