Writing this now, without a clear grasp on its final direction, I fear I may stray into self-indulgence. My apologies in advance if it goes that way. It was for me in many ways a significant year, bittersweet at times, a lot was learned.
This time a year ago, 3FE was very much finding its feet in the most unlikely of venues. On the day its doors opened though, it immediately set a new standard for this country. Looking at it a year on, I’m delighted to find a thriving coffee shop, and orbiting around it, the first green shoots of a putative scene emerging.
At that point I was still debating entering the Irish Barista Championships, while the boards.ie Christmas Group Buy was arriving from Terroir. We received a collection of remarkable coffees, with shipping kindly waived, chief amongst them for me, Kenya Ndiara, a candidate for one of my coffees of 2009.
A year later, this year’s Christmas group buy has just arrived, this time from Norway and Tim Wendelboe. Despite my misgivings on this year’s Kenyan crop, once again we have been delivered a gem among gems – called Mugaga. I will struggle to think of many better coffees I’ve had this year (more on that later).
This boards.ie project remains a great success to me, and as far as I am aware it is unique. A group of coffee geeks regularly getting together to place every increasingly large orders from prestigious international roasters, permitting otherwise scandalously uneconomic transactions. Roasters have included Intelligentsia (several times), Coffee Collective, Stumptown, 49th Parallel, Terroir, Gimme, Tim Wendelboe (I am surely forgetting someone).
Into January, beta testing of what would become MoJoToGo was gathering some pace, with features being honed into the most indispensable of apps. I was delighted to see its ultimate reception and continued acclaim. Vince is a source of constant inspiration, and as I’ve said in conversations to friends, the coffee industry is lucky to have him.
Karl Purdy, of Coffee Angel, in a year of opening new locations, and pushing speciality coffee preparation into Michelin Star restaurants, was a major factor in my decision to enter the Irish Barista Championships in February. His La Spaziale S5 plumbed into my kitchen by Marco’s crack engineers allowed me to give it a decent stab. Tim Wendelboe’s Panacoffee which I used for the competition probably deserved a more accomplished barista. A great coffee.
March was largely spent preparing for the IBC, but it would be remiss of me not to mention events further afield, burned into my mind – especially the Western Regional Barista Championships. Chris Baca’s show stopping performance and Pete Licata’s separate grinding of two different beans into one portafilter were individual highlights in a competition that seemed of a staggeringly high level. I was learning the principles of the wheel, they were landing on the moon.
Brushing aside the burden of expectation, Colin won resoundingly in early April at the IBC held in the Twisted Pepper venue. This event was also notable for being the first time the IBC has been streamed live (largely courtesy of Mr Steve Leighton), not being held at a trade show, for the accompanying Filter Coffee Brewing Competition, the Brew-Ha-Ha (brainchild of Paul Stack) and also for the inclusion of our coffee friends from Northern Ireland whose talent and camaraderie greatly enriched the experience. Looking at the bigger picture the enthusiasm around the event reflected that of aforementioned emerging scene, with patriarchal leaders already mentioned in this text.
The lead up to London for me was less about the cupping competition than I had expected. The wait between the previous (2009) September’s Irish Cupping Competition and the world championships seemed interminable. The postponement of the 2010 competition until next February (2011) bizarrely means, for now at least, I remain the Irish Cupping Champion. Nonetheless much of my thoughts in the lead up instead were consumed by Colin’s signature drink, which remains a truly singular interpretation of that course, and one I expected would generate far more conversation than has emerged. That you can essentially make an otherwise sparkling washed central taste like a wet-hulled Sumatran only by using different water is one of those educational points that will forever be burned in my memory.
The evolution of the (later to be postponed) SCAE Gold Cup research program gathered pace around this time also. I eagerly await its successful launch in the not too distant future. This has to be direction the SCAE takes as a priority if its desire is to truly lead from the front. I believe that is the desire.
Just prior to heading off to London we kicked off a global coffee chain that bounced around 4 continents for a couple of months. It was a very different coffee geek group buy, decidedly uneconomic, high carbon footprint, but hugely worthwhile.
London I have already reviewed here. There is little more to say that hasn’t already been said. I was sad to have missed the Penny University experience, but hearing stories of the crowds in attendance put me off trying to get out during the WBC. Still, even only based on secondhand reports it is worth a nod, an acknowledgment of a significant event in the past 12 months. Next time…
Also missed, by me, the Nordic Barista Cup, and the premiere of The Craft. The aforementioned Mugaga took home the top coffee prize again for Tim Wendelboe. I have to get my ass to one of these some year.
The Irish Cupping Competition was postponed in September, though the latte art competition proceeded and was duly won by the wonderful Jordan from 3FE. Across the pond industry luminaries and boffins met at Texas A&M for the GCQRI (“geekery”) and there was much rejoicing and briefly a gun scare that turned out to be a misunderstanding. It is great to see these types of efforts being made (the research not the gun scare), fingers crossed for their future fruition.
I have an urge to mention some of the coffees of the year. I’ve already mentioned Mugaga. Intelligentsia’s Ausol Honeyed Pacamara made a huge impression, probably the nicest Pacamara I ever remember having. On the Kenyan front other notables (that I’ve had) include Peter James’ Karimikui, Ritual’s Kiandu, Square Mile’s Tegu and Tim Wendelboe’s other Kenyan – Tekangu. On the Ethiopian natural front Square Mile offered the Gerbicho Rogicha and Coffee Angel the Chelba Union, two solid efforts for lovers of funk – the sort of Beloya/Aricha that was Nekisse depending on roast varied hugely, at best though it was very nice. I can’t say I loved anything I tasted out of Hacienda La Esmeralda this year, whether that is me or the coffee I cannot decide, but it feels a little like going through the motions. After an entire calendar year of In My Mug coffees (one a week) the three coffees I most fondly remember are El Retiro (El Salvador), the washed Quetzal (Nicaragua) and Narino Consaca (Colombia). In My Mug continues to be a journey, a learning experience, one I am very happy to be along for the ride. On the espresso front Vivace’s Dolce remains my left-field stand out. Probably forgetting many lovely coffees, but those above are the most memorable.
A good as point as anywhere to wrap this up. Even this early 2011 is already looking promising. The Irish Cupping and Barista Competitions come around in early February. Tamper Tantrum Live aspires to get interesting people (and me) talking about interesting stuff. The Portafilter.net podcast is vowing a return. The WBC in Bogota will be expected to be a very different WBC. Can’t wait to see what’s next.