Could Coffee Decrease the Risk of Stroke?

My sister drew my attention to this welcome article, which reports that the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has completed a 10 year study of 34,670 Swedish women, ages 49 to 83, that showed that people who drank at least a cup of coffee a day had a 22% reduced rate of stroke.

So, get percolating, extracting, or just plain drinking!

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Coffee Heresy: Americano Our Way

Before I go any further, I might suggest that unless you’re a coffee geek, you might skip this post, since you’ll most likely find it boring!

Anyway, some years ago, my brother was frustrated by the quality of the americanos in our shops. Basically, there are two ways people make americanos – one is more traditional – to add a single or double shot of espresso to a cup of hot water (or else add hot water to an espresso).  The second way is how most cafes do it in this country – simply run a normal espresso long enough to fill a small coffee cup.

From a taste perspective, we’ve never really been happy with either method. We’ve always preferred filter coffee or caffetiere as a way to make a good drinking coffee, but unfortunately, that’s not what most of our customers want. They want americanos, and we’ve found it quite futile to convince them otherwise. So, we spent years playing with the americano, and never made a coffee we truly liked.

Then, one day Sean wondered what would happen if he threw out general wisdom and tried another method – to grind the coffee much coarser and run a very long shot through the espresso machine, long enough to fill a small coffee cup, using only taste as a guide to decide the grind setting. Of course a course grind means the shot runs very quickly, and any coffee guru who has seen us doing this has been horrified. “Your coffee is gushing,” they would gasp. “That is not a proper americano!”

However, our customers preferred their americanos made our heretical way (we’ve done numerous taste tests), so we persevered, buying in second grinders just for americanos. Although we still prefer filter coffee and caffetieres, we agree with our customers that our method makes a better tasting americano than the traditional method.

Recently, Colin over at 3FE gave us a loan of his coffee refractometer, and I thought it would be interesting to test how our way of making an americano falls in terms of the generally accepted levels of extractions and solids.

Here’s what I discovered:

Interestingly, Sean’s method (the top one) is just about bang on the money, as far as a cup of coffee goes, and a double shot with hot water in a small cup (the second one) has extraction levels that are too low and solid content that is too high. (I know it’s a small dose that we use for this particular espresso bean, but I assure you that the extraction levels and solid contents are in an acceptable range).

Anyway, taste has always been the driving factor with us, even if it means breaking the rules. What I find interesting is that the results of this method not only taste good but also fit into current orthodoxy in terms of extraction. We’ll see if the coffee experts remain horrified…

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The Guardian on Our Biodynamic Coffee Bean

I came across this article on the farmers who supply our coffee bean (via Has Bean – the only certified Biodynamic roaster in these parts) in the Observer magazine of The Guardian. Pretty cool!

(Photo from the Guardian)

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London Coffee Roundup

Before I start, I have to say that my time in London was extrememly limited, since I couldn’t resist the chance of going up to Stafford to visit Has Bean on my only full day, and I’ll write more on that later. That meant there were loads of places I missed, and I was very sorry for it! I had some mediocre coffee as well, which I wont go into, but here are the coffee shops that I visited and think are worth a mention:

Prufrock (140 Shoreditch High St., in a men’s clothing shop called “Present.” The outside sign says “Golden Horn Cigarette Company.”) That address already should give a bit of an idea – to me this seemed to be more about the barista – the extraordinarily capable Gwilym Davies (World Barista Champion, 2009) – than the customer. The machine was of the hand-pulled variety, the care and attention to detail on the coffees was very high, and my espresso was excellent.

While I hugely applaud thinking outside the box in terms of business models, you should know that the only seating is a bench outside, there wasn’t any interaction to speak of, and you feel a bit in the way since you’re in a clothing shop. Also, all that care and attention means service is very slow – I think five separate people peeled off the queue in front of me while I was waiting – clearly their impatience overrode their desire for quality. A bit of banter from the barista might have kept them, but for me, even without it, the coffee was worth the wait…

Monmouth Coffee (I visited 27 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden and 2 Park Street, The Borough). There’s something about the Covent Garden shop I utterly love, and I’m not sure entirely what it is. Perhaps it’s that you can feel the history of 40 years of roasting in the place, and although it’s quite basic and cramped in terms of seating, it feels very comfortable and extraordinarily pleasant. The coffee was very good, the service was friendly and full of smiles. Definitely my kind of place! There are a huge range of beans to try, and some tasty sweet snacks.

I didn’t have coffee in the Borough Market location (photo). I have never seen a queue for coffee that long anywhere in the world. It was mobbed – I’d say there were at least 50 people waiting (photo top), and I had a plane to catch!

