We've Bean Thinking Blog

We love discovering new blends and roasts.

We need to support our independent coffee shops, or lose them forever

By the time this column is printed, the doors to our wee coffee shop in Perth will be permanently closed.

Like a great many small independent businesses in the hospitality industry, we concluded it was just no longer viable to carry on.

Over the last few weeks I’ve read silently, with growing horror, article after article about small independent cafes and restaurants giving up their fight to stay in business. Fika in Dundee, Blasta in Stanley, Grand Italia and 269 Vegan in Perth, a heartbreaking list of broken dreams which continues to grow.

Hospitality is, literally, on its knees.

Almost two and a half years of lockdown closures, slow economic recovery, low city centre footfall, unavoidable VAT increases and now the cost of living crisis have borne down on this industry. It’s as if all our Januaries have come at once.

So what’s this got to do with coffee? This is still a coffee column, right?

Well, yes it is. Humour me while I get into the economics of your coffee and how it’s reaches your table.

Coffee roasting is, generally speaking, performed using gas apparatus to toast the beans. And we are all aware of the rising costs of wholesale gas.

The fantastic baristas who make your coffee? Well they all got a bit of a pay rise in April when the national living wage went up.

The standing charges and the electricity that powers the coffee machine? Well they have also increased.

The milk that makes up roughly half the drink? Well that’s endured several separate price rises since January this year. Not a single price increase. Several.  

Add to that, coffee is a bit of a treat. So it’s an easy win to save some pennies. And literally thousands of people are doing just that. On every high street. In every town.

So the small business that’s tweaking their prices by 5 or 10 pence per cup, here and there, really needs to do it or they simply won’t survive.

So please, if you can, support your local independent coffee shop. They put love, care and passion into every cup they make and every cup sold makes a genuine difference to them. Every single cup.

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 13/087/2022 in The Courier and Press & Journal

 

Give your coffee some Ooh La La with a Cafetiere!

We all remember our first fancy coffee, right? The time where the coffee is not just that little bit different from what you’d expected, and all that more thrilling for it.

For me it was on a regular after school natter with my best mate, Victoria, at the then newly opened Willows Restaurant in St John’s Place, Perth. Back then they served all their coffees rather elegantly in cafetieres. And the sheer novelty value and fun of plunging the coffee was something neither of us had experienced before. So very cosmopolitan and grown up it seemed to two giddy 16-year-olds.

Fast forward 30 years and Willows is, rightly, celebrating its third decade in business at the heart of Perth. Cafetieres, however, have slightly fallen out of favour amongst the coffee elite in the last three decades but, despite this snobbery, I’ll hazard a guess that there’s one in every home up and down the country. In fact, if you ask, Willows will still serve you up a cafetiere coffee and is one of a very few cafes that still do.

As a piece of speciality coffee brewing kit, the cafetiere still means business, no matter how fashions move on. My very first Bodum was given to me by colleagues as leaving gift in 1998 and is still going strong almost 25 years later. Furthermore, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, when it comes to sharing a brew, it’s my go to brewing kit – trouncing v60s, aeropress and espresso machines each and every time for its casual coffee table glamour and simplicity.

The best brewing results come from using fresh coarse ground coffee (and Aonach Mhor is perfect made in a cafetiere) and hot water that’s just off the boil. You can vary serving according to desired strength but I’ve always used the two fingers method to measure out the coffee. I can almost hear the coffee elite’s teeth grinding at the thought of this utter abandonment of scientific measurement.

The bloom in a cafetiere, where the grinds rise up and the bubbles gather on the top, is one of my favourite moments in making coffee. A quick stir then you need a few minutes to let the coffee steep, and finally you are ready to plunge and serve. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it’s exactly why (I bet) it’s still a winner all these years later. Why not pop into Willows this Summer to celebrate their 30th anniversary and order yourself a brew.

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 9/07/2022 in The Courier and Press & Journal

 

Ice, Ice, baby.

As I write, Scotland is sweltering in the grip of an early Summer heatwave. Beside me is a clinking high ball glass, filled to the brim with deliciously ice-cold coffee, my inspiration for this month’s column.

