A Moomin Cafe: So Much Better Than Cats

05/07/2014

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With the recent—and unexplainable—trend of “cat cafés” there seems to be a rise in these concept-driven (value-added?) ways to get people into a shop to sip coffee. While I think a cat café sounds like an incredibly awful and hair-filled experience, I would happily sit at a table with a large stuffed Moomin and enjoy a delicious cup—something that you can actually do in Japan.

If you haven’t heard of the Moomins, they are a family of hippo-esque creatures who live in Mumindalen and go on great adventures. They are the central characters in a collection of books, comics and cartoons from the Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator, Tove Jansson—and they are simply fantastic.

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The Moomin Bakery and Café is located at Tokyo Dome City, an entertainment complex in the Bunkyo neighborhood. The bakery offers Finnish-style bread and lots of other food shaped like Moomin Characters to create a Finland themed café in the heart of Japan. While I can’t speak to the coffee quality, but does it really matter when you’re sharing a table with a giant Moomintroll?

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Moomin Bakery & Cafe Tokyo Dome City
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 1-1-1 Tokyo Dome City LaQua 1F
T. 03-5842-6300

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[photos via Business Insider]

First Look: Workshop Holborn Coffeebar

04/02/2014

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London’s Workshop Coffee Co. first opened its doors in 2011 as the European cousin to Australia’s St.Ali—sharing the same name. But in April 2012 the company rebranded (full disclosure: I worked with them on their rebrand) and they’ve since become a household name in London’s specialty coffee scene. The first two Workshop locations were always high on my list of recommended places to visit in London and their wholesale accounts have grown considerably since my last time here.

Last week, Workshop’s third retail location opened at Holborn in the bottom of the new Amazon headquarter building and it’s quite an amazing coffee bar. When you arrive, large front doors open to a bright and spacious area with ample room to place an order or form a queue once Amazon is fully staffed with their employees.

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When you enter to the left, there’s a large mirrored logo that casts a glow on several high standing tables and a wall mounted bench reminiscent of the trams in Sweden. This half of the space is designed to accommodate shorter stays and quick shots of espresso, while the back half of the shop offers a more lounging environment where several groups of people were having casual business meetings.

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The bar is literally split in two, providing the ability to close off the back of the space with a sliding gate for private events, while keeping the front half open to the public. The back bar also provides the resources to speed up service during rush periods.

The front and back bars are both outfitted with La Marzocco Linea PBs, Mazzer grinders and Uber Boilers. If you’re interested in filter coffee, you can choose from a selection of single origins brewed on an AeroPress or a quick cup of batch brew from a dialed-in Fetco. To accommodate employees operating the well-equipped bar, the space behind it is almost equal to the space in front of it, giving baristas a luxurious amount of room to work with, which everyone seemed very happy about.

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The new Workshop feels entirely different than the previous two locations, which are unique from each other in their own right, creating three very distinct experiences depending on where you go. This shop feels like it was designed for speed and efficiency, likely anticipating the rush from Amazon employees and the heavy foot traffic on the street outside. But it also has a very fresh and modern feel in stark contrast to the rustic, wood heavy aesthetic of the Clerkenwell café.

With the growing number of choices to drink delicious coffee in London, the new Workshop offers a refreshing take on the experience that provides a more energizing environment. It feels Scandinavian, without feeling too homey and cozy without putting you to sleep. There are elements that remind me of my favorite coffee bars around the world, like Koppi in Sweden and Saint Frank in San Francisco, all while making its own unique mark on the London coffee scene.

Workshop Holborn Coffeebar
60A Holborn Viaduct 
Holborn
EC1A 2FD
Mon–Fri 7am – 7pm (closed weekends)

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Bookman’s Bicycle Cup Holder

03/27/2014

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With spring on the horizon, the dreams of leisurely bike rides under blossoming trees and lounging in grass covered parks is almost within reach. If you’d like to add a fresh cup of coffee to the equation, your options for safely transporting it can be limited. Just in time for better weather, the Swedish cycling accessory company Bookman, known for their portable and powerful bike lights, has just launched a new cup holder for your bike to make your coffee’s journey easier.

