Book Review: The Monk of Mokha

Dave Eggers’ new book The Monk of Mokha tells the remarkable and inspiring story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni American in search of a dream — until, after a few false starts, he stumbles down the rabbit hole of speciality coffee. After growing up in San Francisco’s tough Tenderloin neighbourhood, Alkhanshali knows he wants to do something more with his life but doesn’t have a plan. Then one day, a friend tells him to check out the statue of “a Yemeni dude drinking a big cup of coffee” opposite the fancy apartment building where he is working as a doorman. The statue — of a man who “seemed to be some mash-up of Ethiopian and Yemeni” — turns out to be located in the lobby of a building built by the Hills brothers, whose company had a key role in popularising coffee in the United States throughout the 20th century.

Intrigued, Alkhanshali begins to research Yemen’s role in the origins of coffee: the country is home to the first coffee cultivation and organised coffee trade, but its exports have since withered to a negligible level. At the same time, Alkhanshali learns about the intricacies of contemporary speciality coffee production and preparation. His training ground is first the Sunday morning cupping sessions at Blue Bottle’s Oakland headquarters and then Boot Coffee, where he becomes the ever-present, enthusiastic apprentice of Willem Boot.

And soon, the apprentice has a plan: he will create the world’s first Yemeni speciality coffee company, empowering farmers and growers and producing high-quality coffee beans, while maintaining high standards of ethics and transparency. To do this, Alkhanshali must first become a Q grader — a speciality coffee expert qualified to rate and score Arabica coffee — and pass a test of 22 parts, some of which “would seem to the generalist or everyday coffee enthusiast insane”, Eggers notes. And even then, starting a company in Yemen during a civil war was never going to be easy, and along the way, Alkhanshali must evade Saudi bombs, Houthi rebels and other dangers besides. I cannot imagine that anyone has ever gone through as much adversity to attend the annual Specialty Coffee Association conference as Mokhtar did.

Eggers’ narrative is beautifully written and hugely compelling. His description of the history of coffee is fascinating, entertaining and rich with colour, his language wonderfully evocative, from the coffee beans like “piles of red cherries like huge ruby-red beads” to the Ethiopian shepherd Khaldi’s over-caffeinated “jumping, prancing, braying” sheep. But most of all, Eggers conveys Mokhtar’s passion, drive and determination in his quest to make his dream a reality. It’s an inspiring story — one I didn’t want to end — I wanted to spend more time in the company of this incredible man who made his dream into a reality.

Naturally, the first thing I did after finishing the book was to Google Mokhtar’s company, Port of Mokha, and read more about what happened after the events depicted in the book. The coffee isn’t terribly easy to get hold of in the UK, but I hope that the success of The Monk of Mokhtar will make it more accessible. Otherwise, I hope to be able to track it down in the United States sometime. As for Mokhtar Alkhanshali himself, London readers can find him at an event to discuss the book and his story at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, on 5 March. I might well see you there!

At Melbourne in Lichfield, Coffee, Cruffins and Community

“I didn’t know Lichfield until I came to Melbourne,” said one of the regular customers at Melbourne in Lichfield on Saturday morning. The coffee is impressive at Melbourne in Lichfield, a small speciality coffee shop tucked away down an alley — laneway in Melbourne lingo — in the titular south Staffordshire town. But it was the sense of community that Melbournite owner Deb Pease has created around her Bolt Court bolt hole that impressed me even more. Even on a cold, rainy winter’s morning, regular customers were queuing up outside the kiosk for the coffee, cruffins and conversation, served up in equal measures.

My family comes from the Black Country town of Walsall, and although we used to drive the ten miles northeast to Lichfield quite often when visiting our relatives, it has been several years since my last trip to the small cathedral city. As such, I wasn’t expecting to find any speciality coffee and had brought my Aeropress with me on my visit last weekend, but a quick Google search soon brought up Melbourne in Lichfield, which happened to be a two-minute walk from our hotel. Between the five of us in our family, we got through about 15 hot drinks in two days — a sign of how much we liked the place.

Melbourne in Lichfield is located about halfway along an alley that runs from bustling Market Street to the Bird Street car park in Lichfield town centre. The diminutive space is more of a large kiosk than a cafe, but there are a few stools (replete with blankets, as we’re not really in Melbourne anymore, Toto) underneath the overhang where you can perch to enjoy your coffee and chat with Deb and the other friendly baristas. There is Melbourne-laneway-inspired graffiti art on the walls, and reusable cups for sale in Melbourne in Lichfield’s distinctive black and yellow colours. They have also worked with local businesses to try to encourage people to use reusable cups wherever possible (the Union-branded takeaway cups are also compostable).

The house espresso — and Deb’s favourite (it even says so on the hopper) — is Union’s Rwandan Maraba, which I enjoyed as a piccolo and as a V60 pourover. The bright, fruity coffee had lovely redcurrant notes that came through both in the espresso-based drink and the filter coffee. It’s a really drinkable coffee and I can see why it has proved so popular. V60 and Aeropress aren’t technically on the menu, but if you are in the mood for a filter coffee, the team are happy to brew one up for you.

During my visit, the guest espresso was a DR Congo Idjwi Island coffee from Wiltshire-based roasters Girls Who Grind. Described variously by Deb as “fierce AF” and “the boldest coffee I’ve ever tried,” the coffee had particularly delicious marmalade notes when I tasted it as an espresso. It was nice too with milk, although perhaps slightly less fierce.

