Drinking Coffee in Oxford

 So, it’s the holiday season again , yay! Time to explore new cities, experience new food, explore history, learn a new language, soak up another culture and of course check out new cafes. So, if you’re off to England and the most visited city in the World, London, and it gets a bit hectic and hot – then I recommend you pop over to one of the most traditional and historic cities in England, Oxford. Famous for its World Class university and cappuccino brown traditional buildings, Oxford is about a 40 minute train ride or 1.5 hours bus ride away from London, with buses running almost every 15 minutes from Victoria Station, you can easily visit Oxford in a day.

Zappis Bike Cafe

So, after you’ve soaked up the Oxford sites, and want to relax your feet,  then it’s time for a great cup of coffee to finish off the experience. Lucky for you, I’ve done some research and I start with the best, just a stone throw away from the bus station, Zappi’s, which is actually located on the first floor of a bike shop with the same name on 28-32 St Michael’s St, Oxford.


 It’s not posh looking but the owner (I forgot his name) was very welcoming. He doesn’t confine himself to one roaster and when I visited, he had just got a batch of coffee from Caravan in London, which was eager to try out. He focuses on getting the best from each coffee and wants customers to have a tasteful experience when they visit. They’ve got a la marzocco Linea and I had to get a flat white, see pic above, yummy. There are cakes, sandwiches and some chairs to relax and of course bikes to ogle at.

 

 

The Missing Bean

It prides itself as the first independent antipodean cafe in Oxford, so it’s soaked in Oxford independent caffe culture tradition. Located not to far from Zappis, on 14 Turl Street, Oxford, The Missing Bean also roasts their own coffee and have opened a second shop in Oxford city too. Check out their website www.themissingbean.co.uk for more info. As for me, I visited for my milk free espresso experience on the way to catch the bus back to London, a double espresso.

It was a bit quiet and low key but I can imagine this cafe being the “it” spot with students during term time. They’ve got the gadgets and from what I saw of the menu, food and treats to get you by and accompany your caffeine shot.

So, there, two places to have tasteful coffee if and when you visit Oxford.


 That’s it from me, as I’m off to Dubai tomorrow, God willing, for sun, relaxation, great hotels, great food and coffee, yes, coffee – see my post on Tom&Serg, who now have a new place, The Sum of Us, which I pray to try when there and of course blog about.

Wherever you go this summer, I wish you a safe journey, an unforgettable pleasant experience, great food and of course great coffee, ciao.

 

 


I was @ Kaffeine II


Lucky me, it seems like I just travel the World visiting cafes and sampling good coffees, BUT, it’s really not like that, trust me. It’s just that whenever I get the opportunity to try something out involving the bean and new cafes, then I try and make the effort. So, I’ve got 7 hours in London on a beautiful war spring day in London and if you know my coffee fix programme, that means at least 2 cafes have to be visited in between my other passion, men’s fashion and food. So, my final stop this time, was literally like “saving the best for last”. Just opened in 2015, is the London renowned Kaffeine, who won best cafe in Europe a few years back – see my first post on them here. In any case, after all these years, they’ve now opened another shop, a lot closer to the shopping nirvana of Oxford Street, near the Tottenham Court Road End/Soho on 15 Eastcastle Street to be precise.


The first thing you notice is that it’s bigger than the first one – famous for great coffee, light bites and delicate sweet offerings, the first shop was always jam packed and you literally wanted to get in, drink up and get out, unless it was a Saturday morning – so here we have space, space for books, gadgets and coffee on sale, notably Square Mile Coffee Roasters, whom Kaffeine have been very loyal since their inception). The offerings are the same – deliciously named sandwiches, light bites and sweet treats – I was tempted by the latter… and of course great coffee, prepared with care, but wait for it, there’s more…
I unusually ordered a piccolo (similar to an espresso macchiato but with more milk and latte art). Sat down and went through the recent coffee books by James Hoffman and Anette Moldvaer of Square Mile Coffee Roasters.


