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We’re opening a shop

Late last year, we got an email from UNIQLO UK wanting to know if we’d be interested in opening up a pop-up on the third floor of their flagship Oxford St shop – and the answer was definitely yes.

Way back when – and I mean when, it was 1999 – I was roasting coffee on an alpenroast home roaster and selling three 250g bags of coffee a week at the Stafford market when I remembered Snapes, the coffee shop in Wolverhampton I loved so much when I was little, and how the ability to offer a cup of coffee is a big thing for a roaster. We found a shop in Stafford town centre – very small and in an awful location – but cheap and affordable.

It was a slog opening that first shop in 2000 – the whole shop needed to be refit as a café, and I was still working my “real” job while trying to make coffee my main job – but it was ours. It wasn’t fancy-fancy (it did have a bright red room in front and a funky electric blue room in back) and, although we didn’t sell lots of coffee or convert the good people of Stafford to specialty, we did kind of achieve our goal – it was through the shop that I found my first 2kg roaster and Pete, the guy who built the first-ever Hasbean.co.uk. The day the online shop launched, I sold more coffee than I had the whole week on the market stall.

As you can guess (or already know because I’ve told this story so many times) we closed the shop in 2003 and focused on building the webshop and roastery, so the rest is pretty much history but I am finding myself thinking about that first (and only) shop we’ve ever had more and more for reasons you’re about to figure out.

Late last year, we got an email from UNIQLO UK wanting to know if we’d be interested in opening up a pop-up on the third floor of their flagship Oxford St shop – and the answer was definitely yes. 14 years is a long time to go without having a shop but I’m excited that this is happening – for quite a while now we’ve thought about how we might present coffee differently in a shop of our own, so when UNIQLO’s email arrived, it was a no brainer.

[H]AND by Hasbean is what we’ve put together for the space – it’s all about collaboration and service not sales (even if it pains me to say it) and we’re all pretty excited about how things are coming together in time for tomorrow’s opening.

We’re only serving filter coffee (Hasbean obviously) tea from Lalani & Co, brewed with the fancy new Mix, the Tsubambe & Kalita collection, and Lalani’s own Aurora brewer which is made just up the road in Stoke-on-Trent (Roland’s homeland), but there will also be retail coffee, tea, and equipment available on site for those who want to do things at home

It’s also been nice to bring back a familiar face – Pete Williams (not the Pete who built the site, but familiar to those who remember him from 3fe and WBC) is running the ship

Anywho I could bore you with all the details here, or I can point you in the direction of the shiny new website we have for [H]AND (www.madebyhandcoffee.com) – drop in and say hello!

Arara Coffee Varietal

Every now and again I get a coffee varietal that comes along and I know nothing about it. It reminds me why I love coffee varietals and their complexity.

Every now and again I get a coffee varietal that comes along and I know nothing about it. It reminds me why I love coffee varietals and their complexity. It’s always kinda been my thing; I went through a spell of writing lots of them up (see here).

This weeks up coming In My Mug in one of those coffees I knew nothing about, in the video I even talked about how little I know about it (yes that’s what I do on in my mug, talk about things I don’t know). A google search proved fruitless, so a flurry of emails backwards and forwards to Tulio of Carmo Estate in Brazil meant I got educated.

The Arara varietal originates from the crossing between the yellow Catuai and the Obatã (Hybrid of Timor) varieties. It was developed on experimental farm of Procafé Foundation in Varginha Brazil.

The experiment has been part of an on going project in Brazil with many new varietals being discovered – Procafé found that Arara is one of the most successful to date in both yield and in cup quality – so much so that the Arara seeds are the most requested at Procafé for new seedlings! It’s excelled so much even at the experiment phase.

The next stage of the experiment is to see how it performs in farms and and on a larger scale in the planting dissemination.

Our growing partner Tulio Junqueira at Carmo Estate Coffees was one of the first to get this varietal from Procafé in 2014 as part of the dissemination program, and we are just beginning to see the first harvests now. He has been very happy with the results and seen great potential for quality and production levels.

