Category Archives: Bean Talk – Coffees

I was @ Colonna and Smalls: One of the Best Cafes in the UK

I know that my title sounds a bit daring, committing myself to using labels like “best….” but life is too short and when you have these wonderful experiences God throws at you, don’t restrict yourself to holding back and waiting for some other moment that may never come. So, after my philosophical rant, what do I mean ? I don’t think I’ve been this excited about visiting a cafe since Prufrock – see here. A bit of background – as holiday planner in charge; I was asked to find a nice English city to visit with other family members this past summer and initially we thought about Cornwall and what sprung to my mind was cornish pasties (if you’re not English, these are like a specialty short crust pastry pies filled with meat or veggies) and scones with clotted cream ( a cream typical of only this part of England), but whilst I had no aversion to these classical English cuisine gems, I thought if we’re are going to a place for three days, where will I get a great cup of coffee from. After some searching together with some cute boutique hotels, I wasn’t impressed – sorry Cornwall. So, I thought where else would I love to go, Bath – we’ve always wanted to go there, so why not now and suddenly like a flash I recalled that one of the cafes that I’ve always wanted to go in the UK, but never got the chance, was located there – Colonna & Smalls. Sold to the coffee lover!

Before visiting, what did I know about Colonna and Smalls ? Owned by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, two times UK barista champion, I had many times about his contribution to the UK coffee science, having read about him many times, mentioned by the coffee celebrities many times over. when my brother visited many months ago, he asked me “where should I go for coffee” and I only had one answer; “Colonna and Smalls”. Before visiting I sent Maxwell a tweet and he replied very quickly mentioning that he was looking forward to me visiting.

We got into Bath on a late Sunday afternoon and I found out that their shop was already closed. I found another cafe, ordered my flat white, which was nice and asked them where else they would recommend – there was only one answer and they were like”that’s another type of level” even though I knew that on Monday my first visit would be Colonna & Smalls. And so it was.

As you enter, it’s like you’ve waiting many years to enter this emporium – a homage to coffee. I’m not going to go into details about the decor, but just the experience; I had to ask this at the back of my mind “do people in Bath know how lucky they are to have this cafe in their city?”. As you walk to the back of the shop, there are books authored by Maxwell, his UK barista championship trophies and other trophies awarded to his staff, who are also well decorated (see their website for more, UK latte art champion, etc).


As you walk towards the brightly lit back of the shop, where all the action is located – there’s this oozing calm and air of professionalism, rarely found in other cafes – they are not here just to sell coffee but to make sure you have a great experience too.

Now the techie part.

First I noticed that all their coffee beans were pre-weighed in little metal looking bowls


Then I noticed that there was no “typical” espresso grinder in place. What’s going on?

The Mahl Konig EK43 – something I have only really seen at cafes when they grind for filter coffee.

I must confess, it was until I got back to Vienna and delved into the story of the EK43 in James Hoffmann book about his blog,  did I know about the issue concerning using the EK43 for grinding for espresso. It was really talked up and propagated a few years back by espresso/coffee guru Ben Kaminsky and even Prufrock were very excited about it, read here

In summary the debate says that using the EK43 (not built for grinding for espresso but ideally for spices and perhaps for filter coffee) not only minimises waste because you grind per cup but also that it grinds very evenly with little differentiation in grind size – this means that you can even lower the amount of coffee you use – they use about 16.5g as opposed to the industry average of 18-20g (I usually ask) which should result in a better tasting espresso. After all, most coffee aficionado fell in love with coffee through the espresso. In any case, there’s a few top cafes who were converted to do this avant garde way of grinding and hence brewing coffee and of course Maxwell is one of them.

Second, it was great to actually meet Maxwell himself. Usually when you visit emporiums of coffee, the owner or main driver is always not around, tending to some other business or on holiday – the one exception was Cameron of Flat White many moons ago. He was very welcoming and we talked about coffee (of course), their philosophy – they usually offer about three coffees per brew type; filter and espresso, where you can be guided by taste profiles. They try and source the best coffee that fits their preferences, so for example, surprise surprise for me, they roast for capsules – yes, you read that right. You can buy nespresso capsules roasted by one of the finest coffee roasters in the UK – I bought a box of 10 for my brother who has a nespresso machine. As they roast their own coffee in a town outside Bath, they can easily experiment with taste profiles for many styles – visit their “other” website for more about their coffee, see here. If you visit there are quite a lot of their coffees on sale and feel free to ask them for guidance. They even have a booklet on explaining their coffees and brewing methods.

and the coffee….

