This is actually no joke; believe it or not, folks from all corners of the globe did in fact collaborate over a quirky iced coffee that has no ice and a head so creamy it could be mistaken for a perfectly-pulled Guinness, an Espresso Martini that actually comes from a keg, and discovered it was not only coffee lovers to get a serious kick out of a non-alcoholic bar.
It’s a tale about a revolution with nitro coffee that’s so innovative it continues to transform a number of coffee culture collaborations as a result. But first, let’s start at the beginning…
Such a multifaceted story is sure to have colourful characters; there is indeed an Irishman (well, a Zimbabwean with Irish heritage that is) whose history always involved coffee one way or another, but also African origins, US experiences over almost the last two decades, as well as a current reconnection with Irish ancestral roots. It’s probably little wonder then that through all these travels, Dave McLaughlin has acquired the moniker of ‘the Bean Whisperer’, as finding the right beans and understanding the finesse in roasting takes time, and is really the essence of quality flavour. He emphasises, “you can’t roast good into bad beans!”
Great flavour starts with quality beans…
and sources primarily from Ethiopia and Uganda, having discovered this to be the home of great African Arabica heirloom green coffee beans, roasting according to profiles he developed over the past decade, with a careful analysis of time-temperature graphs.
Every craftsman has a philosophy, and the Bean Whisperer’s is also about ensuring balance, “You can have plenty of flavour but unless you bring body too, it will come through as strong and bitter – which is just imbalance – so you have to bring the right level of body to complement flavour in beans,”and it is this attention to roasting profile that makes their #nitrocoffee brand – Raven – unique. He also says he does talk to the beans! During the roasting process, when the sugars in the bean become caramelised, they reach a first crack that sounds a bit like popping popcorn. Listening to the length and volume of the crack tells him about the right profile. “How quickly you get to first crack, what you do after, and understanding this process maximises what was in the beans to begin with… Roasting coffee is 1 part science, 1 part art, and 2 parts passion.”
It was while sourcing coffee in Ethiopia that the Bean Whisperer fortuitously met an Australian, who happened to be an agent for IMF coffee roaster manufacturers in Italy, based in Occhiobello, not far from Bologna, where he found a superb coffee roaster:
“My roaster has a name – Gino, named after my dear Italian-American friend who died of a heart attack whilst I was in Italy buying the Roaster. The staff at IMF put his name on the Roaster.”
Gino’s larger-than-life presence certainly seems to be felt in this special roaster with burners on the side where heat goes directly into the drum and onto the beans with convection, as opposed to a standard drum roaster, heating primarily through the steel.
Obtaining a naturally sweeter, richer coffee with deep chocolate and caramel notes is an integral part of creating a final quality #nitrocoffee – and is no mean feat. It’s a concept that’s been around since +/-2012 in the US, made by infusing gas into coffee to make a cool-drink alternative to iced coffee but with no ice involved, and its popularity has literally taken off.
Our Bean Whisperer notes: “The challenge with iced coffee is that when temperature is reduced significantly, lemon-and-lime characteristics come to the fore and the desirable sweeter notes are suppressed.” It was also found that if CO2 is used to carbonate coffee, it interacts with the sugars creating an unpleasant carbonic acid. Inspired by the idea behind Guinness, to make #nitrocoffee the brew is rather infused with nitrogen – nitrogenating as opposed to carbonating results in a pleasingly sweeter, more rounded taste, and also imparts this velvety smooth texture due to the micro-bubble head formed when poured from a beer tap.Raven’s Nitro Coffee, special fridges and kegs on a pallet
However, quality #nitrocoffee does not just infuse gas when dispensing to the glass, as this is likely to go flat, and is where nitro coffee kegs provide an ideal solution. With the rapid trend in the drinks industry towards #coffeecocktails, in particular #espressomartinis, baristas were battling to produce the espresso quickly enough, as it is ‘live’ and forming a sound head is difficult. Because of the risk of the end product going flat, several bars were looking to resolve the hassle. One such solution was provided by the Bean Whisperer’s Raven Nitro Coffee. Sean McLaughlin at the Havana Bar stand…
Carrying out his research himself with the help of the owner and head brewer at Dungarvan Brewery, Cormac, he also worked with Winelab on formulating a cocktail – the Raven Espresso Martini – with an alcoholic spirit blend that would also present a good head in bar operations using state-of-the-art cold rooms for all their kegs. Joined by son, Sean, who is industriously following in his footsteps and played a major role in the development of chilling and infusing both the #nitrocoffee and #espressomartini, their concept was one of the first to provide this on-site facility at the bar. All that’s needed is a compressor to maintain pressure so that the gas remains infused in the coffee, freshness is preserved and serving is as easy as possible.
