Archive for March, 2018

Stephen Leighton UK Brewers Cup semifinals

March 21, 2018

Last week I was in conversation with Stephen Leighton, green been buyer, coffee roaster, head of Has Bean, author of Coffeeography.

What I did not know and only stumbled upon last night, was that Stephen Leighton was a semifinalist  in the SCA UK Brewers Cup last year.

Had I known, I would have asked him to brew me a coffee.

Stephen Leighton did something very strange, he did not use Geisha, which most do, he used, I would hate to describe it as an ordinary coffee, and certainly not an inferior coffee, he did not pop down to the local Costa or tax-dodging Caffe Nero and ask for some coffee beans, or order over-roasted catering supply coffee from Stokes, he used a perfectly acceptable Brazilian coffee.

Is that not what the Brewers Cup should be about, a skilled barista challenging us all to obtain the best from a coffee that we may actually buy in the real world?  Showcasing the skills of the barista not showcasing the coffee?

Last year, I tried what Martin Hudak used to win Coffee in Good Spirits, I had the beans, goes with out saying Geisha, and wooed people with the beans. A coffee that was in very short supply and retailed at around £200 per kilo.

Stephen Leighton was therefore taking a risk, he knew he was taking a  risk, but he was also making a point, mere mortals do not drink Geisha, they do not come across Geisha in coffee shops, though I did at Just Made 33, mere mortals in speciality coffee shops are served excellent coffee, but not Geisha.

Should the Brewers Cup not be about brewing, rewarding innovation, it is not a Cup of Excellence judging a coffee.

I had a message I needed to share with the world.  I love coffee and I love barista competition, but I regret the way that the competition has become a Geisha show, using caricature coffees that have no resemblance to the coffees that our customers drink at home. Coffee is multi faceted and has so many things it can give us.

So decided to make a presentation about this and used what I described in my presentation as an unexciting Brazil, a pulp natural that’s grown at 1100 to 1250 masl and is a yellow bourbon varietal from Fazenda Cacheoria in Sao Paolo state on the border of Minas Gerias.

Quite a risk to bring this coffee to a Brewers Cup competition, but after a lot of thought I decided actually not. There’s a clue in the name, Brewers Cup. It’s about brewing coffee, not airfreighting in micro lots from around the world that show off, I know, I’ve done that in the past, but it should be about making three drinks and ensuring predictable, intended, outcomes. Brazil’s are perfect for this, with a huge window of brewing opportunity. It is much easier to work with than Geisha or a Kenyan, so it would be actually easier for me to hit my brewing parameters and give the judges a delicious cup of coffee. It’s extractable and predictable.

I’ve worked with his farm for 14 years, slowly and surely increasing our volumes. I did some quick sums and and I’ve bought over 150 tonnes of this coffee in my time at Hasbean. I’ve brewed this coffee more than any other, and drink buckets of the stuff while I’m banging out emails. It’s my go to coffee, I know it inside out. I’ve  also worked out that in the last 14 years my customers have probably brewed around 10 million cups of this coffee. There has to be something in it right ? It has to be a good brewed coffee if we have sold so much of it and have such customer demand. They love it for the same reasons, easy to brew extractable, predicable outcomes and simple descriptors that anyone can get.

Rebellion, rocking the boat, never goes down well with judges. Stephen Leighton sadly did not make it to the finals.

The judges criticised his workflow, failure to explain use of Chemex.

I saw nothing wrong with workflow. He added a fourth Chemex to allow him to pace his workflow, and avoided the need to pause (always an awkward pause as what to do?). It was also an innovation to have a fourth Chemex, allowing the audience to taste what he had brewed. Maybe that was seen as an affront by the judges.

He delved into some depth on why he was using the Chemex.

I’m using Chemex as this is how I brew at work and at home. I love Chemex for the unique cup profile and the aesthetically pleasing design. Its also according to Ian Fleming the choice of brewer of James Bond, and who can argue with 007? It also gives a clean sweeter lighter cup removing lots of suspended solids with its thick paper filters which is perfect for a normally thick gloomy pulped natural Brazil, making it lighter and cleaner while retaining its inherent sweetness and tasting notes.

