Barista Blog #002 — August 2016

People love coffee.

I’ve been trying to think of when and where my first coffee was, and I really can’t remember. My guess is that it was probably from Starbucks (It was cool to be seen with a Starbucks cup on university campus a few years ago). But I guess since then, coffee has managed to become quite a big part of my life. If I have to get some work done, I’ll usually bring my laptop to a nice coffee shop and sip away while I work. On my day off, I’ll go for a coffee and a catch-up with someone. If I want to relax on my own on a Saturday afternoon, I’ll get the Aeropress out and brew up whatever coffee I’ve bought that month. Then of course, 4 or 5 days of the week, I’m working in a coffee shop.

And I’m definitely not the only one for whom coffee has become a big part of their lives.

There’s the coffee geek who goes around each coffee shop writing down notes on what flavours they’re tasting, developing their palette and avoiding Starbucks at all costs (probably closest thing to describing me). There are the two 22 year old ladies who come in and sip their skinny lattes, while sharing a caramel square and discussing their social circle. There is the graphic designer who is wired up to his apple products while he sips espresso for that caffeine-induced energy hit to boost his creativity. There’s the busy financial advisor who orders his flat white to-go, because he wants to get back to the office and get some real work done. There are the parents who take their kids in for smoothies while they sip of some long blacks for a rare moment of peace in their busy lives. The elderly couple who come in to get breakfast followed by a couple of cappuccinos. The builder who comes in and asks for ‘just a normal coffee’.

These people are all from vastly different backgrounds but what do they all have in common?

Coffee. There’s something about coffee that keeps them coming back for cup after cup.

And I think that’s why it has become something so aligned with culture today. It’s not just the taste, or the caffeine hit. It’s become more than that. It’s a catalyst for conversation. It’s an experiment. It’s something to ponder over. It’s a hobby. It looks good on social media. It’s part of people’s daily rituals. It’s a constantly changing area of study. It’s a culture that has always got something new to offer. It’s a huge industry. Coffee shops create a pleasant environment to spend time in and a break from outside factors.

Its much more than a cup of ground up seeds from a fruit with hot water pushed through them. Its part of the very fabric of today’s society. It’s universal. That means the person who orders ‘just a latte’ is just as entitled as a coffee geek like me to be in a coffee shop and not feel one bit of intimidation when ordering coffee made as they like it.

Maybe I’m blowing it a bit out of proportion, but still, there’s no denying the enjoyment and pleasure we get from coffee, and this has led to a greater demand for quality of the actual coffee, as well as the environment its served in.

Starbucks and the likes did a lot for the coffee industry, making coffee available to the masses, and showcasing how brands can be built using efficient systems and processes, but a lot of people are now looking for something more, and with the huge rise in speciality coffee shops, who can blame them? I think it’s great to see the coffee culture going from strength to strength here in Belfast, where it’s really starting to take inspiration from the U.S., Australia, mainland Europe etc.

O and I have debated this, and she’s more on the side of saying that inspiration can take the form of replication, where coffee shops are using the same machinery, cups, clothing, menu and often the same coffee as the coffee shop a couple of miles away, potentially leading to a lack of sustainability within the industry. I do see where she’s coming from and I do think the people who dare to be innovative are likely to win out in the end. However, as a customer, I’m quite happy to have decent coffee no matter where I am in the city!

World of coffee

Speaking of coffee culture around the world, last month I attended the World of Coffee festival in Dublin’s RDS. This event show-cased some of the best growers, roasters, espresso machine manufacturers, coffee shops etc, from all over the world.

