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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Barista documentaries

The last two years have seen a boom in the number of coffee documentaries, specifically targeting the third wave part of the industry. I love documentaries, I love coffee, here’s a break down just in case you haven’t been able to keep up. I thoroughly encourage you to watch all of them.

fc95a755-7676-4e8b-b028-e5b0e87e1830Barista

Directed by: Rock Baijnauth
Run time: 1h 43min
Release date: 6th November 2015

Barista official trailer
Website

Easily top of my list is Barista. The film follows a handful of competitive baristas as they gear up to compete in the United States Barista Championship. We learn about what the competition involves, what it takes to be a competitive barista, and who some of the big names in the US coffee scene are.

A great documentary even if you didn’t know that barista championships were a thing that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is still very informative and entertaining.

You’ll find yourself rooting for individuals you’ve only just heard of as their passion oozes out from the screen. Seriously, it’s emotional. I’ve watched it 5 times.

I’ve also just learnt that there’s another Barista documentary coming in December 2017 so keep an eye out for that.

7021a48a-a427-4910-8236-089b3e1fd515The Coffee Man

Directed by: Jeff Hann
Run time: 1h 25min
Release date: 18th May 2016

The Coffee Man official trailer
Website

Following on with the competitive theme, The Coffee Man follows World Barista Champion Sasa Sestic to find his perfect cup of coffee in Ethiopia. We learn about his journey from growing up in Yugoslavia, his move to Australia, and his entering into the World Barista Championships in Seattle, Washington.

At first, I thought this film was just going to be about stroking Sasa’s ego, but his story is genuinely interesting, entertaining, and inspiring. All competition segments are nail-biting even if we already know the outcome.

hqdefaultCoffees: Italians Do It Better (?)

Directed by: Federica BalestrieriFederico Lucas Pezzetta
Run time: 43mins
Release date: 3rd June 2017

Italians do it better official trailer
Website

This one is, as you’ve probably guessed from the title, about the Italians and the coffee culture found in Italy. The ideas behind the classic Italian roasting style, and why they won’t budge from them, the glory of the espresso machine, and what can the Italians learn from the rest of the specialty coffee industry?

But there’s also the elephant in the room; Starbucks is opening a store in the heart of Milan. What do the Italians think about it, and how will it change minds?

Warning: This film features 95% Italian speakers with English subtitles.

fa956960-42e5-41ba-ac30-75d7706ac7a5A Film About Coffee

Directed by: Brandon Loper
Run time: 1h 7mins
Release date: 26th April 2014

A Film About Coffee official trailer
Website

A Film About Coffee looks at what it takes for coffee to be defined as specialty. The film takes us on a tour of farms in Africa and Central/South America and coffee shops all around the world for conversations with farmers, roasters, and baristas offering their insight into the process of the perfect cup as well as how they work together.

For baristas, and anybody else interested, this film is a great introduction into the coffee farming process, and there are plenty of beautiful shots of the scenery that will immediately inspire you to take a trip.

d60641c5-876e-491d-b458-4a2026c72a4cCaffeinated

Directed by: Hanh NguyenVishal Solanki
Run time: 1h 20mins
Release date: 2nd July 2015

Caffeinated official trailer
Website

Similar to A Film About Coffee, Caffeinated follows professionals at every stage of the coffee process from farming, to roasting, to serving in major coffee consuming and producing locations.

Caffeinated also features a really cool segment on the Cup of Excellence, a competition in which the tables have turned so that now the farmers are the ones competing to see who can produce the most amazing crop.

All of these films are available online, either through their own website or on YouTube for a small fee.

Brighton Coffee

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Wednesday saw me being driven 52 miles as the crow flies to our beloved English coast and the city of Brighton. We had a couple of days to kill, Brighton is my girlfriend’s favourite city, and I’d heard of the buzzing coffee scene so we figured why not?

We all know by now that I love a bit of coffee tourism so, after a quick Google, I took note of a couple of cafes and made an effort to visit a nice handful between doing some sight seeing and being dragged around shops.

Cafe Coho

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Cafe Coho was first up, mainly because it was the closest to our hotel and 11am is a horrible check out time for people that both love their beds and were up late drinking cocktails. Coho has 3 locations, two of which are actual cafes, but the one we visited was more of a kiosk with a handful of seats. Cafe Coho are running Union’s ‘Revelation’ as their espresso, a four bean blend from Costa Rica, Sumatra, Guatemala, and Rwanda roasted dark to focus on that caramel finish.

