When I was in Berlin last month, one of the highlights of my weekend exploration of the city’s speciality coffee scene was Bonanza Coffee Gendarmenmarkt. I spent the following day, a Sunday, strolling around Kreuzberg, arguably the birthplace of Berlin’s speciality coffee scene, where I popped by the Bonanza Coffee Roastery, which doubles as a lovely coffee shop. Well, I say “popped by”, but that understates the deliberate nature of my visit. Tucked away in a large courtyard, accessed down a long road from Adalbertstraße, the Bonanza Roastery is not somewhere you’d stumble across, or, indeed “pop by”, unless you already knew it was there.
It’s a lovely spot, quiet and sheltered, with plenty of outdoor seating and even more inside, where the coffee shop, at the front, shares the space with the roastery at the back. It was also incredibly popular and my original plan, which had been to write it up as a Coffee Spot, went out of the window almost immediately. However, I noticed something that I always love to see on the menu: a filter tasting flight. That, I thought, will make an excellent subject for a Saturday Supplement. And you know what? I was right!
This post was inspired by a recent tweet I saw, which (favourably) compared a decaffeinated coffee with “the real thing”. Now, let’s be clear: if you think that coffee and caffeine are synonymous, that the purpose of coffee is the caffeine, then this post is probably not for you. Frankly, it’s a bit insulting to decaf drinkers, not to mention all the farmers and roasters who go to great lengths to produce amazing-tasting coffee, extracting the maximum flavour from the beans, only to have their products reduced to a mechanism for delivering caffeine.
As James Hoffman pointed out in a recent video on his YouTube channel, if that’s what you’re after, there are far easier ways of getting your caffeine hit than making coffee (caffeine tablets, for example). For me, there’s so much more to coffee, including flavour, aroma and the whole ritual of making/drinking coffee. As I (and others) have written in the past, all this applies to decaffeinated coffee drinkers too, if not more so, since they’re not drinking coffee for the caffeine.
Which brings us back to the tweet. Leaving aside the patronising reference to decaffeinated coffee, what exactly is “real” coffee?
Something rather special is happening at Tilt, Birmingham’s speciality coffee, craft beer and pinball joint. Tilt has been serious about its coffee ever since it opened, but recently Tilt’s owner, Kirk, has taken things to a whole new level. For example, there is a continuous rotation of guest roasters on espresso, with Tilt using coffee from around the world. Right now, Tilt is serving a single-origin from Manhattan Coffee Roasters (from Rotterdam in the Netherlands), which replaced one from Onyx Coffee Lab (from Arkansas in the US). However, the really exciting thing, exciting enough to have this whole Saturday Supplement dedicated to it, is the Frozen Solid Coffee Project.
I was completely unaware of the Frozen Solid Coffee Project when I visited Tilt two weeks ago, only realising that it was there when Kirk pointed it out to me on the menu. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing that you can easily miss if you don’t already know about it. For the uninitiated, the Frozen Solid Coffee Project enables Tilt to offer an extremely wide range of single-origin pour-overs (29 at the time of writing!) from farms/roasters around the world, some of which are extremely rare micro- and nano-lots.
The Coffee Spot has always been more about places I like to have coffee than about the coffee itself, so I find it amusing that today’s Saturday Supplement is the fourth about coffee in a month! This can be traced back to the Freak & Unique that I received from Hundred House Coffee, the gift that keeps on giving. Along with the Freak & Unique, which spawned a second post when I tried it at Liar Liar, I received a bag of Fazenda Recanto, a coffee from the Cerrado Minerio region of Brazil, which is processed using a 64-hour fermentation technique.
The Fazenda Recanto was a nano-lot which Hundred House bought in conjunction with Crankhouse Coffee and Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. I was trying to buy a bag from each roaster so that I could compare all three, but sadly, Crankhouse had sold out. However, while I was looking around the Crankhouse website, I came across three other very special coffees which caught my eye. All three coffees were processed, like the Fazenda Recanto, with various fermentation techniques, so I decided to buy them instead.
At the end of April, I visited the Hundred House Coffee roastery in the rolling Shropshire hills, coming away with an unexpected present: the last of the second edition of Hundred House’s Freak & Unique. This limited-edition range is designed to showcase the most off-the-wall coffees that Hundred House can find, highlighting the outstanding and abnormal.
The second edition of Freak & Unique was from the farm of Norma Iris Fiallos in Honduras, who used a macerated natural processing technique to produce a coffee which Hundred House gave tasting notes of “tree mastic, aloe vera and pine”. However, when I wrote about it, it was another coffee, from Fazenda Recanto in the Cerrado Minerio region of Brazil, which stole the show.
Not that there was anything wrong with the Freak & Unique. If anything, that was part of the problem. I really liked it, finding it a lovely, drinkable coffee, but not what I’d call “freak” or “unique”. Since I’d only had a small, 80 gram sample, I did wonder if I’d got the best of out it, so when I saw it on the counter at Liar Liar in Oswestry last month, I decided to try it one last time.