After you’d paid the entry fee, you could sample basically an unlimited supply of coffee from the hundreds of stalls. (dangerous stuff, control was needed). It was fascinating to be reminded of how many different people were involved in the process of making a great cup of coffee. The growers were there, speaking about how the soil contributed to the quality of the fruit that produces the coffee bean. The roasters spoke about their duty to respect the hard work of the growers to ensure their coffee was roasted at the correct temperature and for the right amount of time. Machine manufacturers spoke about the 1% improvement of accuracy of their machines. Packaging people spoke about being eco-friendly and showing the products in the best context. Coffee-shop owners spoke about creating an environment that people loved. Baristas spoke about extraction rates and the latest brewing equipment. The conversational subjects were so varied, yet all were towards the same outcome.

There was a great sense of community between everyone who was there. Everyone wanted to know where you were from, your experience with coffee, and what your favourite way to brew coffee was. It was also really insightful to see the expected developments for coffee in the near future. I even managed to blag a few bags of beans to take home!

What I’ve been up to

In the previous Barista Blog, I wrote about what I get up to outside of Kaffe O, namely, working on my own entrepreneurial venture towards becoming a nutrition coach. People said it was interesting to see what I’ve been up to in that regard, so I’ll give a quick update.

Quite a bit has been going on. I released my “GAA Athletes’ Cookbook” ebook (which can be found here).

Basically, I’d had readers of my blog and followers of my social media pages asking for some quick meal ideas as well as an overview of what they should be eating on a daily basis. I decided to put together something that could be affordable for everyone, and give them an array of simple, quick meal ideas, along with information of how to form the habit of cooking, how to put together a meal, and generally how to make beneficial nutritional changes, hence, a cookbook sprung to mind.

On putting the idea out there, I discovered there was a big demand for something like this, and got to work on it. I released it through my social media pages and my Facebook page, in particular, was where most of the people bought it from. I’ve so far sold about 250 digital copies, which I’m very happy with. To me, it means I’ve given enough value to that many people who found it worthy of spending their money, and that made it very worthwhile.

I’ve gotten great feedback on it, and I’m now working on my next project. This project is a lot more in-depth. I’m putting together an all-encompassing program containing everything a GAA athlete needs to really take their performance to the next level through nutrition and training. I’ll be releasing it within the next month or so. It’s taking me a lot longer than the previous projects I’ve worked on. It will be a higher cost product and will be likely to sell relatively less copies in the short term. However, this will be the product that I will be able to consistently refer people to if they come to me asking what they need to do to improve their nutrition and performance.

To see my journals from the past couple of months, here they are.

What I’ve been brewing

O was in Copenhagen recently catching up with our roaster and checking out all things coffee in Copenhagen. She picked up some beans from ‘Coffee Collective’ for me. She also spent some time over there working with a Slayer espresso machine, and has told me its on her Christmas list, which is definitely exciting news as a Barista!

The coffee from The Coffee Collective was grown in Kenya. I’ve been enjoying them brewed on my Aeropress.

The Blackcurrant sweetness was the main flavour that came through for me. It was really delicious and I’d definitely recommend trying to get your hands on some of their beans if you can!

We also managed to blag a couple of samples from the coffee roasters accross the road, Root and Branch! The ‘La Esperanza’ Red Bourbon was definitely my favourite, brewed on Aeropress. They told me it would taste of candied plum with hints of dark chocolate. I don’t really know what candied plums taste like, but this coffee was deliciously sweet and full of flavour. I also enjoyed their ‘El Ciprés’ from Costa Rica as an espresso. I think this coffee would be best with milk, as I thought it was more chocolatey and nutty in flavour, but again, delicious. The third coffee was the San Juan from El Salvador. As someone who hates Nutella, I wasn’t particularly fond of this one (obviously this is not a fault by the roasters, its just that my tastebuds aren’t fond of hazelnuts.) However, I’m guessing this would be a great choice for most people, especially someone who isn’t used to picking out nutty flavours in coffee.

Why so serious?

I don’t know if this is a common thread with people who work within the coffee industry, but sometimes, I have to take a step back and laugh at myself for taking it so serious. At the end of the day, its only a cup of coffee. But I guess everyone has their thing!

Conor

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