The answer is why not? What often scares people when opening a business is not having any proven trade, footfall or demand for a product or service, which is of course completely justifiable. The difference here is that we didn’t need to justify demand for our new site as it had a purpose as a roastery for our Cambridge cafes, barista training and supply for wholesale, a storehouse for Kandula Tea we recently and proudly acquired and an artisan bakery for the mountain of sourdough and sweet treats that is devoured in our cafes on a daily basis. Oh and I nearly forgot a third café and kitchen that might just become busy if we get our coffee and brunch offering right.
Simon met John Wright the Owner of Wrights Mowers next door and landlord of our lovely new space whilst riding a Classic Sunbeam motorbike on a sunny Sunday. John introduced himself as he had the same rarely seen bike and this is where the synergy between coffee, motorbikes and lawnmowers began! John kindly moved his large former workshop area over to the other side of the site and invited us to house our new roastery here after we outgrew our former space in Stapleford. We of course had to represent a nod to this chance encounter with a motorbike perched up high on one the main steel beams above our coffee bar.
As the doors opened we were blown away by the reception. We quickly became very busy by good old word of mouth, and quite how fast this happened was reassuring. The idea of an open plan space where the art of coffee roasting, barista training, bread baking and brunch kitchen could be seen in a warm and inviting space full of the essence and DNA of Hot Numbers was the vision. Good coffee and brunch, jazz portraits by local artist John Lyons, a kind of New York loft warehouse full of plants and activities type space accompanied now by the wonderful smell of fresh bread replacing petrol fumes and oil of times before!
We’ve hosted a book reading, a fair few birthday parties, some seriously funky Jazz gigs, countless community groups, cramming students, busy mums, local work meets, some very nice dogs and 200 roaring vintage motorbikes for the Distinguished Gentlemans Ride that all have their new home here.
We want to thank all of our lovely customers, staff for making Hot Numbers HQ a truly inviting and unique place to spend your time. So whatever you do here’s to customers old and new and here’s the years to come, call in to say hello. It’s Coffee, Music & Conversation, It’s Hot Numbers!
Imagine all the body and mouthfeel and sweetness of a flat white, but from a black coffee. All of the beautiful aromas and fragrance of these excellent coffees are trapped in the tiny cascading bubbles, ready to be released on the first sip. The finish is just as smooth with the caramel and chocolatey roasted coffee notes coming through in the aftertaste.This is different to our ever popular cold brew. our 90+ Nitro is brewed hot and crash-chilled. Those subtle and complex flavours extracted by hot brew processes can make iced coffee a little sour- but the creamy sensation produced by Nitro balances the drink perfectly.This means we can now celebrate our most exciting premium coffees even when the temperature soars!
Reliable temperature controlled unit makes sure every serve is as cold as you want it to be. No need to worry about keeping your fridge stocked up with bottles for those times when the sun shines. The weather might be unpredictable, but our Nitro isn’t.
Don’t keep your customers waiting for their iced coffee, pull the tap whilst they’re looking for their card and have a beautiful beverage before they even find a seat. good news for those busy rushes.
Get all the creamy mouthfeel and sweetness you expect from a milky coffee without bothering the cows, or replacing rainforests with Soya beans.Easier on the environment, lighter on the calories and no lactose to tolerate!
We love our beautifully bottled beverages as much as the next, but a Nitro unit can free up valuable fridge space and even reduce the number collections you need for your recycling bin. Less waste and more space can only be a good thing. The under-counter kegs come in a range of sizes to fit almost any space and the tap units take up a similar amount of space to the most popular coffee grinders out there.
The big one – Nitro is brewed in bulk so you benefit from an economy of scale, the beverage is worthy of a premium price point, and a fast and efficient serve means your baristas can be getting on with other jobs.
If this sounds like something you’re excited to try in your shop then get in touch. We can answer your questions via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 01223 300 730.
But now the Sun is back to it’s autumn angle, the nights are long enough for typing up some short(-ish) blog posts. A lot has been happening,so much so October has come as a bit of a surprise.So In the next few weeks I’ll be typing up some thoughts on our new Cold Brew label and the aesthetics of speciality coffee, and divulging some behind the scenes knowledge on a new collaboration we’ve in the works…
But first I thought we’d introduce a new Coffee! We don’t do this for every coffee,but some just stand out above the others.
ENTER, ROCKO MOUNTAIN RESERVE *fanfare* *applause*
Just Dialled in for Espresso at the shop, this fresh Ethiopian crop is a big, punchy natural processed coffee. Lots of jammy flavours and thick mouthfeel, some nice tart acidity and some of those floral notes you expect from a washed Ethiopian crop comes through on the nose,especially as a filter brew.
But to understand why we get so excited about Ethiopian coffee, you have to know a little bit about coffee’s rather complex history….
Feel free to skip this next bit.
One legend that has been passed down is the tale of a goat-herder, seeing his flock hepped-up on caffeine decided to try eating these cherries of boundless energy, and found the effect to be pretty ‘magic.’ Then at some point a devout sort proclaimed this to be the work of the devil, obviously, (anything fun is always bad ju-ju) and threw the coffee cherries into the fire. (There’s always a fire in early history stories. No fire is pre-history).
When they all caught the whiff of roasting coffee seeds everyone agreed such a heavenly smell could only be the work of a benevolent God, picked the toasted seeds out of the fire and made themselves a flat white. Using Goat’s milk. Asides from being a heavy handed example of Man’s fickle nature, it’s a tidy coffee creation myth that you can decorate as you please (The bit about the goats milk macchiato is not entirely chronological).
The point of the story though is, Ethiopia is where we first started consuming coffee.But it’s not where we first cultivated it.The first recorded instance of cultivated coffee comes from Sufi monks in Yemen. Thought be imported from Ethiopia in the 1500s. Probably to keep the monks wired all night for endurance praying, whirling around circles and laying down the foundations for cosmology and metaphysics.By the time the Dutch got involved, about 120 years later…
… the first steps in the narrowing of the gene pool had happened.A few seeds from Ethiopia became the parents of many many many coffee trees in Yemen, as oppose to a whole land full of wild Arabica for pollination.So when the Dutch opened a trading post at the port of Mocha, and started introducing this powerful mystical spice to the rest of their colonies they were essentially taking a domesticated genetically modified version of this previously wild plant, which would be the basis for all future coffee plants.But it gets WORSE.
