I Love My Independent, Sorry, Tesco

Quote: “Support your local independent.”

Love independents and hate the “high-street killers” such as Tesco? It’s common nowadays to see posters in your village or town telling you to “buy local” or “support your community”. So how do you feel about your “independent” coffee shop being funded by Tesco?

Well, I experienced one such place: Harris & Hoole in Twickenham. Set up and run by three siblings, “Their vision is to bring great tasting speciality coffee to the high street.” http://www.harrisandhoole.co.uk. With coffee shops from Brighton to London they have been brewing their way around the country; spreading their coffee passion to the nation. This charmingly quirky independent offers style and substance. Unfortunately, with this comes a bigger price tag. Luckily it’s only a little more expensive than the average, but the quality is good and consistent. How does it sit with you knowing that when you pay a little extra you are actually lining the pockets of Tesco, since they now have a non-controlling investment in H+H? I’m in two minds.

harris and hoole (2)

With the awareness of the emotional reaction Tesco creates it must have been a relatively tricky decision to make. But one, I expect, that most of us would have taken. Come on, your dream is realised, one of the biggest players think you are great and offer an investment. It’s what you’ve been waiting for: someone to finally recognize your genius. You could say no and keep struggling. It makes no difference to Tesco; but you could say yes, stay strong and true to yourself and get your coffee message out there.

harris and hoole

So far that’s what H + H seem to be doing. They have “13 outlets including a few outside the capital, plans to open an additional 15 in central London before the end of this year. These will be a mix of outlets co-located with Tesco and standalone shops, including a flagship store by Cannon Street station in the summer.” http://www.standard.co.uk 11 March 2013

That’s a lot! My immediate reaction is how are they going to retain their quality and quirkiness? “Nick Tolley, the chief executive of Harris + Hoole, said: “We like to think of them all as unique specimens… rather than stamping our template on every high street.” http://www.standard.co.uk 11 March 2013
It will be interesting to see how the quality I experienced in Twickenham translates around the H + H Empire, from the hut in Tesco car park, Osterley, to their flagship store in Cannon Street. And I wonder whether Tesco really do believe what they told Jill Treanor at the Guardian, “We like backing great brands, helping them to grow and to realise their potential. We’ve done it with suppliers for years. Great ideas can find it hard to get backing these days, so we’re pleased to be in a position to help entrepreneurs achieve their vision,” Clarke said.” http://www.guardian.co.uk Jan 8th.

One little fact that might irk is, “Harris + Hoole is registered in Ireland, where corporation tax stands at 12% compared the 23% it would be paying in the UK in 2013 (and the UK rate was of course higher in previous years).” http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com 24 March 2013, Shruti Tripathi. Or you may just feel that if the law states that you can do this then it’s all hunky dory. After all, would any of us pay more tax if we didn’t have to?

Ever Fancy Apple Over a Coffee?

NEWS(ish)

Quote: “Could this be the most expensive coffee, ever?”

It’s your turn to get Apple chief executive Tim Cook to spill the beans.  If you have some serious cash you can bid on the auction website Charitybuzz for approximately an hour’s coffee meeting with Tim.  According to Charles Arthur from the Guardian website the auction bid price “already stands at $180,000.” So, if you are ready to fly to California and get the latest buzz, dig deep and enjoy your coffee because it will potentially be the most expensive one you will ever drink.

Coffeesage.com provides us with a weird coffee story:

“Kopi Luwak, also known as cat poo coffee, is taking New York by storm!  It is made from the fecal droppings of a cat like creature, the civet.  New Yorkers are shelling out $30 a cup for this unusual treat, according to the NY Daily News.”

This obsession with finding the best coffee by using an animal’s digestive system to produce a ‘great tasting bean’ is not a one off.  If you take a look at My Bedtime Bean Chat blog post you will see an intriguing quote, “A monkey ate a coffee bean, crapped it out, then someone made a drink of coffee out of it and Rick Stein drank it.”  Whether there is any truth in this I have no idea, but if cats can be used then why not monkeys?

