Friday, October 25

New Look, New Job, New Passion.

I cannot even begin to tell you how sick I am of writing these posts. Deciding to resurrect a blog, saying I'm stoked to do so, then forgetting to do anything. I have taken steps to make sure this is the last time I have to write this type of post.

Anyway, with that in mind...I got married. I got a new job (two, actually). I now work for Pink Lane Coffee, via managing my church's coffee shop for a few months (The Basement Coffee House, part of Cornerstone Church Newcastle). The place is great and you all need to come here (I don't care if you live in Vietnam, get here!). A place that is so stoked on coffee, serves roasteries I've never heard of before who sell the tastiest coffee I've's fantastic. And it's here at PLC I learned something that I now see as absolutely essential to a filter brew that I'd never seen before: a wine aerator.

I've been outside the blog-sphere too long to know how widespread this is, so I'm going to go ahead and assume no one else has ever heard about this. A wine aerator is, in essence, a long tube with a second tube intersecting the first. You pour wine (or coffee) into the first tube and as it crosses the intersection it pulls air in through the second tube, exiting into a receptacle. What this does (from the research I've done on the subject) is increase the pressure acting on the solution, increasing the amount of O2 the solution can dissolve. This does two things; first of all it decreases the concentration of carbonic acid by displacing CO2 molecules. This reduces the number of flavours present in the coffee, which increases the definition of the remaining flavours. Secondly, the increased O2 concentration helps to break down the complex sugars present in the solution into simple sugars. Complex sugars are insoluble, and as a result can't be tasted but do create the sensation of mouthfeel in a coffee. Simple sugars are water soluble, and present themselves as sweetness in the cup. This decrease in complex sugars lessens the mouthfeel of a coffee, while the higher concentration of simple sugars increases the sweetness.

So, put simply, an aerator makes your coffee easier to taste, less complex, reduces the body and increases the sweetness. The question left, I suppose, is why I see this as a) a good thing, b) a necessary thing. As I see it there are two distinct types of people I'll be talking to here; home baristas and coffee professionals. Both seek a 'tasty' experience. The problem with this is that 'tasty' is so subjective as to be entirely impossible to properly state here. I can shout until I'm blue in the face about sweetness and acidity, that one person is still going to love drinking Monsooned Malabar. So home baristas, it all depends on how you like drinking your coffee and how geeky you want to be. I'd still recommend it, but it's not vital. Professionals, you are a different story. Our battle is, in part, to convince our customers that £3 is a perfectly reasonable price for a coffee half the size of their usual Starbucks fix. We achieve this through the coffee itself, the quality and our knowledge of it, but we also use a fair amount of theatre. An aerator is a fantastic bit of theatre that, in my experience, opens customers up to what you're trying to do. It catches their attention and interest. Beyond that, the reduced mouthfeel of the coffee helps to facilitate the customer tasting the subtleties of their coffee; remember the first time you really tasted a coffee?

A necessity? Maybe not. However, if you want to learn more about taste and it's relationship to body and sweetness while getting more (or, perhaps, different things) from your coffee, it is very highly recommended. To test everything I've said, I brewed one coffee (Workshop's Olke Bire) and split it into two cups; one aerated, one not. The non-aerated coffee had a medium body, with a rounded citric acidity and a nice finish, but over all had little definition and felt a lot like a 'coffee' coffee. The aerated cup had a much lighter body with a juicy, rounded acidity. The citric acidity was much more peach and nectarine with a lovely, long, tingly finish. The definition of flavour was much more apparent, and all in all it was incredibly moreish.

And on that bombshell, I'm going to go back to work. Hope you got something from this, and I've got a few more blogs planned for the next couple of weeks. Have a good'un.


Tuesday, September 13

A Union Delivery, A Night With The Girlfriend And A Whole New Blogging Tool...

Hey guys!

