Thursday, October 28, 2010

Flat White, 3FE, Dublin

When I heard we were going to Dublin, a blip came up on my coffee radar.
"Hmm. Dublin? Why do I feel like I've heard that word before, in close conjunction with the word 'barista'?"
My subconscious clearly didn't have a problem with being asked direct questions, because it let me know straight away: "Is it the title of a blog perhaps?"
Good ol' subconscious: not giving away the whole answer straight away and letting me go on believing that I could figure it out for myself. Amazingly humble, really, considering my subconscious really knows not just everything I know, but everything I used to know and have since forgotten about, but have a sneaking suspicion that I did used to know it and could still join the dots myself if need be.
"Oh yeah! Is that the one?"
"No. Good guess though. Google it."
"Oh. Thanks. Found it."
So I knew there was a blog, and I knew it was about a barista in Dublin. So I knew Dublin had baristas, but where were they? It took me a few posts to realise that I should look for a place called 3FE. Third Floor Espresso. It's actually on the ground floor, but it didn't used to be. The story goes that Colin Harmon, in preparation for the WBC, constructed a quite ridiculous competition-spec training room in his apartment.
(cue your favourite training-montage soundtrack)
Pretty soon, he attracted the tastebuds of the people at Twisted Pepper and was offered a space in the lobby from which to serve up the best coffee in Dublin. They have since moved out of the lobby and into the bar up the back.

This is clearly not the flat white I had, but the pourover I went back and had the next day. The flat white was at about four minutes to seven at night. They should be commended for not only serving coffee until 7.00pm, but when somebody strolls in at 6.56pm and there are really no other customers around, they'll still make one.

(note: Their website currently says they close at 6pm, but that's still impressive.)

Having a flat white at 7pm is usually the sort of thing only done by people who clearly want to keep themselves up all night. But in a day where I'd woken up at midday, had lunch around 3.00pm, and then the free Guinness Experience tour pint of free Guinness at about 4.30pm, having a coffee at 7.00pm seemed to make sense. In reality, it eradicated any chances I had of getting some sleep that night.

Espresso, Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

I learnt a great deal about Guinness today. If they didn't have a coffee machine halfway through the tour, none of the facts would have stuck. Probably the most interesting interesting fact is that Arthur Guinness was so confident in the company's future success that he signed a 9000 year lease for the brewery site in Dublin. Try pulling that with your real estate agent nowadays. I wonder how that conversation went. They must have argued him down.
"So Mr Guinness, if everything's in order, just sign here, and here, and initial here."
"About the term..."
"Yes, the 12 months?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of...infinity."
"Well that hardly makes a difference. Let's say years."
"Well this is very unusual, Mr Guinness..."
"So is the taste of stout. But I've got a good feeling it's going to take off in a big way. An infinite-lease good feeling."
"Let's go for something more manageable...two years?"
"A million."
"Eight hundred thousand."
"Ten, and that's my final offer."
"No it's not. Six hundred thousand years."
. . .
"Nine thousand."
"Wow, that's gotta be some sort of world record."
"Yeah, but how would you know?"
"Somebody should totally publish a book of world records."
"Yes. Somebody should."
"I'm sorry, your eyes just turned into dollar signs, are you okay?"
Dot dot dot.

I can't remember the names of all the barrel sizes, but trust me, they were hilarious. For example:
Use that one wisely. As for the Experience itself, the view from that Sky Bar is magnificent. That's probably why they only pour the free-pint-you-get-with-the-tour, and don't let you by any more. People would never leave, with a view like that and Guinness-the-real-stuff-that-you-can-get-in-Dublin-that-tastes-better on tap. Having said that, and alarming number of tourists get all the way through the tour to their free pint, have one sip, and realise they don't at all like Guinness. Even if it's the one in Dublin that allegedly tastes better. If one were so inclined, one could have a pretty cheap night out finishing strangers' drinks at the Guinness Storehouse. If one were so inclined. I'm not.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Espresso, Milk Bar, Soho, London