I don’t normally go for non-coffee lattes but Deb made me a shot of their turmeric latte, which surprised me pleasantly with its smooth but spicy, gingery flavours. But if you want a more decadent treat, don’t leave without trying one of the cruffins (croissant muffins). The chocolate button and salted caramel one I tried was delicious, and my sister-in-law was a big fan of the lemon curd flavour.

More exciting still, a second, larger Melbourne in Lichfield location will soon be opening on Bird Street. This one will have indoor seating and a brew bar and Deb hopes it will become another community hub. One of the best things about the job, she says, has been surprising local customers with a really good cup of coffee. And better still, the customers want to know why the coffee tastes so different — and so much better — than coffee they have drunk in the past. It’s this sense of inclusivity and the complete lack of coffee snob-ism that makes Melbourne in Lichfield such a special place. I can’t wait to go back and to visit the brew bar when it opens — I might even try to bring my pony!

Melbourne in Lichfield. 2 Bolt Court, Market Street, Lichfield, WS13 6LA. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram.

Coffee Subscription Review: Dog & Hat

Sampling outstanding coffees, discovering new roasters and trying coffee varieties or origins that I might not otherwise have chosen are three of my top criteria when considering a speciality coffee subscription service. With a dapper, doggy sigil and a focus on high-quality, ethically sourced coffee, Dog & Hat Coffee is a multi-roaster speciality coffee subscription service run by the Morgan Family in York. I had heard good things about the company, including from fellow coffee bloggers Bean There at, who reviewed the November box, and my first Dog & Hat box easily met all three criteria.

Su from Dog & Hat kindly offered to send me a complimentary box for review, although I wasn’t obliged to post anything, and as always, receiving a review product influences neither my decision to review it nor my opinions of it in any reviews I do write. I received the February box, which included three bags of coffee beans, one roaster for filter, one for espresso, and one that would work equally well for both. And overall, I was very happy both with the service and the coffee — two of the three coffees were truly excellent, and the third allowed me sample some very good coffee from a country still in the early stages of its speciality-coffee journey.

The box arrived towards the end of January. Very few coffee (and other) packages fit through my letterbox at home (and the three-coffee box is unlikely to fit through many people’s letterboxes) so I had it delivered to my office. I was impressed, however, with the minimal and completely recyclable packaging — no plastic and no bumf, just the coffee and Dog & Hat’s concise but detailed coffee guides.

When you sign up for a Dog & Hat subscription, you can select whether you’d like two bags of (usually) 250g coffee beans per month (£17) or three (£24), and whether you’d prefer espresso-roasted beans, filter-roasted beans or an assortment. Delivery is free within the UK, which makes the service very good value, especially given the quality of the coffee. The coffees also arrived soon after their roast date, which is particularly important for people like me who live alone and who sometimes take a fortnight to get through a bag of beans. My box featured three new-to-me, UK roasters (previous Dog & Hat boxes have featured roasters from other European countries):

I started with the Pharmacie coffee (not just because the packaging coordinated so well with my Acme cup). I ground the coffee in my new Wilfa Svart grinder and brewed a cup using my Kalita Wave dripper. Dog & Hat’s coffee guide includes a suggested water:coffee ratio, which was a very helpful starting point. When you’ve got an outstanding coffee, the specific flavour notes hit you as you stand over your brewing device; in this case, I left my mug in my kitchen and I could smell the apricot and creamy strawberry notes from the hallway. Needless to say, this coffee extracted beautifully, both at home and in my less precise, kettle-free, scales-free office kitchen. What a super coffee!

The Don Chico coffee from London roaster Long & Short was roasted for espresso and although it made a nice enough pourover, it really shone as an espresso. My home espresso brewing lags behind my filter-coffee efforts, but even my inexpert shots tasted very good as espresso with chocolatey and nutty notes shining through. When I made a flat white, my latte art proved more recognisable than usual — another good sign that the coffee was extracting very nicely.

Finally, I dove into the Fuyan — not the first coffee from China I’ve tried, but my sample size is pretty small. Although coffee production in China continues to grow, speciality-grade coffee hasn’t been as quick off the mark, so I was interested to try this Django coffee from the Yunnan region. Brewed through the Kalita, I got various complex, fruity flavours, and it has really opened my eyes to a coffee origin I wouldn’t always look to.

You can sign up for a Dog & Hat subscription here. They are taking orders for the March box — which includes coffees from Hoppenworth & Ploch, Dear Green and Moonroast, as well as a sample from The Girl in the Cafe — until 20 February.

My Top 10 Travel Experiences of the Past Five Years

Later this year, I am travelling to Peru, where I should be able to cross another item off my bucket list: hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu. I’m really excited about the trip, which will be my first time in South America, and I couldn’t help but look back on some of the other amazing travel experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have over the past few years. I hope some of these will inspire you with your own holiday planning for 2018 and beyond.

1. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
Since I obtained my PADI Open Water qualification 15 years ago, I have longed to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, off the eastern coast of Australia. Unfortunately, when I finally made it to tropical North Queensland, my ears were playing up so I had to ‘settle’ for a snorkelling excursion instead. And it was a beautiful, memorable experience, where I got to swim with turtles, spot a shark and admire myriad species of colourful tropical fish. Despite the climate-change-induced catastrophic bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, the reef is still a fascinating ecosystem to visit. If you’re interested in finding out more about the ecology and zoology, I’d highly recommend taking a trip with Wavelength.