The Dutch take ONE plant from their colony in Java back to Amsterdam and propagate saplings from this. Then they give ONE of these saplings to the French as a peace time gift. The french then sail this singular plant to Martinique and this plant becomes the parent of all the arabica coffee in central and, later, south America. This map gives you an idea of the the progression…
Coffee wouldn’t get back to Africa for another 300 years, as a genetically narrowed clone plant, and miles away from Ethiopia.In Ethiopia things still remain a little healthier. Being the native home of Arabica there are plenty of wild coffee plants in their native forests to cross pollinate with and to cultivate varietals from. We refer to these as “Heirloom” varietals. Perhaps genetically closer to the original Typica Arabica, but the gene pool runs deeper.
So when we’re drinking some of these Ethiopian coffees, we’re drinking up natural history. We’re getting some of what the goat herder was chewing on in 570AD. Ethiopia as a growing region represents a spring of potential undiscovered wild varietals,just waiting to blow us away.Which is all highly interesting and romantic etc. etc. but the real proof comes from the flavour. Ethiopian farms are consistently putting out unique coffee.A prime example of which is from the Rocko Mountain…
The ‘fermentation’ that occurs in the natural process brings a bold strawberry flavour to the cup, which gets balanced out by all these exciting floral things happening that are often prominent in wet processed Ethiopian coffee. I could bang on about it, but really, just taste it.And … asides from being tasty, these bean are charitable!
The GGR foundation is dedicated to protecting young girls and women in Ethiopia by offering sports scholarships to keep them in education. There is a gender disparity rife in parts of Africa which leads to enforced marriages,the normalisation of sex work from a young age general abuse and the perpetuation of poverty. By keeping these young women in education they are better protected and their future prospects greatly improved.
So how much did Rocko Mountain raise?A grand total of $10,000 !If that weren’t enough,Falcon are also arranging a Sponsored 5K run to further the donations to this worthy cause,which you can get involved with here: Get Involved
It’s perhaps somewhat reductionist, maybe even patronising, to come from a very privileged background and protest that the coffee we all enjoy comes from areas which are ‘troubled.’ By ‘trouble’ I mean either civil war, drug wars or oppressive inequality and broken infrastructure, these lingering ghosts of our ancestor’s imperialism. But it’s far worse to ignore it.
We should, those of us drinking and enjoying coffee, inherit some of the blame and take responsibility for it’s oppressive history. Which is partly what Specialty coffee is about – through more ethical trading structures and initiatives which aim to repair and support the communities that surround coffee farming.
So whenever we can celebrate a direct success like Falcon and the GGRF, we like to take it and shout about it!Because not only is this coffee tasty, it helps ease your middle class guilt.
Works great as filter coffee. Holds it own with milk in a flat white, and if you want a real taste bud tickler come get a straight espresso of it. It’ll melt your running shoes right off.
Or, if you prefer to be in control of your coffee ritual then you can buy a bag and have it delivered to your door. Just follow the link to the buy page …(In the next few days we’ll be emailing out some suggested brew recipes to anyone subscribed to the newsletter or anyone that’s purchased a bag through the website and didnt use a fake email address. )
For further reading:
Here’s an informative and compelling piece from Sudan on similar issues to which the Ethiopian GGRF aims to combat:
Fancy some vintage Ethiopia jazz funk whilst you’re brewing up a cup? get your kettle out and turn the volume up for Hailu Mergia:
Opinions and historical inaccuracy.@Sjlillustration
But then, A bag of nuts and raisins is a fairly ordinary snack the rest of the year. If your dipping into it in front of the television however, with a repeat of last year’s countdown of the 100 best Morecambe & Wise moments & claws of frost creeping across the garden and all the promise of a white Christmas- then suddenly, they are no longer mixed fruit and nuts.
They are festive mixed fruit and nuts. That bag is lit with gold. Scented with frankincense and myrrh.Coffee came to us along the same trade routes as those spices we associate with the festive season; nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves. So why did it not pass into christmas tradition with it’s fragrant cabin mates?Well, maybe because it’s recent history in the UK is one of commodity. During Queen Victoria’s reign coffee houses were still in vogue, coffee was an everyday occurrence, and one inextricably tied with all that the coffee houses stood for culturally and politically.
Nuts, dried fruits, spices & oranges however were still redolent of their exotic past, heavy with the expense of colonial wars and rarefied by great distances travelled and probably reserved for the pharmacy or the most adventurous diners. (Large amounts of Star Anise are still reserved by pharmaceutical companies to produce Tamiflu.) Perhaps those items were still treats, and so slipped comfortably into the gift-giving, hall-decking, indulgent Christmas pulled from Prince Albert’s German childhood. An idea of Christmas borrowed from European neighbours and popularised by Dickens then spread through the nation, which previously didnt recognise the holiday. And with it all those rare indulgences were swept.
I suppose those habits endured, as habits will. Eventually maturing into traditions, with new ones added along the way. Coffee though still hasn’t really been given it’s chance- it’s still an everyday occurrence – some would even deem a necessary occurrence …It might have it’s time in the christmas lights though – Coffea Arabica has a remarkably shallow gene pool, which is dangerous for it’s survival.This Inherited vulnerability means any disease that occurs in one plant could have a fair whack at decimating an entire country’s supply.
And, if the changing climate continues to reduce viable growing regions, if agronomic or economic or political situations continue to shift at the source, then maybe coffee will become a rare treat only enjoyed at certain points of the year. Like smoked salmon used to be.Coffee does share one aspect with the wintry holiday season, beneath the ever thickening commercial veneer, the most rewarding aspect of the season is human connection, connections which happen regardless of your religion or belief system.
Time out from working life for family, and old friends and neighbours.It would probably be exhausting to try and make a friend of everyone that visits Hot Numbers, but the most enjoyable part of the job, (asides from tinkering with brewing apparatus) is the surrogate family that comes with it. Regular customers become friends, & if you spend most of your waking day with your work colleagues they soon become the siblings (Whether you like it or not).
