Clark’s Caffeinated Christmas Countdown 6th-10th

Another week down with some delicious coffees to help me through. Once again another very smooth Colombian on day 6 and a surprisingly tasty Guatemalan on day 7. I wasn’t expecting the peaches and cream to come through as well as they did. The Brazil we were treated to on day 9 is actually a favourite of mine from Pact so I was happy to see it included in the calendar although I usually enjoy it in a chemex and I think it works better.

20171206_120659.jpgDay 6: Arguaco Sogrome
Tasting notes: Apricot, raisin, and milk chocolate
Grown by: Arhuaco Tribe
Origin: Sierra Nevada, Colombia
Varietal: Typica

20171206_231544.jpgDay 7: Finca La Esperanza
Tasting notes: Peaches and Cream
Grown by: Eleodoro Jesus Villatoro
Origin: Huehuetenango, Guatemala
Varietal: Bourbon, Caturra, Pacamara

20171209_132207.jpgDay 8: Integral Cipres
Tasting notes: Apricot
Grown by: Catalino Hernandez
Origin: Santiago de Puringla, Honduras
Varietal: Catuai

20171209_132219.jpgDay 9: Planalto
Tasting notes: Malt milk chocolate shake
Grown by: Sergio and Mariza Mantovaninni
Origin: Minas Gerais, Brazil
Varietal: Yellow Catuai

20171209_221855.jpgDay 10: Kayon Mountain Natural
Tasting notes: Apricot
Grown by: Ismail Hassen
Origin: Oromia, Ethiopia
Varietal: Heirloom, Typica

 

Let me know how you guys are getting on brewing these. I’m still finding the aeropress to be the most effective and tastiest method of brewing but if you’ve tried something else, tell me!

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Clark’s Caffeinated Christmas Countdown 2nd-5th

The first week of December is pretty much over and we’ve already had a massively busy weekend of trade in our cafes so I assume these coffees set you up for those in the morning.

Have you worked out the best way to brew yet? We found the grind is way too coarse for espresso, too fine for cafetiere, and maybe slightly too fine for a V60 but it sits perfectly at Aeropress. This is good news as it encourages me to put the chemex to one side and start using my Aeropress more regularly. I’ve been using around 15g and have been getting delicious results, let me know how you’ve been getting on too.

Day 2: Villa Rubiela20171204_151018.jpg
Tasting notes:
Dark chocolate
Grown by: Fernando Vargas Lopez
Origin: Huila, Columbia
Varietal: Caturra, Castillo, Colombia, Tabi

 

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Day 3: Villaure
Tasting notes: Plum tart
Grown by: Aurelio Villatoro
Origin: Huehuetenango, Guatamala
Varietal: Bourbon, Caturra, Pacamara

 

20171204_121712.jpgDay 4: La Esperanza Honey
Tasting notes: Cherry & florals
Grown by: Maria Pacas
Origin: Santa Ana, El Salvador
Varietal: Pacas

 

20171204_151120.jpgDay 5: Fazenda Chapada
Tasting notes: Milk chocolate covered toffee
Grown by: Marcus Carvalho
Origin: Carmo de Minas, Brazil
Varietal: Yellow Catuai

 

Most of these were super tasty, day 2 was incredibly smooth but still not my favourite. I think so far day 3 has been my favourite which I just about managed to share with my team on that busy day in the shop. Day 5 was actually really disappointing considering Brazil is my favourite origin. Hopefully there will be another one or two later in the month to make up for it.

I’m having lots of fun trying a different coffee each day and sharing it with my colleagues, get in touch and let me know how you’re getting on!

A Very Merry Pact Christmas

Advent calendars seem to be all the rage at the moment. I’m not overly fussed about the traditional ones, the chocolate tastes like shit and I’m certain have gotten smaller. But there’s a lot of choice with calendars this year to cover all niches for yourself or a loved one. Even Youtubers are selling calendars full of confetti if that’s your thing. However, I’m really only interested in these if they contain one of three things: Lego, beer, or coffee.

I got my girlfriend the Lego Star Wars one so no doubt I’ll also get some entertainment out of that. But, for myself, I feel like coffee is perfectly appropriate. Luckily, Pact have released their second coffee advent calendar this year and it called out to me.

I missed it last year as it is a bit pricey but, as I’m having my first Christmas in my own home, I figured I would treat myself.

The calendar is a neat box which opens up to reveal 25 little packages each containing 20g of different pre-ground coffees including some exclusive micro lots. On the back of the cardboard you’ll find what the coffee is called, it’s tasting notes, who its grown by, the origin, and the varietal, as well as a little paragraph about the area.

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I’ve always thought Pact has done it’s packaging very well and that includes the cards that usually come with coffees, all pact (HA) with information so I’m glad that is being used to the same effect here.

I’m a little disappointed I couldn’t get this coffee as whole bean but, really, it makes sense. I highly doubt they could put together hundreds of these calendars whilst also separating them into different specified grind types. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually say what brew method the coffee is ground for so I’ll have a play around and see which works. Pact seem to enjoy the use of V60s which we have in common, so I’ll try that first.

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Look at this little guy

You better bloody believe I’ll be showcasing each individual coffee once every few days but I’ll start with day 1 here.