Not my favourite coffee but definitely good enough to get me started on the rest of the day.

Marwood Bar & Coffeehouse

Marwood is the definition of quirky. With eccentricities lining all walls including tap water coming out of a mannequin’s junk, and a secret garden to the rear, it makes perfect sense that this cafe won the ‘Most Brighton Venue’ award. Luckily for me, it was also top 3 in ‘Best Coffee’ and top 10 in ‘Dog-Friendly Venue’.

Downstairs is the place to be if you’re with friends and don’t mind a bit of hustle and bustle. Upstairs, however, is a designated quiet space with plenty of power sockets for laptop owners, predominantly students, who want to get a bit of work done.

Marwood are running The Party by The Roasting Party as their espresso known for dark cocoa and dark berry notes which resulted in a delicious piccolo.

My girlfriend opted for a beverage which wasn’t comprised of coffee, a concoction I had never heard of before and so one I must assume was invented by Marwood which they had named ‘Marzipan’. It was made of almond milk, chai, and rooibos tea. Surprisingly tasty.

Bond St Coffee

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Up Bond Street, you’ll find an aptly named specialty coffee shop, and my personal favourite from the trip, Bond St Coffee.

Bond St Coffee serve two espressos and two filter coffees which all change periodically and all coffee is provided by Horsham Coffee Roaster, information on which can be found on the menu. The cafe has a great interior which looks tiny as you step through the door but stretches down a long way but we opted to sit on the benches out front which made for a great people watching spot and our filters, both delicious Kenyan peaberries, were brought out to us served in milk steaming jugs.

Kenyan Peaberry (community lot)
Tasting notes: – Filter: Grapefruit, rhubarb, blackcurrant. Espresso: Treacle, intense blackcurrant
Varietal – SL28, SL34 and small amounts of Ruiru and Batian
Processed – Washed
Location – Nyeri District
Altitude – Small hold farms ranging from 1600-1900m
Now, that’s a lot of information to take in and all of it I was able to find out just by sitting down and drinking. Tasting notes were on the menu, everything else was on the retail bags of coffee surrounding me. You can see that these guys are on a whole other level, to the extent that they only provide sugar if you ask for it, will never steam milk ‘extra hot’ if asked, and won’t grind your beans for you if you buy it online or in store (they do sell grinders if you want to fork out £150 for a baratza encore).
Yes, this was my favourite cafe. I’m a barista, I understand the information and I loved their coffee. But, to the average customer, this is all a bit much. The average consumer doesn’t know what an SL28 is, they don’t know what a washed coffee is, and they definitely won’t know why their drink can’t be made extra hot.
If we want to achieve one thing as baristas/cafe owners/roasters, it’s simply to share. Share experiences, share knowledge, share great tasting coffee. We want to make specialty coffee the most accessible thing in the world so why on Earth would you not grind somebody’s beans for them if they want to take home a piece of greatness? I mean, I know why – it’s so you keep that flavour locked in, but let’s take it one step at a time and assume not all our customers just getting into specialty have a grinder.
The added level of pretentiousness left a bad taste in my mouth.

Small Batch

We couldn’t leave without a trip to Brighton’s Titans, Small Batch Coffee. Small Batch started as micro roasters (hence the name) for the local area and eventually set up their own cafe. They now have 9 locations around the Brighton area including the two main train stations but we ended up at their flagship store on the ground floor of the MyHotel on Jubilee Street.

I have to say, the store was beautiful. Very spacious, loads of seating, and a bar all along the windows, perfect for people watching.

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I was excited as soon as I walked through the door as being greeted by a packed brew bar is a well-known fetish of mine.

So, imagine my surprise, when I ordered a filter coffee and was given batch brew!

Heathens.

Here are some thoughts and questions. You have a brew bar. 4 syphons and a couple of V60s. So why are you wasting your time with batch brew? Why would you assume I’d want batch brew if you have a packed brew bar? Why wouldn’t you want to show off how beautifully your equipment makes coffee?

Don’t tell me it’s for efficiency. How efficient can it be to make batch brew and throw away the coffee you don’t end up using? Compared to weighing out exactly how much coffee you need for a V60, not very.

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Anyway, I was served an Ethiopian which was pretty nice, there were notes of caramel and citrus, but could’ve been better if it was brewed manually.

My girlfriend had a latte which was tasty and she was proud of being able to pick out those citrus flavours.