And it’s not just cats and monkeys which have been utilised for our delicate and demanding  taste buds; Elephants in Thailand are breaking down the coffee protein, which, according to www.huffingtonpost.com/2012, “Since protein is one of the main factors responsible for bitterness in coffee, less protein means almost no bitterness.”  This “naturally refined” coffee would have set you back $50 in 2012.

If you decide that enough is enough and cannot stomach consuming something which has already been through the digestive system once, you could switch from coffee to tea.  Tea is a safe option.  Good old, reliable, leafy tea.  Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a “Chinese businessman announced he planned to sell organic green tea grown with panda dung for more than $200 a cup.” Huffingtonpost.

 

 

 

The London Coffee Festival

April 25th-28th 2013

The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London E1 6QR

The “too cool for school”, the curry and now the coffee; Brick Lane is, if nothing else, accepting of anything, throwing its non-judgemental arms open to the weird and the wonderful. This chilled out street plays host to The London Coffee Festival this year. Part of UK Coffee Week, and supporting Project Waterfall, the festival is open for public consumption on the evening of the 26th and during the days of the 27th and 28th April. The other days are ‘industry’ days only. Lucky industry peeps.

The venue is zoned containing a frothy excitement of baristas serving up their own exquisite signature drinks; The Union Roastery will be present offering your coffee obsessed senses an irresistible overload; you can educate yourself about the history of coffee and coffee equipment; plus witness live lab experiments; toe-tap your way around the festival to special guests performing, but no singing as your mouth will be full of gourmet food and coffee and nobody wants to see that. Finally, once your brain is buzzing it may be more receptive and maybe even a little more creative. It could be the perfect time (before the come-down) to experience the multi-media art work on show: Twin Peaks: 20th Anniversary and The Coffee Art Project.

Tickets are selling out fast so check http://www.londoncoffeefestival.com for yours.

Basic price: £9.50 or £12.50 on the door.

The Conscious Coffee Drinker.

Quote: “What’s it all about?”

It’s Wednesday and we’ve had coffee and coffee cake guilt free (almost) because it’s UK Coffee Week.   “Excellent!” we exclaim from under our milk froth moustaches.  But, let’s be civilised for a moment, wipe our top lip and ask, what is it all about?

UK Coffee Week is, as quoted on their website, “the nation’s biggest celebration of coffee.  It provides an opportunity for the coffee and foodservice industry to unite while raising money for Project waterfall, the charity providing vital clean water projects in African coffee-growing countries in partnership with WaterAid.”

We are becoming more aware of the true cost of our beloved morning buzz.   For a while now we have had Fairtrade, not just for coffee but for other goods such as chocolate and bananas.  Fairtrade offer, “better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair items of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.”  (Fairtrade website).   Currently, in addition to Fairtrade and UK Coffee Week, the country is in the midst of a compassionate revolutionary scheme: suspended coffee.

‘Suspended’ coffee:  a hot beverage that you pay for but don’t drink.  You order yours then pre-pay a fixed fee of £1.50 for another which you don’t drink.  That drink can be claimed by a person who is homeless or less fortunate.  Currently in Britain there are 150 participating venues.  But it’s a world-wide scheme originating in Naples, Italy.

Whether we go out of our way to help others by ordering a suspended coffee or not we can all raise awareness of UK Coffee Week and its work with WaterAid.   So while we drink coffee we can help others drink water.

