Tuesday, December 30

Scared Shitless By The Steady March Of Time...Oh, And A Happy Christmas...

So, it's nearly 2009...and therefore nearly time for competition heats...crap...so, to date I've had one real practice run through, and used the San Remo machine for twenty minutes...I've done fe'k all on my Sig drink except buy glasses and screw up my one attempt at them. So, tonight ladies and gentlemen, you find me brewing up all manner of concoctions...grinding up cinnamon sticks by hand while trying to boil a syrup without burning the cinnamon already in there...and type this at the same time.

So what is my sig drink? Why do I need syrups? Why don't I brew them there and then? Simple; one less thing to do. The reason I'll give though is that in order not to burn the spices they need to be simmered over a long period rather than boiled quickly. Sounds alright...doesn't it? As for what my sig drink is, it's a spiced mocha. The base of this is Union's Revelation espresso blend, with it's cherry opening, zesty acidity and spicy chocolate/caramel finish, combined with a cinnamon and a cardamom syrup. The theory is that the cinnamon will give the sweet spice flavour as well as a wonderful aroma, while the cardamom adds the middle note while contributing to the aroma. This is how it is working out in my head. No doubt tomorrow it'll all go tits up and I'll cry.

To make my drink a mocha, I am obviously using chocolate as well. This will be based on a chocolate I already know goes well with the Revelation; a single source chocolate from Hotel Chocolat. It has a fantastic dark chocolate taste, with a hint of caramel; exactly what my spiced mocha needs...again, this is in my head.

As an aside, I'm very sorry that my Christmas post is taking so long to get out. I've been very busy lately so I hope you'll forgive me. However, by ways of an apology, tomorrow night I'll post a series of tastings of the Hasbean coffees I got for Christmas, as well as a review of the Gaggia Classic-Starbucks Barista Grinder combo I was using on Christmas day.

Back to the work at hand. I'm going to be honest, I am no cook. I've been making this syrup now for half an hour, and I'm scared to take it off the heat in case it's not quite ready and I bollocks up all this time. But, who dares wins, so off it has come.

Anyway, rather than bore you with a play-by-play account of me screwing up a simple syrup, I'll just take you through the rest of my comp. stuff.

My coffee is, as said before, Revelation. I use this every day at work and know it inside out. Or at least I thought I did until I took the producer notes and actually tasted the coffee. Be it stress, or a new-found palatte, but the coffee really came to life. I now have a full page of notes on it that I need to condense into a 30 second speech. My milk, well, I'm cheap so it's gonna be Cravendale. Besides, I love the creamy heaven that is a Cravendale-made capp. And I know from past experience it works wonderfully with Revelation. Music? Well, this one's been the thing I've really focussed on. I wanted something I love to work to, which the crowd could get into, and which made me feel confident.

When it comes to competition music, Steven Morrissey really stands out. His music had EVERYONE on their feet. I even spent three months trying to find out what it was. I aimed for that with my music. My first instinct was to use The Go! Team. They're the official band of Coolaboola, and I love them to bits. Great to work to. I had a playlist together, and was listening to it non-stop, running through my presentation in my head. Then, last week, my iPod cracked out a fantastic tune by a band called the Players. Imagine modern, funky jazz. They remind me of my Mod tendencies, and make me feel more relaxed and confident. It's also something I can really get into a groove to, and I hope the crowd share my enthusiasm for them.

So, this post is already very long. I'll let you get back to your lives. See you tomorrow!

A very scared Seamus.

Saturday, December 20

The 50th Post, A New Tamp Handle, And Plaing With A New Grinder...

The 50th post! Whoop! Pity it's taken me so long to get it out, but I've been really very busy recently. However I do have a lot of very good news. Firstly, I received a very big order from Hasbean. It includes the Christmas espresso blend, the Christmas filter blend, the COE espresso blend, four different Hasbean loose leaf teas, and the Christmas roast selection pack. All of these coffees will be tasted before Christmas, and posted up here. I'll also be tasting the teas, as something a little bit different. Never played with loose leaf tea before, so it could be very interesting.

