Making Coffee at Home: Coffee, Part II

Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series, where once again, I’m looking at coffee. The Coffee at Home series aims to provide simple, practical advice on making coffee at home, although I deviated from this in Part I of my look at coffee, where I talked about the concepts of direct trade and single-origin coffee. However, this was to set the scene for what I want to talk about today, which is some advice on what to look for when buying coffee.

When I started the Coffee Spot, back in 2012, my knowledge of coffee was very limited. To me, coffee was just coffee. However, I quickly realised that it was way more complicated than that, something which can be rather daunting when you’re dipping your toe into the world of speciality coffee for the first time and trying to order some coffee on-line from a speciality roaster. To help you out, I’ll be unpacking some of the terms that I now take for granted, but which back then I found rather baffling. Having introduced you to the concept of single-origins, I now want to talk about blends, which is how the majority of coffee is sold.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 1

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to today’s bonus Travel Spot. Exactly a year ago today, Amanda and I left Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, California, to catch Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr, at Emeryville Station. Roughly 60 hours and 4,000 km later, we reached our destination, Buffalo Grove, in the Chicago suburbs. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me fly to Los Angeles so that I could take the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Coast to San Jose. From Chicago, I (eventually) flew home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The California Zephyr is a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, a scheduled journey of 51½ hours that crosses the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains as well as both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. It’s the longest I’ve been on a train, beating the 47 hours I spent on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland (Oregon) in 2015.

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Making Coffee at Home: Coffee, Part I

Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series. I began by focusing on brewing methods, with simple guides to the cafetiere, Clever Dripper and AeroPress. I’ve also written about equipment, such as grinders and scales. However, there’s something else I want to talk about. No matter how good your equipment is, how much you perfect your technique, there’s one thing it can’t fix, and that’s the quality of the coffee.

It’s easy to assume that everyone knows about coffee, but there was a point, before I started the Coffee Spot, when I knew very little. I clearly remember the sense of bewilderment when I first walked into a speciality coffee shop (Edinburgh’s Brew Lab), looked at the menu and realised that I had no idea what it was trying to tell me.

I’ll also say, from the outset, that if you are happy with the coffee you are currently buying/making, then that’s fine. Don’t let me, or anyone else, tell you otherwise. However, if you are dipping your toe into the world of speciality coffee for the first time and are wondering what tasting notes, varietals and processing are all about, then this is the post for you.

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My Daily Coffee Routine

My daily espresso, being pulled into the Coffee Spot cup on my Sage Barista Express, while my Bonavita scales weigh and time the shot.Today’s Saturday Supplement is inspired by Mike Stanbridge, who suggested in a tweet that I should write about my coffee making methods and routine. Initially I dismissed it, feeling it would be boring, but I’ve had a rethink and, now that I’ve written it, you can decide for yourself. Who’s right: Mike or me?

The change of mind came about because of what else but COVID-19. I was thinking about people’s routines, particularly those new to working from home/working remotely, something I’ve been doing for over 10 years. So, I thought, I could write about my daily routine in the hope that it would help some people. What stopped me was the initial thought that it had nothing to do with coffee. The Coffee Spot is, after all, a blog about coffee (and travel, if you count the Travel Spot). However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that my daily routine is my coffee routine. Hence the change of heart.

Of course, this post comes with the usual caveat. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Take what inspires you in this post, make it your own and feel free to ignore the rest!

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Dancing Goats Midtown

The logo for The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar , a goat dancing on its hind legs holding a cup of coffee, taken from the sign outside the Midtown location in Atlanta.I didn’t have much chance to visit coffee shops during the week in I spent in Atlanta with Amanda, since we were staying in the suburbs, a 40-minute drive from the city. We visited Octane: Westside and Firelight Coffee Roasters when we arrived on the train from New York, but the next time we were in the city centre was on my way to the airport for my flight to Chicago at the end of my stay.

We could have gone straight to the airport, but instead we made a detour to the Midtown reason to visit Dancing Goats (or to use its full name, The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar Midtown). Dancing Goats (part of Batdorf & Bronson coffee roasters) is one of four Atlanta-based coffee shops (with another five in Washington State, where it all started).

Dancing Goats is firmly in the speciality coffee world, but with a mass-market offering. There’s a small espresso-based menu combined with a much larger menu offering the typical American “large” drinks, featuring 20oz lattes amongst other things. The retail coffee offering mirrors this, with multiple blends supplemented by a smaller range of single-origins. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cake.

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Making Coffee at Home: Scales

My travelling coffee scales.Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series which has, to date, focused mostly on brewing methods, with simples guides to the cafetiere, Clever Dripper and AeroPress. However, I’ve also written about grinding coffee at home, while today I want to turn my attention to another important piece of equipment: scales.