Day 1: Los Andes Honey
Tasting notes: Sticky date and nutmeg
Grown by: Janet Isabel Alvarez Schneider
Origin: Apaneca, El Salvador
Varietal: Bourbon

Frankly, this coffee is delicious and was a perfect start to my December morning in all its sticky datey goodness as well as a good sign of what to expect for the next 24 days.

Do you have a Pact calendar yourself? Get in touch and drink along with me! Let’s facetime! Let’s move in together! Let’s push the boundaries of human emotion!!

 The Right to Refuse Service

Everybody in customer service has experienced abuse in some form or another from customers. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of working with the public.

Most of the time it can be brushed off as the customer just having a bad day but sometimes a line needs to be drawn. There’s a very large grey area here and it’s tricky to know what your rights are and how you can deal with a situation. Thus I found the inspiration for this post.

Over my 5+ years in cafes, both as a manager and not, I’ve had to deal with some tough customers but my main priority is to keep my team safe and this includes not only believing them when they have a complaint about a customer but also sticking up for them when necessary. The solution is not for a team member to ‘man up’.

The short story is, as an employee, you absolutely have the right to refuse service to anybody that walks through your door as long as the refusal is not discriminatory. That is based on sex, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and religion or belief. 

As a customer, you never have the right of entry to private premises such as a cafe or bar. That is, you are welcome to step inside but it is not your right to do so. You can be turned away at any point.

The customer isn’t always right and it’s important to remember that the employee is always in the position of power. You have the power to say yes or no and no matter how much the customer is spending, those couple of pounds or the potential bad review isn’t worth risking your safety and wellbeing.

‘A shop is not obliged to serve you. You are on their premises and are buying their stock – as such they have the right to refuse you service whenever they feel it is appropriate. Unfortunately, there is no legal right to be offered the chance to buy anything – by offering the goods for sale all the shop is doing is inviting you to make them an offer to buy something from them and in return, they are free to reject that offer and refuse to sell you anything’…’They have the choice to refuse service. As you are aware this is quite commonplace, for example with the ‘Do you look under, 25, 30, etc’ schemes where if they are not confident of your true age they can refuse to serve you alcohol – it is exactly the same principle, if they have a reason to refuse service they can do so.’

Should you be refusing service to everybody that walks through the door? No, obviously not. Again, it is your job to serve customers and you should try and solve these issues as calmly as possible. Most businesses will have a policy in place for dealing with difficult customers so it would be worth having a read of that if possible.

Remember, your employers should always support you and your safety at work is key. It is your job to serve people but you have a right to feel comfortable and safe while doing so.

Girls Who Grind Coffee

You may have seen The Girls Who Grind Coffee popping up over social media, I certainly have, so I wanted to take a look and see what they were all about and what they were trying to achieve.

Well, a quick visit to their website and a read of their mission statement will tell you they exist solely to ‘create awesome tasting coffee and empower women in the coffee industry. And have fun.’

I’ve touched briefly before on the fact this industry is a male-dominated one. This is probably due a whole other post for itself and perhaps I am not the one that should be making it. Regardless, of the 50+ World Barista Champion competitors, 7 of them were women and of the 6 finalists, only 1 of them was female.

So, who are the Girls Who Grind Coffee? They are Casey Lalonde and Fi O’Brien from New York and Melbourne respectively. They both come from coffee backgrounds in their home cities but have since set up their own roastery in the South West of England. Their only purpose is to ‘big up the ladies in the coffee industry’ from the farmers, producers, baristas, and drinkers.

All coffee is sourced from female producers and farmers and each sale of their current coffee is going to the charity Coppafeel who work for breast cancer education and awareness.

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Nonce

With that, I decided to pick up some of their Guatemala Huehuetenango from a quickly depleting supply.

The coffee is available as a pre-ground 150g taster pack for £5 or a 250g bag ground to your specifications or as whole bean for £8.50.

Origin: Guatemala Huehuetenango
Process: Washed
Variety: Catuai, Bourbon, Pache, Catimor
Tasting notes: Cherry Bakewell tart (cherry, almonds, buttery-biscuit base)

I tried this coffee with my colleague, Jass (Instagram), seen here sporting one of the Girls Who Grind shirts (£20) first brewed on a V60 and then with an Aeropress.

We had great results with both, featuring that amazing cherry bakewell tart in both brews. The V60 was great for adding a bit more clarity on the cherry whereas the Aeropress’ immersion brought out more of the body.

With that, I’d definitely say this coffee is a good all rounder no matter what your preferred brew style. I’m really excited to see what else these badass ladies come out with, I’ll definitely be having taste when I can. Especially when it supports such a cool cause.

*Update*

This coffee is now all sold out in the 250g form, however, I would recommend grabbing the 150g taster bag if you want to give it a try.

For more information on this coffee and the women that grow and produce it please head over to their website where you can read up on more than you would imagine.

Vitamin Coffee – Q+A

Through the powers of social media, I recently became aware of a product known as Vitamin Coffee and it had me intrigued. Immediately I slid into the DMs of the ‘vitcoffee’ account and asked them to teach me everything.

We quickly became best friends (Hi Rory!).