Please see links for further information:

www.ukcoffeeweek.com/Project-Waterfall

www.fairtrade.org.uk

Simple Coffee Sponge

Quote “There’s cake, then there’s a coffee cup-cake.”

          coffee cup-cake

Makes 12 cupcakes
4oz/115g butter
4oz/115g caster sugar
2eggs
4oz/115g self-raising flour
1 tablespoon of cold strong black coffee
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Method:
Preheat oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.
Put 12 paper cases in a bun tray.
Mix together butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, gradually.
Mix in the vanilla and coffee.
Fold in the flour completely. Do not over work.
Spoon the mixture into cases and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and just firm to the touch.
When cooked leave them to cool a little then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Simple Frosting:
5 oz/150 g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
10 oz/280 g icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons of cold strong black coffee

Method:
Mix together the butter and vanilla until soft.
Sift in the icing sugar gradually and beat
Mix in the coffee.
Use a spatula or a piping bag to cover the cooled cupcakes with the butter icing.

Coffee Fudge Butter Icing:
1 oz/28 g unsalted softened butter
2 oz/ 58 g light muscovado sugar
7 oz/200 g icing sugar
½ teaspoon coffee extract
1 tablespoon milk or single cream
Chocolate-coated coffee beans, enough for one or three on top of each cake.

Method:
Place the butter, sugar, cream and coffee extract in a saucepan and stir until melted on a gentle heat.
Bring to the boil and stir for two minutes.
Remove from the heat and sift in the icing sugar until smooth. It should be thick.
Use a piping bag to pipe icing onto cake then decorate cake with chocolate-coated coffee beans.

Alternatives:
Add chopped walnuts, flaked almonds or chocolate chips to the cake mixture.
Top each with a walnut half, sprinkle with flaked almonds or chocolate chips.

UK Coffee Week: Places to visit.

Quote: “Seven guilt free days? Really?”

With UK Coffee Week beginning Monday 22nd April, we now have seven days, yes seven guilt free days, to celebrate coffee. So, here are a few places to while away the hours or race in, grab a take-away and leg it before you miss your train.

M1LK

The café on the corner of Hildreth St and Bedford Hill in Balham, has recently been taken over. Now less of a burn- your- mouth on the coffee, tuna and too much mayo sandwich place; you get more of an Aussie/old style British blend, shabby chic chill out hub with Anzac biscuits and organic eggs on sour dough bread. Coffee is served in cups and saucers and my cappuccino had some of that lovely cappuccino art that a lot of places lack. It’s coffee is good; in my opinion, the best in Balham. So, if you’re looking for a quirky, and want a quiet place to read some Nietzsche, then give it a little visit. If you like it then grab a collection of their loyalty cards.

Open 7 days per week ‘til 5pm

Sweet Revenge Cupcake Bakery

On the corner of Kingston’s market triangle Sweet Revenge is one shop you can’t walk by easily. The giant cupcakes encased in hanging bird cages and red velvet cake nestled by the window lure you in. Before you know it you’re chowing down on a chocolate cupcake whilst still ogling the Oreo one. Cakes aside, the coffee is made to perfection. I have never had a bad coffee here. The shop is small, but you can usually find a seat to squeeze into.

41 Market Place, Kingston, London. Open 7 days ‘til late.

http://www.sweetrevengelondon.com

IMG_3489

Tate Modern Member’s Room

I’m sure it’s not too difficult to find a friend who can take you to the Tate Modern. Or, if you’re not a member yourself you could join. Joining not only provides you with unlimited visits to all the exhibitions, and a discount in the shop, but it has one of the best member’s rooms in the whole of London. The member’s room is high up inside this converted power-station. It’s this height which makes the view spectacular. It offers a magnificent view of the Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral.

If you visit before the 27th May you can explore a retrospective of one of the most famous American artists, Lichenstein before lounging (the chairs are very reclining) with your latte. If you fancy an Irish coffee then you can take full advantage of their bar. Food and nibbles are also available, obviously they do come at a bit of a premium and they sell out quickly too.

Bankside, London

Open 7 days per week, open late Friday and Saturday evenings.

http://www.tate.org.uk

Prufrock Coffee

If you want the 2009 World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies frothing your milk then head over to EC1. Check him and his entrepreneurial partner Jeremy Challender out at their shop or coffee trolley. You can also receive coffee training from Gwilym too.

