Monday, September 1

Roll On September!

I love September. Really love September. It's my birthday in September. It's also the start of the school year, which means that my days at work are longer (so more money for me), and a rise in the number of customers who frequent our humble coffee kiosk as sixth formers rediscover the best coffee in Newcastle.

Also, two months in (well...near enough), we're properly international! I have recently added Get Clicky to my blog, which allows me to track the ebb and flow of the blog, and allows me to improve it, and direct it in a way that a hit tracker simply can't allow me to do. So I'd like to say welcome to my international readers. Firstly, hello to David Fogel from Israel. Secondly, hello to my readers in the US and Milan. It makes me really proud to think that my blog has such a wide reaching audience. And of course, records are automatically deleted after thirty days, and are used simply to improve this blog.

Anyway, the big thing.

*deep breath*

Central Bean.

I've tasted a fair few coffees now. I've spoken to people who have tasted coffee there. I've had comments on Facebook about Central Bean. I've even spoken to Andrew Hetzel, who has helped to set the shop up. So this could be a bit controversial. But, I pride myself on being able to write a no-holds-barred review. Here we go then.

First, what Central Bean advertises themselves as.

Central Bean is advertised as a taste of the Pacific NorthWest, a bar which prides itself on the quality of it's espresso. It is open to it's customers, providing cards with information about their product, their trade and their methodology. They are holding the first cupping I've heard about on Thursday, and are the only place I know about in Newcastle who sells a traditional cappuccino and espresso afagato.

So, my review. On my first trip, the decor lived up to all expectation. It's difficult to explain how it feels to sit inside the shop. As you walk in it feel like any other highstreet shop, but as you go around the back you're suddenly set into the pavement, with people walking at shoulder level on the pavement outside. There are three circular mirrors on the back wall, giving the back of the shop a surreal underwater feeling, coupled with the sensation of being below ground. While this might sound strange, I love it. It gives the shop a unique feel, as well as making it seem more secluded and 'third wave'. From a geek's point of view they use dual La Marzocco GB/5s, with La Marzocco twin hopper grinders, though I couldn't tell you the model number.

Onto the coffee. Now, I've got to be honest here. My first coffee I really had to force down. The espresso was woefully overextracted, and the milk was bubbly and lumpy. But, for reasons I'll explain later, I decided to have another. The second was much nicer. The milk wasn't perfect, and the espresso was a little underextracted, but it was perfectly drinkable and enjoyable. My second foray into Central Bean, I ordered an espresso afagato (espresso poured over vanilla ice cream). This was lovely. It tasted like a creamy, natural espresso con panna, with none of the artificial sweetness the whipped cream gives. However, cream (and ice cream) can hide a multitude of sins, so I withheld judgement once more. More final trip to date was today. I had arranged to meet up with Andrew Hetzel, who has helped to set up the shop, just after Copenhagen, so today we finally met for ten minutes or so. The impression I got from him was that the owners had gone to great lengths to provide quality espresso to their punters. So I had a cappuccino. Despite the milk being slightly bubbly on top the drink was lovely. And, through all of this, the customer service has never been anything short of inspiring. The baristi are all very friendly, and more than happy to chat if it's quiet.

So, my judgement. At the moment, my only reservation is lack of experience. Newcastle is not, to my mind, a well of quality baristi. Starbucks and Costa reign here, and as such the coffee scene still has much growing to do. So I hope that with time the lack of consistency I've encountered is resolved, simply through practice on the machines. I know for damn certain that their shots are no worse than mine when I first started as a barista. The decor, the feel of the shop and the people behind it are all perfect. So I'm very hopeful, and will continue to visit Central Bean, and keep track of it's development. So, all in all a lovely shop, with coffee which has improved each time I've tasted it, and now is at a good level, easily the equal of many other cafes in Newcastle (and much better than a lot of cafes as well).

Now, I've got to be honest, compared to my usual reviews of coffee shops (and anyone who knows my personally will attest to this) this review has been very understanding and balanced. I haven't condemned Central Bean for things which I have condemned other shops for. I have two reasons for this.

Number One: It's just opened. Most of the other cafes I've ranted about are well established, so I feel more comfortable bitching about them.

Number Two: The coffee scene in Newcastle is not what it is in London. There are no sit down cafes in town where I can truly say you can buy a world class espresso. This means that people continue to buy coffee from high street brands, thinking that it is world class. At Coolaboola (the kiosk where I work) we're doing our bit to educate people, but we can only do so much. It's up to cafes in town to do the big stuff and I hope that Central Bean can rise to the challenge. If Central Bean sets itself up as the best coffee in Newcastle, and servesthe best coffee town, as well as continuing with it's Third Wave approach then it'll be a huge step forward for the coffee scene here. Maybe then other coffee shops would step up to the challenge, raising the quality of coffee here.

I'll try not to get this soppy and emotional all the time.

Here's hoping.


James Hoffmann said...

The grinder is Swift I think. Lock in your pf and it does, distributes and tamps for you.

An appealing grinder for certain locations though not without its flaws.

(I only know what grinders they use because I look on Andrew Hetzel's flickr!)

Chris Weaver said...

I saw the swift at the La Marzocco stand in Copenhagen. Whilst it did seem tempting, I dislike the idea of my staff not getting hands-on experience working with the coffee.

I loved the honest review, and hopefully if the guys who are involved do read it, they'll see it as friendly criticism. Opening a coffee bar can be damned hard work (so I hear) especially finding dedicated passionate workers, so I'm sure it'll improve with time.

When's your birthday fella?

Chris, Common Grind

Seamus McFlurry said...

My birthday? Why, that would be the 14th. Down in Birmingham for the day, so I look forward to trying the coffee shop suggestions I've seen on CFUK.

As for the swift, I think I might have seen it, though I might have been a bit taken with the espresso machines...first time I'd ever seen a La Marzocco in the flesh...yeah...there's a lot about what I did in Copenhagen which embaresses me...

And I really hope they do see it as friendly criticism. Got to meet Andrew and he's a great guy. Looking forward to seeing him at the cupping they're holidng tomorrow. I think they've got so much potential and I can't wait to see them live up to it.

Chris said...

ohh and something else I was going to say, I had a great chat with David Fogel on the phone... how weird :)


Cafemakers said...

Hey, thanks! I don't think that the comments were too harsh at all. This shop (business, really) is custom made from top to bottom and we have had a lot of fine details to work though before we expand. (teaser)

With respect to that over extraction, I suspect that the problem was with the coffee; specifically, the coffee over-freshness. I can explain all of the details to you tonight, but essentially, the stuff that we were bringing in was way too fresh out of the roaster, so we're letting it age a little while before it hits the hoppers.

The milk is another issue, but I've been working with the guys here all this week to keep to our standards and it's looking better than ever. I was here for two weeks bookending Copenhagen and left about a week before the soft opening. We're 7 weeks in now and I'm really impressed with how it has all come along. Super guys, really committed to the trade; lots of good stuff to come.

I leave Saturday but look forward to being back in Newcastle soon (though, perhaps after winter). :)

Seamus McFlurry said...

Great to hear your opinion of the review! Like I said, every coffee I've had at Central Bean has been better than the last, and I really look forward to the day when the coffee is as good as it really should be. I really look forward to the competition!

As for the coffee, that makes sense. Good to hear that it's known about, and being sorted. All in all I'm just very excited about Central Bean in general.

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