What I learnt is that vitamin coffee is exactly what it sounds like – coffee blended with vitamins. The idea is that keeping on top of your daily vitamins, especially in the season of coughs and sneezes, can be a chore. I mean, I’ve literally never thought about it until now. Drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, however, is a very easy thing to do. It’s honestly my main achievement of the day and I’ve been told that if I fail this menial task I am ‘literally impossible to be around’ and ‘a burden on society’.

vitamincoffee.co.uk

You can choose between a medium roast which consists of ‘A rich blend of Asian and African coffee with Monsoon Malabar beans that leave an almost never-ending finish of chocolate and toffee’ or a dark roast which is ‘A full-bodied Central American roast with a twist of Ethiopian Mocha beans for a chocolatey finish.’

Then there are three vitamin choices to accompany:

Complete – Infused with a high-grade blend of 14 essential vitamins and minerals which provide convenient and complete nutritional support.

Defence – Infused with a high-grade multivitamin blend that is rich in Vitamin C and D which help keep your immune system strong.

Energy – Infused with extra caffeine and a multivitamin blend rich in B vitamins which works with your body to convert food to fuel, supporting energy release.

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Numbers are good, I know that 100 is a good number and there are also some words I recognise here

Naturally, me being me, I was looking for a bit more in-depth information about the coffee and how the blending of vitamins will affect it and so I was put in touch with the founder of the company, Bryn Ray, to find out more.

How did the idea for this company come about?
The idea actually came out of a research piece I did while writing a paper on circular business models. When looking at attributes and characteristics that made products successful, I identified both coffee and a range of health products shared a lot of them. This was compounded by my time spent working in the city where I use to watch people come in incredibly hungover then sit with a coffee in one hand and a Berocca in the other. A great deal of them would moan about the Berocca for tasting bad and giving their state away so wished for the two to be combined (this is one of the reasons we have an energy blend, for them and gym goers).

Can you tell me a little bit about some of the coffees you use in your blends?
We currently use two blended coffees which are at the more commercial end of the spectrum (the kind that makes a solid base for lattes and cappuccinos). We experimented with a range of more ‘out there’ coffees from the company my sister works for (passenger coffee) but found they polarised people quite a bit and were generally more acidic (the vitamins make it yet more acidic so we have to consider this when setting the roast profiles).

What is the process you use to choose each coffee?
We leave bean selection, cupping and roasting to a specialist team in Yorkshire (whose family have run the company for over 140 years). They source from a few farms that they have good relationships with, then we had them whip up some blended roasts for us to do some market research with. We then took the two that people responded best to, infused them with vitamins, then iterated the profile a number of times to balance the acidity.

Is the coffee you use ‘specialty coffee’? That is, does it score an 80 or above on an objective coffee cupping scale?
I think so – I can double check, but the dude there was banging on about it so I assume he wouldn’t let it out of the door if it wasn’t.

Does the addition of vitamins to the coffee impact the taste at all?
On the original flavour, yes. If you couldn’t try the cups side-by-side though you’d certainly have to be more astute than your average coffee drinker to notice it wasn’t just coffee though (even when made black). We did blind taste tests against a number of high-street and supermarket brands though and came out on top! The general consensus was that it left less of a bitter aftertaste while being richer and smoother.

vitamin-blends
I assume this is Rory

If you’re allowed to divulge this much information, how do you add the vitamins to the coffee?
Would probably need a diagram to support this, but we’ve essentially built a custom machine that grinds into an air-mixing chamber that uniformly aggregates specific quantities of our vitamin blends.

How would you compare your coffee to a coffee you can find in a speciality coffee cafe?
If you’re big into your specialty coffee they’d likely have an edge, but we’d like to think it’s hot on their heels. We’d be confident in claiming it’s an improvement on most of the rubbish you’d find in your local supermarket or at a chain coffee shop.

Would your coffee be relevant to somebody that enjoys coffee but isn’t necessarily interested in fitness?
Certainly! The complete blend is aimed at anyone and everyone as a convenient way to get your daily vitamins. The defence blend is also aimed at the generally health conscious. The energy blend is more specifically aimed at the fitness market as a pre-workout.

about
Don’t know if this man’s hair is a direct result of the vitamin intake. Let’s say it is.

Once my questions were answered I sat back and waited for my coffee to arrive. First class postage had it delivered just a day after ordering and I got stuck in as quickly as I could. Coffee arrives in packages big enough for the letterbox with 210g of pre-ground coffee.

That’s what they call a 14 day supply. Is that a challenge? Accepted.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get just beans delivered as the coffee needs to be ground to blend in the vitamins but I brewed it with a couple of methods and found my favourite to be the V60. The aeropress and cafetieres use of immersion brewing made what is a fairly dark roast compared to what I’m used to way too full on but the V60 seemed to lighten things up a little.

Bryn hit the nail on the head when he said that specialty coffee would have an edge over this but it is better than supermarket stuff. It’s important that they are self-aware and aren’t saying they’re making the best coffee in the world. Simply, they aren’t. However, what they are doing is something much different to anybody else and it’s working for the target market.

Innovation is a really important factor in any industry and I haven’t seen anything like this yet so I think it’s really exciting.

 

For the record, I haven’t been paid anything to write this, however I did receive a bag of coffee for free to try after I expressed my interest and became best friends with Rory. The lad. All views are genuine, I’m just writing this to put the word out for something a bit different.