The Arara is a yellow fruit coffee, high resistance to rust, good productivity and high quality potential.

Typical cup characteristics are hard to say at this time but my experiences have been to show a typical sweet profile you would expect from Brazil, with Chocolate notes, muted but defined acidity with a good body and aftertaste.

Links: Catuai, Obatã, Timor

Examples: Brazil Carmo Estate Arara

 

Varietal: Arara
Related to: Catuai and Obatã (timor hybrid)
Origin: Brazil
Grows best at: 1000 metres or above
Type: Hybrid
Prevalent in: No where yet but developed in Brazil
Predominant Colour: Yellow
Fruit size: Normal rounded
Leaf Characteristics: Wide and large
Botany: Hybrid

 

You want to try it, right ? Well if you’re signed up to In My Mug, expect it on your doorstep very soon! If you’re not signed up, why not? Well if you’re not, it will be launching on Friday so keep your eyes pealed on the website Friday afternoon.

Costa Rica La Pira

Don Carlos is an eccentric, and an innovator and an experimenter. He doesn’t follow the rules he makes them–listen to our chat as we walked around the farm earlier this year.

From this January’s trip, one of the highlights for me was to meet up with Don Carlos from Finca la Pira in Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

You see Don Carlos is an eccentric, and an innovator and an experimenter. He doesn’t follow the rules he makes them.

The walk around was lots of fun, and I recorded our conversations, so you can share a little of the trip here.


You can also see the Flickr pictures here 

El Salvador Finca San Jose

Today we launch Finca San Jose red bourbon from El Salvador and Gloria Rodriguez!

Gloria has worked with us since way back in 2007, and is one of our longest and consistent relationships in El Salvador

I am sure she thinks I am crazy, as when I turn up there’s normally some kind of chaos going on, or I have some new thing that I’m trying, but with the help of her son in law Luis (also Rodriguez) we battle through. I’ve been friends with him even longer (and her Daughter his wife Maria Jose) through their joint work for the Consejo back in the day (before they went on to own their own farm La Gloria). You keeping up here?

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Anyway the relationship we have is amazing, they continue to do good work (the family), and I continue to buy their amazing coffee, and they continue to improve, this year is no different.

When ever I get together with Luis we end up “geeking” out about all the varietals that we have found over the previous year, and talking about ones we are seeing come to the fore.

One of these is Elefante, a unusual mutation that’s been found on San Jose and Lagunita (one of their neighbouring farms). Lots of varietals have very small differences in the cherry or plant. This one has huge amounts of mucilage compared to the three or four drops you get from most coffees, often producing 14 or 15. Excess mucilage means excess transfer of sweetness in the processing and I think this shows in the cup.

Mucilage Count

We are also launching this today, along with a heap of pictures from my visit on Flickr which you can see here!

El Salvador San Jose 2017

 

 

I don’t expect the Elefante to be around long and most certainly won’t be an in my mug (way too small for that) but anyone who is signed up the red bourbon is making its way to you today.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Some things have changed since we first opened our doors, but my thoughts on sourcing travel and relationships haven’t really.

The most common question I ever get when meeting someone for the first time is “Why do you travel so much?” I hate flying, it’s been a phobia I’ve had for many years, and I am a terrible road passenger moaning and groaning. I rarely cup when I’m at origin, as the differing protocols, different water, and your body clock and diet all messed up means you can not do a good job at the cupping table. Coffee often tastes better when you’re in the sun, with friends, having a blast. If it tastes good in Stafford on a rainy Tuesday night, then it will taste good anywhere.

And lots of coffee roasters buy their coffee without ever setting foot on an airplane. So why do I put myself through the torture of traveling to origin? 2016 brought 129 flights all over the world and many many air miles, with 2017 not looking a lot better with 13 already in the middle of February.

