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It seemed like a good idea at the time

So, I have written a book. An actual, 55,000 word, drafted, rewritten, revised and now finished book that I’ve even had edited properly. I feel like celebrating!

It seemed like a good idea at the time

But what is it actually about? I hear you cry.

It’s about coffee and about life, but most of all it’s about the often grim realities of entrepreneurship. There are many, many less-than-glamorous aspects of starting your own business that few people ever tell you about.

Business biographies are written about successful companies and by inspirational leaders. But have you ever wondered what becomes of those that don’t make it? This memoir is about what happens when you take the leap, seize the day and follow your dreams, and then discover it really isn’t as easy as all that, you haven’t got any money, your landlord is an idiot, you haven’t slept in several years and you still have to clean toilets.

Right now, I am undecided whether to continue hunting for a traditional publisher, or whether to take another leap into the unknown and self-publish it. If this piques your interest and you’d like to be a ‘beta-reader’ for me, please get in touch!

(And for any publishers reading this, nudge-nudge, wink wink…)

More details are on my website.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s Wheelie’s Birthday!

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February 5th 2014 was the day I officially registered Wheelie Good Coffee as a business. We are three years old!

The months that followed that simple registration were a mad scramble to build the coffee cart in time for the first outdoor markets in May. I was planning and designing on post-it notes from my desk at the office job! We learned a lot about plumbing that we never thought we’d need to know, and it was a very steep learning curve. We eventually managed to launch the business properly by making our first pour over coffees at the (rain soaked, cold) opening day of the Cathedral Village Arts Festival that year.

It’s been a fantastic journey – so far. The cart has evolved quite a bit since then; we have gone through different bikes to pull it, we expanded the range of drinks we can make and the overall design has been improved on several times to make it easier to tow. We also started roasting our own coffee, and we even managed to set up cosy winter digs at the Shriners’ centre.

The future of Wheelie is looking very bright, and we have lots of exciting new projects to come.

The Spring markets restart in March, so we hope to see you all there. We can’t wait to get started on the new season!

 Stay caffeinated folks!

This was originally posted on The Brew Blog over at www.wheeliegoodcoffee.biz/blog

Go check it out!

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

What, and what not to get a coffee lover for Christmas!

Tis the season for spending loads of money on treats and exotic gadgets and shiny things… for people you love, of course. If one of those people happens to be a coffee fanatic, then this list might just be for you.

This is not actually my Christmas wish list – they are genuine recommendations based on things I already own or have tried. I’m not trying to plug Amazon at all, but all the links are to there for ease of reading!

So, without further ado, here are my top 5 coffee must-haves:

Death Wish Coffee

This stuff is INCREDIBLY strong in caffeine, (deliberately so) but it actually tastes really good too. It takes dedication to roast beans well enough that you can still get the subtlety of flavour without the overpowering bitterness of so much caffeine. This company also started the ‘Death Before Decaf’ campaign which I wholeheartedly endorse.

Almost steampunk vacuum powered coffee syphon.

It looks completely over-the-top, but it’s shiny and brass and makes really smooth coffee, AND you get to spend 7 minutes of your day lighting an actual flame and watching water evaporate and condense again as coffee *while feeling like a mad scientist*. This isn’t actually the most convoluted way of making coffee that I’ve come across, but it’s a great start for the serious geek.

Pour over coffee – now in pretty colours!

I’ve made a big thing about my love for pour over coffee on this blog already, and this is the perfect starter set. The built-in filter is reusable so you aren’t constantly buying paper filters, and the server pot means you can be friendly and make more than one cup at a time. Plus, there’s a purple one! What could be better?

Everything you need to know about coffee, and more

Former World Barista Champion James Hoffmann wrote a book last year, and I like it a lot as it covers everything from coffee origins and how it is grown around the world, to brew methods and barista techniques but links it all together to show what varieties suit which brew method and how to get the best out of the beans.
Bonus:

Don’t like hardback books, or want a cheaper alternative? Try mine! 😛

Caffeine Molecule necklace

A little stocking filler. Isn’t it pretty? (OK so I don’t own this one. This is a subtle hint. HUSBAND!)

And if you have money to burn:

The Trifecta Bunn alternative brew machine

As soon as you see the price, you will understand why I don’t own this and am never likely to. However, it is this year’s hot gadget in the coffee world, and my instagram is full of it. It appears to combine an inverted aeropress with a pour over system, only its electronic. Very snazzy I’m sure, but if you like impossible gadgets, the vacuum syphon still wins in my book!

