Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019

Held at The Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham, this years Coffee Festival was well organised with lots of space between the stands, and full of excellent products.

What amazed me more than anything was the enthusiasm boiling over from all the young entrepreneurs, most I was guessing under the age of thirty. At sixty-five I was definitely in the minority - I’m pleased to say. And the breadth of knowledge was intoxicating.

i sampled loads of delicious brews, purchased several bags of beans, shot images and had a marvellous time. I love coffee culture and in the last ten years or so, bore witness to the intense growth of the independent outlets and their specialised coffee. More, much, much more pleased.

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Oh That Morning Rain

No, I don’t need an umbrella I said to my wife this morning before leaving home, for a brisk walk into town, too meet up with two old friends. The Gods had other ideas, and slightly soaking, I pulled into Costa Coffee in the High Cross shopping centre.

We have so many fantastic independent coffee outlets in Leicester UK, that it’s rare that I frequent a coffee chain. But I needed to dry off, and looking at the board, ordered a regular cappuccino, opting for a slightly stronger brew for an extra 25pence. 

It wasn’t the best coffee I’ve tasted, but wasn’t a disaster either. What surprised me, was how low in numbers the clientele was. Only five people, including me. 

Gulping the coffee back I left after about 15 minutes, and headed to a place more central. Costa is OK, but now just like Nero, they have competition. One thing I couldn’t fault was the service which was, pretty good.  

The rain has stopped, but I’m still waiting for my friends. More coffee please. 

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Quite a reasonable cappuccino in Costa.

Summer Treats

I left the house early this morning, determined to sample my first iced coffee of the summer season, served in a glass, dipped in ice, and made with care. How fickle old people are, once inside 200 Degrees, in Market Street, a voice in my head roared ‘cappuccino’ and I caved in.

I wasn’t however disappointed, the brew in the sea green cup was utterly delicious, with no after taste or bitterness, which I’ve experienced in other cafes. This set me up for the day ahead, sharing coffee talk with other coffee lovers, friends and the hard working staff, both here and in other locations.

So what about my intended ice coffee? As I write the morning is young, hand my trek home later leads me past some of my favourite outlets. I’ve tasted ice coffee out of tins and mostly I’ve been impressed, although some harbour a little too much sweetener of various descriptions. 

Maybe I should make my own? There it is, my challenge for early June. Now old man, all you need to do is find a recipe!  

Cappuccino, but I should have said “ice coffee please, light on the sugar” 

Cappuccino, but I should have said “ice coffee please, light on the sugar” 

The Italian Job

Eight days of drinking coffee in the province of Tuscany, Italy, produced a taste experience that ran the whole scale of excellence to utter crap.

The hotel which will be nameless, was the worst of all. Tasteless and by n’ large odourless sludge dropped out of a machine that that had obviously seen better days. It was disgusting, one visit was enough for me. 

Out and about I mostly stuck with cappuccino, which varied in price between €1.50 to €3.00. Here it was much better, brewed in a way us Europeans have come to expect in a modern coffee world.  

I also liked the fact that some of the cafes were bereft of a 21st Century overhaul. Tables chairs, dressings, decorations, all belonged to an era, that many would think long departed. I loved it, and it made me feel safe and comfortable. 

Along the way, I sampled the pastries, cakes and chocolate creations, that enhanced the Italian Coffee Moments. So, nothing particularity outstanding, and apart from the hotel, nothing apocalyptic either. 

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Travelling To Tuscany

My wife and I are on holiday in the wonderful Tuscany, for me the jewel in the crown of Northern Italy. And the coffee experience thus far has been delightful, with pit stops in Torre del Lago-Puccini and Viareggio. 

Visits to small, independent outlets, where people just literally drop in for a single espresso, pay and go, the coffee has been delicious. Today I’ve had three cappuccinos all laden with froth, creamy, hot and full of taste. And dirt cheap, paying no more than €1.50.  

More reports to follow, but for the moment, I’m in the hotel lobby, writing with a large, black americano just waiting to be devoured. 

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Delicious Italian coffee with a locally baked biscuit. 

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Just delicious. 

UK Coffee Week.. Really?

UK Coffee Week, passed me by really. I paid no visits to any participating outlets, and mostly stayed home and sampled many brews from my own stash. And had a good time in the process. 

