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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Temperature-Sensitive Milk Steaming Jug

My temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug, sitting under the steam wand of my Sage Barista Express home espresso machine.Some of my coffee-making equipment, such as the subject of last weekend’s Saturday Supplement, the Sage Barista Express espresso machine, are quite valuable pieces of kit. Some, on the other hand, are fairly cheap, and yet have had a huge impact on my coffee-making. The humble digit scale is a good example: costing as little as £10, scales really helped improve my coffee brewing. Today’s Saturday Supplement is all about a similarly inexpensive piece of kit which has helped my milk steaming (although, alas, not my latte art): the Sage Temp Control, a temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug.

Getting the temperature of the milk just right is really important when it comes to coffee. No-one wants a lukewarm flat white, but neither should it be too hot. If the milk gets above around 65°C, it undergoes a series of irreversible chemical reactions which significantly change the way it tastes. I know that skilled baristas can judge the perfect temperature just by touch, but mere mortals such as myself, who make a once-a-week milky espresso drink (I hesitate to call what I make a flat white) need a little help, which is where the temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug comes in.

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Sage Barista Express Revisited

My Sage Barista Express in action, making an espresso with the Coffee Spot cup.Just before Christmas 2016, my home espresso experience was significantly improved by the arrival of a Barista Express espresso machine, a kind (unsolicited) gift from Sage. I already had a Rancilio Silvia, which I’d bought four years earlier, but I’d largely fallen out of love with home espresso due to problems in pulling consistent shots (with hindsight, this was as much to do with a replacement grinder which wasn’t able to grind finely enough).

In contrast, the Barista Express has a built-in grinder. It’s also remarkably easy to use. Within a couple of days, I was pulling consistently good shots and, it was fair to say, I was converted. I carried on using the Barista Express for a couple of months, then I wrote up my experiences in what has gone on to become the single most popular post on the Coffee Spot!

For the next few years, I travelled a lot for work, so was only intermittently using the Sage. However, for the last year, I’ve been making an espresso pretty much every day and, as a result, I’ve refined my recipe and technique. In light of this, I decided to was time to revisit the Sage Barista Express…

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The Philosophy of Tea

The cover of The Philosophy of Tea, published by the British Library.Welcome to the second in my series of four posts about the British Library’s The Philosophy Of… series. Astute readers will realise that this is a little self-serving since I wrote one of the early books in the series, The Philosophy of Coffee. However, since I’m now selling the rest of the (food-related) titles on the Coffee Spot, I thought I should say something about them. Having started just before Christmas with The Philosophy of Cheese, today it’s the turn of The Philosophy of Tea.

Like all the books in the series, The Philosophy of Tea is a compact volume, packed with interesting, entertaining facts and is the perfect companion to my own book, The Philosophy of Coffee. Just as some people raise an eyebrow when they discover that a Briton (ie me) wrote The Philosophy of Coffee, more eyebrows are raised on learning that Tony Gebely, the author of The Philosophy of Tea, is American. However, Tony has form in this area, having previously written Tea: A User’s Guide, as well as founding the tea evaluation website, Tea Epicure. He’s also a thoroughly nice chap, having introduced me to Mojo, where we met when I was in Chicago in 2018.

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Guildford (2021 Update)

Saint Martha's Church, looking glorious in the sunshine on top of Saint Martha's Hill just outside Guildford.Last weekend I presented a brief history of speciality coffee in my hometown of Guildford. It was very much an introduction to this post, a round-up of what’s going on in Guildford in 2021, which itself follows on from my 2020 round-up. Back then, things were looking good, the town’s existing speciality coffee businesses having survived the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was even a new opening, Ceylon House of Coffee, to celebrate.

Since then, speciality coffee, like the hospitality industry as a whole, has taken another battering due to the pandemic, so as 2021 gets underway, I thought it was time to take stock of where things are. In this post, I’ll cast my eye over the town’s existing speciality coffee shops, as well as taking a look at the new openings, which have been springing up around the town, despite COVID-19’s best efforts.

Overall, while we’ve still got a long way to go, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about speciality coffee in Guildford. There’s a healthy mix of established players and newcomers, each of whom brings something different to the town, all backed up by a couple of great local roasters.

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Guildford: A Speciality Coffee History

The keep of Guildford Castle, seen from the bowling greenSince I can’t travel anywhere (other than reliving past trips through the Travel Spot) and, with the odd exception, there are no new coffee shops to visit, I thought I’d write about my hometown of Guildford. As I noted last September, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guildford’s speciality coffee scene did very well in 2020, this success continuing into 2021 with the opening of Lily London. This is something I’ll highlight in a future post, before I do that, I want to present a short history of speciality coffee in Guildford.

When I moved here in the late 1990s, my coffee choices were limited to the national chains and a handful of independents, but nothing that would count as speciality coffee (not that I knew what it was at the time). Back then, you’d have found me in the Costa Coffee on Swan Lane and, after that, in the Waterstones’ Costa on the High Street. Ironically, both have now closed, Swan Lane a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Waterstones’ coffee shop went when Waterstones moved across the High Street and into smaller premises. The speciality story only really gets going in 2012, around the time I started the Coffee Spot.

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