2. Ziplining through the clouds (Costa Rica)
Costa Rica is a relatively compact country and you can see a great deal during a two-week trip. One of my favourite activities was a zipline tour through the cloud forest of Monteverde, culminating in a 1km-long zipline through the middle of a cloud.

3. Chasing the Northern Lights (Iceland)
Although the Northern Lights weren’t at their most epic the night I got to see them in Reykjavik, they were still impressive and besides, the hunt — with SuperJeep — was half the fun. The tour was expensive but I would definitely take it again next time I go to Iceland.

4. Grotto-hopping in Capri (Italy)
While in sunny Sorrento for my cousin’s wedding in 2016, my family hired a small boat to take us out to the island of Capri. We spent a blissful day swimming, snorkelling, sunbathing and exploring the various grotte that can be found along the island’s coast. We visited the famous Grotta Azzurra (blue grotto), of course, and although it was very busy and hammier than a leg of prosciutto, I really enjoyed the experience.

5. Early-morning sushi in Tokyo (Japan)
There’s nothing quite like landing in Tokyo on a sunny morning after a long, overnight flight, dropping off your suitcase at your hotel and heading straight out for an early sushi breakfast. I missed the fish auction but had the freshest, most delicious sushi of my trip at Daiwa Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market. The market is going to relocate ahead of the 2020 Olympics, but the move is now not scheduled to take place until October 2018, so you still have time to enjoy it in its original state. I had so many memorable experiences during my 10-day trip to Japan and it’s top of my ‘must revisit’ list.

6. Oaxacan cooking class (Mexico)
I love the flavours and colours of Mexican cuisine and ate some delicious dishes while staying in the colourful city of Oaxaca. One day, I took a wonderful cooking class with Oscar Carrizosa, where we shopped for food at a local market and then prepared (and ate) a huge variety of dishes. It was an excellent introduction to Oaxacan cooking — and understanding the local food culture also helped me feel more connected to the friendly people of Oaxaca. Needless to say, Mexico comes a close second after Japan on my ‘revisit’ list.

7. Skydiving from 15,000 feet (New Zealand)
After a fab fortnight in Australia and two wonderful weeks in New Zealand, I celebrated the end of my one-month sabbatical by skydiving from 15,000 feet over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables. It was a literally breathtaking experience and one of the best things I’ve ever done. I jumped with NZONE and would highly recommend them; you can watch my (slightly sweary) video here.

8. Sailing through beautiful Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
Three days and two nights aboard the small but well-equipped Dragon’s Pearl, cruising past hundreds and hundreds of limestone islands in Ha Long Bay was as relaxing as it was beautiful. I was glad I upped my budget and booked with Indochina Junk, as they took us to the quieter but just as stunning Bai Tu Long Bay. On our final night, we enjoyed a barbecue feast in a UNESCO-listed cave. A top-notch trip, even if the sun didn’t grace us with much of its presence.

9. Motorbike tour of Saigon street food (Vietnam)
I planned only to include one experience per country but I just couldn’t choose between Ha Long Bay and the street food tour on the back of a motorbike that I took in Saigon. I’d never ridden on a motorbike before, but my XO Tour guide showed me a great time. I ate some delicious street food dishes and saw parts of the sprawling city of Saigon that I probably wouldn’t have reached by myself on such a short trip.

10. Third-wave coffee tour in Portland (Oregon, USA)
You weren’t thinking I’d make it through this list without a speciality coffee bucket-list item, were you? And although I could have included my fast-paced, self-guided tour of Melbourne’s speciality coffee scene, I wanted to give a shout out to the excellent tour led by Lora of Third Wave Coffee Tours in Portland, Oregon. We visited five of the city’s signature micro-roasteries and cafés, with a different coffee experience in each. Of course, I visited plenty of others during my short stay in Portland, but Lora gave me a great introduction to the local coffee scene.

Book Review: The Philosophy of Coffee

What do dancing goats, an Indian Sufi named Baba Budan and a City of London side street called St Michael’s Alley have in common? If you’ve read The Philosophy of Coffee by Brian Williams (AKA the titular Brian of Brian’s Coffee Spot), recently published by the British Library, you should know the answer.

But if you need more of a hint, all three feature in Brian’s fact-packed, whistle-stop tour of the history and global ascendancy of coffee as a bean, commodity and beloved beverage. Brian charts the rise of coffee houses and their ever-evolving role in society, shares some fascinating stories — including from his own personal coffee journey — and debunks a few myths and misunderstandings along the way (the oft-cited ‘statistic’ that coffee is the second most-traded commodity on the planet, for example).

In the journey from the seven coffee seeds of the Indian Sufi Baba Budan to the first, second and third waves of coffee, there are ‘penny universities’ (see also The Black Penny), petitions against the ‘Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE’, and more recent disrupters from Starbucks and the Friends coffee house, Central Perk, to speciality coffee companies such as Prufrock and Square Mile.

