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The Art of Accessible Coffee

As a roaster, I spend many an hour thinking about fantastic, exciting coffees to source. Coffee that challenges perception of what coffee can taste like. Coffee that challenges my experience as a roaster and cupper. Coffee that I feel proud to showcase to my peer group. However, experience has taught me that this can sometimes go against what my customers really need or want (relative to their journey into speciality coffee).

I roast coffee for two quite different audiences – retail and wholesale. Roasting for retail is where I can confidently enjoy experimenting with roast profiles and sourcing*. Yes, I’m restricted by what coffee is seasonally available, but most other constraints are left behind. I can find micro-lots that challenge. Roast in ways to accentuate fruit qualities. Roast to maintain brightness of acidity and clarity. However, this currently represents the smaller proportion of the volume of coffee I sell. I am not in any way suggesting that coffee I roast for wholesale is not exciting, more that it needs to be accessible to a wider audience. More often than not, an audience who may not yet be aware that coffee can show flavour beyond ‘bitter’ and ‘strong’.

This used to trouble me. However, over recent times, I’ve come to accept that it’s OK to chase more accessible flavour profiles. Not everyone wants to be challenged each time they pull an espresso shot. Not everyone wants to brew by filter, not add milk and not wait until the perfect temperature to drink. Many people (like I did when I took my first foray in to speciality coffee) need a ‘comfortable’ transition. This has become my new challenge. Source, roast, cup and sell exceptional coffee that’s accessible to everyone*

* My retail mix is derived from those who are already aware of speciality coffee (internet searches etc), or have bought from me face-to-face and are engaged in talking to the roaster.

** This doesn’t mean that I will now disregard those exceptional lots that blow me away on the cupping table. More that I’ll use the higher volume of accessible coffee to facilitate sourcing even more ‘exclusive’ coffees.


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Seasonal Coffee – April 2016

April – Seasonal Coffee

This time of year as a coffee roaster can be tough – waiting for the seasonal coffee arrival of Central American coffee. We’ve had some pre shipment samples sent over by one of our importers, Falcon Speciality, and have chosen at least two Guatemalan lots and a brace of coffees from El Salvador. All of which are new farms for us, which makes us super excited indeed. There will be more information about these in the May post.

Until then, we’ve still got a couple of stellar examples of seasonal coffee to showcase this month. One of which is a returning favourite, Rwanda Gashonga, and a completely new farm and varietal in Brazil Rainha Da Paz which is a Rubi (hybrid between Mundo Novo and Catuai). The Gashonga will be in short supply – I only managed to secure 30 kg of Lot 4, so if you fancy trying this, get your orders in soon. The Rainha Da Paz will be around for a few months as this was bought as a component for our main espresso blend, Jones. Below is a little information on both the coffee.


Seasonal Coffee Rwanda Gashonga

Rwanda is blessed with ideal coffee growing conditions that include high altitude, regular rainfall, volcanic soils with good organic structure and an abundance of Bourbon. The vast majority of Rwandan coffee is produced by smallholders of which there are thought to be around half a million with parcels of land often not much larger than just one hectare per family. Coffee is grown in most parts of the country, with particularly large concentrations along Lake Kivu and in the southern province. Rwandan smallholders organise themselves into cooperatives and share the services of centralised wet-mills – or washing stations as they are known locally. Flowering takes place between September and October and the harvest runs from March to July with shipments starting in late May early June.

Gashonga can be found in the tiny corner of Rwanda that lies between the Congo and Burundi. It is located in the Rusizi district in the West and is made up of around 1592 members who grow their Red Bourbon coffee at approx. 1,683 metres above sea level. Once picked it is washed and sun dried on raised African beds.

Rainha Da Paz

Seasonal Coffee Brazil Rainha Da Paz

Fazenda Rainha Da Paz is a relatively new farm having been established as recently as 2008. However, there is by no means a lack of experience since the farm is owned by the Montanari family and is managed by fourth generation brothers, Roger and Marcello. Under the watchful eye of their highly experienced coffee farming father, the brothers are pushing the boundaries of modern coffee farming in Brazil.