What I did do away from home is begin the process of organising a ‘Coffee People’ Photography exhibition for 2021. This involves making images of local coffee barons, owners, workers, baristas all shot on instant film. 

So really I did participate in a way. The study of coffee, is something that’s hooked me and I fear for good. So when people come visit and they ask for coffee, I can now with confidence, serve up a decent brew and tell them how they’ve come to enjoy such a magnificent cup of coffee. 

So far, so good:) 

 

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Offering a decent brew in the home. 

No Excuses

A few days ago in a popular pub in Leicester city centre, I had the worst cup of coffee I’ve tasted in a long, long time. It was dreadful, and although it was a pub and not a coffee outlet per say, there was absolutely no excuse for dishing up this garbage.

Public houses have travelled a long and difficult road in the last two decades, having to compete with cheap, imported booze, and the rise of coffee culture. They’ve had to fight back and mostly in this city, done extremely well by introducing good food and beverages. 

But this was just awful and although I won’t name the establishment, the next time I have cause to frequent the place, I’ll stick to non alcoholic beer. This county is awash with decent coffee brews, and Leicester is second to none when it comes to acquiring a delicious basic cup of coffee. Let’s hope this place gets on board, ditches whatever crap they are serving and obtain some proper and decent coffee consultation. 

 

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Awful, just awful.  

Good Friday - In Many Ways.

As a Christian, Easter, particularly Good Friday, is an important date in my calendar. So making my way into Leicester City Centre yesterday, for the celebrations,I quickly made the decision to ‘up’ my coffee intake, to offset the recent caffeine abstinence, due to the strong pain killers I’ve been taking for my back and leg discomfort. 

I began at the White Rose Cafe, next to the Cathedral, and enjoyed a rather delicious cappuccino, while bathing in warm sunshine through the floor to ceiling glass panels. Later I joined a recently retired friend of mine in the Leicester Coffee Counter In Bowling Green Street. This place is a little gem, a gorgeous coffee oasis in the town centre.  

Using Easter as an excuse, I ordered a toffee muffin with my Long Black brew, the perfect combination. I had to push hard on the brakes to stop me re-ordering the same. That would have been a mistake. 

Waving off my friend, I made my way to the recently opened Esquires Cafe in The Circle. This was my second visit, and I was very, very impressed with both the product and service. With usb charging points and accessible plug sockets, it’s a magnet for students and the business community, as well as passers by from New Walk. Great place. 

Returning home, I settled into our back garden with my last cup of the day, fully satisfied with the various taste sensations of three different outlets. The Easter break has got off to a tremendous start. No eggs for me please, just a pack of coffee beans will suffice. 

 

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Easter in the White Rose Cafe, the first of three outlets visited on Good Friday. 

 

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Good Friday in Leicester City Centre. Notability many of the cafes were full along the route. 

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The new Esquires, located in The Circle. Well designed, and excellent product. 

Laid Up

Being housebound can be a real bitch, especially when one is missing the coffee trips so much like this writer/photographer, who is holed up with back and leg pain. I’ve tried to compensate by using the early mornings, and good weather to read what’s going on in the coffee business world wide, and thinking about home studio shots of different products.

Yesterday, feeling just a little better, my dear wife ferried me to my local (96 Degrees) for lunch and a gorgeous cappuccino. Some relief in this world of pain. As I write I’m loaded up with Ibuprofen, which is helping, so I’m steering clear of any beverage for the time being. 

In the meantime the plan is to set up a ‘tabletop studio’ to shoot what I like to call coffee ‘still life’ images, and making notes on some ideas about what to do and experiment with. Turning an unfortunate situation into a creative workout is something I’ve done for decades. Watch this space for the fruit of my efforts. 

 

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Early morning brew, made with ice cold water from the fridge.

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A delicious cappuccino at 96 Degrees, my fabulous local watering hole. 

London Coffee Festival 2019

My first ever Coffee Festival, so excited was I that I packed far too much photographic equipment to haul around the three floors in the East London venue. Thanks to friends at 96 Degrees Coffee outlet in Leicester, I acquired a ‘Photo-pass’ so off I went, Nikon’s in hand.

Upon entrance, I was given a complimentary canvas bag, brimming with free samples. Grateful as I was, this added extra weight and in the end I only managed to shoot one film and about forty digital images.  