Like a grown-up milkshake, with the added value of caffeination, an iced coffee is the ultimate sophisticated treat when the sun is out.

Across the globe, the iced coffee trade is literally booming. Fuelled by the big international chains, and much coveted by the cool kids, these (often) sugary sweet, cream-laden summer brews are more than a contender when it comes to getting cut through in a crowded summer soft drinks market. And the good news is they don’t have to be dessert-like to taste divine.

I’m a big fan of the Italian “granita” style lattes, which only requires milk, a shot of coffee, and some ice in a blender to be brought to life with the minimum of fuss.

For those who prefer to follow trends, and like a bit more drama in their drinks, the Dalgona Coffee surged in popularity in 2020 when it became a bit of an Instagram/TikTok hit during the first lockdown. Essentially a whipped creamy coffee layer sitting on top of ice-cold milk, there are hundreds of variations of the drink and more than a definite nod to artistry when it comes to presentation.

Unlike iced tea, iced coffee can taste just as good served white, as it can black – although I’ve often found a black iced coffee to be a little more of a bitter drink, rather than a refreshing one. A quest to eliminate the bitterness is why cold brew coffee has risen in popularity over the last decade, where the coffee brews slowly in cold water over a period of about 12 hours, and you pop it into the fridge to chill until you’re ready to drink. It’s a smooth alternative, if you have the patience, which I don’t if the cold brew Puck Puck at the back of my cupboard is anything to go by.

Still, a huge variety of options awaits you when you venture into the iced coffee market, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Take it from me, sitting under a parasol, in beautiful Scottish sunshine, day-dreaming I’m in Venice, enjoying an iced latte made with Bheinn Mhor: there’s nothing better.

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 11/06/2022 in The Courier and Press & Journal

 

Stronger is better, right?

I’ve got news for you. You’ve been poorly trained in how to buy coffee. Yep, you’ve read that right.

In a bid to make things simpler for you, the supermarkets dug out the most basic of marketing techniques, and have adequately lulled you into a false sense of security using a fictional numbers based coffee strength spectrum. You’ve probably already decided you have a preference for a Strong Dark 5 or a Weak Gentle 3 and that’s that. But it’s all nonsense.

That “caffeine laden dark roast” you’ve been boasting about on social media is not actually as caffeine laden as you might think. And certainly not as caffeinated as the light roast you eschewed because it wasn’t “strong” enough to get your revs up in the morning.

Fact: the coffee roasting process actively removes caffeine. That means the darker the roast, or the longer the bean is roasted, the less caffeine it retains.

The art of the roaster is in toasting the beans at the right level, for the right amount of time, to balance out their natural acidity, sweetness and bitterness, while also retaining the coffee’s natural flavours. No small feat.

The lighter the roast, the more of the bean’s original flavours are retained. This sometimes comes with higher levels of acidity (often translated into coffee descriptions as fruitiness) but lower levels of bitterness.

Most artisan roasters lean towards creating lighter roasts because these bring out the natural flavours of the coffee.

It’s designed to make your coffee drinking experiences more akin to that of fine wine discovery, where different grapes, grown in different vineyards, picked by different winemakers, make different wines.

It also means that those darker roasts you think are pumped full of caffeine are actually more bitter, not less. Because we’re quite fond of a milky coffee in the UK, the darker roasts generally sold in coffee shops get away with their bitterness. Ask the Americano drinkers, however, and you might get a different spin on things.

So if you need more caffeine (and taste), why not step back into the light and start exploring lighter roasts which may surprise you – and keep you awake for longer. Check out our Aonach Mhor for a gentle entry into the world of lighter roasts.

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 14/05/2022 in The Courier and Press & Journal

Black Gold

How do you take your coffee? Black. No sugar.

It’s the line in the movie that lets you know this is someone not to be messed with. They don’t have time for milk. Certainly no time for sugar.

Last month I fessed up that latte is my drink of choice. But don’t be fooled. I’ve always been a bit of a maverick when it comes to how I take my coffee. It depends what mood I’m in. I’m as partial to an espresso as I am a latte.