If it’s not too sentimental, those small human connections thaw the chills of winter and thats something we should probably try to remember though the summer. Sitting down with a drink in your hand, or participating in the very earliest form of coffee rituals is a way of pausing the day, to make way for conversation. Or debate.
A whole year has passed already since the second shop opened & The Hot Numbers crew has doubled in size since 2014 as the shops continue to evolve. 2016 is set to be another exciting year.So cheers to all our hardworking local suppliers. Cheers to the farmers who grow the beans. Cheers to you, those who enjoy what we do and keep the coffee industry ticking over!
In the new year we’ll be putting together profiles for some of the origins we source the green beans from, some background info on the countries and what role coffee has played in its history. Especially for those that get interested in the provenance of their morning cup. And mid-morning cup.And the new year is mere hours away, I’ve been thinking about alcohol (Which is actually no different most days of the year) but in particular their is one coffee and booze marriage that has stood the test of time- Irish Coffee. So naturally I’ve been exploring ways to ruin it. My new years gift to you, is a ‘variation’ on the drink.
*100ml FRESH BREWED COFFEE. – Brew it stronger to balance out the booze and sugar. Kenya Kiamabara is full of punchy blackcurrant notes that hold their own.
*50ml WHISKY – If you’re staying Irish, try and get a bottle Paddy’s for extra esoteric points. Personally I prefer the bold sweetness of a high corn bourbon, in this case Benchmark.
*15ml GINGER SYRUP. – As seasonal nod to Lebkuchen.
*DOUBLE CREAM. – Lightly whipped to help it float.
*CHRISTMASSY TINCTURE – An optional extra for seasonal points. See below
Chop up 100g of fresh ginger, stick it in a blender with 100ml hot water and 100g brown sugar. (1 : 1 : 1) Blend and strain through a fine mesh. Cheese cloth works best. Its a bit of extra effort but it really brings a nice fragrant heat to the drink.
You’ll need about a weeks worth of patience, coupled with any wintry spices and a jar of over-proof vodka. (Blue Stolichnaya worked for me.) Grind up the spices and let them sit in the dark for a week, shake it up once a day, then strain it through a paper coffee filter. The high alcohol content means you can get the aromas of the spices into your drink with just a few drops.
Build your drink, making sure to heat the glass beforehand, keeping the coffee hot will create that satisfying contrast as the hot liquid breaks through the cool cream floating on top. Now, everyone knows, for it to be truly an Irish Coffee it needs to be served in a Libbey6 oz. Georgian Irish Coffee Glass (Model 8054.) If you cant find yours, just pick a glass that your nan would approve of. Rinse out her sherry first though. First person that actually has a go at this and tags Hot Numbers and myself, @sjlillustration, in a photo will get a bag of the Kenya Kiamabara on me.
So this seems as good a day as any to announce that I am almost definitely considering getting this blog as a regular occurrence again. This post is just a re-introduction, a quiet ‘hello’ from the silent void.
The thing is, ideas for these blogs come thick and fast- but eventually very few seem to be anywhere close to meaningful/useful for whoever might chance upon it. This might be procrastination but too much Caffeine has this effect:
“..Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink—for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water[.] ” – Joseph Smith (chap that invented Mormonism.) *
When memories and ideas bowl in on this caffeine cavalry the brain has very little chance to make any permanent record. The ideas ebb away in the outgoing tide leaving dwindling cognitive reserves and an edgy feeling in the rib cage. I’ve crossed the water though, been on a little holiday, and so have avoided caffeine for over a week. The first 3 days were like reading the twitter feed of a minor celebrity with all the words reversed. Everyday occurrences seem a demoralising reminder of the trivial nature of human existence. And your head hurts. But then you get better.
Since the last blog a year ago we’ve been getting on with the business of building a new cafe, polishing up the old one (with power tools), training new staff, getting to grips with new brewing information, new machines, new grinders, rebuilding the website & a little bit of re-branding. A lot has happened since the last entry on here. But what are we doing to celebrate International Coffee Day?
Well, not a lot. To be honest, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t really see it coming. Then again I’m not sure its taken off fully in the Uk. In fact according to internationalcoffeeday.org there’s only 7 recognised events organised for our small island of tea-drinkers. (4 of which are in central London if you’re in the area.)
So we’ll be doing what we do everyday, pulling espresso and brewing up some filters to the best of our ability. Every day is coffee day for us and, I suspect, every other coffee lover. When we’re not drinking it, we’re thinking about it.
But that isn’t an attempt to belittle the importance of what might seem like another invented ‘holiday’ to market things and push promotions.The real aim of international coffee day is to prompt us, to get us thinking about coffee in a way that goes beyond ‘black or milky?’ or ‘did I brew this badly?’ Its for raising the awareness of fairer-trade and the search for quality, for reminding ourselves of the levels of work that go into maintaining this supply chain of luxury which we take for granted, but actually isn’t as secure as we might think. If we were to ignore the problems that farmers face or the dangers of a crop with an incredibly small gene-pool, or the snowballing rate at which the climate is changing then very soon we wont have any coffee.
Just imagine if half the population of the world is suffering from coffee-withdrawal at the same time.
So ICD 2015 doesn’t just concern those deep in the speciality industry, Its a day to lift the edge of the curtain and beckon others into the vast backstage of the coffee industry. Perhaps just one person today will spend an extra minute thinking about their cup, who grew it and where, and how, and what does a coffee tree look like maybe i’ll google it oh its more like a bush though this one is tree-like what is even the difference between a tree and a bush and… The caffeine cavalry bowls in and their idea of coffee will be imperceptibly but indelibly marked with a new grain of thought. If that happens then international coffee day will have succeeded.
Peter Giuliano (veritable coffee hero) has written on this with considerably more purpose and knowledge on his blog which I thoroughly recommend: Pax Coffea
And for the curious people with free time, here’s a fascinating 24 mins of neuro-science on why what you’re tasting probably isn’t actually what you’re tasting, from Charles Spence at last year’s Re:Coffee Symposium. (Yes, there is a Coffee Symposium.)
