Taylors Coffee Tasting Visit
When Mike Riley offers you coffee, he means it.
The Judges had been invited up to Taylors of Harrogate; either for wining and dining due to our worshipping at the alter of Hot Lava Java, or, for a good kicking for our panning of their Cafe Imperial. By the end of the day we could both end up being served up as "Southerner Pies" in Betty’s Tea Rooms. Now we don’t often travel up into town, but sod’s law when you do some toe rag has been at work and pinched a load of lead off the station roof (or some other equally unlikely story) that means the journey time from Riot Town Croydon up to London has been extended by an hour. The upshot is us both arriving at Kings Cross at different times (although both late) but in the same level of fury. Due to the fact I’d knocked up a quick stove topper this morning, I was able to cope with it and get my ticket re-arranged. Hank, on the other hand, must not have had time for a steadier and blew his sodding top. Without hanging around for a second he’s thinking “F*#k British Rail (or whatever the hell it’s called these days) and f*#k the North, I’m off home to watch Cash in the Attic.”
Judge-Nooge gets his nose dirty
Judge Nooge soldiers on – arriving in t’North just half an hour late. Straight in to Taylors and, well, getting the Royal Treatment from the buyers, marketers and tasters. We’re in some kind of Coffee Laboratory – there’s coffee paraphernalia all over the place. But the site for anyone’s eyes is the entire Taylors offering laid out on the table with a bowl for each ready for “cupping”.
First off, Mike "Head of Coffee" Riley goes through the right way to do it with a cafetiere and, to be honest, we’re not doing badly. Most of his tips we’re already doing. Here’s our interpretation of his guide:
- Heat the cafetiere up! Half fill with boiling water and plunge it through. This also cleans off all the old crap from the gubbins which can detract
- Add 45g of coffee - that's FOUR desert spoons to make three cups. FOUR??? Now wait a minute – Northerners are meant to be hard aren’t they? I’d only make a four spooner for the weekly knitting club!
- Half fill with BOILING water, stir it up a bit, then finish filling. DON’T let all the stuff float to the top.
- Leave it 3-4 mins. Now this is where I’m terrible and Hank has all the patience. No sooner have I got it in, I’m plunging. Know what I mean?
Hannah Eatough gets down with the beans
So that’s the rules done. Now we proceed to get our coffee made completely ignoring the above. How? Well, the coffee boffs do “cupping”. This means you get a little cup (more like a bowl actually) and put in exactly 10g of coffee. Then you brim ‘em all up, stir it up a bit, and set a timer for 4 minutes. When it’s done you “break the crust” – that is, scoop off all the scum on the top and chuck it in the bin (or whack it into a packet called "Sainsburys Basics").
Then to taste these, you take a soup spoon, scoop some out and hoover it up into your mouth making as much noise as is humanly possible. Apparently the louder your slurp, the better. Then you swill it around a bit, before you hawk it up straight into the Ikea bin. This, as you may gather, can be a messy process, especially with amateurs like myself around. Consequently we’re all donning a nice little apron. We “cup” the full range of Taylors “Lifestyle” coffees, and then move onto the more poncy “Single Origins” with Rick "Commodities Development Manager" Tingley. A single origin more or less means the beans from one source are so good they don’t need to be mixed up.
Hannah: never went to Specsavers
One real eye opening test for this Judge was the stale coffee test. Now I’ve never really believed all that cock and bull about coffee going stale and that you should keep it in the fridge, but Taylor’s had laid on two cups of the exact same coffee – one freshly opened and one that had been sitting around for a couple of weeks. The difference was amazing – the stale one in comparison tasted like a piece of old cereal packet. It’s a taste I’m sadly familiar with – as it seems I’ve spent my life drinking old junk that’s been lying in the cupboard for months. Jeez just a few weeks ago I found a pack I bought in Bali back in ’94. No WONDER it tasted of old wet egg boxes.
Next up a sniffing session with Hannah "Coffee Buyer" Eatough. Here we’ve got some raw green beans, some whole roasted ones, and then the cups for tasting. We’re trying to pick out the smells that these gurus can detect – burnt rubber is the easiest one to detect in some Indian Robusta. Others are harder – I get the citrusy taste on one of them, but on others.... “grapefruit”??! I also get to try some uber-expensive Jamaican Blue. Ha! I didn't rate it - it's a marketing coup for Jamaica.
A big group sniff-in
To finish up we get some little glass vials out that have 36 “smells” in them, which is how you become a coffee taster, by recognising all these smells. From “sweaty trainers” to “roast pork” via “burnt toast” and “black pepper”. So what did I learn today?
1) Lavazza is rubbish when I tasted it alongside these others. My once favoured sign of quality was just a schoolboy error.
2) There’s two types of beans: Arabica (good, expensive) and Robusta (crap, cheap but strong)
3) High altitude coffee is more acidic (tastes lemony) as it grows more slowly
4) Use boiling water. Boiling water does not burn coffee. It’s a 100% bollocks old wive's tale. Use freshly boiled water straight from the kettle - by the time you pour it onto the grounds it will be cool enough to not scorch anything.
5) Stale coffee is a no-no. Keep and treat it like you'd keep your cheese. Personally, I keep my cheese nailed to the floor of a veal crate in the shed. Don't do this.
A big thanks to the folks at Taylors who made for a fantastic afternoon out. They love what they do, love their products and it really shows through when it hits your desk at 9am on a Monday morning. I’d love to have hung around with these guys for longer but, ho hum, must head back as I hear they’ve set light to my local Spar and I don’t want to miss the chance to loot some white chocolate mice.
On the way home I even got the time for a quick flit round York – what a cool looking city – and a takeaway roast dinner. Only up north, eh?