Well, it's been a while, and I can only apologise for that. But, what I have lined up for you should hopefully make up for that. First things first, the 26th. Matt and I are running a coffee tasting 'experience' at Pumphrey's Cafe. We're looking at recording the audio and finding a way of letting you hear it. No promises, but we'll give it a go! And if you happen to be in the area, Newcastle, around the 26th September, places are limited to 15, and we're filling up pretty fast.

So what's up right now? Well, guess who got some nice, fresh Union micro lots? Oh yes...a good old Third Wave tasting. Unfortunately, Matt wasn't at work today, and our rotas don't match up this week, so this week you get the input of my lovely girlfriend and coffee widow, Kat. She;s not a coffee professional, but has taken to it as a hobby in a really satisfying way. My V60 and Skerton are usually at her flat, and she loves messing around with them. She listens (and actually takes in...) when I talk constantly about coffee science and the like. So, it's just us, tasting three wonderful coffees, all through a V60. So, let's dive right in!

So, firstly, which coffees do I have? Well, Union were nice enough to send me a washed Suki Quo Ethiopian Sidamo, a Mafalda Mokka, and a Costa Rican from San Juanillo.

First, Kat and I tasted the Sidamo. Straight away it hits you with a smooth body, and peach acidity. Behind that, giving a good, solid yet not overpowering mouthfeel were lovely chocolate tones. As the coffee cools, the apricot comes out, until it becomes the overriding flavour. Lovely complexity, with a developing flavour profile. One of the best coffees I've had in a while.

This was, however, quickly overshadowed by our next coffee. The Mafalda Mokka proudly tells us of it's bergamot and vanilla flavours on the packaging., Now, for those of you who know me, I have a very sweet tooth. infact, the only reason I'm in the coffee industry is because of my love of hot chocolate and, importantly, vanilla syrup. This coffee does what it says on the bag; a bergamot opening with a vanilla hint. Great coffee, nice flavour, medium body and a lasting mouthfeel. Then it cools, and that vanilla hint becomes a vanilla syrup, with the bergamot moving into the background. The Dairy Milk tones in the coffee begin to give a faintly syrupy sensation, which coupled with the vanilla tastes like a flavoured coffee, in a nice way.

Finally, the San Juanillo. A honey sweetness with a red berry top note. It has a bright, lemon like acidity, and a flavour I simply couldn't put my finger on. Kat and I sat and chatted about it for a bit, and we came up with strawberry. It's not quite the right descriptor, but it's as close as we could come, and it gives the right idea; a lovely, sweet, bright fruit with bags of acidity.

All in all, three very nice coffees, and three I'd recommend you try out. My favourite was probably the San Juanillo, if only because I have simply never tasted anything with that particular strawberry like flavour. The Mokka, however, is a very close second (as a side note, this is the second time I've tasted all three together. The first time the the Sidamo rocked my world, and the other two were simply nice, smooth coffees. All for the sake of a few days degassing)

Last thing before I go, I have a new blogging tool. Meet my new iPad and bluetooth keyboard! The upshot of this is that I can now blog from work, from Kat's house, wherever. So hopefully I should be far more regular than I have been since I started up again.

Cheers guys, it's been a pleasure as always. Now, a Punk IPA and planning tomorrow's blog (hopefully...).


Thursday, August 18

E-Mail, Twitter, And A Bitter Aftertaste...

Hey guys. Today's post is one I've been trying to post for a couple of days now. Technology problem? No. I just seriously underestimated the topic I'm going to be discussing. To be honest, what was originally going to be an in-depth look at the chemistry of coffee is increasingly becoming more of a discussion. If you know more about coffee chemistry, or chemistry in general, than I do, drop me an e-mail and let me know what you think of this post. Correct me if you can, please. If you don't know anything about chemistry, let me know if I've explained it well at all. Cheers guys.

Here we go.

Have you ever wondered why coffee tastes bitter? Have you, like me, gone looking for an answer, finding that caffeine is a naturally bitter substance? Has a barista ever told you that overextraction pulls out too much caffeine, which makes it more bitter?