What NOT to buy:
A Keurig

There’s even a red Christmassy one now!! Darling husband went dumpster diving recently and I am ashamed to say there is now a fixed Keurig monstrosity in my kitchen. Not only are they overpriced (over $100 for what is essentially a very fast kettle, plus the pods work out to around 70 cents a cup on top of that) – the pods are incredibly wasteful: non-biodegradable, non-recyclable and now DRM programmed so you can’t even use non-branded alternatives. And, in my experience, the pods only come with stale, tasteless coffee in them, and if you do hack it and use your own coffee, it scorches it and ruins it anyway.  I ranted about Keurig here. Ours was thrown out by our neighbour because it broke. Turns out, you can fix them by turning it upside down and smacking it hard on the bottom. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in that somewhere.

Kopi Luwak

This is the Civet coffee, with beans collected from the poo of wild animals. At least, that’s the best you can hope for. This gimmicky coffee got so popular that producers have started caging the civets and force feeding them coffee beans. Of course, not all companies do this, but you can’t ever be sure of it’s origins. Even if you get the ‘wild’ stuff, it comes with a hefty price tag. The coffee itself is very mild, smooth and a little sweet. It’s good but not so good it justifies that price tag, and never the cruelty!

There you go folks!  Have a very merry Christmas and may visions of coffee beans dance in your head!

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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365 Days of Coffee

This is an essay I was asked to write to accompany Monique Martin’s art exhibition entitled ‘365 Days of Coffee’, which will tour Saskatchewan art galleries later this year with the OSAC. For more details, see Monique’s site: http://moniqueart.com/365daysofcoffee/365daysofcoffee.html

Monique Martin’s exhibition explores our daily rituals of coffee drinking and how coffee travels with us as an otherwise unremarked on part of everyday life. We clutch our travel mugs and make sure we have enough caffeine to face the day, but few of us truly consider the process involved in getting us our daily fix. Also unnoticed is the epic journey the little beans take before we even see it. Coffee beans travel from remote mountainous regions and tropical cloudforest along the equator, during which it is stripped of its fruit, dried in the sun for days, hand-sorted by meticulous plantation workers, measured, weighed, graded, bagged and transported around the globe, roasted in giant fiery ovens by expert artisans then moving off again to meet their fate in coffee shops before finally making it into our mugs. The coffee production process employs over 125 million people across the world, and this often brutal journey means that over 2.25 billion cups of coffee can be enjoyed each day.

Tasting gourmet coffee can transport you from your daily routine and familiar surroundings into a whole other world of exotic flavours and aromas. The old but favoured mug you grab from the kitchen each morning looks and feels familiar, but its contents can be evocative of strange and faraway places well beyond the daily grind. Every cup tells a story; fragrant coffee in souvenir mugs from tropical holidays may allow you to relive past adventures (such as in Martin’s piece “Mexico”) or you might find that coffee tastes so much sweeter in a cup that was a gift from a loved one (“Sweetheart”).

Presenting coffee to gourmet standards has become an art form in its own right. There are baristas who swear you can only get ‘a perfect pour’ in ceramic mugs (much like Martin’s piece entitled “Froth”), The skills required by the barista to pour milk onto espresso just so, to create intricate patterns as ‘latte art’ has become a global phenomenon. Latte art is visually beautiful, but so too is what it represents: the culmination of so many artisans – farmers, quality graders, roasters, baristas – all connected by the little beans that are so well-travelled already. It’s no wonder that taking a few moments out of a busy day to enjoy this little luxury in a cup is so welcomed by so many people.

But we don’t just drink it for the taste. Coffee also connects people. The Fair Trade movement and trends towards ethical consumerism have made coffee drinkers more aware of coffee farmers. The turn towards quality over convenience coupled with people’s increasing knowledge and appreciation for coffee has meant that coffee lovers are now more likely to know of the local small business who roasts their beans. Early morning conversations with your friendly barista can start the day in a positive and sociable way. And then there’s the discussions to be had on ‘coffee row’, or in the line-up as you wait, or
between office colleagues taking as much time away from their desks as possible while on the morning coffee run. Coffee is as much a small break from routine as it is a routine in itself.

The caffeine in your drink is not physically addictive, but its effects can be psychologically so, and the daily coffee ritual is certainly habit-forming. Monique Martin’s work on the ‘365 Days of Coffee’ explores just how deeply entrenched our coffee rituals are in our everyday lives. We go out for coffee as a break from work. We arrange dates with friends around it, or we feel compelled to make it in the mornings as preparation before leaving the house. We carry it around with us constantly– and as the exhibition shows, the receptacles that we do this in are very significant. Our mugs are a little piece of personal identity in a corporate work environment, they can evoke the familiar comfort of home, or act as the catalyst for daydreaming and escapism. They are decorated, well-worn and well-loved, almost fetishized objects, always comfortingly by our side as our precious coffee accompanies us through life, every day, the whole world over.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges….

This was very nearly an extremely sad post. But it isn’t!