In other news, I have a new toy, which is also part of the Wish List. It's the Reg Barber Radical Pro. This is specifically aimed at anybody with larger hands. The Pro fits perfectly into the hand and eases the strain on the palm that shorter handles sometimes cause. Beautifully made it looks fantastic as well, and is a must have for the barista with big hands.

Now for an equipment review. Well, actually more like a first look. The Starbucks Barista Grinder. Coming in at £60 this grinder is one of the cheapest burr grinders I've seen on the market. The first time I really heard about it (apart from seeing it every now and again when I went in for a coffee...I was desperate) was when Ace (a co-worker) bought one for home use. He seems to have had no problems with it so far, and needing a new grinder I bought one up.

To look at, it's great. It's sturdy, the hopper is easily large enough for a 250g bag of beans and it grinds directly into a small box at the base of the grinder. My only gripe is that it doesn't have an on-off button, only a timer on the side which is set in six second intervals. More about this later though.

So, first use. I got out some old beans (the Kenya Gethumbwini, actually, from the last batch of Hasbean coffees I got...in October), and tested the grind. The grind is easily changed, with a series of steps, with the three major grind settings marked on. These are espresso, percolator and french press. The french press grind was even, and more course than the Union pre-ground coffee I had lying around. The espresso grind was very fine, possibly even moving towards a Turkish coffee grind, and had a small amount of clumping. The percolator grind is half way between these two grinds, and there are plenty of smaller settings between the two extremes to ensure the perfect grind for your coffee.

As for the actual grinding itself, it's quieter than any grinder I've used before, and so won't be too much of a pain when trying to get through a hangover. The static is acceptable, and much more so than the Mahlkonig K30 Vario I used recently. Not bad for a grinder £740 cheaper. The timer problem also isn't that bad, so long as you don't mind standing around. If you turn the timer dial a little it grinds, but doesn't engage the timer, allowing you to stop grinding when you want.

Now, downsides. Well, on my first use of the grinder my only real problem with it is that the hopper lid rattles about a bit while grinding. Even this isn't much of a problem if you're standing around holding the timer anyway; just put your hand on the lid to make sure it stays in place. But, like I say, I've only used the grinder once, and will put up another, more detailed review, later on.

So, till then, I'll say my goodbyes.

Till next time,

Saturday, December 13

Stone Cold Sober, But Here For The Wishlist

Damnit. I was meant to be out tonight with a friend, but alas, it snowed, and I live on a hill that the council doesn't grit. Damnit.

So, anyway, I'm here with you, and that's better anyway :D

So, what's next on the Wishlist? Good question. It's the Motta steaming pitcher. It's essentially a straight walled milk pitcher, but with a belled bottom and a button in the bottom. These two features help the circulation of the milk, making it easy for even the newest barista to create the perfect milk, and the elongated spout allows for beautiful latte art. The heavier weight and thicker steel make the jug feel tremendously comfortable. All in all a wonderful jug, second only to the Alessi in my opinion.

And that's all from me for tonight. I'll be off to mess about on xBox live (which would be a Wish List item, but it's not really coffee-related) and drink Martini.

Cheers y'all,

Friday, December 12


So, my first test. Was I right to recommend you buy something I hadn't tried? Well, yeah, because it was as much a lesson in what coffee really is as anything else. So, did tasting Cascara challenge my thoughts on coffee, and what coffee was? Or was it simply a coffee novelty, in the same vein as Kopi Luwak?

To answer this I'm going to break this post down into three parts; my first tasting, Ru's first tasting, and Ace's first tasting.

So, my first tasting. On opening the bag I was greeted with the most floral, woody, winey, blackcurrent aromas I have ever experienced in a coffee. Intregued I measured out eight grams and threw it into a french press. This is where my problems with the Cascara began. It smells horrible when it's brewing. Every person I have offered a cup has agreed, the wet Cascara is repulsive. Four minutes later, I plunged the cherries to the bottom of the french press and poured. The aroma is much the same as the dry cherries, but with much more blackcurrent. In the cup it even tastes like a very weak, hot Ribena. There were also floral notes, a definate peat flavour, and some chocolate towards the end. Having said this, I had already been put off, and didn't enjoy the coffee at all.