There was innovation on the water, half bottled, half tap water. Innovation no bloom. Innovation on the pouring.

There is a reason for allowing the coffee to bloom, it allows the CO2 to escape, aids the extraction, or so the theory runs and yet Stephen Leighton says it makes no difference.

A V60 and a Chemex, we see pouring in a circular motion. Not here.

I have seen similar in Athens, when Manos Mamatis, Coffee in Good Spirits World Championship No 2 poured me a V60 at The Underdog, a very narrow stream of hot water directed at the centre, a technique pioneered by World Champion Barista Stefanos Domatiotis of Taf.

The Brazilian coffee used a yellow bourbon varietal from Fazenda Cacheoria in Sao Paolo state on the border of Minas Gerias is from a producer featured in Coffeeography.

Last year Dale Harris Director of wholesale at Hasbean won the World Barista Championships.

Hasbean will be opening a pop up coffee shop in Brick Lane for the duration of the London Coffee Festival (12-15 April 2018).

Pret a Manger gives away free coffee

March 20, 2018

Pret a Manger to give away 300,000 free coffees this week.

It sounds generous but is it?

Many people have coffee loyalty cards. How many coffees to buy to get a free coffee?

How many coffees do Pret a Manger sell in a week?

I do not know, but I would hazard a guess the free coffees is a tiny percentage of what Pret actually sell.

And that puts into context the ‘free coffee offer’ if we compare with a coffee loyalty card.

In other words everyone is giving away free coffee.

As with the coffee at 49p, Pret a Manger has once again pulled a very clever PR stunt, and once again the media has fallen for it.

Coffee cupping on St Joseph’s Day

March 19, 2018

For the last few years together with friends from across the world we have celebrated St Joseph’s Day at a party hosted by Paulo Coelho and his wife Christina.

This year celebrated St Joseph’s Day with an evening of coffee cupping at Coffee Aroma.

Last week, an afternoon of conversation and book signing with Stephen Leighton, author of Coffeeography. He left behind samples of coffee beans from the producers featured in Coffeeography.  As I write, wonderful aroma from the coffee samples.

Coffee cupping is to coffee what wine tasting is to wine.

What better way the celebrate the hard work of the producers than a coffee cupping on St Joseph’s Day, St Joseph the patron saint of workers.

The beans were ground, placed in a cupping bowl, hot water poured on, left for four minutes.

A group of half a dozen people, roughly half staff, half  customers took it in turn to sample the coffees.

Four coffees, two sessions.

Blind tasting. The origin to be revealed later.

I would have changed how this was carried out.

Grind the coffee, each sample the aroma of the ground beans, pour in the hot water, wait four minutes, one person for each cup, remove the crust, sample the aroma that erupts when the crust removed, then with a sampling spoon, sample each coffee.

Whilst noticing a difference, I did not notice a big difference. I noticed a far bigger difference cupping beans from Los Nogales Project, twelve different samples from the same estate.

Curious. I offer an explanation.

When Stephen Leighton chooses the beans he has in mind what he is looking for, which will select beans of similar profile.

Real Fresh Coffee has a section on coffee cupping, Standart issue 6 a useful guide.

Standart is on sale in Madame Waffle or from Has Bean.

Coffee cupping is a sensory experience, sight, smell, taste.

Where the Wild Coffee Grows has a wonderful description of coffee drinking in Ethiopia as a sensory experience that engages all the senses.

M&S sparks card fraud

March 16, 2018

M&S has currently an Up To 50% Sale. Yes, a con, it should be a real sale, 50% Sale, not 50% in huge letters and hidden in the small print up to 50% which is meaningless.

Contempt for customers by M&S. The same contempt we see when M&S cannot be bothered to man the check out tills in their food sections.

No surprise, M&S a failing retailer.

There is though a fraud mimicking the contempt for customers, thus appearing to be genuine.

