I’ve Been Drinking… lots of Coffee

Bags of Coffee 

I’ve been a bit lazy with this category, where I share my latest coffee bean experience with you – so I’m going to give you a snapshot of what I’ve been drinking over the last 2 months and promise to keep you up to date with my latest taste adventures.

First up is a Rwandan Musasa, which I bought from Origins Coffee Roasting, Cape Town, back in February 2008.

Rwandan Musasa 

It was quite nice as an espresso, rich, dark and …. handsome (to the taste buds that is). I found it earthy/chocolatey and a smell of it, reminded me of Africa. So it was quite true to its name. I also got on that trip an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe as they didn’t have my favourite Ethiopian Sidamo. The Yirgacheffe was what I call typical African – bold and earthy, nice for Cafetiere and I couldn’t resist the temptation to make a portion in my bodum Cafetiere and shoot it in a newly bought “African” coffee cup, which I bought in Zimbabwe.

African Coffee

On my way back from that trip to Africa, I got to stop over in London and rushed on over to my favourite roaster, HR Higgins, where sadly enough they didn’t have Indian Malabar Monsooned but I was tempted to try their Brazilian Bourbon, which I can tell you has been added to my favourite list for espresso. Delightful ! It’s quite smooth as an espresso and has that Italian feel – I seem to recall reading somewhere that Italians use a lot of Brazilian arabica coffee beans in their espresso blends. As I usually drink espresso at night and wasn’t able to get a good shot of a rich and smooth espresso due to bad lighting, I can only share with you, a snapshot of the coffee bag below.

HR Brazilian Bourbon 

In any case that basically summarizes the main highlights of my taste adventures for now. Of course I’ve also been drinking lots of other coffee but I just wanted to focus on the main discoveries.


How Can You Tell if Your Beans are FRESH ?

I’m not sure about you, but sometimes when you go to a cafe or speciality coffee shop to buy coffee, when you ask, “Are your coffee beans fresh ?”, you will always get an answer of “Yes ! of course”. However, as most of us are not expert coffee sniffers – those who can see or smell a handful of coffee beans and know instantly whether it is fresh, not to mention that in most places, the beans are already packed neatly in a bag, so there’s no way for you to even see or smell the beans, then you just have to trust the retailer until you get home – and this is where I can share some advice with you. As a first test, look at the pictures below – can you guess which ones are fresh and which ones are not ?

Old to Fresh

 fresh to old

OK ! the colour in these pictures may give you a clue, but to save you from agony, the prominent beans in the first picture are actually very old – like over a year – ideal for taking pictures but not to drink. The prominent beans in the second picture are fresher. However, in some cases this might not be the best way to judge the freshness of your bean, because as you know by now (I am assuming you have been reading my website and blog) – some coffee beans are roasted darker than others. OK ! for the next test. From what I’ve read, as soon as you freshly grind your coffee beans and prepare it in the manner that you prefer, you will see some obvious signs of freshness. For espresso, it can be quite obvious – fresh coffee beans, just roasted and prepared properly and extracted will show coffee coming out like it is full of crema, like the picture below.

 Extracting Fresh

So if you watch your espresso being prepared, it should not fall into your cup looking like dark coffee, but like crema/light brown. It obviously changes when it hits the cup and mixes with the air. There’s a lot of science to do with this, but as I’ve been through the agony of reading literally tons of pages on this, I will just simplfy it for you “fresh coffee should come out like crema when extracting for espresso”. For other types of coffee, like cafetiere, when you pour it into the beaker and stir, there should be a bubbly dark cloud on top – I promise to get a picture of this for you but my camera is currently broken, so for next time God willing !

For some very aromatic coffees like the Indian Malabar Moonsooned or Central American coffees, you will obviously be able to judge by the wonderful aroma too. In any case, if you get home and don’t see these signs not just for the first time, but over the course of the week of drinking that particular coffee, then chances are the coffee isn’t very fresh at all. Good luck !