Then yesterday I took my one cup Bodum and the Cascara into work, and gave tasters to different people. The first was my boss, Ru. He described it as like hot Ribena, and while not hating it, wasn't taken by it.

Now for Ace (Chris Walton, my co-worker). Well, Ace really liked it. And where Ru and I had seen mostly eye to eye on flavour and aroma, Ace came up with some fantastic new flavours and aromas we'd missed. Firstly, the dry cherries. There's a definate raisen smell, which I had missed. In the cup he described it as a fruit tea, likening it's floral and fruity tastes to those of herbal teas.

So is Cascara really a coffee drink that you could serve day-to-day, or is it a novelty? Well, I'd start by saying it's an aquired taste. It took me three goes to properly enjoy it and even now I find it a little earthy to enjoy a large mug full. But it did challenge my belief as to what coffee is. Cascara is a fruit tea in all but name. It's dried fruit which is steeped in hot water for four minutes. But at the same time it's obviously a coffee, because it comes from a coffee plant. I promise you, if you get the chance to try this drink you will never look at coffee in the same way.

There is some bad news though. Square Mile have sold out, as of yesterday (I think). If you know anyone who does have some, or you can find any lying about, grab a taste. If you're near Newcastle I have two bags, though I'm giving one to Ace for Christmas lol. just give me a bell and let me know if you're dropping by and I'll bring it to work with me.

Anyway, Christmas Wish List tomorrow, if I'm not too drunk to type. So, till then, best wishes :)


Wednesday, December 10

Union Hand Roasted, Cold Days Ahead, And The Wish List!

So, it's getting cold now, isn't it? For all you fe'kers down South who think a cold day is where you have to wear a light jacket and a scarf, let this be an education. I went out the house today wearing thermal long johns, a thermal t-shirt, and a Canterbury thermal base layer on top of that (with my usual work clothes of jeans and a polo shirt over the top). Good God, it was cold. Anyway, that's my rant about the weather over. The moral of the story, use more petrol, burn coal in your back garden, and buy a herd of cattle. Lets get that global warming thing sorted!

So...my visit to Union. Well, I got there eventually (after getting very lost). Was welcomed in, and we set off training. To start with we messed about with their new Winter Blend, tasting it an espresso, and deciding how it was best packed, and at what time it was best extracted. In the end we decided that over packing the basket, and tamping it lightly brought out the best flavours and the most balanced espresso. The blend itself is fantastic, with zesty citrus and chocolate leading to a spicy cinnamon finish. We then messed about with my signature drink (which I'll go into more depth in at a later date), the Chilli/Spiced mocha. The espresso worked perfectly with the spices and the chocolate, and tasted great, though I do now have to work out which ingredients fit, which ones I don't need, and the best balance of the flavours.

So far so good. We tried the blend as a cappuccino and, rather than being pleasantly surprised we were stunned into silence. Rather than the espresso punching through the milk it died on it's arse. The zesty lemon had disappeared, as had the cinnamon finish, leaving only a vague taste of chocolate and the creaminess of the milk. So, in the end, I decided that rather than mess about with two grinders I'll use the Revelation blend instead as I know it's robust and versatile enough to make excellent espresso and cappuccino, while still working with the sig drink. After that I ran through my presentation a couple of times, asked any lingering questions, then headed home.

All in all it was a really useful day, and coupled with the barista jam in Blaydon I now feel prepared to give the UKBC a good go. So, watch this space!

Now, the wish list item for today. This one's aimed squarely at espresso drinkers and is...the Union Winter Blend! This is the first winter blend I've tried this year, and it's fantastic. Really, if you love espresso and like zesty coffees you'll love this. It's got a fantastic mulled wine taste, with great mouthfeel and a really nice brightness to it. So, go out and get some!

So, until next time,

Monday, December 8

Union, Barista Competitions, And Yet Another Crap Costa.

