Category Archives: Coffee Roasters

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!


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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New York Coffee Scene

Culture Espresso

A Flat White @ Culture Espresso

 

New York Coffee Scene #1

So, you’re in the big apple for a week or so and you need a great coffee fix…. Notice the emphasis on “great” because in New York City (NYC) like all big cities, the locals tend to think they know what coffee is – after all the place is literally littered with Starbucks and other chain outlets, selling coffee, so don’t make the mistake to ask a local. In fact, New York was one of the markets Starbucks initially feared entering back in the 1980s because most New Yorkers didn’t believe in spending more than a $1 on coffee and with speciality coffee, that’s impossible.

So, first up, you could search for “New York coffee” on goggle, where there’s the www.newyorkcoffeeguide.com by Allegra, the same people who brought you the London Coffee Guide. You could trust your judgement (risky), ask on twitter or if you’re like me, you would have been following the ever changing coffee scene in New York for several years from the onset with the launch of Café Grumpy (probably the first well known artisan coffee shop in New York) and last but not least, read below. A proviso, my list is by no means exhaustive and is Manhattan biased – the coffee scene in NYC is changing very rapidly and even as I write, there might be a few new openings.

So here we go…

Drinking Coffee in Midtown Manhattan

As a lover of coffee, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t too far from my “love” and so after scanning countless maps of Manhattan, I decided that the family should stay in mid-town Manhattan within walking distance to Culture Espresso, near Times Square, Joe’s at Grand Central, Bluebottle at Rockefeller Centre and about 15 minutes’ walk from Stumptown, near the famous Flat Iron Building fanatic or what !!!

Flat Iron Building

Flat Iron Building

So, now where to stay ? I curiously looked at Conde Nast Traveller’s Guide to New York Hotels and discovered a hotel, ranked in the top 20 hotels in NYC that served… you guessed it, Café Grumpy coffee – DONE, that’s where we’re staying, Andaz on Fifth ( A Hyatt hotel) – ok! It looked really nice, with a great location, opposite the NY Library on the corner East 41st Street and the famous Fifth Avenue too, but it also had the promise of serving good coffee at The Shop (their cafe). So that’s where we stayed.

The Shop @ the Andaz

The Shop @ the Andaz

Using the usual gadgets, La Marzocco GB5, etc, a choice of espresso blends, different brewing processes, plus a cold drip, the coffee prepared at the Andaz coffee shop, called the Shop is done with precision and complimented with freshly baked goods, a choice of healthy and hearty breakfast, great staff and joyful baristi and is accessible to all, non-hotel guests too.

Cappuccino @ The Shop

Cappuccino @ The Shop

To top it all, the real bonus was that Café Grumpy’s filter blend is available free to hotel guests anytime of the day, so after a long day walking the streets of Manhattan, what better than to have a night cap with some great filter brew #coffeeheaven in NYC – I’m not affected by caffeine at night.

So where next,

Culture Espresso

Culture Espresso

Next up and closer to where we stayed was no doubt one of my favourites, Culture Espresso, located at 72 West 38th Street on the corner of the Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue). The décor is almost like a typical London coffee shop, as you enter, there are displays of gadgets on the right and right in front of you before you place your order there are delectable sandwiches and sweet bites.

I found the coffee here consistently good and loved their commitment to using Heart Coffee Roasters. If you don’t know NYC, then this is the closest great coffee spot to Times Square – so suck up the glitter and lights of Broadway at Times Square with a well prepared cup of joe (NYC speak for coffee) in your hand.

OK! So rushing off to the glamour part, Rockefeller Centre, there’s the famed (at least by coffee connoisseurs) Blue Bottle branch, slightly north of Times Square but on your right. I must confess I never visited this branch but I visited their Chelsea branch, see below.

Drinking Coffee in Chelsea NYC

Well! of course you’ve got to go to Café Grumpy, at their first shop in Soho, corner 7th Avenue and 21st Street. I had a mini-lunch there, focaccia and lemon madeleine (I always read about these on twitter) with an espresso macchiato.

Cafe Grumpy

My sister bought me my lunch as well as a bag of Heartbreak Espresso (delicious).

Take a 10 minute stroll to Chelsea Market on the corner of ninth and tenth avenue and 15th and 16th Streets – located in the old National Biscuit Company factory, on Saturdays it celebrates food, with lots of stalls inside selling delicacies from cute cupcakes to lobsters. Inside however, is the aptly named Ninth Street Espresso, who have now embarked on the journey to roasting their own beans – their focus is more on a darker blend, at least that’s what I was told when I visited in 2013.

