Tag Archives: Barista

The best laid plans of mice and men…

1 Jan

I know I said this last year, but I’ll say it again.  I’m gonna try and blog more in 2012.

I kept a fine roll going and made it into July but from there I did…well nothing.


I beg pardons but my last 6 months have been filled with resounding amounts of work and other hobbies coming to intercept my time.  As I alluded in my last post, I’ve started working at Peel & Peel Independent Coffee, in Northampton.  This has fulfilled one of my goals of last year but more on that in a minute. I also started working on a per diam basis for Monkshood Coffee, an independent mobile coffee company using (Working!) VW Campers and through them got to work at Download, Sonisphere and Bloodstock festivals, making top-notch coffee. This made me very happy. All the while continuing my daily job at The Courtyard Brasserie and convincing them that speciality coffee is the way to take that side of the business.

So, last year I made a set of goals for myself to achieve over the course of 12 months. They were

  1. Try as much coffee as possible – I could have tried more. C for effort
  2. Work towards my own operation or with people with a similar goal – This was perhaps my most coveted goal. In working at Peel & Peel I feel I’ve achieved this with bells on
  3. Share great coffee with more people and help educate consumers about what is possible Peel  & Peel definitely gives this an extra outlet, but Monkshood brought it to a whole new level. Metal people love their coffee
  4. Give the UKBC my all – Effort; yes. Timeliness; Not so much
  5. Visit a producing farm – A tall order to arrange but, one day…
  6. Blog more – Failed entirely.
So, with that in mind, a few new goals should be set.
  1. Blog More! – I couldn’t blog much less than I have in the past 6 months so it’d be hard to fail
  2. Try as much coffee as possible – I have 52 weeks in which to try as many coffees as I can.  I can feel a few coffee subscriptions coming on…
  3. Expand Peel & Peel toward becoming entirely self-sufficient and, with luck, work towards our own premises. (May take longer)
  4. Give one last crack at the UKBC whip.  – I feel this might be the last time I put myself through the UKBC, at least for a few years.

I’ve chosen these goals with a consideration to what their secondary effects will be.  Blogging makes me continually reassess and rethink concepts that I’ve held as fact, sometimes incorrectly. Tasting coffees expands my palette and makes me better at what I do. Expanding Peel & Peel is an expansion on my own goals in regard to running my own coffee shop. The UKBC forces me to assess myself as a barista and work on any bad habits I may have acquired.

A very Happy New Year to you all.


Service in Coffee

19 Feb

An anonymous barista (I assume) recently posted a listing on London Coffee Jobs calling out London’s speciality coffee shop owners to pay a better wage to their baristas (It had since been removed).

Of that particular argument I will distance myself from as I don’t work in the city. But I do feel the sentiment.

The argument was put forth against that London’s baristas are, in some cases, lacking the skill of good customer service and that if wages are to rise then so too does the quality of service that is provided.

And so rises the question of what constitutes top service in a coffee shop?

I’ve spent some time mulling this as it’s something I do but have never properly analysed.

I think the problem stems, in part from the perception that a barista is a short term job or a school leavers job, which it is, at least some what. Outside of a very tight circle, a lot of baristas are indifferent about every aspect of their job and so the public expectation is lowered and people will, as a general rule do the minimum they can to get by. So enter the rock star/ hipster baristas. I really dislike using the term, so I want to clarify my meaning by saying the barista whom is driven entirely by ego and is in coffee because it’s ‘uncool’. Not all hipsters and hipster baristas and not all hipster barista are hipsters. These are the group that seem to fuel the negative stereotype and cast the industry in a poor light.

Service expectations change from location to location, in a diner type restaurant I expect friendly service perhaps a brief bit of shooting the breeze if the server isn’t busy and being made to feel very much at ease.  In a more typical restaurant the expectation is different, it’s more formal, the focus is on the food and your company.  So I think the question you have to ask is where do you place your coffee shop on that spectrum, if at all.  Again we need to remind ourselves we are our own industry and shouldn’t follow other areas of the industry blindly.

