Last week I had been recommended at The Lawn, try our Ethiopian beans.
Unfortunately, and somewhat perversely, roasted at The Lawn, but not on sale at The Lawn, have to trek down to Stokes on High Bridge which is a coffee shop in both senses of the word.
I looked through what was on offer, maybe half a dozen coffee beans.
I settled on Ethiopian Hunda Oli, which I think is what I had been recommended.
I asked of the roast date. The girl serving apologised and said she did not know, as she was only a trainee.
Not a problem, and I offered to explain why roast date was important.
We were rudely interrupted by a lady who said she does the training here.
She checked and told me April, I cannot recall was it 24 or 28 April.
I was astounded, especially when the lady who was in charge of training told me that it was not a problem.
I could not be bothered arguing with her level of ignorance on coffee, and asked of a different Ethiopian coffee, not what I wanted, but on the other hand, I did not want old beans ether.
I settled for roasted in August, 18 August 2017, which the helpful trainee kindly wrote on the bag. Not ideal, but better than April.
I noticed they still had on sale the second edition of The Northern Independent Coffee Guide, not the latest third edition with the new title The North and North Wales Independent Coffee Guide, as now includes Wales.
I did not ask why they did not have the latest edition, when other coffee shops in Lincoln have the latest edition, but at a guess, Stokes is featured in the second edition, have been relegated to footnotes in the third edition.
Sadly it is all to easy to see why. Lack of knowledge of importance of roast date, best by is meaningless, does not bode well. Nor that the last time I had cappuccino from their house blend it was undrinkable.
It was then to Madame Waffle where an excellent cappuccino and a bag of Keyon Mountain beans from Square Mile Coffee roasted 28 August 2017.
In a supermarket you will not see roast date. The reason why, old beans.
Which is why always buy coffee from either the roaster or a reputable indie coffee shop
Waitrose is the rare exception, beans from Union have a roast date, but all too often past their best.
A coffee shop may have old beans, they may miscalculate their turnover, though they should rotate to avoid selling old beans.
There is no excuse for a coffee roaster to have old beans either in stock or on sale.
As I write, the coffee is on the table, aroma wafting by, both bags are in a brown paper bag, the Stokes also wrapped in a plastic bag.
With the Square Mile, a heirloom variety, I am getting a subtle aroma of chocolate, toffee or fudge, maybe vanilla.
With the Stokes, an overpowering aroma of roast coffee, no subtly.
I would though hasten to add, aroma is no indication of taste, as I learnt a few weeks ago at a cupping session at Taylor St Roasted.
I will learn more when brewed over the next few weeks.
To put the roast dates in context. Last week, from Madame Waffle a Red Brick espresso blend from Square Mile roasted 10 August, from Coffee Aroma Has Bean espresso blend roasted 5 September, from Makushi a single origin from Costa Rica roasted 9 September, from The Little Tractor Coffee Shop a Kenyan single origin roasted 7 August.
When coffee is roasted, leave for about a week for the oils to adjust, then at its optimum for the next three weeks.
A reputable coffee roaster will generally roast to order, then ship either that day or the next.
A reputable coffee shop will order to demand, try to rotate the stock in order that no old beans are sitting on the shelves.
There can be absolutely no excuse for a coffee roaster to have old beans on the shelves for sale to customers.
Old beans, lack of understanding of the importance of roast date, undrinkable house blend, it comes as no surprise to see Stokes relegated in the latest indie coffee guide to more good cups and more good roasters.
Stokes are a fourth generation coffee business that has unfortunately lost its way. Are they suppliers of catering supply coffee in a race to the bottom with Lincoln Tea and Coffee (suppliers of bagged low grade commodity coffee)? Or are they suppliers of speciality coffee?
At the very least, Stokes need to form a separate speciality coffee division, Stokes Speciality Coffee, have on sale at The Lawn with its own unique branding, the coffee shop as their flagship coffee shop. They have the skilled baristas, have invested in top-of-the-range equipment, a pleasant environment, pleasant staff, all they now need are quality beans, hand-roasted, with a Q-grade of at least 84.
Note: What a difference a day makes. Helpful trainee drew my attention to all the beans now labelled with roast date. I looked, roasted September. I was baffled why the odd weight, trainee explained they still work in pounds, hence 127 grams. I picked up two bags of coffee, Santa Maria de Lourdes de Nicaragua, Hunda Oli from Ethiopia, both roasted 19 September. Possibly over-roasted, no subtle aroma, overpowering smell of coffee, we will see how they brew.