I was very happy to see my friends from Karma Cola being served. I say friends, I admire them from a distance. You may have seen them at the London Coffee Festival. They make very tasty drinks like cola, lemonade, and ginger beer, all with organic ingredients under the ‘Drink no evil’ motto.

A motto I can certainly get behind.

All in all, I wasn’t disappointed with my coffee selection in Brighton. I know there are definitely some other great places that I didn’t get to see so perhaps a second trip is on the cards soon enough.

I’d definitely recommending Bond St Coffee, the choice they had would have changed by the time you’re reading this. Have a look in Marwood as well if you want something quirky, and Small Batch if you’re in the area. Maybe I ordered wrong and you won’t get batch brew.

 

Barrel Aged Coffee

What is it? Why is it? Stop doing it.

London Coffee Festival 2016, a beautiful place where people come together to celebrate the joy of coffee. To socialise with their peers, to experience great things. But also, to innovate.

I walked up to the stall occupied by The Gentleman Baristas on one of those fateful days because something caught my eye. The lads there were brewing their revolutionary Whiskey Barrel Aged Coffee, something I had never heard of before, and, in the spirit of trying everything once, I had a go.

Now, whiskey and coffee are often paired together, sometimes after a meal, choosing a coffee which will compliment the notes of the whiskey to offer a unique experience.

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But barrel aged coffee goes that one step further, ageing green coffee beans in used whiskey barrels for around two weeks, letting the beans absorb all of the flavours of the whiskey but without the alcohol before it is then roasted and brewed.
In America, by law when whiskey or bourbon is made, it must be aged in brand new oak barrels. As each barrel is only used once, the used barrels are often shipped to other parts of the world for use in whiskey production there.

This makes it relatively easy to get a hold of them. They must have been pricey for The Gentleman Baristas, but there is clearly a vision and the stall was generating quite a bit of buzz.

There were two forms of the barrel aged coffee to try, one being as a filter (I think chemex but possibly V60, I don’t quite remember) and espresso. I tried the filter, and you know what, I was quite surprised. The taste of the coffee was there with a really nice aftertaste of the whiskey. Exactly what they were going for.

A little while later I was searching online for some of this coffee to brew myself but wasn’t having any luck. The Gentleman Barista website didn’t and still doesn’t have an online store so I did a bit of searching and managed to find some from Edson Taylor.

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It was around 8 pounds for 200 grams, single origin Nicaraguan Pacamara which is fairly pricey. I wouldn’t normally pay that much for that quantity but considering there’s an added cost there, I was happy to give it a go.

I figured I would start brewing as I normally would any coffee. 20 grams in a V60 is my go to. I wasn’t very impressed, the entire coffee flavour was lost behind an artificial whiskey taste. It certainly didn’t taste like what I had at the festival which was much more delicate, granted it was roasted by different people.

I took a bag to work to get some of my colleagues to try. Over there, we brew with 24 grams of coffee in a beehouse type pour-over and we were overwhelmed by the perfumey-ness the coffee gave out. The room was full of the smell which, again, was more artificial than a pleasant whiskey aroma, almost stale. There were no fans.

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So, I figured as I had a bad experience with an increased dose, I would reduce it and see the results. I had to take the dose down to around 10 grams to even get close to that subtlety I originally experienced, by which time the coffee was, expectedly over extracted.

Now, recently clear coffee became a thing. The method of making it is a guarded secret (not that anybody is trying to copy it) but, essentially, you evaporate brewed coffee and collect the condensation. It very quickly proved to be a gimmick without much in the way of quality. Really, whiskey barrel aged coffee is the same. What I believe is a really cool idea in theory mostly falls down when it comes to actually experiencing it. Why distort delicious coffees that have complex tasting notes?

Yes, innovation is important but we have to remember what’s most important of all and that’s simply the coffee. The best coffee we can find, brewed in the best way possible without the gimmicks.

After all, that is what the public trust us to do.

Moleskine coffee journal

Do you love stationary as much as the next millennial? Do you have a shelf full of half-finished journals? Do you love coffee as much as me?

If your answer to any of those questions is on the yes or no spectrum, you may have heard about the Moleskine coffee journal.

Moleskine is an Italian manufacturer that creates some of the most beautiful but simple looking notebooks you’ve ever seen. Different shapes, sizes, colours, ruled, squared, or blank, Moleskine do them all.