Service should never be pretentious nor rude. If a customer were to ask for vanilla syrup then the correct response is to apologise for not having what they request and politely explain the reasoning for not doing so. Scoffing should never happen, not only is it outrageously rude and arrogant, you also rob the chance of converting someone to enjoying their coffee as it’s own delicacy and most likely of a future customer, not to mention the people they may discourage from visiting you.

For people wanting to become ‘career baristas’ then they need to not only match the service expectations of do their utmost to supersede them and deliver outstanding service to stand out and make a reputation for themselves not only as being passionate about coffee but being passionate about their customers as well.  Any shop that does this earns many repeat visits from me and I recommend them to anyone who I know will be in the area.  This is how word of mouth works and it is still the most important promotional recommendation that anywhere can receive.

Coffee shops are unique in several aspects.  Baristas are often compared to sommeliers in that we are expected to have a keen palette and be able to describe the coffee in it’s flavours and also know it’s origin.  I think for the most part we do this well, but we’re also expected to create the beverage, which beyond pouring from a bottle into a glass, is not the role of a sommelier, but again I think for the most part we know what we’re doing here, but we’re also expected to perform the rest of the service transaction, serve (and perhaps cook) food, cakes etc. and process payment.

This is an almost unique situation, a chef is not judged on their service skills, and a waiter isn’t judged on their ability to cook. Baristas must take both roles and fulfil them admirably.

When trying to juggle all these elements it’s easier to drop the element you’re least passionate about when you’re in the middle of your rush but this is when it’s most important to keep all your balls in the air.  Taking the moment to break concentration just to smile and say ‘have a nice day’ can really stand you out and make it feel like you care, which at the end of the day, is the goal of the service role.

Experiment Time: Timered Grinders

7 Sep

I recently acquired a Viponel S15 Darkroom timer to attach to my grinder as a non-permanant timer mod.  My reasoning for this may be explained at a different point.

There has been a serious take up on the timer modded grinders both in competition use and in shops looking for consistency alongside freshness.

I became curious as to how dependable the timer mod is in terms of ground coffee ending up in the portafilter.  In order to test I measured the grind over 50 timed grinds of 2.5secs each weighed to an accuracy of 1/100th of a gram.  I used a single origin coffee of a relatively dark roast that I use for seasoning and such with an espresso grind setting and the coffee loaded into the hopper in one large portion. The use of a single origin is to negate any possibility of having a variance in the load upon the motor from different density varietals.[1]

The grinder used is a Wega 2.6k which is a rebranded Compak K6.[2]

The results were an average grind of 6.83g of coffee reaching the portafilter.  Exactly half (25) of the doses were within 1/4 gram of the average and 37 of the doses (74%) within 1/2 gram of the average.

An interesting pattern of weight distribution also occurs.  Almost uniformly a portion is above average and then below with few outliers from the pattern.

I would suspect that the main variable that is affecting the result is clumping.  I noticed during the experiment that at times there were more grounds being held at the chute rather than going into the dosing chamber.

I suspect that using a courser ground there would be a lot more consistency within the dosing and perhaps using a lighter roast of coffee may have a different result being that there would be less surface oils to adhere the coffee particles.

In the end a relatively interesting set of results.  I would be interested to conduct further experiments to see what differences may be found within different fineness settings, roasts and varietals.  Though a full range of doses extended from 5.90 grammes to 8.71 (an extreme outlier,the next largest dose being 8.10) I would suspect the consistency is much higher that of a full, calibrated dosing chamber due to weight of the coffee above it etc.  in addition to the fact that coffee in a dosing chamber is sitting going stale. In my opinion timer-dosed coffee, even with a margin of inconsistency is undoubtedly preferable in terms of the resulting cup.

If anyone has any insight into the results or would like to see my (slightly messy) spreadsheet for the verbose results then e-mail/twitter me and I’ll forward them on.

1. It should be noted that the roast looked slightly inconsistent so that may have affected the ground dose by adding load to the grinder, even if only momentarily.

2. Another point of note with the grinder is that the exit chute from the grinding chamber holds approximately 4-5g of coffee before it reaches the chamber, so there’s an amount of room for compression and clumping within the chute.  Also the dosing chamber in this grinder has a few points where coffee can remain.