Although I’ve been on a coffee journey of my own since the turn of the millennium, I’ve never studied the history and evolution of coffee. Instead, I’ve picked up parts of the story along the way but Brian’s book offers a wonderful overview, which draws together many of those loose ends. I found the chapters discussing the emergence, spread and culture of the coffee house — and its role as a forum, meeting place and socio-political hub — particularly interesting. I grew up in Oxford where I used to hang out at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House, which is reputed to be Europe’s oldest continually operating coffee house. My coffee tastes have changed since then but I used to enjoy reading or working there, surrounded by centuries of history, coffee-stimulated discussions and cultural connections.

The Philosophy of Coffee also benefits from some lovely illustrations and photographs from the British Library’s archives — I’m a sucker for the adverts of yore, in particular. This isn’t a book solely for coffee obsessives, however (although they will, of course, enjoy it): it is a fascinating read and very accessible to non-specialists.

Disclaimer: The Philosophy of Coffee is out now, published by The British Library. I bought my own copy from The British Library shop and although Brian is a friend, all opinions here are my own and, as always, completely honest.

12 Great Speciality Coffee Spots in Wellington, New Zealand

After a couple of intense periods of speciality coffee consumption in Melbourne and Sydney, I reverted back to ‘normal’ levels until I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand. I already had a number of local roasters and coffee shops on my list for the New Zealand capital, but I was also lucky that a coffee-loving Wellingtonian offered to show me around the city and its coffee scene. Lovely Tim (@coffeelater on Twitter and Instagram) seemed to know almost everyone who works in coffee in his home city and introduced me to a number of the movers and shakers, for which I am endlessly grateful.

I only spent 48 hours in Wellington but managed to check out 12 cafés and roasteries during that time, leaving many more coffee bars for the return visit that I’m hoping to make at some point. I’ve added everything to this Google Map, and another great resource for speciality coffee in Wellington and several other New Zealand cities is the Neat Places guide to New Zealand coffee roasters.

CBD North
Coffee Supreme
I first came across Coffee Supreme via their Melbourne café, which I didn’t have time to visit, but the company has been roasting in Wellington since speciality coffee was a mere twinkle in London’s eye — 1993, to be more precise. As I’d already been to Coffee Supreme’s Customs Brew Bar (see below), I wasn’t planning to go to their Midland Park coffee bar too, but walking past, I was drawn in by the cool merch on sale. I love their ‘we eat coffee for breakfast’ slogan and would have bought a mug if I’d had room in my case, and I’m sure the ‘barista socks‘ would have been a great gift for someone.

I ended up getting a coffee: a really top-notch espresso with their limited espresso blend, which, thanks to the utmost care of the barista, was very drinkable with milk chocolate and strawberry notes. I also got some beans to take home — again, the barista helped me to select a variety that would work well in my Aeropress at home and that had been roasted recently enough to last until I was home. And I’ve been enjoying the Ethiopian Sede at home all week.

Coffee Supreme is located at 31 Waring Taylor Street, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

On my last morning in Wellington, I did a final fast-and-furious coffee tour and Frank’s was the first stop. The small, busy coffee bar is located on The Terrace, not far from the cable car. They serve coffee from Red Rabbit (who originally roasted in Wellington, but have since moved their roasting operation to Auckland) and a few breakfast goods and sweet treats. I had a piccolo made with a single-origin Guatemalan coffee, which was prepared very well, along with a double-chocolate muffin. The décor is minimalist and the staff were very friendly, although they were so busy during the morning rush that there wasn’t much chance to chat.

Frank’s is located at 116 The Terrace, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Mojo Coffee
I hadn’t heard of Mojo Coffee before Tim mentioned them to me, but as with a number of the other Wellington roasters, they’ve been in the business for well over a decade. They now have over 30 cafés in Wellington (you can find them in both the domestic and the international terminals at the airport) and Auckland and I visited their waterfront location on Customhouse Quay, which is right next to their roastery. With its blue-accented, industrial-chic interiors and coffee-related words of wisdom embossed on the windows (‘coffee, never a rational thing’, for instance), the bright, airy café is attractive and inviting.

During my visit, they were serving one of their house espresso blends, the intriguingly named Dr Mojo’s Medicine, for coffees with milk, and a single-origin Ruvuma AA for black coffee. I had a piccolo, which was very nice, and stuck to scrambled eggs on toast for my lunch. They have some more interesting options on their all-day menu too.

Mojo Coffee is located at 33 Customhouse Quay, Wellington (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

CBD South (Te Aro)
Customs by Coffee Supreme
With what must be one of the most beautiful coffee menu boards in the world — a repurposed wooden arrivals board, which hangs over nine large vials of coffee beans — Coffee Supreme’s Customs Brew Bar was another recommendation from Tim. The slim coffee bar is gorgeous throughout, with wood panelling on some of the walls and the counter and mid-century furniture, accessorised with funky vintage pieces.

I was hoping for a pourover and a doughnut, but neither of these were possible — they only get doughnuts later in the week and it was a Tuesday, for one thing, and hand-brewed filter coffee tends to be rare in Wellington and in New Zealand more generally. Although I couldn’t quite be tempted by one of the many toasts that are served all week, I did happily indulge in one of the two batch-brew filter coffees on offer, made with care using the Fetco. The Kenyan Guama, with its sharp grapefruit and redcurrant accents, was a lovely morning drink, particularly as it cooled. There’s even a poster of this variety on the wall at Customs, which will appeal both to lovers of coffee and graphic design.