Ninth Street Flat white

The head barista was really friendly and when I told him who I was (pleasantly surprised that a barista in NYC knows about me) he gave me a bag of their espresso blend. So, head down there for great food but finish off with coffee from Ninth Street Espresso.

Literally around the corner is Blue Bottle’s other shop – I got a bit lost surprisingly, but it’s easier to find it if you use the front entrance of Chelsea Market, veering to your right, past the Apple Store on West 15th Street (you see, it’s next door). Ah, finally, I get to visit Blue Bottle after all these years.

Blue Bottle Coffees

It’s not very big and they have a coffee menu thing going on, showcasing the beans, so choose the one you want or ask them for which coffee goes best with which brewing style. Great! Nothing else to add.

Drinking Coffee in Soho

Not that far from Chelsea and near the flatiron building, in between 7th and 6th Avenues on West 21st Street is a haven for coffee pros, Joe Pro Shop and Headquarters. I stopped by there on a Saturday afternoon, dashing off from the wife and kids for my “coffeefix – it was quite quiet with the pros in the back conducting a barista or tasting school so that meant I had lots of time to “talk coffee” with the head barista there. Usually they show case different blends from different roasters not only from America but Europe too. Again, just ask for what goes best with what and let your palate delight in this coffee haven in NYC. I tried two coffees, one with milk and another just….

Espresso at Joe Pro

 

So this is what I missed:

Stumptown at Ace hotel on corner of Broadway and W 28th Street

Intelligentsia (iconic) at 180 10th Avenue

Gimme Coffee on 228 Mott Street in Nolita /Little Italy Neighbourhood

Prodigy Coffee on 33 Carmine Street in the West Village Neighbourhood

Ciao, NYC

Flat White NYC


Lick Me, LIKMI !!! – Don’t be deluded

Lick Me Espresso

Lick Me Espresso

So, what do you see ? A well prepared espresso by moi ? Well! To the best of my knowledge, ability and experience

A good picture of an espresso ?

Well, almost but sometimes it’s not about looks, sorry guys and gals who spend time perfecting their looks and espresso shots, BUT ultimately it’s about taste. I’m passionate about the “real” deal. So many times I taste stuff, especially cakes, that look fabulous, but when you bite into it, you’re like screaming, Why!!!!!!!! I prefer something to taste better than it looks, but of course the ultimate culinary experience is for something to look and taste great simultaneously.

So, how about what you don’t see where were we… what do you see….

Great beans and roast ? A bit difficult

BUT! Let’s build on that last point.

First up the facts. It’s an espresso blend, called LIKMI (lick me), roasted by Jo Wechlesberger, of Vienna School of Coffee Master Roaster extraordinaire, to get an espresso roast so delicious and sweet, that you just want to….. yep. you guessed it, “lick it”. In it, are coffees from Brazil and Rwanda with a roast profile of dried fruits, molasses – see the bag below.

Secondly, we know that it’s just not about the beans and roast profile – if it was, anyone could learn how to roast coffee like a pro, and we know that’s not true, if not, I’ll be on the waiting list to do so pronto. It’s takes guts, experience and something you can’t buy, a gift or skill – God given and some may argue on that point.

But, that’s not all. When I went in to buy this special coffee, Jo told me that she had started using burlap bags to pack her coffee and had noticed that it seemed to preserve the coffee taste for longer and of course it is also better for the environment.

LIKMI

LIKMI

So, upon buying the coffee, I raised concern saying”it was roasted about a month ago, are you sure its fresh enough for espresso?” Of course, she said. So, when I got home, and pulled my first shot, I was pleasantly surprised, but more so, after another few days of pulling shots, I realised that the coffee still tasted great, sweet and caramel like. I DRANK THIS COFFEE IN MARCH 2014.

LIKMI Latte Art

LIKMI Latte Art

With milk (excuse my latte art), it was really sweet – caramel and raisin sweet, yummy.

So, what’s this post about – if I’ve lost you in all my jargon

The picture at the top is an espresso shot following all the rules but using coffee that was roasted over a month ago and still with a great taste (I usually don’t use espresso blends over 2 weeks old) – it’s the first time on this blog that I’ve shown a picture of an espresso shot using coffee roasted over a month ago.

