A few months ago I noticed a 're-tweet' by Jonnie Drake, a Pro Barista that we follow on Twitter. 'Caffeine Magazine' were constructing an article to feature up and coming Micro Roasters and were seeking samples to compare in a taste test. What a perfect opportunity for publicity!
I made some enquires and soon enough I had sent 500g of our own creation 'Purple Ribbon' Espresso Blend to their office. We could have supplied one of our single origins, however, I wanted to show off our skills not only as a roaster, but also that we know how to blend a range of origins for an all round optimised taste.
After I sent the samples out, things went quiet for a few weeks. Being so busy in the roastery we had pretty much forgotten about the article, until I saw an update on the Caffeine Magazine twitter feed - a photograph showing a rucksack stuffed full of competition coffee on its way to the taste test!
A few more updates followed showing the judges preparations being made. This was a point when I realised that I was actually quite nervous about this! I know what we do here is good, very good, but this was a direct contest between 20 other UK roasters, who probably have the same confidence in their own product as I do. This was a coffee battle being fought out in public... scary.
A couple more weeks went by with no news. Until one day, in the baking 32c heat of summer, standing beside the roaster at full churn, I got a phone call from Scott, the Editor of Caffeine Mag. "Chris, I have some good news for you, all the judges really loved your coffee and you've made it through to the final 5". That was a really nice moment and I will remember it for a long time.
From that moment it seemed like forever for the final result to be announced. It took a while for news to spread but eventually the results were out. We had not won. I was a little disappointed, who wouldn't be? But hey, you can't have everything in life! and 4th place is pretty damned good considering how new/small we are and how experienced/tough our opponents were. Not only that, the judges were very complimentary about our espresso blend so we'll be sure to enter next time, when no doubt it will be even harder.
This summer we've been slowly getting into the swing of attending local markets & events. One of our favorites is the producers market at Kelling Heath in Norfolk. For those that attend this market regularly, we want to give you a little heads up that this Sunday (8th Sept 2013) will be the last Kelling Heath visit until next year. So if you're in the area, running low on coffee, please come and say hello and have a chat with us. We will also have our big grinder with us if you need pre-ground.
Going forward, I've given our man Tim the fancy title of 'Events Coordinator', so he will now be in charge of booking lots more chances for us to get out and about to meet more of you guys next year.
A few weeks ago I asked a selection of independant coffee nerds to review our coffee beans. Here's just one of the many positive reviews that we got back:
There are two main types of coffee supplier, speciality and commodity. Let's quickly look at each one...
Speciality coffees are well prepared and freshly roasted. They are sourced from premium crops which demand a high price on the open market. They are hand roasted in small production runs. Each coffee will have its own strengths and characteristics which make each coffee brilliantly different. Speciality coffee roasters offer a wide range of choice for coffee connoisseurs.
The opposite of speciality coffee is 'commodity coffee' which is sourced from low quality and low cost crops. They are then typically roasted and packaged in large production facilities by big brand names. They have big advertising budgets and are focused to sell to the mass market. They offer cheap prices and convenience but have only a limited selection of poor quality blends that have potentially been sitting on the shelves for years.
Smokey Barn only sells fresh roasted speciality and small batch coffees. We offer a great selection which is growing all the time.
We often get asked: "Why are some coffee's 'Fair Trade' and others are not?"
Well the simplest answer is this: Raw coffee is bought in lots from auction. Low quality coffee does not reach a high price on the open market. Farmers producing these coffees consequently suffer from low incomes. ‘Fair Trade’ is a small charitable donation that is paid by the exporter to the farmer and the cost of this donation is passed down the chain, ultimately to you, the consumer. It’s not a lot but it’s something. The donation was first devised to help these low grade coffee farmers live above the poverty line.
‘Fair Trade’ or not, we only bring high quality coffees to our roastery. Our cost price for raw coffee is many times higher than that of the low quality grades and the charity donation becomes insignificant in comparison. We pay a high price for superb coffees which enables adequate funding for the farmers health, working conditions, pay and education.
The great thing about this is the end consumer gets better coffee and the farmers earn proper money (and not a charity handout). This then encourages farmers to produce better quality crops and we get even more great coffee. Great!
If you want to start drinking amazing coffee, then your fresh roasted beans must be ‘fresh ground’ too. I hate coffee snobbery, but having your own grinder is coffee basics. It’s the most important piece of equipment in your coffee making setup. A big shiny expensive espresso maker will only be as good as your grinder.
Don’t have a grinder? Ok it’s going to be costly, but having your own is the most effective way of improving the taste of your coffee. The flavors and aromas contained within the beans will quickly fade once they’ve been ground, so buying pre-ground coffee is not a good idea!
Besides the quality aspect, having a grinder allows you to adjust the size of the grind to suit particular brewing methods, for instance espresso coffee needs to be ground much finer than for a cafetiere.
Smokey Barn have sourced a selection of grinders which you can find in the Brewing Equipment shop. As the old saying goes “you pay for what you get” and grinders are no exception. We would recommend spending at least ¼ of your total espresso machine budget on a grinder. So if you buy a £300 espresso machine – spend at least £100 on a grinder to go with it. A good quality coffee grinder should last for many years if looked after properly.
Here is a quick list of things to look for when purchasing a grinder:
Burrs – The components that do the 'grinding'. We only recommend buying a burr grinder. Blade grinders 'chop' at the beans and leave an inconsistent finish which will spoil the brew method. Burrs actually ‘grind’ and have much more even finish. Blade grinders can also burn the coffee because they generate a lot more heat than burrs. Expensive grinders often have high performance burrs, such as being made from ceramic material or having a ‘conical’ shape.
Dosers – Are mostly used for espresso shots in cafes. The ground coffee is fed into a small hopper which has multiple segments in the bottom. When the operator pulls the lever, a measured dose of coffee is dispensed from the hopper (like a revolver). Not really essential unless you're making several drinks at a time.
Hoppers – A large hopper is not really required for home use. They are also not air tight, so storing your beans in the hopper is a bad idea. Keep your Smokey Barn coffee in the sealed bag provided and only use what you need.
Stepless - Most domestic grinders have a certain amount of grind settings, ranging from coarse to fine. A stepless grinder is a turn dial that allows for infinite and minute adjustment.