Customs by Coffee Supreme is located at 39 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Flight Coffee Hangar
Flight Coffee’s flagship café, The Hangar, was on my list almost as soon as I started my antipodean coffee research. They came to my attention during the great Wush Wush rush of 2017, and I visited The Hangar twice during my visit. The first time, Tim and I stopped by for an afternoon coffee. I had a wonderfully flavoursome Rwandan Vunga, which had apricot and black tea notes and which was brewed through a Gino Dripper. Tim enjoyed a Guatemalan Las Joyas as a cold drip.

The coffee menu is extensive here: there were three espresso options (plus a limited edition), three single-origins available as Fetco batch-brew filter coffees (one also available as a pourover) and several cold options. I’d have dearly liked to have a Flight Coffee flight — you can choose among one coffee three ways (espresso, cold drip and flat white), a flat white flight (one with each espresso), and a filter flight (three Fetco-produced filter coffees) — but it was late in the day and I’d already had a lot of coffee.

Instead, I returned on my last morning to buy some coffee beans and tried the limited-edition espresso, a Mexican Garabandal washed Geisha, which was brewed meticulously and which had lovely blackberry and peach notes. They have had the same coffee in natural- and honey-processed formats too and it’s been very popular.

Flight Coffee Hangar is located at 119 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Gentlemen’s Beans
If you visit the Gentlemen’s Beans kiosk on Courtenay Place at the right time, you can get a margherita as well as a macchiato — the micro-roaster’s owners also serve pizza and subs. I arrived early, just after my morning run and so stuck to a piccolo and a pastry whose name I’ve now forgotten, but it looked like a Danish, only with a ricotta and espresso filling.

Gentlemen’s Beans is located on Courtenay Place near Taranaki Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Goldmine by Lamason
Brand-new to the Wellington coffee scene — it had been open only a couple of days when I visited — Goldmine is a spin-off of former Peoples Coffee trainer Dave Lamason’s popular Lamason Brew bar. I was excited to check it out, partly because it was new but mainly because they serve hand-brewed filter coffee — using a V60, no less. There were three single-origin Peoples Coffee coffees available as pourovers, and I selected the Ethiopian Guji, which was delicious, with rich, plummy notes. I was too early (or was it late?) for brunch, but the food menu looked great too.

Goldmine is located at 171 Willis Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Facebook.

Havana Coffee Works
Wellington is a little bit obsessed with all things Cuba, from the busy, restaurant-filled Cuba Street in the CBD, to Havana Coffee Works, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2019. Tim took me to their Tory Street HQ, whose interiors resemble a colourful street in the titular Cuban capital. Havana’s coffee is served in many cafés and coffee shops across Wellington and far beyond, but you can also have a coffee or buy beans at the roastery.

They now sell a number of single-origin espressos, but it was the chocolatey Five Star blend that I tried in my piccolo, which was brewed on the most revolutionary La Marzocco customisation I’ve see for some time.

Havana Coffee Works is located at 163 Tory Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Milk Crate
Just next door to Customs on Ghuznee Street, Milk Crate is a sleek, minimalist espresso bar with a cool adjoining lifestyle boutique called Precinct 35. Put off by the lack of hand-brewed filter coffee (I hadn’t yet learned the Kiwi ways), I missed the chance to try the Kenyan Thunguri from Rich Coffee on the batch brew. It was hard to mind too much, though, when I had a really excellent piccolo instead made using the Rich Coffee seasonal blend.

I sat at the counter, admiring the red coffee cups and the Rich Coffee-branded La Marzocco Linea. I soon found out that the espresso machine had travelled almost as far as I had because it was a parting gift for one of Rich Coffee’s two owners, Richie Russell, when he left Monmouth Coffee after ten years in 2015. The machine, before its refurb and rebrand, used to live in Monmouth’s Borough Market location, just down the road from my home.

Milk Crate is located at 35 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Prefab (Acme & Co)
Tim and I met for a late lunch at Acme & Co‘s Wellington café and hub, Prefab, on the day I arrived in the city. I gorged on a giant burger and duck-fat fries and enjoyed a lovely piccolo — served in an Acme cup and saucer, of course. Tim then introduced me to founders Bridget Dunn and Jeff Kennedy, who were working behind the counter alongside the 8kg roaster. It was fascinating to chat to them both about Acme, coffee, Wellington and nori, among many other topics, and their warmth and their passion for their work came through very strongly.

Bridget and Jeff very kindly allowed me to choose a new Acme cup to add to my collection and I opted for the new version of their tulip cup in grey — alas, I didn’t think to ask for their thoughts on a special, limited-edition neon-pink Acme cup just for me.

Prefab is located at 14 Jessie Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Peoples Coffee Café
Another of the old guards of the Wellington speciality coffee scene, Peoples Coffee have been roasting since 2004 and have long been leaders in the ethical and sustainability world. I didn’t have a coffee in their small, cosy Newtown café as it was the end of the day and I’d already had my fill for the day, but I did buy some beans. I also got to try their coffee at Goldmine the following morning and really liked the Ethiopian filter coffee I had — so much so that I’ll happily forgive the absent apostrophe in their name!

Peoples Coffee Café is located at 12 Constable Street, Newtown, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Rich Coffee Roastery
Last, but certainly not least, is Rich Coffee. Founded by two people who have had big roles in the once burgeoning and now booming speciality coffee industry in London — Richie Russell (formerly of Monmouth) and Cam McClure (who used to own Flat White) — in 2015, the company is a relative newcomer to the Wellington coffee scene.

