Category Archives: Thoughts

Here’s to 2017


If you’ve been following me for 10 years, then you’ll know that….. drum roll,  2017 will mark the 10 year anniversary of fromcoffeewithlove.com  – time really flies when you’ve fallen in love with coffee, been drinking it with scrutiny and writing about your experience, phew!


It all started when I decided to delve back into my roots to be of service and how I had wanted to start a coffee shop some day but then found out that I didn’t know anything about coffee. So, I started reading about it, making the coffee geek.com my fave website. It was so fascinating that there was so much about a bean and how to get the best out of it. Then came the movement – the launch of cafe culture – an annual London coffee fair, where I met soon to be WBC champ, Jim Hoffmann and others – the bug had bitten me – I wanted more and then I started thinking about the whole idea of coffee.

And having amassed a whole lot of what I thought back then was knowledge about coffee , I thought, I’ve got to share this with as many people as possible, so they don’t get conned into paying for rubbish coffee.

I recall with excitement how I started the blog – the concept of the drink of the escapist – sipping a drink made with berries grown in some exotic land, dried and shipped mainly to Europe to be roasted and sold to cafes. The whole concept really intrigued me and that’s why when I had a caffe, it was called, Escape Caffe. I used the Italian word for coffee because like it or not, it was the Italians who having brought the drink to Europe through Sicily made people intrigued by the concept of frothed milk with a strong tasting coffee, espresso and its brothers and sisters, cappuccino and latte.

So, to mark this special year, I promise

  • to try and blog more
  • go down memory lane with some pics
  • to try and blog about other things related to coffee
  • to give away some coffee during the anniversary month – hint, it will be in August 2017
  • to try and blog about cafes differently
  • investigate the possibility of writing a book based on my blog
  • dream more

So, here’s to a special date 17.01.17 – the year of 7s – a special number with generations gone by and the original number for a single espresso, 7 grammes.

Live is too short to drink bad coffee.

 


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.

 


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.


CNN and Vienna Coffee

 

OK! so you may already know that I was featured in a recent article on CNNs website about 8 of the World’s coffee great drinking cities see link here http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/04/travel/best-coffee-cities/

I’ve got to add that I’m grateful for the coverage to Sarah Reid, the author of the article. However, I wrote a lot more about drinking coffee in Vienna including recommending a few other places. I’m glad that Caffe Couture and Essenti were on the list, BUT the one major omission was the Vienna School of Coffee – a must for serious coffee snobs in Vienna. I wrote about it in December 2012 but although it’s only opened on Saturdays to the public, its still a must for anyone visiting Vienna or living in Vienna.  

I promise a blog on Essenti very soon, as that’s the only place I haven’t blogged about yet.


So, Do I still Love ?

20140303-221322.jpg

Oh dear what a gap of 4 months. I’m sorry for taking so long to write about coffee and in all honesty, I don’t have an excuse. To come clean, It’s not like I’ve been working on some major project, or that I broke a leg or something similar, it’s just that I’ve been distracted somewhat. When I think about writing about a new experience or to sharing something on my blog,  I get distracted with something else, so, it’s just been a lack of dedication.

But of course, that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on you and coffee. I’ve been busy, as those who follow me on twitter and Instagram know, on the social media scene, which has changed quite a bit. But nevertheless I’ve missed writing on my blog. After all, it’s the easiest place to share what I’ve been drinking, or what I’ve discovered, etc. So I promise in 2014 (2 months have flown away already) to share more on my blog.

Wish me luck and see you very soon.

From Coffee With Love


I’m Blending….

I'm Blending: The Beans by Lameen
I’m Blending: The Beans a photo by Lameen on Flickr.

I’m blending, yipee ! But what exactly does that mean ? In summary, it means that I’ve got my experimental hat on again. Having changed my coffee bean roaster at my caffe, Escape Caffe, I’ve started sourcing beans from another roaster but this time I’m sourcing single estate coffees from different regions of the World. I’m experimenting because part of my character loves change and getting to understand things from the bottom right up. Have I lost you ? It means that I want to understand what makes a good espresso blend. So, I’ve been trying to build up on my basic knowledge of taste profiles.

