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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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?

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Opening During COVID-19: Canopy Coffee

A sight for sore eyes: the A-board proclaiming that Canopy Coffee is now open after almost three months of enforced closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.My local speciality coffee shop, Canopy Coffee, reopened two weeks ago. As part of the process, it converted itself from a small, sit-in shop to a takeaway-only operation, serving from a hatch to the right of the main entrance. You can see what I made of the new-look Canopy when I visited for my Coffee Spot Update, which is normally where I’d leave things.

However, given the current situation, with many coffee shops unable to safely open during the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it would be useful to share what I learnt from the conversation that I had with Jonathon, Canopy’s owner, about the steps he took to reopen Canopy and the thought processes he went through.

There are lots of factors to consider when opening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is it safe, both for staff and customers? Will it be economical? Can you stay true to your ethics and values? What compromises will you have to take in order to open? As you will see, Jonathon had to wrestle with all these issues, but if there’s one piece of advice he asked me to convey above all others, it’s not to open until you’re absolutely ready to.

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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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Making Coffee at Home: Moka Pot

My moka pot, a fairly cheap one that I've had for many a year.Up until now, Making Coffee at Home has focusedon brew methods which I regularly use: cafetiere, Clever Dripper, AeroPress, pour-over and espresso. Today’s post is different since I’m writing about the moka pot, something which I own, but stopped using many years ago, unhappy with the results. I moved onto other brewing methods and my moka pot has sat at the back of a shelf ever since.

My interest was initially rekindled by tweets from Phil Wain (editor of Caffeine Magazine) which got me thinking that maybe I should write about the moka pot after all. I began the Making Coffee at Home series with a desire to help people make good coffee at home, particularly people who are new to making good coffee. Although I’ve tried to take you on a journey through the various preparation methods I regularly use, I know that not everyone will have the time to invest in learning a new method. Similarly, many of you won’t want to buy new coffee equipment. However, I suspect that, like me, plenty of you have a moka pot somewhere in your kitchen. So, I got my moka pot down, dusted it off and here we are…

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Making Coffee at Home: Espresso

An espresso, in the Coffee Spot cup, pulled on my Sage Barista Express using the San Lorenzo espresso from Curve Coffee RoastersWelcome to another instalment of my Making Coffee at Home series, where I’ve left the best (hardest?) until last. After simple guides for the cafetiere,  Clever Dripper, AeroPress and (not so simple) pour-over, I’ve finally turned my attention to espresso. Just to be clear, whereas for all my other guides (including pour-over to some extent), you can get decent results with minimal outlay, this is not true for espresso. If you want good espresso, you’re going to need to spend a lot of money on both a good espresso machine and a high-quality grinder (I’d say a minimum of £500).

Now that’s not to say that you can’t made short, strong black coffee at home. You can. The AeroPressVietnamese cup-top filter,  ibrik/cezve, moka pot and capsule machines can all make good short, strong black coffee. It’s just not going to be espresso. That said, if you’re hankering after something approaching your favourite flat white/cappuccino/latte, then you can do a reasonable job with a variety of common coffee-making equipment (see, for example, this excellent video from James Hoffman). However, what this post is all about is espresso of the sort you’d get in a good speciality coffee shop.

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