Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Choosing your roaster - tips & guidance

Over the moon as I am that we have an-ever-growing choice of independent and passionate specialty coffee roasters from which to buy our beans, I had one burning question as a coffee lover: How do we know which of these specialty roasters are good?

I’d made some decisions myself. Buying beans used in my favourite coffee shops was a safe bet. And relying on detailed descriptions provided by roasters that confirmed the origins of beans was another but I wondered if there was more I should know.

I caught up with Lloyd Burgess, long-time coffee lover and owner of thecoffeeroasters.co.uk to pick his brains. Lloyd’s site offers online purchase of over 100 specialty coffees from 18 artisanal roasters on a subscription or one-off basis. His site also sports the definitive BIG list of UK roasters, currently sitting at around 300.

So, are we safe to buy from any of the burgeoning number of passionate (and often bearded) coffee roasters delightfully cropping up all over the UK? A resounding “yes” is the answer and instead we should be asking another question.

Lloyds’s default position is that “most roasters are really good...they’re mostly pretty small: one person and their dog (and often don’t even have the dog), but they’re passionate and friendly and want to talk all day and night about how they roast and where their beans come from. That’s the great part of it.” Lloyd reinforced often in our conversation that it all comes down to personal taste. As everyone likes different things, there’s no right or wrong about which roaster to use.

The question we should be asking instead is: ”what profile beans should I buy to suit my needs?”. Lloyd’s talking about whether the roast is light, medium or dark alongside the type of bean that suits some brew methods more than others.

Profile (in very simplistic terms) results from the length of time beans are roasted, the temperature and the bean type. As beans roast they lose moisture and the chemicals in the beans change, affecting the sweetness, acidity and bitterness. Lloyd explains that the profile is how beans are roasted for a particular brew method. Roasting for espresso is quite different to how you roast for a filter and the roaster has a taste in mind when they roast.

That said, Lloyd’s advice is to visit the roasters yourself to see how they roast their coffee. Talk to them to understand how they’ve roasted their beans and which ones suit your preferred brew method. “This is what switched it on for me, when I saw how it was all done”. He says “while it’s incredibly easy to roast coffee, it’s really difficult to get it right and how roasters adjust the profile based on small changes in the bean through the roasting process is really specialist”.

I asked Lloyd specifically about ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ coffee roasters, given the UK has a very long history of importing and roasting coffee. Many an historic old town across the UK has a tea and coffee merchant nestled next to the ‘sweetie shop’ that has been continuously operating “since 1800-something-or-other”. Even the smell of the coffee in these shops is different to what I’ve experienced in my local ‘new style; roasters and is not to my taste. If you’re like me and prefer a lighter coffee and plenty of variety, Lloyd provided the following guidance.

New style roasters:

  • are passionate and knowledgeable about the traceability of the coffee (about the farm or cooperative that grew the coffee and the way the beans have been processed)
  • frequently stock new types of beans including micro-lots (small batches of extra special beans from a single hill, plot or farm)
  • tend to roast lighter - although not always the case
  • are very focussed on different brew methods and recipes - e.g. might say 'for this bean as an espresso use 20g, 25 seconds extraction to produce 30ml of coffee’.

So if you want to verify that you’re buying the coffee you like, you could ask the roaster what brew method and recipe they recommend for a particular coffee.  If they can't provide a clear answer, you might not walk away with what you like.

Some roasters visit coffee-growing countries to choose which coffee they’ll buy. Does this make them better? “Small roasters can’t afford to go tripping around but that doesn’t discredit their passion or ability to roast coffee” says Lloyd. “It’s great that larger roasters do this but they’re all different. A lot of roasters get their coffee from big UK and European suppliers and every single one I’ve met is passionate about what they do” Lloyd adds

He says there’s no way to generalise about which roaster to go to but warns about thinking fancy branding is better. “A lot of new companies will spend a lot on fancy logos but that doesn’t mean they’re better than someone who hasn’t”. Lloyd mentions one of the best Kenyan coffees he has had for a while.  It was from South East London’s Dark Fluid Coffee who has minimal branding, sells their beans in brown bags that have the bean type written on the bags with pen.

Lloyd put his thecoffeeroasters.co.uk site together to give people a choice and it’s been going for just over a year, growing to 18 roasters with others approaching him all the time. His focus is on offering coffee variety, not just roaster variety. Avoiding duplication is key in his decision making and his coffees change quite frequently. Some of the roasters tiny micro lots come and go very quickly, while others have stocked the same coffee since he started. And just by the way, Lloyd’s preferred brew method is Aeropress: “it’s simple and makes great coffee”.

Local specialty roasters in Edinburgh that I’ve visited and chatted with are Artisan Roast and Mr Eion. Additionally there’s a growing range of roasters online you can buy from, including Lloyd’s thecoffeeroasters.co.uk of course.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Cobolt Coffee

Cobolt Coffee (5♥), in the Police Box in Marchmont Crescent sits on a pedestrianised little junction that has a village feel.

Dan and Harriet run Cobolt Coffee with a huge focus on the coffee while offering pastries and other sweet accompaniments along with Union of Genius soup and rolls. They're also super-friendly and very happy to chat you through the coffee they serve.

They use Falkirk-based Roast Central beans and do them proud. The flat white I had was delightful and they also offer pour-over. They intend to scroll through a steady stream of season and small batch beans from their trusted bean provider, offering variety with a change every month or so.

Big thumbs up to Cobolt. Worth the trip to try it and if it's your local you're very lucky. Not too far from The Meadows either if you're heading there for a picnic or to walk the dog you can slide on by the Police Box for a brew on the go.