Took some pics, ate my sweet treat and drank my coffee, but wait, what’s that in the corner – what kind of espresso machine is that ?

Ever curious, I walked over to the barista and he was so keen that someone came up to him to ask about the machine that he gave me a very quick run down and I must say, I don’t think his colleagues appreciated it (hope he doesn’t get into trouble). In any case I recognised the machine from the Vienna screen showing of “a film about coffee”, the Nuova Simoneli Black Eagle VA388. After some brief reading, the machine was designed in collaboration with James Hoffmann and as stated on the Nuova Simoneli website, it’s the first espresso machine to have;

both “T3” and “Gravimetric” technologies. The first ensures thermal stability, the second always provides the right amount of coffee in the cup. The combination of these two technologies means the barista can ensure a consistently excellent espresso, personalized by enhancing the features and aromas of each type of coffee

The gravimetric one really got me – the ability of the machine to weigh the coffee and extract the right brew weight all in one – Wow! that is really taking it to the future and it comes as no surprise that this espresso machine is the most expensive in the World, as the barista proudly told me.


So, in summary, Kaffeine have upped the game – they’ve got a new site, nearer to more people, bigger than the first, with an expanded menu and the best espresso machine in the World, so why go, I think you have the answer, GO get your self some great coffee and more.


About Consistency: The Roaster


Square Mile Espresso

Square Mile Espresso

As a natural follow up to my previous post, I thought that I’d mention one of my favourite coffee roasters, Square Mile Coffee Roasters. If you’ve been following me for a while, on twitter or even instagram, then you’d know that I often purchase square mile coffee, but why?

Well, it’s all about consistency again.

Sometimes you get so involved in something and you forget why or you always buy a particular product that you forget what drove you to adopt a particular habit or to buy the same type of product over and over again. I come across this occasionally when for example in order to satisfy my coffee fix, I stop over at a cafe, even sizing the place out for equipment and checking out the baristas tamping skills, only and sadly, more often than not, to be disappointed. Then I think why did I do that ? So, I become a creature of habit – visiting the same cafes (i.e. Workshop Coffee in Marylebone) and ordering the same type of drinks (milk based espresso or filter if I have lots of time to spare) or in this case buying the same type of coffees. (term, square mile coffee roasters)  Why ? Well, in a nutshell, I don’t want to be disappointed – I’m not a cafe. If I order coffee, I can only spare 18g of wastage for espresso from a 350g bag. If I order online, I can’t take it back and say “what’s this rubbish eh?”. So, I prefer to stick to what I know. I confess that occasionally, my adventurous side takes hold of me and so I try new things (see previous posts on blacktop coffee) which pays off when it works to your delight.  But, of course, when my palate has become accustomed to a particular level of standard – a standard that feels betrayed when experimentation goes horribly wrong, then I think “why did I do that ?”.

But, there’s more.

When you get used to some type of standard and you let people enter that realm, then you also get awakened to how privileged you are. Like when I introduce colleagues and friends to drinking speciality coffee brewed especially using the Hario V60 – then they’re like “wow! I was very sceptical” “oh! this is the first coffee I’ve drank and I don’t need sugar” or like when I had a cafe in Cape Town “this is the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life” – but usually it all comes down to a very few variables – the coffee, the way it was sourced, roasted and brewed and to sum up, “consistently cared for”. Looking after the bean “from coffee with love”.

So, in summary you don’t know how privileged you are until you try something new and it tastes bad or you let people taste what you take for granted and they’re like, “wow!”.

Let’s focus on the bean, the way it was cared for.

I could give you a bio on square mile coffee roasters, the birth of a collaboration between 2 world barista champions (James Hoffmann in 2007 and Stephen Morrissey) and a top roaster, Anette Moldvaer, but read my first post on them here in 2009 for more info. Back then, only one cafe (Flat White on Berwick Street, used their coffee) and they sold most of their coffees on line, thank God, as I was living in Vienna, as I still do now.