Plenty of other things going on too for the less coffee-centric: Thursday Night’s Jazz session is now bolstered by the appearance of The Wandering Yak, serving up some banging middle-eastern style street food & Gwydir St. Local Sam Motherwell is soon to be exhibiting some prints based on drawings he made at said Jazz sessions- which we’re very exited to have the walls for a couple of months! Also Locals are the two filmmakers who will be screening their short films ahead of the feature at our next Monthly film night (Oct 5th)
But to keep up to date with it all we’re on Instagram now, you can follow us on twitter, Facebook or just pick up one of the What’s On flyers dotted around our shops. In the meantime I’ll be reading up on water chemistry (courtesy of Maxwell & Chris hendon) , playing with some brew methods and plotting the next blogs.
Some might say it wouldn’t look out of place in a slick city design studio, but it’s function hails back to the original coffeehouse form, the long benches which propped caffeinated thinkers and spurious ravers in the 17th and 18th centuries. As likely to ponder the gaps in their teeth as much as the gaps in human knowledge. Conversation was always at the heart of coffee, and still is. It’s the gathering of people, the coffee table became the campfire for a no-longer nomadic tribe.
Late last June a local paper sounded out complaints over noise (and smell) from the shop. This isn’t a reply to it, nor do I wish to weigh in with counter-arguments. I have none. I don’t have to live next door to Hot Numbers so I’m in no solid position to judge. Plus anything I might add would inevitably seem sycophantic, being a paid member of staff.
“Public Nuisance” (as Hot Numbers has been described in the past by at least 1 neighbour,) is however, a somewhat provocative term I’d probably reserve for exceptional cases. Perhaps if during the daily opening ritual, somewhere between checking the fridge temperatures and collecting bread, we were to spill the contents of a few Able&Cole veg box deliveries simultaneously blasting out a 7:15am performance of Ride of the Valkyries from a particularly treble-heavy set of speakers as we cycled back from Norfolk St. Bakery… then we might earn that title.
But the article did get us thinking a little about the coffee shop, how’s its changed over the past months, years even. We do have more live music now, not just Fridays and Sundays. Earlier in spring local veteran of the Jazz scene Nick Hill kicked off his Jazz residency every Thursday.
So Thursday night on Mill Road now has a candle-lit, coffee-fed, spot-lit jazz lounge with a rotating line-up of impressive artists. It could almost be a horrible bohemian cliche if it wasn’t so enjoyable. (Plus there aren’t too many turtle-neck wearing finger clickers in the audience.)
It’s True, as well as purveyors of speciality coffee, Hot Numbers has grown it’s other interests. But the expansions have been natural, I think. The live jazz is fed by a demand for quality live music, Steak& Honour at the front door, local bacon, and bread, and cakes and the recent introduction of Inder’s Kitchen platters all fed by a desire to collaborate with like-minded small businesses in Cambridge. The food, drink, live music- they all seem to fit together with this coffee industry.
Which is why, (after wading through the obvious punnery that seems to be a requirement for local newspapers), one complaint stood out in the CEN’s article as particularly unusual: Hot Numbers has “now exceeded its brief.”
Maybe it’s just the discomforting fear of change at the root of this particular complaint. Or, maybe its the result of a charmingly nostalgic concept of the local high street – An antiquated idea of what a ‘Cafe’ is and does, or a Dad’s Army view of the neat little shopfronts. The bank, the green grocer, butcher, baker, cobbler and the candlestick maker. Each with their own purpose.
It might be nice if the streets were like that, if each business were thriving, and there is obvious movement back towards independents. But Supermarkets still exist. If we’re complacent there will be another Sainsbury’s on the Mickey Flynn’s site before long. They might even serve coffee. Or would that be exceeding their brief?
I don’t believe the complaints occurred out of malice, or because anybody wishes to see an independent fail, (I would shudder to think that “Better the Devil you know’ were brought into play here.) But it’s still exasperating. Especially when the introduction of Film Nights and a subsequent license change became the original catalyst for this latest round of digs. Maybe we are getting too big for our boots? Picking a film each month with some artistic merit and sharing it with our regulars whilst they drink our coffee could seem a little bit like we’re trying to take over the world with our flagrant disregard for being quiet and sensible on a Monday evening.
Though, in practice it seems if you really want to get a crowd of people in Cambridge to sit down and shut up for a couple of hours, and buy less, you just need a projector and a DVD that the BFI website wouldn’t sniff at. Coffee shop cinemas are not exceptionally lucrative, but they are enriching. We hope.
Like the audience attracted by the Jazz Nights, coffee has grown it’s own culture, coffee shops attract a fairly wide spectrum of customers, but still the audience is curated by the atmosphere. Those who detest jazz tend not to stick around long at Hot Numbers. Particularly if we don’t concede to their request of “changing the C.D.” The speciality coffee industry attracts lifestyle lovers. Or conversely coffee has been driven to “speciality” status by those who tend to enjoy craft and quality. In the same way bottled beer has received it’s own “Craft” status and consequent revival. The crossover between coffee and the world of design, art and fashion is wholly apparent, and necessary. It’s the sign of a population exhausted by homogeny who are willing to spend more of their money on the simple pleasures of life, provided they’re done well. Provided they are presented with the due care and respect.
There is an Alarm-clock that wakes you with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, T-shirts spreading the love of coffee in Poland (the latest up’n’coming coffee-shop scene), a Brooklyn coffee-shop that is also a museum of morbid anatomical curiosities. We even have whole evenings of Coffee appreciation that match wine tastings in the excitement they create. This is what coffee is now, it’s a lifestyle and a signal to others that we care about what we’re doing, we curate and discern and create. It’s almost too obvious to state, given that it lies in plain sight, in the packaging that adorns the retail spaces and the slick photography led websites. The hand-rendered lettering sprawled across chalk boards and bare light bulbs that emit smug glows instead of illumination. All of these small decisions and details add up to the coffee-shop experience. Decisions made to ensure that all the senses, not just taste are satisfied.
These decisions are expressions of the people involved. To expect a coffee-shop to fit a singular brief would be the same as expecting it to serve coffee with a sickly smile and the cold efficiency of supermarket checkout. “Thanks for the cash, here’s the coffee, sit down”.