Thanks for reading.

Change Please

As I am writing this it is International Coffee Day, a Sunday, and I am off work. The best day to chill out watching Stranger Things on Netflix. But what would it be without a mug full of liquid gold to keep you going?

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For today’s brew I chose a coffee that I had picked from a shelf a few days ago after it came to my attention online and I decided to check it out.

The coffee is from a company called Change Please who teamed up with The Big Issue a little while ago to combat the huge homeless problem the UK has at the moment. Homelessness is on the rise, in fact, it’s doubled since 2010 and now 4,000 people in the UK sleep on the streets every night but what’s the one thing Londoners can’t go a day without?

Coffee.

The average Londoner will consume 2 cups of coffee a day so Change Please have started opening up coffee carts on the streets of London and are training and hiring homeless people as their baristas. Change Please offers full barista training, a London living wage, help with housing, bank accounts, and mental wellbeing.

There are currently 5 permanent carts up and running on London’s streets as well as 2 bars in offices and carts are available for events like the Brit Awards, the Amazon summer party, and TedXEastEnd.

Not only that, they’re branching out and their coffee is now available in Sainsbury’s which is where I grabbed my bag from.

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Their coffee has won a Great Taste 2017 award as well as a World Beverage Innovation Award 2016.

There are 3 coffees to choose from all of varying strengths and flavours, all designed by actual Change Please baristas called Tom, Marian, and Lucy and are all priced the same at £4.50 for a 200g bag. Not only is that a fair price, all profits go straight back into the business to grow and help the homeless.

Tom and Lucy have a blend each which you can buy in full bean form but I wanted to try the Ethiopian single origin which was Marian’s coffee and is pre-ground for cafetiere. 20170929_131550.jpg

As it’s pre-ground my brewing options were limited but I went for the obvious choice of cafetiere as well as trying my luck with a chemex which will need a grind size between a V60 and cafetiere.

Well, the chemex, not surprisingly, didn’t yield great results. The grind was too coarse and so the extraction was too fast meaning an under extracted brew.

The cafetiere, however, came out much better and was definitely what we needed to complete our Sunday laze fest.

It was a full-bodied coffee thanks to that cafetiere immersion and very balanced which is quite surprising, I forgot I was drinking a single origin. I’m very interested in trying the blends after this, especially as I’ll be able to grind them myself and try them out on different brewing methods.

This wasn’t a sponsored endorsement at all (although I would be happy to work with them hint hint), I just think this is a really cool initiative to combat the growing problem our country is  facing and I would definitely recommend you try out their coffee either from a shelf or from a cart if you’re visiting our capital.

Let me talk about avocado lattes for a second

I know what you’re thinking if you’re a babyboomer: “Damn those stupid hipster millennials! Always on their phones, taking selfies, avocado everything! You’d never last a day in my world! When I was your age I was busy being racist and working one weekend job to pay my university fees!”

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This instagram post from yours truly caused some hysteria

I know you hate us, but let’s take a step back. I’m going to talk to you about avocado lattes for a second.

Now, us baristas know how to have fun. And we like to as often as possible to forget about our crippling debts, the probability of nuclear fallout, and a brexit we didn’t want.

Yeah, I went there.

We like to challenge ourselves and show off our skills and one of the ways we do that is by creating latte art in the smallest or most obscure vessel we can get our coffee-stained mitts on.

Now, we all know that avocados are kind of taking the cafe world by storm at the moment. And why not? They’re good for you, versatile, and fairly cheap. So, when a young barista at Truman Cafe in Melbourne (@trumancafealbertpark) was finished scraping out the insides of an avocado to be used on the lunch menu, he saw an opportunity. The skin is going to be thrown away so why not have a bit of fun with it first?

And so the avocado latte was born.

Instagram went absolutely crazy with naysayers calling out the ‘hipsters’, and asking ‘when will the avocado craze end?’

Even various news outlets picked the ‘story’ up even though it was quickly proved not to be a story at all.

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Questions asked and answered

My question is: What’s your fucking issue?

It’s very important to note that nobody is serving these as a beverage in a cafe. No customers are paying for the privilege of drinking coffee out of an avocado and, more importantly, the skin of an avocado is not edible.

Any time a millennial wants to have a bit of harmless fun or push the boundaries of their passion, someone is there, often accompanied by the media, to shoot them down.

My theory is that people don’t like when things are a little different. I know, right? Shocker.

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

I spent this bank holiday in the amazing city of Berlin visiting a friend of mine I used to work with. I did have a list of eight cafes I wanted to visit but unfortunately only ended up going to three as most of my time was spent doing all the things tourists do as well as becoming involved with Germany’s beer culture and no so much the coffee culture.

What follows is mostly a travel diary which also documents my visit to the three cafes.

Day 1 – Planes, spiders, and hookahs

I finish gathering last minute supplies in town, grabbed a coffee, said goodbye to Becca at the train station. This weekend will be the longest time we’ve spent apart since getting together and apparently what you shouldn’t say to your significant other as you’re about to leave for a foreign country during a time of political unrest and ever-increasing terrorist activity is ‘Imagine if this is the last moment we’ll spend with each other’.

