Coffee, Part V: Taste

Welcome to this, the fifth and (for now) final instalment of my Coffee at Home sub-series looking at coffee. I started the series with the concept of direct trade, explaining why knowing where your coffee comes from is important. I followed that by considering blends, the art of combining different coffees in order to create a specific taste profile. In the third instalment, I introduced the idea that pretty much everything has an impact on how your coffee tastes, all the way from the farm to the roaster, before looking at what are, for me, the two biggest factors: processing and roasting. Which brings us neatly to this fifth instalment, how preparing and serving your coffee affects how it tastes.

At a very basic level, how you prepare your coffee obviously effects its taste. An espresso tastes very different from a pour-over, even using the same bean. However, the effects can be more subtle than that, which is what I want to explore in this post. It also goes beyond the basics such as preparation method. Almost everything changes how you perceive flavour, from the temperature of the coffee right down to the shape of the cup.

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Coffee, Part IV: Processing & Roasting

Welcome to the fourth instalment of my Coffee at Home sub-series looking at the coffee itself. In Part I, I looked at the concepts of direct trade and explained why knowing where your coffee comes from is important. Part II, meanwhile, was all about blends, the art of combining different coffees in order to create a specific taste profile, which neatly leads us Parts III and IV, which are all about why coffee tastes the way it does.

In previous instalment (Part III), I introduced the idea that pretty much everything has an impact on how your coffee tastes, all the way from the farm to the roaster. I also nailed a common misconception that coffee from a certain country/region tastes in a particular way. Finally, I provided some (hopefully) useful advice on tasting notes and how to read the information on coffee packaging.

In this, Part IV, I’m looking at what, for me at least, are the two biggest factors determining a coffee’s flavours. The first, which takes place at origin, is processing, while the other is the final step before the coffee gets to you/the coffee shop, namely roasting. Hopefully, I’ll be able to unpack some of the mystery!

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Coffee, Part III: Tasting Notes

Welcome to the third instalment of my Coffee at Home sub-series where I look at the coffee itself. In Part I, I looked at the concepts of direct trade and why knowing where your coffee comes from is important. Meanwhile, Part II was all about blends, the art of combining different coffees in order to create a specific taste profile, which neatly leads us onto this, Part III, which is all about why coffee tastes the way it does.

So, what affects the way a coffee tastes? Well, it turns out pretty much everything. The specific bean, where it’s grown, the altitude, the amount of sunshine, how its picked, how its processed, how its roasted… And that’s all before it gets to you, where how you make throws another variable into the mix.

It’s a subject that you could write books about, so I’m not going to be able to cover everything in one blog post. In fact, I’m going to write several, starting with a quick guide on tasting notes and how to read the information on coffee packaging. I’ll also nail a common misconception while I’m at it.

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Coffee, Part II: Blends

Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series, where once again, I’m looking at coffee. The Coffee at Home series aims to provide simple, practical advice on making coffee at home, although I deviated from this in Part I of my look at coffee, where I talked about the concepts of direct trade and single-origin coffee. However, this was to set the scene for what I want to talk about today, which is some advice on what to look for when buying coffee.

When I started the Coffee Spot, back in 2012, my knowledge of coffee was very limited. To me, coffee was just coffee. However, I quickly realised that it was way more complicated than that, something which can be rather daunting when you’re dipping your toe into the world of speciality coffee for the first time and trying to order some coffee on-line from a speciality roaster. To help you out, I’ll be unpacking some of the terms that I now take for granted, but which back then I found rather baffling. Having introduced you to the concept of single-origins, I now want to talk about blends, which is how the majority of coffee is sold.

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Coffee, Part I: Origins

Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series. I began by focusing on brewing methods, with simple guides to the cafetiere, Clever Dripper and AeroPress. I’ve also written about equipment, such as grinders and scales. However, there’s something else I want to talk about. No matter how good your equipment is, how much you perfect your technique, there’s one thing it can’t fix, and that’s the quality of the coffee.

It’s easy to assume that everyone knows about coffee, but there was a point, before I started the Coffee Spot, when I knew very little. I clearly remember the sense of bewilderment when I first walked into a speciality coffee shop (Edinburgh’s Brew Lab), looked at the menu and realised that I had no idea what it was trying to tell me.

I’ll also say, from the outset, that if you are happy with the coffee you are currently buying/making, then that’s fine. Don’t let me, or anyone else, tell you otherwise. However, if you are dipping your toe into the world of speciality coffee for the first time and are wondering what tasting notes, varietals and processing are all about, then this is the post for you.

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Trying Eugenioides at Terremoto

The rare the Eugenioides coffee species in a cortado at Terromoto Coffee in Chelsea, New York City.In the wild, coffee has over 120 individual species. However, two species dominate commercially grown coffee: Arabica and Robusta, with Arabica accounting for the vast majority of speciality coffee. Other species are occasionally commercially grown, and last weekend at Terremoto Coffee in New York, Amanda and I were presented with Coffea eugenioides, a rare species indigenous to the East African highlands, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and western Tanzania.

