Going Green

Green Coffee Beans Besides the cookbook, one of the projects we have for this winter is to try to make our company more green. Not only is it the right thing to do, but hopefully we can also save money on electricity, etc., as well as feeling good about ourselves! We are going to have a full environmental audit soon, and I’ll let you know how it goes…

In the mean time, I found treehugger.com, which should interest anyone with a slightly green tinge. They have such tidbits as How to Green your Coffee and Tea (compost the grinds, use Fairtrade, avoid tea bags, etc.) as well as How to Green your Electricity and even How to Green your Sex Life. I guess they haven’t written “How to Green Your Ice Cream” yet…

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Can the Italians Standardise Coffee?

Espresso According to the Telegraph, the Italians are so offended by the quality of espressos in European cafes that they are trying to set out a golden standard for their favourite drink. The Telegraph writes:

Marco Lion, the head of Italy’s parliamentary agriculture commission, is worried that the “true identity of Italian coffee” could be lost because, he says, many cafes in Europe do not have the faintest idea how to make a good cup.

Espressos must be “of a hazelnut hue with ornate flourishes of red and a smokiness that creates a uniform tiger-stripe pattern”.

Meanwhile, the “crema”, which sits on top, must be like a “tight sweater, with very fine bubbles, if at all, and of a height of between two and four millimetres”.

…and… “There is only one true and authentic way to make a cappuccino, but for some reason there appear to be myriad types sold in cafes,” he said.

I have to say I agree with his concerns. The purist in me hates the drift to ever bigger drinks, hotter drinks, less care given by baristas under severe time pressure, and style over substance. One would like to think a fight back by the Italians might help solve things, but somehow I doubt it, especially since the cappuccino in the Telegraph’s photo is all about latte art. Poor Signor Lion would have palpitations if he saw it…

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Complaints about Coffee

Latte Caffe Taste is a funny thing. When the Napoleonic wars disrupted coffee supplies, the French started mixing in chicory root. They developed a predilection for it, even when times improved, and coffee with chicory became the norm. Here, in Ireland, we moved so quickly from tea to coffee that, being used to tea, a standard latte seemed “cold” to the palate. Baristas started scalding the milk, and now many Irish people rate as inferior a latte or cappuccino that is not blisteringly hot.

“Don’t worry, darlings,” a woman consoled us recently in Dingle, after sending back her drink for a scorching. “I was just in Italy. So disappointing. They also served me cold cappuccinos my entire trip until I finally explained to them how to heat it properly.”

I’m amazed this didn’t cause a diplomatic incident, with ambassadors recalled and large sums paid over for rehabilitating the barista, who is probably still huddled in a corner of his bar, muttering to himself. An Irish person explaining to an Italian how to make a cappuccino? La discesa dei barbari!

I’ve written several times about the reasons for not over-heating lattes, cappuccinos, and any coffee drink containing steamed milk (here, here, and here). We’ve put up signs in our shops, made menus explaining the issues, and yet we still struggle with keeping customers happy.

What is new is that we’re also now getting complaints that our coffee isn’t “strong” enough. Our guess is that people who say that are mistaking bitterness for strength, as over-heating milk makes coffee bitter, not to mention that many cafes have their machine pressure too high to save time on frothing, which tends to burn the espresso. We take great pride that our espresso shots are smooth, but people seem to mistake that for being weak, assuming, perhaps, that a bitter coffee is a strong coffee.

Don’t get me wrong. Even with this ranting, we’re delighted when customers know what they like and dislike and speak up about it. We are in the business of pleasing people, and try our utmost to do so without snobbery or judgement, even if we disagree.

We also believe that there is a perfect drink for everybody. If it’s a strong coffee taste you’re after, a latte is probably not the right drink. A cafe au lait with dark French roast beans might be a much better choice.

However, although Ireland has come a long, long way in terms of coffee, I think we still have a long way to go before we can start lecturing Italians on how to make a cappuccino…

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Affogato Al Caffe, Part 2

Affogato Al Caffe I wrote here already about one of my favourite treats – the Affogato al Caffe, but I thought I’d revisit it after trying it with the Kahlua Espresso ice cream. I thought it was sublime, so if you do make the ice cream (here), definitely try it! The warm espresso and cold ice cream, with a huge coffee kick, is pretty close to heaven.