I told my customers this for coming up to four years, believing every word. Until I read an article of Sweet Maria's (I'll post the link at the end). The article was on coffee chemistry and freshness, and contained so much actual chemistry that I needed to spend two days teaching myself bits and pieces just to understand it. Caffeine, it turns out, is in too low a concentration to affect the taste of coffee all that much. Bitterness is, for good or bad, contributed by the presence of Chlorogenic Acid Lactones (CALs from here on in), derived from chologenic acids, and Multiply Hydroxylated Phenylindanes. CALs are the predominant polyphenol in green coffee. So what's a polyphenol? It's a structural class of natural, synthetic or semi-synthetic organic material, characterised by the presence of large multiples of phenol units. Great. So what's a phenol? It's a class of chemical compound directly linked to an aromatic hydrocarbon group. The term aromatic refers to their generally sweet aroma.

When the green beans are roasted, two things happen.

  1. The phenolic acids (such as CAL) break down into di- and trihydroxybenzenes. These are aromatic compounds which are in turn classed as phenols.

  2. The acids epimerise (they become epimers...I couldn't find a simple description of what an epimer was, so please guys, let me know) and dehydrate to give various lactones that provide a pleasent, 'coffeelike' bitter quality.

If the roasting continuesthe lactones break down and form 4-vinylcatehol as a highly reactive intermediate. This is a highly energetic molecule which breaks down very quickly into a more stable molecule, in the case Multiply Hydroxylated Phenylindanes. These yield a lingering, harsh bitterness, almost always associated with over-roasted coffee.

That, unfortunately, is all I know. I hope it's been of some help, and if anyone has any further details, feedback, etc, let me know. It's what the e-mail and Twitter accounts are for :) Quiz me, make me go and search for things. Keep me busy. All the contact details are to the right hand side of the window, at the top. Hope to speak soon. Oh, and if you thought this helped, tell your friends.

Cheers guys



Saturday, August 13

Shadows Of The Past, Happenings Of The Present, And Rumblings Of The Future...

Well, first things first, this Rule Of Three I use in my titles? Not always easy.

So, first things first; the past. Coffee back when I started Third Wave was a very different animal to what it is now. Maybe it was just my perspective on it, but way back when, coffee seemed to far less defined. Finding exact definitions of what drinks were, how to brew coffee, or even what was happening when coffee was brewing was difficult. Yes, it's still niche, but things like brew ratios and extraction yields were incredibly difficult to find when I first started out. Even social media, blogs, forums, etc were difficult to find. The times I did find people talking, there was very little about filter, and certainly little to do with the science of it.

Now? Well, Coffee Forums UK has grown massively since my last visit, with a healthy cross section of home baristi and professionals. It's difficult to search for coffee without finding a blog, a book or a forum, and with people like the guys at Tamper Tantrum putting out great podcasts, filled with really, really geeky knowledge, education is getting easier and easier. The public even seems more open. Looks like all those crap newspaper articles about 'speciality coffee' might have had some kind've affect.

So what does that mean for us? (If you're reading this, I assume you're a geek (or have just been directed here...probably by me), but if you're not, I apologise, because this probably won't apply to you. Please, bear with me though) We need to capitalise. Grab people's attention, make coffee accessible, appealing, make things like V60s and Aeropresses the go-to home barista kit, rather than Gaggia super-autos. Down South, I know people are doing a great job, but up North we're fighting a good, hard battle. Cuppings, latte art jams, free or at least cheap barista courses, evenings where people can come along, get in cheap, taste a load of coffees and be taught something about them. You'd be amazed how many people's eyes actually light up when you tell them what a bloom is.

So; the future. Well, for Third Wave, I'd like to develop something of a local feel. Every blog in existence tells us everything about Square Mile, the London Coffee Scene, the SCAE, etc. Newcastle has some great cafes and some great baristi, and soon, I hope, some really, really good events. That'll be my job. Which is where my other bit of news comes in...