Buying Coffee in London – Part 2

After a wonderful flat white and espresso at Flat White coffee shop, London (more on that to follow on another post), I made my way to Monmouth Coffee shop, but on my way there, I stumbled across another coffee specialist store, Algerian Coffee Stores on 52 Old Compton Street, in the heart of Soho. They too feature in Hattie Ellis’s book. However, Algerian Coffee Stores have been in the business for 120 years and offer a choice of over 80 coffees – Wow ! that sounds impressive.  You can buy coffee, coffee equipment, a selection of over 120 teas and even drink coffee there too in their smallish but quaint shop. From what I saw, they tend to favour a full roast, i.e. dark to very dark, where you can see the oils on top of the coffee bean. As I was in a rush – had to meet the wife for some shopping – I quickly asked for a recommendation for espresso and bought their Cafe Torino blend of very dark Colombian and full roast Ethiopian. On my return to Vienna, I tried this first out of the 5 bags of coffee from other stores. I think it’s the first time since using my flashy espresso machine that my espresso has been bitter – almost with a tobacco flavour – the espresso is dark but the coffee works better with me for milk based drinks to hide a bit of the bitterness. I also had a bit of a problem with getting the grind right, moving the dial to a finer grind away from my normal setting for espresso, which meant some beans had to be sacrificed to get the right grind for an espresso pour.  I’m sure there’s an expert out there that can explain this unusual (for me) phenomenon. However, I am optimisitc of trying coffee from them again, especially with their history. I also found out from their website that they have 19 blends and what I bought was not the best type for espresso. You can also order coffee and other stuff from Algerian Coffee Stores through their internet shop (www.algcoffee.co.uk)  and I am tempted to try them once more. I suggest that if you have time, you should try them out. 

Buying Coffee in London – Part 1

Just back from an exciting short trip to London, where I found two new places to buy coffee from. Thanks in part to breezing through the back of Hattie Ellis’ book on coffee, “Coffee – Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying“, I made a dash for HR Higgins (Coffee Man) on 79 Duke Street, by the posh end of Oxford Street, near the world famous Selfridges Store. Prior to visiting, I had e-mailed them, to ask about the freshness of their coffee, which they confirmed was roasted fresh by themselves and delivered twice a week to their shop. Their shop looks very traditional, but they do have one of those priced stickers on their coffee bags, which highlights that Her Majesty the Queen of England has given them her blessings, so I’m guessing that they know what they are talking about, having been in the business since 1942. Well ! it was refreshing to speak “bean talk” (a new term from moi on asking about what beans are good for different types of coffee brewing) with the two very helpful shop assistants, trying to catch them out on how well they knew their beans from their beanos (an old English comic). I often find that when you visit some coffee shops, staff don’t know what they are selling, which can be a bit frustrating to people like me wanting to broaden our coffee horizons. So, its refreshing when you meet people who know and can advise you on what to try, and as I am a variety type of man when it comes to food and coffee, I rarely try the same stuff –  Monmouth’s Organic Espresso Blend and Origins of Cape Town’s Organic Sidamo are the exceptions. After a bit of a tug of war, I settled for Indian Malabar, as I have been a bit reluctant to try an Indian arabica. I also wanted something with Costa Rica in it, so I got a Santiago Blend, which is made up of beans from Costa Rica Tarrazu and Colombia Supremo. I’ll let you know what it tastes like God willing !  

Oh ! Sidamo

Sidamo – Coffee from the southern region of Ethiopia, and according to some the very spot where coffee was discovered. Sidamo coffee beans look a bit unusual, with a whiteish line going through the middle of the bean even after being roasted. I got my latest bag of freshly roasted organic Sidamo coffee beans from my favourite coffee shop, Origin Coffee Roasting in Cape Town, almost 10,000 miles away, during my last trip down to South Africa.

Origins Sidamo 

The way it was roasted and eventually prepared by me for my daily morning dose of Cappuccino reminded my lips and taste buds of caramel/chocolately overtones. That’s my impression and “true to the bone” (slang: for gut feel) feeling, however, I am aware that some experts and websites classify Sidamo as a coffee with a floral essence – who am I to argue ? However, lots of things come into play here just to make our lives more complicated – the type of milk, the water, the type of roast (Origin Coffee don’t dark roast their Sidamo beans until the oils begin to settle on the bean), plus when milk is frothed it becomes sweet and caramelly like. Enough ramblings and justification for my tongue. Anyway, it’s all over now as I just finished the 250g bag in under 2 weeks of course, but don’t know where and when I’ll get another lovely bag of organic Sidamo beans – Oh ! Sidamo, Oh ! Sidamo……… As you can guess, Sidamo comes highly recommended by moi. Look out for it in gourmet coffee shops. As with the majority of African Coffees (yes ! Ethiopia is in Africa for those who skipped geography lessons), which tend to be bold and “strong”, you will get a good taste using a French Press or Cafetiere. Enjoy !

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