I’m Drinking a Grand Reserve Coffee

Yes ! A Grand Reserve coffee – a speciality from top coffee grower, Aida Battle, supposed to be a special blend of coffees from her farm in El Salvador. Fruity and intense, yet complex and medium balanced on the acidity. Have I lost you ? If you’re an expert, then you probably want more, but I’ll just keep it simple for now. This particular batch was roasted by top roasters, Square Mile Coffee Roasters (SMCR) no less and if you have been an avid reader of my blog, you’ll know that I used to be a regular customer of SMCR -that is until I moved to Cape Town. So, how did I get my hands on this special coffee ? Only God could have made this possible but here’s the story behind it. I walk into one of my favourite cafes in Cape Town, Espresso Lab in Woodstock, get chatting to owner/roaster, Renato and spot the famous label bag on the shelf and asked how he managed to get a bag down here in Cape Town – “ordered through the internet of course”. But having read about the coffee on SMCR website a few weeks bag, I knew that it was really special with a real special price too, at about £22 (or $33 or 242 Rands) per 350g bag. Probably spotting the delight in my eye, Renato offered me a precious 40g free of charge, enough to make one French Press and one double espresso portions – thank you God.

You can’t imagine the excitement when I got home – I read about this coffee, grown by one of the top coffee growers in the World, roasted by one of the best coffee roasters in the World, unable to order it all the way from London because of the costs and here it was in my kitchen, ready to be prepared the way I love coffee, French Press and double espresso. OK ! Let’s get to work but be warned, as this is so special, I was inspired to focus on trying to capture the coffee as best as I could on photo, so that I could share the experience with you. I’ve already described the taste profile at the top of this blog, so don’t expect too much emphasis on taste profile, just enjoy the pics and dream.

First up, Le French Press. OK ! with this type of preparation, the fruity elements tend to dominate – very balanced as an afternoon cup after a light lunch, going down smoothly.

I was tempted to just drink the coffee as a double espresso to really experience it as a concentrate but there was a part of me saying “what would it be like with milk?” So, I went for a Cortado – a what ? It’s currently my favourite milk based drink, a Spanish version of a cappuccino, but with less milk, so you use about the same portions of milk as espresso, using a 150ml cup – so strictly speaking, a double shot espresso at about 50-55ml with 50ml frothed milk, which would have a foam of about 20%.

Doesn’t it look yummy and inspirational ? with this type of extraction and preparation, I found the Grand Reserve not too acidic with a soft touch of milk chocolate coming through the milk. I wish I had done this blog sooner when the coffee was readily available and then I could have said buy it now from Square Mile Coffee Roasters but I just googled it and I think Sweet Maria’s in the USA roast it too, so if you are reading this in the US, try and get it before it runs out. Until then, dream and if it’s out again, I’ll try and let you know somehow.

South African National Barista Championships, And the Winner is..

Wow ! what a weekend. I’m really loving being here in Cape Town. Just last week, some new friends of mine invited me to the South African National Barista Championships, which incidentally were taking place in Cape Town from 26-28 March at the luxurious Table Bay Hotel on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. I’ve never been to one before and sadly I’ll be missing the World Barista Championships (WBC) this year, which will be taking place in London – typical eh ! just when I leave Europe, they finally have it on my doorstep. So how was the South African version ? It seemed a bit low key to me on the promo side, although I found out there were some important “coffee” VIPS in the room, but nevertheless the baristas and their fans/families were very committed, cheering the competitors all the ways, with loud screams of support everytime they extracted an espresso or poured some latte art. In summary, each barista has to make 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos and 4 signature drinks for the 4 tasting judges and they are tested by another 2 judges for preparation, checking many things such as wastage in coffee preparation. I also managed to get a free 1kg bag of freshly roasted coffee from one of the speciality roasters attending the event.