Last month I wrote a post called Freak & Unique (and Other Coffees), featuring the Freak & Unique range from Hundred House Coffee, along with two other coffees that I’d been given when visiting the roastery at the end of April. Originally, I’d intended the post to be mostly about the Freak & Unique, but it was actually another of the coffees, the Fazenda Recanto from Brazil, which is processed using a 64-hour fermentation technique, that became the star of the piece.
One of the interesting things about the Fazenda Recanto was that Hundred House bought it as an exclusive nano-lot along with two other roasters, Crankhouse Coffee and Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. I really wanted to get my hands on more of the Fazenda Recanto, which is easily my favourite coffee of the year so far, and I was about to buy another bag from Hundred House when I had an idea: why didn’t I get a bag each from Crankhouse and Quarter Horse to see if the roaster made a difference to how the coffee tasted? So that’s what I did, except, of course, like most of my plans, things didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped…
At the end of last month, I visited the Hundred House Coffee roastery in the rolling Shropshire hills, coming away with an unexpected present: the last of the second edition of Hundred House’s Freak & Unique range. I was given two more bags of coffee, a naturally-processed one from Damian Espinoza Garcia in Peru and another from Fazenda Recanto in Brazil, processed using a 64-hour fermentation technique.
Regularly readers will know that I don’t usually write about coffee itself, but every now and then, something comes along (like the Taylors Discovery I had in March, or Chimney Fire’s El Salvador Three Ways that I started the year with) that I make an exception for. These three outstanding coffees from Hundred House all fall into this category.
I did consider cupping the three coffees, but to be honest, they are all so different from each other that I wasn’t sure what I would learn from that. Instead, I’ve just been making them as regular pour-overs during the last two weeks and taking notes as I go.
Regular readers will know that I rarely write specifically about coffee, preferring to feature places where I drink coffee, while every now then coffee roasters appear in their own Meet the Roaster series. However, very occasionally a special coffee comes along which will grab my attention. This last happened at the start of the year, when I wrote about Chimney Fire Coffee’s direct trade El Salvador, a coffee which was processed three separate ways.
Today’s Saturday Supplement is inspired by a similar coffee, this time Taylors of Harrogate’s As One from Rwanda, which is available either naturally-processed or as a washed coffee (see my Coffee Series for more details about processing). I say Taylors of Harrogate, but it’s actually from Taylors Discovery, an independent micro-roastery operating within Taylors.
The coffee is from a women’s farming group known as Ejo Heza, which means Beautiful Tomorrow in Kinyarwandan. This is part of the Kopakama cooperative in the Lake Kivu region of Rwanda, which Taylors has been partnering with since 2016. This particular microlot was hand-selected from Ejo Heza’s demonstration plot, some of it undergoing the traditional washed processing method, with the remainder being naturally-processed, a first for the cooperative.
I started 2021 with a new Meet the Roaster, featuring the lovely folk at Chimney Fire Coffee. I ended that post with a promise to tell you more about Chimney Fire’s coffee, and specifically the El Salvador Three Ways, a direct trade coffee from the Don Tomas Estate in El Salvador, where the same coffee has been processed three different ways: natural, washed and honey processed.
This post is mostly about the El Salvador, but I did want to briefly mention the rest of Chimney Fire’s excellent range. There’s the Ranmore signature espresso blend, plus a classic espresso from Peru and a sugar cane decaf from Colombia. Added to that is a selection of around five single-origins which, depending on the coffee, are roasted with espresso or filter in mind, or, if it works for the coffee, an omni-roast which means that it should work equally well as espresso or filter.
Finally, if you want something more challenging, there’s the Discovery Range. This has a different, limited-edition coffee each month, but Chimney Fire won’t tell you where it’s from ahead of time, just providing tasting notes, the idea being that you should focus more on the flavour than the origin!
I can’t believe it’s been five years since the original Decaf Challenge, my attempt to raise the profile of all the great decaf coffee out there, inviting roasters to send me their decaf roasts, which I then highlighted in the post. I also tried to dispel some of the persistent, negative myths surrounding decaf coffee.
Although I’m still a champion of decaf coffee, drinking it on a regular basis (about 25% of my coffee consumption is decaf) I haven’t repeated the exercise, largely because, with so much great decaf about, it’s unfair to highlight just a few roasters. These days, almost every good roaster I know has a decent decaf, while there are more options than ever when it comes to sourcing decaffeinated green beans. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a bag of poor decaf.
However, despite this progress, options are limited. While most roasters have multiple espresso and pour-over options, there’s usually only a single decaf on offer, invariably roasted for espresso. So, when I heard that Workshop Coffee had launched a pair of decafs, both using the same beans, but with one roasted for espresso, the other for filter, I had to buy some.