Sparks Card holders have received an e-mail, telling them they have been specially selected to take advantage of the 50% Sale, have to buy now, click on a link, have less than six hours, and to make the case, a clock is counting down.

It looks legit only that is all too easy.

The e-mail address looks odd, but could be legit.

It is not. Do not clink on any of the links.

The giveaway is the clock. Standard for fraudsters, limited time to take advantage of an offer.

The e-mail address raises doubts.

A further giveaway the points recorded.

Only one way to find out.

Purchase made in M&S, the usual appalling wait, insufficient tills manned.

The points recorded on the till receipt did not match those recorded in the scam e-mail.

A conversation with a store manager.

She kindly checked her Sparks Card e-mail, mention of the Sale, virtually identical, but no clock counting down.

M&S have been asked to notify every single Sparks Card holder to warn them of this fraud.

If you have received this fraud, delete, but better still mark as junk or a phishing scam.

It would also be wise to run a virus scanner.

It is also worth checking with your bank for any fraudulent transactions, especially if you are foolish enough to do on-line banking.

Now it may be, M&S also ran the clock. If they did, they are using the same sales tactics as fraudsters, and if they did, it opens the floodgates to fraudsters to make their scams look legit.

In conversation with Stephen Leighton

March 14, 2018

An afternoon of conversation and book signing with Stephen Leighton, head of Hasbean and author of Coffeeography.

Launch event for Lincoln Coffee Festival took place in the first floor lounge of Coffee Aroma.

A very interesting afternoon of conversation with one of the lead players in coffee.

Stephen Leighton talked about the people and farms he obtains his coffee from. Long term relationships, friends of the family.

From a very humble beginning, Stephen fell in love with coffee as a child passing by a coffee shop with coffee roasting, he started with green beans, roasting on a pan at home, selling his roasted coffee off a market stall.

It was then trips to origin, where has formed long term relationships with the growers.

One family will recommend another farm, often in a different country.

Oxfam were invited to the event, they may have actually learnt something.

Stephen Leighton engages in direct trade, the farms are paid a higher price for quality.

Contrast with FairTrade. Farms are paid a tiny premium over and above commodity price. Fine if low altitude, low quality commodity coffee, they get a tiny margin above what they would otherwise get for low quality coffee destined for instant coffee or the coffee chains.

Instant coffee. Beans are boiled to remove any resemblance to coffee, then chemically adulterated to provide a coffee flavour.

FairTrade there is no incentive to the growers to improve the quality of the coffee, coffee is coffee is coffee, a commodity, price determined by international coffee markets in London and New York, a price determined by speculators.

To improve the quality requires more care in all the stages. Only the red coffee cherries, this may require several passes to pick the best ripe cherries, it requires careful sorting. All of which adds to the cost to the grower. Only worth it if these extra costs are recuperated if can command a higher price for the coffee. This will happen with speciality coffee, where everyone in the chain wants higher quality and is willing to pay for it, the coffee roaster, the indie coffee shop, the discerning coffee drinker, it will not happen with commodity coffee.

Therefore when buying a bag of Hasbean coffee from Coffee Aroma, or a bag of Square Mile coffee from Madame Waffle, or a bag of coffee direct from Union Hand-Roasted, you will pay a higher price, in return, higher quality coffee, a better price to the grower.

FairTrade has degenerated into marketing hype for low quality coffee, a brand.

It is difficult to know, has the latte levy had an impact, or at least the proposed latte levy, which the government has refused to implement?

It may have made people think, and the clientele in specialty coffee shops tend to care more.

Do we discourage takeaway coffee, encourage sit and relax with speciality coffee served in glass or ceramic? If takeaway, encourage use of compostable cups or offer a discount if a customer brings in a clean KeepCup for a refill?

What are the life cycle costs?

What we do know, plastic is destroying the planet. At the very least we need a discussion between barista and customer, to explore the options.

Business as usual, plastic-lined disposable paper coffee cups, is not an option.