If you truly want to taste the coffee, and I mean really taste it, then ditch the milk.

At the heart of most coffees is an Espresso, a small, strong (and quick!) serve with a lovely foamy crema on top.

Here’s the magic part. Add water to that Espresso, and you’ve got yourself an Americano.  Flip that round and add an Espresso to some water, you’ve made yourself a Long Black, an Australian serve rapidly gaining popularity in the UK.  You’ll have to trust me when I say they do not taste the same. Honest.

And don’t mistake the Long Black with the Lungo (also a “long” black), which is where you extract a longer coffee, rather than simply add hot water to a coffee already extracted. Confused?

The truth is, black coffee isn’t boring. There are so many methods of extraction to try and it’s the only way to truly taste the coffee exactly as it is.

The impact of brewing methods on what you drink is not to be understated and, if you like black coffee, definitely something to be explored.

This month I’ve been sampling for our new roast, The Bheinn Mhor. It’s one of our darkest roasts and the black coffee serves have really showcased its complex flavours of raisins and nuttiness. It’s great with milk in it too, but that’s fundamentally a completely different drink. In the same way that whisky and coke is no longer just whisky.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, try a Ristretto. Made with the same amount of coffee as an Espresso, but using two thirds the amount of water, it packs a mighty tiny punch. The Italians, however, are more likely to chuck the Ristretto over some vanilla ice cream to create the fabulous Affogato dessert. And just like that, we’re back to milk.

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 09/04/2022 in The Courier and Press & Journal

Licensed to Latte

Licensed to Latte

We’re not often given a free pass in life. So when a recent blood test indicated a mild calcium deficiency, I took this as a sign that my favourite coffee serve, the Latte, could actually be medicinal and, possibly, a matter of life and death.

Reported to be the UK’s favourite coffee, the Latte has its origins on the breakfast tables of Europe. Depending on where you are from, this soothing drink is roughly 1/3 espresso and 2/3 whole milk and, for decades, has been the ideal “at home coffee” to line your stomach for the day ahead.

My first real Latte was a memorable moment. I’d arrived in Venice in the dead of night, lugged my belongings across the Piazza San Marco in the dark (rookie mistake, my unworldly 21 year old self didn’t reckon on there being no taxis in Venice), checked in to my hotel and promptly fell asleep. In the morning, I awoke in a different world. A world with faded painted murals, marble stairs and golden twinkling chandeliers – and that was just the breakfast room. Venice was opulent. On what was essentially my first grown up solo dining experience, I sat down at a window table and was promptly served up a caffé latte. I peered out of the ancient lead-lined window pane across a cityscape of burnt orange domes and spires, and drank this sweet, milky coffee. I was forever hooked.

Every latte I drink can take me back to Venice in an instant. A moment of freedom, and wonder, in an otherwise challenging world.

Like everything in coffee, there are some technical disagreements about how the drink should be made. The Latte that many of us know from the big chains is a larger serve than you would ever get in Italy. But don’t be fooled, it doesn’t mean your coffee is being watered down by milk. A large latte will contain at least 2 espressos and, in some places, maybe even as many as 3. This amount of coffee is not for the faint hearted and it’s certainly not weak, just considerably less bitter thanks to its union with the sweeter milk.

The Latte continues to evolve. There are now dedicated hashtags on Instagram celebrating the drinkable works of creativity, otherwise known as Latte Art. It is the mark of barista perfection.

Where else, for a couple of quid, can you buy drinkable art that also has medicinal qualities? That’s good enough for me and my calcium deficiency. Latte, please!

For the Love of Coffee


This Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering just what to do for your coffee mad special someone. Thanks to excessive viewing of Cocktail, the film, and a mis-spent youth, I can help.


I’ve been trying out the latest coffee flavoured cocktail liqueurs and spirits this month. I dusted off my trusty cocktail shaker, gathered some ice, and set to work creating a coffee themed cocktail night for my better half. Romance is not dead.