Okay, before I say anything, I want to point out one thing. I was tired, and Costa was the only place to go. So, while I'm on the train doing nothing else, I may as well review it. I ordered a double ristretto (which was to go, since I was in a train station at the time). I can already hear the purists screaming at me, but it was either that or brave whatever burned mess they seemed to be serving as cappuccinos. So, anyway, I get to my platform, no more than a minute after getting my order, open up my ristretto to see...a tiny filter coffee. No, not the syrup thick, treacley wonder that is a ristretto, it's golden creama flecked with reddish brown. Instead I see a water-thin cup of, for want of a better word, shit. Not even a hint of creama around the edges! Even Costa used to be able to make a nice ristretto! It was the one coffee I enjoyed from them! Now this?! Oh well. The lesson of the story, train station Costa is NOT good.

So, now that we have that cleared up, Union Hand Roasted. This is my first trip down to the roastery, and only my second time in a roastery (the first being Pumphrey's, at the barista jam). I thought, to start off this post I'd give you the run down on Union; what they're about, who they are, why I love them so much.

Firstly, who are they?

Well, Union is a privately microroastery based in London. It is owned by Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia.

Second, what are they about?

Union is about providing good coffee, and giving the farmers a fair price for that coffee.

Thirdly, why do I love them?

Well, it's my job to love them for a start. Any barista worth his salt should be enthused about the coffee he prepares and sells. In the end a barista is part chef, part salesman, and a salesman must believe in his product in order to sell it. For me, Union ticks all the right boxes. They don't pander to the Fairtrade crowd, selling only one Fairtrade and Organic coffee, but they ensure that all their coffees are ethically sourced, paying 35% above the Fairtrade minimum, last I heard. They also care about their customers. The only reason I'm so enthusiastic about coffee is because my boss is enthusiastic about good coffee. Union ensure that they enthuse the shop owners and the baristi they supply, so that their great coffee doesn't simply become a creama-less mess in the bottom of a paper cup.

The main reason I love them is because they sell damned good coffee. Before I got the job at Coolaboola I hated coffee. My only experience had been Costa mochas (and we have seen my opinion of Costa already). I got the job, was given a series of lattes made with Union's Revelation blend, and my eyes were opened to what coffee really was. Not the bitter, lifeless drink that Costa would have you believe it is, where the only difference between a latte and a cappuccino is the order you put it together. No, coffee is as much a food stuff as a good cut of beef.

And that's Union. As I type I'm on a train to their London home to train for competition, and to taste a couple of different blends they think will work well with my sig drink idea.

And, as I said last night I'll be giving you a run down of what goes on today when I head back this evening.

So, till then, I'll sign off.


Sunday, December 7

So, What Exactly Does A Barista Do On His Day Off?

Well, he goes to work...the snow melted and I went to work. I got a free coffee and bought a load of stuff, then put on a sequined cat suit, white go-go boots with a three inch heel and go to a fancy dress party...

Yeah, anyway, tomorrow should be interesting. I've got a visit to the Union Roastery, and free Wi-Fi on the train, so expect a very excited post tomorrow about all my training adventures :)

I will also be posting a review of the Square Mile Cascara on the train journey down, so expect a post-packed day!

As for the Christmas Wish List, today's entry is Union's Revelation blend. A wonderful espresso blend with a red cherry opening, leading to toasted caramel, a spicy, dark chocolate finish, and a lingering chocolate aftertaste. This really is a staple blend for the espresso machine, although it works nicely as a filter coffee as well.

Anyway, sorry for the rushed nature of this post, but I've got a lot to do, and wanted to bang a post out, as much to stay in the habit as anything else. Like I said, expect two longer, more in depth posts tomorrow.


Thursday, December 4

So...What Does A Barista Do On His Day Off?

Well, I've been snowed in. I'm meant to be at work in an hour, but it ain't happening. So, what do I do on my day off? No, seriously, that's a question: I don't know. Right now I'm sitting on my bed chatting to you guys, listening to the music of South Park and The Mighty Boosh. Well, I'd best waste some time and put together a real post then.