The roastery, on a quiet Newtown side street, opens up to the public at the weekend, but Tim arranged for us to drop by to meet Richie one afternoon. I really enjoyed talking to him and Tim about the coffee world both in London and in Wellington, and inspiring to hear about how it’s definitely possible to launch a new speciality coffee company in a saturated market like Wellington if you can offer people something different and are willing to work your socks off.

I love their clean, minimalist branding (not just because, given my full name, I’m a sucker for the letter R). Richie made me a great-tasting, fruity piccolo with their current seasonal espresso blend. Their other coffee of the moment is the washed-process Kenyan I failed to sample at Milk Crate, whose flavour profile is making my mouth water even now. If the roastery isn’t open and you’d like to try some Rich Coffee, head over to Milk Crate, who will brew you up an excellent cup.

Rich Coffee Roastery is located at 369 Adelaide Road, Newtown, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

A Year in Leaps: 2017

2017 has been my busiest ever year for travel. I spent 84 days outside the UK on 12 foreign trips, some for business but most for pleasure. 30 of these days were spent on a sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand. I visited five new countries and ten countries in total: the Czech Republic (Prague); France (Paris and Cannes); Germany (Cologne); Italy (Padua); Norway (Oslo); Spain (Barcelona); the United States (New York, Boston, Cape Ann and Maine); Singapore; Australia; and New Zealand.

Regular readers will know that as part of my year-in-review series, I like to highlight some of my favourite travel memories of the year by selecting five photos of me leaping in new or unusual places, so without further ado, here is this year’s shortlist:

1. The ‘business casual’ leap. Barcelona, Spain.
As I hadn’t been to Barcelona since 2001, I was excited to return for a business trip, although another work trip to the US the same week meant I only spent 24 hours in the city. The conference was at least being held at the W Hotel on the Barceloneta waterfront (alas, I was lodged elsewhere), which meant that in the brief breaks between sessions, I could dash outside to soak up some sunshine, even if I was more formally attired than usual. I didn’t have time for a proper exploration of the city’s speciality coffee scene, but I did squeeze in a quick visit to Nomad Coffee on the way to the airport.

2. The ‘Czech-ing out Prague’ leap. Prague, Czech Republic.
Prague had been on the travel to-do lists of both my mum and me for quite some time, so we decided to organise a long weekend in the Czech capital in April as a late celebration of our birthdays. The weather wasn’t especially clement but it was quite pleasant on our first day, so we decided to walk up to leafy Letna Park, which has a fantastic view of the city. The chilly, rainy weather did mean I was able to check out many of Prague’s excellent coffee shops.

3. The ‘Red Sox fan’ leap. Gloucester, MA.
Trips to Boston for me are a bit like buses, it seems. I hadn’t been for a decade and then went twice in one year, once in frigid February for a conference and then again in the summer for a family vacation on the North Shore. These trips also allowed me to produce a speciality coffee guide for Boston and Cambridge, MA. In the summer, we rented a house a short drive from gorgeous Good Harbor Beach and the weather was so gorgeous that we spent four or five days there, relaxing on the soft sand, boogie boarding in the rough surf and, at low tide, wading out to Salt Island. Having now seen three Red Sox games at Fenway Park, I now consider them to be ‘my’ baseball team and even bought a cap.

4. The ‘iconic bridge’ leap. Sydney, Australia.
As my train pulled into Sydney’s Circular Quay Station, the heavens opened, forcing me to dash to my hostel in The Rocks. Luckily, by the time I’d checked in and dropped off my luggage, the makings of a spectacular sunset were underway. I hurried down to the harbour to take some pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I tried to take some selfie leaps but the lack of places to rest my camera and the volume of pedestrian traffic made this difficult. Luckily, a fellow tourist took pity on me and took this photo for me. In a short stay in Sydney, I also managed to visit 16 speciality coffee spots.

5. The ‘leap so I don’t have to swim in the sea’ leap. Cannes, France.
I spent Christmas with my family in Cannes this year, for the first time since 2014. Although the weather was very sunny, it wasn’t especially warm and so the family tradition of a swim in the sea was not enforced (my mum, who is toughest of us all, still did it). As the light on Bijou Plage was so lovely, I recruited my talented brother to photograph my leap into the sunshine. I could be jumping into the sea, after all…

Bonus: The highest ‘leap’. Queenstown, New Zealand.
OK, so technically my tandem skydive from 15,000 feet in Queenstown, New Zealand, was more of a tumble and plummet than a leap but it was one of my favourite memories of my trip to Australia and New Zealand, and the most exhilarating activity I’ve ever done, so I felt it merited inclusion. You can read more about my experience with NZone Skydive here and if you promise not to poke fun at the funny faces I pull, you can watch the video here. If you have the opportunity to skydive in Queenstown (or pretty much anywhere in New Zealand), I’d strongly recommend taking it, even if you find the prospect daunting or scary. It took me days to come down from my adrenaline high (and that period included my flights back to the UK).

Although I don’t think I’ll be lucky enough to take as many overseas trips next year, I already have several short- and long-haul trips in the works, and am hoping to tick off another major bucket-list item in the autumn. If you are looking for ideas to inspire your own travel planning for 2018, you may like to check out my travel guides page, or for more coffee-centric suggestions, I hope you will find my coffee guides page useful.