This years winner was Ishan Natalie, who also won the competition last year. Ishan works for Woolworths – which should not be confused with the same name shops in UK or USA. Woolworths is an upmarket supermarket store so committed to coffee that they purchased La Marzocco GB5s for their standard espresso machines. They’re supposed to have a really good coffee roaster called Tribeca, which supplies them with coffee, sourced primarily from Africa but also from Brazil and other places. So here are some pics of the event; First up, the winner pouring some latte art

And second the winning drink, a signature coffee drink made primarily with espresso, cream and whipped eggs – almost like an eggnog latte without the alcohol – cups were pretty cool and the presentation tops, especially as Ishan didn’t compromise on effects by mixing some concoction to create a smoking ice glass placed underneath the winning signature drinks.

So, Ishan will be representing South Africa at the WBC in London, scheduled to take place in the latter half of June 2010. I think it may be held during the Caffe Culture event, but I’ll try and keep you posted.

A Complex Espresso & A Refreshing Coffee

That’s the way I’d like to describe the coffees I got from Espresso Lab, Cape Town, when I visited a few weeks ago. Of course I drank them a while back, but these are just my notes on my experience. Actually, Espresso Lab describe their espresso blend as “a complex blend bringing out blackcurrant licorice and chocolate flavours with a snappy finish”, so I’m just agreeing with them. There’s no doubt it had a complex taste and I really got to taste the chocolate flavours with a snappy finish, but I can’t vouch for the blackcurrant one.

In any case, the espresso blend consists of arabic beans from Brazil, Costa Rica and Ethiopia, so it really is a blend, mixing three different regions. Yes ! Costa Rica is not in South America, but in Central America. For me, it still confirms that I really enjoy an espresso blend when it has Brazilian arabica beans added, so I was pleased with the espresso, when I got it right. And on that last note, I want to go back to the word “complex”. Using all the techniques of making espresso including timing the pour, this coffee rarely followed the rules. Yes ! out of a 250g bag, which equates to about 16 cups of coffee for me (I only drink double espressos and that happens twice a day and I am assuming 15g of coffee per double cup – complex isn’t it ?), and after adjusting for the 30ml of espresso in 25-28 seconds, I only got about 7 good espressos. Of course everytime the pour wasn’t consistent with the rules, I adjusted the settings, then it will work in the morning and not in the afternoon and vice versa, hmmmm ! I guess better luck next time and perhaps a bigger bag of 500g to do lots of tweaking until I get a pour right every other time. So enough of the rambling and on to the other coffee.

Sometimes it is said “after struggle comes ease” and so it was with their Rwandan blend. Initially, I bought this to satisfy my daily thirst for “real” coffee when I was in Cape Town, extracting it for French Press in the mornings and evenings, however, without proper scales to measure the exact dosage, I just thought “OK ! not bad”, however, on return to Vienna, I got the scales out and made it in my lovely Bodum Colombia and Wow ! what a difference. Who said tools don’t work ? It definitely did on this occasion because it was such a lovely brew and the one word that instantly came to mind was… “REFRESHING”. On tastes, I got the red berries and fruity flavours, which I think really make French press coffee wonderful for the palate.

Au revoir.

Impress Your Friends… Latte Art Twirl

I’m going to share a really “impress your friends” coffee recipe with you that should make your friends go “Wow ! you’re really good at this (insert your name here)”. OK ! first up, I’ve got to break it down to you… for purists, there’s a difference between LATTE ART and what some call LATTE ETCHING. Latte Art really means pouring your well frothed milk into your well extracted espresso and pouring it in a way that displays a design like a heart, flower or rosetta – you’ve seen many of these designs already on this blog – if you haven’t, scroll down, or check my “Art of Coffee” category or Flickr account. OK ! So what is etching then ? In summary, it means playing with the frothed milk by making designs with a tooth pick or tool. So to work then.

Assumptions, assumptions – I’m assuming that you know how to extract a good double espresso into a cappuccino cup and that you know how to froth milk properly – note on that, if you froth milk properly, it should be fairly quiet, so if you hear that loud frothing noise in a cafe, then prepare yourself for badly frothed milk with lots of air. So first up, after extracting espresso and well frothed milk, pour the milk into the espresso beneath the crema cloud, making sure that there is no sign of milk, saving the real frothy stuff. Now, spoon out the froth on top of the espresso cross ways.