So, to kick proceedings off, the Christmas Wish List! Today, it's Square Mile's Finca Mauritania Cascara . I haven't tried this coffee myself, but I have two bags on order. I don't think it's much of an overstatement to say that Mr. Hoffman and his crew of roasting buddies have opened my eyes as to what coffee really is with the Cascara. Before I was under the impression that only the bean was suitable for brewing a lovely cup of coffee, but Cascara is the dried remains of the coffee cherry itself! It is apparently the oldest form of coffee, and is brewed in the same way as a fruit tea.

The Square Mile webshop describes it like this:

"Finca Mauritania Cascara Price £5.00
A rare chance to taste possibly the oldest coffee drink in history. The dried coffee cherries make a delicious, sweet and refreshing infusion with flavours of rosehip, raspberries, cherries, plum and of course coffee fruit.
Aida Batlle, who owns Finca Mauritania and is well known as one of the most talented and progressive farmers in El Salvador, produced these coffee cherries using her Pasa method. The cherries were dried on the tree past ripe, before being sorted and then dried again on the patios. Once hulled the cherries were vacuum packaged separately and we have purchased a small amount.
We’d suggest brewing it like a fruit tea, and have found a ratio of about 20-25g per litre works very well. We enjoyed a steep of 4 minutes best – though feel free to experiment and let us know what you find!
We hope to secure more from next year’s crop – but for now we have about 40kg in stock. Not much at all….
As we said – this is a rare opportunity and you may be surprised that this is not only an interesting drink but a genuinely delicious one."

So there you have it, a drink that an coffee enthusiast should give his right arm to try. Like I said I have two bags on order, and will be reviewing it when it arrives for anyone who may be unlucky enough to miss out.

Okay, my second Wish List Item (to make up for not having posted yesterday), is a piece of kit I'd be lost without. My Reg Barber. Now, I know that choice in tamper is down to personal preference as well as income, but please do give the Reg Barber a look. Ranging in price from £30 to £100 there is an RB for everybody. Mine is a 57.5mm flat stainless steel base with a short ball handle. It's a joy to use, with a nice heavy base, and a light handle. Beautifully balanced, it makes tamping level a doddle. They're available from www.hasbean.co.uk, as well as Reg's own site www.coffeetamper.com.

Anyway, that's me done for today. Tomorrow, a day in the life of Seamus McFlurry, and the next item in the Wish List.


Tuesday, December 2

Plans For December, And The Third Wave Wishlist.

So, as you may have noticed, it's December. So, to celebrate this festive season I have some plans for Third Wave. Firstly, The Life Of A Barista. I said I'd do this piece ages ago, and I've decided to do it now for a couple of reasons. A) it's the run up to the competition, so there's that element to my days, B) I have Christmas drinks to play with, which makes the whole "latte, two capps and....etc" a bit more interesting for me to write and you to read.

Secondly, I'm down at Union Hand Roasted in London on Monday, so I'll have a full write up of that on Tuesday evening. This is again based around competition training, so it's just another little insight for you all into the life of a first time competitor.

And finally, the big thing this Christmas. It's new, it's original, it's never been seen before, it's...*drumroll*...the Third Wave Christmas Wish List!!!!!

Okay, so it's the CoffeeGeek wish list with a different name. Basically, over the next month I aim to bring you a selection of items I have tried and know to be great, or that I think will make fantastic additions to a home barista's arsenal, and be totally essential in the pro barista's kit. With it being the second of December today I'll start off with a big one.

Today's Wish List item is the HasBean 'Christmas Roasted Selection Pack'. This isn't just a nice to have, this is fe'king essential for anyone who claims to love coffee. The pack consists of four coffees for £40, roasted and shipped on 18th December. It is a one off, and for very good reason. The coffees are

  • Brazil Inglaterra Special Fazenda Toca da Onca Canario 2008
  • Panama Esmeralda Geisha lot number 5
  • El Salvador La Ilusion COE No.
  • Kenya Gethumbwini

The La Ilusion and the Gethumbwini have both been reviewed on this blog before, so I know they're both amazinf coffees. The Panama Esmeralda I know only by reputation, and it is one I am very excited to try. It is also only available as part of this set. The Canario, according to Steve's site, is from a very rare variatel (the Canario, strangely enough), which all but died out. HasBean have two of four bags in the world, making this a truely rare experience. I feel that anyone with a love for coffee should order this up now before it's too late. I know I'm ordering mine tomorrow, when I get paid.

