The Electric Coffee Bean Experience

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Archive for the category “Roasters”

Espresso Joe versus the Volcano

So I may not look like Tom Hanks but I do know what a volcano looks like. Growing up in Auckland meant living in their shadows – over fifty, all told.

London’s very own volcano can be found in West Norwood, SE21 8EN. This would be the Parkhall Trading Estate on Martell Road, home to Volcano Coffee Works.

Volcano Coffee Works

Volcano Coffee Works

The trading estate is a lively block of light industry and workshops, a stone’s throw from the West Norwood rail station.  Volcano café sits just inside the main entrance of the Estate. It’s a large space dedicated to the consumption of coffee, while the Volcano coffee roastery sits just behind.

Volcano is the brainchild of Gisborne, NZ local Kurt Stewart. The roastery is the result of years spent by Kurt as a chef, a serious motorcycle accident and a delight in Coffea Arabica.

The coffee beans are roasted in a style peculiar to Kurt. Sitting mid-way between the darker roast favoured by other New Zealand coffee roasters and the lighter style of British independent roasters, Kurt roasts to his own tastes. When customers drink Volcano coffee, they’re drinking Kurt’s coffee.

Volano coffee roaster

Kurt Stewart – coffee roaster

The café is a new project, having been open for mere weeks and it is an important part of the operation. In order to better understand, appreciate and love coffee, I believe it is helpful to talk with the people who make it. That means going beyond the barista to the roaster (and ideally the farmer – but who has time for a couple of days in Sumatra or Colombia?) It is also important to be able to compare different coffees –  to taste them side by side and realise that some are sweet, some are fruity and some are packed with notes of spice. This is what places like Volcano offer – a chance to compare and contrast coffees while expanding your knowledge through direct contact with the makers.

While I was there, Kurt prepared two single origin beans as filter coffees: an Indonesian Wahana estate and a Cuban Serrano Superiore.

smoke and coffee beans

Roasting the beans

The Wahana was just like having an Indonesian forest fire roar through your mouth, all smoke and raisins. The Serrano was a lot sweeter, almost cola in flavor with some elegant orange notes thrown in.

Tasting the two coffees was an excellent reminder of what a really good coffee roaster can achieve with specialty coffee beans. Anyone with a pan, a heat source and some green beans can near-burn the beans to achieve a consistent roast – as can a number of High Street chains – but the skills, science and art that Kurt and his fellow artisanal roasters in the independent London coffee trade use bring each crop to life.

Like many in the independent coffee scene in London, Kurt is only too happy to sit down and talk about coffee with his customers and it’s clear that he has passed this passion on to his staff. Café manager Fiona Dundass is also equally adept at making people feel at home in the café and at home around a cup of coffee. Talking with her about coffee is like sitting down with a friend. She’s knowledgeable without sounding like a patronizing coffee snob.

Volcano cafe

Volcano Cafe with manager Fiona Dundass behind the counter

The café itself is big. There’s a decent-sized room to rent for business meetings, a few vintage espresso machines on show and the typical array of home-style sandwiches and cakes. There is no kitchen so all food has been brought in from external suppliers.

Trading hours are currently restricted to business hours Mon-Fri but this will eventually be extended to the weekends. As of May 2012 there is no online shop to purchase beans (this will change) but Volcano can be contacted via email or phone for coffee bean orders – payment through PayPal. Volcano also offer a coffee subscription – a weekly or fortnightly postal service of some of London’s tastiest coffee. Perhaps the ideal gift for the coffee lover in your life?

And then there are the cafes and delis dotted around London that use Volcano Coffee – try Crystal Palace favourite Bambino Volcano, Peter Gordon’s renowned Providores and Tapa Room or the Bukowski Grill in the Shoreditch Boxpark.

Volcano Coffee Works is a fascinating and rewarding place to while away a couple of hours tasting coffee. If it has a downfall, it’s that it is not yet open on weekends; this is a place to which I want to bring my friends.

old espresso machines

Vintage espresso


Espresso Joe and making good coffee at home

Remember the Seventies? If you don’t, you were either using too many illicit substances or you need to talk with your parents.

The Seventies were all about filter coffee –  and ever since then, filter coffee has had a bad rap: bitter, scalding coffee that sat on a warmer for hours. Not a pleasant memory.

Yet filter coffee need not be that way. A small financial investment can bring about some exceptional results for the home coffee maker and it won’t break the bank in the way that a decent home espresso machine will.

Making great coffee at home is simple with a little bit of practice and some basic equipment.

The Coffee

With the number of coffee roasters in the UK growing quickly, there’s no excuse for poor grade, pre-ground supermarket vacuum packs. Check out these roasters:

Filter coffee pot for one

Hario V60

Filtering Equipment

The cafetierre or plunger is perhaps the best known and the siphon has arguably the biggest wow factor but for me, the Japanese Hario V60 produces the most exciting cup of coffee. It’s basically a funnel with a filt

er paper in it. The funnel is designed to help extract the best of  the beans – but that’s a different article.

Grinding Coffee

True story: whole beans ground for immediate use will give a better cup of coffee than pre-ground. Coffee quickly deteriorates as soon as it’s been ground. The roasting process begins a massive chemical change to get the beans to their peak. Exposure to air rapidly takes them past that optimum. Grind as you need.

If possible, invest in a burr grinder. Grinders with cutting blades do not produce a uniform sized grind. This is really important to help recreate the best cup of coffee you have ever made. Water needs to flow through the grinds at a constant rate. It also pays to note how coarse/fine you ground your coffee beans.


Pull out a pair of scales to measure your coffee and people will accuse you of being a coffee geek but again, it means that tomorrow, you can recreate today’s amazing cup of coffee. Here’s a starting guide:

About 65g of beans for every litre of water.

A set of digital scales with 1g gradations will mean accurate and recreatable measurements. So that means 16g for a 250ml cup. The scales are also great for measuring water – 1000ml =1000g. (Price note: good coffee beans are around £8 for 250g. That works out at 53p per cup – if I’ve got the maths right.)

Making your coffee

So in the case of the Hario V60 it means the scales can measure 16g of beans and then be reset to zero after your cup, funnel and coffee have been placed on them. Wet the filter to help rid it of any paper taint and make sure this water is poured away. Pour on some near-boiling water  – about 50g worth – wait forty-five seconds and then start pouring in swirling motions. Once the scales reach 250g you have a decent cup of coffee in the making. Play around with the coarseness of the grind to suit to your taste and the beans used.

For further explanation on the V60 method turn to YouTube. There is a plethora of videos to help you on your way – each one with slight variations in method.

Filter coffee: sexy, not naff.

Coffee time – all weekend

Some of us would argue that it’s always coffee time.

But if there was ever time to focus on it, it’s this weekend in London.

The 2012 London Coffee Festival starts today with a Trade Show and Saturday and Sunday are open to the public – provided you’ve bought a ticket.

What’s on the boil? Think coffee and more coffee, with tea, chocolate, alcohol and food. Plus more coffee.

Each day there will be tastings, opportunities to try your hand as a barista or to test home coffee equipment. There will be educational presentations plus the big one – the final of the UK Barista Champs. The winner will soon head to the World Champs in Vienna.

This is a great festival. I attended last year and found that visitors weren’t swamped by crowds of people because safety regulations allow only a set number of people into the venue at any one time.

To accommodate large numbers, the weekend is divided into sessions and one ticket covers one session.

Held in the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch, the London Coffee Festival is a deeply pleasurable experience regarding that Black Gold – coffee.





See you there!


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