The Montanaris are descendants of Italian immigrants and Rainha Da Paz is located close to the town of Patrocinio in the heart of the Cerrado in Minas Gerais. The altitude averages 936 MASL though the range runs from 800 to 1,300 MASL. The farm is one of three owned by the family and the other two, Fazenda Sao Paulo and Montanari III, are located close by. Like many farms in the region, most of the tasks have been mechanised – in particular the harvesting and incredibly the three farms are run by just seven members of staff. It’s astonishing to think that a farm of a similar size as Sao Paulo (74 hectares) in a country such as Nicaragua or Guatemala, would require more than 500 people to pick the coffee during the peak of harvest. The flat lay of the land is seldom seen in other coffee producing countries and it is this factor that allows for mechanical harvesting.

Until next month’s seasonal coffee, enjoy brewing.

James, Roaster.

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Coffee Arrivals – July 2015

Hull Coffee Roaster, East Yorkshire

Hull Coffee Roaster, East Yorkshire

New Coffee

Coffee is seasonal, and we generally see new coffee arrivals every month in the roastery. This month has been a good month for coffee in Hull.

Today we’ve released our first box of Kenyan coffee – Karimikui AB and it’s tasting stunning. Next week we’ll see a return of a coffee that impressed us last year, El Salvador Las Meninas. The Las Meninas will also be an ongoing feature in our espresso blend, Jones. Test roasts to ascertain blend proportions are scheduled for next week. We’ve also released our first ever coffee from Honduras – the Altos de Erapuca and seen our first Costa Rican micro-lot bought through Falcon Speciality, the really beautiful tasting Finca Santos. Oh and a new decaf to boot too – Brazil Santa Lucia Decaffeinated.

No doubt, August will some some more great arrivals. Until then, below is a synopsis of each of the coffees described above.

Costa Rica Finca Santos

Displays sweet, clean citrus acidity, buttery body with notes of cherry and cocoa powder.

Honduras Finca Altos de Erapuca

Has a lively and pointy lemon style acidity with notes of caramel and sweet orange on the finish.

Kenya Karimikui AB

Displays an intense lemon like acidity with jasmine florals and underlying red berry and blackcurrant notes. Sweet and complex.

Brazil Santa Lucia Decaffeinated

Shows great sweetness, notes of toasted hazelnut and plenty of chocolate.

Enjoy the coffee!

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Changes To Our Coffee Subscription

Coffee Subscription package by The Blending Room, Hull, East Yorkshire

Coffee Subscription package by The Blending Room, Hull, East Yorkshire
Back in January 2015, and after a long six year wait, I finally got around to putting together a coffee subscription package. Initially this was a three and six month subscription, which has proved to be a success (thanks to all our current subscribers!)

I’ve spent a bit of time over the weekend in making our subscription coffee offering a bit better. Now all the packages are auto renewing. I regularly get emails asking how many months left someone has on their coffee subscription. Now, you’ll keep getting coffee until the day you cancel (which you can do at any point). I’ve also expanded the options to now include a monthly and twice weekly coffee subscription.

So what do you get with the new coffee subscription? Each month we will select a coffee to roast and send out as part of our coffee subscription. Sometimes the coffee might be part of our range, often it’s a pre-release coffee, and sometimes we offer a coffee which is exclusive to our subscription customers.

With each coffee subscription we produce a newsletter giving additional information about the coffee we have sent. Our aim is to try and vary the content of these newsletters and include subjects such as coffee sourcing, roasting and brewing.

I hope the changes are as well received as our initial launch into subscription coffee. Feel free to leave us feedback on how the service can be bettered still.

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Coffee Dogma

“Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. It serves as part of the primary basis of an ideology or belief system, and it cannot be changed or discarded without affecting the very system’s paradigm, or the ideology itself.”