In general, and I wish to emphasize, GENERAL, most coffee roasters have a formula for blending coffee for espresso preparation, which goes as follows:

A Brazilian for BODY,

a Central American for ACIDITY and an

Ethiopian for natural SWEETNESS.

One of your main goals in blending should always be to get a BALANCE, as you don’t want one coffee taste to dominate. In principle, very high quality or distinctive coffees (lots of black fruit juiciness, acidity and boldness/heaviness) are seldom used in blending for espresso. WHY ? Because they will dominate the blend. Think of it like making a soup/stew – if you cook – you don’t want to put lots of chillies in with subtle tastes like basil, as you will kill the basil taste with hot and fiery chilli. This is one reason why you won’t see Kenyan coffees in espresso blends. I can’t imagine blackberries tasting sweet if exposed to a harsh preparation process.

OK! what do we mean by BODY in the case of Brazilian arabica coffees ? We mean body as in the density of the liquid. IOf you taste/drink lots of good coffee, then you will know that some coffees taste light. Sure, they are both liquids, but orange juice does not have the same texture/body as apple juice.

Now, ACIDITY. I’ve spoken at this at great length before, so won’t go in to it too much, but in summary, it’s detected by the sharpness in taste when you drink coffee, resonate of citrus fruit. So, when you blend, although essential to round off the taste around your tongue, you don’t want it to dominate either, if not it could confuse your tongue with sourness. After all, orange juice and mlik (think of a cappuccino) don’t look nor taste nice together. Personally, I’m not in favour of medium to high acidity in espresso based drinks.

Finally, SWEETNESS. Very essential for coffee and to dispel the misconception that coffee is only sweet when you add sugar. However, by sweetness, we don’t mean sugary sweet, but more like natural sweetness, such as the type found predominantly in honey and sometimes elevated in dried fruit like dates, raisins and figs.

So, what are you looking for ? As the coffee roasters rule – and yes they do, as they control what you taste and more often than not, they roast the way they like coffee to taste – you are looking for a coffee that has a nut like character, with a hint of chocolate (and sometimes cocoa, because most people love the cocoa family) with natural sweetness wrapped around your tongue, well balanced and with medium acidity and a lingering finish. Wow ! what a mouthfull, quite literally.

For nuts, think almonds, hazelnuts and macadamia (if you are lucky) and more specifically BRASIL.

For hints of cocoa, toffee, subtle citrus fruitiness, think Central America, like COSTA RICA, GUATEMALA.

For honey like sweetness and sometimes hints of red berries think ETHIOPIA.

If you favour spices like vanilla (hard to get), cinnamon, etc then in general look to the East like INDONESIA, INDIA, PAPUA NEW GUINEA.

BUT, of course, coffee is a lot more complicated than this, so sometimes the basic rules above can be broken by sourcing coffee from a very high quality single estate farm, roasted by a very experienced cupping and roasting master.

I also don’t want to get into the wet-processed and naturally dried process of coffee as these too affect tastes and how you blend, but in general, a lot of top roasters seems to be ignoring naturally dried coffee when blending. Some also use just Central American coffees in their espresso blends. Personally, my ideal espresso would have hints of almonds, vanilla, caramel, buttery toffee, dried figs, medium to low acidity, balance, smoothness and lingering taste. Fussy ? Yes I am. I sometimes get this from drinking Square Mile Coffee Espresso blends and just this morning from Verve Coffee Roasters (my next post God willing).

 

So what did I experiment with ? First up I used a Brasilian for body, a Malawian for bursting chocolate and a Cup of Excellence Guatemalan for acidity, sweetness and for balance. The result, a bit mellow, easy to drink and favoured by most.

Next up, I tried just two coffees, the Brazilian and the Guatemalan COE. The result, bursting with energy, toffee, caramel and customers saying “Wow! what coffee is this, can you get more ?”

And so for my next experiment…….


