Having Character is Better Than Being One
Words: S Smith
Many of you will have read Shaun’s take on the skills, motivations and approach of the Barista’s at Hot Numbers and the exciting and sometimes frustrating variables that need to be negotiated when producing the perfect, or at least the tastiest and best crafted espresso shot. This post will take you back to the source of that craft and describe the reason why the Hot Numbers Roastery produce the coffees the way we do.
We get many customers in the café and one look at all our lovely staff and the variety of shapes, sizes and characters that both work and visit the café gives an often amusing insight into just how random and varied human beings are. Tall, short, fat, skinny, harsh, mellow and sometimes downright peculiar us humans are a diverse bunch of individuals but beyond the buzzy world of the café and its assorted characters there is the world of our roastery, hidden under trees in a little brick building on the outskirts of Cambridge, where a different but similarly diverse bunch of individuals also can be found.
For many, coffee is “just coffee”a thick dark brown caffeine shot that picks you up and gets you through your day. Visiting many establishments for your daily espresso you might notice some differences from café to café but in general coffee to most is a pretty generic drink. As you will have read in previous weeks a number of variables will affect the flavour of your drink but what might be overlooked is where the coffee actually comes from. Before our coffee even reaches the espresso machine and your cup it has already taken a long journey and where that journey started hugely determines the flavour of your espresso or filter coffee. In the past year from our roastery we have brought to the café an assortment of international visitors from Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ethiopia, not only do these visitors in the form of green coffee beans have very different characters from each other, the regions and farms they come from hugely affects the character of these coffee’s. Many roasters will take these green coffee beans, find out exactly what type of character each is and through the roast process and then blending of the roasted beans apply a sympathetic understanding of the coffee’s natural and unique flavour potentials and combine these varieties to offer you a balanced flavourful espresso. I could speculate at length about what ‘balanced’ might mean but this has been dealt with in much more eloquent terms by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood at http://colonnaandsmalls.wordpress.com/tag/balance/
At Hot Numbers roastery we made a very specific choice to avoid blending taking the exciting and sometimes downright scary choice to roast only single-origin coffees. Our roastery is small-scale producing coffees predominately for Hot Numbers café and only a select few other local cafes and restaurants and it is this scale of production that enabled us to really experiment with all of the wonderful and varied range of international coffee’s we have offered over the past year and a half to our customers, to bring these unique characters to the café.
To offer single-origin coffees to customers can be exciting. For those that love the variety of flavours that can be garnered from an Ethiopian Sidamo the excitement comes because of the very different taste that their El Salvadorean Talapo had the week before, both espresso’s but both incredibly different in their sweetness, acidity and flavour balance. Where such an approach becomes scary is when a customer cannot reconcile these very different flavours and assumes a very inconsistent product when comparing these espresso shots together as just one product, we would generally however not make the same judgements on two very different single malt whiskies or wines from different countries or regions of production. By their very natures the Ethiopian and the El Salvadorean exhibit different characters from each other but for some who expect a consistent espresso flavour that tastes like, well, coffee, taking a look at our coffee menu and being confronted by an espresso that is suggested to taste like marzipan, hazelnut or perhaps even apple could be confusing. Add milk and we might even tell you your coffee could taste like amaretto or white chocolate, even for us coffee geeks at Hot Numbers café and roastery such variety of flavours can sometimes seem bizarre so for the customer expecting their coffee to taste like “just coffee” we appreciate that you might find this alarming, overwhelming and strange.
And this is where I come back to the characterful differences that coffee has and why we continue to produce coffee’s that can startle, surprise and most importantly polarise opinions amongst not only our customers but even the staff at Hot Numbers. Dom remembers his favourite espresso as the Colombian Oparapa which had a high acidity which delivered a flavour in the espresso that suggested hints of Orange Rind, Val would favour our soon to come cup of excellence El Salvador Bello Horizonte as a paper filter for its light roast sweetness which tastes a little like toffee but has a hint of the nutty tones reminiscent of the darker roast coffee’s back home in her native Italy, Simon still hankers after any espresso that lends itself to natural flavours somewhere near marzipan and spices like our El Salvador El Retiro we served last Christmas and I was heartbroken when our recent stocks of Ethiopian Sidamo were replaced with an alternative as I’ll miss the amazing white chocolate flavour that it delivered when the espresso shot was combined with milk in our 8oz cups.
Our coffee’s are like us, all very different and with unique characters and we love them all for very unique and different reasons just like we love the very different and unique range of customers who come through the door of the café every day. In the new year i’ll explain in more detail how we work with the coffee’s natural characteristics at our roastery but for now don’t be daunted by the unusual flavours you see described on our menu board, check out our current range of coffee’s here http://hotnumberscoffee.co.uk/ourcoffee and even if the flavour of your coffee is not to your taste this time around there will be always be an alternative on offer in the café and a very different and exciting new character through the door to replace it very soon.