Just over 6 months ago, I wrote about a website called the Colombian Coffee Hub that launched a new space for coffee lovers to share and learn about coffee, specifically about coffee in Colombia. They began by following Tim Wendelboe on a journey to origin as he learned about different processing methods and varieties being grown in Colombia.
When the Hub launched they announced the opportunity for active Hubbers to win a trip to Colombia for a chance to experience origin and share their journey. I’m more than honored to have won the first trip and stoked to share my journey with Hubbers & DCILY readers. I’ll be learning about the process from plant to seaport and meeting some of the growers and researchers continually working to produce better coffee.
There will be videos of my trip posted along the way on CCH, just sign up to follow along—as well as more opportunities to win a trip of your own. See you on the Hub.
Last week I had the pleasure of walking through the doors of Handsome Coffee Roasters to finally congratulate two of the three Handsome boys in person. Almost ten months to the day since first announcing Handsome Coffee, Tyler, Chris and Michael opened their doors to an eager public who have been teased non-stop for the past year.
The attention they’ve received is unprecedented, heavily driven by Twitter and blogs (guilty), and the endless media coverage has set the bar very high. Every step of their journey has been watched with excitement, curiosity, and envy. They’ve used several creative tactics to keep the conversation about them alive as they built their shop—making it seem like the chance to visit were always just around the corner.
One of these strategies was the “First Forty” club, which offered a social media savvy audience to be among the first to sample test roasts each month before they began selling their coffee to the public. This made sure there was a continuous buzz regarding a product that no one else could even buy. It garnered interest and bought time while everything else was being put into place—not only in LA, but also New York.
The Handsome coffee bar and roastery sits on the corner of Mateo and Willow Street, surrounded by warehouses in the Arts District of Los Angeles. It’s only about a mile from Union Station, but I doubt I could have found it without a GPS. When I arrived, there was a line out the door and several people enjoying the sunshine out front.
I showed up with a van of Coffee Common baristas, and we were greeted at the door by Tyler and Chris with welcoming hugs, coffee and a tour of their new home.
I ordered an espresso and a cup of their new Rwanda (Abakundakawa)—which to my surprise was only available as a batch brew, which Tyler proudly defended as a great, consistent way to serve it. To be honest, if no one had told me, I wouldn’t have have been able to tell. It was a damn good cup of coffee. The espresso was bright, but balanced with a creamy finish, pulled on a La Marzocco Linea.
As my filter coffee cooled, I wandered around the space and talked with Chris and Anne about his new roasting “theater” which had a fair number of people passing through and watching him work through the windows.
As I walked around, the details of the shop are really quite remarkable. From the floor to (high) ceiling subway tiles, to the copper drop awning that mirrors the copper wrapped bar, and the hallway of etched wooden tiles with a texture so smooth you just want to run your hand across them all the way to the restrooms (where you hopefully wash them).
There are several types of seating to accomodate various types of customers—around the bar, at the window, outside, communally in the back, or perched against the glass wall watching the roaster in action. But where ever you are in the space, the baristas and the bar remain front and center of the experience.
Even though the location seems a bit out of the way (everything in LA seems that way to me) the shop remained busy throughout my visit—if business stays that way, there should be no problem keeping on the lights. As the coffee scene in Los Angeles continues to grow, Handsome has placed itself high on the list of must visit shops from the day they opened their doors, no matter where it’s located.
As the company grows along with the owners, I look forward to seeing and tasting their progress. I’d also love to eventually see Handsome/farmer relationships and more unique coffees coming from them, rather than green importers. There’s a lot of light shining on them and I would love to see some of it illuminate issues regarding coffee buying and quality—but so far none of that seems to be a part of their story.
While some may tire of hearing about Handsome, I can only think of the new people in LA their media circus will help introduce to better coffee, which ultimately helps everyone trying to do the same.
I’m glad I was able to stop by Handsome with good friends in tow. Thanks to Tyler and Chris for showing us around and I wish Mike could have been there as well. Hopefully he heals up quick and gets back behind that lovely bar soon enough.
Oliver Strand published a great new article on Ristretto, his column for the New York Times, about his recent travels to Japan. Strand shares a bit about the history of Japanese coffee shops, called kissaten, and reveals where you can experience the next generation of coffee on your next trip to Tokyo—map included.