I caught the train to Clapham Junction, then to Gatwick, caught the whooshy thing (shuttle) to the terminal. Met Emma (my travel companion) here, got our boarding passes, spent a while browsing duty-free, and then had lunch at Wagamamas.

img_20170825_162051_129.jpgEmma and I are travelling on stand-by tickets which means we only travel once all passengers that have booked are boarded if there are free seats. On average each flight has around ten no-shows.

Everyone has boarded and so we approach the desk. As our passports are being checked a lady and her child come sprinting towards the gate and the attendant mutters under his breath ‘motherfuckers’. I don’t have any formal training in human psychology but I can sense something is wrong.

Of course, the most obvious thing in the world happens. There’s one seat left. Had that lady been a couple of minutes later both Emma and I would’ve been able to board but now we need to choose who gets on. Both of us waiting for the next plane is pointless as the same thing could happen again. We decide that I’ll take this seat and wait for Emma in Berlin airport.

All eyes are on me as I board way after everyone else has sat down. I’m out of breath from running across the tarmac and I probably look a little bit shady.

I watch the sunset from the window 35,000ft up.

As I land, while I’m queuing to go through passport control, I get a phone call.

“Clark, I have some bad news. It’s difficult to explain.”

Emma wasn’t going to be joining me in Berlin, not just that evening but not at all. So now there are two things rushing through my head. Firstly, holy shit I’m going to be by myself in a new city where I don’t speak the language. This is so far out of my comfort zone, I would never have come by myself.

Secondly, holy shit this is exciting! I didn’t have a choice but to make the most of things, I had no option other than to be okay and make my trip enjoyable. Optimism.

First action – Toilet
Second action – Taxi

It was not encouraging showing the taxi driver the address of where I was staying and him not having a clue where it was. Giving a German man directions the whole way proved a challenge but he got me there and I tipped him generously.

I was staying on a houseboat that I found on Air BnB and so, once at the harbour, it was a question of finding it. Luckily a man recognised a lost looking Englishman with a suitcase and introduced himself as Marc (oh hi Marc).

The Divine is a pretty cramped vessel. I have to crouch a great deal to enter and to get into the bedroom and standing my full height is mostly impossible apart from in certain areas. It’s also lucky I don’t have a spider phobia. Oh, wait.

As Marc was showing me around the boat he casually waved his hand in the direction of the windscreen and said ‘If you are not okay with spiders I can do something about them’. You see, the height of August is the common spider’s breeding season. They retreat to dark, cramped spaces during this time of year to mate with other like-minded disgusting individuals and can double in size over the course of a day.

As it could get quite warm on the Divine, Marc had left the window open and the windscreen was absolutely covered on both sides with around fifty of my worst nightmare. That’s four hundred legs.

At my behest, Marc went to get the vacuum.

Once I was settled in and recovered I sent my location to Alice so we could head into the town and get dinner. Alice moved to Berlin a few months ago so luckily I wasn’t so much on my own after all. We found a pizza shop and managed to get a whole pizza and a litre of beer for seven Euros! Afterwards, we found a corner shop to get some more beer and then found ourselves sat outside a shisha bar. I’d never tried shisha before but I figured if there was a night to try new things, it was definitely this one.

We headed back and sat on top of the boat until five am drinking wine. Being the smart cookies we are we knew we’d need water in the morning and Marc had told me, as a rule, you shouldn’t drink water from the tap on a boat as it comes from a tank and isn’t filtered so you should boil it first.

We put a kettle on the stove and set fire to it.

Day 2 – Coffee, sightseeing, and airfields

I had a long lie in after what was a long night and decided to head in the direction of pancakes as soon as possible. A tram and a train ride later and I was filling my face with the best banana stuffed, blueberry sprinkled, maple syrup drizzled pancakes I’ve ever eaten. Truly amazing.

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After I managed to work up enough energy to move it was time for Alice to start work and, therefore, a perfect time for coffee.

No Fire No Glory is located in the coffee rich borough of Berlin called Pankow and, like all my stops is featured on Berlin’s specialty coffee map.

As always, I decided to order a filter and was recommended an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe brewed on an Aeropress which I gladly accepted. The brew bar is situated just to the left of the espresso machine (a fancy La Marzocco Strada) and is kitted out with Aeropress, V60, and Kalita with recipes per coffee per method. There are stools right in front of the brew bar to allow customers to watch with a keen eye exactly what is going on with their filters and to allow the barista to explain each process.

I was served one of the lightest coffees I’ve ever seen, a carafe full of liquid that could easily have been mistaken as a tea, but was actually a delicious fruity coffee with notes of citrus and peach. No Fire No Glory has a really cool atmosphere choosing also to serve beer, wine, and a few cocktails, with sofas towards the back, past the bar, for a more cozy environment, or chairs and tables towards the front near a set of large windows which are kept open in warm weather.

As I am writing this a lady and a gentleman playing the guitar and a violin have appeared outside and I think I may be in heaven.

After coffee, I am on my own until eight so I check my map for the usual sights. It’s a straight line from No Fire No Glory to the Brandenburg Gate so I gather my things and set off. There’s a cafe nearby that I’ve heard of called Godshot and it’s on the way so I pop in there first.

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I bought a notebook shortly after arriving in Berlin and titled it ‘What the hell is happening?’