The point I’m flogging to death here is two-fold:
Blame it on a lack of worldy-wisdom but all of this realisation struck me as new. For far too long I have clung to the idea that you become the thing you work towards, you go to the law school to be a lawyer and the medical school to be a doctor, or you practice piano religiously to become a pianist. Too long clung to an idea that these professions hold no relation, the lines through which they run never entangle. I went to an art school to be an illustrator (someone who’s paid to be left alone to draw all day, ) and never really considered the idea that maybe I’d enjoy pulling espresso shots for hundreds of people a day. It seems so separate and yet the connections are obvious.
It is a stereotype of course, the Art-grad working in a coffeeshop. It’s almost accepted that the person serving you is a partly repressed thespian or musician or painter, just trying to pay the bills. There is a degree of showmanship involved. Or maybe its simply because the creative arts degrees don’t really make you highly employable.
Or maybe creatives are drawn to these jobs because they provide an outlet. Another craft to care about, and some of that mental reward from creating an experience that others may enjoy. In that sense I reckon creativity is bound up in all human endeavour, its the driving force of progression. If you are to do something you do it your own way and you do it well.
It should be championed, not dismissed because it *might* disturb. But then certain businesses are more suited to these “extra curricular activities”. A live jazz quartet in a butchers might be too incongruous. But then again, why not?
For further (much shorter) reading about other exciting places exceeding the brief look: here>>
And for an interesting read about doing things well, here’s a chap who really knows, you don’t really predict your career path: here>>
Next blog we’ll be getting down to it with a refractometer and a Syphon, a pseudo-science fest for the coffee geeks coming up!
Describing Cold Brew Coffee is a mysterious task, the taste seems to present as opposites, some say boozy and sweet, others say clean and dry. At first impression a deeply mysterious elixir, but reveals itself to be the simplest of brew methods. It excites and then it disappoints. It almost always leaves you expecting more. Like a bass solo.
A simple definition is coffee prepared using cold water instead of hot, as oppose to Iced coffee which tends to mean coffee brewed hot, then cooled. The result of cooling down espresso tends to be something quite sharp in need of sweetening or in the case of filter coffee, something quite diluted.
Brewing cold only creates a certain set of flavours, low in the acidic tasting oils, the dry cocoa-sweet notes prevail, and the long extraction time creates a concentrated liquor that doesn’t get washed away by ice.
Like all brew methods, time and agitation have a part to play. Cold molecules move slower, so extraction takes longer. Introduce a little more energy by shaking or stirring and it speeds up again.
But what to expect from those flavours is where things get a little more intriguing. Some research was needed, some idea of what cold brew should be.
But each trip last year to London would be fruitless, the few places that served it had invariably run out by the time I’d arrived on a delayed FCC, it’s scarcity only adding to it’s high brow mystique. this could have been some sort of marketing ploy- the member’s club to which you can never find the door. Deep black waters that would not reveal their depths.
It wasn’t. It was just a matter of logistics, a slow drip brew method producing a small amount means a limited supply.
Trawling the internet for ideas also resulted in as many contradictions as the beverage seems to embody- some say it lasts 3 days, some 3 weeks. Some sweeten, some didn’t. Some warned of the caffeine levels, some say it contains hardly any. There are no rules. Just misinformation. Whispered through the internet and easily inflated egos of those pretend experts I waxed about in the last blog (all those months ago. Apologies for the wait.)
So with no benchmark to work to we had to do our own tests.
The experiments began last year in small tubs, altering grind size and steeping time to see what effects those variables might have, varying from fine ground to merely cracking the beans. Asides from learning just how astringent those fine particles can be, the tests only ever seemed to yield one flavour.
So when we began to think seriously about selling the cold brew this summer a few more tests were needed. The first batches we made were good, they had all the fragrant chocolate notes, but I couldn’t help but expect more. Single origin coffee is a celebration of character, of flavour profiles that differ between varietals so it’s somewhat frustrating to produce the same result regardless of bean. To me it suggested under extraction, something extra needed to happen to get the most of the bean, to get that taste that everyone was raving about. Another method was needed.
Rather than just steeping coffee in cold water, most places were slowly dripping cold water through a bed of coffee. Rather than the soluble parts of the bean diffusing into a body of water, the cold drip effectively draws the flavours out. Or so I imagine- I spoke to a scientist friend and they mentioned something about potential gradients. I nodded sagely, thinking about that A I got for science in year 7.
The only real way to find out was to taste test. With a vague idea of how the expensive looking drip machines at this year’s coffee festival worked, some antipodean knowledge gleaned from a brief chat with Ivanna of Afternoon Tease, and my best impersonation of Heath Robinson, I dismantled an Evian bottle and found another good reason why every household should own a cocktail shaker:
Upon her return from a trip to Australia Ivanna had raved about the cold brews out there, mentioning their use of Ice to control the drip rate. Much simpler than my idea of puncturing a hole in a bottle cap with an exact diameter to ensure a steady drip rate.
“Whilst on my travels in New Zealand and Australia I got to try a lot of different cold drip coffee. Cold water is slowly dripped over ground coffee for anywhere between 2 to 6 hours. Because of the gentler extraction the outcome is a much sweeter coffee concentrate.”
If you want to do this at home, you can. I was surprised by how simple it all worked out. Brewing at a ratio of 500g water to 35g of coarse ground coffee. (The Bolivian Uchumachi we used in our first cold brew batches.) This was in line with our 70g coffee per litre of brewing water that had worked out well for the immersion batches.
In the cold-drip method I rammed 400g of ice into the cocktail shaker, placed a filter cone in the upturned top of the water bottle (with a hole punched in the cap to slow the exit of the coffee as much as possible) 35g of coffee in the filter and another piece of filter paper on top of the bed to ensure the water dispersed evenly across all of the grounds, rather than puncturing a channel through the grounds. I also added the remaining 100g of water to coffee bed, thereby ensuring all the coffee is saturated with water from the start, ensuring an even distribution of water during the brew.
I admit the resulting apparatus wasn’t quite as elegant as I had envisioned:
But it was a little more complex than the immersion control:
Again 500g of water to 35g of coffee.
Even after a few hours of brewing the difference was becoming excitingly clear. The drip was pooling a deep ruby coloured liquid with all the glossy clarity of a good port. the immersion on the other hand was looking muddy and uninteresting. But looks aren’t everything. Or so I’ve been told.
The taste results:
Drip cold brew produced a markedly brighter fruitier coffee, the cocoa dry sweetness that dominated all the other test brews finally had some company in berry and citrussy notes, not massive, but enough to notice a much more balanced beverage.