When I tell people that I went to Tokyo to check out the coffee, I get two reactions. One is bewilderment — as if I went to Denver for the surfing. The other is fascination: those who pay attention to coffee know that Japan is the world’s third-largest importer (after the United States and Germany), with obsessive buyers who regularly land the winning bids at Cup of Excellence auctions, and that it produces the coffee gear everybody wants. –Oliver Strand
I love to travel and thankfully get to do so quite often. However, my method for exploring new cities has changed over the years. Before leaving on trips, I use to bury myself in travel guides at the bookstore to map out what to do and see. But my strategy has shifted to combine my love of coffee with my love of travel to create much more fulfilling experiences. Coffee shops have become my bookstore and baristas my travel guides.
Coffee touring has many benefits, aside from tasting the best coffee a city has to offer. Here are some of the reasons why its become my preferred way to travel.
Many independent and progressive coffee shops can’t afford, or choose not to pay, rent near the city centers and tourist attractions. They tend to open shops in neighborhoods, art districts, and future up-and-coming parts of town. By visiting these shops, you find yourself in new parts of the city that a guide book may never lead you to. It also creates a trip unlike those who only visit the typical landmarks—most of which look the same as they do in pictures anyway, only with the mobs of people surrounding them. By allowing yourself to wander, you’ll gain a more unique and personal perspective of a place.
Baristas Know More Than Coffee
Any good barista will love talking about coffee, but there’s a pretty good chance they have other interests as well. If they aren’t too busy, engage them in a genuine conversation. They’re residents of the city you’re visiting after all, which make them wonderful people to talk with for recommendations on the best burrito joint, parks to relax in, art galleries to visit and even other coffee shops that aren’t on your list. I’ve learned about upcoming concerts, closing art exhibits and even parties to attend from talking with baristas. Just consider putting some of that money saved on travel guides in your barista’s tip jar!
A seasoned coffee drinker can easily consume three beverages a day. And if you get them all at three different shops, you can cover a lot of ground in between. When I travel I try to walk everywhere I can. Even in cities with great transportation, you will see much more while walking than if you’re underground or even on a bus. Walking also allows you to take detours down alleys and try on that cute dress you passed in the thrift store window. You’ll have plenty of time to sit and recover at the next coffee shop.
Most coffee shops have some kind of food. Whether its pastries or paninis, you should be able to find something to hold you over until following that burrito recommendation.
While it’s generally frowned upon to make a coffee shop your personal office, there’s always the chance that you can plug in long enough to recharge your phone or camera. If they have wifi, don’t forget to check a map of the area and tweet Instagram photos of you planking on the La Marzocco Strada. Just be considerate, obviously.
Locals In The wild
One of the best ways to gain authentic insight to a place and its people is to view residents in their natural habitat. It’s in those instances when I often realize we’re all human with many of the same habits and vices, no matter what country or culture you’re from. Since locals tend to avoid the overcrowded tourist hubs, you won’t see many of them at cafés in Time Square and Covent Garden. So its the coffee shops in unexpected places, where you’ll find and meet the people who live there.
Planning a Coffee Tour
So how should one begin planning a coffee tour? Being here is a great place to start. There is a category on the right sidebar that lists all of the coffee tours I’ve published so far, and will give you suggestions for coffee shops worth adding to your list. You can follow DCILY on twitter and ask me for recommendations and I’ll do my best to help you find great coffee wherever you’re traveling.
Once you have a few coffee shops on your list, you can begin plotting which ones to visit that allow you to see the most. Be strategic. Sometimes you’ll find a couple great shops within a block or two of each other. If you plan to visit all of those on the same day, you may not make it out of that neighborhood. Once you get to your locations, talk with baristas, talk with locals and let those conversations help shape your trip.
These tours are by no means complete and are to be seen as inspirational suggestions for your own travels. If you know of any shops in the places I’ve been that I haven’t checked out, please leave a comment and let me know about them. Enjoy!
There’s a new coffee doctor in town, Dr.Drip, whose medicinal looking product aims to combat the virus of instant brew across the land. Each pack comes with five “pop-up” pour over stands and five packs of pre-ground coffee—available in four mediocre sounding blends: Organic Blend, Premium Signature Blend, Dark Sumatran Blend, and Decaffeinated Premium.
The product was created by Gordon Grade Coffee, a father/son company who wanted to develop a simple and portable single-cup brewing device that didn’t need any fancy equipment. Its a good looking product. Sadly, they’ve chosen to market their product in the most trite sounding terms available, using every catchphrase of the moment:
All of our Gordon Grade Coffee is made from 100% superior quality Arabica beans, carefully selected from the world’s best growing regions. Artisan roasters escort the beans through the roasting process, crafting rich, flavorful all natural, fair-trade or organically grown blends before the beans go on to receive a precision grind.