Brew-bituary: Penny University

23 Jul

Fore-word: I know I may seem slightly odd to post an obituary prior to the closure, but this post is also in part to encourage anyone who has not yet been, to visit Penny University and experience it before it is gone.

In May, Square Mile Coffee opened its very first retail space project dubbed ‘Penny University’. Partially in order to shake things up in the espresso-centric world of coffee in Central London.  The elegantly simple bar featured a state-of-the-art Uber Boiler from Marco and its sister-project Uber Grinder.  Beyond that there was nothing you couldn’t expect to see in any coffee enthusiasts kitchen.

For various reasons, Square Mile have announced that Penny University shall be shutting its doors for the final time on July 30th.

By deliberately omitting the espresso bar concept; the shop has been able to brew coffee in the same manner you may at home, showcasing Square Mile’s coffees and the elegant, quiet simplicity of a manual drip or a syphon brewer.

Penny University's Menu

Incase anyone hasn’t had the opportunity to sample some of the best brewed coffee in London a quick run-down.  Penny University features three individual coffees from Square Mile’s range and three brewing methods, a Hario v60 (Paper-filtered pour-over), a Hario Woodneck (Cloth-filtered manual pour-over) and a Hario TCA-2 syphon (Paper-filtered Vacuum/Syphon brewer) which are also available as a tasting flight with some exquisite chocolates.

Coffee at Penny University

The bar has been manned primarily by the charming and incredibly knowledgable Tim Williams and Tobias Cockerill with a few guests at various stages.  They’ve worked tirelessly to bring the best coffee to the fore and the role of a brewing barista seems so much more intense than one working with espresso, especially given the level of scrutiny they preside over every drink they make and the level of questions coming from almost every guest within the shop.

I had the pleasure of drinking coffee at Penny University three times during its installation and were it more feasible I would have frequented a lot more often. In fact, had it been feasible I would have worked there for free!

If you’re in London during the next week I would beseech you to pop by Penny University and give  yourself the treat of an excellent coffee. You will not regret your visit!

Square Mile at Penny University

Incase anyone hasn’t yet had the oppertunity to sample some of the best brewed coffee in London a quick run-down.  Penny University features three individual coffees from Square Mile’s range and three brewing methods, a Hario v60 (Paper-filtered pour-over), a Hario Woodneck (Cloth-filtered manual pour-over) and a Hario TCA-2 syphon (Paper-filtered Vacuum/Syphon brewer) which are also available as a tasting flight with some exquisite chocolates.

Congratulations World Coffee Champions of 2010

25 Jun

Congratulations are in a HUGE order for Mr Mike Philips of Inteligensia who brought home the crown for the USA of World Barista Champion 2010. Mike is a true gentleman, master of his craft and has worked hard to achieve this feat over the course of many a WBC.

A special mention also goes out the the Guatemalan and Australian barista champions who bring home 2nd and 3rd respectively. A big congratulations to the Guatemalan entry for achieving the best rank of any producing country to date.

Colin Harmon of 3FE from Ireland scored a very respectable 4th place with a signature drink that had no ingredients other than coffee and water. Nothing I write could do any of these excellent baristas justice, so I point you toward the videos of their respective performances and encourage you to watch with rapt attention.

In the world cupping contest Ireland’s Dave Walsh placed 2nd to the Ecuadorean taster, Hector Gonzalez

In Gold Sprits we also placed a incredibly close 2nd to the Hugarian barista.

I am pleased to announce that Britain brought home 1st place in the Ibrik competition by the skills of the talented Aysin Aydogdu.

And the best nation was passed from UK to Australia who very well.

Although the UK and Ireland missed out on most of the top spots it’s reassuring to see the competitions are doing what they were designed to do which is to encourage the development and progression of speciality coffee ever further. The competitors brought so much more to the table than ever before and standards have been raised yet higher for next years competitors.

Every competitor is due a massive amount of praise ad recognition for pushing themselves further and helping the industry move towards better heights.

Roll on Bogota

Riding the Waves

10 Jun

So my previous post reminded me of a further issue with the vocabulary we use within coffee. I’m specifically referring to the term third wave, and what it means, or atleast what it means to me as it seems to be somewhat subjective.