A 5p levy on flimsy plastic carrier bags has reduced their use by in excess of 80%. It has though had an unintended side effect.

People buy a cotton tote bag. Next time out shopping buy another, then another. There is now a world shortage of cotton and the price of cotton has soured.

Cotton is one of the worst environmentally damaging commercial crops grown. Big demand for water, toxic cocktail of chemicals sprayed on the plants, toxic chemicals used to process the cotton.

Apples in a supermarket are graded to give a uniform size. There is no rationale for this other than convenience for the supermarket. Those rejected as non-standard, perfectly good apples, go to waste.

The same happens with coffee. Kenyan AA, is no measure of quality, it is a measure of size.

The same bad habits in coffee, rejection of smaller beans. When cupped for flavour, found to be quality beans, beans that were being sold as commodity coffee, and thus commanding a low price.

Every bean has a story to tell. Coffeeography attempts to tell that story. Do we know that story when we drink our coffee? Coffee mats cf beer mats, postcards, information leaflets, a story on the bag of beans, a QR code to scan?

What is insufficient information, what is too much?

At the very least, farm where sourced from, Q rating, roast date.

What is a coffee shop, or at least an indie coffee shop?

Traditionally, from when coffee shops were first established as coffee spread from Yemen, across Arabia, through the Ottoman Empire and into Europe, places of discussion, discussion whilst drinking coffee.

A discussion with Stephen Leighton, over a coffee carefully brewed by Sarah hard at work downstairs, was to recreate if only for an afternoon those early days.

Coffee shops were also places where merchants met to discuss trade. And yes, trade was discussed.

Book signing for those who bought a book. For those who could not make it who wished to come, a few signed books have been kept back. Very limited numbers, first come first served. Please ask.

A couple of us were very lucky and given a presentation box of coffee samples.

As I write, a beautiful aroma is wafting across from the coffee samples.

The afternoon was the launch event for the Lincoln Coffee Festival. Check with Lincoln Coffee Collective for details of further events. Watch out for a coffee cupping session.

Special thanks to Stephen Leighton and those who paricipated for an interesting discussion, and to Coffee Aroma for hosting.

Last year Dale Harris Director of wholesale at Hasbean won the World Barista Championships.

Hasbean will be opening a pop up coffee shop in Brick Lane for the duration of the London Coffee Festival (12-15 April 2018).

Dodgy builders

March 13, 2018

Last week within a space of two days, dodgy builders called, one offering repairs to the roof, the other the roof required washing.

If dodgy builders come calling, do not engage, call the police, if maybe work does need carrying out, ask reputable builders to take a look and provide a quote.

A cold calling zone can be established.

roof repairs

Dodgy builder calls. The roof requires repair work.

He was in for a shock. A meeting with Trading Standards and Police was taking place at the house where he called.

When questioned, he refused to answer questions, who he was, name of company, turned nasty then legged it up the street.

The incident was called in.

roof needs washing

How gullible are people?

Dodgy builder calls late morning.

Two rough looking white guys in their twenties, dressed in dark clothing, the one who called at the door a black beard. Had it been night they were dressed for a bit of house breaking.

The roof requires washing. This was following a morning of heavy rain.

Not only did the roof require washing, it required spraying to make it waterproof.

We have had centuries of straw, slate and roofing tiles, but the roof needs spraying to make waterproof.

Dodgy builder refused to leave his leaflet. Managed to acquire one left in letterbox of neighbour.

Police were notified. Local beat officer arrived promptly.

no cold calling zones

Where there is a problem with nuisance doorstep callers,  the Police and Trading Standards with the agreement of local residents can establish a No Cold Calling Zone.

scams and fraud

Dodgy builders are one of many frauds and scams relieving gullible people of their hard earned money, often of their life savings.

Phishing scams, text, e-mail, dodgy web sites, telephone calls, used to obtain bank account details. Within minutes account will be emptied.