First out of the shaker was the classic Espresso Martini. I created this using a shot of Aluna Coconut Coffee Liqueur, two shots of Portobello Road Toasted Coffee Bean Vodka, mixed with an espresso brewed with Forfar based Corojo Coffee’s El Jefe Columbian roast.


The light coconut notes and cacao nibs of the Aluna fused nicely with the subtleties of the Portobello Road Vodka and the nutty flavours of the espresso. While Espresso Martini is served ice cold, I found myself wishing I’d skipped the ice, added fresh cream and drank it hot – if only because it vaguely reminded me of a Bounty Bar. Next time.


Our dessert cocktail was the Mississippi Mud Slide. This time, I used Dark Matter’s Spiced Mocha Liqueur, combining it with equal measures of Baileys Irish Cream and the Portobello Road vodka, before shaking it up with one and a half measures of double cream. Once poured, I grated some milk chocolate over the top to serve.


This. Was. Heavenly.


Made with a blend of arabica beans and cocoa seeds, the Dark Matter added depth and deliciousness to the Mudslide’s more traditional ingredients.


I was so taken by the Dark Matter I scoured the internet for new recipes to try. Before long I’d emerged from the kitchen with a sparkling cocktail, comprising a double shot of Dark Matter and soda water, served over ice and garnished with a slice of blood orange. It wouldn’t have been out of place as an aperitif on a hot sunny day.


One thing’s for sure, a bottle of Dark Matter on Valentine’s Day will go down a treat, whether you’re a coffee lover or not.


Your Coffee Lovers Shopping List


Dark Matter Spiced Mocha Liqueur (£17.99 for 50cl) and Portobello Road Toasted Coffee Bean Vodka (£25 for 70cl) both available from www.amazon.co.uk


Aluna Coconut Coffee Liqueur (£17.95 for 50cl) available from www.thewhiskyexchange.com


Corojo Coffee El Jefe (£9.50 for 250g) available from www.corojocoffee.co

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 12/2/22 in The Courier and Press & Journal

Something old, something new.

There’s something about January which raises hopes and stirs the senses. New plans, new places to discover and, for me, new coffees to try.

Right now, I’m sitting here sipping on a rather nice single origin Mexican roast from Dundee’s newest roastery, Brewery Lane. This medium roasted coffee is made from organic beans from the cloud forest biosphere reserve in the Chiapas region in Mexico and fully delivers on its promised tasting notes of caramel, chocolate and hazelnut, which combine to make a delightfully enjoyable coffee.

But it’s not all ‘out with the old, in the with new’. Taste and smell are powerful sensations and can evoke memories and emotions well beyond their moment in your mouth.

Take, for instance, our long-awaited Christmas trip to the in-laws. Coffee on Boxing Day morning took an interesting turn when my Father-in-Law, knowing I liked coffee, disappeared deep into a kitchen cupboard and resurfaced, proudly brandishing his Russell Hobbs coffee percolator.

Percolated coffee was high fashion in the dinner party decade of the 1970s. I remember both my parents and grandparents had percolators and just seeing it on the kitchen worktop brought back a flood of memories from past festivities.

Although you can still buy them, the percolation coffee brewing method has fallen out of favour. Purists point out that the percolation process regurgitates the coffee through multiple extractions, and results in bitter, over-brewed coffee.

A cross between a stove-top coffee maker, a kettle and a modern drip decanter, the percolator is a complicated hybrid.

My Father-in-Law, Mike, has got his coffee percolation methods honed to a fine art and, after showing me how it all worked, set about creating my Boxing Day brew.

Once switched on this gurgling and burping contraption belched its way into steaming hot coffee. Swirled into hot milk, it created a rich, smooth and slightly more syrupy coffee experience than you get with modern brewing methods.

The percolator was knocked off its perch with the evolution of instant coffee in the 80s, however the market shift was probably more to do with convenience than with taste. Like all good coffee brewing methods, percolation takes time, patience and a commitment to the process. And it’s the process that creates the memorable moment. This decades old percolator doesn’t just make coffee, it conjures up memories of dinner parties with friends, family gatherings and special occasions. Who wouldn’t want a special vintage coffee making contraption in their house that did just that?