I'd like to welcome a new writer. Dane, unfortunately, is no longer part of the coffee industry. Just so that you don't get sick and tired of my rantings, I've gotten someone on board to replace him, someone with a huge passion not only for coffee, but also for tea and (this one seems almost unhealthy...) bread; sour bread in particular. His name is Matt Pickering, and he's an awesome guy. He's been a barista for 11 weeks, and knows far more about certain things than I do. He's a very quick learner, and has a lot to teach me (and hopefully you). From what I gather (I don't hold a very tight leash on my writers...except quiet editorial control :p), he plans to do a Barista 101 in a series of articles as he reads a couple of very good books on the science of coffee. I, for one, can't wait.

Hope that's enough for now. Sometime soon I'll be posting a couple of tastings (got a Monsooned Malabar and La Ilusion from HasBean, as well as a couple of Union microlots, stuff like that), but until then, happy hunting (...for people to educate, turn into coffee geeks...go be metaphorical vampires!).


Thursday, August 11

A New Job, A New Passion, And A Few Thanks.

Here we go again. Back into the world of the obsessive coffee geek. So, what's happened in the two and a half years since my last post? Well, I stopped caring. For many reasons, frankly. It went from being the love of my life, to a job, to something I hated more than anything else in the world, to being something I did to keep petrol in the tank. I stayed at Coolaboola throughout, doing my job to a varying degree. I was promoted to head barista, then bumped down to senior barista because I was so regularly late. My latte art soared to heights I never imagined during my competition days, then deteriorated again. So I looked for a new job. I even looked at buying a friend's business, and running my own coffee shop. In the end, Pumphrey's advertised for jobs, and now I work for them as a line barista.

A new passion? At Coolaboola, we did a great job. We served great coffee, we prepared our milk well, and we had a passion. But the majority of it, I've since discovered, was guess work. We did it right, but didn't know how or why. And hell, a lot has changed since my last post. The first major difference is my attitude towards preparation. At 'Boola, when dialing in a grind, we kept running shots until they ran to about 21 seconds. Now? Now I have to take into account coffee dose, grind size, grind time, brew weight, TDS, contact time, etc, etc. I care about temperature stability, and the effect of temperature on extraction rates. I actually understand the term extraction yield (a phrase I'd never even heard of), and MojoToGo is one of my favourite coffee toys. I love coffee again, and I want to know everything I can. I want to learn how to fix machines, what acids and lipids make up green coffee, the perfect brew ratio for every coffee that Pumphrey's sells...I take every chance I get to play with the Uberboiler. Hell, I've kicked off Third Wave again.

So, my thanks. Well, first of all, a huge shout out to Ru and Lu. You hired a 19 year old lad who hated coffee because I was the best of a truly appalling bunch. I hope (and without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I think I did) I made a difference, and I really do thank you for getting me into this world. Without coffee, who knows what I'd be doing. Something crap, probably. I'd have never met some of my favourite people, and I can't imagine my life without hands stained brown from ground coffee. I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say that I owe who I am now to you both. Cheers. Oh, and poke Maisie-Boo's cheeks for me and Kat.

Secondly, Stuart Lee Archer for being the geekiest SOB alive. And for buying Ubers. I have a passion now that I didn't have a year ago, and it's a passion I'm desperate (as he may have noticed...) to share. Many thanks for the, onto UKBC!

Thirdly, everyone I've worked with. I know it's not always easy, but thanks for not punching me. Congrats to Ace, who pipped me to the post (by a good few lengths) in getting Union's Northern Trainer job. When I stopped caring, he really started. He is a tremendous barista, and I wish him the best of luck. I also hope to see him at competition, and if I don't I'll be asking why. You've been warned Ace! Also, best of luck to James Andrews. An amazing barista from down south (and up north...he lived in Glasgow while at Uni), who is opening his second shop. Hope this one goes well, and I'll make sure when to pop in! And I won't forget Leeks, Russell, Ben, Richie, Sam, Dane and all the guys I work with at Pumphrey's.

