Sunday, November 12, 2006

bye blogger

So I'm fed up with blogger. You can now find me here. Its still a bit basic, but expect more fancy stuff in the near future. good bye blogger.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Italian coffee and Trieste

(long post)-and for some reason blogger is ignoring my having paragraphs, so I'm sorry if its hard to read. I first travelled to Italy when I was 18. Along with my two best friends, and my girlfriend we bought an interail ticket and journeyed by train from Slovenia, down to Venezia, over to Verona, through Firenze, to Sorrento and finally Rome. I was only really into latte art then but had a fairly good sense of what espresso should be, at least in UK and Ireland terms. I sadly had that young barista arrogance where I’d snob entire cafes just because their grounds chambers were full, regardless of how nice the space might be. How I didn’t notice that practically every grounds chamber in Italy was full is beyond me. But it wasn’t all bad. I remember noticing how I never got the big long pale shots that sadly still swamp the market here. The shots were short and the extractions seemed good. But what stuck in my mind the most, was the cappuccinos.
On my last morning in Italy, I was waiting for the Ryanair flight home in some small airport outside Rome. There was a small cafe bar at the gate with a semi automatic 2 group, a grinder, a fridge with a few sandwiches and a barista. Its likely that I was recovering from the previous night’s last night drinks, but I remember that wasn’t the reason I ordered around 4 cappuccinos in a row. They were so small, so sweet, and so wonderfully not boiling.
So essentially I always had good memories of coffee in Italy. As I learned more about coffee I think I probably thought back on some of the technical practices in Italy and ultimately labeled the country’s coffee scene as good but a little sloppy. So it was very interesting to have the opportunity to go back to Italy and not only re-check the scene, but do so at a coffee exposition.
As mentioned in the previous post, I was working for Glasgow based EspressoWarehouse, who are a sister company of MatthewAlgie Coffee Co. and who in turn distribute Elektra machines in the UK. So the deal for Trieste was that I’d be working on Elektra’s new concept K machine and making drinks for any customers Espresso Warehouse might have. Fool around on a prototype machine and play with the latest espresso parephenalia? Yes please.
We flew in last Wednesday and were picked up by Frederico (Mr. Elektra) and went straight to the Elektra Factory. It was a public holiday and so apart from a few guys, the place was closed up, leaving the place free for us to stroll about. I’ve never seen a neater or cleaner factory ever. (I’ve probably visited around 4 factories ever, but still) Frederico showed us some very old, very beautiful machines and it was interesting to see just how significant Elektra’s role was in espresso machine development. For example, they own the patent on the three way solonoid valve. They prioritise the look and style of their machines as much as they do the function. Unlike other companies they also build every part for their machines, even down to the screws. They might not be my first choice of machine but I was pretty excited about their new grinder. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of it but if I were to open a cafe tomorrow, this would be the grinder of choice. (300 rpm, conical, doserless, a very steep chute and particularly fancy, a built in fan under the motor.)We finished the evening with a fantastic meal and a few glasses of wine around Treviso, including one house wine for only 70c, which amazingly wasn’t bad. The following morning we were picked up by Elektra and travelled to Trieste. The show wasn’t huge but then that was kind of a relief in itself. The new machine is still a prototype and so some parts were still cast in plastic. As you can see, both steam wands and the hot water dispenser are on one side, which is intended to better facilitate two baristas working simultaneously. I loved the toggle steam switches and as far as I know this is the first machine with a built in water filtration system. It analyses the water and adds or subtracts nutrients, also notifying you if it needs a cycle. Another variable looked after it seems. I didn’t see many exciting new products save a few nice cup designs and the odd new pitcher. Reneka had a new machine which at this point all I’m qualified to say is that it was very pretty. I saw a few nice tampers from Coffee consulate and Steffen Schwartz very kindly gave me a nice 54mm tamper which I need for the Dalla Corte currently installed in the cafe. I also luckily got a chance to check out a fantastic old machine exhibition in the city centre. Jim’s already talked about this on his blog but I need to say too that some of the machines were just beautiful. The artistry that went into them far outdoes any modern machines on the market. Even this early Cimbali got me. I love the lines and the colours.So how was the coffee? With 6 years in the coffee industry did I still see the Italian coffee scene as good but sloppy? Yes and no. I got a lot of weird looks for grinding each shot to order, flushing between shots and taking such care in my distribution and leveling. One criticism I was glad of though was when I was making my milk too hot for my cappuccinos. I generally make my cappuccinos a little cooler but evidently not cool enough. Since getting home I’ve tried going cooler but feel now that I still like around 135f - 140f.I think the general standard in Italy is far better than any other country I’ve visited. There is an understanding of what espresso should look like and roughly taste like. Obviously there must be competition baristas who are aware of wbc standards and practice them in their cafes, but you get the clear impression that Italian coffee has been the same way for quite a while now and really feels no need to change. And thats fine with me. Its something worthy of a lot more discussion but alas I need to sleep. check my trieste and elektra sets on flickr for more pics steve