I am often asked what recipes to use for espresso, pour over and cafetière. My answers a described through numbers. I roast to profiles. These profiles are refined to those suitable for ‘filter’ and ‘espresso’. I use Cropster, a VST refractometer, scales, water with a certain chemistry and a stop watch. I log all my roasts. I track roastery conditions before, during and after each batch. I log quite a lot of my in-house brews – what was the TDS, time, grind size, brew method. I produce and store a whole bunch of data.

What am I getting at? There is an awful lot of discussion about brewing technique on the internet. A lot of these techniques have begun to introduce numbers. These numbers have been derived from ‘gadgets’ that can be purchased and used by anyone who has the required budget. The result of which, is that I find a number of people in my peer group brewing to numbers. The same can be said of roasting for that matter. I too fall foul of this when approaching a new coffee. I lean towards the numbers to give me the result that I’m after and tend to trust that those numbers, or boundaries, will yield something tasty. Invariably this is correct. The numbers will get us in to the ball park in which we’re seeking. It will guide us towards producing something tasty.

So what’s the point? Taste. You must taste the result. Brew or roast by numbers, but taste. Taste the output. 20 – 25% development time may be a prescribed recipe, but 15.5% may taste better. 20% extraction yield may be seen as the median and therefore the most balanced brew by number. However, 18.2% may taste better.

When experimenting with profiling of any description. First taste, then measure the results. Brew/roast forward based on which taste better, irrespective of the number.

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Coffee by FRAYED Magazine

Collaboration with FRAYED Magazine and Thieving Harry’s

A couple of months ago, Jack from Thieving Harry’s mentioned that FRAYED Magazine were interested in working together to produce a written and video piece on coffee in Hull. I was more than happy to take part in what was a fun interview by Luke Chambers and great shoot by Josh Moore. I know that Jack, Thieving Harry’s and I are aligned when it comes to our attempt in developing a coffee scene in the city. Josh is a great videographer and runs his brilliant Frayed Magazine project with the same ethos. In his own words; “Frayed Magazine is for those who love creativity in all its forms but long to know how and most importantly – why it exists.” It’s under this banner that the genesis of the theme lies: “Frayed takes you on a journey. A journey of nature, science and senses. From Roaster to Barista – this is the how, where and why. This is coffee.”

Coffee by FRAYED Magazine Issue 005 is out now to purchase in Hull

I hope you enjoy Josh’s creation. It was a privilege to be involved.

Issue 005 of FRAYED is out now.

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Costa Rica Coffee Origin

Map of the Costa Rica Coffee Origin and capital San Jose

Background to the Costa Rica coffee origin

Costa Rica is a stable democracy and is a land that is as diverse as it beautiful. This little country has it all; from mountains and volcanoes to rainforests that buzz with life and coastlines with great beaches and surf. The nation is comparatively wealthy in Central America and is unarmed and peaceful. Hardly surprising then that Costa Rica is sometimes referred to as the ‘Switzerland’ of Central America. With such an impressive backdrop, Costa Rica has cashed in on tourism and around 1.5 million visitors are drawn to its shores, forests and mountains each year. Historically coffee has most certainly played a part in the development of the
country, though its importance to the economy today is less significant.

The Costa Rica coffee origin first saw coffee back in the 19th century when the government subsidised free coffee seeds to encourage its production. Export to the UK started in 1843 and for fifty years, coffee was the sole export of Costa Rica. Coffee drove infrastructure such as hospitals, rail roads and schools. In 1830 the wet process was introduced and by 1903 nearly two hundred mills were dotted around the Costa Rica coffee origin.