This is an interesting little cafe, quite cozy on the inside with seating spilling out onto the street. It’s interesting because it’s the only specialty cafe I’ve ever known where you actually have to choose between specialty coffee and a more Italian style coffee containing robusta and then again between a light and a dark roast. I went for a specialty gibraltar (read: gibraltar/cortado/piccolo) with the light roast and it had the most amazing strawberry aroma.

I’m not certain that I’m a fan of walking into a specialty coffee shop and being charged extra for ordering specialty coffee. I don’t know what they would use as default if I didn’t specify. Thank goodness the gibraltar was delicious and worth the extra few cents.

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What’s better than this? Guys bein’ dudes.

After a brief time journalling and enjoying my coffee I started my walk to the Brandenburg Gate which is actually a lot further than I thought it was going to be (2.6miles). I went through and around Alexanderplatz which has a collection of quite a few landmarks including the famous TV tower, the Neptune Fountain between St Mary’s Church and Rotes Rathaus (city hall), and the Marx-Engels forum which is a public park featuring a statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. I spent a lot of time around this area of Berlin just reading the information boards and trying to take in as much history as possible.

2.6 miles later and I had arrived at the majestic Brandenburg Gate, the first main item to be ticked off my touristy to-do list. The gate has been used many times in its past as a place to hold political demonstrations and my visit was no exception.

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The Brandenburg Gate

After a quick Google, I’ve learnt that the demonstration that I stumbled across was held by Iranians protesting against violations of human rights in Iran on the anniversary of a massacre of 30,000 political prisoners. Supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran were calling on the German government and the EU to condemn these executions and recognise the massacre, an event which the Iranian government denies happened altogether, as a crime against humanity.

Shame I couldn’t learn more while I was actually there as there wasn’t a lot of English being spoken and so after a few minutes of spectating, I decided to move on.

Next up a short walk away was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, known colloquially as The Jewish Memorial or Holocaust Memorial.

‘We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.’ – Primo Levi

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold is a 4.7-acre site covered with 2711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. Some slabs are slightly askew in order to be purposefully jarring and uncomfortable. The slabs vary in height so in most places there is a feeling of looming and the rows are purposefully built so that two people cannot walk side by side so that one must experience the memorial on their own.

Underneath the memorial is a place of information featuring five rooms which include a timeline documenting the Final Solution, the Room of Families which focuses on the fates of specific Jewish families, and the Room of Names where the names of all known Jewish victims obtained from the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel are read out loud with a few pieces of background information about the individual if available, firstly in German, and then in English.

The reading of the names and life stories of all the victims in the form presented here would take approximately six years, seven months and twenty seven days.

Visit if you ever get the chance.


Next up was Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous of the checkpoints between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Honestly, there’s a whole lot of nothing here apart from tourist traps including fake American soldiers to pose with for a couple of Euros. They’ll even stamp your passport with fake soviet stamps if you feel like getting in trouble at the airport.

There’s also a tonne of shops which sell pieces of the Berlin Wall set in plastic, I assume most of which are fake.

It was now about time for Alice to finish work and we decided the far side of Tempelhof Airfield was a good place to find food.

I walked there from Checkpoint Charlie (another 2.5miles) and very quickly found myself panicking. I was rapidly running out of phone battery and coordinating with Alice was not an easy task as I obviously didn’t know the city.

The first task was to navigate my way across Tempelhof. To put that into perspective, Hitler originally built the airport to be the largest in Europe and the main terminal was in the top 20 largest buildings in Europe. So, yeah, it was pretty big. From the side I was on to the side with the burgers stretched another 1.6miles and it was now pitch black.

Growing increasingly frustrated with my rumbling tummy, the swarm of mosquitoes around me, and an inability to arrange a meeting point or time, I firmly stated that I would be at the end of the runway and wouldn’t be moving. It was there I waited to be rescued.

My own Berlin Lift, if you will.

I was taken to a place called Schiller Burger and my mood rapidly improved once I got beer, burgers, and sweet potato fries into my face.

On the way back to the boat I quite fittingly tripped over a stolperstein.

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‘A stolperstein or ‘stumbling block’ is a small concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.
It aims at commemorating individual persons at exactly the last place of residency—or, sometimes, work—which was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror, euthanasia, eugenics, was deported to a concentration or extermination camp, or escaped persecution by emigration or suicide. As of 31 January 2017, over 56,000 stolpersteine have been laid in 22 European countries, making the stolperstein project the world’s largest decentralized memorial.

Research about future stolperstein locations is usually done by local school children and their teachers, victims’ relatives, or local history organizations.

When research on a particular person is completed, Demnig sets out to manufacture an individual stolperstein. The person’s name and dates of birth, deportation, and death, if known, are engraved into the brass plate. The words Hier wohnte… (“Here lived…”) are written on most of the plates, emphasizing that the victims of prosecution did not live and work at any anonymous place, but “right here”. The stolperstein is then inserted at flush level into the pavement or sidewalk, at the individual’s last known place of freely-chosen residence or work, with the intention to “trip up the passer-by” and draw attention to the memorial.’