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I'm just packing, and should be finishing an essay about interpretation of French music, but I found myself reading a news report on the flood in Ethipioa. In doing so, I saw a link to this article. night all


Off to Trieste tomorrow for the apparently huge machine expo. I'll be working on the Espresso Warehouse Stand which I think is sharing with Elektra and Mahlkoning. I'm really looking forward to it for a number of reasons.

  1. I get to play on an Elektra which I've never done before
  2. I get to meet another hundred coffee people who I'm sure will all be lovely.
  3. I get to meet up with old friends.
  4. I get to go to Trieste and hopefully visit the Illy Concept bar.
  5. Hoping to taste some really frsh Illy.
  6. I'll hopefully get to fool around with the latest goodies Espresso Warehouse are offering.
  7. I get to eat these, which are really very good.
As always I'll probably fail to supply any good posts but I do feel I normally come through on the picture end of thing. Keep your eyes on my flickr. Other quick news:
  • Still not decided on whether I like aeropress
  • I feel standards are higher than ever in the cafe at the moment, however we can always get better. Trying to get grinder cleaning a bit more of a routine. It was always just Deaton and I who did it but I've been trying recently to expose all the baristas to more than just bar skills. I feel a broader coffee knowledge can only help create better pride in their work.
  • Bought a new Mac book, and have been importing all of my Vancouver photos. Miss that stupid city. The mac book is simply wonderful. Its black too, which makes me better than you.
Been thinking too about the perfect bar design recently, and if I've ever seen it. I keep seeming to think up or see new things that just make so much sense and aren't currently being employed. As is the case with many cafe's, people often get it 80% right. Its normally the coffee that screws it up, but even in quality focused bars, I always seem to find a few issues that really bug me. I'm terrified that when the day finally comes that I open my own bar (10 years away), that there'll be some external factor that I have no control over that will ultimately effect my flow, or bar layout, or something. Is it ever possible to get everything perfect in the planning stage or will you inevitably run into knots at some point?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rosetta's in the early hours

rosetta's in the early hours This was taken early last summer in elysian. My good friend and fellow coffee blogger Matti Kolehmainen poured the first one and thats me pouring the second. The quality of the original video is much better and I'm quite annoyed with how much its diminished on you tube. If any of you know a better quality video posting sites, please inform me.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

