Thursday, 15 March 2012

Free latte day

A well known high street branded coffee chain has this week done some pretty remarkable things.

Firstly, it's doubled the coffee in it's small latte.

Whoopie-do. A double in a 12oz is standard and they've been ripping us off for years. Although it does add a lot more Fairtrade coffee sales into the mix, which is as silvered as linings get.

Next they've started asking for your name when you order.

This is brilliantly hilarious, as they still disregard the name and call you "sir" when they hand you your drink. What it does is negate the hard work and genuine connections forged by their minority of good baristas who get it. It reduces them all to the same level of service - but isn't that what Starbucks does best? Bean to cup machines obliterated the value of their talented baristas long ago and ensured that their best coffee would be no better than average. If it's about creating a global standard of friendliness it achieves that, albeit in a comprehensively artificial fashion.

Next, they "promised" by means of a big poster signed by all their staff, that only perfect espresso would make it into your coffee.

Well I kind of hoped that was already the case (although not borne out by experience - see my last blog.) I also don't believe that it's true. I'm sure that the same guys who don't know coffee and don't care will still drop me a 9 second shot and expect me to be thankful for it.

Lastly, they gave away lattes until midday on Wednesday.

This resulted in huge queues outside their stores, a likely decimation of their competitors sales that morning, and quite probably some big uplift in sales to come.

It also resulted in a massive social media eruption. Your Facebook wall was inevitably going to feature a correlation of your friends who had got themselves a free coffee, which FB would helpfully group together for you.

Twitter too saw #freestarbucks trending.

So it's all good news for the green-aproned behemoth and another death knell for the indies right?


Also trending was #independetstastebetter and the likes of Laynes Espresso and Cafe2U Edinburgh reported g sales from die hard customers.

Like it or not Starbucks exerts massive influence on the public perception of the coffee industry. More so than their big boy competitors like Costa and Nero and more so than events like the UKBC and BSA awards.

By making so much fuss about their spring promotion (believe it or not, that's really all this amounts to) what they have managed to do is get people talking about coffee. They are further normalising the idea of your daily latte as a mining routine, and they're getting more and more Muggles into the Hogwarts of hand-crafted coffee.

That, for them, and also for the wider industry can only be a good thing. The job of the indies now must be to show these newborns how deep the rabbit hole goes.

And if they stayed open late enough where I'm sitting tonight, I might be sipping from a cup marked "drink me" rather than one marked "Joel" in a poor mis-spelling of my extraordinarily simple name.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Crap coffee annoys me!

I'm flying solo tonight, so I'm on a mild blog frenzy.

I started my blog by praising an awesome experience at Starbucks. Progenitor AND enfant terrible of the speciality coffee world.

I'm now going to slate them. I'm in a really high profile store in the Capitol city of one of Europe's most visited countries. I'm relaxing in a comfy chair, enduring their shock and awe suicide jazz bombardment and drinking a "flat white."

Starbucks espresso is OK when it's done properly (no better than OK mind) mine is under extracted, bitter and weak. Coupled with the flat, limp, flaccid lukewarm excuse for milk, I'm left with what can only be described as weapons grade coffee.

Will it stop me popping into the green apron again? No. My local is OK, and the wife likes it. Plus the sheer ubiquity of the brand smothers my choices.

I still hunt out indies, but late night in the city centre they're few and far between.

The point of this rambling tirade is this: as an indie you have one chance to win the customer. As a massive brand, chances are the customer (however fussy) will forgive you.

As an indie you owe it to every link in the chain, from the farmer's wife who potted the plant to the roaster who popped the bean to yourself, the operator, to make sure that coffee sings. The power you have is incredible and through one flick of the dosing chamber, one press of the tamper you can destroy even the best beans.

When you do that, you lose your seat at the table and your trepidatious first-time customer dismisses you as another crap cafe. For Peet's sake don't let that happen!

Precision and excellence is the path to great coffee.

Complacency and apathy are the way to the Dark Side.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The Bottle Kiln, West Hallam

I was lucky enough recently to drop by the Bottle Kiln and take a shot. Their reputation makes them one of those "must see" locations on my barista hit list and they sure don't disappoint.

It's admittedly a crummy photo, but the decor and ambiance (nice though it is) isn't the main attraction here.

I was lucky enough to arrive in time to sample a competition sample from Peter James which was a medium roast Rwanda. Speaking to their chief barista (I've really got to start learning names!) I found out that he would have like it a little darker, but the macchiato I had was absolutely wonderful!