Brewery Lane Coffee: www.brewerylanecoffee.co.uk

Vintage Russell Hobbs Coffee Percolators: Available in charity shops and on second-hand auction sites for as little as £15.

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 8/1/22 in The Courier and Press & Journal

Mhor Coffee tops the ‘Indy Best’ list for annual coffee subscriptions

A Perth-based coffee brand that started their business during the first lockdown is celebrating this week after being voted ‘Best Annual Coffee Subscription’ by The Independent.

Mhor Coffee, run by husband and wife team Ian Christie and Tricia Fox, launched their own range of artisan coffees and a digital artisan coffee marketplace in response to the huge surge in demand for good quality at-home coffee options experienced during the pandemic. 

Avid coffee lovers, Tricia and Ian found themselves ordering regularly from a range of artisan coffee producers and spotted a gap in the market for pulling all these specialists under one roof for other coffee lovers to discover and explore.

Reviewers for The Independent’s ‘Indy Best’ praised their e-commerce platform for the wide range of Mhor Coffee’s exclusive roasts, plus the selection of guest and seasonal blends for purchase, all delivered direct to the customer’s door.

Recommending Mhor Coffee’s Annual Subscription as an ideal gift, reviewers were impressed with both the price range and the individual approach to packaging, highlighting the handwritten illustrated card that accompanies each subscription as a particularly welcoming touch.

“We’re very excited to have been voted Best Annual Subscription in the Independent’s Indy Bests, this has just made our whole year and is a lovely way to move forward into 2022,” says Tricia.

“We’re a tiny team, who started business during a pandemic, and we’re now sending coffee and accessories all around the UK every month. Support from the public for small businesses is so very important at the moment and we’re incredibly grateful to all our loyal subscribers who have been very much a part of this success.”

For more information on coffee subscriptions, visit www.mhor.coffee  

In search of perfection….

I’ve been trying to decide if coffee brings out the perfectionist in me, or whether it’s the combination of the pandemic and too many cups of the caffeinated stuff has heightened my anxiety.

You see, there’s a distinctive noise that my Wilfa Svart coffee grinder makes when it runs out of beans, signalling to me that the coffee is ground and ready to brew. My husband, however, likes to load it with beans, and then leave some in it, unground. It’s this haphazard bean abandonment that’s making me a little bit twitchy.

The perfect cup of coffee is all about measurement. Weighing (yes, weighing) the beans to get the perfect serve, honing the grind and measuring the right amount of water into the coffee maker. For perfectionists, this is nirvana. Every. Single. Stage. Must. Be. Right.

Failure in any one of these critical steps can lead to, well, a less than perfect cup of coffee.

But I’ve never been one for following rules so the coffee grinding twitchiness is a new sensation. The Wilfa is not my first grinder. My first was, I’m slightly ashamed to admit, a cheap cylindrical object I bought on Amazon and gifted to the aforementioned husband for Christmas. What’s his is mine, right?

It was fun while it lasted. The grinder, not the husband. The blades eventually carved a considerable groove in the metal-casing. Goodness knows how many tiny shards of tin we’ve consumed as a result. You are duly warned.

When it came to purchasing the next grinder, I was wiser. The beautiful Wilfa Svart came into my life just shortly afterwards with all its lovely burrs, buttons and bean hopper. It grinds for every type of coffee maker, from cafetieres to espresso machines, with some grind finessing options in between. Because, when it comes to making that perfect cup, a quality grind reigns supreme. You can have the very best espresso machine but, with a poor grinder, your brew will ultimately suffer.

For me, grinding is the whole fun of at home coffee making. You get to take the whole bean and grind it down to size, ready for extraction in whatever method you deem necessary. It’s what makes you the coffee chef. Master of the ingredients. Queen of the bean.

And, for those last-minute gift purchasers like myself, if you order quickly, you’ll get it in time for Christmas.

Wilfa Svart Grinder: Available Online, priced from £89

Article First Published in The Menu Magazine on 11/12/21 in The Courier and Press & Journal