Take a picture…. Now, get a tooth pick or wooden cake tester and place it right into the centre of the white cross

Now, I’m assuming you know how to draw, so quickly draw a circle outwards until you get to the edge of the cup and voila. You can even see on the stick the two tone colours, white and cappuccino brown.

Good luck and I hope to get a video of this up soon on my Vimeo account, God willing. Check this space.

I’m Drinking A Special Coffee…. Yemeni Mocha

Before I delve into the details of my current coffee experience, I thought that I’d give a very brief background on the coffee called Mocha. In short, the name Mocha comes from the old Yemeni port called al-Muka and was given to one of the first types of arabica coffees because it had…. mocca qualities. OK this isn’t a typo – by “mocca” I mean, chocolate like qualities. Tasting and drinking this type of coffee, provided that of course, it is made properly, should remind you of chocolate and it is no surprise that in most cafes, a mocca is typically a chocolate infused milk-based espresso drink made with additional cocoa powder or in more fancy places with chocolate syrup like Monin or Torani. Anyway back to history – mocca coffee originated from the Sidamo region in Ethiopia but it has come to represent the type of coffee grown in Yemen – the first place to grow coffee outside coffee’s home in Ethiopia. Most experts still reckon that the best mocca type coffee still comes from Yemen but similar tasting coffee can naturally be found in Ethiopia. Sadly for lovers of Yemeni coffee, coffee is being grown at a lesser scale in Yemen, meaning that what comes from Yemen is not only getting smaller in quantity but of course higher in price. The main reason for this concerns money of course and politics and so I will not proceed as this is not a blog for politics but from a coffee point of view it is very sad.

Anyway back to that scarcity thing. So, as you can imagine, when I was scanning Andronica’s World of Coffee website to buy some coffee to try, I was delightedly excited to see Yemeni Mocha on the list. I thought, if Andronicas have been supplying top quality coffee for the World famous Harrods of London then they ought to have this very special coffee. So, being a bit cautious and mindful of my pocket, I ordered 500g, to be roasted between medium (in order to bring out both a rich taste) and dark (bringing out the mocha or should I say chocolate tones). I also knew that for this special coffee, the brew of choice would have to be filter as I find this method tends to favour really rich coffees, witness El Portillo and Costa Rica Don Mayo (see previous posts this year). A further step, to make sure that I absolutely got the measurements spot on I wanted to follow the experts; so first up, I recall an e-mail I received from Anette of Square Mile Coffee (London) in which she advised me to use about 12 grammes of freshly ground coffee per 250ml/grammes of just of the boil hot water  and secondly, wait for it, weigh the water as opposed to measuring it. You may not know this, unless you are a top chef, but weighing your liquids is more accurate, so I did that at home on my electronic scales. However, I was even more lucky, because I didn’t have to through the agony of memorizing where and when to stop pouring water nor weighing freshly ground coffee, during the absence of scales at the office because my Solis Maestro Coffee grinder grinds exactly 12 grammes of coffee if you put it on setting “2” and my treasured Bodum Columbia French Press, takes exactly 250ml of hot water if you fill it almost to the top with the massive crema/foam sitting on top. Luck me eh ?  

Oh ! look at that filter coffee crema – dark, mysterious and bubbly, waiting to be drunk by moi.

Well ! I’m more than glad to report that it was more than worth it. Wow ! what a taste. Even before the bag was opened you are already promised what would be a great taste because the aroma is just wonderful – what every coffee should smell like – chocolate and nutty with a smell that goes up through your nostrils and begins to wet your appetite. The taste is like bitter sweet chocolate rolling over your tongue with “real” coffee and the taste lasts in your mouth for at least an hour undisturbed. My colleagues at work got so used it, that they would come rushing to my room as soon as it began to brew. One colleague called it the best coffee she had tasted and even after she had shared it with half a cup of hot milk – the taste was so powerful, piercing through the milk. Another colleague was so impressed that she got me to order 500g for her, which she plans to hide in her house away from her kids as she doesn’t think they’ll appreciate it, mistaking it for shelf stuff. When I gave her the bill, I said “it’s a bit expensive”, but she said “it’s worth it”. 