Vital Nature and associated companies dodgy pills and potions scam. Pills and potions of dubious provenance, operating out of France though that could be a front address.  Credit card fraud, money laundering, harassment phone calls.

Commemorative mint scams, must have commemorative coins, offered at special price. In reality worthless junk metal.

Australian Lottery scam. You have won but need to pay administrative fee to release your winnings.

Long lost relative scam. Would love to visit, if could only could afford air fare from Australia.

Government rejects latte levy

March 10, 2018

The UK’s throwaway culture is having a devastating impact on our streets, beaches and seas. Our report recommended practical solutions to the disposable packaging crisis. The government’s response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action.  — Mary Creagh,  chair  Environmental Audit Committee

In an act of crass stupidity the UK government has rejected out of hand the latte levy.

This is to reject out of hand the evidence and proposals from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

It is a kick in the teeth to the many indie coffee shops that have done the right thing, introduced KeepCup, compostable cups, offered a discount to those who bring in a clean KeepCup for a refill, and above all, encourage people to sit and relax with speciality coffee served in glass or ceramic.

It is a kick in the teeth to coffee drinkers who have bought a KeepCup, or better still relax in an indie coffee shop with speciality coffee served in glass or ceramic.

What the government has shown is that it is craven to Big Business. It has caved in to lobbying by the corporate coffee chains. The same chains, Starbucks and Caffe Nero that dodge tax, to which the government turns a blind eye.

2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away every year. Coffee cups that cannot be recycled, as what at first glance appears to be paper, is plastic-lined paper, and therein lies the problem, these plastic-lined cups cannot be recycled.

Plastic is a modern day curse, it is destroying our seas.

And what does the government do? Nothing. The government would rather pander to corporate greed.

Next time the government claims to care about the environment, respond with two words, latte levy.

Labour must commit now that one of the first acts on taking office will be to introduce a latte levy to take immediate effect.

Visions of Gideon

March 6, 2018


Visions of Gideon, very moving song by Jewelia, from original song of same name by Sufjan Stevens.

Very French.

Footage from short films by Joseph Cornell: Gnir Rednow (1955), Nymphlight (1957) and Angel (1957).

Plastic pollution in the sea off Bali

March 6, 2018

British diver Rich Horner has filmed the level of plastic pollution in the sea off Bali.

Anyone who still believes plastic pollution is not a problem, that we do not need a latte levy to eliminate plastic-lined paper cups, that plastic is not a modern day curse or that we do not need to to eliminate plastic, watch these films and think again.

Surprise, surprise there weren’t many mantas at the cleaning station.

The dive took place in an area frequented by manta rays which come to get cleaned. The area lies off the coast of Nusa Penida — a small island with low population — there is a stretch of only 20 kilometres of water separating Nusa Penida from the island of Bali and its capital Denpasar.

The beaches of Bali are covered in plastic, the sea full of plastic.

The plastic breaks down into microscopic plastic, marine life cannot distinguish from plankton, eat the plankton.

The weight of plastic equals that of plankton.

Seabirds and sea turtles are eating larger pieces of plastic. They die, their stomachs full of plastic.

By 2050, the weight of plastic in the sea will equal the weight of fish.

Our first visible sign of the problem is litter dropped on the bus, in our streets, plastic covering our beaches, which finds it way into the sea.

A week of snow

March 4, 2018

It started Monday a week ago, awoke to a light covering of snow.  It soon melted away.

In Lincoln, bitterly cold, light flurries of snow, few people about, those that were were stocking up with food.

I had intended to leave early, instead left late, after lunch at County Restaurant the afternoon in Madame Waffle.

Tuesday the snow had arrived. Before breakfast a path cleared of snow.

A day of dark clouds, bright sunshine, heavy snowfalls.

Heavy snowfall, blizzard, and something I had never experienced before, whiteout.  This would alternate with clear blue sky and sun shining.

Subzero outside, and yet, was able to sit and relax in the conservatory, heated by the sun.

Solar power though of no use. Looking out, I see solar panels covered in snow.

Nothing moving, everyone snowed in.