But they also have the passions collection which includes notebooks for jotting down thoughts and notes for different specific themes. There’s a book for wine, beer, films, gardening, recipes, even a notebook for books themselves. But, most importantly, there’s one for coffee.

In fact, I’m using it right now to judge this cortado (good) from C.U.P in Reading.

The front of the book is full of useful information such as a glossary, a map of coffee growing areas, different ways coffee can be processed, some measures and conversions, and a short description of different brewing techniques. This clearly isn’t just some guys at Moleskine getting a blank notebook and stamping ‘for coffee’ on it, they’ve obviously done their research.

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Good for coffee lovers and space nerds

For me, my favourite section of the book is the tab for shops and bars. Here, you can note down a few things about the cafe that you’re in such as the address, opening hours, what the cafe does best, the wifi password, and general notes. If you’re someone like me that enjoys coffee tourism, this is a great tool to help remember what certain cafes do best, and whether or not you should return.

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Another great thing about this book comes in the form of the ‘tastings’ tab. In this section, similar to the shops and bars tab, users are able to write notes on specific coffees such as where they’re from, how they were brewed, and tasting notes the drinker might find. You can mark coffees on their nutty notes, florals, fruitiness, etc on a spider-web graph to visually highlight the main characteristics of a coffee and see how others compare. You don’t need to be a tasting aficionado to do this, just jot down your first thoughts and you’ll be well on your way which actually makes this a surprisingly good learning tool.

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All Moleskines come with a pocket in the back cover. This one is full of stickers which you can put over the blank tabs towards the back to write about a particular subject and there are page templates on the Moleskine website you can print off which allows for a surprising amount of customisation.

The Moleskine Coffee Journal is going to set you back between 10 and 20 of your Great British Pound Sterling. Fairly expensive but great as a gift for coffee lovers or for yourself if you’ve had a tough week and you deserve it.

Not that you need to justify every purchase you make.

Treat yo’ self.

Latte Art Throwdown, Artigiano’s

Tuesday marked my very first attempt at competing in a latte art throwdown.

For those of you that aren’t aware, latte art throwdowns are casual competitions where baristas come together to meet, greet, have a laugh with, and show off in front of other coffee professionals for an evening.  The rigidity of official competition is thrown out of the window in exchange for some good old fashioned fun and tomfoolery.

Baristas from all around the South of England and beyond travelled to be a part of the spectacle of coffee. We had some beers, pizza, and blew off some steam, so to speak, in the name of friendly competition and camaraderie.

I was absolutely bricking it.

Round 1 consisted of two names being pulled at random. The two baristas would then head behind the bar and take it in turns to steam their milk and pour their design while a member of staff pulled shots for them. The two behind the bar weren’t necessarily against each other as the first round was judged on a points system. So each design would be judged on skill, symmetry, contrast etc. The top 8 would be counted up and then would go through to the next round. My name was called last because of course it would be. Although I did have the pleasure of being behind the bar with an old friend of mine, Lucy White, who used to work at Costa with me.

Round 2 put baristas against each other as a latte art dice was thrown and they had to match the design as best they could. Two baristas put their drinks down at the same time and 3 judges pointed to the one they thought was best, knocking out the design with the least votes. Round 3 used the intermediate latte art dice, and then the advanced dice until a final winner was called.

I didn’t even make it through to round 2 but I did have a blast. I’m really not happy with my pour at all as I know I can do better but it was my first time competing and the mixture of nerves, pressure, and the crowd didn’t do me any favours.  The calibre of skill was so high and, honestly, it was an honour to have even been invited.

The winner of the evening was Heidi Philip-Smith from Coffee Lab who came second in the UK latte art championship behind Dhan Tamang a couple of months ago and who represented the UK in the World Latte Art Championship.

 

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Heidi representing the UK in the World Latte Art Championship

 

Anybody thinking about going to an event like this but isn’t sure, I would definitely say do it. If you’re worried about not being good enough, I thought that too, and I was easily in the bottom two pours of the evening, but coffee is all about community and throwdowns bring people together in a beautiful way. It was very much a sausage fest but we can talk about what a male dominated industry the coffee scene is another time.

If you think you want to host a throwdown but aren’t sure, just make sure you are well organised so the night runs smoothly. Reach out to baristas on social media like Artigiano’s did, and don’t be scared to ask for a couple of pounds to cover your costs. We were happy to pay for all you can eat pizza and beer (although I didn’t eat anything as I didn’t think I’d keep it down).