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The simple and utilitarian design attaches like a clamp and can be quickly and easily removed. The company claims that it will remain firmly in place, even over bumps—just be sure you’ve got the coffee’s lid on tight. The two rings are different sizes allowing you to flip the holder to accommodate a small or medium sized cup of coffee. I’m not sure if they can fit a KeepCup, but that would make them even nicer. Once they’re available, I’ll be sure to test them out.

Pre-order now at Bookman

Coffee Cup Inspires Innovative Relief Shelter

03/26/2014

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Following the devastation and poor management of relief to the hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans, Mississippian Michael McDaniel was determined to develop a solution that would prevent inefficiency and waste in future disasters and avoid making things worse for the victims. The goal of his company Reaction over the past 8 years has been to improve the quality and cost of post-disaster shelters for victims. With the inspiration of a styrofoam coffee cup, McDaniel came up with the idea for the lightweight, stackable, and cost effective Exo Housing System.

According to the company’s website, the shelters are light enough to be moved by hand and strong enough to stop bullets. While the average cost of a FEMA trailer, the current post-disaster shelters, is around $20,000 each and designed for a single use, the Exo will be sold for about $5000 and can be reused. Apart from the cost and construction, they can also be stacked, just like coffee cups, fitting 28 housing units on one semi trailer that can only transport one FEMA shelter.

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The shelters are also more than just a roof over the inhabitants heads, they are wired with modern technology to allow victims charge phones and stay connected with updates through an integrated app called Populous. The company just finished raising $50,000 to send shelters to Syria and they are beginning the process of manufacturing on a large scale to make these available to all the areas in the world that desperately need them.

Fast Company just published this nice video interview with McDaniel about the Exo shelter’s creation and its potential for doing good in unfortunate circumstances. Disposable coffee cups are often one of the downsides to coffee’s popularity, but in this instance, a disposable coffee cup’s inspiring impact has the potential to do a lot of good for a lot of people around the world.

Read more: Reaction Housing

Sylvan Esso’s Coffee EP Drops Today

03/25/2014

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Sylvan Esso is a synth-pop duo based in Durham, North Carolina that’s made up of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn. Meath was a vocalist in the female folk trio Mountain Man and Sanborn was playing bass with the band Megafaun when Sylvan Esso accidentally formed. Together, the two’s sound creates warm layers of bouncing beats, magnetizing vocals and catchy hooks that are just as energizing as they are relaxing (like a good cup of coffee).

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Until recently, Sylvan Esso only had two songs available from their debut EP, “Hey Mami/ Play It Right,” making a live performance the best way to hear more of their music. Having seen them twice in the last six months, I’ve been eagerly awaiting their first LP, “Coffee” which will be released in May. The title track—Coffee—was released a few months ago on Sound Cloud and today they released a video to correspond with the EP’s release.

The sounds of Sylvan Esso provide a great soundtrack for all your coffee brewing and coffee sipping needs or turn up the volume and find some bass that’ll get your whole body moving to the beat. Check out the new video for “Coffee” below and their upcoming tour dates in Europe and the US.

Order the “Coffee” EP today and look out for the full length in May.

University of California Considering Coffee Degree

03/14/2014

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The University of California, Davis is considering the potential of a degree in coffee sometime in the near future. The university recently opened the UC Davis Coffee Center as part of their Food for Health Institute, whose stated goals are to “increase value at every step of the coffee pipeline, to ensure safety and quality of the global coffee trade, and educate the next generation of coffee scientists.”

The Coffee Center just wrapped up its first coffee research conference and they are currently looking for partners in the coffee industry to help expand the program and its research. NPR spoke with the director of the Food for Health Institute who made the case for why coffee is an obvious area of study:

There aren’t a lot of things that so many people consume several times a day, every day,” says J. Bruce German, who directs of the Foods for Health Institute at Davis. But given how much coffee people all over the world chug, there’s a surprising lack of academic research on the topic, German says.