Day 3 – Galleries, books, and bikes

Woke up slightly earlier today to allow more time for a proper breakfast. Of course, I had to try Berlin’s take on a full English but not before stopping off at one of those automatic photo machines to get some cute prints for us to keep.

Alice went off to work and I caught the train to Ostbahnhof, home to the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is an international memorial for freedom – a 1316m section of the Berlin Wall featuring 105 paintings by artists from all over the world. I spent quite a bit of time here walking the length trying to take in every aspect and trying to stay out of other tourist’s photographs.

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My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love

The weather was good, it was clear and warm, and, after walking the length of the wall, I was thirsty. I had two objectives: find a bottle of water and disappoint a local.

I was going to catch the train back into the main part of the city to tick Bebelplatz off my tourist checklist so I found a bottle of water at the station. Germany has a really interesting system called pfand which is essentially a deposit for bottles and cans. If a bottle is marked as being 2 Euros it will actually cost 2.25. The 25 cents can then be collected back when the bottle is recycled. However, what most people do is simply leave bottles and cans on the street for homeless people to pick up so they can earn a few euros a day for a meal.

So when I forgot about this system and deposited my bottle into a regular bin, I was gasped at by a local who grabbed it out of my hand. Upon completing my second objective it was onwards to Bebelplatz.

Bebelplatz is a large public square flanked by some buildings of the Humboldt University including the library. It was here in 1933 one of the infamous Nazi book burning ceremonies took place initiated and hosted by the nationalist German Student Association using the contents of said library. The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. These included books written by Jewish, pacifist, religious, classical liberal, anarchist, socialist, and communist authors, among others.

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The memorial that is there now gives a view of empty bookcases with enough space to hold the 20,000 or so books that were burnt here.

On a plaque reads the line “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people” from a play called Almansor.

Across the street, outside the university, books are sold by street merchants 365 days a year and students of the university hold their own book sale each year on the anniversary.

I had a brief rest on a bench nearby and did something I would never normally do. I decided to make a friend. His name was 14339 and, after working out payment, we were soulmates. Bound together for life as brothers, cruising around the city in style.

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System up with the top down, got the city on lockdown. Drive by in the low ride, hands high when we fly by

We had the best time together zooming around! He introduced me to the city on two wheels so I thought it was only fair I introduced him to some of the best and well-known coffee in Europe.

The Barn upholds a strong reputation of being a fantastic roaster, providing specialty coffee to cafes all across Europe. Naturally, I had to stop by. There are three cafes in Berlin but I headed to the roastery, a large space with the roaster at the back, an L shaped bar sporting espresso and manual brew, and seating all along the windows and outside.

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I bought a hat.

In the centre is a table or two as well as a selection of the coffees they sell. Two espressos are available, four filters, and flights of multiple brewing options. I asked for a filter and was talked through the options available. There are stools at the bar if you’d like to watch the brewing but I elected for a seat by the window with a sign saying ‘no laptops’.

I collected my coffee from the bar and was also given a cool little card with flavour notes and a little bit about the coffee I was drinking. I went for the Costa Rica brewed with a V60 which had some really nice plum and caramel flavours.

I cycled back down to Alexanderplatz to complete the quest of finding souvenirs for Becca. The main shopping centre was closed on Sundays but I found some really tacky shops selling I ❤ Berlin merchandise. I got her a shirt with a pug on it.

I cycled back to No Fire No Glory. Seriously, cycling up and down that main street was a dream. Alice was about to finish work so we cracked open a few cold ones with the boys at a local bar. We’d heard of a legendary Mexican diner which had half litre frozen margaritas and felt like we had to investigate. We investigated it. We investigated it hard.

We investigated the tacos, we investigated the nachos (twice), and we especially investigated the frozen margaritas (also twice).

It was time for bed but not before evacuating the many spiders that had crawled through the bedroom window that Alice decided to leave open all day.

Day 4 – Goodbyes, airports, and anxiety

No fancy breakfast for us this morning, woke up at 7am, showered, and started the laborious process of getting my shit together. Alice walked me to the tram station, we had our emotional goodbyes, and I thanked her for not letting me die (because, seriously, it came close a few times), and I successfully navigated my way to the airport.

Now, remember when I said I was flying on standby tickets? Standby tickets are in a sequence order. So, not only do I have to wait for all booked passengers to board, I then have to be in a queue of other standby passengers.

I checked my ticket.

I was sequence number 14.

If I didn’t make my 10am flight I would have to wait until 6pm and, as I had already gone through security, I wouldn’t be able to leave. I know it won’t make a difference but I make sure I’m the first person through passport control to wait at the gate. It gives me a fleeting false sense of security. I’m asked to sit to the side and I watch as the waiting room slowly fills up with more and more people. With every person that comes through the door my chance of making it home diminishes. Becca has also worked this out and is panicking at home.

I’d like to say for certain that I’ll be on the plane, but I can’t so all I can do is say that I’ll see what happens.

Suddenly, 10am ticks around and the lady calls me over to the desk and asks to see my passport. With a quick motion of her pen she writes ’17D’ on my boarding pass and I know I’m going home. I express my thanks roughly a hundred times before I am put on a plane next to two girls who, I swear, spent the whole journey talking about their favourite biscuits.

Becca met me at arrivals which was very nice and romantic and lovely but she forgot the sign which was, ultimately, a massive disappointment and ruined the whole experience.