So, once you’ve mastered the skill of roasting, taking care of your beans by packing them in environmental friendly packaging could preserve the taste and your reputation far and beyond, especially if you are in the online coffee selling business. It also helps if you have a roast profile that’s sweet like dried fruits, which tend to develop into complex tastes profiles, giving you the joy that different cups will give you different tastes.


Getting a Good Cup of Coffee in Dubai: RAW Coffee Company

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When you think of Dubai, you may think of Toobuy and many moons ago, when I thought about opening up a speciality coffee shop somewhere in the World, I thought about Dubai. Well, why not – they had big shopping malls, flashy cars, the best paid expatriates with tons of perks, a growing coffee lifestyle market, the highest amount of 5 starts hotels with the highest occupancy rates in the World at that time and even now the tallest building in the World, BUT they didn’t have good coffee.

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Sure, all the major coffee chains from the UK and the US are there but still, not good coffee. So, I thought, let’s break the bean and start something special. In any case, as you know, I chose Cape Town to pursue my dream (I sold Escape Caffe in February this year) but I’m glad to report that someone else beat me to it a few years back, RAW Coffee – at this moment, the only speciality coffee operator in Dubai, focusing on sourcing fair trade and organic coffees and roasted locally in Dubai – located at Warehouse 10, Al Manara, al Quoz – in an industrial complex of the very busy Shaykh Zayed Road.

I like what they’ve done with the place to make it feel more authentic – first of all it’s in a converted warehouse – as you enter on the left, there’s the La Marzocco Strada machine to make espresso based coffee and other gadgets as well as a brew bar with an Uber boiler to help make pour-over coffee.

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On the right they have a “green” living wall and some chairs. Walking through to the back, on the left hand side of the warehouse/shop, there’s a glass enclave featuring not one, but three coffee roasters – so they import and roast all their coffees (When the proprietor, Kim started, she only had one Probat, now she’s expanded to another two, a giant 18kg Coffee Tool roaster and a smaller Dietrich sample roaster).

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I think the main reason for this is that they also supply some restaurants – a list of their customers is on their website. Dotted around on the ground floor to add more authenticity are heaps of green coffee sacks. Right at the back of the shop, there are some stairs to a small sitting and workshop area at the top, overlooking the rest of the shop. You can sit and drink coffee from a very authentic solid wood table or relax on some bean bags. In any case, if there’s more than 4 of you, I would recommended sitting upstairs and chilling out.

Now, to the coffee. Upon entry, I ordered a flat white as I usually do to test out their milk frothing and latte art skills. I noticed that another customer was very impressed with the latte art as he kept looking at it and I silently thought “Erm! I know this is new to you, but eventually you’re going to have to drink it”.

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Lots more people, mainly expatriates, shuffled in briefly to buy bags of coffee. For my second test – I usually order a pour over to test the roasters skill with the bean and have to confess, I thought the coffee a little too darkly roasted for me – it was good with milk but as a pour over, pure black, slightly bitter with no delicate notes picked up. I quizzed the barista present as to how he prepared my coffee and in conclusion the water was too hot (over 92C) and the dimensions (20g with 200ml water) way too high. He apologises profusely and my cousin, accompanying me for his first speciality latte (he is used to chain style coffee) bought two 500g bags of coffee for me to take back to Vienna, so that appeased the barista somewhat.

I would have loved to have met Kim but it was Friday afternoon and I guess her time off.

In any case, to the best of my knowledge, if you want a speciality coffee experience in glitzy and flashy glass skyscrapers Dubai, I recommend you escape into RAW coffee.

Visit them online at www.rawcoffeecompany.com to order coffee and get directions to where they are. They’re open 7 days a week; offer barista courses and sell all types of equipment for the very keen home barista.

 

 


Salt Caramel Espresso ?

This year – yes, disgracefully so – it’s my first blog of 2013 – I’m into feeling, which means that if I feel like doing something related to pushing my taste buds further, then I’m going to do it.

