The Coffee Spot is Eight!

An espresso, made by my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine, in a classic white cup and saucer from Acme & Co., New Zealand, distributed in the UK by Caravan Roastery.2020 has been a very strange year, so much so that I almost forgot the Coffee Spot’s birthday, remembering just in time, late on Monday evening, that the Coffee Spot was eight years old that day. It was, of course, far too late to write anything about it, hence this slightly delayed post. I launched the Coffee Spot on Friday, 28th September 2012 (at 14.15 to be precise) with a vague idea that it might become a useful resource for coffee (shop) lovers and an entertaining way for me to spend (some of) my spare time.

For the first five months of the Coffee Spot’s eighth year, things carried on much as before, as I travelled around the world, visiting and writing about all the wonderful coffee shops I found. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and everything Coffee Spot related ground to a halt. After quickly running through my backlog of Coffee and Travel Spots, I passed my time writing about making coffee at home. Then, just when I’d pretty much said all I had to say, coffee shops began to reopen, enabling me to write about them again in my COVID-19 updates. Now we’re at another crossroads, and I’m wondering what the Coffee Spot’s ninth year will bring…

Continue reading

COVID-19: The Next Steps

Details from a sign on the door at Quarter Horse Coffee in Birmingham, requesting that you wear a mask or face covering at all times.The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the UK hospitality industry hard, including speciality coffee shops. First came the mandatory shut down of pretty much the whole industry, followed by the slow reopening of a handful of places offering takeout services. Then, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of July, increasing numbers of coffee shops have reopened around the country. I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of being able to visit quite a few in places such as London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool, as well as my hometown of Guildford.

On the whole, I’ve found that the speciality coffee sector has coped well, but it’s certainly not out of the woods yet. As we approach the end of September, a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases has led to further countrywide restrictions, plus a wide range of stricter local/regional restrictions.

This post looks at the impact of these further restrictions and what they might mean for speciality coffee shops in England as we head into autumn/winter. Please bear in mind that this is just my opinion: you can find specific UK Government advice on-line, while industry bodies such as UKHospitality also publishes its own advice.

Continue reading

Visiting Coffee Shops During COVID-19: Lessons Learnt, Part II

Details from a sign on the door at Quarter Horse Coffee in Birmingham, requesting that you wear a mask or face covering at all times.Welcome to the second (and final) part of my Saturday Supplement looking at how coffee shops around England have been interpreting and implementing the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines since the restrictions were relaxed at the start of July. In Part I, I looked at some of the many things that coffee shops have put in place, usually around processes (such as providing information and introducing things like door control, one-way systems, table service and on-line ordering).

In this, Part II, I’m looking more at physical modifications, such as seating layout and physical barriers, as well as more processes, including cleaning and contact tracing. As before, I’m highlighting what has worked for me in terms of what has made me feel extra secure when visiting a coffee shop (whether I’m actually any safer is another matter). I’ll also illustrate my points with specific examples from coffee shops that I’ve visited over the past two months in London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool.

The usual caveat applies: these are my personal opinions and this post should not be taken as a “must do” (or “mustn’t do” for that matter) guide. And, of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolving, who knows what the future holds?

Continue reading

Visiting Coffee Shops During COVID-19: Lessons Learnt, Part I

The new one-way system at Wayland's Yard to keep everyone safe during COVID-19.Since the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of July, I’ve been visiting coffee shops again, including some in London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool. Although I haven’t been anywhere I’ve felt unsafe, there are big differences in how individual coffee shops have interpreted and implemented the COVID-19 guidelines and the measures that they’ve put in place.

This post (the first of two) looks at some of these different measures, highlighting what has worked for me in terms of making me feel extra secure when visiting a coffee shop (whether I’m actually any safer is another matter). Wherever possible, I’ve illustrated my points with specific examples from coffee shops that I’ve visited.

That different coffee shops have chosen to implement the guidelines differently doesn’t surprise or bother me, since this was always going to be the case, often dictated by the physical layout of the shop. Similarly, I’d hate this post to be taken as a “must do” guide, although there are things that most coffee shops could do to improve. It’s also worth saying that I’ve deliberately tried to visit coffee shops when they are quiet, although over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed places getting busier across the board.

