Coffee, a minor rant!

I am practically in despair of finding a coffee shop that can make full and effective use of the industry grade machinery in their control! No matter how shiny and polished, how many levers and knobs, the dials, spouts and grinders, what they dispense seems always to come out looking and tasting like weak instant. Perhaps I’m expecting too much After all, it took me a few weeks before I really got the full flavoured product out of my own Espresso machine (A Gaggia Classic, with a Dualit E60 Conical Burr Grinder). But then I don’t get paid to make coffee for folk…

The machinery for making Espresso is getting on for fifty years old in terms of design, and it remains functionally the same across the board. Anoraks will tell you one machine or another is superior (or crap) but so long as the pressure and the temperature can be achieved and maintained it really doesn’t matter what colour the case is. What matters is the skill of the barista (the person who grinds the beans and prepares the espresso drink), the quality and freshness of the coffee beans and the grind, and the cleanliness of the equipment. I would hazard that the cup matters too, though you wouldn’t think so to look at the cardboard atrocities so many ‘coffee specialists’ use…
I guess there’re good and bad baristas working for every company, so there’s no point in me naming and shaming individual trade names, and probably the pay is such that staff don’t remain in service long enough to familiarise themselves with the tools of their temporary trade. But when you’re out and about and feel like a good espresso hit, the scum that you can be served taints your entire day. Do I sound like I have a habit? Uh-huh.

On the recent weekend trip to London, I bought maybe a dozen espresso’s from a dozen outlets. I recall only one that had that aroma, the crema, and the taste of a good espresso. And that was in a paper cup FFS! The rest were insipid, flat, lukewarm and in almost all cases very expensive excuses for coffee. And there’s no need for it. I really don’t care that the barista is young, bouncy, black shirted or blonde; I do care that the group head has been cleaned in the last month, that the coffee is made from good beans ground at the time of order and not from pre-ground that’s been left open to the air all week, and that the cup is appropriate to a small, hot drink and not merely a tea cup barely puddled at the bottom.

I also have an ethical disinclination to buying and drinking coffee that is not from Fairly Traded sources. I’m no fanatic, and if someone makes me a coffee I’ll not get on their case, even if it’s Nescafé. But I’ll buy only Fair Trade coffee for home, and indeed tea, chocolate etc. It’s a choice thing. My preferred coffee at the moment comes from Whittard of Chelsea, while our leaf and bag tea is generally Clipper. I also try to source Fair Trade when I’m out and about, but that sometimes brings it’s own problems…

On that London trip, we took time on the Sunday to walk gently along the Thames from Westminster to Tower Bridge. Nipping in to St Paul’s Cathedral, we stopped for coffee in the crypt. The machinery was all there (and looked pretty good too) for fresh coffee and the price list included Fair Trade… we were in. As we queued, we watched the girl at the coffee machine pull off drinks one by one, but would you believe it? When we asked for two Fair Trade coffees she ripped open a small Fair Trade sachet of instant and filled it from a heated water urn!!! Oh, the ignominy… It just goes to show, if you have a habit, keep it fed at home. 😆

Having an espresso machine at home brings poersonal responsibility to the fore too. One is wonderful – a fine organic fair trade bean just ground and run through a warmed group-head into a small china cup just large enough for a double espresso, all thick crema that sticks to the side of the cup and tempts one to finger it out for a last longing lick… 8) But going for the second promises wakeful nights! And one is never enough. Be still, my beating heart!

3 thoughts on “Coffee, a minor rant!

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  1. I used to work for Whittard, as a manager – and theya re still my preferred coffee merchant – because I know where the coffee comes from and who selects it – and also because I know they only buy coffee from estates which reinvest profit into the local community.

    Old Brown Java (although not much use for espresso) is the best – buried in volcanic sand for 5 years before its roasted…. ahhhh …..

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  2. Hi Mahala! How’s that baby going? 🙂
    Blessings for that home birth.

    ‘…only buy’? Does that imply their coffee that does not bear the Fairly Traded stickers is also generally fair trade? I haven’t bought any coffee from them as yet that doesn’t bear that sticker, and that of course limits my choice by about 50%…

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