Fourthly, Kat. My girlfriend of two and a half years, we started going out in January, as I prepped for competition in February. She's seen every stage of my life in coffee, or at least every stage of my passion, and has been a supportive coffee widow from the start. I love her to bits, and in fact am writing this on her laptop, in her flat, drinking a Monsooned Malabar that she made with my V60. It's lovely. And she listens to me go on about coffee, and even picks it up herself. I will have her converted, and it isn't even taking that much effort.

So what are my plans for the future of Third Wave? Well, I want it to be more scientific. I want it to, in part, chart what I learn, try to pass my knowledge on to other people. I'll also continue with cup tastings, local events, stuff like that. Hopefully it'll be half decent.

Well, speak soon. And thanks for reading. Without you guys, I'm just some idiot throwing stuff out into the void.


Wednesday, February 18

A Quick Update, Yet Another Apology, And Some Great News...

Well, today was the UKBC Northern Heat. My heat. The reason I haven't really been all. But, all my preperation was for...well...nothing. I screwed up my espresso, cappuccino, and burned the chocolate sauce for my sig drink. But I came fourth! Awesome! And now I know how to kick arse next time!

But yes, sorry about the delay to the Birmingham write up. It's half written, and now I should have time to finish it. That will be done soon, hopefully. Again, very sorry, but I'll have it done very soon.

Also, I have a new video on the site! Katie (a local barista) and I were interviewed for BBC Look North. The news piece is here:

Hope you enjoy!

Post soon,

Wednesday, February 11

Second Time Lucky On The Title...Oh, And An Update...

It's 6:27 am. It's cold. I can see my breath condense before my very eyes. I'm waiting at Durham train station for my ticket to Birmingham. I have a Costa double ristretto (do I ever learn?), and a cheese and ham toastie. Slipknot is playing very loudly, and I think the guy at the table opposite disapproves.

I'm headed for the Midlands Regional heat of the 2009 UKBC, partly to cheer on my good friend Chris Weaver, partly to be the first blog (to my knowledge) to do a write up of this year's comp. Mostly though it's to rip every screed of info I can in preparation for my own heat inn a weeks time.

The upshot of this, however, is that I can get back into blogging with a minimum of pain. I should probably apologise for not posting in over a month, but I have been tremendously busy, and the last thing I've wanted to do is take my job home with me. I was recently made Head Barista at Coolaboola, which includes writing up a training manual. We also took on a new barista. Some of you will already know him; Richard O'Connor, or RJames as those on CoffeeForums will know him. I'll post on his development as a barista (and mine as a barista trainer) at a later date, but suffice to say he's coming on brilliantly, even in the face of my training.

The two main reasons I've ignored Third Wave, however are both very simple. Competition has terrified me, and I got bored. Doing coffee day in, day out is fantastic, but coming home and blogging about it does get tiresome. After Christmas, with my competition preparation ramping up (at least in theory), Third Wave became nothing more than a distraction at best. So I knocked it on the head for a month. Now I hope to resurrect it.

Today I hope to put out two posts. This one, and a full run-down of the Midland's regional. One thing I've noticed as a competitor is a lack of any real information on what to expect. Aside from a few conversations with Stuart Lee Archer (of Pumphrey's Coffee, the host of the Northern Heat), I know almost nothing about the comp, except that it won't be a lot like Copenhagen was. So by the end of today I hope to be able to tell you the grinder which is provided, the layout of the competition, what the atmosphere was like, and much more besides. I'll also do my best to write up the competitors, so don't expect anything like a short post. Then again, when have I been known to write short posts? You love it really.

Anyway, I'll dash. Need to read through the Pro Barista Handbook and rip what I need for the Coolaboola manual lol.

Chat soon,

Welcome to Third Wave UK!

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Hey y'all. Welcome to the Third Wave UK speciality coffee blog. Whether you're a coffee profesional, home barista, or just interested in speciality coffee or the speciality coffee scene in the UK, this blog will hopefully have something for you. Cheers, Seamus McFlurry

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