Sunday, April 23, 2006

the monarchy and my brother

Sorry for the tardy blog keeping friends, but I have been busy entertaining my girlfriend, a full time if worthy job, in itself. We spent a weekend in Edinburgh which was beautiful but a tad lacking in the specialty coffee scene and also recently spent a night in the 4 seasons in Dublin. Do you care readers? Probably not, but staying in the 4 seasons, with all it's extravagance got me thinking. They charge around 5/6 euro for quite a poor meringue like cappuccino and I hear most high end restaurants in Dublin can charge anything up to 7 euro for an espresso. I understand the price is more representative of the level of service, the scrumptious freshly baked biscuits and lavish surroundings, but I got started wondering if the Queen in England drinks coffee, and if she does is it any good? I'm sure we can presume she gets the same level of service, and enjoys the very definition of lavish interiors, but do her staff employ their famous attention to detail to the brewing process? or how they store the beans? or how fresh they are? or whether they even use beans? Surely not instant? Can we be sure? Even if Liz doesn't drink coffee, I think we can safely presume that guests at stately dinners will drink a cup now and again. Do you think she has an espresso machine? If so how many? Buckingham Palace is pretty big and we all know the problems with an espresso left idle too long......a 2 group in each wing?? I'm sure we can presume each of her country estates's are all kitted out properly. And what about other world leaders? Tony Blair? Somehow I all too easily imagine a filter coffee jug stewing away in No. 10 Anyone know what Bush drinks after dinner? In other news, my brother is an idiot. Who would think the person that originally got me into coffee would be so stupid. Yes I was silly leaving a sample of green beans around the kitchen, but you never think it will happen. I wasn't there when it happened but I've since cleaned out the whole burr system and put it back together again, and changed the fuse in the plug, but she still ain't working. I presume now that the motors busted. So for the time being, a trip to my house does not guarantee a good coffee. Sad times indeed. RIP pro-line.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


According to this piece of paper, also known as my exam timetable, I will not be going to Bern this year. Out of every weekend in the year, they chose the one bang in the middle of my exams. Needless to say, I'm pissed off.

good cafes

So, for anyone thinking about travelling to Dublin, or anyone who lives here, I thought I'd put down a list of the few cafes in Dublin I think are worth checking out. Once I get my new camera I'll throw some pics in too, so if you're interested check back on this post in a week. in no particular order; Avoca Cafe. It has to be one of the nicest cafes in Dublin. They serve great food, fresh scones that are baked in house daily,and the coffee is excellent. However, sadly only when Arthur works. He just got a 3 group Linea in and a robur grinder which as far as I know he prefers to the battered Gaggia he used to have. Although the Gaggia always ran too hot he still managed to serve coffee well above the average quality, which in my mind is a testament to his skill as a barista. On Arthur's days off, the quality of coffee does drop which is a shame as I love everything else about the place. They have some of the best waiters in Dublin and I love the red and white interior and the wooden floors. One of the best spots great lunch and excellent espresso in town. It goes without saying that latte art is a given on every drink. Donnybrook Fair. Strangely I've only ever been here once. Its in Ballsbridge in Dublin which is a little off my daily path, but I do hope to get there more often. To me it has a more restaurant feel to it, with sleek interiors and a long bar incorporating the espresso bar and a cocktail bar. If my sources and one visit are anything to go by, you can expect to see great latte art on every visit and taste really good coffee. Also Buzz who runs the coffee over there is really good guy and a great Barista. Coffee Angel. It can get very annoying when you only have a select group of cafes that you can visit and get good coffee, so I was delighted when I found Coffee Angel before Christmas. I say 'found', but its been around for ages and I was just too lazy to go and check it out. Often when a barista from a certain cafe wins a competition, people talk about how the standard in the cafe is not the same as in the comp. Well, seeing as Karl Purdy, the current Irish Barista Champion, and owner of Coffee Angel has no other staff, its fair to say he's serving competition standard coffee all the time. The man is a bloody workhorse. You'll find him working off his mobile espresso bar down by the IFSC on the liffey every morning rain or shine. Although Karl runs a take away stand, and so serves in paper cups, ask nicely enough and I'm sure he'll serve you an espresso in a ceramic or heavy glass vessel. I'm confident he'll improve on the current Irish ranking. Great espresso despite the best efforts of the elements. Bewley's Cafe on Grafton Street. I sort of feel I shouldn't be including this one as , well I work there, and I'm responsible for all the in house training and barista supervision. I should mention that Deaton does this as well. I'm still not sure if its his job description or not but having a lot of training experience already, Deaton can't but set examples and educate whereever possible. The standards wouldn't be as high in the building if it wasn't for Deaton being there full time. (I work part time). I won't go into too much self promotion here but I believe the quality of espresso and the average skill level of our thirty or so barista's is very high . All the coffee is roasted in house as well so I believe we are serving a unique coffee offer in Dublin. Enough of that, here's some pics so you can decide for yourself. Neither Deaton or I made any of these drinks.

