Opening it up to the coffee masses! Would you like to contribute?

•March 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Wow! What a struggle it is to A: Find time to write on the blog and B: Write about something interesting! So, bearing in mind the former I have decided to turn Barista UK blog around and get you lot to do some work!

I’m inviting all you coffee people to use the blog as your own.  So if you have any opinions or thoughts just bursting to come out but don’t fancy an entire blog then you can do it here! You can blog about anything coffee related.  If you want to increase traffic to your own blog then that’s fine, but include a whole article. If you have a coffee related business that you would like to share then feel free, but again you must provide a whole article rather than a link.

If you’d like to contribute then just email me:  If you have a WP account (prefered) then please supply you’re username and I will add you as a guest author. Alternatively just an email address will do and login details will be sent to you.

In the meantime I look forward to reading your articles!



My store – Boston Tea Party in Barnstaple featured in The Independent’s “The fifty best coffee shops”!

•February 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’m really chuffed! I’m head barista of The Boston Tea Party in Barnstaple and our store is listed as one of  the fifty best coffee shops in “The Independent” CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL LIST ! This is an amzing acolade for us as not only are we the only Boston Tea Party store to be included (we are a small independent chain in the SW of England) but the only one in Devon!

My friend Robin Cort has been the head barista since the store opened 3 years ago, I took over the role in December and will keep the quality coming so we stay on the list!

So, if you’re in Devon and want a truly outstaning coffee be sure to drop in! You can visit our web-site here:



Retail coffee & Soya Milk…. (yeah… stay with me though)

•February 18, 2010 • 3 Comments

There is nothing quite like an amazing double espresso for breakfast before work. When I get to work I love to crack open the full fat milk and enjoy a nice triple-shot flat white or equally tasty mac. But two things are ruining this enjoyment for me:

  1. Lack of fresh quality local retail coffee
  2. I now have to avoid dairy. bugger.

I’ll start with number two as it’s closest to my heart. I’M REALLY NOT LIKING SOYA MILK! For anyone that doesn’t know me beyond the t’internet you probably aren’t aware that I’m allergic to wheat. (well, it’s IBS triggered by wheat) This hasn’t always been the case it started to occour when I was working for a large SW chain of Coffee/Bakeries.  I’d open up & have an espresso along with one or two of yesterdays croissants. I’d then have a massive pasty for lunch  (click here if you’re not in the UK and don’t know what I’m talking about!) along with a nice dirty cake of some sort. Then usually a pastry of some sort in the afternoon and usually a left-over baguette while cleaning down after service.  Anyway one day my body just went “AAAHHHHHH NO MORE BLOODY PASTRY!” and to this day hasn’t let me eat any more. I’ll spare you the details as it’s not pleasant.  All has ben well for a number of years as long as I stayed away from wheat (it’s in EVERYTHING!)  and recently my IBS has been kicking off again &  It occurs that it’s probably dairy! So, I have to com off dairy for a month or three and see if it settles. It’s been one week and I have made a startling discovery. Soya milk is pretty shit! It kind of tastes like watered down beans (which I guess it is) , wet bread & cardboard. MMMMMM Yummy! I really miss the silky sweet smooth texture of real milk and soya for me just isn’t a like for like alternative.

Which brings me nicely onto retail coffee…… (like I said, stay with me)

Up until Sept 09 I was an engineer for a coffee company. (I’ll tell you why I’m no longer another time) This is a coffee lovers dream. Single origins, espresso blends everywhere. This meant lots of coffee at work & on the road and lots of nice new samples to take home.  Now I’m back behind the counter. although we have 3 cracking beans at work, I don’t really want to take these home with me. I enjoy their complexities at work but when I get home and washed the “coffee house” smell form my person I don’t want to be back there by making myself one of our brews. This leads me to retail & oh my day’s it’s poor down here. There is nothing in my local area at all.  Now I could get it from where I used to work but I don’t want to buy kilo’s for home use. I just want some 125g bags or 227g bags of beans. Good beans. Interesting single origin beans. Fresh beans……This leaves the supermarket out then so what now? There is only one place I know of in a town a good few miles away, and apart from a few examples from Union Coffee Roasters  their offerings are pretty poor. Even the Union stuff has been sat for way too long – nowhere near freshly roasted. Actually, pretty stale. One area I haven’t explored is over the internet. I like to be able to speak to someone over the counter. Have a good chat about the coffee. Have someone say “ooh you’ll love this” etc. I don’t think I’ll get that online. I’m not sure about the quality either.

So I have two questions for you:

  1. Can anyone in the UK suggest a good online retailer?
  2. Please please please does anyone know of a milk alternative that doesn’t have cardboard notes?

Thanks guys *sob* I know you won’t let me down.


What’s the problem with a generic espresso blend?

•February 13, 2010 • 18 Comments

I read this article with great interest last week on the God Shot blog:  Death to  generic espresso  blends… Although the principles within are sound in an ideal world, the “ideal world” doesn’t exist everywhere.