Because of Gwilym’s potential to move his trolley on a whim see http://www.prufrockcoffee.com before you try to hunt him down.

Caravan

For those who like the smell of freshly ground beans, both the Caravan venues boast their own roastery. Less of a café and more of a restaurant, both these venues continuously receive good write-ups, not just for their coffee, but for their globally influenced food with a not too trendy price tag. Their coffee is made from ethically sourced Arabica beans.

The original, Exmouth Market EC1R 4QD is a trendy, relaxed space; a place to chill away from the bustling market.

The second Caravan at Kings Cross is a converted Granary Building. It offers a vast warehouse feel with brick walls and canteen style dining. Its neighbour, Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, sets the tone: creative and contemporary.

Coffee Vans

Coffee from vans seems so last year; its food from vans that are now taking over. But don’t forget these little caffeine boxes on wheels because most of them produce a great cup. These coffee vans are exactly where you need them: outside the train stations and on the street corners as you stride to work. One of the marvellous things about these wheeled miracles is that they are open when we need the caffeine most: early in the morning.

So, in your rush hour run prop your eyes open with matchstick and look out for one of these early morning saviours.

Vagabond

A recommendation by Time Out is my last coffee shop to visit in London.  It has such a good review I’m going to hunt it down, hopefully. It’s “Slightly hidden away at the junction of Stroud Green Road and Upper Tollington Park” (Time Out, p. 14, April 9-15 2013). Not being a north Londoner the address sounds like a foreign language. But, what doesn’t sound like a foreign language is the coffee. It apparently “exceeds all but the most geekish standards,” according to the Time Out review.

I hope you take advantage of my favourites, the well -known and populated as well as the tucked away and mobile little cafés. Each of the cafés offer something different to experience alongside your coffee; whether it’s a red velvet cupcake from Sweet Revenge, blue cheese and peanut wontons from Caravan or even learning how to be your own barista at Prufrock; it should make your week a little more interesting.

Coffee Worse Than Wine

Quote: “The clue is in the bean.”

On the 18th April 2013 an article on the BBC News website by John McHugo open my eyes a little as to where coffee originally came from.

The clue is in the Arabica bean.  Not only did I learn that coffee originated from the Arab world, but some of our other favourites such as the three-course meal and alcohol have thankfully crossed the seas to us too.  John McHugo states that, “coffee comes from the highland areas of the countries at the southern end of the Red Sea – Yemen and Ethiopia.”  And, “the earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name qahwa, from which our words coffee and café both derive.”  Interesting!  It’s not just those words either; there is another word which springs up relating to our current coffee language.  The word mocha dates back to the 1500’s when coffee was being exported from the Yemeni port of Mocha (yes, the port was called Mocha). 

McHugo also reports, “shaykhs discussed whether the effects of coffee were similar to those of alcohol…a drink forbidden in Islam.”  The people back then were probably experiencing similar physical symptoms to those we get after downing our double espresso or extra shot cappuccino on an empty stomach; the head rush does have a similar sensation to the light-headedness from a glass or two of wine.  “Some scholars opined that the coffee house was ‘even worse than the wine room … these places could become a place of sedition.’”

I’ve yet to see a coffee shop brawl.  I think if I do it will be because people can’t glug down their caramel, double shot, latte before work, not because they have had too much.  I wouldn’t be too concerned about Londoners not being able to find a coffee; with a Starbucks, Costa or “quirky independent” inhabiting every other shop on the high street, we’re tripping over them.

Our choice isn’t just with the availability of venues; it’s with the coffee itself.  Coffee is produced and exported from a vast number of countries these days.  Unfortunately this global increase seems to have left Yemen behind. “In 2011, Yemen exported a mere, 2,500 tonnes”, writes McHugo.

Although Yemen may not be the world’s biggest exporter of coffee, it is good to see that the forerunner is still considered the best.  Not only are their beans highly regarded, but it’s history of the bean highly fascinating.

