Coffeeland

Detail from the cover of Coffeeland by Augustine Sedgewick, with the volcano of Santa Ana front and centre.Regular readers know that I don’t often write about coffee books, so today’s Saturday Supplement is the exception that proves the rule. Coffeeland, by Augustine Sedgewick and published in 2020 by Penguin Books, was a chance discovery in my local bookshop while I was looking for something else (Howul, if you’re interested, an excellent debut novel by my friend David Shannon).

Back to Coffeeland: I hadn’t previously heard of the author, and was completely unaware of the book, but there it was, sitting on the shelf. I was intrigued by the title, so picked it up, read the blurb on the back and made the impulse decision to buy it.

Coffeeland is ostensibly a history of coffee in El Salvador (the “coffeeland” of the title), with the focus on James Hill, who went from the slums of nineteenth-century Manchester to El Salvador, where he founded one of its great coffee dynasties. However, Coffeeland is a lot more than that, a fascinating, multi-threaded book which weaves together many strands of the modern, industrial world to tell the story of coffee from the perspective of those who produce it. A harrowing read at times, it shines a light on some of coffee’s darker corners.

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Frozen Solid Coffee Project

My coffee, the Nano Lot N14, a Gesha grown by Creativa Coffee District in Panama, roasted by The Hub in Malaysia and served in a carafe, with a lovely ceramic cup on the side, all presented on a wooden tray, part of the Frozen Solid Coffee Project at Tilt in Birmingham.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.

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Three Micro-lots from Crankhouse

The front of a tin of coffee from Crankhouse Coffee, in this case the Finca La Virginia from Rafael Amaya in Timana in the Huila region of Colombia. It is a double anaerobic processed pink bourbon variety with tasting notes of plum and apricot brandy with cinnamon.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.

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Freak & Unique Update

The Freak & Unique (second edition) from Hundred House Coffee, pulled as an espresso shot by Liar Liar and served in a double-walled tasting glass.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.

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Freak & Unique (and Other Coffees)

The words Hundred House Coffee, surrounded by an irregular hexagon, carved in black on wood.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.

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The Philosophy of Gin

The cover of The Philosophy of Gin, published by the British Library.Welcome to another in my series about the British Library’s The Philosophy Of… books. Today it’s the turn of The Philosophy of Gin by Jane Peyton, the second in the series, after The Philosophy of Wine, to feature alcohol. I’ve timed today’s piece to coincide (roughly) with the publication of the third book in the series to feature alcohol, The Philosophy of Beer, which actually comes out tomorrow (8th April) and is by none other than Jane Peyton!

Like the others in the series (The Philosophy of Wine, The Philosophy of Cheese, The Philosophy of Tea and my own book, The Philosophy of Coffee), The Philosophy of Gin is a compact volume, packed with interesting, entertaining facts. Indeed, its bite-sized chapters are just the right length to be read while sipping a Gin & Tonic (G & T).

More than any of the other books in the series, The Philosophy of Gin has a very British focus, gin being a quintessentially British drink, although there’s a nod to the Dutch (who introduced its forerunner, genever, to London) and the Americans (who popularised gin cocktails and, thanks to prohibition in the 1920s, sent all their best mixologists to Europe!).

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Taylors Discovery: As One Washed & Natural

The incredibly bright packaging for the "As One" coffee from the Kopakama cooperative in Rwanda, roasted by Taylors Discovery.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.

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My Travelling Coffee Kit: Collapsible Coffee Filter

My collapsible silicone coffee filter.My original travelling coffee kit was a pretty simple affair (by my standards, at least), consisting of my AeroPress, a ceramic hand grinder and a cheap set of scales. Over the years, I added to it, with the likes of my Travel Press, Aergrind hand grinder, a metal jug and, occasionally, an electric kettle joining the ranks. It got to the point that, four years ago, I even wrote an article about it.

The one thing my set-up lacked was the ability to do pour-over. This was rectified first by the gift of a collapsible metal filter cone, and then, on a trip to China two years ago, the purchase of a small (360ml) gooseneck jug. Suddenly, I could do pour-over on the go!  However, while I was enamoured with my jug, I had my struggles with the filter cone, so when Amanda gave me another collapsible filter cone as a present at the start of last year, I immediately pressed it into use, keen to see how it compared to my existing metal filter.

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Making Coffee at Home: Clever Dripper (Revisited)

A Clever Dripper, sitting on top of a glass carafe, the brewed coffee draining through the bottom of the filter.One of the earliest pieces I wrote for my (then new) Coffee at Home series at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was about the Clever Dripper. Although there are plenty of excellent filter methods, the Clever Dripper is, in my opinion, the easiest one for somebody taking their first steps into home coffee brewing. Like the humble cafetiere, it doesn’t require any fancy equipment, other than the Clever Dripper itself and some filter papers. It also shares other important characteristics with the cafetiere: it’s simple, reliable and, above all, very forgiving.

I’ve been using my Clever Dripper throughout the last year: it’s my go-to method for filter coffee during the day, mostly for the reasons I’ve stated above. However, I’ve a confession to make: I no longer use the method I published in April last year. As regular readers will know, I’ve become a devotee of James Hoffman’s YouTube channel, and, in early December, James published his Ultimate Clever Dripper Guide. This gives a surprisingly different way of using the Clever Dripper and, having tried it, I was immediately converted. I’ve been using the new method ever since, so thought it was about time I updated my own guide.

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The Philosophy of Wine

The cover of The Philosophy of Wine, written by Ruth Ball and published by the British Library.Welcome to the third in my series of four posts about the British Library’s The Philosophy Of… books. Having covered The Philosophy of Cheese and The Philosophy of Tea (as well as my own book, The Philosophy of Coffee), I’m moving onto The Philosophy of Wine, the first of the series that deals with alcohol.

Like its siblings, The Philosophy of Wine is a compact volume, packed with interesting, entertaining facts. Indeed, its bite-sized chapters are just the right length to be read while sipping a glass of wine (or two).

The only problem about writing such a concise book is that wine has such a rich and incredible history that there’s no hope of squeezing it all in, even at the highest level. I thought I had problems deciding what to leave out of The Philosophy of Coffee, but Ruth Ball, author of The Philosophy of Wine, had it ten times harder!

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