Movement is probably the key here, whilst the immersion brew was stirred, it’s still a matter of swirling coffee around in water already partially loaded with soluble compounds. With the drip brew on the other hand, fresh water is constantly being introduced restarting the extraction process and pulling more from the coffee. And gravity ensures that there is a continual even flow through the coffee. (Also a demonstration of what happens in the draw-down stage of pour-over filters.) And the immersion method?
The aroma reminded one person of MacDonalds. Which apart from being a failure, is an exemplary reminder to thoroughly clean everything you intend to brew with. So if you do try it at home, find the bleach or don’t use an ex-pickle jar. As the photos show though, immersion needs agitation, otherwise the coffee separates out. I imagine the extraction would stop completely if you allow the coffee to settle completely, the fines fall slower and form a sediment, effectively sealing the bed from hitting any more water. See scientific diagram. >>>>
Those fines also make filtering necessary at the end. Without it the whole thing is chalk dry and astringent, masking the cocoa flavours.
So it would seem from the tests that the drip method would produce a better drink, but it’s not exactly practical to make a large batch with that method. (Suspending 10 litres of water, or ice, is an engineering task and possibly a personal injury case waiting to happen.) So we had to improve the immersion method, with this new knowledge, stirring periodically and now with extra filtration (creating large cloth teabags to restrict how many fines enter the water.) So far so good. But still I want more. As with everything I suppose.
So even more experiments have followed; double concentrations, using frozen cold brew to drip through fresh coffee to produce a darker concentrate. But really all it produces is the same taste, just stronger. And subsequently learned that you can possibly freeze distill cold brew to concentrate it further. But that’s a whole other blog. And there are methods still to try that include initial hot blooms and experiments with pressure…. the next rounds of experiments will begin.
But, if anything, despite it’s mysterious facade and it’s cachet, cold brew is a rather elegant reminder that sometimes, things do not have to be impressively complex in order to be good.
So go ahead, give it a go at home. And if you do, here is another use for that cocktail shaker. Reposado Mezcal, juice of an orange, egg white and a cold brew float.
What I like to think of as a breakfast smoothie.
Words and ‘Science’ : Shaun Lynch @SJLillustration
You promise not to be an obnoxious purist, but still reel at the request for a half shot- decaf-mocha with Soya milk. As the words ‘you sure you want coffee’ bleed sarcastically in your narrowed mind. Why shouldn’t somebody order the thing they want? They’re the ones paying for it. And it is just a coffee.
But then, you might protest and claim how this service includes some expert knowledge that the customer does not possess (or desire). So it’s not their fault. They just don’t know what they want. they simply want what they assume they should get. It’s those few, in control of the shining, steaming machines that people come to for coffee. With hopeful eyes lifted to the heavens/indecipherable menu board. Those “Baristas.”
Unfortunately the only thing more tedious than an expert is someone pretending to be an expert.
So when I was asked: Which is better the Clever Dripper or the Hario V60? And would there be a discernible difference in taste? I caught myself basing my answer on assumption. I fall all too easily into the trap of the pretend-expert .
In my defense, I’d say most people don’t have an hour to kill whilst somebody grabs a set of scales and a kettle to try and answer a question which was probably asked for nothing more than the sake of polite conversation. But assumptions are dangerous. so I decided to be prepared next time.
They are both paper filter methods, the main difference being the coffee is fully immersed in the Clever Dripper until it is placed onto the cup and the valve opens. Whereas the V60 has water drawing through the coffee continually as it drips through.
At a guess, the full immersion should produce a more even extraction, a more balanced brew, because all the coffee is extracting at roughly the same rate. Using the v60 runs the risk of extracting more from part of the coffee bed, whilst missing other parts. But then there is water temperature- once you’ve added all the water to the Clever, it sits there gradually losing heat, whereas the V60 is effectively being topped up with hot water for most of the brew time.
So we did some side by side comparisons using 17g of our Mexican Roast- Finca Muxbal. The results were two surprisingly different brews. I imagined the difference would have been so small we’d have a hard time telling them apart but it seems the methods pull different tastes;
The Clever brew was brighter and sharper with a little more initial sweetness. And the V60 brought more bass notes and those smoother, rounder cocoa flavours. In effect they polarised the coffee. Which is no bad thing, but it does make you strive for the perfect balance. As for ‘Which is better?’ that is a more complex question. Personally I enjoyed the fresher brightness of the Clever, but it could be a little under-extracted, possibly because of the temperature drop off. It lacked the depth that Dom enjoyed in the V60 brew
So the test wasn’t exactly conclusive and created more questions than answers. But at least we haven’t arrived at the purist’s notion that V60s are better simply because they give you the most control. Or at least, it requires more input from the brewer… (and we’re not exactly infallible.)
Certainly in a busy coffee-shop the Clever Dripper offers consistency and an ability to walk away during the brew without sacrificing any quality. So for now they’ll remain on the counter in place of the V60s.
Of course, there is a lot to be said for being more involved in an experience, driving a car at 90mph, inches from the tarmac will give a greater sense of speed than sitting on a train traveling at 100mph. Gently pouring hot water over ground coffee in tightly controlled circles, feeling the water shift in the kettle, watching the coffee bloom as the CO2 escapes, smelling all those aromas; All of this adds up to an event which primes you for the sip.
And yes, it’s still just coffee. But It’s not about ‘coffee’, its about the roasted, ground fruit of a high altitude crop. And the respect it demands. The respect for an ingredient that takes time to grow. The respect for the person that picked it, and the person that roasts it. The respect for the person who’ll drink it. It’s dedicating some focus to a craft. Like the Luchador that never removes his mask or the tautly executed movements of a Japanese tea ceremony- they have little to do with the end product, they are just expressions of respect. The physical symptom of a state of mind.
And you could easily dismiss it all as pomp and ceremony and taking things a little too seriously. But it’s a big scary world and we like to know our hard-fought cash is in the hands of professionals, surely? That the doctor will diagnose that rash.