Let’s start by answering a simple question: do you need scales in order to make good coffee? Emphatically, no, you don’t. As I’ve shown in my first three guides, you can make good coffee without scales. However, that doesn’t mean that scales should be overlooked, particularly as you get drawn further into the world of speciality coffee (warning: in case you haven’t guessed, that’s what this series is all about, drawing you slowly down the rabbit hole of speciality coffee, one article at a time, until it’s too late and you can’t back out).

Back to scales. Scales can be very useful: for example, I use them whenever I make coffee. In particular, as you approach the more specialised end of coffee making, such as pour-over and espresso, I’d argue that scales start to become essential. So, with that in mind, what should you be looking for?

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading Home – Boston to London

My British Airways Boeing 777, waiting on the stand at Terminal 5 in Boston, ready to take me back to London. I wonder when I'll fly again?Welcome to the fifth and final instalment of this, the second (and possibly last) Travel Spot of 2020. It covers my recent trip to America, which began when I flew to Boston at the end of February. At that point I’d expected to spend five weeks in the US, culminating with two weeks in Chicago for work. However, as I explained in the previous instalment, the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic saw me abruptly cut short my trip the day after I arrived in Chicago, when I decided to head home.

I flew from Chicago to Boston on Monday, 16th March, staying overnight in an airport hotel so that I could catch my hastily rearranged flight back to the UK the following morning. It was a surreal experience, arriving at a near-deserted Chicago O’Hare airport on what should have been a busy Monday morning. However, that was nothing compared to my flight back to the UK, which is the subject of today’s Travel Spot.

It was as if someone had thrown a switch, changing the world almost overnight. When I’d flown to Chicago from Atlanta just three days before, the world had seemed pretty normal. Now it was anything but…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Coast Starlight, Los Angeles to San Jose

The glorious, vaulted ceilings of one of the old waiting rooms at Los Angeles' Union Station.Welcome to this, today’s bonus Travel Spot, covering a journey I took exactly a year and one day ago, when I boarded Amtrak Train No. 14, the Coast Starlight, at Los Angeles’ Union Station. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me travel to Los Angeles, San Jose/the Bay Area and Chicago (on the California Zephyr), from where I (eventually) returned home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The Coast Starlight is a daily service between Los Angeles and Seattle, although I was only going as far as San Jose, an all-day journey that departed Los Angeles at 10:10 and arrived in San Jose at 20:11, ten hours and one minute later! It was also very cheap, a one-way advance fare in coach class costing just $60, although since I was going to be on the train for 10 hours, I’d decided to spend the extra $30 for a seat in business class. Along the way, I saw a lot of the Pacific Coast as well as some awesome mountain scenery, plus I had two excellent meals in the dining car!

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Making Coffee at Home: AeroPress

Coffee brewing in my AeroPress, using the inverted method, as seen from above.Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series (which now has its own page on the Coffee Spot). I started three weeks ago with a simple guide to the cafetiere to help (non-coffee) people who have unexpectedly found themselves at home all day due to COVID-19 make good coffee. I’ve also published articles on the importance of grinding coffee at home, as well as a guide to the Clever Dripper, another simple, reliable method. Today it’s the turn of the AeroPress, one of the coffee world’s favourite preparation methods (it’s even got its own World Championship!).

I’m a big fan of the AeroPress, so much so that I have three of them (one for home, one at my Dad’s and one that forms an integral part of my travelling coffee kit). However, it wasn’t always the case. I got my first AeroPress at the end of 2012, when I visited Leighton Buzzard’s House of Coffee, but I really didn’t get on with it. In fact, had it not been for a chance encounter at the Caffé Culture Show in May of the following year, I might have given up on it entirely. So, what changed? And why?

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading Home – Chicago to Boston

My Global WAKEcup, full of coffee I'd just made in the lounge and brought on the plane with me before my flight from Chicago to Boston.Welcome to the fourth instalment of this, the second (and possibly last) Travel Spot of 2020. It covers my recent trip to America, which began when I flew to Boston at the end of February. It’s been shaped throughout by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, no more so than at the end of the trip. I’d originally planned to return at the end of March, but, as you’ll see, that’s not quite what happened.

I’d arrived in Chicago on Saturday, 14th March, having flown in from Atlanta. Everything felt fairly normal as I settled into my usual hotel right on the corner of the Chicago River, although the hotel itself felt rather quiet. The following day was gorgeous, with clear, blue skies, the temperature hovering a few degrees above freezing.

While people were taking precautions COVID-19, the city felt pretty normal. However, by the end of the day, the Governor of Illinois had announced the closure of all bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes except for takeaway customers and I decided that it was time to head home. I rearranged my flights that evening and, the following morning, I left for the airport. When, I wonder, will I be able to return?

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