Well it’s not for the airline food or my love of airports. We buy directly from over 50 farms and over 20 different producers in 9 different countries. Add to this the relationships we have with importers who still need love and attention to make sure the great coffee keeps flowing, and we continue to work together.

The advent of the internet has made this much easier to manage these long distance relationships and much of my day is spent firing emails and whats apps backwards and forwards. But for those of us that have had long distance relationships, this doesn’t work for all the details. Seeing the whites of the eyes of the person you’re dealing with fixes many of the problems and challenges, and also gets across your points of view, and a chance for you to hear theirs.

Let me give you an example. On my trip a few weeks ago to Central America, I spent the day on a farm we have been buying from for a few years. By now, I’ve been on a lot of farms and have gained knowledge from experienced growers on parameters and processes.

I ask similar questions everywhere I go: “What varietals do you grow?”, “walk me through the way you process the coffee”, “What kind of drying times are you getting?”. The farm in question answered the last question differently to other places I work with, farms all with a similar set of conditions. But the farm in question dried their coffee much quicker than normal.

Now it could be that this is best for this farm and mill, and I’m always very careful to not prescribe to producers what they should do. I use the mantra that if they turned up to my roastery and told me how to roast, I’d be quite annoyed at them, and I think they would feel the same for my advice if delivered wrong. Email and short messages can often be misconstrued this way, even more so when English is often the second language.

But they were super interested in this idea, so within 5 minutes, we were splitting a lot, and using half of it as a control sample doing what they normally do, and the other half slowing down the drying process to see what difference it will make. It could be that few learn nothing apart from what they are doing is amazing, but we could both learn what slowing down that drying process does to the coffee. We are both excited to see the result and how it turns out, both learning, and something that just doesn’t happen on a Skype call, and could be delivered in a way that was “wouldn’t this be interesting” instead of “do this do that”.

Another trip a couple of years ago, I took one of my favourite producers (and one of my closest friends) Alejandro Martinez (or Finca Argentina fame) to Honduras and Nicaragua to learn more about how they do things there. From the visit, he has built new relationships too, with experienced farmers, a resource for some new varietals to try on his farm and someone to bounce ideas off who knows what they are talking about (aka posed to me and my crazy thoughts.). The trip was so successful that when I left for home, Ale stayed with the producers, and learnt a little bit more with them.

Relationships are difficult, not just coffee ones, relationships in general. We all screw up, we all make mistakes. But you know, when you visit someone, all those screw ups and mistakes kind of get forgiven, as you get to understand the person, their challenges, and their strengths and weakness, and you learn to work as a team. But they also learn your weaknesses and you buy yourself so much goodwill.

I make lots of mistakes, I make lots of wrong calls and fly off the handle all the time. Catching up with my mates at origin is not only lots of fun (and it really is) but a chance for them to forgive my mess ups, an important piece of apparatus in my sourcing toolbox.

Vincent Paye, Bolivia

Bolivia is a challenge, but working with Vincent makes the effort worth it: Just 12 months on from my last visit you can visibly see an already healthy family farm, run by a true producer, getting better and better.

Bolivia is a challenge. If you don’t believe me go listen to this monologue I recorded when I was in Bolivia last August.

Dwindling crops, ageing plants, lack of varietal diversity, or ageing producers with their children having no interest in carrying on the family business.

But then sometimes there”s someone like Vincent Paye who you just want to put the extra work in for.

Vincent and his family have been the exception to the rule in Bolivia, increasing yields, new plant stocks, with a replanting program in full swing, family run business, who are investing in the farm and seeing the results in an improved cup quality.

Year on year, his coffee is getting better and better with every step he takes. Just 12 months on from my last visit you can visibly see an already healthy farm, getting better and better. A true family farm, that is acting like the professional producer he is.

We’re proud to launch the coffee today – you can buy it at the link here. Like the photos? Then why not take a look at the rest of them from the visit here on Has Bean Coffee on Flickr.