These are the minor assumptions that safeguard us from an overwhelming amount of doubt; just hand over the money and you can get back to the more important thing you were doing. Harmless little assumptions, because we don’t have the time to question everything- that’s why there are experts. We can only focus on some things, the rest has to be generalised; Wine becomes the reason Board-of-Directors Dave is no longer invited to dinner parties. And cocaine is a party in the 80s. And Lager the buttoned-up polo-shirt football chant, lit by a flat screen at Wetherspoons. This abrupt identification is applied to coffee too. Once it used to be a looming deadline and a blank word-doc. Now it’s the preposterously fashionable beard and the reason New-Media-Guru Sam is no longer invited to bike-polo.
It’s understandable though. A small group of people getting very serious about something that is seemingly inconsequential is a cult. Tell them they’re missing the point and they’ll grow those beards thicker, write blogs and make up some rituals to prove just how serious they are. Before you know it nobody is questioning anything and the coffee congregation are reciting brew guides, dressed in robes whilst someone who really likes tea is buying fertilizer and nails. Blinded by these assumptions we end up divided.
(If you’d like to repeat our wholly unscientific experiments we have some V60s and Clever Drippers available to purchase in shop.)
Words and Pictures from Shaun. @SJLillustration
Coffee Cupping is a industry-standardised method for tasting coffee beans, mostly devised for quality control and judgement for things like the Cup of Excellence Award. It’s a methodical process which allows easier communication of flavour notes that otherwise might remain on the tip of the tongue as it were. But if you’re not in the business of buying beans? It becomes about appreciation. Of sensory pleasures.
I’ve been to Lush a couple of times. Not out of choice. Strolling past the place is enough to make the back of my eyeballs ache. But it is a powerful testament to how easily senses are fooled. They look like cake, they feel like butter and they smell better than your first love and all your favourite foods combined.
Fighting the salivatory reaction though is a mental note which says they probably taste worse than the vending-machine salami purchased with drunken optimism from the foyer of an oddly quiet hotel you accidentally booked somewhere in the red light district of Brussels. Sight and touch might deal with the immediate, the instant appearances and the deceptive. Our eyes are gullible, but the tongue and olfactory provide the last port of understanding. The final defence that decides if something is poison or just Belgian.
And then there might be the song that reminds you of French toll roads sliding past the back seat window, the family holiday recalled before the second verse. Or there is a particular Bourbon which leaves a scent in the bottom of the glass that might be described as ‘Pipe Tobacco.’ But really it’s the smell of the upholstery of the 20 year old sofa in the front room of my grandparent’s house. Of finger stains, coal fire and those sickly cakes that finished every Saturday evening. I also scrawled some profanity andthe note: ‘water opens up the spicier notes masked by alcohol’, and ‘definitely not a waste of half a day’s pay’.
Because you can’t trust memory.
It’s nauseatingly sentimental but it’s inevitable- more than anything the senses have twisted their roots around the part responsible for nostalgia and memory. I’ve since lost a mediocre understanding of A-level Biology, probably due to the Bourbon, but maybe there is an evolutionary process to blame? You survive if you can easily remember the bitterness of the toxic plants and the smell of rancid meat? And why does the eye prefer the glossier looking Chelsea Buns? Is this some natural foraging instinct for moisture from a time when it was hard to find a sink?
Whatever the bio-mechanics, It seems memory is the blunt crayon that colours each experience that follows the last. So we all might use the same chemicals and pathways to taste and touch and see, but what we interpret, and pass through our own lens is intensely personal. The wheated Bourbon that’s painfully nostalgic to one tongue is hideously painful for another.
Which I suppose underpins the reason you might roast your own coffee beans. It allows some creative control at the start of what becomes an experience for others. Unnecessarily grandiose perhaps, but it’s why we get excited about it.
I can’t really say anything about the differences in the coffee that our Roaster Steve hasn’t already extensively writtenabout here: “Having Character…”
ButTo give you an example from our current selection, the Ethiopian Yirgachefe is one that continues to divide opinion; I thoroughly enjoy it for what I perceive as syrupy fruit aromas, but I was in danger of recalling another schmalzy memory. So I asked both Steve and Dom to describe the bean in four words.
Dom saidBright. Complex. Floral + Berry-aftertaste.(Which is five words.)
And Steve saidfour words goes nowhere near my problem with yirgachefe but: ‘Fashionable. Overrated flavour profile.’
At least he can count.
So there might not even be agreement between the people who drink the same thing regularly. What we need is some common ground, a schema to help place what we’re sensing in relation to the other person. So you have tasting sessions. With Flavour maps. And Here’s a colourful taste map that Steve has devised:
I like it, it has less of the repulsively abstract adjectives that Jilly Goolden annoyed everybody with in the 90s. And it links up the nuances with things I can mostly relate to. Hopefully providing a clearer definition of the bean and some concrete ideas to contrast with another bean or what the person next to me is smelling and tasting. They say Black Currant, I say Red Currant but maybe we’re tasting Blueberry. It doesn’t really matter. what’s exciting is that two beans can have such wildly different tastes and two people might perceive them differently. This is the reason I bang on about putting sugar in the coffee. It’s a reflex action like salt on food.
It may seem self congratulatory and overblown, but like a perfumer, or a chef or a shoe maker, roasting coffee, brewing it, providing the right setting for it- all equates to creating some kind of experience. And if two people share the experience it becomes common ground. The same way we talk about taste in books and film and music, it’s how we judge others as prospective accomplices in this dangerous world of poisonous plants and Belgian vending machines, another way to make initial contact and interact and maybe even colour some of our lives with the same blunt crayon.
And then of course there is the element of exploration. To find new information and to share it, the intrepid never crossed the oceans with the intention of keeping what they found to themselves. You could assume they were craving success and admiration- to go off and find things others haven’t and then boast about it and reap the material rewards. But isn’t that just a shallow view that only adds to blinkered, puritanical misunderstanding; easy dismissal of the seemingly frivolous and luxurious, because not everybody can afford to indulge their senses because some of us have to work hard. The sort of grumpy misunderstanding that leads to coffee syphons being the No.1 ‘most pretentious thing ever’ (from a clearly well researched list of 24.)