Wednesday, as Tuesday, heavy snow, several inches deep, before breakfast clearing the snow.  No soonest cleared, within half an hour, at least an inch deep. Before lunch, once again clear the snow, now a couple of inches deep.

As Tuesday, heavy snow, dark clouds, sunshine. Again possible to sit in the conservatory, minus three degrees outside, drops to minus seven.

As Tuesday, heavy snowfall, blizzard, whiteout, which  would alternate with clear blue sky and sun shining.

Impossible to go out, sink into the snow.

Farnborough two days in a row, record for colddest place, minus 11.9C.

Warning, we are running out of gas. People should drop their temperature by a degree, will not notice, saves money, saves gas. If going out, turn down the thermostat by at least five degrees, then turn back up on return.

We need large gas storage facilities. We had but was closed last year. That is what happens when privatise energy supply, lose energy security, no resilience in the system.

Not possible to import from Europe, as pipes lack capacity, and even if possible, Europe colder than UK, thus need the gas.

UK was powered by North Sea Gas. It was sold of on the cheap, now UK imports roughly half the gas it needs.

Wind is providing as much energy as gas, but different usage.

Industrial users of gas cannot be cut off, crash cool a kiln and cause tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage to the kiln.

In Lincolnshire, at least 45 roads are closed, idiots who should not be out, are out in their cars no idea how to handle a car in the snow, get stuck then block the roads.

Police call in the military they cannot cope.

Thursday I managed to get out. To my surprise, many people are walking in the snow in Washingborough. I guess house bound and an opportunity to get out the house.

I ask one man, is it worth walking to the local Coop? He says no, no bread, he has taken the last milk.

As I thought, no deliveries and more people placing demand on local Coop.

Slowly running out of food.

Walking around the village, very cold, Arctic conditions, sub-zero with a gale blowing.

There has been no snow all day.

Friday again no snow. Manage to get out and walk to the local Coop. As I thought, very little stock, no bread, little in the way of vegetables, a small amount of milk.

Again very cold with strong winds blowing.

Saturday a little snow overnight, light covering of snow.

One degree Celsius. It actually feels warm.

Hop on the bus to Heighington. The Spar shop reasonably well stocked, actually able to get some bread, the butcher well stocked.

Stock up with provisions. At least will not starve.

In the afternoon a trip into Lincoln. One kind person has even cleared the bus stop.

Walking to the bus stop and waiting for the bus, cold and damp, a breeze blowing, misty.

Very bleak journey into Lincoln.

The State of the Art Lincoln Central Bus Station colder than outside.

Outside the entrance a couple of inches of slush, Lincoln City Council cannot be arsed to clear the snow.

Sincil Street and High Street the same, slush covered streets. Traders pay enough in businesses rates, the least they can expect is the streets to be cleared of slush.

More people out than I expected. Maybe Saturday, maybe first opportunity to get out of the house and into Lincoln.

Stokes on High Bridge as always, empty, same for Cafe W at Waterstone’s. On the other hand Coffee Aroma busy and at Madame Waffle packed queuing at the door to get in. That is th difference good coffee makes.

I take the opportunity to stock up with more provisions.

Walking back to the bus station, I notice the slush melting, water gathers at the lowest point and flows, the newly installed drains not at the lowest point. Yet another design flaw for the newly opened Lincoln Central Bus Station that only opened last month.

Sunday a few degrees above freezing, the snow starting to melt, very misty.

It snows, and the country grinds to a halt, the trains do not run, those that do run, break down leaving people stranded for several hours, foolish people go out in the cars, clueless driving on snow.

For the last decade winters have been mild. Temperatures of 10C, maybe drops to 5C, occasionally below zero.

These mild winters have lulled the country into a false sense of security.

The Arctic, zero degrees, at least twenty degrees warmer than it should be , strong winds circling the North Pole driving the cold air southward into Europe.

What is a heat wave in the Arctic has panicked climate scientists, as what has been observed is way beyond their worst case scenarios for climate change.


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