OK ! how do I end this ? Well ! I can tell you that I’ve ordered another 500g from Andronicas – check out their web shop on my blog roll and if you visit London, go to Harrods, 4th floor and buy some bags. My main contact at Andronicas is so kind to me that he has given me a discount on both occasions when I bought this online to be delivered in Vienna, making this coffee experience one of my best buying experiences of the year. As you know, I love variety and I’m always in the hunt for new coffees, rarely drinking the same coffee for more than 2/3 weeks in a row, but for this I’ve made an exception and will be drinking Yemeni Mocha for what will be almost 2 months in a row, at least in the afternoon after lunch, but due to the scarcity and the good guys at Andronicas, it’s worth it…. a very special coffee indeed.

I’m Drinking…… Stumptown Coffees


This is like part two of my previous post, because taking advantage of my parents trip to the USA I also ordered some coffees from another famous coffee roaster, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, originally of Portland, Oregon. Stumptown have 4 coffee shops in Portland itself and another 2 in Seattle. As a bit of a coffee nerd, I had naturally heard of Stumptown through scanning many coffee websites. However, I had never ever tasted any coffee roasted by them, until about several months ago (see my post of 23 July 2008 if you are serious) when I was given the privilege of tasting some Kenyan peaberry arabica coffee beans from them – Wow ! it was really special. So based on that experience I had to try their coffees again. I also like the way their coffees are packaged, nice brown bags with these really cute card inserts describing on one side where the coffee comes from and on the other side the types of tastes your tongue should encounter, if brewed properly but of course. 

First up is one of their most popular coffees, the Hair Bender – interesting name. For some unknown reason it was difficult for me to get a consistent grind, so it was a bit of a …. wait for it… hair bender…. trying to get the right grind, meaning that as a bit of a perfectionist, I wasted more than I would have liked trying to get my 25 second espresso. In any case, when it did it come out, and I gave it a good stir, it displayed this S sign….. kinda wierd, but I guess the coffee knows who roasted it, S for Stumptown… hmmm !


Say S for Stumptown
Say S for Stumptown

I must admit, I preferred the Hair Bender with milk based espresso drinks as I detected that milk chocolate caramel taste in my mouth.

However, for me, the Costa Rica Don Mayo, was really special. Oh ! look at those beans waiting for the grind… the excitement beckons.

I describe Don Mayo as a bright and sweetish brew – one of those really special coffees. You don’t really need sugar with this coffee, it really is that sweet and poignant that it just hits you with a sweet sharp taste as it glosses your tongue.

I shared the coffee with one of my colleagues, who is beginning to really appreciate coffee and she instantly mused “Wow ! this is one of the best coffees I’ve ever tasted”. I loved it as a French Press coffee and you can tell its freshness by the display of what I call “French Press Crema” sitting on top, nice and foamy.

For the last bag, I have to thank the roaster, Shari, who when I was ordering, thought it very amusing that I was taking advantage of my parents being in the States that I was ordering coffee. We had a good chuckle and then she mentioned that they had a really clean tasting Kenyan arabica coffee. I couldn’t really afford to buy anymore, but when I got the package I saw that Shari had kindly included a free 250g bag of Kenyan Ngunguru. The description on the bag was interesting “strawberry, rhubarb, watermelon and cacao”. Now I wasn’t sure about the first three, but when I brewed it for French Press, I was able to detect watermelon on the outside edges of my tongue… hmmm ! interesting. I failed however to get the others. In short, the coffee is what I call an afternoon coffee, earthy and bold and good after a heavy lunch. I also got with a bit of some experimenting and blended the Costa Rica Don Mayo and the Ngunguru and I found it quite pleasant – the contrast between the bold and earthy Ngunguru and the sweet, clean and high acidic Don Mayo. I shared it this time with a Costa Rican colleague, who was very thankful, especially after the lovely aroma had glossed his nose, inviting his secretary to comment “why don’t you share coffee with me?” I quietly walked out.