I haven’t personally tried these, and won’t have time to before leaving the country, but they piqued my interest for two reasons. First, I think the design, although very pharmaceutical, is kind of nice. I’m a sucker for simple geometric illustrations. However, the perpetuation of marketing coffee as a drug is rather annoying. Second, they reminded me of the Kalita Katan disposable drippers that Wrecking Ball Coffee sells (and for much less). A pack of five Dr.Drip pouches costs $9, while a pack of 30 Kalita drippers costs only $8—but you must supply your own questionable pre-ground coffee.
I think the drippers are a great idea for travelers, and they look sturdier than the Kalitas, though I’m not sure how they compare brewing wise. My suggestion to Gordon Grade Coffee would be to start selling just the drippers (at a more competitive price) and let the customer provide their own coffee. If the product performs, I bet they’d have a bigger market in Specialty Coffee than they realize.
Last fall, two friends embarked on a cross-country road trip to experience and capture Canada’s independent coffee culture. What resulted was a 20 episode series called Common Ground TV that highlights the many different places, personalities, and perspectives within the Canadian coffee scene.
I know very little about Canadian coffee aside from the names of a few roasters and a couple baristas I met during Coffee Common, so I’ve learned a lot during the first six episodes. The 10-minute episodes have featured everything from interviews with coffee notables like Zane Kelsall and Sevan Istanboulian—to a trip to the Canadian Barista Championship. There’s also a bit of cultural insight and good clean fun along the way.
The two hosts, Nik and Edan, spoke with DCILY about their project, what they learned during their journey, and what the future holds.
— What spurred you to make this trip? Have you always been so enthusiastic about coffee?
NIK:Ever since about 16, I’ve had an addiction to coffee. I’ve always had a decent surface knowledge of what makes a good cup. After being a barista on and off for about 15 years, I found the culture to be very interesting as far as the characters you meet across an espresso machine. People never set out to be baristas, they’re always led there and often times down some colorful paths. Those are the stories that we have been capturing. Ex-engineers, athletes—you name it—they’re often very eccentric and intense folks.
EDAN:When I was in high school, a cafe opened in Grand Forks called ‘River City’; they made really good coffee, and I started to appreciate the differences between gas station swill and proper espresso. When Nik opened his cafe, I got a chance to learn the finer nuances of pulling a good shot of espresso and how to steam milk properly. From there, Nik and I wanted to create a guide to the best coffee in BC, but I ended up doing my masters in architecture, and Nik got busy with film school, and we took a few years away from the project. Last year, we finally decided to stop talking about it and do it, and that idea ultimately turned into this film project.
What was the most enlightening thing you learned about coffee on the trip? Has it changed your perception of coffee since learning it?
EDAN: We started the trip as reasonably well informed coffee drinkers, but we soon learned that there is just so much more going on behind the scenes when it comes to getting the most out of green coffee beans. Sevan Istanboulian of Cafe Mystique showed us a lot: from the temperature and humidity the beans are kept at during transport to the roaster, to the exact conditions of roasting, to blending—before a barista ever has a chance to grind, tamp and extract a shot, there is a tremendous amount that goes into ensuring the roasted beans are absolutely the best they can be.
NIK: Personally, I learned, or at least reinforced my belief that the scenario affects the cup. As much science, heart and energy obviously dictates the flavour, taste, profile, etc—the scenario really is what rounds out the experience. We visited cafes that weren’t as highly regarded as others but the staff and locations would be so nice that they would supplement the overall enjoyment. Counter to that we visited a couple of the countries highest regarded and found people to be arrogant and unwelcoming thereby ruining the experience.
I’ve always dreamt of doing something like this in the US, do you plan on taking your crew abroad anytime soon?
NIK: We are currently prepping both Series Two on the West Coast of the USA and we’re shooting Series Three in Europe shortly there after.
EDAN: The US West coast is extremely appealing right now, and we are starting work on establishing connections to cafe’s and roasters from Seattle to San Francisco, and we are hoping for a summer launch. Europe, we hope, will happen in the fall.
What’s the connection between Global Authority and CGTV?
EDAN: The notion of ‘Global Authority’ was a tongue-in-cheek response Nik and I had while driving around BC a few years ago in the midst of a highly opinionated caffeine-fueled rant. It morphed into a proper company in 2010 in order to give ‘Common Grounds TV’ a proper business foundation, and Nik and I remain the primary members.