I opted for a flat white with a fruity profile – well balanced even with the milk, reminded me of hints of toffee like my coffee had evaporated milk added. On my second visit I went for a more “nutty” profile. I was really intrigued by their unique way of making Americanos but sadly I wasn’t able to make it – I thought it best to avoid the wrath of my mum and wife as my plan was to make colonna and smalls my last stop before catching the train back to London, but alas for next time God willing.

One more techie thing – the mod bar. I actually missed this new innovative way of brewing espresso because on my first visit I was so excited to meet with Maxwell, I didn’t go behind the bar to check what type of espresso brewing equipment they were using. On the second visit, as I had more time, I relaxed and had time to chat to the baristi and then I was introduced to the mod bar – short for modular brewing system.


In summary and borrowing from their website, it’s

espresso system consists of one espresso tap and one espresso module

Each Espresso Module controls one tap. Retailers have an opportunity to dial each Espresso Module to fit a different coffee. And they have options galore in how they fit the Modules to their retail set-up.

From what I saw, it looks fabulous – it’s like the next level of brewing espresso, where you can change the profiles using a button or touch screen per group head – state of the art – even though I am aware that the Slayer Espresso machine can do this provided that you are a very talented barista. At Colonna all the baristi have some kind of award so the skills are there but the fact that the mod bar group asked them to test it means something too.

As I left, I fell like a boy being dragged out of a toy shop, but I was after all in Bath to see other things and spend precious time with my family.

One more thing. It was really impressive to watch the barista prepare aeropress. He poured the freshly ground coffee into the aeropress capsule, poured a little bit of water, shook it around vigorously but carefully and as he did it, it bloomed and doubled in height, after which he poured more water, covered it and waited for it to complete the brewing process. I wished I filmed it so you can see what I meant, but it was really impressive.

Highly recommended – If you are looking for a beautiful city to visit in England and enjoy exceptional coffee and more, check them out at

Colonna & Smalls

6 Chapel Row, Bath,  UK.

My next post will be on drinking coffee in Bath – a beautiful city with tons of coffee culture.

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Coffee: The rule is, there is no rule


I know that sounds like a paradox and I’m sure some of my followers are like “what is he talking about” For many years, Lameen, that’s my real name – has been saying adhere to the golden rules – measurement, temperature and volume, to name a few. BUT, the main reason I’m writing this, is that occasionally I’ve strutted into a place to dictate how my coffee should be made, and on more than one occasion this year, I’ve been pleasantly stunned by coffee served to me without the rules I hold dear.

Don’t teach an old dog new tricks with Espresso

That’s the pic at the top of the blog. So, after not having espresso for about 5 days, I strutted into the airport lounge and spotting an espresso machine, asked for one naturally. As soon as the barista started making the espresso, I said “la!” i.e. no in Arabic and asked if I could make it. So, I clean the very filthy group head, flush it and ask for the coffee. To my horror, it’s pre-ground espresso, stored in a drawer and although there’s air condition inside, it’s like 40C outside. For a coffee geek like me, my mind is “oh no the moisture, the crazy unstable temperature will affect the coffee, which has already been pre-ground and for how long has it been pre-ground”. Resigned, I’m like, okay, here’s how to tamp. I attempt to tamp with wait for it,  the bottom of the glass, because the tamper is not large enough to cover the porta filter “aargh!” – this means that although some of the coffee will be pressed, the coffee on the border will not. OK!, so I now attempt to make an espresso – flush the group head and place my porta filter inside the group head and brew – what a disaster – the coffee is all over the place and the coffee resembles…. I’d rather pass.

The barista and his colleagues detecting deep disappointment on my face, then resorts to pull an espresso for me – I watch him and the only thing he does differently, which makes me feel happy, is that he cleans and flushes the grouphead before he pulls the shot and guess what – it looked a lot better than my attempt. So, how did he break the rules;

  • he used pre-ground espresso, as opposed to grinding on the spot
  • he didn’t measure the coffee, as opposed to using about 18-22 g for a double
  • he didn’t really tamp, as opposed to the rule of 30 pounds of pressure
  • the espresso machine was really hot – I’d guess close to 100C, as opposed to about 93-94.5 C

And that’s what I could see. So how did it taste. Not bad and above my expectations given the rule breakers. So, to conclude, the rules were broken but a decent shot ensured.