Me & My Aeropress

Sometimes, I’m quick to pick up on things and sometimes, I’m not, like when the CD player came out in the 1980’s. Back then and well into the 1990s, I was really into music and even contemplated becoming a DJ (hard to believe for those who know me, but true – i even had a stage name) but I was an ardent vinyl collector and loved the vinyl sound, so, I refused to succumb and buy a CD player, but eventually I gave in. So, I confess being the victim of my own snobbishness, when I first read about the Aerobie AeroPress on coffeegeek.com years back. But on this occasion, I have 2 excuses – the labeling on the original aeropress package advertising it as an espresso maker and the not very favourable review of the aeropress on coffeegeek.com. Of course I was confused, after reading all that stuff about what espresso is and isn’t and then, out comes this plastic looking contraption trying to change the rules. Fast forward, and hey presto, the aeropress is big news the world of coffee over. Hmm ! should I give it another chance ? But, of course, if all the people I respect in coffee are going on and on about it, so I did.

First up, I’m happy that they don’t advertise the aeropress as an espresso maker, but they do have the other claim “the best coffee maker you’ll ever own” (not on the UK packaging, which has pics of James Hoffman and Gwilym Davies). That leads to my second point, “REALLY !!!” the best coffee maker you’ll ever own ?” – well ! that’s if you don’t own a La Marzocco, a Synesso, a Slayer – you get my point. BUT I do have to confess, using the aeropress in my way was a taste opener.

I was really excited when I got my first aeropress, but I have to confess, when I prepared coffee following the instructions in the leaflet, I thought “is that it?”. So, over the last few months, I’ve developed my own way of preparing it, which I find quite delicious, especially for my last cup of coffee of the day. So, how do I do it…

FIRST – Boil the kettle. After which, place the micro filter into the chamber & twist into place and place about 100ml of cold water and let it drip through into a container – I find a 600ml milk frothing jug the best.

SECOND – As soon as the water has boiled, pour up to “4” on the plunger. Let it rest for about 2-3 minutes. You don’t want to use boiling water, but just off the boil. You can check the temperature if you want, but between 85C to 90C is ideal.

THIRD – Measure 20g of coffee and pour into your grinder.

FOURTH – Discard the water that went through your micro filter in STEP 1 above.

FIFTH – Grind your coffee and place into the chamber. I grind slightly finer than for a French Press and not the recommended “espresso grind” on the instructions.

SIXTH – Pour your hottish water into the chamber in a circular motion so that the hot water touches all the freshly ground coffee. You will see a bloom coming to the top (see pic above). COUNT TO 10 SECONDS and press the plunger through the chamber with coffee and hot water gently BUT firmly.

SEVENTH – Enjoy, either with half a spoon of demerara/brown sugar or alone.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ? I didn’t stir the coffee with the paddle and I didn’t take more than 20 seconds to brew.

WHAT’S THE GENERAL TASTE PROFILE ? a light aroma and taste, clear with medium to low acidity detected on your tongue, natural sweetness, usually with soft citrus and light caramel taste – I’ve just finished one as I write this.

OK! I hear some coffee connoisseurs screaming “how can the brew method alter the acidity ?” Well ! It does, is the simple answer. To test this, I confess that I usually brew using Espresso Lab (Cape Town’s top roaster) beans, where they source top arabica beans (Serra do Bone is Intelligentsia Black Cat Organic) and they roast more to bring out the fruitiness in coffee, as opposed to dark. Fine, but when I went to Prufrock, Gwilym gave me Square Mile Coffee Roaster’s Tanzanian Blackburn Estate coffee and the Bolivian Colonia San Juan 8 Estrellas. On the latter, it was still a light taste, but with the Blackburn Estate (great for a morning cuppa as it was heavier) although it was bolder, it still had that refreshing lightish taste.

I’ve tried the invert process (basically, do it upside down, and place the filter at the end to press through, see below), favoured by Mark Prince of Coffeegeek, but I wasn’t impressed with the taste profile, I got, so I’m still stuck to my way.

BRAG OF THE POST: I was pleasantly surprised to be asked by Gwilym how I prepared my aeropress coffee and after summarizing the above method, I was pleased to learn that we share the same method, yipee.

One more confession from the aeropress is that I find it still brings out a reasonable taste from old beans (i.e. roasted longer than 4 weeks ago). I know this, because although there’s tons of coffee at my caffe (escape caffe), I find myself scouting around my home for coffee and I’ve got to have that aeropress at night, and finding something roasted over month ago, still works in the aeropress for me.

Enjoy !