  
 Since then they’ve expanded naturally, providing coffee to countless cafes in London and beyond and their online presence has grown. They have a large customer base because they are consistent – you know that if you get their espresso blend and other specialty single origin coffees for filter that you’re getting something good that you can rely on and I’m proud to say that I’m also a victim of their success and their consistency. Sure their taste profile has changed a bit, earlier it was buttery toffee (I must confess I miss that) and now it’s a bit more diverse but their passion for sourcing the best remains.

So, in a nutshell, when I want to order coffee online then I safely order Square Mile Coffee, because I know that I’m not going to be disappointed that if I set my espresso grinder to the point where I get an extraction of 25ml in 22-25 seconds, it’s going to taste nice, that if I brew it using a hario V60 or aeropress then I’m going to get a pleasant taste on my tongue.

   

Before I go, I should nevertheless mention another fave coffee roaster of mine, when  it comes to single origin filter type coffees and that’s Workshop Coffee, see here, which have now started shipping to Europe, so expect a post very soon God willing on them. Usually when I’m in London, even for a few hours, I stop over to buy coffee from their shop in Marylebone, by St Christopher’s Place, just off Oxford Street, near Selfridges and Bond Street Tube Station.

When you find something/someone good, hold on to them and don’t take it for granted – some coffee wisdom to sign off on, ciao.


About Consistency: The Beans

 

When we usually talk about quality, we try and add the term, “consistency” – why? because we prefer to experience things in a consistent manner. We want to know that if we go to our favourite restaurant and order our favourite meal, that the experience is always great, replicate of the last time we went there or ate there or even better – the ideal. So, our favourite “thing” is born of consistency – not letting us down – always the same quality or even better – something we can rely on.

And so, after that lecture on consistency, what’s this post about ? Beans in short. If you study carefully the picture of of the coffee beans at the top if the post, you’ll notice something peculiar – not all the coffee beans have the same type of shade of coffee brown – some are lighter than others and hence there is some inconsistency. This usually means one thing – the coffee has not been roasted with care, paying attention to two things – origin of coffee, whereby coffee from different farms have been added into the roast, with lack of attention to variety and also roast profile. On the farm, different coffees need different exposure to heat when they are roasted, even from the same farm. On the roast profile, if the beans have not been sorted and tested properly, usually in a sample roaster, then when you roast them for distribution or for commercial purposes, you’ll get what I got. This means that in summary the coffees roasted above have not been roasted properly or to their maximum potential.

For further proof, look at the picture below during the brewing process.

You can even see the inconsistency with different shades of brown.

On the origin of the beans – these came from Ethiopia, roasted by a well known roasting company and cafe there. When it was given to me, I was  bit sceptical. Nevertheless I prepared it and shared it with my colleagues. The first most prominent comment came from the person who gave them to me “I was expecting more – it didn’t taste as nice as the ones you usually give me” He was right in a nutshell. But to add more, it wasn’t as flavourful – it didn’t delight the taste buds and it wasn’t “consistent” in the mouth, leaving that lasting flavour in your mouth. Another colleague, with a trained palate from wine tasting, termed it a robust roast with plums and low acidity. I have to confess, that the second time I brewed it, more colleagues had warmed to it and it tasted better. By better what do I mean, let me qualify that statement – I mean, “easier to drink with a bold, robust flavour, a very “pick me up” coffee for the morning, good in the morning with milk”. Furthermore, this type of coffee can only be brewed the robust way – French press or filter – any other way will “expose” its frailties and probably render it “undrinkable”. Do I sound harsh ? a little bit, but I have more to add.

Why am I sceptical about the roaster ? Because I know that’s where the final skill lays. So, I rarely buy coffee roasted in Africa from a shop or airport, just like I never buy coffee from a supermarket in Europe or anywhere else. It’s not that I am prejudice, it’s just that for something I hold so dear, I need to know as much as possible before I commit to it – sure I can be adventurous – ask my wife, but when it comes to food and coffee, I’m constantly searching for consistency in quality. Nevertheless to finish off on a positive note, this coffee brewed adhering to strict principles of temperature, water quality and weight was kind off rescued to give a drinkable cup.