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So, here we are. Salted Caramel Espresso ??? Did I arrive at this because I found this wonderfully unusual coffee, roasted by a supremo and brewed it in an unusual way ? NO! Simply, I manipulated one of the major elements of the espresso brewing process. BUT, first up, a little about the raw ingredient – the coffee itself – Shakisso from the Sidamo Region of Ethiopia, from the 2011-2012 season, grown at 1800m above sea level, organically grown and sun-dried on raised beds, shipped in grain pro bags (???). Who was the roaster ? Espresso Lab, Cape Town and how did the roaster describe the taste ? floral, silky body, soft chocolate, honey, jasmine, stone fruit, sweet lemonade and tangerine – quite a mouthful and quite a wide range of tastes. Now! that might seem delectable to some readers, but the main reason I bought the coffee was because I trusted the roaster and not because of the taste profile, because based on past experience, if you don’t have a very developed palate and extra-ordinary attention to detail in preparing coffee, using the best – yep! the best tools, then there’s no way you are going to experience some of those wonderful taste profiles described by this or any other skilled roaster.

Where am I going with this ? Well! What do I feel like tasting when I buy coffee – something special all the time. I never buy coffee for the sake of buying coffee. I buy coffee from trusted roasters and I don’t mean Illy or Lavazza. I mean people who spend time roasting with passion. BUT, I do have some taste preference when it comes to coffee – I love caramel, cocoa, dark chocolate, hints of milk chocolate, toffee, butter toffee (typical of Square Mile Coffee) , silky smooth wrap around yout tongue, vanilla, maple syrup, honey, pecan, praline, roasted cashew (organic Ugandan I once had), grapefruit acidity and probably more that I haven’t developed yet and of course SALTED CARAMEL.

So what did I manipulate ? Just the water. I added a few drops (say quarter of a teaspoon) of Himalayan Pink Salt into the water tank before I brewed my espresso – that’s it and wow, what a delight for my taste buds.

If you like something and people always tell you, don’t do it, it’s not right, at least give a shot once and you may not regret it and if you do, at least you experience something different, right ?

Good luck.


@ The Vienna School of Coffee

VSC Latte

It seems natural that Vienna, one of the first places to launch Europe’s coffee culture, should have some sort of World renowned coffee school, BUT, that wasn’t so, until Joanna Wechselberger opened one up in the late noughties (the decade before 2010). If you have been reading my blog, since it’s inception in August 2007, then Jo (that’s what I call her) was behind the first serious espresso based coffee shop, Mocca Club (now closed after new ownership) in Vienna. I learnt a lot from her on my way to becoming some sort of coffee geek. In any case, Jo’s Vienna School of Coffee now has a lot of respect, as Jo is one of only 3 master baristas in the World whom the SCAE (Speciality Coffee Association of Europe) has authorised as barista trainer, international judge, brewmaster and certifier. Any barista reading this, would know of her, as during the World Barista Championships (WBC) in June 2012, her school, equipped with the latest Nuova Simonelli T3, was used by all competing baristi to practice – in fact she still has their timetables for all their practice runs up in her school.

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Now, the good bit. Yes, the Vienna School of Coffee (VSC from now) is a training school, run by Jo, teaching everything from coffee tasting, different brew methods, latte art, to professional SCAE barista level courses and upon request, she will run courses for friends for a fee of course. This means that from Monday to Friday, the VSC is closed to the public, but on Saturdays from 10am until 3pm, you can pop in for a chat about coffee and Jo or her mum (trained by Jo, of course) will make you an espresso based coffee too, at no cost, but you will be embarrased not to pay at least the normal price for espresso in Vienna €2 or €2.70 for milk based espresso, i.e cappuccino.

VSC Ristretto

Now, isn’t that cute, a ristretto ?

Jo is also a trained coffee roaster, sourcing direct trade coffee for different regions and you can also pick up some freshly roasted coffee too. She has single estate coffees as well as espresso blends on sale, as well as brewing equipment, such as Hario V60s, Aeropress, Syphons and other bits for sale. Also on sale is Jo’s book on coffee in German, but happy to say, translated into English as the The Ultimate Coffee Book – for beginners and professionals – of course, I have one, bought by my wife.

From my past visits, Jo seems to be getting a bit of a following as back in September when I visited, I had jo all to myself to tal coffee, but now, I’m like in the queue, But that’s fine, the more the word spreads the better. I’m also planning on arranging a coffee tasting session with some coffee enthusiasts early in the new year of 2013, so feel free to get in touch with moi.

Until then, if you are in Vienna over the weekend, pop by to

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The Vienna School of Coffee

22 Hahngasse

9th District, Vienna

http://en.viennaschoolofcoffee.at/

 


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