NIK: We have found great success across numerous intertwined industries including photography, film-making, reporting, small business and architecture. Global Authority is the umbrella under which we operate and explore avenues that interest us. We recruit also, if we feel we aren’t as good as we can be in an area, we refer and outsource work to driven creative types. We have a network of incredible sound techs, sound designers, graphic designers and marketers. Our biggest thing is that we work with nice, driven creative people. Life’s too short to work with awful people and by varying our interests we’re never stuck in a position of dealing with unsavory folks for extended periods. When you drink this much caffeine, outside aggravation has to be kept to a minimum.
You have a couple big sponsors, including Krups, how did that relationship form and what role did they play in the project?
NIK: They’re certainly the biggest name we’re associated with and their sponsorship made the logistics that much more possible. We certainly don’t reap a wage from Series One but being able to cover gas and hotels to minimize our personal outlay is a godsend and we couldn’t have done it without them. They certainly took a chance on us but we feel we are able to reach their target demographic with our humour, content and fanatical approach.
EDAN: Basically we needed someone to fill the gap between the funding Nik and I had ourselves, the the amount needed to pay for the trip (food, gas, gear, etc) without bankrupting us completely, which is where Krups came into play. They had confidence in the concept early on, and with their help, we found a way to take the time off our ‘real jobs’ to make the show.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with DCILY. Good luck with the upcoming seasons.
While I was in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago for the North American Hand Built Bike Show, I made a coffee detour to visit Piper Jones at the Kohana Coffee roasting facility. Until this visit, I’d never had Kohana coffee, but was familiar with both PiperJo and Kohana on Twitter. So when Piper invited me to stop by, I was excited to meet her and learn more about the company.
Kohana is just four years old and Piper has been there for 3 of them—roasting for the last two. When I showed up, I thought I’d have a quick look around and taste some coffee, but Piper had other plans. While she let a press pot of their signature Hawaiian Prime brew, she got me started on roasting a new batch of Organic Ethiopian Sidamo. I combed through the green beans looking for any defective ones while the roaster pre-heated and Piper explained the process to a couple friends I brought with me.
Kohana got its start specializing in Hawaiian coffee and have built great relationships with farmers there, but they also offer coffee from other origins now. Piper is exceptionally passionate about what she does, she “gets it” in terms of how coffee should be treated, but like many roasters she has to balance the realities of business and principles—meaning dark roasts, blends, and other things the purist in me shudders at. There is a lot of potential in Austin and I know Piper isn’t slowing down. They recently launched a cold brew coffee that made appearances during SXSW and I’m sure it’ll be in high demand during the hot Texas summer.
Kohana doesn’t have a coffee shop of their own, but they have wholesale accounts around Austin and are also stocked at the Whole Foods there. It was great to break up a weekend full of bike love with some coffee love and finally meet Piper in person. The visit was fun, the coffee was delicious and I’m looking forward to seeing how Kohana grows.
Before I landed in Helsinki, most people I encountered in Stockholm warned me that the coffee in Finland is pretty terrible and it may be hard to find anything good. Thankfully I came across the blog of Finnish barista, Kalle Freese, which led me in all the right directions including to the shop he works at—Kaffa Roastery.
Kaffa wasn’t the first place I visited, but it was without a doubt, the best. The shop doesn’t have tables, just bars, and it’s tucked in the back corner of a larger building that sells vintage and designer housewares. They have a pretty extensive collection of home brewing equipment displayed on the back of a miniature truck and a stack of Barista Magazine dating back longer than I knew they existed.
What made the experience even more incredible than the coffee, was Kalle’s hospitality. He invited my girlfriend and I to the shop and fixed us a syphon pot of an Ethiopian Nekisse they were test roasting for competition. It was an amazing cup of coffee that just exploded with strawberry. Definitely the best cup I had on this trip to Scandinavia. After the shop closed, we hung around for a bit while a few other baristas stopped by to train for the Finnish Barista Competition (where Kalle recently competed in the finals). There was good conversation and an endless stream of espresso shots going around.
Depending on the amount of time you have in Helsinki, Kaffa is a little bit out of the way, just west of the design district, but well worth the trip in such a small city. If you don’t have time to leave downtown (i.e. on a day cruise from Sweden/Estonia), you can visit La Torrefazione which offers press pots of Kaffa coffee as well as great salads and sandwiches for lunch.