If any coffee roasters are reading this and want to add anything or even better, want to write a special guest article on this subject, please contact me.


I’m Drinking a Cup of Crema

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I know, look at that crema and although I can’t capture the depth of it in the cup, trust me, the cream is literally half of the coffee in the cup. Curious ? Of course you are, that’s why you’re still reading. In short, this is a pure robusta espresso blend. If you look through my pages on types of coffee, you will know that there are two main types of coffee, arabica and robusta. The latter is a cheaper variety of coffee with a much higher caffeine content, inferior in taste and used mostly for the ghastly stuff called “instant coffee” Sorry! but I’m a self-confessed coffee snob and drinking instant coffee is like saying you’re eating fresh fruit that has been somehow preserved for many months and years and looks like fruit – I’d rather drink water. Ok! I digress, but I’m coming to the good bit.

Traditionally, robusta is not used for speciality coffee because amongst other things, it is inferior in taste and for coffee connoisseurs, taste is king. Even when it is used, it is blended with its much more superior cousin, arabica, to give it some colour and a more profound caffeine kick. The Italians tend to prefer a bit of robusta in their blends because the other key quality of robusta is….. wait for it, crema, plus it looks good with a brown reddish vibe and we all know the Italians love what things look like. So, if you want crema and a good looking espresso or ristretto with a caffeine kick, then head to Italy or search for one of the rare coffee roasters that uses robusta in their blends. But, I know you’re asking “what about taste ?”

Yes, taste is king. My previous experience with robusta blends was a caffeine kick, where literally the back of my head by my neck hurt. However when I visited the cafe at the Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington, London (see my post before last), I was pleasantly surprised by what I had and even more so to discover that the espresso coffee was 100% robusta, roasted by the company Leave the Herd Behind – a very apt name denoting that they are going against the grain, having discovered how to work with coffee growers in India to grow robusta coffee in a way that can be roasted with a good taste profile for espresso based coffee – they call it black sheep coffee, read more about them on www.leavetheherdbehind.com

In any case, the robusta comes from the Sethuraman Estate – the first specialty grade robusta farm in the World

So impressed was I with their coffee that I made a special order of two espresso blends and two Ethiopian single estate coffee for filter, Yirgacheffe Dumerso, grown at over 2,000 metres, naturally processed, very fruity and sublime, when brewed on a hario V60.

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The espresso Robusta blend was literally a cup of crema, dark chocolate and very full bodied and you could literally scoop the crema out with a spoon. Using the sugar test – a spoon of sugar took about 10 seconds before it fell through the crema cloud, wow! now that’s what I call a full bodied crema. When blended with milk, literally hot chocolate came to mind – I even paused and looked at the pack again to check they hadn’t sent me hot chocolate.

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I know the picture looks weird but honestly there’s no photoshop nor manipulation of the picture – it’s like the crema blends weirdly with milk giving it this dreamy like effect. Well, if you dream of chocolate then this is the blends for you. If you can’t buy and brew beans at home, then when you’re in London visit them, as they have two shops:

63 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4PG London

Inside Urban Outsiders on 469 Oxford Street, W1C 2PY London

So, if you’re nearby, leave the herd behind on Oxford Street and grab a good looking cup of crema, yum!


Best Coffee Moments of 2014

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I just wanted to share with you some of my top coffee moments of 2014 (yeah, I know we are already approaching the mid half of the second month) but this site is about sharing the love.

First up, was my first Chemex experience, which my palate witnessed at Curators Coffee new shop on Margaret Street, just off Regent’s Street, Oxford Circus, London. As I had a bit of time to burn (i.e. I wasn’t in a rush) I decided to try a non-espresso based coffee and have my coffee expertly “curated”, selecting their top coffee to be brewed on the chemex. I wasn’t really expecting anything out of the ordinary as I’ve only really had a few exhilarating experiences when having filter brews outside my home or office. But wow! the flavours of the Kenyan coffee were at one point refreshing then, fruity with a balanced acidity pic at the top of this post. OK, I know the coffee plays a really important part but I think on this time, the brew process was able to extract some really precious delicate flavours, making this one of my key coffee moments of twenty 14.