After all, explorationis not unique to humans, which suggests it might be a survival trait. Whatever the reasons, for better or worse, if Columbus had returned from his voyages only to say ‘Yea it’s an alright place, but it’s full of pretentious hipsters who think Bears are their spirit guides and wear hand-made shoes.‘ Then we might never have had McDonalds. The epitome of sensory deception. (Looks like food, smells like food, tastes vaguely like food, but…)
Conversely if he returned raving about the great wonders only for his audience to reply ‘yea sounds good but it’s probably better with a drop of milk in it,‘ he’d probably be somewhat disappointed.
We’re definitely not making historically or even culturally significant discoveries by roasting coffee. Nor do we aim to, but we are at least trying to share some small excitement. Even if tasting evenings only serve to add decadence to the everyday, or distract from the routine, that’s ok isn’t it? We’re only here for a bit and it might just be the shared discovery we crave. The antidote for the increasingly remote existence that too often sacrifices face-to-face for Facebook and curiosity for cold fact.
If you’d like to learn more than myself about actual coffee stuff, spend half an hour reading Sprudge.com,If you’d like to form your own opinion and taste some coffee then you can join us on Monday:
Tickets for a tenner, limited spaces. You can call us to reserve and pay on the night if you’re not in the area.) More Details here.
Shaun @SJLillustration for complaints.
We’re supposed to get cleverer as we get older but each new year comes around and realisation continues to seep into the widening cracks. Suddenly that mountain of knowledge you carry is nothing but ego and badly-recalled facts; New things happen like flexible phones you can fold up like card-machine receipts, or the electricity company introduces a new “standard rate charge,” adding another row of Kw/h numbers to the quarterly-payment-emotional-breakdown.
Or you read something in a science magazine about the theory that every possible eventuality is played out simultaneously, and the information we don’t perceive lumps together to form alternate realities. And then you’re wondering whether you should have drop-kicked the man who tipped his Costa coffee into somebody’s bike basket. Because after all, in another universe he would have made the right decision. “He wouldn’t have gone to Costa. Is the cheap joke I might have made had I not been so wary of seeming arrogant and mildly cretinous like this bunch.
We are faced with a deluge of uncertain decisions, so much so it can be hard to recognise the important ones.
It’s been a good few months since we changed the big menu board:
A lot of people asked why. Why change, why make it harder to understand, why upset everybody ? I just want a coffee. Which is the same reaction as I had when the last utilities bill arrived.
Trouble is, people don’t really mean that. When they say they “just want a coffee” what they’re asking for is their personal idea of a coffee, which varies considerably depending on where and when you started drinking coffee. It’s a combination of hard-worn habits and the mystic bewilderment, the shield of “knowledge” employed by Barista cult to reinforce this idea of there being some cachet in making coffee.
Or maybe Sometimes there’s some vain competition when ordering in a bar or restaurant to appear worldly or even worse: “well traveled.” It is lovely that you spent last winter in Cuba but we don’t make Cortaditos. Hey perhaps we do, or at least maybe we make something similar (the 6oz Espresso+milk?) but you’ll never find out because you’re too hung up on using a word you learnt when you spent last April with your cousin in Florence. And you’ll complain to your less traveled friend that you ordered 2 Cappuccini (putting extra emphasis on the plural form) and what has actually arrived is nothing like they made at that little bar round the corner from Piazza Annunziata. In this blind motor-action you’ll order each coffee the same. You’ll keep ordering macchiatos and latte’s and “Capuccinose” because that’s the Pavlovian password that makes the caffeine appear, and you can sit down and breathe a sigh of relief having got through the order without looking foolish. Plus everybody now knows that you’ve been to Italy, or watch Sopranos, and you can go back to worrying about things that actually matter like the new row of numbers on the utility bill.
But what is a Cappuccino? It’s generally thought of as coffee plus one third steamed milk and one third milk foam, Go too foamy or “dry” and you‘ll have very little milk in the cup, too flat and you’ll be wondering if you ordered a “cafe latte”. All of this uncertainty depends on how much volume the espresso takes up before you’ve even added the milk and what the person in charge of the steam wand thinks is ‘too foamy’. So Why have that much uncertainty? You order a Cappuccino in France you’ll probably get whipped cream on the top. Order it in Vietnam and the foam might be made with whipped egg.
So if the focus is supposed to be on the coffee bean, perhaps it would be better to do away with the distractions, to simplify the beverage to it’s constituents. But then you don’t have the easy name, it would be hard work for everybody if you had to order “a double shot of espresso-made coffee, with about that much milk, not too much air in the milk, but enough to give it the texture of white velvet being draped over fudge.”
So here’s how we’re working it, the same as many other places, it’s not a new idea that we can take credit for: The milk stays the same texture, the amount of coffee stays the same, and the ratio changes. And Instead of vague descriptive nouns torn hastily from other cultures, we just use the volume of the cup. By default a double espresso base is used as for each drink (please excuse the hypocrisy- there are some words we don’t need to replace,) and this gets topped up with steamed milk. Or water if you’re a not a fan of milk.third steamed milk and one third milk foam, Go too foamy or “dry” and you‘ll have very little milk in the cup, too flat and you’ll be wondering if you ordered a “cafe latte”. All of this uncertainty depends on how much volume the espresso takes up before you’ve even added the milk and what the person in charge of the steam wand thinks is ‘too foamy’. So Why have that much uncertainty? You order a Cappuccino in France you’ll probably get whipped cream on the top. Order it in Vietnam and the foam might be made with whipped egg.
So if the focus is supposed to be on the coffee bean, perhaps it would be better to do away with the distractions, to simplify the beverage to it’s constituents. But then you don’t have the easy name, it would be hard work for everybody if you had to order “a double shot of espresso-made coffee, with about that much milk, not too much air in the milk, but enough to give it the texture of white velvet being draped over fudge.”
So here’s how we’re working it, the same as many other places, it’s not a new idea that we can take credit for: The milk stays the same texture, the amount of coffee stays the same, and the ratio changes. And Instead of vague descriptive nouns torn hastily from other cultures, we just use the volume of the cup. By default a double espresso base is used as for each drink (please excuse the hypocrisy- there are some words we don’t need to replace,) and this gets topped up with steamed milk. Or water if you’re a not a fan of milk.
The bigger the cup, the more milk (or water) will be added, thus diluting the intensity of the espresso. So it all depends on what your palate is craving, creamy and delicate or sharp intensity.