Speciality coffee in Costa Rica

It might be said that the Costa Rica coffee origin is famed for its coffee, as it is generally known as a coffee producing nation. However, in the speciality coffee sector this country’s fame had faded and stood in the shadows of Central America’s best producers; El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico. The reason behind this was that very large mills had developed big brands and they bought up the coffee from small farms to be blended and in doing so these smaller lots lost their identity – in both name and the cup. This meant that we were generally left with good, consistent and clean coffees that are great for blending or generic roasting. However, there are good coffees to be found. The soil is rich and fertile thanks to thousands of years of volcanic activity, there’s high altitude, good varieties and cultivars and the necessary expertise is certainly there.

We have more recently seen an increase in the number of micro-mills in the Costa Rica coffee origin. These mills are generally controlled by the farmer and give much better traceability and selection control. It is these micro-mills that many speciality coffee roasters are seeking in order to find their coffee, not the large mills. Farmers such as the Zamoa family are making our exporter/importers jobs far easier by recognising the potential that the speciality market can bring. I’ll post more on the Zomora’s later.

Costa Rica coffee growing regions

Central Valley

The capital city, San Jose is located here and is the most populated and longest existing coffee region. It is typically divided into the sub-regions of San Jose, Heredia and Alajuela. Atlitude: 900 – 1,600 masl. Harvest: November – March.


This region is divided into two sub-regions, Coto Brus whcih borders Panama and Perez Zeledon. Altitudes: 600 – 1,700 masl. Harvest: August – February.


This is a large region that shares farming with beef rearing. The coffee here is grown at low altitude, so we rarely see great coffee from here. Altitude: 600 – 1,300 masl. Harvest: July – February.


This is a very small coffee growing region, but has been in existence for over a century. Altitude: 1,000 – 1,400 masl. Harvest: August – February.


This region is the best known and has the highest regard of all Costa Rica regions. It’s high altitude and distinct dry season during harvest allows for some exceptional coffees. Altitude: 1,200 – 1,900 masl. Harvest: November – March.

Tres Rios

This area benefits from the effects of the Irazu volcano, but suffers form its proximity to San Jose and its increasing urban sprawl. Lower coffee volumes are subsequently being grown here. Altitude: 1,200 – 1,650 masl. Harvest: November – March.

West Valley

The first coffee farmers settled here in the 19th century and can be split into six sub-regions. The coffee varierty, Villa Sachi is named after a city in one sub-region. Altitude: 700 – 1,600 masl. Harvest: October – February.

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Honduras Coffee Origin

Map of the Honduras coffee origin

Background to the Honduras coffee origin

It is not exactly known when coffee first reached Honduras, but it is believed that seeds may have arrived from Costa Rica between 1799 and 1804 amongst the goods brought by traveling merchants. Today, coffee plays an important role within the national economy – in 2011, Honduras produced more bags of coffee than Costa Rica and Guatemala combined. This shows that Honduras has great potential for growth and quality improvement.

Speciality coffee in Honduras

Coffee from the Honduras coffee origin is rarely found at centre stage of Central American coffee. When it comes to coffee awareness, the country is more likely to be found standing in the shadows of its more illustrious neighbours, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador. And yet on paper the reputation of Honduras coffee should be up there with those countries, since it has the same conditions to produce very good coffees: high altitude, volcanic and fertile soils, an ideal climate and plenty of expertise. Sadly however, a lack of investment and inadequate infrastructure means that finding the top quality speciality lots that Honduras can offer, is extremely hard work to find. That being said, over recent years, there has been an emergence of awareness of the benefits of growing speciality coffee amongst some forward thinking farmers. It is these such farms that our importers are working with to develop great tasting Honduras coffee.

There are six main departments in which coffee is grown in the Honduras coffee origin: Agalta, Comayagua, Copan, El Paraiso, Montecillos and Opalaca.


Agalta pans most of northern Honduras and has a vast amount of protected rain forest. Altitudes ranger 1,000 – 1,400 masl. Harvest is December – March and common coffee varietals are Bourbon, Caturra and Typica.


Comayagua is in western central Honduras. Altitudes of 1,100 – 1,500 masl. Harvest is December to March and coffee varietals are Bourbon, Caturra and Typica.