European Team Challenge

It was the best coffee event I have ever attended. I have never had so much fun, learnt so much, or met so many cool people all at one time. It was so well organised that I swelled with pride to be Irish. I suddenly realise that I'm not yet an official member of the Irish Chapter of the SCAE and now feel quite strongly that this needs adressing. It was great to meet baristas from Russia, Germany, Iceland, Estonia and the UK. Some I had met before, and I only wish I had spent more time getting to know them all before they left. I think I probably met them all, but some of those encounters occurred under sever intoxiation and so I'll hold back from declaring any new bosom buddies. It was great to catch up with old aquaintences and friends such as Jim Hoffman, Simon Robertson, David Cooper, Se Gorman, Ben Townsend, Gary Mc Gann, and new friend, Steve Leighton. I am writing this with a head cold strong enough to knock out a small family, so please don't feel offended if I don't mention your name in this post. Needless to say though, these sort of events are nothing if they don't have great people involved. As regards competing, we were put through a considerable number of workshops and tests including roasting, green bean seminars, analysing the new and current wbc rules, cupping, machine maintenance and blind latte art. I will avoid going into too much detail as many of you will hopefully read about it in Barista Magazine in an issue or two. If you can't wait that long, Jim should have his account of the show posted in a matter of minutes. I was really quite happy with how well we did. If we hadn't come first in the Blind latte art we would have placed around 5th. Although we came last in it, amongst the Irish team we agreed we enjoyed the triangular cupping competition the most. Possibly because it pulled on our team spirit more than the others or possibly more because it was just so much fun. But if I had to pick the workshop I learnt most from, I would have to say it was the Filter Brewing Workshop. Paul Stack, who helped organise most of the competition, did a fantastic and thorough presentation. I apologise for the level of detail in this post, but I am still suffering from the considerable amount of drink consumed over the event. I will leave it to more adequate others to fill in my blanks. If I feel something wasn't covered enough I will cover it. The comp was quite tight in the end with Russia and the UK apparently neck and neck. Well done to the UK on a thoroughly deserved win. However, I would like to say I totally agree with what it says on the SCAE Irish site, 'The experience of competing is the prize. Winning the competition is a bonus'.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

European Team Challenge

So tomorrow sees the beginning of the first European Team Coffee Challenge in Dublin. The Irish team, myself included, spent a day out in Bewleys HQ recently to practice for the competition. We dabbled in blind latte art and received some advanced cupping advice from Bewley's master roaster Paul O'Toole. The other members of the Irish team are current Irish Barista Champion Karl Purdy, current 3rd place Irish Barista Champion Ruslan Mocharskyy and Barista trainer Julia Mc Fadden of Fallon & Byrne. You can find the whole schedule of events on the Irish SCAE website. One particularly interesting thing is that admittance to the various courses is all free, something I have not seen before at coffee events. I hope to update you all about the competition as it progresses, and will try avoid covering the same stuff as Jim and Steve Leighton. I'm really looking forward to meeting a whole new bunch of coffee persona and catching up with old acquaintances. I'm a little nervous about the competition, not because my barista skills and general coffee knowledge will be put on test, but more because each time is required to do a 5 minute routine as a display of team spirit. Now its quite a while since I have been on stage and I have no intention of putting my vocal talents back in action. However, time is running out, and the only possibility that seems plausible now is a possible shaving of beards,....... Those of you who read my blog, are almost definitely also readers of James Hoffmannnn's blog. I look forward to catching up with Jim for lunch tomorrow and flailing him for his poor spelling of Irish Stouts........(just one more 'n') edit: Jim has since corrected the error, but I will leave this comment up regardless as such an insult to an Irish institution requires just criticism. On another point, Jim and I shall be exchanging gifts today from our different coffee travels; his trip being the Nordic, mine being Vancouver. Both presents are inexpensive but coffee related and shall be revealed in a matter of hours. So exciting. On another quick note, along with my good friend Deaton Pigot, the roaster in the cafe, we have set up a new blog to help showcase the coffee personalities and artists in our cafe. Please add it to your feeds and comment away. more soon

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I won the CBC!,...

....not seriously, but well done to Colter on what I hear was a great performance. So that was the first comp with new rules, interesting to see the lower scores. No more 800's for a while then I guess. I judged both Colter and Barrett in the Western Canadian regionals and was equally impressed by both. Fair play guys, I'll hopefully see you in Tokyo.