Would I travel alone again? Probably not but it’s nice to know that I can. Also, I’d definitely recommend staying somewhere quirky if you’re going away rather than in a hotel. Although that depends if you want to make some eight-legged friends or not.

Thank you very much for reading this rollercoaster of a blog post, it’s taken me a very long time to get this all written down and I apologise that it’s not entirely about coffee but I appreciate you reading this far.

Bathing In Coffee

On Tuesday my girlfriend and I experienced the very rare phenomenon of having the same day off and so we decided to celebrate by visiting the picturesque city of Bath. Neither of us had been before and everybody dies eventually so off we went on a mini adventure!

Of course, a day trip to a new city wouldn’t be without some coffee stops. Unfortunately, we only managed to squeeze in three between the sight seeing but here are my thoughts on each of them.

Society Cafe

First up was Society Cafe, one of four branches, two of which are in Bath. The one we wandered into was just off the main high street, a minute from Pulteney Bridge, and five minutes down the road from Bath Abbey.

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Clean and simple cafe interior and an always well received La Marzocco Linea classic

Society has a great simple little interior as you walk in with a few seats and benches running along the windows but there is also a downstairs area (under the bike) with more seating.

Service was great, guy behind the bar explained that I’d be waiting a couple of minutes as he was doing another Aeropress beforehand which he didn’t need to do but was a nice touch and our drinks were brought over for us while we read the complimentary literature scattered around which included the latest edition of Caffeine magazine and Society’s own newspaper.

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Not sure where the trend of serving filters in a milk jug came from but, to be honest, I don’t hate it.

You’ll find a decent choice of coffee available with the house roaster (Origin) and a guest roaster which changes every week having an option each for espresso and Aeropress. I opted for a Kenyan filter from Round Hill Roastery which was probably my favourite coffee of the day. As you’d expect it had those fruity notes which became more prominent as it cooled.

 

 

My girlfriend had a flat white with the house espresso but, to be honest, it wasn’t the best. There just wasn’t a lot of flavour there, totally lacking the intensity a flat white is known for. Disappointing but it wouldn’t stop us from returning.

Jacob’s Coffee House

Next up as we continued our adventure throughout the heart of the city was Jacob’s Coffee House. Confusing, as I was actually looking for a cafe called Mokoko which I had found online. Google maps took me to the spot occupied by Jacob’s, turns out it’s becoming Mokoko from August 24th.

Jacob’s/Mokoko is right on the corner of one of the busiest public squares in Bath as this is where you’ll find the entrance to Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths which I’ve heard are quite a big deal.

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Jacob’s were offering coffee from Easy Jose Coffee as their espresso and Round Hill Roastery as their filter.

As always when visiting a new coffee shop I like to order a filter and, as Jacob’s were using the same roaster as Society, I figured this would be a solid choice. So why, the more astute of you may ask, is there a flat white in that picture?

Well, my dear readers, that’s because batch brewed filter coffee is a load of shit. That’s right, as mentioned before, batch brew is not more efficient than coffee brewed to order. I don’t know what their batch brewed filter coffee tastes like because they had run out of it at 4pm on a Tuesday.

So we settled for two flat whites instead. More flavoursome than the previous but definitely not filter coffee. Our entertainment was provided by the mass of pigeons that would swoop down on any customer with food. Customers would then try and blame the staff for the feathered intruders. We didn’t get anything to eat here but the menu was full of homemade sweet and savoury items which the pigeons enjoyed very much.

Colonna and Small’s

Our third and final stop was Colonna and Small’s. It wasn’t until later when looking at the array of trophies on the shelves and copies of Water For Coffee, it dawned on me that this shop is actually owned by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, previous UK Barista Champion, and World Barista Finalist.

There are a few cosy looking seats near the front door and up a couple of steps you’ll find the bar and main seating area. Unfortunately, we wandered in just as they were about to close but we were happily served coffee regardless.

Colonna and Small’s are armed with a mod bar, essentially an espresso machine with all of the machinery parts hidden away underneath the bar itself leaving just the group heads and steam wands poking out. This removes most of the barrier between the customer and the barista so much more natural conversations can take place. I’ve had a play on one at the London Coffee Festival but this is the first time I’ve seen one out in the wild. To the right is the brew bar which is also fully equipped with a siphon, Aeropress, and V60.

Multiple choices of coffees are available for both espresso and filter and will change weekly. I was recommended a Kenyan Aeropress which I had no problems accepting and as I was served the coffee I was told a little bit about what to expect flavour-wise which was a nice touch but tasting notes are also on the menu if you want to make an educated choice.

I wish I could’ve sat in and chatted a little bit but, alas, our trip to Bath was coming to an end (our parking was about to run out).

There is another shop in Bath that I wanted to go to called Cascara (which I feel like is a bit of an unfortunate name at this time in Cascara’s life (but more on that another time)), because, according to a friend of mine who visited previously, they have a resident dog. I’ll have to make sure to visit again soon.

Bath certainly has a fair amount of choice in terms of specialty coffee, all within walking distance of each other. I’d recommend Society and Colonna and Smalls if you’re in the area but I’d definitely like to check out Cascara and Boston Tea Party if I were to go back.