 

Never buy pre-ground coffee

Okay, on this occasion, the coffee was bought for me. Whenever my colleagues travel and buy coffee, they bring it back for me to brew and serve them, which I try and do every Friday when I’m not busy – a rare scenario of late. If ever they ask me “whole beans or ground” I always answer, “whole beans”. On this occasion, a colleague brought me this bag from Kenya, apologising for having not brought back beans. I casually looked at the bag, Java House , Kenyan AA arabica, which looked well presented and was even more taken aback by the tasting notes of grapefruit, blackcurrant and lively. Again, sceptical I brewed it using my french press recipe of 60g to one litre of 95C water. Wow! guess what? There was a bloom on top of the coffee (a sign of fairly fresh coffee) and more importantly of all, I tasted a grapefruit acidity with a hint of blackcurrant. 


Okay, so that rule was broken.

 

Espresso is always brewed at 9 bar pressure for about 22-25 seconds

So, just this week, after Ramadan, I headed to my fave cafe in Vienna, Balthasar to check out their new espresso machine a Slayer Espresso machine. Otto, the owner, had been telling me for months that it was coming and he was so excited. In fact when I met him on Wednesday, I should have interviewed him as he relayed to me for about 4 minutes what the slayer could do. The gist was that you can brew at different bar pressures and for as long as you want, so I ordered a fruity espresso. In short to get a fruity espresso, it is brewed at 3, then 9 and then 3 bars of pressure over about a minute !!! what ? Usually, espresso is brewed at 9 bars of pressure for about 22-25 seconds with about 18-22 grammes of freshly ground coffee yielding about 25-30ml of espresso.

 So, what has changed ? The whole game with this type of espresso machine – the rule is, there is no rule, because you can now brew espresso how you like, like a recipe ordered to your preference “fruity, nutty, low acidity, high acidity….?” carry on.


 A really fruity cup with over medium acidity.

 

Just one more thing

Well! I’ve got to redeem myself somehow – we can’t just give up on the rules, ion not there’ll be anarchy.

So, as a prelude to my first experience, way back in January this year. I ordered a cappuccino at a top hotel in Zimbabwe (Meikles) because I spotted a La Marzocco GB5 machine, BUT. Watching the barista, I saw he used pre-ground espresso coffee, didn’t flush the group head, didn’t clean the group head, didn’t tamp with any real pressure, didn’t measure the coffee systematically, frothed a foam mountain and didn’t appreciate the kind of machine he was using. So, I stepped in and he was so willing to learn but on this occasion I didn’t touch the machine – I just guided him from across the counter. In the end, I got a good cup, with thick crema and although no latte art was present, it was along the lines.

 

To top it off, the barista was excited by what he had just learned, he was going to access youtube to learn more skills and watch latte art being poured. Yay! a job well done.

So, yes sometimes the rules can be broken and you may succeed but in general, adhere to and know the rules before you tamper (sic) with them.

 


Thanks @ Hackney Coffee Company for a Friendly Coffee

  

 Thanks to Jon Penn, co-founder of Hackney Coffee Company, located on 499 Hackney Road, London for reaching out to me through Instagram and sending me a bag of delicious Nicaragua Nuevo Segouia Catuai, natural dried arabica coffee.

About the coffee, the taste profile is advertised as rum, raisin and cascara tea. I can’t say for sure that I picked up those exact profiles, except for the cascara tea, when I tested it cold, leaving the coffee fro about 20 minutes. What I picked up was dried berries, like cherry, a fruity burst, medium acidity, well balanced and on calling dark chocolate.

   
  My colleague, an expert wine taster actually described it as a

Friendly coffee

By that, he meant, well balanced, pleasant to drink, raspberries, medium acidity and well balanced.

A pleasant cup.

On brewing method, I tried it out using an aeropress, but I must confess I loved it better using a Hario V60. This is where I was able to pick up a high tasting notes. In fact I liked this coffee so much, that I visited their website to try and order it, but form what I gather, they don’t have an online shop yet.

  
so, if ya down in East London, go grab a cuppa at Hackney Coffee Company, mate – sorry couldn’t help myself in putting a typical cockney accent.


Making Espresso: Take 2, The Serious Edit

  
Ok, so, let’s go into more detail on making espresso – let’s slow it down and take it step by step. For this, I’m going back to the origins of espresso. As espresso is an Italian mainstay, let’s check out what they say about making espresso. In summary, the Italians refer to  the 5 Ms when making espresso –

Mescla (coffee type or blend),

Machina (the type of coffee machine),

Machinadosatore (the grinder that grinds the coffee),

Mesura (the grammes of coffee used per espresso shot) and

Mano (the hand of the barista)

So, for me this means…

Mescla – I’m using an espresso blend from a recent Colombia Cup of Excellence lot, so it’s expensive, but the most important point is that it should be a coffee roasted for brewing espresso. Some professionals, brew using different blends, but for the vast majority, an espresso blend is used.