Milk Bar (3 Bateman Street, Soho). If it’s an Antipodean coffee shop you’re after, check out the Milk Bar. It’s long on attitude, but they served a good flat white. I didn’t get to try anything else. There’s food as well, if you need a nibble.

Kaffeine (66 Great Titchfield St., not far from Oxford Circus). Another Australian-accented place. I love that they use organic milk. Nice vibe, good coffee. I wanted to go back for an espresso, but somehow they closed earlier than I expected (6pm).

Fernandez & Wells (73 Beak St., Soho). I absolutely loved this place – great coffee and a few carefully selected food and drink offerings that were just random enough to excite – a big bowl of grapefruits for juicing, Macroom oatmeal, etc. The love, passion and care in the place is abundantly obvious. Friendly service as well. If I lived in the area, it would definitely be my local. They have a food and wine bar as well that I would love to go back and visit.

Dose (69 Long Lane, City). If you find yourself in the City, you could do much worse than seek out Dose. They had excellent coffee, and I found it an excellent stop for both an espresso and latte to boost myself up for my flight back home. It was Saturday morning, and it had a steady trade with a very relaxed mood. I don’t know if it gets crazy during the week, but I hope so for them, because it’s a place that deserves to do well.

Again, there were more I would have liked to visit, so this isn’t a comprehensive list!

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There is a Mr. Behind the Lavazza

Today, I met Giuseppe Lavazza, who is Vice President and Marketing Director for the family business. He was in Dublin to launch the Modo Mio in Brown Thomas. I was interviewing him for the Irish Times, as part of a piece on 3rd Wave coffee. It was an good chat, and it was interesting to discuss trends in coffee culture, sustainability and the return to tradition (albeit with more science). More on that later!

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Filter Coffee – Back and Beautiful

With help and inspiration from Colin Harmon, we’ve be playing around with single-serve filter coffee in our Wicklow Street shop in Dublin, and we’ll roll it out soon in Kerry.

I’ve always thought an americano is not a good drinking coffee – basically it’s a watered down espresso, and it tends to be both bitter and watery. We used to offer French press – plunger – coffee to customers for drinking purposes, but it never really caught on.

The single filter above is a brilliant way to highlight the different properties of the various beans we’re getting our hands on – brewing a cup is a bit of a slow process, but the rewards in terms of drinking are great.

One of the best things about it is that we can also teach customers how to make it at home!

For tips and more on making a good filter coffee, see here, here, here, and here.

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The Joys of Coffee

One of the greatest pleasures of opening shops in Dublin has been working with Colin, the current Irish Barista Champion and maestro behind Third Floor Espresso. He’s sourced a biodynamic, Brazilian bean for us from Has Bean in the UK and agreed to help with training. I’m so happy to have the chance to spend time with and learn from from someone so passionate about coffee.

Not only does he have a lot to pass on in terms of barista skills and coffee appreciation, but he also has a great philosophy about empowering baristas and fostering a sense community. The feedback from those in our team who have spent time training with him has been extremely positive, and I feel totally confident that he will help us improve our standards.

If you’re in Dublin and love coffee, I recommend that you drop in to his shop (in the Twisted Pepper building). It’s still quite new but already is a Dublin treasure.

If you do stop in, wish him well, as he’s heading off soon to represent Ireland at the World Barista Championships. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for him.

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A Refined Coffee Bean

Espresso with Coffee Beans We’ve been moving more and more toward organic with all the coffee in our shops, and yesterday our coffee supplier brought us in the most amazing bean – a Peruvian triple certified bit of magic. It’s grown at high altitude, is 100% arabica and is triple certified (organic, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance). While that’s all very good, what really has impressed me is the taste. It’s just so clean and refined.

Our worry, however, is that when it comes to coffee in Ireland, many people seem to prefer a very harsh taste. We’ve always tried to have smooth coffees, but some people complain that our coffee is weak. There’s a full shot in every drink, and there is just as much caffeine, but they seem to be convinced that we’re putting less coffee in because it’s not super-bitter.

In a way, it goes to the crux of what we try to do. In most things, a delicate flavour is the mark of high quality. Think of a cheap or expensive vodka or whiskey – the cheaper ones are harsh, the better ones are smooth. It’s a big question of whether enough of our customers will appreciate the amazing, but delicate flavour of this bean. We know there will be those who will consider it far too “weak.” 

We’ll be testing it out on customers, but I think it’s the bean for us. We’ll just have to work on convincing people of its merits. My brother thinks that for those who want a more robust taste, we can use a second grinder with a dark-roast bean. After all, tastes do vary, and he is probably right that we should be giving people a choice.

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