For more on John McHugo’s knowledgeable article visit www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine for Coffee and qahwa: How a drink for Arab mystics went global.

Murder, She Wrote

Quote: “Portable?  Really?”

I have a writing friend called Angela Lansbury.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  I do have a writing friend, but that’s not her real name.   However, she has just purchased an old typewriter.  My first thought, apart from oh how stylish, was why?   Was it an attractive, if somewhat large, ornament or was she actually planning on using it?

If I’m not mistaken, were they not originally rejected and replaced by computers for practical purposes?  The ability the computer has to erase and re-write easily.  It has better storage capacity plus the ease of duplicating and editing.  It was a sensible transition.  One of the biggest bonuses in our current mobile age is portability.  My friend had bought a ‘portable’ typewriter.  Portable means that it should be transportable, and for it to be transportable it has to be moveable.  As far as I know she doesn’t have any back injuries, but I think she might if she takes this old fangled machine literally at its word.

We all seem to have a fascination with ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’.  It has become fashionable to dress in the clothes our grandmothers would have worn; to have floral china to eat our Victoria sponges off.  We like to hark back to a time that is essentially not now, one that was better, on the surface at least.  ‘The good old days’ is, after all, what we hear frequently from anyone over the age of forty, so it must be true.  It’s easy to look back through rose tinted glasses at the street parties reflecting a cohesive community and forget that each era had its bad as well as good elements.  I think the typewriter falls into both categories.

Our fascination with the old has not stymied our love of the laptop or similar.  There are multiple reasons computers have literally taken the world by storm.  Ease of access to information from around the world from almost any location being just one.  Whether by laptop, memory device or even phone, you can take your work or pleasure practically anywhere.  Just look at the coffee shop: it’s our new office.  I’m in one now and opposite me (at my computer) are two men on their laptops.  So how do you capture that essence of the vintage in a Starbucks or a Costa?

Do you haul your typewriter on your back and crawl, tortoise like to your nearest coffee selling venue?  Well, it depends on your strength I guess.   The question is why would you want to?  Writing is a creative process and can produce different results depending on the vehicle you use.  Writing by pen feels different to tapping on keys.   It’s a direct link from brain, to pen, to paper.  The pen feels like an extension of the hand.  It physically feels different and therefore conjures up a different way of thinking.

Typing on your computer, depending on your speed and skill, offers many benefits.  It allows you to type and type and type with the knowledge that you won’t run out of paper or ink (although maybe battery) and you can go back and edit at will; Therefore potentially freeing up the mind.  Both of these portable writing devices allow us to write in situe absorbing what’s around us or finding the perfect, peaceful place to write.

The typewriter, sneakily infiltrating our lives and making a comeback, offers its own atmosphere.  It puts you in an alternative mind-set.  You have a large physical contraption with a history right in front of you.  Who knows who has used it before?  Each is an individual with its own foibles: a sticking ‘s’ or a duplicating ‘d’ and each emanates its own personality and character.  It feels real, like a living thing; it’s a physical and immediate method. Us ‘creatives’ like a little of the quirky, so maybe this could be a good way to be inspired and produce exciting ideas and potentially, if the writing gods allow, a piece of actual writing.

For me, a typewriter is a beautiful, intriguing decorative item; one which I may use in the future.  It would be solely a creative tool; utilising its history, temperament and physicality for inspiration.  I often revert to pen and paper for quickness, instantaneousness and because I know that it offers me a different outlet.  So maybe the same is true of the typewriter.   You wannabe Angela’s can head to the café knocking out your little gems but I think I’ll avoid that café with the click-clacking keys and the paper piles accumulating around you.  Finally, I’m wishing you stubborn vintage writing fanatics a sturdy spine as you heave your ‘portable’ typewriter from home to café and back again.  Maybe the agony and pain her spine endured was what Angela Lansbury was writing about in those opening credits to Murder, She Wrote.

Photo courtesy of Nette Hargreaves.  http://nettehargreaves.com