Anyway, I definitely recommend buying coffee from Stumptown and if you are lucky enough to live in the USA, you can order online, freshly roasted to order.

I’m Drinking….the Best Espresso

Yes ! I’m drinking the best espresso that I have tasted if you think about what you want in a cup of espresso – aromatic before you grind, dark reddish brown as you extract, almost syrup like as it pours, glossing your tongue as your lips touch, soothing your stomach as it descends with a silky sweet and smooth finish and finally as a digestive to clear your stomach of any impurities. Have I lost you ? I haven’t even finished yet. At first, I tasted caramel, then dark chocolate and finally milk chocolate. Wow ! this was an espresso. It was like the coffee was having a conversation with my tongue. When slightly under-extracted the taste was vanilla like and when slightly over-extracted the taste was intensely dark chocolate – you know I wasn’t going to waste this coffee, no matter what the extraction.  Also, as soon as you finished the cup, within a minute you could feel the coffee working through your digestive system, which is good after a heavy meal in the evening.

OK ! who made this, or should I say, who roasted this ? INTELLIGENTSIA !!!! – Did I misspell ? No ! I didn’t, but with coffee tasting this good, they can call themselves what they want, pertaining to intelligence. OK ! so who are Intelligentsia ? Quite simply, they are one of the most famous coffee roasters in the World, located originally in Chicago since the mid-1990s, but with shops in Los Angeles and New York now. I heard about them through sifting through lots of coffee blogs and so when my parents went to America, I ordered a couple of bags from Intelligentsia, their famous Black Cat Classic Espresso blend and of course their House Blend, which was recommended for milk based drinks. Their service was so efficient that the bags were delivered within 3 days after being roasted and I didn’t pay the super-duper postage price either. You can imagine the excitement when my parents returned from the States – like a boy excited to see a bag of sweets and tons of presents. I was even more excited when I saw that the good guys and gals at Intelligentsia had doubled my portion of the Black Cat Classic Espresso for free, thanks Intelligentsia.

As you open up the bag, the aroma just hits you…. Yes ! we are in the land of coffee and my nose is loving it…

I was so enthralled by this espresso that I told as many people that I know who are into espresso about it and invited a couple round to taste it – trying my best to share the pleasure. In any case, they too were impressed with the espresso. This coffee was no doubt excellent as an espresso, but for milk based drinks (my usual for the morning before 12 of course) it was nice too, teasing out more of the toffee/caramel tastes too.

So if anyone is heading off to the States, please do yourself a favour and order coffee from Intelligentsia and they are not paying me to say that. 

Now ! how about the House Blend ? Love the logo with the espresso cup with wings and the exciting red packaging

Nice too, with chocolate overtones and a real winner with milk, bringing out a toffee whirl on your tongue. As an espresso, it wasn’t as glorious as the Black Cat but with two tastes of milk chocolate and toffee, inspiring me to pour this.

I also experimented, making a triple espresso cappuccino – over-extracting one portion (slightly dark) on top of slightly under-extracted double portion and pouring milk over it, et voila, see below.

OK ! I better stop, but please visit Intelligentsia on www.intelligentsiacoffee.com (it’s also on my blogroll). They sell tea too, and lots of equipment and have lots of other interesting stuff on their website – they have a half day coffee school too. One of the main reasons they have such great coffee is that they promote the “Direct Trade” concept, where they deal directly with coffee farmers and form a good relationship with them, ensuring that they get the best coffee, whilst not exploiting them. So hands up to them and I’m so glad that God gave me this special moment to sample such great coffee….. Intelligent – sia.