Milkbar. From the people that brought you Flat White. It's just like Flat White, but with more room. That alone makes it more worth visiting, in my book. I fail to see the resemblance between this and a milk bar though. There was a milk bar around the corner from where I grew up. It sure didn't look like this. Streamers on the front door and a few milkshake cups on a shelf does not make this hip polished cafe a milk bar any more than a cash register and a box of Trill would make it a pet shop. But that's not important. It has Australian and/or Kiwi baristas who know what the hell they're doing. As if that doesn't excite a homesick expat enough. Calling the place Milkbar to boot will set off a patriotic nostalgic sentimental bushfire that only a just-a-strong-latte-thanks-mate can quench. Want to know how to get there? Put on your favourite patriotic nostalgic sentimental Australian and/or Kiwi classic rock album and get on the tube.
  • Get the tube to Tottenham Court Road. Oxford Circus will also do, but Tottenham Court Road means you'll spend a lot less time on Oxford St, which, trust me, is a good move. Head west.
  • Now that you're walking down Oxford St, you'll be getting pretty anxious to get off of it as soon as possible. Turn left down Soho St, into Soho. That's easy to remember.
  • Soon, it will open up into Soho Square. That's also easy to remember. Walk straight through Soho Square. Yes, even straight through the park in the middle. And out the other side.
  • On the other side of the square, there's a lane between two buildings called Bateman's Buildings. That's not at all easy to remember, but I'm sure you didn't get lost yet.
  • Come out the other side onto Bateman St, and right in front of you is Milk Bar. Welcome to Australia.

Yes, a guy on an iPhone4 just happened to walk past while I was taking the photo. What are the odds? Quite high really. I'm pretty sure the barista here yesterday used to work at Batch about five years ago. You might think, "Wow, small world," but the odds are pretty high on that too. Many Australians move to London. There is an abundance of good baristas in Melbourne. There is a dearth of them in London. Do the math. Being served by the same barista in St Kilda and Soho in any five year period is almost a certainty.

Latte, Lantana, Fitzrovia, London

Well, I tried. But holy crap that's some sort of queue. Twelve or fourteen people have to finish eating breakfast before I get a look-in. I would have loved to eat breakfast here. Lantana's founder Shelagh Ryan has a blog that tells the whole story: in brief, moving to London to open a cafe, with no experience in running a cafe. The blog continues to tell the rest of what is now – as the photo above shows – an Aussie-battlin' success story. If that doesn't make you want to eat there, the photos in the post about corn fritters sure will. But Sunday is clearly the wrong day of the week unless you're prepared to wait. I was much hungrier than that. If that girl at the outside table hadn't finished every last skerrick of that steak sandwich, I would have been on it like a seagull. That queue isn't for take away coffee though, so I was glad to get out of there with a coffee (a damn good one) and a blondie. It's like a brownie.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stumpy, Fernandez and Wells, Soho, London

Just one dogleg away from Sounds of the Universe is Fernandez and Wells. I had been walking for over an hour and generally aiming for Flat White, after foolishly getting to Dose too late because, even foolishlier, I hadn't checked their website for opening times. It was 2pm and I was yet to have my first coffee of the day. I'm not sure what it was that piqued my interest when I walked past: maybe the contents of somebody else's cup. But nevertheless, with only two blocks to go until Flat White, I thought, "Bugger it, this place looks good enough."

A stumpy. It's bigger than a piccolo (and costs an extra 30p) but is smaller than a flat white. Why can we not agree on a name for a drink this size? Never mind. They were hopelessly understaffed for a Saturday. The staff were clearly suffering (Where are all the saucers? In the dishwasher, still dirty of course!), but the coffee certainly didn't. 10/10.
Oh. Ignore that last bit. I forgot for a second that I don't really do ratings.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Piccolo, Cafe Boscanova, Boscombe, Bournemouth

Five piccolos in two days. Yep, I really liked this place. Real food, badass coffee (the one pictured had fallen over a bit by the time I took the photo, but you get the idea), a must-see if you're in the area. It's a unique, original place; it has all the good stuff that is completely absent from the coffee chains up the road. Nice carrot cake too. Quick, before Boscombe gets completely overrun by pound shops.

The phrase "pound shops" has nothing to do with brothels. If that's what you assumed, you'll probably get the wrong idea about this sign too:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Espresso, Bagels and Wraps, Amsterdam

Okay, maybe I painted too grim a picture of coffee in Amsterdam. You might get lucky. For example: Bagels and Wraps. There's a Mac Bike place next door, but that hardly narrows it down. It's near the Paradiso. Yeah, that's a much better landmark to go by.

It might look a bit long but don't worry, that one was a double. Maybe the new rule for Amsterdam should be: if they sell weed and hash, don't bother with the coffee. If they sell food, the coffee might be okay. I usually trust an illy logo too.

Espresso, De Koffie Salon West, Amsterdam

Ordering coffee in Amsterdam can get difficult. The word 'coffeeshop' is used almost exclusively as a euphemism: they're probably more interested in selling hash to tourists. For those of us who like our stimulants divvied out in 30ml hits, it can be difficult to find someone who knows what to do behind the machine. So I was pretty excited, when I started googling around with the words "espresso" and "Amsterdam", to hear that Stumptown had opened up a place. But where was it? Amsterdam was oddly missing from the list of locations on Stumptown's website. What were they trying to hide? A bit more googling and I realised I was too late: they were only open for a few months, but not before they got blogged. The comments on a page that was linked to by a blog post about Stumptown in Amsterdam, that I can't be bothered finding again, sent me in the direction of De Koffie Salon West.

