Most of our coffee is bought through speciality coffee traders like Mercanta. We do do trade directly for our coffee from Indonesia and Brazil because we use so much of their coffee, but it’s quite a commitment to keep returning to visit the people that you buy from. That’s why it makes sense to buy through middle people who spend the time visiting estates and maintaining the relationships. Occasionally, it’s nice to pay a visit to the people whom you’ve been writing about in marketing blurbs.
Until you meet them, the people that you buy from are pretty much exotic names that are great for marketing. “The coffee that you’re drinking comes from a cooperative (which I’ve never visited) in Rwanda (where I’ve never been) and 80% of its members are women (so I’ve been told) and this coffee is symbolic of the economic growth that women in Rwanda have powered since the civil war (so I’ve read).
When the farmer’s name is Pedro and the guy we deal through at Mercanta is Juan the marketing fairytale seems a little far-fetch. ‘Pedro and Juan trade coffee’ sounds a bit like ‘Peter and Jane Go Shopping’ – a kind of Ladybird Reader for coffee.
I was very keen to meet Pedro because Artisan Roast UK and Artisan Roastery Malaysia have been buying his beans for years and they are remarkably good. Also, Joey and Jason from Malaysia had already travelled to visit him in 2017. In the WBC of the same year Jason Loo took this coffee to the WBC and came seventh. The best thing about this achievement, in my opinion, is that it’s not a geisha, a microlot, nor has it been through carbonic maceration. It’s a coffee that Joey roasts for general consumption in our cafes and for wholesale. It’s what I feel the competitions should be about: coffee that cafes routinely serve.
On 25 July, I had the opportunity to visit Pedro and finally take him out of the Colombian picture book. Pedro and Juan are seriously lovely guys and it was a delight to see and talk with them. Pedro is also quite the geek about all things coffee and natural guide. While we were driving and talking I jotted down a few notes and while at the mill and factory I took some video of Pedro explaining what they do there. I’ve put this together on Tour Builder where you can follow the tour and the videos on a Google Map, which you can find here: Tour of Café de Santa Bárbara.
When I started my first cafe in Edinburgh I had £12 000 to spend. That included the cost of the roasting machine. With the ongoing cost of the rent taken into account, I figured I had a couple of weeks in which to build the cafe before the money would run out. Then my business partner left town to go sailing in the Greek Islands for three weeks.
I’m not saying that I could do it again. I’m certainly not saying that someone could do the same today and get away with calling themselves a speciality coffee house, much less a roastery, but here’s how we went about it the first time around – warts, blisters and all.
I’ll go through the measuring up, the design, how I construct cafes today, how not to roast coffee and a few things that it would have been to good to have known before starting. You might not be able to build a cafe for £12 000 – that is just a bit more than the cost of the espresso machine that’s sitting in the same cafe now – but this should help you keep the costs down a fair bit.
Most self-help books seem like poor attempts to create a cult. They have one idea and spend 10 chapters of poor prose iterating the same point with different stories about really clever, successful people who are united only by their adherence to the one idea and the smugness of their smiles. The book promises to make you one of them if only you follow the path of the guru and their one idea.
The Constant Gardener, Penang
There’s a cafe in Georgetown, Penang, designed by SK Leng, a man with a mild obsession for coffee. Under the espresso counter he’s got pipes running into empty upside down filter housings (to act as a small reservoir) and BWT bestmax PREMIUM ion-exchange filters stripping out calcium and adding magnesium to his water with testing points and connections for planned adaptations in several locations. His irrigation system is constantly changing; I’ve never visited this cafe without seeing some change to the way that he waters his coffee. To most people, water is H2O and that’s it. To health conscious GMO avoidant modern consumers, removing calcium and adding magnesium seems like the work of Dr. Frankenstein. Why would anyone want to do all this to pure, natural water? Continue reading
The design of the coffee bench is very important for workflow. It must flow for the baristas to get the coffees out fast. The design constraints are the size of the chiller and the direction of flow. If the chiller can be located elsewhere, it frees up the design, but the barista will still need a small fridge to keep a few ready cartons of milk to hand. An icebox is another option. I’ve found that, although it takes up a lot of space, working with a fridge for milk and a freezer for ice is preferable.
Below is a link to a 3D rendering of the bench above. Continue reading
All the baristas working at my cafes sit an exam (here’s a link to it). Most fail the first time round and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. The modern barista has to mentally wrestle with concepts that include knowledge of physics, chemistry and fluid dynamics, they need to have the palette and confidence of a good chef and be charming when relating complex concepts to the customers. We all forget how much we’ve learned and getting people to learn all these things is difficult. I have a genuine passion for coffee and I want people working with me who are genuinely interested in coffee and can enthusiastically impart that passion to our customers. Training is very important to me. Continue reading
Factory visit 1/11/2011
A rare picture of Kees van der Westen
A visit to the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus for good baristas in his hometown of Eindhoven.
First, I have a confession: I initially saw the Kees’ machines as equipment that was style over substance. Being suspicious of tight jeans and periwinkles, I have always preferred practical clothing and practical equipment. I’m more of a Linea or a Cyncra kind of a guy, machines that only need a set of tank tracks and a turret to be useful to the Blues and Royals. I had seen the Mistral and thought it looked a thing of beauty, but, I assumed, in a botoxed-bimbo-I-look-like-fun-until-I-open-my-mouth kind of way. It looked too pretty to be able to make serious coffee; I suspected it to be vulnerable to break-down and sudden faints. Continue reading
The death of ristretto, volume and single and double shots.
I still get a lot of people asking for a ristretto and I’m always interested in what they mean. Usually, they’re after something with less bitterness than a typical short black. If the coffee is of the fourth or fifth stage, restricting the pour makes sense: if a double shot means 60mL, then by cutting the pour at 40mL we’ve got a cup of liquid that is less bitter than had we carried on to 60mL. Restricting the pour with six stage coffee makes no sense.
In sixth stage coffee, the barista has set up the pour so that there is a balance of acidic, sweet and bitter tastes. Cutting the pour early produces a very sour cup.
Had a quick visit to Starbucks. My first visit to Starbucks in six years. Things have changed. There’s wood everywhere, great little nooks with interesting local designs and plaques to describe the features. The place is well thought out and is much more welcoming than any chainstore I’ve been to before. It’s the new concept store in Amsterdam and I think Starbucks has hit the mark with it’s new concept. Continue reading