At the time of writing this blog it’s only a few weeks away from my fortieth birthday and I‘ve decided it’s time to refocus a little. I’ve bounced through the last ten years from whim to fad not really knowing what I want to invest my free time and energy into. Certainly, for the last few years I’ve craved a hobby, one that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, or take me away from my home (my castle), for long periods of time. I want a hobby that incorporates my passion for cooking and desire to explore and experiment with different tastes. I toyed with the idea of making my own wine but couldn’t bear the thought of buying one of those chemical riddled cheap kits, there is the option of making wine with fresh fruit and organic ingredients – maybe for my fiftieth. Then, one early morning as I rummaged through the fridge for the fresh coffee I realised the answer was staring me in the face: I’m going to experiment with coffee, grow it, roast it, grind it and blend it to produce the perfect hit, combining botany, geography, chemistry, physics and engineering to ultimately produce the perfect coffee at the perfect time whether it’s after dinner, for breakfast or even for bed. I remember as a child you wouldn’t get my lips anywhere near a mug of coffee, give me a sweet weak cup of tea any day. As I progressed through my teens I remember subtle changes in my taste from sweet sickly to enjoying more savoury and bitter sensations…my career as a coffee drinker began.
I think at this point it’s worthwhile taking stock of some of the subliminal coffee influences absorbed throughout my rebellious teenage years and early adult years that may have influenced my current passion for coffee. Thinking about TV and music throughout those important growing up years, it doesn’t take long to smell the scent of the coffee influences and caffeine connotations. In The Devil Wears Prada we see Anne Hathaway, Personal Assistant to a wealthy and successful magazine editor spending her whole working day running across New York collecting endless paper cups of Starbucks for the nightmare of a boss, Meryl Streep. Fifteen years earlier who could forget the infamous Meg Ryan coffee shop scene, which culminates in the now infamous line: “I’ll have what she’s having”. Then we have ‘The Sopranos’ – everyone’s favourite Italian mafia series, when they weren’t shooting each other they were drinking great coffee in a way only the Italians do. Even the music industry didn’t take long to jump on the ever popular coffee band wagon, Nine to Five by Dolly Parton, we can only assume that the ‘cup of ambition’ she is drinking is coffee, can’t we? Back for Good- Take That: “Got your lipstick marks still on your coffee cup,” The song that made millions of teenagers (and not so teenager) girls swoon and boys recoil with envy.
So, back to the present day, how do you turn coffee drinking into a hobby you may ask yourself, the question I also mused over. I guess the starting point is to think about why I love the smell of fresh coffee and how it makes me feel. Firstly, freshly ground coffee tastes and smells so good and can transport you into a world of your own. The range of countless varieties of flavours and countries of origin is exhaustive and the different ways you can experiment to make coffee from a traditional French Press cafetiere, to a modern Nespresso machine, a Chemex to a Turkish Ibrik, or a percolator, however you like yours there is a way to brew it, always involving an adventure and a new flavour or technique.
Over the last few months I’ve begun to explore the origins of the coffee bean, believe it or not it comes from the fruit of the coffee plant. The plant produces cherry, [or fruit if you want to call it that] and when the cherry ripens, within it is a green raw coffee bean, this is subsequently roasted and ground. Coffee plants are grown all over the world, in different geographical locations and altitude, this ultimately ensures each pure variety will have different flavours and aromas thus making coffee such a marketable commodity.
Those of you who share my passion for coffee will agree with me that inhaling the aromas, and tasting that first sip of black liquid gold is strangely relaxing, an oxymoron in itself, a caffeine-filled stimulant relaxing??? I drink coffee not for the caffeine hit, although this can be useful at times, but more for the ritual, the experience and the enjoyment, almost like some people drink fine wine or craft beer. I love chilling on the settee with the Sunday papers or grabbing the iPad to carelessly surf the net with a fresh brew.
The question is, how do I turn my passion for drinking coffee into a hobby? Simple, I grow my own coffee plant from seed, nurture the plant in a purpose built botanical building (the conservatory) and then it shall yield enough fruit to fuel my passion for months. I will then hand roast the beans to perfection and hand grind to the consistency of gold dust. Let the research begin………………………………..
My starting point will be to turn my conservatory into a cool, mountainous region mocking the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia such as that the perfect coffee bean is grown in. A coffee plant requires a fairly constant temperature of between 15 and 24 degrees centigrade – no problem I have a thermostat controlled heater in there. One slight problem is that Belper, where I live, is situated at 53.03° North latitude, 1.47° West longitude and 76 meters elevation above the sea level, rather than a slightly higher altitude coffee plants thrive in. My concern is that if I don’t replicate the conditions and rainfall the plants need to thrive in, the crop may be disappointing; however I am not defeated easily!
Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, I did manage to grow a bumper crop of green coffee beans, enough for at least a 6 cup cafetiere, my next problem would be drying them in order to prepare them for roasting. In order to dry them all that is required is about fourteen days of warm dry sunshine and as little humidity as possible otherwise you run the risk of mould….problem numero deux. Putting that minor problem aside, let’s just assume the seeds have grown in my conservatory which has provided the ideal, harmonic environment for the seedlings to thrive into fruit baring lush coffee plants, (this takes approximately four years in the perfect natural environment), we can now get to the fun part, roasting my own beans, surely this has got to be pit fall free. Roasting the green beans couldn’t be more simple, whilst a proper roasting machine will give optimal results it is possible to achieve success in a normal frying pan.
Finally, yes finally I had a reality check, all this time and effort is more likely to end in disaster than a well-deserved cup of decent coffee, my coffee, so I began to rethink the plan. Perhaps a more realistic plan would be to sample a variety of pure blend beans and blend my own unique coffee. So, with much gusto I went straight onto the internet and sourced a selection of beans from countries with an impeccable reputation for producing a high quality bean. Suddenly, introduced to the wide world of pure origin real coffee, I’ve taken to it like an addict to a line of coke. Now purchased, I am beginning to sample the beans of the world, my morning taste bud travels take me to Columbia, Ecuador, Ethiopia and beyond. Guatemala and Sumatra are saved for weekends and bank holidays.. and don’t even ask about the legendary Kopi Luwak.
So my coffee adventure has began – I bought myself a note book to document the combinations and flavours to ensure when I find the perfect combination I can recreate. I think that every coffee coniseur probably has a coffee ritual like me, mine is a morning one – two before work and one at lunch, the later normally purchased during the working week at a well known coffee house, to take away, if I have the time I’ll fine a chic Cafe and sit in and enjoy whilst scrolling through my Twitter and Instagram feed. Whilst we’re on the subject of well know coffee houses, believe it or not, I’m not a coffee snob when it comes to takeaway coffees. I think I was a late developer with the whole Starbucksification/Costafication, as I have no preference – I love them both
I probably should write a sequel to this blog, coffee connoisseurs may know their aromas from their arabicas and possibly are able to explain the optimum water to ratio for the perfect espresso but are they overlooking one of the most important factors in a cup of coffee: To add milk or to not add milk – that is the question. (..and if you are adding milk..what kind of milk……..)