It was pretty good. A lot more fun than the cappuccino I had the day before (overly foamy). Not amazing, but let's face it, an oasis in a sea of . . . no, how exactly can a sea have an oasis? What was I thinking? Never mind. There's no need to dress it up in mixed metaphors: until Stumptown come back for good, this place will have to do. I would be delighted if you would prove me wrong with a list of places I didn't find.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Spoonfail, hotel room, Lille

Pictured: spoons. Before and after.

I don't know whose idea it was to provide thin plastic spoons to stir the just-off-boiling water with, but I'm certain this can't be the first time it's gone wrong. As excited as I was to drink Nescafe instant coffee (ie. not at all), the prospect of it tasting like melted plastic made me want to explore other options. Luckily, for me, there was a Nespresso Pro machine out near the conference rooms. I took it upon myself to run out there and make one* while nobody was looking. For the record: Nespresso Pro seems to make a pretty serious cup. Quite seriouser than the non-pro variety. I think you must need to prove you work in an office to get one of those machines. I don't have a photo of it though, I was too busy watching my back for hotel security.

* Okay I'll be honest. I made two.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Terrible Cappuccino, Paris

Paris's coffee is a real shame. They've got so many other things right, in ways no other cities can come close to. Why is it that, more often than not, you are served something like this:

Too hot, too watery, too bitter, too foamy, and far too expensive at €4.30. C'est shithouse.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Flat White, Bonanza Coffee Heroes, Berlin

The patrons were blissfully unaware that the empty chairs and tables opposite were actually a flock of white cardboard boxes who had been slowly gathering into formation all morning and were just about ready to take to the skies and flap away to safety...

Now, I don't usually do this, but I think it's necessary in this case. By 'this' I mean showing a map or an address, or even vague directions, to the place I'm writing about. A lot of other, more useful, blogs do so in each post. I like to think I give the reader a little more credit than that: if you've managed to find my blog, you can probably figure out how to google the name of the café and figure out how to get there. Moreover, I can't be bothered doing it myself.

But this time it's different. I don't want to leave anything to chance. If you're in Berlin and you only have a few hours spare and you don't want to be bitterly disappointed (in more ways than one) with the coffee, you have to go here:

View Larger Map

And if we zoom in even further than Google Maps will allow:

I had heard that Bonanza possibly has the only Synesso in Berlin. A great machine does not necessarily guarantee a great cup of coffee, but it's often a sign that somebody in charge has got their priorities right. If they're willing to fork out that many Euros for the machine, you would think they had some idea what should be going into it and coming out of it. On the "into it" front, they were roasting when I went in, using an iPhone as a timer for the roast. Maybe there's an app for that. And as for what's coming out of the machine:

There isn't much to eat that isn't croissant-related, so I figured I'd better leave after two coffees. I needed some food* in my system before I was going to attempt any more than that. It's also worth mentioning how easy it was to get here. Even considering I had to get off the train one stop early due to roadworks, Berlin still seems to be an example of the type of good public transport that people measure Melbourne's not good enough public transport up against.

* Call me crazy, but I don't really count croissants or pain au chocolat as food. They're made almost entirely from butter, which generally doesn't seem like a good thing to eat, and adding chocolate to that equation doesn't really help in my book. But, hey. When in Rome. Or Paris. Or Berlin.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coffee, le Royal Meridien, Hamburg

Just when you thought this blog was worthy of a name change to Ryan on QANTAS Coffee, I'm finally back at sea level. Well, almost. It's the ninth floor.

Not only was there an amazing view across the lake from which to eat (free!) breakfast, the menu also held a pretty amazing quote from Andrea Illy.

For Andrea Illy, chairman of illycaffê a cup of espresso is not a beverage.
It is a creative way of life. "It's a total experience. And it's polysensual. It involves the sight, the taste, the smell...everything." Coffee culture – the café, the cup, the espresso itself – not only provides a milieu for creativity, but makes drinking espresso a creative act in itself.

Polysensual and milieu-providing. That's very rare. The all-lowercase illy are clearly more than just a sexy red logo. I think that paragraph could use a few more commas, but that bit at the end is so profound it deserves to be written again in a larger font.

"...drinking espresso [is] a creative act in itself."

Take heed, procrastinators! That coffee break counts as work too!