Copan is a department situated in the west of Honduras and close to the border of Guatemala. Altitudes range from 1,000 – 1,500 masl. The harvest occurs between November to March and common coffee varietals are Bourbon, Caturra and Catuai.

El Paraiso

El Paraiso is located to the east of Honduras, bordering Nicaragua and is one of the oldest regions. It recently has suffered quite heavily with Roya – leaf rust. Altitudes range 1,000 – 1,400 masl. Harvest occurs between December and March with varietals of Catuai and Caturra.


Montecillios is considered a parent region of some sub-regions including La Paz and Marcala. Altitudes of 1,200 – 1,600 masl. Harvest happens in December – April with varietals of Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai and Pacas.


Opalaca is named after the Opalaca mountain range that stretches through this region. Altitudes of 1,100 – 1,500 masl are seen. Harvest is November to February. Bourbon, Catuai and Typica varietals can be found here.

Typical Honduras coffee farm in the Honduras coffee origin

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Espresso Fundamentals – Dose

Espresso Fundamentals Dose

Espresso Fundamentals

Espresso and espresso based drinks are notoriously difficult to get right. I see very often in commercial environments, baristas pulling shots that will never be reproducible. There is no weighing of the starting mass, end mass or timing of shot length. This is quite probably true of most home scenarios too. Therefore, I thought it would be worthwhile writing about the three most important considerations in producing espresso:

Dose, Yield and Time.

Consider making an espresso to be akin to baking or cooking. You need a recipe. You need to begin with something, end with something and it will take a period of time for the process to happen. In our industry we focus on the dose as our beginning and the yield as our end point.

The espresso dose should not change once you decide on your recipe. It must stay consistent, through weighing in, in order to create a consistent drink mass. The dose mass governs the size of the drink you wish to have. A large espresso needs a larger dose. A small espresso needs a smaller dose. You should not consider changing the dose in order to change the balance of flavour, shot time or strength of drink. Only change the dose if you need more or less espresso.

This consideration on dose mass should be applied to your milk based drinks too. If you require a greater balance of coffee to milk, use a larger dose. Conversely, if you prefer the balance shifting towards milk, use a smaller starting dose mass. You could use this methodology when choosing your cup size. Greater the total volume of cup may require a larger dose according to taste. As a rule of thumb, I tend to use between 17g and 19g as my dose for the majority of my drinks and design our Jones espresso blend to suit this mass for most milk based drinks.

In summary, only change the dose mass when choosing the size of your espresso – big or small.

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Roastery Opening Invitation In Bradford

From time to time, roasters get invited to other roasteries for open cuppings, machine reviews or brand launches. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Casa Espresso’s roasting facility that will complement their already strong Sanremo machine sales, service and roasted coffee. The owner, Nino and the roaster Jonnie visited Hull a few months ago to take a look at our Probat with a view to buy their own. Which they now have and successfully installed, ready to bring speciality coffee to Bradford. I wish them the very best of luck!

Sanremo Opera
Another reason to make the drive over was to see the Sanremo boys, Augusto and James and their very special Sanremo Opera machine. I’ve been wanting to have an up-close look at the technology since seeing a prototype at the 2014 London Coffee Festival. What a machine. It looks like no other espresso machine on the market today and has functionality that goes far beyond what you’d find in a traditional espresso machine. If all goes well, I will look to hold and event at the Hull roastery this summer, in order to showcase the machine and its capabilities.

Along with the machine and seeing the Casa guys, I wanted to say hello to Matt and Simon from Falcon Speciality who had made the trip from Harrogate to show us some of their coffee. Amongst a number of coffees I have roasted/cupped before, I got the chance to cup a new Costa Rican and Kenyan arrival, both of which may form part of my portfolio over the coming weeks.

I’d like to thank Casa Espresso for their kind invitation to their roastery opening, it was a fun night!