Coffea eugenioides (Eugenioides for short) is, in fact, one of Arabica’s two parent species, the other being Robusta. The Eugenioides at Terremoto was roasted by Neat, a roaster/importer in Darien, Connecticut, and comes from a farm, Las Nubes, in Colombia. Naturally, we had to try it, ending up with a pour-over, an espresso and, to try it in milk, a cortado. Our barista also provided us with a shot of the house espresso (a washed Colombian) and a batch brew sample (a washed Honduran) for comparison!

Normally, I’d write this up as part of my description of the coffee shop, but since Eugenioides is so different from anything that I’ve tried before, I’ve dedicated this entire Saturday Supplement to it, with Terremoto featuring in its own Coffee Spot.

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Cupping at Tandem Coffee Roasters

C:\Users\Brian\Documents\Work\NNB020 Coffee Spot\00 Coffee Spot\Documents 2020\NNB020D1444 - SS Cupping at Tandem Coffee RoastersAlthough a big advocate of cuppings, I rarely get the chance to attend them, so when an opportunity comes along, I tend to grab it with both hands. I was visiting Amanda in Portland last summer when the barista at the Tandem Coffee Roastery mentioned that the roastery holds public cuppings every Friday at noon: naturally, I had to go. Ironically, having not been to a cupping for a while, this was my second one that year, both in the USA.

In case you don’t know, a cupping is where several different coffees are tasted using a standard methodology, which allows their taste profiles to be compared without the brew method, etc, influencing the results. They’re a regular part of any roaster’s life, often used to assess new samples before deciding which beans to order. However, in this case, the cupping was part of Tandem’s quality control procedure for its production roasts.

Increasingly, roasters are opening up their production cuppings to the public. It’s a great opportunity to get to know more about a roaster and the coffees on offer, as well as a chance to develop your own palate. I thoroughly recommend that you attend one if you can!

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Tasting Flights at Glitch Coffee

A tasting flight of three single-origin filters at Glitch Coffee & Roasters in Tokyo.Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene is incredibly varied, ranging from international brands and traditional kissaten to small, home-grown coffee shop/roasters, absorbing global influences to forge their own identities. Yesterday’s Coffee Spot, Glitch Coffee & Roasters, definitely falls into the latter category and is one of the most innovative coffee shops that I’ve visited in Tokyo. Best of all, it’s served me some truly outstanding coffee, the subject of today’s Saturday Supplement.

Glitch roasts on a 5kg Probat, tucked away on the right-hand side of the coffee shop in full view of the customers. Concentrating on lightly-roasted single-origins, two of which are on espresso, the real star is the pour-over. There’s a row V60s along the front of the counter, each with a glass jar of beans and a card giving tasting notes and details of the origin.

While you can order by the cup, I was drawn to the tasting flights, which allow you to try two or three of the single-origin pour-overs (chosen by Glitch) side-by-side. So drawn, in fact, that today’s post is all about the two tasting flights I’ve had, the first in 2018 and the other last weekend at the end of my most recent trip.

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Maruyama Coffee Experiences

A single-origin espresso served in a wide-brimmed demitasse cup at Maruyama Single Origin in Aoyama, Tokyo, part of an espresso set where the same coffee is served in two different cups.Earlier this week, I wrote about the Maruyama Single Origin store in Aoyama, one of my favourite after-work haunts when I’m working in Tokyo. It’s a lovely coffee shop in its own right, offering the sort of high-end service that I’ve come to expect from visits to other Maruyama locations, such as Nishi Azabu and Nagano Station. However, the single origin store goes one step further, with the focus even more firmly on the coffee.

As well as only serving single-origins (a typical Maruyama will have seven different blends), there are delights such as an espresso and cappuccino set (effectively a split shot or one-and-one) and, a new one on me, the same espresso served in two different cups. About the only thing that Maruyama Single Origin doesn’t offer is a filter tasting flight, but since there are always four or five samples for you try on the downstairs counter, it’s almost the same thing.

Naturally, I had to indulge, and, over the span of several visits, I put these various coffee experiences through their paces. Rather than try to cram them all into my write-up of Maruyama Single Origin, I decided to dedicate this Saturday Supplement to my experiences.

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London Coffee Festival 2019: Coffee

Detail from the stand of Qima Coffee, including a wooden relief map of Yemen, taken from the stand at the 2019 London Coffee Festival.Welcome to the first of three detailed write-ups of the 2019 London Coffee Festival, which took place two weeks ago at the Old Truman Brewery. The focus of today’s write-up is the coffee itself, which I normally leave until last. However, since I’m travelling at the moment, I’m writing this one first, leaving the more detailed write-ups until later, which cover coffee equipment and my coffee experiences. For details about the festival itself, try my Festival Round-up, which I published last week.

This was my seventh London Coffee Festival and while I was more focused on the coffee in previous years, recently my interest has moved to other areas. This is partly because there’s only so much coffee I can drink in a few days and partly because my coffee knowledge has expanded over the years. Whereas I would, in years past, want to try as much coffee as possible, these days I’m more interested in chatting with the roasters!

That said, there was some interesting coffee to be had this year, from roasters both old and new. There were also two standouts, one featuring coffee from Yemen, where it all began, and the other an amazing Geisha.

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