Adrian Dunbar (left) and the Bean Whisperer (right)
Winelab distribute the Bean Whisperer’s Raven Nitro Coffee and Espresso Martini cocktail kegs in Ireland and together, they’ve also worked out a bag-in-a-bottle concept meaning that it’s 100% recyclable, with the bags returned to Winelab for recycling in the Netherlands. Below are some of the fabulous places to find @RavenNitroCoffee#lifeafterlockdown#postquarantine and tune in next week for Part II of Raven‘s journeys past, present and future, and a Virgin Mary Bar…
For several years, I have had the opportunity to roast some of Uganda’s finest Arabica coffee’s. Each time these coffees impress me more and more. They have such wonderful balance and often carry bold chocolate notes. Something which I always look for in my coffees.
So I thought I would explore and share some of my findings with you about these quality coffees. This will be a 2-part blog starting with the a country-wide review. In the next blog we’ll drill down to some of the regions and work being done by some of the more ethical players working with Ugandan coffee growers.
Let’s do some numbers first to give some idea of the scale, growth and diversity to Uganda’s coffee.
For the 1991/92 Season, Uganda exported 2,053 million 60 kg bags of which 92% (1,884 million bags) was Robusta and just 8% (or 169,000 bags) were Arabica’s. The total value of the crop was US$ 104,5 million (av Robusta price USD 0.81/kg and Arabica’s price USD 1.26/kg). Total world coffee production for 1991/92 was 101 million bags.
In the 90’s there was significant growth in Arabica coffees in Uganda. From their base of 169,000 bags in 1991/92 they grew their Arabica coffee crop to 533,000 bags by 1993/94. That’s a 215% growth over a 2 year period. During the same period, their Robusta grew by 31%. I’ll drill down on why this was this case in my next blog where I will chat with one of the good folk from UCDA (Uganda Coffee Development Association).
The last 3 growing seasons show a similar pattern with Uganda’s Arabica crop producing around 21-25% of the total export by volume and 25-30% on value.
EXPORTS (60kg) bags
(a) Total Volume
Total volume (world)
(b) Total Value (US$million)
Unit Value in US $ /Kilo
Total volume of bags sold by Uganda in the 2017/18 was 4,962,000 (world total volume 158,560,000 bags).
Enough of the numbers. Let’s get behind those numbers and meet some of the main players in the Uganda Coffee Industry. Let’s visit the places where they work, where they live, how they process their coffee (pre and post harvest) and the challenges they face. May have to visit those gorillas in the mist too…
Keep a look out for the follow-up posts on this great coffee coming from a great country with great, great people..
When a hurricane or tornado is heading your way, there is this quiet uneasiness just prior to the impending wave of violent winds and rain. Having been through the end trails of Katrina in 2005 when living in Birmingham, Alabama, I knew about this all too well. And what, you may fairly ask, has this to do with Nitro Coffee?
Fair enough. Nitro coffees’ impact on the US market was similar…….without the damage. Initially, in 2012/13, excitement and over-exuberance of the impending seismic impact this new product was going to have in the specialty coffee marketplace was soon followed by a couple years of “quiet uneasiness.”
Was the wave going to happen or were we just kidding ourselves all along? You could almost here the ticking of the doomsday clock in the background as worried faces stared blankly at one another hoping to hear or see a sign or signal that nitro coffee was not a dream after all.
2016/17 thankfully changed all that. Our “nitro coffee hurricane” arrived primarily from its quickly evolving Californian market base and swept through the 50 States as fast as anything we had seen before in the US specialty coffee industry.
So, to the crux of this blog. Is there going to be a similar wave or hurricane hitting those cities now leading nitro coffee’s charge into the European market? As London is certainly one of these cities (if not the top) I decided to check it out.
I didn’t choose the big guys in London. Like anywhere else, there is too much bluster and too much of telling you how their product is the greatest from these players. In reality, they often know far less than what they claim.
Skip that. I know where this hurricane will take place…at the grass root retail independent coffee shops. When they are talking about it, introducing it or selling it, the nitro wave will be well on its way.
Truth be told, I needed a good 4 or 5 weeks to gain a more representative understanding of this phenomena. But over a couple of days fighting through some amazingly heavy London traffic, coupled with frustrating attempts at parking the van, here is what I found.
First stop we checked into Latte Art Bar to chat with owner Joao Almedia. Watch this great video by him on his shop and his philosophy that makes his coffee business truly impressive https://vimeo.com/245433097
Joao (pronounce it “John”, he’s okay with that), is all ready on the road to bringing nitro coffee to his store. Look for it in the next few weeks or so. Joao does his research thoroughly and likes the idea of his shop being the place where customers try something new for the first time and remember his place as the place where they first tried this new product. This is the mindset and match which will make nitro something significant within London’s independent specialty coffee shops in the very near future. By the way, his store is located at 239 Brompton Road, SW3 2EP. Go check it out. It’s well worth it. Best espresso I had during the trip was here. Not even close.
Next stop, Crol and Co located at 77 Dunton Rd, London SE1 5TW. For me, this place is the quintessential independent corner coffee shop serving the community around it. I loved it. The walls with their open brick face, the simple wooden chairs and tables, great outdoor space to enjoy your latte in the late afternoon summer breeze…..on the street corner…perfect. Just everything I imagine an independent coffee shop should be and look like.
They have the traditional ice coffee but the nitro hasn’t found it’s way into this great little shop…..yet!
I did pop into a few more place like Camden Coffee House but they are not running with nitro….which is sad. They had in the past tried some canned cold brew. But that is not the same as nitro. Not at all.
Their decor and locations are great. Hopefully they’ll be taking another look at fresh from the tap nitro coffee in the near future.
With time running out we met up with Abi Jackson at Kiss the Hippo located at 50 George Street, Richmond, London, TW9 1HJ. This is a new age style coffee shop. Very sleek. Very cool. It is truly well laid out AND..it has a 5 kg Loring coffee roaster behind a glass wall at the back of the store.
Loring, a California manufacturer and the Italian manufacturer of my coffee roaster (IMF) are the only two drum roaster manufacturers I know who use technology that enables direct heat to be used as the primary source of energy to roast the coffee beans. With these drum roasters, the gas burner is placed beside the rotating drum. The heat is blown directly onto the coffee beans making convection energy their primary source of energy to roast the beans.
All other drum roasters heat the beans from burners placed below the drum and heat the beans through the steel drum making their primary energy source conduction heating. Convection is far better for control, efficiency and consistency when roasting coffee.
Convection heating also brings more body into the roasted bean at every level of roast. When I tried Kiss the Hippo’s nitro, I sensed immediately the effectiveness of their drum roaster to bring more body to their nitro given their lighter roast level than what I use for Raven nitro. I really enjoyed their nitro and suggest anyone in the area to visit it and try it out. And anyhow, this is a very cool new age coffee shop. Come check it out. You will not be disappointed.
Back to Abi Jackson. Abi is a Connecticut native having left its shores in 2003. She has a wealth of knowledge on the specialty coffee industry – over 17 years worth – including managing a Starbucks outlet or two. She knows coffee and she loves it.
It was interesting to hear what she said was her English partners’ perception of nitro coffee. He enjoys and drinks it whereas he feels ice coffee makes him feel like someone just left their coffee to get cold so they added some ice and made it a thing. Not a bad perception. Nitro is specific and it is produced to be sold fresh, primed with nitro and chilled from the tap. (I will not mention cans!)
However, we both believe there are particular challenges to nitro in the UK and European market.
Firstly, espresso, along with its family of drinks – lattes. cappuccino’s, flat white’s, macchiato’s, americano’s etc is the specialty coffee drink of Europe. In America, drip or brewed coffee is the base specialty coffee drink – albeit espresso grows in popularity year on year. Nitro coffee is made from drip coffee. So, as an espresso drinker, you will immediately notice the difference in texture and composition of nitro coffee.
Secondly, on the whole, Europe is colder than most of the USA. There is a significant proportion of habitual ice coffee drinkers (those who drink ice coffee even when there are a couple metres of snow on the floor outside) especially amongst the younger ice coffee drinkers. Research shows that 38% of younger cold coffee drinkers in the UK are habitual.
Thirdly, instant coffee is at a premium price in Europe. WTF!! In Waterford I found a store that was selling instant coffee (Nescafe) at 3 times the price (equivalent to Euro 53/kg) of whole roasted beans from Lavazza (equivalent selling price of Euro 18/kg). This is worse than box wine being sold for 3 times the price of a fine bottle of Granache from the Perpignon region. Can someone please explain this to me? How does coffee which has been mechanically and chemically destroyed sell for 3 times the price of roasted beans that have not even been ground yet? I feel like there are dark forces at play here!!
However, we both believe that nitro coffee – with the awesome way it forms it head just like a Guinness is very cool. And cool will certainly have an impact with the younger cold coffee drinkers in Europe. Cool and good branding will win the day.
If you own an independent coffee shop or manage one, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the first chapter of a very interesting story that will unfold in the next 12 to 18 months. Be a part of it. Share your thoughts with me and we’ll add your comments in the next review of this blog in about a month or so.
Whilst travelling to nearby Waterford City, County Waterford, Ireland last week, I came across a big banner adverting nitro coffee. The caption was “It’s coffee like you have never known”. True. But I think I can explain it a little better than that. (And please understand, I will refer to the production of nitro coffee in terms of an artisan coffee roaster who uses kegs to deliver the product to the customer).
What is nitro coffee?
Nitro coffee is brewed coffee (which may be cold brewed or hot brewed) that is chilled, poured into kegs and infused with nitrogen gas. It is poured from a stout beer tap looking just like a Guinness both in the pour and in the glass….here we go…this is nitro coffee….
Now, who wouldn’t want one of these after a hard workout, a tough bike ride, a night on the rave, a tough day at the office…..or maybe just chilling on a warm, summer afternoon?
The nitrogen produces a golden head atop the nitro coffee. It should be there until the drink is finished. It also gives the drink a far smoother, better mouthfeel than ice coffee. More on that later. Overall it should taste like you’re drinking coffee velvet. Okay, better stop there. I’m getting a little carried away….
How is nitro coffee made?
As mentioned above, nitro coffee is brewed coffee which is then chilled and filled into kegs (usually cornelius kegs). Here is what a cornelius keg looks like…
Once filled, the cornelius keg is connected to nitrogen gas. Infusion of the nitrogen into the chilled coffee takes place usually over a few days. What pressure of nitrogen gas is added…or how long before infusion into the coffee is deemed complete….are all trade secrets for the nitro coffee producer. But the overall process is pretty much the same.
From there, the kegs are then delivered to a wholesale customer (like a coffee shop) where a kegerator is generally used to dispense the nitro coffee. What is a kegerator, you may ask…funny you should ask….here we go…
The 20 litre keg sits inside the kegerator. It is connected to the stout beer tap seen on the chrome draft tower atop the kegerator. Nitro must be poured at the correct temperature and pressure. Imagine a warm, flat Guinness versus a chilled, fresh Guinness..get the idea?
Alternatively, especially suited to bars, Raven nitro coffee can be dispensed from an OTC (on the counter) fridge unit using a smaller keg……
When did nitro coffee first appear and where does it come from?
Many a soul in America shall claim to be the originator of nitro coffee. Believe whichever one you will. More importantly, around 2012, the first signs of nitro coffee began to emerge. Generally, I believe this came about through a combination of individual innovation and a need for the Specialty coffee industry to come up with an alternative to their standard ice coffee.
Ice coffee is brewed coffee which is chilled and served with ice. It is a very popular drink. I can still remember pouring it for some of our Chicago customers with snow laying on the ground outside. Weird.
The problem with ice coffee is that when coffee is served at lower temperatures, the brighter (lemony, lime etc) notes are accentuated. The sweeter (caramel, chocolaty) notes are somewhat lost. This makes for a very, very thin, bright drink…not everyone’s cup of tea (excuse the pun!)
For me, the challenge is to make nitro coffee taste as far different from ice coffee as is possible. Nitro in the coffee leads to a naturally better, smoother mouthfeel and more rounded body. However, it is the selection of the coffee and the roasting profiles which can really make a difference. Remember, ice coffee is bright and bittery….so if you want something diametrically opposed to that, you need to roast accordingly.
I’ve gone one step further. Our roaster was specifically chosen because of its capacity to roast more body into the coffee beans at every level of roasting. This is achieved by using an almost unique direct-heat process during roasting (I’ll leave the full explanation of this to another blog). The end result is a sweeter, bolder nitro coffee.
So let’s just list the factors influencing nitro coffee quality….
1. Bean quality. You can’t roast good into bad beans. Quality beans with the right cupping characteristics must be the starting point for this process.
2. Roasting profiles. Artisan roasters will roast on roasting profiles they have developed over their years roasting coffee. What is a roasting profile? Briefly, it is a graph (time on the horizontal axis, temperature on the vertical axis) tracking the temperature over the time taken to roast the coffee. Nitro coffee needs a suitable roasting profile.
3. Correct infusion levels of nitrogen. Some are only adding the nitro at the point of dispensing the drink into the glass. This will lead to the head on the nitro disappearing pretty quickly and leaving you with a disappointingly flat black drink in the glass.
4. Temperature. Nitro coffee must be served chilled. Period.
5. Dispensing pressure.
Who drinks nitro coffee?
Nitro coffee is popular amongst millennial’s and Generation Y’ers….not so much the older generation. Specialty coffee drinkers – especially those who enjoy chilled coffee drinks – will enjoy nitro coffee…….. those who like to try something different….and those who want to enjoy a good jolt of caffeine….I can assure you, nitro kicks!
So I hope that answers your question. If not, feel free to comment and I’ll get back to you….
We had such a great evening creating wonderful #ravennitrocoffee #coffeecocktails at our #throwdown at the Hyde Kensington #London.
First off, my great appreciation to Aly Roshdy and all at the Hyde Kensington where we have our OTC Raven Fridge Dispensing System.
First up was Aly Roshdy, master class mixologist, gentleman and General Manager of the Hyde Kensington in London. Known for his creativity, Aly focuses on the complete cocktail – the best and freshest ingredients, unique ingredients (like blending melted white chocolate into a vodka base), the glass which is used for the cocktail and the visual presentation. Take a look at the photo below. You’ll see what I mean.
Next up was Diego Raidomi who is the consummate #mixologist. A complete knowledge and confidence to create cocktails based on his vast working experience behind the bar.
Of the cocktails Diego created – which were all excellent – my favourite was “Kick Off”. Diego used the following ingredients..
Raspberry muddled (2/3 raspberry)
50 ml of vodka vanilla
20 ml of lime
25 ml of Raven nitro coffee
20 ml of gum syrup
3/4 mint leaves into the shaker
technique: shake and strain
Garnish: MINT SPRING, BLUEBERRY, PHYSALIS, DRY LIME. ICE IN SUGAR
Next up was Jeremy Le Blanche who originates from the Nice area of Paris. Again, a true gentlemen whose friendliness and openness is not affected by his amazing skills at crafting cocktails.
His understanding of balancing a cocktail using #ravennitrocoffee was brilliant. Here is Jeremy’s “Raven Master Charger” cocktail…seriously, who wouldn’t like to sup on this creation….
50ml of raven nitro coffee
35ml rye whiskey
15ml coffee liqueur
15ml herbal liqueur
Garnish : chocolate rime with white chocolate Copeau
Without our panel of samplist, the event wouldn’t have been half as fun. Special thanks to Niamh Sheilds of eatlikeagirl blog, my dear friend Mandeep of thegaygoat (very popular on Instagram) and his beautiful sister Amer who kindly stepped in to do take some photos of pulling #ravennitrocoffee from our OTC fridge…yes, that is her at the top of the blog
A special thanks also to my son and strongman Sean McLaughlin who is a great lad and who is an inspiration to me every day.
Thanks to all for this wonderful event….the bean whisperer
Meet Aly Roshdy, mixing another of his quite brilliant cocktails at the Hyde Kensington on the West side of London, just across the road from the Kensington Gardens on Kensington Street.
And it is here where we will be having our #Londonthrowdown next Thursday, 5 April at 4 pm. Aly, along with three other mixologists – Jeremy Le Blanche (D & D UK), Ivaylo Gerasimov (Mr. Fofogg’s) and Diego Raidomi (La Tagliata) will be knocking out their version of espresso martini’s, chilled nitro Irish Coffees and their own secret signature coffee cocktail using our Raven Chilled Nitro Coffee (https://7thraven.ie/).
Poured fresh from the nitro tap off our OTC Raven Chilled Nitro counter fridge, this hand-selected, craft roasted Ethiopian coffee is chilled and nitrated in kegs using the skills and passion we’ve developed over our 17 years in the US specialty coffee industry.
And it pours just like a Guinness….
Now, in the early Spring of 2018, we launch our product into the European market focusing on the fun capitals of Europe – London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Ibiza.
We will also be mixing these coffee cocktails using craft distilled spirits such as Muldoon’s Whiskey, Thin Gin and Spice Rum located in Waterford City just down the road from our coffee roastery in Dungarvan, County Waterford.
So stand by for some fun and photos of the amazing espresso martinis and chilled nitro Irish coffees and Signature coffee cocktails made by some incredible mixologists at our #Londonthrowdown next Thursday, 5 April at the Hyde Kensington.
You’re desperate for your daily favourite caffeine fix and you want a good experience. But, you’re on the road or visiting friends in an area of town or city you’re unfamiliar with. Or maybe you find a new coffee shop and wander in to check it out. Perhaps you might just want to re-evaluate your favourite coffee shop.
What telltale signs should you be looking for when walking into a coffee shop, those signs that tell you – with a high level of confidence – whether your caffeine fix for the day is going to be a great, fulfilling “my life is worth living” moment or one which is dismally, depressingly disappointing and questions whether life on earth has any meaning to it after all? (Short answer: No. Life without good coffee is just not worth it.)
Tell Tale Sign #1 Check out the Equipment
Check out the espresso machine. A good coffee shop will invest in a good espresso machine. It is the heart and soul of their business. They cannot make consistently good espresso drinks without a good espresso machine. Look for brands like La Marzocco, Simonelli, Rancilio Cimbali, Faema. If it is not a recognized brand or it looks a little small or old, don’t head for the door just yet.
Some small businesses can still produce a good espresso by taking care of the other factors which contribute to a good espresso drink; water quality, barista training, espresso used, hygiene and maintenance.
But, you might want to heighten your awareness if the espresso machine is not one of the traditional quality brands known to the industry. (PS How can you tell what brand it is? Espresso machine manufacturers normally take a lot of time promoting their brand on their machine. So just take a careful look).
And just to balance things here. Don’t go “oh, they have a La Marzocco so my 4 shot caramel latte with 2% milk will be perfect”. Some coffee shop owners will spend enormous amounts of money buying a butt-big espresso machine just for show. The industry knows the tricks of the trade too well. Some untrained or greedy owners will go for the image of having a fancy “bells and whistles” espresso machine and then buy cheap espresso or they won’t spend the time and effort to properly train their barista’s or they don’t maintain their water quality or all of the above.
Tell Tale Sign #2: The barista
Before we get into this one, please can you not judge a barista by their piercings, pony tails or tattoos. These are life choices which every barista has every right to. And be careful you differentiate between what looks like dirt (but is actually coffee grinds which go everywhere) and actual filth.
First up, ask a few simple questions;
What country of origin does their espresso originate from? Many use Brazilian or Colombian as a base for their espresso. My favourite will always be African coffees especially heirloom Ethiopians. And our Raven espresso(www.nitrocoffee.ie) will always be all African all Arabica. Origin is not going to make or break an espresso (the roaster will do that) but it is a “nice to know” factor.
Single origin or not. If you want to go a step further ask this one. There are two schools here within the specialty coffee roasters: those who go for single origin and those who follow a more traditional espresso roast where a combination of coffees are used to provide an intricate complexity of flavours, balance and body to the espresso. If they go “single origin” you’re most probably in a coffee shop which follows trends or fads and you are more than likely going to have a very bright, bitter espresso with an after taste to dry out anything residing on your tonsils. (As you can surmise, I go with the traditional espresso roasting school).
Where do they source their espresso from? I am an avid, nay rabid, supporter of my fellow small batch artisan coffee roasters. Now, to be fair, not all of them are great. But if the coffee shop is worthwhile spending money at, I highly recommend you find out who their roaster is. When they answer, you more than likely won’t know the actual roaster but a few follow-up questions like “oh, are they local” or “are they batch roasters” will give you all the information you need to figure out whether their roaster is corporate or not.
By the way, there may be a queue behind you of caffeine-desperate customers. This may become a life-threatening situation. Have the courtesy of not taking too long or heading into a Spanish Inquisition or trying to impress the barista. These questions are merely some background information – information that will guide you to understanding something about the source of the espresso beans and about the barista’s knowledge and training. All essential tell-tale signs.
Tell Tale Sign #3: The Steam Wand
The dreaded steam wand! Aahh!! Something to make for really scary nightmares…
So you’re happy with the equipment and the barista. You’re ready to place an order for your favourite mocha with skim milk and whip cream on top (yes, people do order this!) but hold on…not just yet….
CHECK THE STEAM WAND
(PS I like to do this whilst I’m asking the barista those few questions above. It saves time. Remember those caffeine starved customers lined up behind you? You really don’t want to piss them off..)
Here is where you want to maybe consider walking out of the coffee shop without your favourite fix. It’s a pretty serious problem if the steam wand has a covering of white (or worse still, yellowing) milk on it. (PS In their defense, barista’s are sometimes snowed under and let this one go for a moment. But they should see this milked covered steam wand before you – and clean it quickly. Check to see if they use the steam from the steam wand when cleaning this muck off. Steam kills germs).
My advice? Unless the barista reacts to the dirty steam wand pretty quickly, excuse yourself and walk away (politely, of course – no need to make a scene).
Tell Tale Sign #4: Time the espresso shot and make sure there is plenty of crema
Before going into the timing of the shot, please remember this simple rule. The crema – the glorious golden brown coloured stuff atop your espresso shot…..that is where the flavour is. That is where the quality is. No crema or little crema equals no flavour or little flavour.
Okay. So the equipment is fine. Barista is good. The steam wand is clean. Go ahead – place your order but don’t rest up. Not just yet. More focus!
From my time as a coffee shop owner who worked behind the counter – for 12 years – this one comes automatically to me. Count the number of seconds from the time the barista hits the start button on the espresso machine to pull the shot or shots (you’ll hear a deep thud or a distinct thwak – depending on the make of espresso machine) until the espresso shot is pulled. Again the machine will give out a deep thud or distinct thwak. The time it takes to pull the shot is critical. Let me say it again…CRITICAL!
Everything may be perfect – the equipment, the espresso, the water….but either because of a bad tamp (when the barista tamps the espresso into the porter filter basket) or an incorrect grind size, or both – the shot is pulled too long or too short.
A good shot can be pulled anywhere from 19-30 seconds. If the espresso has Robusta coffee in it (you might want to ask that question), better not go beyond 25 seconds. Otherwise some nasty bitter flavours will be extracted into the espresso shot. Our Raven’s espresso is all African, all Arabica, all the time. I suggest to our coffee shop customers to pull espresso shots anywhere between 26-32 seconds.
Coffee has potentially 1400 different flavours and aromas (as a comparison, the grape has around 90). All have varying degrees of solubility. But many of the very bitter, bite-off-your-tongue flavours are less soluble only being extracted when the shot pulled is over the 30 second time-frame. The longer it takes to pull the shot, the more these nasty, less-soluble extracts enter the espresso. Not good at all. Nasty.
Conversely, if the shot takes less than 19 seconds, you’ll have an under-extracted espresso shot. Very unsatisfying. Frustrating, actually. Both for the customer and the coffee roaster. I know, I’ve been there.
Both scenarios are totally unacceptable. You are quite within your rights (no matter how many caffeine addicts lined up behind you are staring at your back, looking for a suitable target as they reach for their back pocket flick knives), to ask the barista to pull the shot or shots again. You may get a filthy look from the barista. Fuck them. They have screwed up and need to pull the shot again. Not negotiable.
Tell Tale sign #5: Listen to the steaming of the milk
Right now McDonald’s is running an ad which frankly, infuriates me. If I had any Mediterranean blood in me, I may start throwing things at the TV (if I had one).
The ad has a person ordering a latte or such in a coffee shop. They have a teeth-gnashing overly extended play (with stuttering sound effects) about the micro bubbles in the latte. It also shows the barista belittling the customer in a few other ways.
But let’s get back to the bubbles. This is actually, a very important tell-tale sign. A very significant, direct, “it’s-going-to-effect-your-drink” kind of tell-tale sign.
When a barista steams the milk, listen to the sound. If you hear bubbling sounds – or sounds like “plop, plop, plop” or the “howlings of the banshee”, it means the barista is untrained and you are about to drink a latte or cappuccino that has a top full of air bubbles (which will collapse into thin air leaving you with a hot, headless totally unsatisfactory milky drink soon after you’ve hiked over your 4 or 5 bucks).
The foamed head on your drink – whether latte, mocha, cappuccino or even macchiatto – is very much part and parcel of the drink itself. It is not a show piece. Screw you McDonald’s.
Well trained barista’s learn to “stretch” the milk during the steaming process, changing its chemical and physical composition. If they are steaming correctly you’ll hear a “hissing” sound. Kind of hard to explain, but you’ll know it when you hear it (as opposed to the screeching banshee sound).
Now, here’s the problem. If you did hear the banshee screaming, you’re pretty much screwed. No asking the barista to do it again. It’s just bad luck, I’m afraid. You picked the short straw. You lost. Suck it up (literally), pay the money and move on. Just don’t go back. That is your only recourse.
Going back to that teeth-gnashing McDonald’s advert again. I hate it – yes, hate it – for 3 reasons.
Firstly, as I explained above, the steaming of the milk is very much part and parcel of your experience drinking a latte or cappuccino or mocha…
Secondly, this is the arrogant, “everything-will- taste-the-same-unless-you-load-it-up-with sugar-concentrated-flavours” corporate thugs who have crippled small coffee shop owners around the world. And they are taking the well-known tactic of attacking their oppositions strengths.
Now, I do admit that not every small locally owned coffee shop has brilliant coffee. But, on the whole, they know a lot more about coffee, have far more passion for their coffee and usually pay far more for their coffee. If you don’t hate the corporations like Charbucks by now, please click on this link and watch Oxfam’s documentary Black Gold. It shows what devastation these corporations have on small-scale family coffee farmers in Africa as they leverage their enormous buying power on hapless, hungry, shirts-falling-off-their-backs Ethiopian coffee farmers.
Thirdly, they have a point. For the seventeen years I have been in the specialty coffee industry both on the roasting and retailing side of the business, I have seen and heard “coffee officiado’s” espousing forth on certain characteristics of a coffee merely in an effort to promote their self-importance by blowing hot air up their own arses.
“The late afternoon aroma from an overly ripe stone fruit” was one description of a coffee I remember vividly. How can you be so arrogant, so pompous and frankly ridiculous….overly ripe fruit can vary from just past it to rotting and about to fall off to laying on the ground with worms and things all over it. Each have their own aroma. And each stone fruits has its own aroma.
Anyway, the point is, there seems to be an endless supply of these self-opinionated characters in our industry. And frankly, the industry seems to nurture and fawn them instead of telling them to go fuck themselves.
Tell tale #6: Latte Art
When you walk into a coffee shop and their customers are supping on a cup which has some lovely (or had some lovely) latte art work atop the drink, you can pretty much relax. You have made a good bet. Not quite a home run (a phrase for my American friends) or sailing for a 6 (for my cricketing UK, Australasia and African friends). However you call it, you’re in a good place.
Still go through Tell tale signs #1-5, but the difference is, you’re in a coffee shop that has taken the time to teach their barista’s latte art. This is not an insignificant skill. For many (like myself) latte art is something we work on hour after hour. Many of the latte shows showcase incredible latte art done by the contestants. They make it look so easy. It isn’t. I can assure you.
Bottom line is if the coffee shop has taken the time out to teach or support or even just employ this skill, you know they are serious about the product they are selling. Just don’t let your guard down completely. Latte Art doesn’t automatically equate with understanding or appreciating coffee roasting quality. Often it does, but not always.
Tell tale #7: Check the sign above the door going in
I am not sure I shouldn’t have started with this one. Makes more chronological sense. Anyhow, check the sign on the door. If it says Starbucks, or Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, or any other of the large corporate megaliths drowning and dragging down our coffee industry, please turn around. Walk out.
You are in the wrong place for coffee served with a passion by a small business, for making true friends, for being a positive influence to our industry, for the survival and character of an industry about to be swallowed up by mono-flavoured (except for those cancer-forming sugar filled flavour concentrates they put in their drinks to destroy their burnt roast flavours) corporate entities bent on paying out Wall Street shareholders at the expense of the little guys and specialists who make up the heart and soul of our industry. By supporting these corporate megaliths, you are supporting their tyranny, destruction and exploitation of small-scale, family owned and operated coffee growers, retailers and roasters.
PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE CORPORATE GORILLA
Please do not become a part of this serious problem in our industry. I know from personal experience what it feels like when a customer comes into your little coffee shop and supports you – as opposed to the Starbucks across the street, and down the road, and across from the bus stop, and next to where you work (or in the building where you work) and in literally dozens of locations throughout your town or city. This is personal.
It means so much. Please support the little guys with big hearts in our industry.
A few weeks back we had the opportunity to meet three of Waterford Ireland’s finest Mixologists; Steve Kelly, John Egan and Dave Coe (as seen below)
The challenge was to introduce them to Raven nitro coffee (a chilled coffee infused with nitrogen which pours from the tap just like a Guinness) and to have them use locally produced spirits to create their perfect #coffeecocktail.
Chilled nitro coffee came about in 2012/13 in the USA as an alternative to the ice coffee (the standard for the specialty coffee industry). Ice coffee can be brewed either using a cold press or brewed hot and then chilled in a fridge. Either way, it is served in a glass or clear mug with a helping of ice.
The problem with ice coffee – or any coffee you chill – is that the brighter, lemony notes are accentuated. The sweeter, chocolate or caramel notes (if the coffee had them to start with) are suppressed.
So Nitro coffee was created using techniques not dissimilar to making Guinness – except the ingredients, of course. At Raven Coffee we have developed our own style of nitro coffee using a cold brew methodology followed by nitrogen infusion.
This we developed this formula in our last 2 years of the 17 years we had our own coffee retail and roasting business in the USA. And we brought it with us to the fair shore of Ireland (Dungarvan, County Waterford to be exact) intending to export into Europe’s finest Cosmopolitan Cities and fun Festivals.
John was first up. He looked to do a slant on an Irish Coffee using Raven Chilled Nitro Coffee, locally produced Spice Island Rum and Coconut flake on the top.
“Raven Chilled Nitro Coffee is very well balanced, holds up well on its own and is a very good mixer for cocktails” said John.
It was amazing to see the cream spin and twirl as it interacted with the Raven Nitro Coffee.
Steve Kelly was next up. He found the Raven Chilled Nitro Coffee “very natural and refreshing”.
Steve named his cocktail “The Thin Raven” as he was using locally produced Muldoon’s Whiskey Liquor (“to sweeten the martini”), Thin Gin (to give it “an extra kick”)and Raven Chilled Nitro Coffee. It was a beauty! Check it out below
Dave Coe rounded off the fun afternoon with a stunning cocktail complete with flame!
Dave liked Raven Nitro Chilled Coffee thinking “it has a lovely natural sweetness (without need for added sugar), great crema, perfectly good on its own and as a cocktail mixer”.
With the Season at hand, Dave muddled some fresh ginger with simple sugar to build his “winter cocktail”, adding locally produced Spike Island Rum, Raven Chilled Nitro Coffee and a full egg for texture. He used a dry shake to infuse the cocktail with some air, some lightness.
After pouring the mix into a martini glass, Dave bent a piece of fresh orange peel and lit the juices as it splashed the surface of the drink. The touch of the artiste!
In conclusion, I would just like to give out a great thanks to John Egan, Steve Kelly and Dave Coe for sharing their wonderful skills and their time with us. I have traveled around the world and know these guys could make any bar sparkle.