There’s a lot we still don’t fully understand about coffee, German says. What’s the best way to treat the beans while they’re still green? What’s the most environmentally friendly way to roast them? And why are we so obsessed with how it smells?

And since the university is already well known for its winemaking and beer brewing programs, German says coffee seems like a natural next step. –NPR

As someone currently working on a Master’s Thesis about coffee, I can confirm how little academic research there is on the topic and I would greatly appreciate the knowledge a program like this could produce. If you’re considering an academic degree in the future and you’re enthralled by the idea of studying the chemistry of coffee, its impact on human health, or how to improve coffee at any point of the coffee chain, keep an eye on UC Davis.

Read the full story on NPR.

Female Baristas the Ultimate Male Fantasy?

03/14/2014


Comedy websites College Humor and Funny or Die are no strangers to playing off barista stereotypes in an effort to get laughs. The former even has a feature length movie called “Coffee Town” staring Glenn Howerton of “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fame. In College Humor’s latest short, they replace a bachelor party stripper with a coy barista plying for tips—do not tell Lauren!

Funny? Ridiculous? Objectifying? Sexist? Terrible? I’m just happy it doesn’t mention “hipsters” or Kopi Luwak. Share your thoughts on Twitter.

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TOMS Shoe Company Announces Coffee Roasting

03/12/2014

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Yesterday at Austin’s grand technology orgy known as South by Southwest (SXSW), TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie announced the next step for his pioneering “one for one” shoe company—specialty coffee. The plan includes more than just a pop-up cafe in a shoe store, the new category of the TOMS brand will include wholesale roasting, a chain of retail outlets and a subscription club. The coffee, just like the company’s shoes and eyewear, will continue following the company’s model of giving to someone in need for every product sold, in this case water. Fortune has the scoop.

Generally, a celebrity’s foray into coffee isn’t really worth noting. However, Mycoskie specifically mentions specialty coffee pioneers like Intelligentsia, Stumptown and Blue Bottle as their competition and has tapped Angel Orozco, founder of LA’s Cafecito Organico as their new master roaster:

TOMS says it’s not targeting Starbucks so much as “third wave” artisanal roasters like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia and Stumptown, cult coffee brands that keep cropping up in places like San Francisco and Portland. But TOMS Roasting Co. will have one major distribution channel most of those niche brands don’t: outside of its own cafes and website, the beans will only be available in Whole Foods. –Fortune

It pays to know people, and TOMS brand awareness combined with their existing distribution channels may give them a running start. With over 2 million social media followers and a loyal fan base, those who support the TOMS model of one for one giving may find the coffee attractive, even more so if the product tastes good.

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In an interview with Fortune, Mycoskie talks about wanting their new cafés to feel more like someone’s home that can become community centers where people can bring their dogs, have a coffee (and buy shoes and glasses). Although they see the “third wave” coffee shops as their target market, they admit they will fall somewhere between Starbucks and Stumptown, offering a less intimidating atmosphere.

The TOMS Roasting Co sweet spot is high quality beans (single-origin, free-trade) at a lower price ($12.99 per 12-oz. bag compared with $16 to $18 for cult coffee brands). Rachel Halliburton, the TOMS marketer who led “project burlap,” says the hope is to play somewhere between Starbucks and Stumptown. “I’m intimidated to walk into Intelligentsia,” she says. “We want you to feel okay about walking in and saying, ‘I just want a cup of coffee, and yes, I’m going to put sugar in it.'” –Fortune

I find it curious that TOMS will sell its “high quality” coffee at up to 25% less than other specialty companies. Does this mean they will pay the farmers less only to offset those lower prices by giving water? On a certain level I truly admire TOMS and how they’ve changed the conversation of corporate responsibility, however my primary critique of business models like theirs is that they rely on the “westerner as savior” mentality instead of paying someone the true value of their product, allowing communities to build their own infrastructure. Instead of empowering a community, TOMS comes across more like a foreign hero giving things to those deemed in need.