Another shop worth a visit is a small spot in the old red-light district, called Caneli Café. It’s run by an Iranian guy who specializes in smoothies and herbal living, but also maintains a nice stock of coffee from Swedish roasters da Matteo and Johan & Nyström. I had an AeroPress and shot of espresso while we talked about his uphill battle against the terrible quality of traditional Finnish coffee. He actually seemed a bit defeated by it all, saying that Finns learned for so long that bad coffee is what coffee should taste like, it’s hard to get them to enjoy anything else. Something many of us can relate to.
Lastly, Kahvila Sävy, is a place I didn’t get to visit because they were closed for the weekend, but Kalle highly recommended it. They are northeast of the city center and they brew single origin coffees from Turku Coffee Roasters, which I have yet to try. The photos of their pastries and baked goods also look pretty stellar.
While there isn’t anywhere near the number of quality coffee bars in Helsinki as there are in Stockholm, it’s a much smaller town with a lot of room to grow. The few who are doing it right are making great coffee and won’t leave you disappointed on a visit to Helsinki. If they do however, the city’s amazing architecture will make up the difference.
This week, Aaron’s post on FrshGrnd reminded me that I never wrote about my trip to Copenhagen back in September—more specifically my trip to The Coffee Collective. This coffee bar, tucked down a pleasant residential street in the Nørrebro district, was one of my favorite stops. It’s also close to the sprawling Assistens Cemetery that’s used more like a city park than a final resting place by local residents.
My favorite aspect of The Coffee Collective is the open design of their bar. There is no barrier or counter between the customer and the barista—everything, including a prototype of the sexy new La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, is displayed for all to see. There was a never-ending line that flowed out the door during my hour visit, but more than enough seating at the large wooden tables out front.
I started out with an AeroPress of Hacienda La Esmerelda, known by some as the best coffee in the world. The flavors were not as clear and pronounced as the cup I had at Tim Wendelboe, but still unmistakably sweet and fruity. I followed up with a really sweet, but extremely bright shot of espresso and ended with a deliciously tart cup of Kenya Gatina. The quality of the coffee, along with the relaxed atmosphere of the café and its neighborhood, make this a top destination for any coffee lover traveling to Copenhagen.
Check out FreshGrnd’s post about The Coffee Collective for more great photos of the interior and surrounding neighborhood.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be posting some of the coffee highlights from my travels through Scandinavia (and Germany), including cafe suggestions for when you find yourself in any of the same places.
My first stop was Iceland, and apart from arriving in the most beautiful airport I’ve seen (it resembles a modern art museum more than a travel hub) I was most excited to see an airport cafe (a Kaffitár) at 6am with a La Marzocco espresso machine. No automatic crap here! I had a nice double shot to start my day before heading into downtown Reykjavik to visit, what I was told, is the best coffee shop in Iceland, Kaffismiðja.
Kaffismiðja is owned by Sonja Björk Einarsdóttir Grant, a international barista judge, and Ingibjörg Jóna Sigurðardóttir, an Icelandic National Barista Champ and two time participant in the World Barista Championships. Both owners talent as baristas evolved while working at Kaffitár which has a number of locations around the country, including two in the airport where I first arrived.
The atmosphere is extremely casual, like a good friends living room, but adorned with the many awards from barista competitions from around the world. The center piece of the cafe is hard to miss, once you leave the bar you’re confronted with a hot pink Geisen roaster. It doesn’t really match anything else in the environment, but somehow ties everything together. They roast just a small selection of coffee, but what they offer is quality, including two beans from Colombia that have been in the Cup of Excellence finals multiple times. I got a bag of the Colombia Bella Vista, which is the first coffee that Kaffismiðja has begun importing themselves directly from the farm.
The shots were well pulled and the milk art was beautiful. The cafe is located in the heart of the city, just a block north Hallgrimskirkja (the highest building in the city) so if you ever visit, you shouldn’t have trouble finding it. An Architect friend of mine also just finished an installation in front of the cafe. From most angles it looks like an array of random, geometric wooden benches, but if you find the green square on the sidewalk, it spells “torg” meaning “market square” in most Scandinavian languages.
Any one of the Kaffitár locations will also provide you with good coffee. It may be a chain, but a small one run by talented baristas. So you shouldn’t have much trouble finding somewhere to get a quality cup in Iceland (unless you’re hiking on a volcanic glacier or something of that sort).