The Electric Coffee Bean Experience

The search for kickass coffee

The breakthrough

A very quick post to update events in this arabicaphiles’ journey.

As of tomorrow, I’ll be part timing as a barista in Surbiton. Apparently it’s a Good Life out that way. Give me a week or two for this new venture to grind itself in and then I’ll reveal the location and opening hours.

Apart from that, a move to East Dulwich is slowly coming to an end – finally unpacking.

Plus I’m playing with a new coffee toy – the Espro Press from Canada. It’s not dissimilar to a French Press but has more/better filters.

My lovely wife bought it as a gift for me from The Coffeesmiths’ Collective here in London. For those who think it sounds familiar, Stylist featured it this year as part of a coffee equipment geek-out.

More soon!

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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

Great filter coffee from Dark Fluid roasters

So at the moment, I’m concentrating on the Hario V60 for home coffee making. And it’s still good!

Happy espresso

Currently I’m throwing Dark Fluid coffee beans through it as quickly as possible – from an ingestion point of view.

I met Lawrence Sinclair from Dark Fluid last weekend at the soft launch of The Dish and Spoon cafe in Dulwich. It’s a really good suburban cafe with ample seating and  plenty of room for prams. Lawrence was putting the coffee machine through it’s paces and helping cafe owner Shona Chambers get some of her procedures into place. He was also drawing shots of his beans through the machine.

For caffeinistas who enjoy exploring London for good coffee, head to Brockley Market on Saturdays where Dark Fluid have a coffee cart.

The Dark Fluid espresso beans have a sweet and sour tussle going on – no discernible bitterness there at all. So I bought a couple of packs of the Dark Fluid beans to test at home. Lawrence recommended the Columbian Juan Setelo for a general purpose bean and hinted at the Ethiopian Yirgachefe Kochere beans as something a little different.

So I bought both – as you do.

For those not familiar with Yirgachefe, it’s a region in southern Ethiopia while Kochere is a sub-region on the border of Yirgachefe and Southern Oromia

Here are the Yirgachefe.

Coffee beans from Dark Fluid roasters

Ethiopian Kochere

24g of Yirgachefe beans

24g of coffee

The bloom wasn’t particularly big on these beans – unlike the Colombians

Initial bloom of coffee beans

Ethiopian bloom

24grams of beans and 400mls of water later and I had the following.

Pot of coffee

400ml of Ethiopian Yirgachefe coffee

And the taste?

Very clean. There was no oiliness to the mouth-feel at all. As the coffee cooled, it developed in acidity, displaying a lemon-water flavour. (I’m still getting to grips with the term floral to describe the aroma of typical African coffees.) I’ve been through four pots of Dark Fluid’s Yirgachefe now and my one regret is that I didn’t buy more.

It may not be everyone’s cup of… um… tea. You won’t find bitter-sweet chocolatey notes here. It tastes more like a palate cleanser – a great summer coffee, to my mind.

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