February 2010


A few weeks back when we were in London we popped into Monmouth’s to buy some coffee.  I thought we would try something different and the wonderfully helpful and enthusiastic sales woman suggested I taste two coffees from Brazil – Fazenda Camocim and Fazenda Rainha. As I  struggled to make a choice and explain the difference and my reasons, she breezily enthused “one tastes of Caramel and hazelnuts with medium body and acidity  and the other has a  clean sweetness and milk chocolate notes” the words just tripped off her tongue. I was lost… bumbling and apologetic I confided that as much as I would wish to talk in these terms I would feel a prat. I respected that she had the training and expertise and she knew what she was talking about. We choose the Fazenda Rainha.

 I had had it confirmed, I don’t know the language, it was official, I am coffee illiterate!

Obviously coffee cupping and tasting is something that requires training for the palette. I marvel at the taste wheel at Sweet Marias http://www.sweetmarias.com/   The London School of Coffee has courses http://www.londonschoolofcoffee.com/courses.php

I read the cupping notes of the coffees I buy and I know that my little Hearthware i-roast roaster roasts fast and maybe a bit harsh so I get a full roast (which we enjoy).

I despair though of possessing the skill and poetry to describe the enjoyment which I clearly experience when I drink my coffee. The kind of alchemy which talks in flowing words about a drink having “notes” …rather than this is nice….

So this morning we spent some time trying to discern the tastes as we drank our cup of Bolivia café David Santiago Marni Mamani… Steve at Hasbean had noted In the cup expect huge orange and orange peel all over the front end which makes you think this is going to be an over acidic coffee, but then it has a real smooth texture on the mouth feel, thick and gloopy. The flavour then turns into a ‘Werther’s Original’ butterscotch style of sweetness that is smooth and creamy”.  Which is interesting because we kept coming up with descriptions of “mouth feel” rather than particular comparisons…such as it seems to start with an acidic taste but then evens out… the more you drink it  the fuller the taste…it’s fuller with time once you commit to it. It snuggles up after the first hit… but we didn’t come up with caramel… or citric references though.

I despair… I’m flummoxed….I’m in country whose language I can’t speak and I realise I can’t speak the language of coffee either! Oh well I’ll just have to simply relax and enjoy….I wonder…..What is the colour of the wind?

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For some time, since living in Nice, I’ve been trying to figure out the attitude towards coffee in France. Arguably a country rightly proud of its attitude towards eating and drinking, generally a classless reverence for food and drink, considerable interest and attention to detail in recipes, the origins of the ingredients and the importance of le terroir.

However coffee seems to fall into a black hole of the French conscience.

My experience has been that coffee is available in the now universal espresso form and certainly good here (so close to the Italian border). But there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for speciality coffee or diversity in serving coffee and certainly networks for home roasters in France seem non existent.

I’ve searched on the internet for the similar bastions of coffee lovers and suppliers such as Hasbean, Mercanta, the London School of Coffee and have been surprised to find an empty sack. I’m convinced that until only a year or so ago there was no French Chapter in the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe http://www.scae.com/ . The national coordinator in France is Florence Rossillion  http://www.francebarista.com/ .

I have tried to buy speciality coffee green beans and home coffee roasters only to find that I’m getting responses from Italy Spain Belgium Holland (of course the UK) but not France!

The history of Coffee in France….. “It was really out of curiosity that the people of France took to coffee….they wanted to know this Oriental beverage, so much vaunted, although its blackness at first sight was far from attractive.” All About Coffee by William H. Ukers.

And what is this thing about chicory?

In 1806 Napoleon declares France self-sufficient and promotes chicory over coffee. In his trade war against Britain he banned his wife Josephine from wearing English muslin, developed the crop of sugar beet as an alternative to sugar cane from the West Indies, promoted the use of chicory instead of coffee. Mind you it was Napoleon that said “I would rather suffer with coffee than be senseless”.

And what is French Roast? French roast coffee does not, of course, come from France. The term simply describes the darkness of the roast. French roast is very dark, about as dark as you can go without completely losing the flavour of the coffee, and being left with a taste of burned charcoal.

And as for The French press, (also known as a press pot, coffee press, coffee plunger or сafetière à piston), it’s Italian! It is a simple coffee brewing device, probably invented in France in the 1850s, but first patented by Italian designer Attilio Calimani in 1929, who made subsequent design improvements over the years, and further refined by another Italian, Faliero Bondanini. (Wikipedia).

When I first moved here I bought a Salam.  I was advised that this was a traditional way of making coffee in France…”Created in 1930, the Salam coffee maker prepares coffee all by itself, using gravity. A French invention dating from 200 years ago”……hmmnn I prefer a simple paper filter……which come to think of it I shall do now …. Oh Là Là! The French!

It’s been a very long time since I posted anything. It’s been a period of significant change for us, last year we left London, stopped working, sold up and moved to Nice, France.

In order to keep some stability I have brought with me a few sackfuls of green coffee to roast from Hasbean http://www.hasbean.co.uk/. Strange but France is a bit sparse on home roasting and appreciation of the range and diversity of coffee but more of that at later date. I brought:-

Bolivia Cafe David Santiago Mamani Mamani Cup of Excellence 2008
Yemen Mocha Matari
Indian Monsoon Malabar
Guatemala El Bosque Amatitlan Red Bourbon

Colombia Las Delicious – Uriel Antonio Cup of Excellence
Nicaragua La Leona – Luis Beltrán Cornejo Barreda Cup of Excellence

To many friends and family it was seemingly a quick decision and certainly the move happened very fast at the end of last year.

 I have attempted to describe the process by way of an experience some years ago. I was fortunate to be on an Appreciative Inquiry programme in Alabama and whilst a group of us had been jabbering away as to how to assist a colleague, one of our group, Kenny, who up till then had been lying on his back staring up into the clear blue sky, quietly said “ I’ve been watching an eagle….it’s been circling way up above us, the eagle is unusual in that it watches its young in the nest until a point when it believes the eaglet should have left and flown away. If the eaglets haven’t the Eagle tears down the nest forcing the eaglet to fly or die.

 Sometimes you need to remove the comfort zone to make a change – once the nest has gone then opportunities for change become possible. It turned out that we needed to help our colleague  leave her comfortable position in order to find new perspective.

 So we haven’t so much moved to Nice but out here soaring, looking for new opportunities…….new horizons.

The nest has gone!