The intro post

While I wait for my breakfast to arrive I’ll do the obligatory intro post to this new blog of mine.

I have been drinking “speciality coffee” for several years now, and one thing I have learned as a consumer is that it’s hard to discern what you like and what you don’t like unless you’re buying into your own house and making a deliberate attempt to link the “What you likes to what you don’t likes” to the attributes of the bean/roast/grinder/machine/etc. (This is similar to wine or food, except you generally have more than two to choose from in your local restaurant).

A few months ago I therefore decided to buy the necessary gear for my kitchen to make coffee myself – and by coffee I mean both espresso and filter coffee and by necessary gear I mean the bare minimum to reach the quality that I’d expect in my favourite coffee shops across the UK (of which there are not many – Macintyre’s in London set a high standard to reach)

That’d be the EK43 for grinding my coffee then

And the Sage Dual Boiler (Breville if you’re not in the UK) for doing espresso (an ugly beast but one of the best espresso set-ups available)

While I don’t really drink milk with my coffee I also decided to learn how to do latte art while I was at this because that would mean that I’d got milk steaming/texturing about right and would be able to serve sweet milk drinks to my guests and potentially in the future do guest shifts for actual customers if that ever took my fancy.

10,000 hours

We all know this as the ballpark time needed to become proficient at something – obviously the number itself holds no special significance but I’m of the mind that if you’re going to learn something you have to invest your time in it properly. When I practise making coffee or practise milk that means spending hours making notes, greedily seeking feedback off anybody who is willing and bouncing ideas off anything that has ears.

There aren’t many people in Glasgow I can learn from; there are a few who both have the experience/knowledge required and the patience to deal with my endless questions, statements and such. Oddly enough people who work full-time in coffee don’t necessarily want to spend their downtime answering inane questions about it – and in my quest for further knowledge I’ve joined coffee forums, tweeted loudly at people, pissed a few people off and generally pushed the boundaries for trying to cram as much learning into a short space of time. The natural progression is to start blogging publically about the coffee I am using/making/rating and seek even more feedback (mostly theoretical given you can’t push taste over the internet yet).

Coffee is interesting

Often comparisons are drawn to wine (and certainly the tasting of the goods and the understanding of the raw materials there are a lot of similarities), but there seem to be a lot more places along the supply chain where the coffee can be messed up. Once wine leaves the winery it’s done – but once green beans make it to the country they’re aimed for they still have to be roasted and within a very short time (4 weeks tops normally) consumed and the equipment and people behind the coffee bar are then responsible for not making a mess of that.

There are a few career baristas out there in Glasgow where I live and make no bones about it, it is a career. Coffee shops with high turnover of staff (students mostly) where the baristas don’t have a history of working in speciality coffee will never be as good as those that maintain their staff and train them because making coffee (espresso especially) is bloody difficult and involves not only extensive experience tasting coffee and having opinions on what good/bad is but also a professionalism in being able to manage their coffee/equipment in a fast paced environment where a few degrees temperature change makes the difference between a good or bad cup of coffee. (Milk forgives all sins, except the sins it does not).

This challenge is one of the reasons it appeals to me so much – it is just coffee, but getting to the point where you can just relax and churn out a competition-worthy spro whenever I want to is a journey that I want to travel.

Beans beans beans

Turns out there is a lot of badly roasted coffee out there, and as a consumer you’d not notice it so much if you’re only drinking it in shops which have already worked around this or using consumer-grade equipment at home. The EK43 is unforgiving and while it brings out the very best in well roasted coffee it also seems to bring out the worst in badly roasted coffee.

I want to start reviewing the beans I use, from a cupping point of view, the various filter methods I use to drink it and of course espresso. When I get excited about a coffee I’ve found I want to share that. A comprehensive write-up of the recipes, total extraction yield (measured using a refractometer) is something I can do – I’ve missed writing about things that enthuse me and this is something that appeals.

Science

Water? Pressure? Temperature? Agitation? Time? Most of this has been researched by some real professionals but taking this research and applying it to home production of coffee is interesting, I want to throw that up here too.

Ramble

Anyway, this was just a ramble but hopefully you know where I’m coming from – this is my own collection of personal findings and feelings about my coffee journey and I’ll welcome future feedback from anybody who wants to get involved.

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