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I believe this new venture from TOMS has all the potential to be quite successful. With over  a year of planning, it seems like the company has done its research and remains humble about entering a market they have no experience in. If they can provide a quality product that creates a stepping stone between the likes of Starbucks and other specialty coffee companies, I see this as a benefit to the entire industry, further validating the widespread appeal of better coffee. If however, simply adopts the marketing language and design cues of specialty coffee to market a mediocre product, it won’t be much of a surprise. Keep it real Mycoskie.

Read more at Fortune and TOMS Roasting Co.

Colin Harmon: The Story of 3FE in Dublin

02/24/2014

Colin Harmon, the charismatic 4-time Irish Barista Champion, has worked hard to establish his world renown coffee bar, 3FE, in Dublin. The former investment banker decided to leave his suit and tie after being unable to find a consistently good cup of coffee. The story is similar for many who have started their own coffee companies—if you want something done right, do it yourself. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the story as told by Colin in the film above.

Six months after getting his first job as a barista, Colin won his first Irish Barista Championship, thus giving him the confidence to keep learning and pushing his ability to make better coffee. Fast forward 4 years and his coffee bar, which began as a pop-up in the lobby of a night club, is now packed 7 days a week serving coffee from their newly opened roastery.

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The whole story is told in all its honesty by Colin and some of his team in this well-made video they released over the weekend. From the lessons of Colin’s first job to the absurdity of being applauded for making cappuccinos, the 3FE story shares great insight into how a well regarded coffee company came into existence. It takes enthusiasm, hard work, and a great team of people to make something special.

Read more at 3FE: Our Story

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Coffee Touring: The Best Coffee in Riga

02/18/2014

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Just last month, Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic states, was officially unveiled as the European Capital of Culture for 2014 (along with Umeå, Sweden). What that means exactly for the residents depends on who you ask, most seem unsure about the specifics, but they are excited nonetheless to have a spotlight on their city following all the cultural events planned throughout the year. After returning from a week long trip, I learned first hand that the designation is much deserved. From the city’s budding specialty coffee scene to the amazing architecture down every street, Riga is well worth a visit.

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Riga has a history that dates back longer than my North American mind can wrap itself around, and the architecture alone reflects it. Just walking through the streets you’re treated to a diversity of buildings that I’ve yet to see in one place elsewhere in Europe. Riga has changed hands many times over the centuries, and it has absorbed heavy influences from Germany, the Soviet Union and at one point in the early 1700’s it was the largest city in the Swedish empire.

In the nearly 25 years since gaining its freedom from the USSR, Riga has grown into a city as cosmopolitan and unique as any other in central Europe. The incredibly preserved Art Nouvaeu district (the largest collection in the world) and the old wooden homes from the 19th century are now being joined by contemporary designs like the newly finished National Library and the Citadele and DnB Nord bank buildings. Along with this architectural and cultural modernization, specialty coffee has begun to take hold as well.

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MIIT Coffee & Bikes 
Lāčplēša iela 10, Rīga
Tel: +371 26775490
@miit_tiim

Miit Coffee & Bikes in the heart of the Central District is only a couple blocks from the large Esplenade park. The bright and spacious shop was just around the corner from my hotel and received daily visits during my stay in Riga. There’s a lot of love for bikes and the fixed gear culture, with historic images of track racing on the walls and a framed photo of Eddie Merckx behind the bar. Miit opened 3 years ago and uses coffee roasted by Andrito Coffee Roasting, founded in 2010 by the former Latvian Barista Champion Andris Petkēvičs.

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The café serves a menu full of vegetarian and vegan food, including a delicious spread of pancakes for weekend brunch. The long bar made from stacks of wooden slats plays host to a La Cimbali espresso machine or you can order any coffee available as an Aeropress, V60, French Press or Chemex. During one of my visits, a barista mentioned that it’s not common for customers to order the manual brew methods on their own because they usually don’t know what they are, but after recommendations, some regulars will eventually try them and really enjoy it. Even if they don’t serve manual brew coffee very often, she said they’re proud to offer it.