My Top 5 Movies of 2017

The flip side of all the travel I’ve been doing this year is that I’ve had only limited time (and money) to spend on movies. Some of long-haul flights I took did allow me to catch up on films that I wanted to see at the cinema this year, but I only managed 18 cinema visits, and saw a further 18 films (some of which were re-watches) at home or on planes or buses. I did my best to see as many of this year’s major releases as I could and also caught a few indie films, especially when prompted my free (preview screening) or cheap (Peckhamplex) tickets. Next year, I’m going to try to do better.

1. Moonlight. I went to see Barry Jenkins’ remarkable film — which chronicles in a clever triptych structure the youth of a gay, African-American male growing up in the projects in Miami — at New York’s iconic Angelika Film Center not quite knowing what to expect. Or, rather, I thought I knew exactly what to expect, but Jenkins confounded my expectations with its beautiful, melancholy and utterly moving coming-of-age tale. The performances are powerful, the three distinct sections fit together perfectly and this genre-defying film stayed with me for days. By turns heart-breaking, uplifting, intimate and all-encompassing, Moonlight gripped me throughout its 1h50 running time and left me wanting to spend more time with the central character in Jenkins’ harsh but sensual world.

2. Dunkirk. Like Moonlight, Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk is also a story in three parts, but this time they are intricately interwoven and — because this is Nolan — they also take place over different timescales that range from one hour to one week. The central story is the odds-defying evacuation of trapped Allied soldiers during the titular World War II battle. Owing in part to the fact that World War II was covered in neither my GCSE history nor A-level (early-modern) history syllabuses, it wasn’t a story I knew much about before watching the film, but I think that made Nolan’s storytelling even more dramatic. There are some fantastic performances, including from RAF pilot Tom Hardy’s sole visible eye, shellshocked soldier Cillian Murphy and especially Mark Rylance who, as usual, steals every scene in the most understated of ways as the skipper of one of the hundreds of civilian boats that were crucial in the rescue operation. Visually stunning and with a haunting score from Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk was rather overwhelming and definitely the kind of film you should watch on as big a screen as possible (I saw it at the Gloucester Cinema in Massachusetts, a rather low-tech venue where I also happened to see Jurassic Park, some 24 years earlier).

3. Call Me By Your Name. I had hoped to watch Luca Guadagnino’s Italy-based coming-of-age story at the London Film Festival, partly because I was so impressed with Armie Hammer’s performances in the two films I saw him in during last year’s festival, Free Fire and Nocturnal Animals but I couldn’t get a ticket. Instead, I finally caught up last week at a packed screening at the Peckhamplex. In the film, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is spending another summer with his academic parents at their villa in a small northern Italian town. Each summer, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) hosts a graduate student at the villa as a research assistant and this year, it is the turn of tall, handsome, confident Oliver (Hammer). Over the course of the summer, the friendship between Elio and Oliver grows, as does Elio’s own confidence and sense of self, gently encouraged by his cultured, liberal parents. Call Me By Your Name is beautifully shot and perfectly captures those lazy dog day afternoons of the southern European summer. It’s a slow-burner, for sure, but builds up momentum without you noticing, and by the time it reached its crushing conclusion, I was completely captivated. Both Hammer and Chalamet were very good, and there’s a certain monologue during the final act that Stuhlbarg nails.

4. The Death of Stalin. Armando Iannucci’s darkest of dark comedies, The Death of Stalin, was just what the world needed in 2017. The film offers a depiction of Stalin’s final days and the chaotic aftermath of his death, as his advisors circle, posture, plot and betray. It is a funny film, and there is a cracking script that crackles with energy, as well as some top-notch performances (Isaacs and Buscemi were particularly good) from the ensemble cast, most of whom seem have impeccable comic timing. Of course, many of the laughs are more nervous chuckles at the absurdity of what is happening, and at times, you do wonder whether it’s even appropriate for you to be laughing (which is precisely the point Iannucci is trying to make, I’m sure).

5. The Handmaiden. Not to be confused with The Handmaid’s Tale, Chan-Wook Park’s film The Handmaiden is based on a novel by Sarah Waters called Fingersmith, although I only found this out after watching the film. Park’s most famous film Oldboy is an all-time favourite of mine and I also enjoyed his English-language film Stoker. Based on these past experiences, I was expecting The Handmaiden to be both twisty and violent and it certainly delivered. It’s hard to say too much about the plot without spoiling the film, but it centres around two young women in 1930s Japan-occupied Korea. One woman is a wealthy heiress, who is kept in isolation by her uncle on her large estate. The other is hired as her handmaiden, but has other intentions and plans for the heiress too. At almost 2h30 long, The Handmaiden kept me gripped throughout with its clever, unexpected volte-faces, leaving the viewer in a constant state of uncertainty about whom to trust and with whom to sympathise. Park is a master storyteller and this film is well worth seeking out.

NB: I did later read Waters’ novel, but enjoyed it somewhat less than the film — perhaps because I knew what was coming.