Monday, April 03, 2006

customers appreciating

Popped into work after college today and met up with mates Deaton Pigot, and Arthur Wynn. There's far too few coffee professionals actually passionate about the craft in Dublin, and its fair to say that these two set examples. Deaton's a roaster and barista trainer, working with me in Bewley's Cafe on Grafton St in Dublin, and hails from that topsy turvy part of the world called Australia. Arthur is one of the best working barista's I have ever seen and as far as I can tell, doesn't train more simply so he can stay behind the bar. He works in Avoca cafe on Suffolk Street in Dublin, and unsurprisingly enough, he is also Australian. He's forever slagging me for not putting more time in behind the bar, which I really do miss, but unfortunately, my college timetable rules the roost these days. In between people watching and enjoying a few espresso's, we talked about how we could improve standards in our cafe's. Its interesting how after a certain point in learning about coffee you begin to focus on the faults. You wish your triple rosetta's was more defined and as you take your first sip of your first morning espresso, your eyes dart left and right seeking out any imperfections. It does however, make it all the more wonderful when you get those great shots, which, I'm chuffed to say, seem to becoming more and more common. Its something I've talked a bit about with James Hoffman, who, just so you know, I will refer to as Jim from now on. Can we only appreciate coffee if its perfect? Because many of us live and breadth this stuff, do we devote enough time to doing what initially got us into it? I hate myself when I peer into every new cafe I see, and dismiss it immediately when I spot the absence of a tamper, a crammed grounds chamber, or the portafilter's lying beneath the machine. Or those times when you go out with friends who don't share your passion. They choose the cafe that although lovely on the inside, with good food and music, annoyingly serves mucky coffee. Your friend glares at you, daring you to moan or begin critique. You avert your eyes from the 'bar' only to cringe at previously unnoticed flaws; the poorly located sugar stand, the misspellllings on the coffee menu, the various claims of freshness and fairly traded etc etc etc But do the average customers notice these things? (How could they not I know I know.) But from my experience in various cafes, the most common complaint is still that of too hot or too cold. Lack of chocolate on the cappuccinos assaults my ears now and again, and very occasionally, complaints of the espresso being too strong. We know we'll always foster barista development where we can, but I wonder what areas will impress the customers more? Appearence? Taste? When they don't like a coffee, due to a particular flavour, what 'flavour' don't they like? The Dublin cafe scene could better be described as a milk scene considering the litres of milk I see stacked outside cafes in the early hours as I stumble home.(didn't disturb the peace don't worry) Espresso is sadly a rare order, bar Italians, so nearly all our coffee's are presented through milk. It's so rare that the milk is really off that I wonder what faults in the shots cut through and affected the consumer's pallette? Granted there are definitely more and more customers these days that understand what they're tasting and will complain when provoked by a burnt thin cappuccino. However, in my opinion they are still a small minority. Furthering customer knowledge is clearly an ideal, although some cafe owners might not appreciate the added pressure. We are lucky enough in Grafton Street to have a shop roaster opposite the bar, providing informative eye candy to accompany their drink. Hours are spent each day explaining the bean to cup process to customers, a revelation I think I will never tire of. But apart from this, is latte art, high quality service and cleanliness the only way to impress every customer? Do we resign to the idea that some people will never like our coffee regardless how superior the taste to the nearest cometitor? When we put all that effort in a fluid ounze of liquid, and they still call it bitter, arer they wrong? Crafting great tasting coffee will always come first but if all they want is their latte not too hot, surely it brings a whole new angle to the stable temperature debate?