Continue reading

The Decaf Challenge (2020)

A picture of the Quindío region in Colombia, taken from an information card that came with Workshop Coffee's Quindío Decaffeinated Espresso.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.

Continue reading

Where to Next With COVID-19, Part II

A giant red question mark.As was widely expected, the UK Government made its much-trailed announcement this week that has paved the way for hospitality industries in England, coffee shops included, to reopen for sit-in custom on July 4th, now just over a week away. In Part I of this series, I looked at what this may mean for speciality coffee shops, asking many questions along the way, but providing few answers. Now that the Government’s guidance has been published, this post (Part II) looks at what a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic might look like.

The same disclaimers apply here as in Part I: First, I don’t work in coffee shops, I write about them, so these posts are focused on the consumer viewpoint. Second, this is very much focused on what might happen in England (due to the devolved nature of the UK, while the announcement was made by the UK Government, it only applies to England). If you are interested, you can download the UK Government’s guidance for the hospitality industry or read it online. I’m basing my thoughts on the version that was issued on June 23rd. For further practical advice from a UK industry perspective, try United Baristas.

Continue reading

Where to Next With COVID-19, Part I

A giant red question mark.I hope that I’m not jumping the gun, but it’s almost certain that the UK Government will announce an easing of social distancing rules this week, enabling hospitality industries, including coffee shops, to reopen in two weeks’ time on July 4th. What will this mean for the speciality coffee industry? Just because coffee shops can reopen, does that mean that they should? In theory at least, they could have remained open, offering a takeaway service, throughout the last three months, but most chose not to.

The inspiration for this series of posts came from the USA, via a tweet from Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco. You can see the original tweet in the gallery, but the gist of it is as follows: while Wrecking Ball can legally put out chairs and tables for its customers, it’s decided not to and is encouraging others to follow suit. Which got me thinking: should UK coffee shops reopen when they are allowed to? Do I want them to reopen? This series of posts (of which this is Part I) is an attempt to frame, and then maybe answer these questions, or at least provide some pointers as to which direction to go in.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Making Coffee at Home: Water

My humble Brita Water filter which I use for my coffee making.My Making Coffee at Home series is designed to help you make better coffee at home. I’ve written about various coffee brewing methods, discussed the importance of equipment such as grinders and scales, and even talked about the coffee itself. However, there’s one important topic that I haven’t mentioned until now, and that’s water.

Given that a cup of coffee contains around 98% water, it seems obvious that it’s important, but it’s often overlooked. Although water quality is pretty good in the developed world (that is, it’s drinkable and won’t make you ill), its chemical composition varies widely. Water contains all sorts of dissolved minerals which affect both its taste and its ability to extract the flavours in coffee.

You might think that distilled water (that is, pure H2O, with no dissolved materials) would be the answer, but it’s not. Distilled water is actually rather poor at extracting coffee: it turns out that minerals such as calcium and magnesium (both common in water), are rather useful in enhancing extraction, while carbonates also play a role. So in today’s Making Coffee at Home, I’m going to look at what makes good water for coffee, and, more importantly, how to get it.

Continue reading

Peak Water

My new Peak Water filter jug, fresh out of the box.Peak Water, for those who don’t know, is a home water filter designed specifically for coffee. I’ve written a wider article about water and why it’s important for coffee as part of my Making Coffee at Home series, but for now I’ll just note that I’ve been filtering my water at home (using a regular water filter jug) for many years (long before I started the Coffee Spot) and really notice the difference when I don’t.

What makes Peak Water special is that it has been designed to produce water that’s optimised for brewing coffee. The team behind Peak Water has some form on this subject, with leading members Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Christopher Hendon having written the well-regarded book, Water for Coffee, which was published in 2015. So, when Peak Water was launched on Kickstarter in April 2018, I was one of its first backers.

Now, just over two years later, my Peak Water filter has arrived! Excitedly, I unpacked it, put it together and started using it. But what exactly is it? What makes it different from a normal water filter and what’s it like to use? And perhaps most importantly of all, does it make my coffee taste better?

Continue reading