The complete list of films I watched this year is as follows (re-watches are in italics:

– Silence
– Children of Men (home)
– Sing Street (home)
– Hidden Figures
– Boys Don’t Cry (TV)
– Lion
– Hacksaw Ridge
– State of Play (home)
– Jackie
– Hell or Highwater (plane)
– Florence Foster Jenkins (plane)
– Elle
– Personal Shopper
Fargo (home)
The Handmaiden
– My Cousin Rachel
– Olympus Has Fallen (home)
– To the Bone (home)
– Inception (home)
– Loving (plane)
– Fences (plane)
– The Circle (home)
– A Ghost Story
– Mother!
– Breathe
– Battle of the Sexes
– Blade Runner 2049
– Baby Driver (plane)
– Hunt for the Wilder People (bus)
– Logan (plane)
– Bad Moms (plane)
– The Big Sick (plane)
The Death of Stalin
Call Me By Your Name

Some Thoughts on Reusable Cups and the ‘Latte Levy’

I’ve been a bit quiet so far this year both on this blog and on social media, as I’ve had other priorities both at work and in my personal life. But it would have been hard to miss the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s recent report highlighting the problem of single-use coffee cup and proposing a 25p ‘latte levy’ on their use. We throw away 2.5 billion coffee cups in the UK annually, and the report proposes a complete ban if a system for recycling them is not developed. Some years ago, I was guilty of misguidedly putting such cups with their plastic lining into recycling bins and was then cross with myself for not looking into this sooner.

Photo: my primary KeepCup in Byron Bay, Australia.

As for the report, there are some excellent, well-written and thoughtful analyses of its proposals and potential consequences, including from United BaristasBrian’s Coffee Spot, James Hoffmann and cafespaces. The report has certainly got those who work in and/or follow the speciality coffee industry talking about the issues on social media, which is also good, although unsurprisingly, no total consensus, even if many of us ultimately want the same outcomes, on a basic, ideal-scenario level, at least.

Various alternative ideas, nudges and solutions have been proposed, and I’m sure many more will follow. It’s certainly challenging to find ways to drastically reduce such an out-of-control environmental footprint without impacting the independent coffee shops who may not be able to withstand the financial consequences of a latte levy or a disposable-cup ban. (If, like me, you know very little about planning laws in the UK and how this relates to a coffee shop’s takeout vs drinking-in ratio, this United Baristas’ primer is very informative.)

For a long time, I wasn’t overly concerned about my own disposable-cup footprint. That’s not to say that I never use them, but for me, a cup of speciality coffee is a treat — a pleasure to be savoured while spending some time in a café — so I almost always drink in. If I know I will be going to a coffee shop to get a drink to take away, I will take a reusable cup with me — I have two 8oz KeepCups, one plastic and one glass and cork, and a tumbler from Coava in Portland. It’s very rare that I spontaneously decide to buy a coffee from an independent coffee shop and don’t have time to drink in, so carrying around a reusable cup at all times is a pain, given the low usage it would get. The main exceptions to this are a) when I get coffee after running and have nowhere to keep my KeepCup — about 1–2 times per month — and b) when I travel for work and have to squeeze an unexpected coffee shop visit in between meetings.

Although the reusable-cup offering has improved in recent years (Brian has a great guide on his blog), there still isn’t a perfect cup for me. I tend to use my plastic KeepCup the most because it’s lightweight, fits underneath my Aeropress and comes in pretty colours. The lid has occasionally come off in my bag, allowing my coffee dregs to leak and I don’t like the ‘taste’ of drinking coffee from a plastic cup. Glass cups, however, like my KeepCup Brew, are heavier and more fragile. The Frank Green cups were retailing all over the place in Australia when I visited last year, and I love the design and functionality — except the cup doesn’t quite fit under an Aeropress and thus is useless for my travel needs. There are collapsible cups available, which could solve my running problem, but the ones I’ve seen are too large for my 4–8 oz drinks (and my pockets) and unattractive. Yes, I’m shallow but yes, shallower drinks can be served in reusable cups too and people use products more when they take pleasure in using them.

I visited a lot of coffee shops in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Wellington last year, and in many of them, most takeout customers were queuing patiently with their reusable cup. It was the norm, rather than the exception. I’ve also seen multiple examples there of ‘KeepCup’ being used as a generic noun for a reusable cup — the other brands may not be too fond of this, of course, but it is a sign of how commonly they are used.

Photo: my KeepCup enjoys a rooftop view over Sydney Harbour (and the Aeropress-brewed Proud Mary coffee it holds).

Just over a year ago, Brian published a post on the Coffee Spot calling for an end to the use of disposable cups. I didn’t commit then to never using another disposable cup then and I’m not going to now either. Nobody is perfect, especially not me. In the past year, though, I have cut down my already minimal use. For example, rather than getting a filter coffee to go and rushing off to my meeting, I try to order a piccolo in a ceramic cup and drink it at the bar (trying not to get in the way of staff or other customers). There are also times when I just haven’t bought a coffee I would have done otherwise because I don’t have a reusable cup with me and don’t have time to drink a filter coffee in the shop. This makes me sad, because I love to support and write about independent coffee shops (a number of ‘reusable cup’ discounts have already been springing up; I thought Caravan’s was particularly interesting).

Of course, the onus is on me to find a way to continue to give these small businesses my custom without adding to the coffee-cup mountain, whether it’s by carrying a reusable cup with me more often, planning better to make sure I have time to drink in, ordering a drink-in piccolo instead of a hand-brewed filter coffee to go…or holding out hope that someone will invent an attractive collapsible coffee cup, suitable for use with petite beverages. I suspect the inventor may well find a market!