Firstly there are some truly outstanding “generic” espresso blends from artisan roasters available today. To give one example:  Union Hand Roasted‘s Organic Natural Spirit blend is so good it makes me want to cry! It’s bursting with juicy dark cherries and red’s all sitting on a bed of sweet caramel and chocolate. It’s a well crafted, thought-provoking “generic” espresso.

I live in an area of the UK that is somewhat behind the rest of the country when it comes to good coffee. Coffee culture is still confusing to many. To give you an idea of what I mean it was only last year that the first chains came into town. Before that the good folk of North Devon had to put up with the dross that was being doled out from local cafe’s. (aside from a few notable exceptions who are no longer trading) When the house I work for “Boston Tea Party” came to town 3 years ago it was a revelation! Quality blends, perfect espresso, Latte art, textured milk! We now run 2 “generic” espresso blends. Our House Blend, a smooth & nutty espresso is the “I just want a coffee” blend, the “ooh, not too strong” blend. Our dark roast blend is a rich fruity and sweet espresso with lots of caramel and dark chocolate  and a seasonal guest. (Currently Finca San Lois from El Salvador) . We do this to satisfy every pallet.  I would say that only about 20% of these customers drink the coffee and think about their palate . This is clear when explaining the characteristics of each blend……To the other 90% it’s just a really nice enjoyable coffee or even the daily caffeine cup that’s  ” not too strong, not too weak, and not bitter”. For a lot, the coffee is something that is just there to flavour the Textured milk  and I’m ok with that.  This 80% don’t know that the espresso had been exracted beautifully, or that the milk is silky textured with a tulip atop and that the barista making it has devoted years to fine tune his art….. and that’s fine. We make the best damn coffee in North Devon and they come back because it tastes good. It means I’ve done my job.

Anyway, back on point, they are creatures of habit. The fact that we offer 2 house blends and a guest is perplexing enough, let alone changing the blend with the coffee seasons. Customers are fickle. If they all had the palate of a pro barista (remember that ideal world I was talking about) then replacing generic espresso blends with seasonal ones would be great. I love that Square Mile Coffee Roasters are doing this and in London it probably works well. (on a side note, I’d be intrigued to learn how many of James’ customers are using a changing seasonal espresso as their only blend) .

In other less coffee-established parts of the UK I don’t think this would work. To say that ;

”  all the coffee companies that are offering their “house” blend and then a seasonal single origin are the equivalent of a restaurant offering a bunch of really cool, changing and interesting appetizers and then roast beef with mash and veg. It’s weak and its unacceptable

is in my opinion elitist and short-sighted.


Guest bloggers “ristretto” post…

•February 11, 2010 • 2 Comments

Ok, so you’ve looked at my blog and thought “ok you’re a blogger (I hate that “word”) but who are you?” ………If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to leave for work in half an hour or that I can’t feel my fingers because my house is “chuffin freezin” I would reel of a lovely long bio.  One day I will, but alas not today. 🙂

Instead though what I have done is invite some guest bloggers to Barista UK. These are coffee friends whom I know in person or other interesting and knowledgable people I know via the amazing coffee networking tool that is WWW.

First up will be Glenn Watson founder of the my favourite coffee forum in the UK .

Right I’m off before I get sacked!



Lid down, log off and talk?

•February 9, 2010 • 4 Comments

I saw this article posted on Twitter. via @coffeeCulnaria

I wonder what would happen if we did this in the uk?!



Are you a “knocker”?

•February 8, 2010 • 2 Comments

Here is an edit of a thread I first started on my Barista UK Facebook group a year or two ago and thought I would share it here;

A few years ago I read an article about tamping on (in between my party-hard active life obviously!… ahem…) At the time it totally changed the way I though about espresso and the processes we go through.

The article was talking about tamping techniques. In short La Marzocco were developing an auotomatic doser/tamper that dosed into the porta filter as it tamped. It was set to 30lb’s right away and the espresso wouldn’t extract at all! I think in the end they had it down to about 8lbs of pressure to get extraction. They looked into it and found out that the auto tamper was adding progressive pressure throughout the dose in complete contrast to a normal tamp which transfers energy from the top of the cake. Anyway, after some research it was found out that under normal tamping the compression energy is lost and only actually compresses a couple of mm at the top of the cake. The rest of the coffee underneith remains loose!

This then brought about the thinking of the normal “tamp, knock, polish” thing that a lot of us do. The suggestion was that knocking the portafilter (now we do it for an important reason – and it’s still obviously a good thing) was loosening the cake even more and detremental to the extraction.

The guy writing the article did loads of research and found that using a convex tamper 2 mm smaller that the diameter of the basket gave the best results. Instead of knocking the side of the portafilter he worked out a technique to rotate the tamper on it’s convex all 360 degrees. This meant that the knocking wasn’t needed and the cake wasn’t disturbed.

This really intreuged me…….Basically at was a big eye opener to…er….keeping your eyes/mind open to new things and not get stuck in the “my was is the right way” thing…..

I would love to hear any theorys that you guys have and the tampers you prefer.


The original coffee Geek article;

ADDITION: Since posting the above I have played around with the different techniques and found that tamping and then polishing without the knock produced the most consistant extractions with more soloubles. Maybe because of the reduced risk of channeling?

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