A full rich body of syrupy dark cacao with the sweet acidity of Valencia oranges was mindblowingly good.

After years of drinking generic brown sludge packaged a gourmet coffee the revelation is like being born. Espresso is amazing and everyone needs to know.

If you're in or around Ilkeston the Bottle Kiln is Michelin star good (as evidenced by its barrage of BSA awards, UKBC and SCAE commendations)

Miss it: Miss out!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Twentysix Cafe & Bistro Teignmouth

Twentysix is a cute, stylish, cosy little cafe just off the beach at Teignmouth. Terracotta tiles and lots of maritime memorabilia abound and they specialise in French peasant food. Croque Monsieur, French Onion soup and haricot potage fill the menu.

They also offer coffee. I plump for a flat white, and am pleasantly surprised with a fresh-tasting, smooth and well balanced espresso with some well steamed sweet and delicious milk.

There's skill and love at work here for sure.

Their coffee is a speciality roast designed exclusively for the cafe and is mild and smooth with a light crisp cocoa flavour. Very nice!

If you're in these parts, and you're in need of a hearty lunch with good coffee for a reasonable price - this is your place.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Layne's Espresso

So, in its relatively short existence, Layne's has developed almost cult-like legendary status. I popped along to see what all the fuss is about.

It's a tiny space, inhabited by sleeve-tattooed hipsters and those who need to be "seen," but it's none the worse for it. It reminds me a lot of Stumptown in Portland.

The Wife was all coffee-d out by now, but I took a double espresso. Wow!

Ripe, citrusy and berry punch gives way to a juniper and quinine finish. I live in total awe of magicians like this who can make this happen from the seeds of an African shrub. The best coffee I've had since Matt Banbury at Joe the Art of Coffee in New York.

Leeds, it seems, lays good claim to being the best coffee town in the North. Disagree? Tell me what I'm missing!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

La Bottega Milanese

La Bottega's second site, in The Light, is that rarest of coffee house gems - somewhere which stays open late at night! It styles itself after a Milan espresso bar and its warm welcome and stylish design support that - although, having never been to a Milan espresso bar, I'm not in a position to confirm!
I took the wife for a coffee field trip and she loved the food, loved her mocha and was thoroughly impressed, describing it as "the best coffee shop I've ever dragged her to." I took the double espresso today - using their guest coffee, a Honduran light roast from York coffee. It's sweet and light flavour was delicious, and I loved the habenero spicy aroma it kicked out, but, as is the way with the heartbeat which is espresso, it's gone too soon!
I got chatting to the barista, and you can tell these guys are really serious about what they do. Beans roasted this week - 16g for the Honduras, 18g for the house blend (a closely guarded secret, with Brazilian arabica and high altitude Indian robusta - from Bolling.)
A fantastic surprise as I was about to set off was a complimentary shot of the house blend - outstanding! A little darker roast than the Honduras, with a dark chocolate speed bump in the centre of the palate.
Beautiful coffee from passionate baristas. Outstanding service and food and an absolute must for any coffee nut or gastronome visiting Leeds.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Doddington Hall

Doddington Hall is a Lincolnshire
Stately Home, complete with requisite car park, visitor centre and farm shop/gift shop. There's a decent range of local produce; fruit, veg, cheese, plum loaf etc. This is a good thing. A very good thing. Lincolnshire is a magnificent farming county and its food is as good as anywhere else you will find.

Tucked away at the back is the cafe, a modern-looking canteen built as an extension to an old barn. It's dominated by a huge 3 group La Spaziale machine, so I'm having a double macchiato and let's see what it's like!

They're using a Cafe Direct blend, so it's Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certified, which is good.

The crema is a dense golden layer with a rich sweet flavour an the sip is good. Rich and nutty with a smoky finish. It's undoubtedly a good espresso.
Unfortunately, what lets it down is the milk. They're still serving old school cappuccinos with stiff dry foam piled high on top of the espresso , and the macchiato is similar.

So this offers me a dilemma. I've had a good espresso, but I know they could be brilliant here with just a very little tweaking. But how will they know if I don't tell them? I don't work here, I have no place telling them how to improve their business. I'm no Gordon Ramsey!

My answer, of course, is to do nothing. They must have regular customers who like their coffee this way, so there's no incentive to change what's being done.

This brings me to the point (yes, there is one.)

Do you prepare your drinks the way you KNOW they should be, or do you do what your customers ask, expect or demand? I've heard stories of baristas refusing to use syrup because it ruins the flavour. Are they right or wrong?

I'd love to hear your views on this - where do you stand on this debate?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone