Tag Archives: Coffee


ERN_0018 nicecup


Presently salivating over the prospect of drinking a lovely espresso from my new cup and saucer, which Ann brought back from Nice as a prezzie.

Must also mention my new fave blend, a 300 gram roast in The Huky Monster, comprising: 200g El Salvador Finca Argentina Fincona 2 Tablon Bourbon Natural + 50g Costa Rica Herbazu Honey Roasted + 50g Burundi Ngozi Mugomera Washed.

Roasted to somewhere between City and Full City (lifted at 225C), beans dark brown but positively no shine. All ‘greens’ from www.hasbean.co.uk.

Right, that’s the nerdy bits over, what does it taste like? Well, I developed this blend to get me the ultimate ‘flat white’. The main constituent, the Finca Argentina was described by Hasbean’s Steve Leighton as ‘black forest gâteau’ and that’s not a bad description. I fancy I roast a tad darker than he does which means I’ve swapped some (but not all) of the black cherry and forest fruit notes for an accentuation of the rich chocolate and caramel character. The Herbazzu, on its own quite acidic, balances the blend with a trace of lemon and lime zest, plus a further layer of dark chocolate. The Burundi, quite a big bruiser as a solo espresso, adds vanillin tannin and a touch of woodsmoke, the latter a bit like the effect of peat on malt whisky. The whole makes a complex and, I think, enchanting brew.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been drinking it as espresso. Here the toffee and chocolate are sllghtly more muted, with the red wine notes (Grenache-ish?) pushed to the fore. Decent kit.


Puffing Lily 1Lily 2

Just done the roast with ‘Puffing Lily’ aka The Hooky Monster. Glad it’s over with. I was very nervous because roasting with this beastie involves ‘real flames’. Also, fully manual control is not as comforting as my old HotProg (programmable version of the HotTop) where if things start to go tits up you can just press a switch and abort the program.

The Huky 500 is a beautiful beast, reminiscent of a collaboration between one of the old locomotive designers – George Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel – and Adolphe Sax, one of the 12 or so famous Belgians, maybe with a touch of Heath Robinson thrown in. It is robust and nicely engineered, mainly in stainless steel with an assortment of lovely wooden, maybe rosewood, handles. It has a bean trier device that actually works!

I roasted 300g, scaled up from the 250g of the HotProg, my most regular blend.

For the record it was:- 150g Nicaragua Finca La Fany Bourbon Washed + 100g Costa Rica Herbazu Honey Process + 50g Ethiopia Kebel Kercha Guji Natural. All supplied, as per usual by the excellent Steve at www.hasbean.co.uk

Coffee was roasted to just short of 2nd crack. At the end everything happens very quickly – “Check the beans, hey, they’re okay; turn off the heat; remove the ‘saxophone’; empty the chaff; swing the bean dumper handle (remembering to hold the bean collector under the exit port); place collector over fan and switch fan on, if it isn’t already; turn off drum motor…” all in less time than it takes to say ‘Costa Rica Finca Nardo herbazu yellow washed honey process Villa Sarchi’ or similar!

Then, phew! chill. Take a sip of your favourite tipple.

Lovely even roast as the pic shows. The shot is a tad soft because it was a hand-held, no flash 1/20 at f2.8 and my hands were surely shaking!

Nice glass of rosé in the garden before I clear up, methought.




I WAS enjoying the rosé until the flash flood rain came in through the Yellow Room ceiling. If there’s one thing I hate it’s dilute rosé!

Yes, that first roast was a tad scary. With the old HotProg you slung the beans in at around 70-odd ºC and after around 17 mins a beep-beep announces the arrival of 212 ºC (a failsafe for those eejits who can’t be arsed to watch the display) whereupon you press a ‘Continue’ button. Shortly after which the roast finishes – 216 ºC-ish on most of the profiles I use. And the thermometer is fairly steady (makes me wonder how accurate it is) unlike the digital job on Puffing Lily’s bean mass probe which yaws constantly,up a tad, down a smidge, whoops, up again, needing constant tweaking. With the Huky you don’t bung the beans (300g) in until 240 ºC which had me worrying about what the combustion point of coffee is!

At the end of the roast things happen very quickly. You need to whip off the ‘saxophone’, empty the chaff from the collection tray and use the tray to collect the beans when you pull the ‘eject’ lever.


You might say its the difference between driving a DART train and the Flying Scotsman in days of steam locomotives. A completely different mind/skillset needed, not to mention constant attention. But absolutely no chance of dying of boredom.

Now, where did I put the tranquilizers….


Kudos and big thanks to Mr.Kuanho Li, designer and builder of the Huky 500, who replied to all my emails promptly and answered all my questions – even the daft ones! The roaster arrived from Taiwan in perfect condition in only 5 days.

BLOG – 2 good blends tested but why is most coffee in Ireland shit?


I’ve just been road testing a brace of quality coffees from a small and relatively new Irish supplier, Imbibe. Latin Espresso is a blend from Columbia and Costa Rica beans. The blend was described to me by Imbibe’s man Gary Grant as “a medium-to-dark roast espresso which is rich, sweet and balanced with notes of toffee and caramel” All of this was true. However the sample I received was slightly over-roasted for my taste, a phenomenon I’m coming across more and more.

The temptation to dark-roast is entirely understandable; you see, years ago, when we made the giant leap from Nescafe and its ilk to ‘real’ coffee via, firstly, the percolator, then the Cona machine, the filter, the French press or cafetiere, coffee was made in a similar fashion to tea. We poured a cup and added what was, by today’s standards, a small amount of milk, cold or hot. Eventually and it was bound to happen, we discovered the charms of espresso-based coffee. From the off, this was styled on the Italian principle and dammit why not; they invented the machine. The milky version is called cappuccino, meaning ‘little hood’. A cappuccino is a coffee drink topped with micro-foamed milk. Espresso is poured into the bottom third of the cup, and is followed by a similar amount of hot milk. The top third of the drink consists of milk foam, often decorated with artistic drawings made with the same milk and called ‘latte art’.Chocolate,cinnamon, or other spices are often sprinkled onto the top of the finished drink. In a traditional cappuccino the total of espresso and milk/foam make up between approximately 150–180 mL Commercial coffee chains in the US, seeing the potential of putting added value on milk – essentially a cheap ingredient – started to serve the cappuccino as a 360 mL drink, subsequently creating even more grotesque (and more profitable) milk fests.

Italian roasting of coffee beans invariably gets darker as you travel south. In Napoli and Rome drinkers like the ‘big hit’ whereas coffee drinkers in the north prefer a little subtlety. I know from my own experiences with home roasting (I roast 300-400g of ‘greens’ on rather more than a weekly basis) and from my long wine tasting experience that roasting in coffee introduces similar factors to the influence of oak on wine – the longer wine is left on oak and the higher the degree of ‘toast’ on the barrel, the more the flavour of the finished wine is influenced by the oak aging. So with coffee. The darker the bean is roasted the more it tastes of the roasting process and the less of the character of the beans used. In a perfect world, coffee would be roasted for no longer than it takes to tease out the aromas and flavours inherent in the bean. These are complex – ranging from wine to caramel, woodsmoke to morello cherries with a myriad of complex nuances in between. Alas, life’s not like that. Commercially the need is for a coffee that will cut through the big buckets of milk so dark roasting is ‘way to go’. All that said, the quality of Imbibe’s Latin American Espresso is a given and cafés and restaurants would win friends by substituting it for the popular Italian brands, many of which are, in all honesty, truly woeful.

The other coffee was labelled Triple Cert. This coffee is Fairtrade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified, as Gary says “Quite simply, it’s the most ethical coffee you can drink.” It’s a three bean blend comprised of beans from Brazil, Sumatra and Peru. Brazilian coffee forms the base. Soft and mild with a low acidity, it combines well with the more vibrant Peruvian bean. The third bean is from Sumatra and lends backbone and character. I liked this coffee a good deal.

Coffee beans, as I’m sure most know, can be sub-divided into Arabica and Robusta. The conventional wisdom is that Arabica, grown at higher altiudes, brings quality and flavour to a blend whereas Robusta gives strength and the beguiling ‘crema’ that people like to see atop their espresso. The desirability of incorporating some Robusta into the blend is stressed by some producers, largely I suspect because Robusta comes much cheaper. I’ve never found any difficulty getting strength into a pure Arabica blend where needed, nor crema – as long as the coffee is fresh and the brew not over-extracted,

I have myself experimented a good deal with incorporating Sumatran beans into a blend. I find that 5-7.5% of Sumatra in the blend brings a slightly smoky quality, which I love, to the mellow Honduran, El Salvador, Nicaraguan and Brazilian aromas and flavours. The espresso machine is a powerful tool. In the hands of a properly trained barista using good coffee it can deliver exquisite results. However, in many cafes and restaurants, in the hands of under-trained staff or those who have no interest in or love for coffee it produces coffee that’s as subtle as a mad dentist with a chainsaw. The trade is well aware of this – hence the invention of the Nespresso machine.


Why coffee is so neglected in Ireland, in the average cafe and even in restaurants serving stellar food, I just do not know. It is the last thing you consume before leaving. Surely the restaurant has the responsibility to conclude the meal on a high note? But all too often, it fails.

Good Irish coffee suppliers whose beans I’ve tried and tested include:






Wanted  to say a huge “thank you” to my coffee supplier, Steve Leighton of Hasbean, UK.

Yesterday I was almost out of “greens”. About 250g of Yemen Mocha Mattar left plus some Ethiopian Sidamo Swiss Water process de-caff which, good as it is, doesn’t give me the jizz that goes hand-in-hand with the flavours.
I’ve been buying from Steve for about 5 years and the quality of his beans is always a given. Even if you don’t roast you should take the opportunity to try some of the beautiful single estate coffees Steve imports – order via the website http://www.hasbean.co.uk

What’s truly amazing though is the service. I ordered 5 x 2kg assorted bags – El Salvador, Brazil, Cuba, Sumatra by e-mail at 11.55am yesterday. They were delivered to my door in Dublin at 10.50 this morning. I’ve just opened the delectable El Salvador Finca La Fany, otherwise known as ‘my life blood’ and the HotProg roaster is warming up as I type.

Thanks, Steve (with whom I have no connection other than as a supplier and presumably,  as a mutual admirer of Niall Quinn).

Cup-and-saucer on the left is a very lovely Wedgwood pattern, my birthday present from a good friend and great food writer, Leslie Williams. Cup on the right is my favourite Villeroy & Boch.

Another top Irish performance at World Barista Champs

It’s long been a bitch of mine that the standard of coffee on the street and in bars and restaurants in Ireland is utterly woeful. (If you’re in any doubt read the almost weekly rant in my restaurant reviews in The Herald!).  Coffee Angel, with their distinctive Piaggio vans, are one of a few honourable exceptions to the general mediocrity.

Colin Harmon goes for glory

Last week Coffee Angel’s man at CHQ, reigning Irish Barista Champion Colin Harmon, took an incredible 4th place in the 10th annual World Barista Championship held in Atlanta, GA last weekend.

Much of the impetus behind Colin’s superb effort is due to his mentor and employer, Coffee Angel’s Karl Purdy.

Karl, a forkncork.com forum contributor, a magnificent upholder of coffee standards and a really nice guy, is a former Irish Barista Champ himself. He also achieved the highest place ever by an Irish competitor in the World Championship up to two years ago.

Not content with this, Karl was heavily involved with the superhuman effort that powered Ireland’s ultimate coffee fanatic, Stephen Morrissey to world domination last year.

Colin, a relative newcomer to the world of speciality coffee and a complete
underdog at the start of this competition, amazed international judges and
the global audience by reaching the finals in his first year as a
professional barista. A former mutual fund manager in Dublin’s Docklands, left the world of high finance a little over a year ago to pursue a career in speciality
coffee with Coffee Angel.

In three days of preliminary round competition, each competitor served four
espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks to exacting standards
in 15-minute performances before a panel of seven judges.
Competitors are judged on station cleanliness, beverage taste, presentation,
technical skills, coffee knowledge and overall judge’s impression. Colin’s
outstanding signature drink made with a winning combination of Morello
cherries, sea buckthorn sugar, seaweed, creme anglaise and a Bolivian single
origin espresso.

Colin can be found pouring world class coffee at the Coffee Angel’s Custom
House Quay location in the Dublin Docklands, Monday to Friday.

National barista champions from 51 countries converged in Atlanta to compete
for the title of world’s best barista in front of a live and online audience
of thousands of viewers from around the world.  A video of Colin’s performance can be found here

Are We Ready For The Coffee Connoisseur?

“Hmmm…Sumatra lingtong, grown on the Western slopes, I’d say. Full and fragrant with overtones of spice and ripe loganberries….”

Time was when a request for a cup of coffee in Ireland was met by a heaped spoonful of powder dissolved in boiling water. Then came the cona machine, which rapidly became a stock feature of pubs and restaurants the length and breadth of the land. Hey presto, coffee was now ‘real’. It didn’t seem to matter that the brew was left stewing all day, refreshed only when the glass bowl ran dry. Continental tourists were probably the only ones who realised just who bad coffee in Ireland (as opposed to ‘Irish coffee’) was.

The next phase of the revolution came with the importation of the cafetiere or ‘plunger’. The first ones were brought here by returning holidaymakers. Upmarket lifestyle shops were quick to cop on to a hot product. It didn’t take long for the cafés and restaurants to catch on. At last it was possible to enjoy freshly made coffee away from your own home. Around the same time, coffee importers saw possibilities in the varietal bean and began to offer Java, Colombia, Kenya and Costa Rica, etc., alongside their established ‘breakfast’ and ‘after dinner blends’.

The last seven years have witnessed an espresso/cappuccino explosion. Exotic looking machinery proliferates, the first generation styled along the lines of baroque fountains or 1950’s American car radiator grilles. Now functionalism is the norm.

Cappuccino is king. And maybe there’s more to come. In Seattle, in Sydney, in Amsterdam, and presumably in other major cities of the world, there are coffee houses where customers’ regard for the aromatic brown bean ranks on a par with the respect that a Master of Wine reserves for the great chateaux of the Medoc. Establishments where suburban housewives and students, sales people and civil servants, sample and compare ’boutique’ coffees, some even the produce of a single estate. With no big breakfast fry or indeed, no food of any kind to distract them, customers are seemingly happy to pay a premium price to sip the Chateau Petrus of the coffee grower’s art.

So will it happen here? Why not, we’ve already got Japanese minimalism and the juice bar? Dublin is certainly receptive to new trends. But while the Dubliner’s cup of coffee is less of a price sensitive item than of yore, given that the rates per square foot for prime commercial property in central Dublin can be close to central London charges, sustaining a café’s overheads on tea and coffee sales alone is hardly feasible. Food and beverages must co-exist as elements in the total marketing mix. A look round the establishments in the shopping area bounded by Wicklow and South King Streets would seem to confirm this view. Most offer food, everything from a designer sandwich to a full Irish breakfast.

While some outlets offer a choice of Colombia, Kenya, Java or Costa Rica, and even more exotic coffees the majority have rejected the varietal approach, opting instead for a medley of tunes played on the cappuccino machine; a multitude of fancy dan coffees, based on espresso, milk and foam in varying proportions, here a marshmallow, there a blob of chocolate. ‘Flavoured’ coffees, a trend pioneered in the USA to extend ‘the coffee experience’ beyond the traditional drinker and widen the potential market sector are gradually being introduced but the take-up has been slow.

Many of the espressi and cappuccini sold are woeful indeed. Watery long espresso or cappuccino served in large cups with vast quantities of milk and froth are all too common. Staff rarely undergo barista training and those who operate the machines fail to understand the process. Ireland is still one of the hardest places in Europe to find decent coffee.

As in any new taste crusade, there’s resistance to overcome. When I ran my own café I was determined not to serve coffee by the mugful. Requests for “a mug of coffee” were met with a patient explanation as to why the excessive dilution would do nothing for the flavour. This was endured stoically, and I like to think they enjoyed their fresh cupful, but with the benefit of hindsight I’m sure that many of them quickly reverted to buying their bucket of overcooked cona or huge milkfest cappuccino in the place down the block.

The coffee we buy is almost invariably a blend of two types of bean, arabica and robusta. The robusta beans are grown principally at sea level, the arabica on the higher slopes. The latter have a lower yield; the crop frequenly at risk from climatic extremes and difficult to harvest. The flavour of arabica coffee is fragrant and delicate. Robusta lends strength to the blend, at the expense of flavour. Arabica is approximately three times as expensive. Premium blends carry a higher proportion of arabica beans.
Skilful roasting is just as important as the composition of the blend.

You would expect cafés serving blends with high consumer recall to have a discernable advantage but this is not necessarily the case. Lavazza, Italy’s biggest seller, offers a variety of blends and has a strong retail presence, but here in Ireland you do not find people walking into cafés demanding Lavazza. Illy, Italy’s ‘snob’ coffee has a toehold on the upmarket restaurant sector but is barely visible at street level. In many traditional cafés you still see signs bearing the legend ‘We serve Bewley’s coffee’ but, to cappuccino conscious shoppers, Irishness might be seen as a disadvantage.

Branding café coffee is a classic marketeers’ problem. Where you have a product that’s segmental by geography (Colombia, Kenya, Mocha*, Costa Rica); by style (cappuccino, espresso, Americana); by portion (regular, mug, demi-tasse); and by method of production (filter, espresso machine, infusion) it is difficult to create a viable brand identity, especially in a still-developing market. Moreover, cafés have their own branding to do, vis-a-vis their competitors. Where a café’s coffee is its own USP, the supplier must, of necessity, remain anonymous. As one café proprietor put it to me “I want my customers to think Café X coffee, not Lavazza or Robert Roberts”.

In conclusion, while coffee consumption looks likely to continue to rise, it would be a brave proprietor indeed who put faith in the ’boutique bean’. Premiere Cuvée coffee is some way off yet.

*The term Mocha was originally applied to coffee grown around the periphery of The Red Sea. These days, Mocha (frequently misspellt ‘mocca’) is more likely to imply a blend of coffee and chocolate.

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