Speciality coffee often gets a bad rap for being niche and hipster. Whilst it may not be everyone's cup of er, coffee; the acid fruit, depth and complexity of flavour is a real departure from the instant or mass produced blends that most people, myself included, drink day to day. If you're interested in good wine, beer or chocolate, it too is something to at least try.
Bristol, over the last few years has a burgeoning coffee scene, with independent coffee shops and bars opening city wide. Many of them offer speciality coffees alongside their house blend, and most of them are friendly and approachable places, happy to talk about what they brew to those who wish to know more.
One of my favourite coffee bars is Full Court Press on Broad Street. Here, they serve speciality coffee, from an ever changing menu that reflects whatever is drinking well. They showcase beans from various regions and roasters from across the UK and further afield, with intriguing tasting notes that make you want to try a cup of everything in store. Run by Mat North, whose knowledge and enthusiasm for coffee is infectious; it is the perfect place to try your first cup of speciality brew.
I pestered Mat with a few questions...
WM: Do you still remember the cup of coffee that got you hooked?
MN: For sure! It was at a roastery, James Gourmet Coffee in Ross-on-Wye, and it was a cup of a Kenyan coffee from Gethumbwini. Fresh from the roast tray, it was incredibly blackcurranty, a really sweet and unmistakable flavour. I think anyone who works in coffee remembers "that cup".
WM: What is it about coffee that interests you so?
MN: Its sheer complexity as an ingredient. It's one of those rare foods or drinks where it really is possible to taste the impact of where, when and how it is grown, processed and roasted. With more flavour compounds than wine, you'd be hard pressed to find anything that can be as varied and rewarding taste wise.
WM: You've worked in the coffee industry for some time now, which aspect or aspects have you enjoyed the most?
MN: Sales and engineering were fun, but it's always been about the service for me. Serving drinks to and interacting with our customers is by far the most rewarding part of the job.
WM: When and why did you decide to open your own coffee bar?
MN: I guess I'd always been planning it, but the timing and the finances never seemed right. Then in 2012, planning started in earnest, leading us to open in 2013.
WM: What's the difference between speciality coffee and mass marketed beans?
MN: Put simply, quality. Speciality grade coffee scores above eighty points (out of a hundred) in an industry standard grading system. These coffees command a higher price than the lower scoring commodity grade coffees that are traded on the futures exchanges in New York and London. Speciality is just a small amount of the global coffee production though.
WM: Speciality coffee can seem intimidating to some people. How do you get over that barrier?
MN: It's difficult, what we think of as a 'coffee' taste, is mostly defect and taint. In reality, the vast majority of flavour in coffee is acid based. People don't expect their coffee to be fruity and that's where it can seem intimidating. This is compounded by the recent trend to highlight this by deliberately emphasising the acidity during brewing. Great coffee should be acidic, sour, bitter, sweet, all in perfect balance. The thing is though, it's not for everyone, and there are plenty of coffee places catering to all tastes.
WM: Are there any particular beans or roasters that excite you?
MN: I'm always excited for the arrival of fresh crop Ethiopians and Kenyans; they just have such a unique flavour profile. But I'm also quite partial to Colombians, El Salvadorians, Panamanians... pretty much everything really, as long as it's of true quality.
WM: When someone tries speciality coffee for the first time, what do they need to look out for?
MN: Be open minded. If it's been made correctly, chances are it'll taste nothing like your usual cup of coffee. You'll most likely love or hate it first time out, either way, it's worth giving it another go. Be sure to let it cool a little. Coffee is not a drink to be had super hot, it needs some cooling to develop all those unique flavours. Oh and try it without milk and sugar first, just like you should try your food before seasoning.
WM: Can you enjoy these beans at home without fancy equipment?
MN: For sure, pretty much everyone has a cafetiere cluttering up the cupboard and, they're great for brewing up enough to get you through the morning. Buy beans if you can grind them fresh, and once you're hooked, search out some tips to improve your brewing.
WM: Finally, do you ever drink instant?
MN: Yup. As well as being a coffee specialist, I'm frequently quite lazy and definitely addicted to caffeine.
Labels: Bristol, Starter for Ten, The Buzz, Thirsty work