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When Miit isn’t making coffee or pancakes, they stay busy with other projects like Miit Works, which sells track bike frames and parts. Cycling seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout my visit, with fixed gear bikes having a presence in some way at every shop I visited. If that wasn’t enough, when the sun goes down, the coffee bar turns into an evening bar with DJs and crowds that rival those found during the day. There’s also WiFi available for those who need to map out their next move and friendly staff who can help you find your way.

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Žanna Cafe
Tomsona iela 2, Rīga
Tel: +371 27002226

The newest coffee shop to visit in Riga is Žanna, which opened just three months ago and already feels like a neighborhood institution. This cozy shop sits on the corner of a quiet residential street off the much busier Valdemars iela. Žanna’s corner location lets light in from both sides, allowing you to enjoy the fresh baked goods alongside your coffee in a warm space that contrasts with the cold Soviet-era exterior.

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Žanna is using coffee roasted in neighboring Estonia by Gourmet Coffee, and just like Miit, they offer brewing on a variety of methods. The centerpiece of the room is a bright red La Marzocco FB/80 that draws your attention from whichever corner you may be sitting in. I had a well made espresso before relaxing with a Chemex of Ethiopian Arichan and a sample of a Colombian brewed with a V60—both very well made by a barista who admitted to have only been making coffee for 3 months.

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As with Miit, Žanna is open later and has a bar stocked with everything needed to transition from caffeine to a nightcap. This café fills up with locals in a place that’s much more removed from the central part of town, but it’s still easy to visit by a short walk along one of Riga’s main roads. If you want to leave the guide book behind and explore something other than the tourist districts, take a walk to Žanna.

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Innocent Café
Blaumaņa ielā 34-1a, Rīga
Tel: +371 29349507
@innocentcafe

A place like Innocent Café normally wouldn’t make it on my list of places to visit, but it was recommended by Ingemars who is now the head barista at Žanna Cafe. While he admitted that he managed Innocent for several years and that they were an Illy cafe, he said it was an important place because it inspired the current trend of specialty coffee shops and the baristas who work at them.

Innocent is the Latvian distributor of Illy coffee, and during my visit I lost count of how many Illy logos there were to remind me. The café was branded like none I’d ever seen before. There were shelves lined with Illy cups, Illy logos on the walls, paintings on the walls of the Illy logos on the walls and sofas upholstered in Illy red leather. It was a bit of an Illy overload.

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On the front counter was a white La Marzocco GB5 adorned with subculture stickers that contrasted irreverently with the sheen of Illy’s corporate mark left on every available surface. The café was quite large, with the middle room being devoted to the sale of home machines and coffee products. The back section was dimly lit and reserved more for the laptop crowd, while the front was bustling with customers who all seemed to know each other quite well. From greeting each others kids to saddling up beside neighbors when open tables were readily available.

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The coffee was as I expected, but a much better option than most of the places I passed on my way here. I had a well pulled and balanced shot of espresso followed by my first Illy cappuccino with milk that wasn’t bone dry. It felt as if Innocent had formed some kind of hybrid between what I’ve always expected from an Illy café and a modern specialty coffee shop. With a bike on the wall and booze on the shelves, it seemed to fill the requirements of the other specialty coffee shops in town and was filled with happy, coffee loving customers.

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While Riga’s specialty coffee scene may still be small, it has ample potential for a city the size of Riga. One thing I noticed every shop in Riga had in common was the vibrancy of a culture on the move. While navigating to each destination, I’d pass local boutiques alongside Bulgari showrooms and centuries old wooden homes beside storefronts displaying the work of Eames and Kartell. Not to mention the free wifi everywhere, even in Taxis and liquor stores.

There are so many rich layers of history in Latvia and so much potential in its modern day growth, it’s inevitable that the current generation will add even more unique layers to this city in the years to come. Places like Miit, Žanna and Innocent have created the kind of atmosphere in Riga where this future can take shape.