Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Coffee Snobbery

Do people really know what the difference is between a good coffee and a bad one. Is it the coffee or the experience? I’ve already wrote about the experience - so lets talk coffee. For me it has to be freshly roasted - and by that I mean roasted ideally by an Irish coffee roaster some time within the last four weeks. The shorter the better. 

As the lads in Two Spots Coffee say, remember when wine came from France and coffee came from Italy ? Well forget that. Ireland has some really fantastic artisan roasters. So this is the only place to start. Buying coffee from an Irish roaster keeps 75% of the money spent on the coffee beans in the country. Importing roasted coffee sends 75% of the money out of the country. Its a no brainer.

At Coffee Culture we roast every week, offering café owners freshly roasted coffee, that can be ground to order and made on demand to give you the best possible opportunity to enjoy coffee at its best. After that, we rely on the skill of the barista to perfect the espresso.  We train all of our cafe staff, starting them all off at Level 1 Barista Skills.

Its really difficult to make great coffee.  It takes time, practise, patience and dedication.  Coffee taste varies, but in some ways its quite generic - people just want a fix.  But that is changing - customers are getting more discerning, recognising great tasting coffee and flavours.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Are you a Coffee Snob ...or just passionate

I had a really interesting chat with someone last week, and they were saying how in their opinion there seemed to be a bit of coffee snobbery going on.  Trying to be impartial I engaged in the discussion.  My thoughts on coffee are that everyone has an opinion on it.. its a hugely subjective topic and I suppose like everything there are people that are really passionate and others that don't care, and just want to get their fix.

I'm no coffee expert, and I never profess to be one.  I do however claim to be somewhat of a cafe expert, I've opened over a dozen directly as a consultant with clients, I've fit out over 100 again as consultant/designer/project based work and I've opened about a dozen of my own projects from cafe's to restaurants, hotels, bars and nightclubs.  So I've been around, lost a few quid, got some scars.

Would I do it all again ? most definately.  I love the catering industry and in the last 10 years I have grown to really like the daytime cafe/coffee shop market.

One thing I feel important to tell people is to keep your product accessible.  The coffee market has changed, single origin beans are 'de rigeur' and there can be some really interesting finds out there.  But if you aim too high and mighty about it all, I fear you will scare off the regular 'cup of jo' drinkers. 

To me, the coffee experience is about educating people, and bringing them on a journey.  Making sure that they are enjoying the offering, your passion and that they can feel like they are learing something new and interesting.  There is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to a coffee offering.  There is skill, patience, learning, and educating..  and as a coffee shop owner - you have to investigate why are you getting (or got) into the business in the first place.  If you are not passionate about food and drink or at least one of them, you'll soon get caught out.. your interest will wain, and your customers will see you don't care.

BUT, if you are passionate your customers will come on that journey, they'll be loyal, they'll stick with you and they'll become your friends.  Don't be a snob, be passionate.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Roast of the day

If there is one thing that I’m passionate about it’s fresh coffee.  I don’t care how you extract it, aeropress, v60, espresso, French press, chemex, whatever floats your boat.  But when it comes to buying fresh coffee I offer my café customers one option and that is to buy Irish roasted.  Irish roasted coffee can come in many guises, from small artisan specialists to big commercial roasters.  But the most important factor is that your coffee is fresh – and that is the key to any great food offering.  (yes, coffee is a food!)  Freshly roasted, freshly ground and each cup made to order – you won’t go far wrong.

When I say freshly roasted coffee – by that I mean coffee roasted at absolute maximum within the last 4 weeks.  We don’t have to accept stock piled coffee that sits on pallets in Italy or the UK, maybe roasted 3 months ago and with a shelf life of 2 years – we’ve moved on.  It’s time to support local suppliers and buy Irish. Your customers will appreciate you for it, and you’ll have a happier conscience too.   

Like cooking, roasting is a skill where the specific pleasant flavours and tastes within the bean are identified by the roaster through the roasting process.  When roasted, these flavours are then magnified through the extraction.  So in short, properly sourced, quality beans, roasted with skill and precision will taste of fantastic ripe fruits, will posses great body and length, a balanced acidity and punch, and will linger in your mouth with a smooth and velvety feel.  It’s a skill that takes years to perfect and understand and if you are passionate about coffee and want your customers to be interested in what you offer, I encourage you to go beyond the bag and find out more.  

Finally don’t get consumed by price when choosing your coffee supplier.  A euro difference per kilo from one supplier to the other in the price nets down to little over half a cent per shot when you get to the bottom line.  It could be the difference between losing a customer forever or winning one for life.

The Barista Boom

Article from Totally Dublin magazine Issue 90 - March 2012
Yeah we’ve had baby booms, but there is definitely a Barista Boom going on at the moment. The whole coffee experience has shifted, black mugs of day old stewed filter and free refills are no more   …thank god.  Coffee now has a standard.

The word barista is of Italian origin, and when you think of passion, the Italians have it in buckets full.
Barista’s take pride in the coffee they sell, and how they make it.  And this desire for perfection, encourages their customers to come back time and time again.  It’s no use if you are to set up a café to just open the doors and hope the customers will come in, you have to create something different, an experience. You have to display a passion and enthusiasm for what you do, and this can be translated to the customer for between €2 and €3 a cup. 