It was massive, spread over three floors, and all the familiar and not so familiar brands were in attendance. To be honest, I quickly became overwhelmed, and had to leave after a couple of hours, exhausted and ringing with sweat. I took refuge at a coffee stand outside the Bishopsgate Institute, and later at the British Library, while waiting fo the bus home. 

What the day did, was to prepare me for the next couple of festivals, (Birmingham and Brighton), in as much as next time, I will know exactly what an what not to take. By the time I got home, I wreaked of coffee, the long cool show and a cup of ‘tea’ were most welcome.

 

London Coffee Festival 2019. 

London Coffee Festival 2019. 

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A welcome sit down outside the Bishopsgate Institute. 

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Later at the British Library. 

Old Man Sitting There, Touch Of Grey But He Don’t Care.

The singing cum troubadour Neil Young said it just about right, in his song about the years of twilight. Shuffling my aching bones into town to meet two old friends (separately), in two different coffee outlets, adds to the richness of my retirement, from the rat race. 

the range in brews, specialist or everyday are my drugs of choice and this morning the whole of what we call the ‘coffee experience’, served up by knowledgeable staff, is a fix to match no other. 

As I sit here, earwigging on conversation, both close by and distant, enriches my continuing journey into the territory of coffee culture. So as I down my Ethiopian V60, and make notes, I feel at one with the world around me.  

 

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Waiting on Chris at Costa, Highcross, Leicester UK. 

 

V60 at 200 Degrees, Leicester UK

V60 at 200 Degrees, Leicester UK

Shopping For Hanging Baskets.

So there we were my wife and I, at a popular garden centre on the outskirts of Leicester, UK, queuing for lunch before looking for a couple of suitable hanging baskets for the front garden.

”Make mine a large black coffee”, I said in trepidation as my experience in tasting ‘non coffee outlet’ brews has been less than good mostly. After finding a table, my beloved provided me with a decent size cup of their filter coffee. Finding its way to my parched lips, I was taken aback,  

“Hey, this is pretty dam good coffee” I blurted our. And so it was, I gulped it down. And was about to enquire where it originated when I noticed an increased amount of human traffic, and a steady stream of overworked staff. I kept my seat. 

Its experiences like this, a decent cup of coffee to accompany my lunch that gives hope to my mind, that in house caterers are slowly getting their act together, about providing decent brews, not the stomach churning crap of not too long ago. 

Thank you Palmers Centre, the hanging baskets are pretty good as well.:) 

 

Excellent coffee at Palmers Garden Centre, Enderby, Leicester, UK. 

Excellent coffee at Palmers Garden Centre, Enderby, Leicester, UK. 

Self Contained

Packing ones own personal coffee/tea mug to haul to your favourite outlet is becoming a popular feature for beverage junkies like me. Not wanting to deeper than necessary into my pension, I went prospecting into the depths of our kitchen cupboards and found my old, metal food container, purchased several years ago from a popular chain store.

Its perfect for my needs, coupled with the fact that my hands are becoming arthritic, necessitating the need for pressure gloves, I can grip the can and sip the brew perfectly while observing the to n’ fro of everyday life. 

I began this week with a visit to 200 Degrees, and was delighted that I obtained a discount for bringing my own vessel, which was filled with the most delicious Black Americano. Later when hooking up with a friend in my ‘local’ (96 Degrees), I had more of the same.  

The mission now is to find out just who does and who doesn’t accept personal drinking vessels and who gives discount. It’s a truly fabulous idea, reminiscent of the pubs of old who used to have regulars tankards hanging over the bar, in readiness for a Merry night and an unsteady walk home. I know, I used to be one of them. 

 

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At 200 Degrees with my personal drinking can. 

 

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The ravages of old age, pressure gloves to battle the arthritis. 

Time Out

The last couple of weeks have been something of a lean time in the frontiers of coffee appreciation. Continuing back pain and arthritis in both hands have kept me housebound for the most part, so my own coffee mines have been rather plundered of late. 

This enforced house arrest has however, given me the chance to sample and tastes the various packs of beans and airtight packs, stored up for last Christmas, and I estimate that I’ve consumed well over and above my daily intake - whatever that is. 

Ive also had the opportunity to read up on coffee, listen to podcasts and get to know some like minded souls, baristas, brewers, grinders on Instagram. The latter being my favourite social media platform.  