Anyway, that's all for tonight. Tomorrow I won't be posting anything because I have to drive to Manchester and back to see the Mighty Boosh. Again...I'll explain why another time. So, to make up for this, I'll post two Wish List items on Thursday, and they're both great ones!

So till then, have fun, and stay safe on the roads!


Monday, December 1

December! The Barista Jam, And A Promise To Keep Blogging...

Well, here we are. It's December! Nearly Christmas! Whoop!

So, for my first post in fe'king ages I'm going to go over a couple of things. Firstly, my goals for December, and secondly a write up of the Newcastle Barista Jam.

So, December aims. As some of you may have noticed, posts have dried up somewhat. I am going to rectify this. I was dumped by my girlfriend of three and half years on Thursday, so I'll have loads of time to blog to you all! The blog will also be moving away from the cupping side of things. In the past I've relied on tastings to fill out weeks when I've had nothing to talk about. With Common Grind moving more towards the cupping side of things I've decided to move more towards the day-to-day life of a barista, with some french press tastings thrown in. This will include a fairly regular, detailed run up to the three competitions I'm entering. These are the UKBC, Coffee In Good Spirits, and the Cuptasting competiton.

So, no for the write up. The Jam took place on Wednesday 26th, at Pumphries Coffee in Blaydon. To be honest I had no idea what to expect from the Jam, the people attending, or even Pumphries. Fair enough I had ideas about what Pumphries would be like; mediocre coffee roasted months ago with a huge sales pitch. I have to state now that I was totally wrong. The coffee was great, if a bit fresh, and the closest thing to a Pumphries sales pitch was the free bag of goodies we got when we turned up.

So, I turned up, was offered a coffee by Stu, and got to meeting and greeting the people I met. People seemed to have turned up from everywhere. There were a couple of guys from Scotland, some from Bristol, Chris Weaver, Ash Porter and Richard Teasdale from Lincoln, and local kids such as myself and a fantastic local girl called Katie (who won the Esquires Coffee in-house comp).

The day itself was made up of a series of workshops and hands on time. The first part of the day included espresso with Hugo Hercod (an amazing workshop worth my weight in gold), a cappuccino workshop with the someone who's name escapes me at the moment (Sorry man, but your workshop was fe'king awesome), and a run down of the rule changes for the '09 UKBC. After that we were treated to a run down of Hugo's presentation, a taste of Stu's bizarre, but tasty garlic/chocolate sig drink, and a huge buffet lunch. After that we got time on the new San Remo machines we'll be using in the UKBC and a trip down to the roastery.

The day as a whole was fantastic, well worth the £25 I paid to go. The only blip was a speech by the SCAE UK director. It turned what was an informal series of workshops/networking event into a sales pitch for the SCAE sponsors. I'm not sure about anyone else, but to me it felt totally out of place, and I'm not sure I felt entirely comfortable with it. He didn't do himself any favours in my opinion by asking us baristi to join, then saying that really our money didn't matter as much as the sponsors, who we should all go and buy lots of things from. On top of that he totally forgot to mention the huge effort Stu made, and Pumphries involvement in the Jam altogether. So I'd like to say now:

Thank you Stu for a fantastic event, thank you Paula for tremendous name badges, and generally for all your effort in organising the event. Thank you Pumphries for inviting us all to use your space and equipment. We all of us appreciated you effort, and I for one am waiting for the next one :p

So there we go. An educational event, and great for networking. I'm now better friends with Katie (who I knew before the event, but had never really considered training with before the event), I've finally met Chris Weaver and Ash Porter, who really are tremendous guys and you should all go and see his website, and listen to his blog.

So, I'll sign off now, with the promise that I will carry on blogging regularly and stop being so lazy lol.

Also, I realise I've spelt Pumphrey's wrong all this time, but it's 1am, I'm tired and I have a twelve hour shift at work, starting at 6:45...


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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