Machina – I’m using my newish espresso prosumer (a merge between professional and consumer) machine, a Profitec700, dual boiler machine with a rotary pump and a PID (i.e. I can change the temperature of the espresso boiler) and a whole lot more, but let’s say it costs more than $2,000.

Machinadosatore – I’m using a top of the range prosumer espresso grinder, a Macap M4D, yes, a grinder just for espresso

Mesura – I’m using approximately 18 grammes of freshly ground coffee for a double espresso. Most experts recommend always brewing a double shot – a single just doesn’t taste the same.

Mano – Well, mine of course – I will never participate in a Barista competition, but I’ve been making espresso, practically almost everyday since 2007, so I think I have a good idea how to make espresso.

Next, the process;

  1. Make sure your espresso machine is warm enough – mine’s is set to 93C and takes about 7 minutes to warm up.
  2. Pour your beans into the bean hopper of your espresso grinder and grind away.
  3. Make sure the setting is correct, whereby previously you checked that when you grind the beans, approximately 45ml of coffee comes out in 20-28 seconds – if it doesn’t, then keep playing around, trying not to waste too much coffee.
  4. Grind your beans right into the portafilter
  5. Flatten the ground coffee. Tamp with about 30 pounds or pressure
  6. Let water run through the espresso machine for about 5-9 seconds
  7. Then place into the portafilter into brew holder
  8. Extract your espresso
  9. And hopefully what comes out, is espresso. Too watery and coming out after 2 seconds, the grind is too loose, tighten it, so that if your grinder is set on 8, move it closer to 7, like on mine and try again
  10. If the coffee starts coming out after 10 seconds, the grind is too fine and coffee will be over extracted, bitterness.
  11. So keep playing around until you get that sweet spot – I must confess it is a lot of hit and miss, and can be quite expensive, excluding the cost of the machine and grinder (together over Euro2,000), but the beans, especially if you’re like me and buy really expensive stuff.

and here’s the video…


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.


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.

IMG_4399

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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I’m Drinking… Has Bean Coffees

Almost upon arrival back in Europe, I was already on the search for great speciality coffee and decided to scan the sites of my popular roasters. In the end, after reviewing countless coffees on the http://www.hasbean.co.uk site, I opted for 3.

Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Wote (Washed)

Well! I have a fond palate weakness for Yirgacheffe coffees and this was actually the first one on my list and the first one I tasted naturally. In general, Yirgacheffe coffees tend to be quite aromatic and floral in taste with an underlying acidity and this was no exception. Using the inverted Aeropress method, a light grapefuit acidity could easily be detected, winning over the more citrus lemony aspects of the coffee. However, on using the Hario V60, a burst of sour lemon dominated the sweetish grapefuit acidity element of the coffee, making me select this coffee for my after dinner drink using the Aeropress method.

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Pacamara Natural “Funky” 201

 

Wow! what a mouthful and boy was it one. Steve of Has Bean describes this coffee as “strawberry angel delight…. and mad as a hatter”. I’ll confess, I wasn’t picking up the strawberry delight, but I don’t even know what I was picking up, so I agree with Steve on the “Mad Hatter” description. The taste notes were jumping up and down on my tongue, making it one of the most exciting coffees I’ve had a for a while. I just couldn’t pin it down and it’s one of those coffees you just have to try. Never put milk in it, more exciting on the Hario V60 and one to make you forget about your problems at the end of the day – it has a creamy chunky mouthfeel with huge body (more so on the V60 than aeropress). I’ve got to mention that these arabica beans are humongous – just looking at them, made me laugh – twice in size as the Yirgacheffe – they are the bigger ones in the cup at the top of the post on the right.

And Finally…

Phil ter Filter Blend (using 50% El Salvador Finca Santa Petrona Red Bourbon, 30% Nicaragua Escondida and 20% El Salvador Montserrat Washed)

I selected this blend because I was intrigued by the concept of a blend for filter machines, plus I needed beans for the afternoon and could only use a Filter machine, so I thought, “why not ?”. My former colleagues were like “here’s the coffee man, so what’s brewing?”. I knew that using the V60 or the aeropress would be time consuming, so this fitted the build, so to speak. The Filter method traditionally rinses out the more delicate methods in the coffee, so we were limited to the darker side with hints of brazil nuts, dark berries and cocoa. Nevertheless, a good pick me up coffee in the afternoon ahead of long meetings.