As I understand it; Third wave refers to the antipodean style coffee shops serving espresso based drinks in a range of about 6-10fl. ounces with (ideally) a heavy focus on the quality and passionate baristas. Second wave is espresso bars serving 12-20fl. ounce drinks, most likely with a large array of syrups and a fairly dark roasted blend. And first wave are serving bulk-brewed drip coffee that sits on a burner until it’s drank or turns to treacle and is usually served with immense amounts of cream and sugar.

One of my issues with a term like third wave is that it implies a superiority to second wave coffee, and while I’d venture that it’s probably the case that at most 3rd wave shops you’ll get better coffee than at most second wave shops, a third wave shop that’s missed the point when it comes to the push on quality and passion (or simply doesn’t know better) would not be as good as a second wave style shop where the barista really cares about their craft but doesn’t know about ‘third wave’ or is constricted by an owner who is afraid of changing a working formula. So if there were a further evolution to a forth wave it would most likely overshadow the third wave.

I also find myself coming back to the problem of alienating our customers aswell as newcomers to the industry, third wave is a somewhat arcane term, being that it refers directly to the evolution of coffee shops in a way that bears no relation to the difference, it just provides a stepped, linear path and in using terms like this we create a hurdle of communication in general.

The issue of the very segmented stepping between waves I find contentious and counter-intuitive to the developmental-experimental attitude that is fostered by every good barista I can think of. There are shops through the spectrum of the third wave that are doing vastly different things, now I don’t think that we should start decimalising this terminology, as it then becomes even more confusing and alienating when we start talking about a 3.5rd wave bar and anyone who doesn’t get along with maths gets very confused.  Not to mention I’m sure there’d be shops who just want to become a 3.1415926535-rd wave shop, which is just silly.

And while on the subject; are we starting to see the emergance of the forth wave, would a venture such as Square Mile’s Penny University (only brewed coffee with no milk or sugar in the shop atall) be considered a 4th wave coffee shop? Or is it a further, or alternative evolution of third wave? Or could it be considered a careful regression to first wave with a third wave mindset?

As always, any opinions, suggestions, corrections or picking apart of my theories are welcome.

“We think in language; therefore, the quality of our thoughts is only as good as the quality of our language.” — George Carlin

Sticks & Stones

3 Jun

A term that I always want a better, or at least more concise word for when I write a post, or indeed am talking about coffee, is the term by which we refer to the segment of the coffee industry which is wholly quality focused and eternally striving to improve coffee as a whole.

Speciality coffee‘ is the typical goto phrase which is far too general and the spectrum which it could technically cover would include a large spread of poor coffee with good marketing. A food connoisseur may be considered to be interested in speciality food but that would be far too wide a gamut for a concise explanation as to what they enjoy or expect when they go to a restaurant.

I suppose the partial reason for why we always default to “speciality coffee” is to a degree at least people know what you are talking about and it’s an approachable term in that it is harder to impune much snobbery as opposed to a word like ‘connoisseur’, and to an outsider it probably seems quite accurate.

A further problem with ‘speciality’ coffee is that it has been adopted by the larger companies, whose doses and standards do not come close to meeting what I consider to be true speciality coffee.

But what are the alternatives? A few get kicked around but they don’t cut the mustard in my mind.

Third Wave‘ is a popular term but the pay off of it is that it doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense to an outsider.

Connoisseur‘ is typically construed as snobby and unapproachable, which is the exact opposite.

The best term I can think is passionate, but using the term ‘passionate coffee’ doesn’t make much sense, perhaps there’s a synonym that can be better used, but a passionate barista is at the heart of what the focus is about.

It could be said that this is merely semantics, but I think there is a larger problem in the barriers of communication that are faced by baristas when trying to connect with the clientelle is how we refer to the segment of the industry we mean in a concise way.  Speaking to the average person saying 3rd wave will lead to very little understanding which starts making the whole conversation start to become arcane and confusing to the uninitiated which, in turn can risk creating the negative view of snobbery and alienating the very peole we’re trying to reach.

Does anyone have a better term?