Soon I will be out on the frontline again, visiting new and old established outlets, and chewing the cud with fellow coffee lovers. Gotta dash, another pot is on the boil. 

 

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Dishing out at home. 

 

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My favourite coffee relaxing location at home. That chair is as comfortable as it looks. 

On Spec!

Last Thursday, my wife an I were in Northampton, for the funeral of one of my most treasured friends. As one would expect, I was feeling pretty low, so on the way to the church we made a pit stop at a small, independent cafe and I opted for a regular cappuccino, minus the chocolate lid. 

Its just what I needed to steady my resolve and prepare me for an emotional farewell. My friend taught creative writing and I know he would appreciate this blog type tribute. We did sink an awful lot of coffee together, in times gone by, boy do I miss him. Goodbye Stephen, here’s to you my irreplaceable buddy!. 

 

Saying goodbye to my dear, departed friend Stephen Loveless, at the Dreams Coffee Lounge, Northampton, UK

Saying goodbye to my dear, departed friend Stephen Loveless, at the Dreams Coffee Lounge, Northampton, UK

Floating

Last Sunday lunchtime, I had my first ever floater coffee in Bistrot Pierre, Leicester, UK. At first I thought the three ‘floaters’ motionless in the creamy surface, was chunks of chocolate. To my delight and surprise they were coffee beans, slightly bitter, but interesting to crunch and munch. 

Now Bistrot Pierre is a popular restaurant, not a coffee outlet as such, but this was a delicious moment and over the coming year, I will be in pursuit of different ‘floater’ menus and concoctions. I may even have a go at making my own, but I would probably cave in to my weakness, and add chocolate covered coffee beans. Heaven! 

 

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Floater Coffee at Bistrot Pierre, Leicester, UK an amazing coffee moment experience. 

 

Welcome Return

A few days ago, I returned to one of my favourite Leicester coffee outlets from several years ago, St Martins Coffee Shop. It was lovely to be there again although many of the faces have changed. It’s been a popular venue for some time, it’s reputation built on great service and good, good products. 

This time around I settled on a regular cappuccino, loaded with chocolate flakes, it was pure comfort drinking, an indulgence that laid waste to my abb crunch routine, some hours earlier:). 

The relaxed atmosphere was easy to hook into, and it made me realise how much I have missed coming here. Still highly recommended, the decor is bright and modern, great place to relax or my case, write and blog. 

 

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Writing in the balcony of St. Martins, Leicester, enjoying a regular cappuccino. 

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Just Walking In The Rain

Having been holed up for most of the week due to the crappy climate, I had to get out today before I went nuts. 

Mall week I’ve been grinding beans at home from various outlets, enough to accommodate my six to eight cups per day, but the time had come for somebody else to prepare the brew, so I pitched up at 200 Degrees, ordered a decaf cappuccino, sat down at one of the spacious tables, and marvelled at the Swan froth sculpture, that adorned the brim. 

This small luxurious moment was most welcome, and it was superb. Might stay for another, oh what the hell....

 

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Coffee at 200 Degrees, complete with froth swan sculpture. 

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Coffee At The Museum

The wife and I embarked on a longish walk today, dropping in first at the New Walk Museum, to make a donation to the ‘Save The Hogarth’ painting for Leicester. 

By the time arrived I needed a caffine fix, but opted instead for a decaf Latte, which accompanied with a mighty fruit laden flapjack, gave me a sugar rush at light speed. 

The last time I was here the coffee (Americano), was less than average. But this latte was a cast improvement. It’s  Costa franchise, not an independent, but nevertheless, it was a pleasurable if not memorable coffee moment. 

 

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Decaf latte with the tail end of a delicious flapjack at the New Walk Museum, Leicester UK. 

In The Chain

Leicester UK can boast some of the best independent coffee outlets I’ve ever been to. So why would Cafe Nero, who has several outlets in the city, choose to open another one in the city centre? Simple, demand.

i went for the first time recently, to this prime location newbie, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the service and the product. This was early morning and there was a sizeable que, waiting for their various preferences. I was served swiftly and with good manners. 

Time will tell of course, but with the ever increasing student population, mostly from overseas, I doubt that places like the new Cafe Nero will have a short life span. 

Cafe Nero is located on the corner of Silver Street and High Street.

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Very nice interior design at the new Cafe Nero in Leicester, UK

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