Coffee: Roast Central
Coolness: The Police Box is pretty cute

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Maxime Patissier

Maxime Patissier (2♥), 6 Queensferry Street, is a cafe and patissier in Edinburgh's West End.

There's no missing the opulent French pastries, meringues, cakes and macarons in the large front window that bring many a customer through the door.

The interior of this large open cafe is a modern mix of white, black and orange decor softened with potted plants. There are plenty of tables and chairs with some high tables and stools toward the front of the shop.

The coffee you can have with your preferred pastry is Artisan Roast, pictured above is a flat white.

- Coffee: Artisan Roast
- Coolness: Amazing cakes of all types

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Artisan Roast Stockbridge

Artisan Roast Stockbridge (5♥),100A Raeburn Place, is their third coffee shop in Edinburgh, with the others being Brougton Street and Bruntsfield.

As explained on the reviews for the other shops, Artisan Roast is one of Edinburgh's longest standing roasters. It also operates in Glasgow and supplies many a coffee shop with top notch wholesale beans.

They're a passionate bunch and are active in the local coffee community with tastings, education events and have 'sharing of the coffee love' core to their being.

The Stockbridge shop is a lovely combination of florist and coffee shop, teaming up with the Edinburgh flower company. The fully glass-fronted shop is warmly light industrial mixing wooden floors and counters with grey walls and a black and chrome theme. Customers have a choice of high stools and tables at the front or a softer lounge feel toward the back. A bank of beautiful flowers are housed in a large fit-for-purpose florist fridge at one side of the shop with the florist's bench tucked away next to it.

The coffee itself is exceptionally made and they offer espresso-based, v60, aeropress and chemex coffees using their own bean selection for the brew method accordingly. Shoppers can buy beans to take home from their range (pictured below) and also buy from a small selection of coffee making kit.

- Coffee: Their own roasts
- Coolness: Pick up beautiful flowers while you're there
- Also sells: beans to take home and some coffee kit
- www.artisanroast.co.uk

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Caffeine Drip

The Caffeine Drip South African Cafe and Bakery (3♥), at 10 Melville Place in the West End, is deceptively large behind its narrow and distinctive frontage.

The owners have taken the building's quirky layout and used every inch of it to good effect. as soon as you're enter the front door you can choose to go upstairs to the 'upper lounge' for hot drinks, light meals and cakes or downstairs to a full service basement cafe that also serves hot food. 

You'll see some of the South African influence in the menu such as their boerewors (sausage) rolls and biltong (dried beef) alongside and extensive array of soups, rolls, wraps, cakes and other baked items that are made in-house.

Offering take-away, eat in and catering services, there's a pleasant, busy and bustling feel to the place, intensified by the low ceilings downstairs making it very cosy.

The Caffeine Drip uses Glaswegian Matthew Algie 'Darwin' beans and makes good coffee. It also provides a kick start to plenty of folks' mornings as they drop in for a take-away coffee on their way to work in town.

Coolness: Quirky layout and South African specialities
Also sells: Darwin beans to take home - whole or ground

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Stag Espresso Warburton Gallery

Stag Espresso at Warburton Gallery (5♥), 1 Victoria Street, is Richard Conway's second cafe, The first being at Dovecot Studios.

The cafe, which is open every day, is on the entry level of a fantastic building in Edinburgh's Old Town: the India Buildings, 1 Victoria Street. the Gallery is open Wednesday to Sundays, is not-for-profit and was "founded with the aim of fostering the imagination, facilitating the creation of new art of the highest quality and enabling artists to experiment and take risks in their artistic practice, moving creative ideas to the fore" according to the Gallery website. if this type of contemporary art is your cuppa, so to speak, look no further.

Managed by friendly staff who serve up soups and a lovely array of cakes and other sweet, sticky edibles, it's also the perfect place to drop in for lunch or coffee.

As you can see from the pictures, the cafe is  a large, high ceilinged and wood panelled room with huge windows and a decorative ceiling. this Grade A listed building has been beautifully restored and has the wow factor for visitors and residents alike. those 1860s-Scots-Baronial-and-Jacobean-office-block-designers really new what they were doing.

The coffee also has the wow factor and is lovingly prepared using J Atkinson & Co Archetype beans. (the Atkinson & Co description is: "deep aroma, full body and balanced sweetness with flavours of roasted nut, dark chocolate, caramel and a melon"). Pictured above are two perfect flat whites that tasted as good as they look - temperature, micro-bubbles, balance, sheen and flavour.

This one's on the high rotation list!

Coffee: J Atkinson & Co - Archetype
Coolness: building wow-factor
Also sells: archetype beans and keepcups

Hula Juice Bar & Gallery

Hula Juice Bar & Gallery (4♥), Grassmarket, is one of the few places that does great coffee in Edinburgh's Old Town. 

The location is also special given the buildings and surrounds date from the 1600s and before.

Hula Juice Bar & Gallery offers a great choice of healthy food, smoothies and juices for breakfasts and lunches. options include soups, wraps, bagels, salads and cakes. and they feature the work of different artists, changing regularly.

The staff are friendly and do their jobs well. you can sit outside when the sun is shining but there's plenty of space inside as well, a stone's throw from Edinburgh Castle.

The coffee is great and expertly prepared. rich, robust. good acid, soft luscious milk. combined with the beautifully historic old part of town, what more can you ask!

- Coffee: Artisan Roast
- Coolness: right in amongst the Old Town
- Also sells: bags of artisan roast beans and some home coffee kit