To make an affogato, you simply take a scoop of ice cream (we like to serve it in a small coffee cup) and pour over some espresso (we use a single shot run long, in other words, an espresso lungo). In the shops, we serve the shot of espresso on the side and let the customer do the pouring.

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Upscale Beans

Blue Mountain Coffee Pat, our coffee salesman brought us some of his better beans this week for our tasting pleasure. Included was a bag of Jamaican Blue Mountain, Yauco Selecto from Puerto Rico, and Mysore from India.

We’ve been toying around with the idea of offering an upscale cup of coffee for connoisseurs, or maybe offer a selection of several. It can get extrememly pricy for these beans, but it might a great treat for a coffee lover.

All of the coffees are more subtle than our current Organic Fairtrade bean. Our favourite so far was the Yauco Selecto – nice balance and not bitter in the slightest…

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Coffee Quandary

Latte Thermometer Being in Mallorca, drinking very tasty coffee, brings one of our coffee quandaries into sharp relief. Here, as in virtually everywhere on the continent, baristas do not scald their milk. Coffees with steamed milk are served ready to drink, in terms of temperature, which is much cooler than you will find in most Irish cafes.

I have written about the temperature of steamed milk before, here and here. Yet the biggest cause of complaints in our shops by far is about the temperature of our coffees containing steamed milk. Although we regularly have people tell us our coffees are the best they have tasted in Ireland, just as regularly people (almost exclusively Irish and English) tell us their drink is “cold.” 

I assume it is mostly a function of us going from a nation of tea and instant coffee drinkers – both made with boiling water – to latte and cappuccino drinkers without understanding that the latter are fundamentally different drinks. The difference is the milk – overheat milk and there is a chemical change – the proteins and fat separate out and the result is watery, bitter, scalded. A latte in our shops will seem cold compared to tea, even though we heat the milk to a greater temperature than the Italians or the Spanish.

Our quandary, then, is this:

We believe that the way we make cappuccinos and lattes, using a thermometer to obtain an exact temperature that is as hot as possible while keeping the milk intact, ensures the highest quality. However, at the same time we want our customers to be happy, and a large number of them are not. It causes us great pain that people are going away grumbling about “cold” drinks. We will always (and happily) serve a drink extra hot if asked, recognising that people´s tastes differ.

My brother and I have spent hours on this issue, trying to find a solution. We have tried to ask everyone who orders whether they want it extra hot, but that hasn´t worked well, since “hot” is such a relative term, and people are usually just confused. We have written about it on our menus and our menuboards. We have tried to explain the issue to customers who complain (after heating up their drinks), that it´s not a mistake but a choice, but that isn´t always successful. The last time, the customer said, “Can you believe it? These guys serve cold lattes on purpose!”

I am at a bit of a loss. If we raise the temperature across the board, the quality will suffer. In my opinion, it´s the single largest reason Irish coffees are generally sub-standard. At the same time, keeping our customers happy is certainly much more important to us than whatever we think about the temperature of steamed milk. But is it worth it to lower the quality for everybody to pacify those who think our drinks are too cold?

Suggestions welcome!

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New Coffee Suppliers

Ponaire Coffee There seems to be more and more new companies roasting their own beans for the ever-increasing Irish coffee market. We’ve just received a sample of beans from the latest – Ponaire (the name is “bean” in Irish), a family operation in Tipperary.

The quality is very high, with a mild, smooth taste, and I would be happy to recommend them to anyone in the Midwest region. We’ll stick with our existing beans, though, since we’re happy with them (and our suppliers) and since they are Fairtrade

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Is it just a matter of taste?

Coffee beans I just came across the interesting news that Starbucks was rated lower for its coffee than McDonalds in a taste test of mega-chain’s coffees by Consumer Reports. Apparently Starbucks coffee “was strong, but burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water… McDonalds, the winner, had the rather lukewarm review: “…decent and moderately strong. Although it lacked the subtle top notes needed to make it rise and shine, it had no flaws.” (Newsmax)

I guess if it’s good coffee you want, one way to do it is to follow the lead of Morning Coffee and Afternoon Tea and make it yourself! Me, I’m just delighted that our shops are back open and the espresso machine is waiting for me in the morning…

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