Café’s all around Dublin have copped onto this, and the results are fabulous coffee served with care and pride in places such as Clement and Pekoe (South William st), Cup (Nassau street), 3fe (capel Street) and Thirdspace (Smithfield).   If you run a café and need to do something about your offering you can take various barista training courses at Coffee Culture, run every month in Dublin, or catered specifically to your property.  More and more café’s are seeing the benefits of employing baristas.  Not only are they a skilled and educated barperson, but they engage with your customers, and take them on a coffee journey.  More importantly they bring your customers back for the experience, time and time again.  

Friday, 10 February 2012

Where to get good coffee ..

I get asked this question a lot. Where can you get good coffee ?
It’s such a hugely subjective topic. When answering, I feel some people are considering the cafe or restaurant environment, as opposed to evaluating the coffee as a single entity. They consider service, the price, the comfort of the seats etc etc. and these are all worthy contributors.

So should the question be ‘what makes a good coffee experience ?’
Now we’re into a whole new ballpark.

I have always felt that if a property did everything reasonably good, as in, really good; friendly greeting, timely service, tasty food, some pleasant chit chat (or to know when to leave me alone), drinks served in the proper manner, ask how was everything and then wish me a good day, then the combination of these will make the experience excellent. It’s the sum of the parts.

When it comes to coffee though, things can get very complicated. I visited the Irish barista championships last week, as I do every year. I was shocked to see that Badger and Dodo were the only Irish roasters represented in the finals.  And this is a statement of where the majority of Irish suppliers of coffee beans are at. 

Bewleys, in my opinion are a brand in decline, and Java are the new Bewleys, mopping up the hotel accounts and push button bean to cup market. And then we have a host of let’s say ‘coffee importers’ bringing in stock piled coffee and sending the bulk of the money for this outside our country.

The reality is the general public are far more discerning when it comes to coffee these days. Yes it used to be about the ‘overall experience’ as mentioned above, but now we are looking for latte art, bean origin, single origins, freshly roasted, freshly ground, blends, and this is just the start of it.
For me, and my day to day work with coffee culture  its great to see the evolution of coffee.

Our training courses in coffee making (barista skills to be more specific) are more and more popular. And this is great to see. People are bypassing the easy option nespresso and investing in proper home espresso machines and even making the move towards v60, aeropress and chemex.

So where can you get a good coffee?
My advice is to get your fix where you can see they care about what they offer.
There are some questions you can ask and some “must do’s”
– is it roasted in Ireland (a must do these days)
– where and when we’re the beans roasted (no longer than 4 weeks ago)
– are they grinding to order (absolutely imperative)
– do they at least try to get the latte art on cappuccino’s and or latte’s (one of the most difficult parts)
– do they employ a barista (a complete giveaway – any barista worth their salt won’t touch a cafe where their coffee offering falls outside these parameters)

This is just the start of it.
When you find a place that makes coffee in these ways tell me, and post your findings here


Going round the Blend

So I robbed the title from the Article... but hey I liked the title.

Its from York Press – The Press in York
A brilliant article on the current standards of coffee (namely independent cafe’s) in the states, and how their focus is artisan roasted and boutique coffee. This is where Ireland is headed in coffee standards, and certainly some cafe’s are there already.

So yeah, i suppose we have people closer to Ireland (in the UK) doing similar stuff, but you cant beat an interesting article to encourage you to want more of the same in Ireland.

I've blogged about it before over at www.coffeeculture.ie and for those of you who are new to this blog, you'll see its recurring theme.  I cant express how invigorated I am about the cafe industry in Ireland and the direction it is going in.

It’s all very exciting.
A focus on locally roasted beans, the artisanapproach, coffee as it never tasted before - instead of astringent bitter generic coffee flavour, cutting your throat, we have caramels, plums, ripe fruits, chocolate, mouthfeel, acidity and SO much more.  I implore you, to start investigating now... dive deeper into your coffee experience and see what you can uncover.

Read the article here http://goo.gl/E6ZE2.

Beyond the Bag

I’m really excited about 2012. 
More and more people are getting into what i call serious coffee, and thanks to industry leaders such as Brock Lewin at Badger and Dodo or 'Dublin Barista' Colin Harmon , the general public finally have access to the real secrets and enjoyment of a coffee experience.

I really admire the work of artisan roasters such as Brock at Badger and Dodo, and the drive and passion of coffee experts  such as Karl Purdy, David Walsh, and Colin.  These people are shaping the cafe industry to a level of expertise and knowledge unseen in this country before.

If you are a cafe owner or looking to open a cafe, its not whats in the bag and the price of it that is your most important consideration.  Sure we all have to make a margin and we are all happy to do a deal, but its the stuff that doesn’t come in the bag that is far more important. 

Coffee expertise, knowledge of the beans, understanding the flavours and complexities of blends, training, commitment to standards and your coffee supplier working with you to achieve a level of excellence in coffee.  Your coffee supplier is also a resource and knowledge base that you need to use so you can give more to your customers.

As a cafe owner you need to get beyond the bag, talk to your supplier, talk to these experts, and get into the whole coffee experience. These guys, Colin, David, Karl, Brock are just a snapshot of the excellence available out there, and there are a host of new cafe/coffee shop entrants into the market and more coming….  follow their lead and you wont go far wrong.

The most important thing ? buy local, dont buy imported roasted beans, cos you're sending half the bag price out of the country.  Buy locally, fresh roasted beans and you'll be amazed at what the options are.. and you'll feel better about it too..

Opening a cafe ? talk to Alan at Coffee Culture www.coffeeculture.ie for all things Coffee, cafe and more.