 

OK, let’s move to where the coffee was the “star”. Fresh after making coffee for Tom Cruise and team on the set of Mission Impossible 5 in Vienna, Jo Wechlesberger (Vienna School of Coffee) asked me to help her lift a very heavy La Marzocco Strada 2 group into her shop. A few bloodshot marks later, she invited me to taste a very exquisite coffee she had just roasted.

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After a very delectable palate experience, I was like “wow!” that was great – wild berries and a fruit bomb in your mouth – what s that ? An Ethiopian Sidamo, scoring over 90 and known as Nekisse N2, mixed heirloom varieties and naturally dried in the sun. Jo’s taste profile was wild strawberries, peaches, passionfruit, rhubarb, creamy with a long lasting clean finish. But it gets better – I was actually on the verge of buying what undoubtedly would be my most expensive coffee at 100 Euros a kilogram – yep, that’s right, instead Jo gave me a 150g bag for free, for helping her and another gentleman lift the espresso machine inside her shop. I was more than ecstatic, even declining the offer, preferring to pay to support the artisan coffee trade, but Jo insisted and I could see my wife in the background, winking just take the gift, so I did. Of course I enjoyed every little bit of this coffee, sharing it on one occasion with a colleague who loves wine and has been schooled how to taste – naturally he was very excited.

 

I don’t have a picture for this next experience but having a cold brew coffee served in a tall wine glass was another wow experience courtesy of Otto from Balthasar Coffee, Vienna. To emphasise the point, Otto gave  me a trial in a typical porcelan cup and most of it in a tall wine glass – again another fruit bomb but with a delicate cocoa and long lasting finish, proving that how you serve it is very important.

 

 


First Flat White of 2015 @ the Ampersand Hotel

As a treat to the family to end our two week long holiday in London, I decided to take up an offer of two-for-three at a lovely looking boutique hotel in South Kensington called The Ampersand – in case you are wondering what that means an “ampersand” is the official name for the & sign. So that’s your English lesson for the year. Now to the coffee.

We checked in on the first day of the years, 1 January 2015 – obviously and I was kind of worried that to celebrate the beginning of 2015 I wouldn’t get a decent cup of coffee – others wanted champagne but for me it’s coffee of course, love. So after checking in I noticed a cafe like setting adjacent to the checking in lobby, a nice pretty place for English Tea and cakes, and spotted…. a La Marzocco Linea 2 group machine (ahhh!). I naturally got excited and after quizzing the poor young Australian waitress about if she knew how to make good cup of coffee, I decided to take the plunge – she kind of retorted with “I’m Australian, so I know a good cup of coffee”. I’m not sure if the pressure from moi (coffee snob) was too much but her colleague, a waiter, decided to make the coffee and I could see in the background that he was really taking his time, et voila

1st Flat White of 2015

1st Flat White of 2015

 

Naturally, I was impressed as I won’t be blogging about this experience and I told the waiter afterwards that it was  a good flat white and he was really happy. So, first lesson of the year “don’t misjudge people based on your own bad experiences and always give people a chance”.

So, I came to find out that their coffee beans are from a new London coffee roaster group, called “black sheep” and to top it off, the use pure robusta – they are supporting an Indian coffee farm to bring you the best. See here for more info http://www.leavetheherdbehind.com

I had a couple more tasteful experiences which showed me that the waiters/waitresses had been trained properly – very important.

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Also, it was a great hotel to stay at, very well located for the museums, near the South Kensington tube station and if you are stuck in this vicinity looking for good cup of coffee and a hearty avocado filled breakfast, pop into the Ampersand on 10 Harrington Road for a quick cup – they also have take away cups if you’re really in a rush.

 

 

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