I was genuinely a few days away from having to close up Dr. Coffee’s Cafe for good, which was heartbreaking. As always, it came down to money, and I hate that. Money always spoils everything!!! In simple terms, the cafe wasn’t making enough of it. It was deathly quiet over the winter (but probably would have been fatal then if we’d had a “normal” Saskatchewan winter actually), but I tried to stay confident, and it did eventually start to pick up again. But not fast enough for me.

Baby Theia turned one year old last week. That in itself is incredible, but most significantly for the cafe, it spells the end of my very generous maternity leave. Right now, my fellow Mums are all facing the horrible prospect of having to go back to work, and all scrabbling around frantically trying to find childcare for one-year-old infants. This is no easy feat. It is also incredibly expensive. If I “went back to work” properly in the cafe, I would not only have to pay myself a living wage, my salary would have to be enough to cover childcare costs as well – and the business just couldn’t afford it. It only just covered the low wage I pay the part-time baristas (though I prided myself on paying above minimum wage, it wasn’t much above!). Without affordable daycare, I couldn’t work any more. Theia is now walking and it wouldn’t be fair or practical for anyone if I took her to work with me. Her coming with me was fine when she was a newborn because she just slept through most of it, but nowadays she’d be climbing the walls quite literally. So, me returning to full time cafe work was not an option. Neither did I seriously consider the idea of finding another high-paying job elsewhere to support the cafe – even if I found one (unlikely), it would mean I had no time to run the business which is entirely self-defeating. All was looking very, very gloomy indeed and it feels SO UNFAIR.

I tried to sell the business, but that was nearly impossible with so little profits. I did have several meetings with a guy who initially sounded really positive. He put in a reasonable offer thhat I would have accepted, and it got to the point where he was 3 days away from taking the keys and opening up by himself – but then he just stopped talking to me. No response to emails or phone calls,didn’t show up for a meeting, nothing. Then I got a random message from him, asking about my dog…? Obviously sent to the wrong person, but interestingly, it said “Sent from my iphone, Brandon MB” on the bottom of the email. So he wasn’t even in the province any more. Terry Gillespie, you are a timewasting arsehole.

I think I was fairly close to a nervous breakdown by that point, but mercifully my parents were here to look after me and we had a mini holiday in Calgary and I got to ignore it all for a few days. And when I got back…
Don’t you just love those random late night conversations with strangers? A while back we hosted a wedding reception in the cafe for one of our regulars, and afterwards while rather tipsy she declared that she and new husband wanted to get into business and *obviously* I should be their business mentor…. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but when I sent out the sad little “We’re closing” email, she jumped on it and said she could help. They aren’t in a position to buy the business unfortunately, but we managed to figure out an arrangement whereby they are taking over running the place for 6 months with the option to buy in the new year. So I am still the owner and I’m effectively training the others, but it’s way less demanding time-wise and emotionally! She’s renamed it Noni’s after her daughter (and really, Dr. Coffee’s doesn’t make much sense without me!), and the place has a bit of a new look – that I love because if anything, it is even MORE colourful now. There’s also an expanded menu, and even a bike rack in there! I think we share a vision for the place which (so far) we’ve been able to communicate to each other very well indeed, and that is incredibly reassuring given how crushing the idea of closing was to me. I really am incredibly lucky sometimes.

So, thanks to an amazing saviour at the final hour, all is wonderful again. Go visit Noni’s!!

We're evolving

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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SCAA Scientific Poster presentation – The Costs of Quality

In 2010, I met Kate at the World Coffee Conference in Guatemala City. At the time, we promised to keep in touch with the view of writing a paper together, “probably about quality”. It took us 6 years, 2 PhDs, multiple trips to Costa Rica and 2 babies,  but we finally did it!

The annual SCAA Expo was in Atlanta this year, and we submitted our proposal for the scientific poster session and got approved quite quickly. So then we actually had to write the thing. Unfortunately time and money (or rather, lack of) meant I couldn’t make it to Atlanta to present it, so poor Kate had to go alone, but by the sounds of it she did it wonderfully!

Here’s the abstract we submitted:

Introduction:

Specialty coffee is, by definition, concerned with quality. But how that quality is determined, and by whom, is not the wholly objective process many would like to think of it as. Moreover, the details that are so important to SCAA members are often received very differently at either end of the coffee chain. Not only are many of these details misunderstood by, or irrelevant to the consumers and producers,  the focus on quality at all costs may be detrimental to both farmers and consumers.

Objectives:

Drawing on research at origin (in Costa Rica and Honduras) and consumption (in Northern England and Saskatchewan) as well as at previous SCAA events, we use qualitative, social scientific methods to answer a) how ideas about quality are understood and evaluated and b) how the focus on quality impacts consumers and producers.

Results:

We argue that the focus on quality to the exclusion of all other considerations is a problematic path. At origin, many farmers are not interested in meeting buyer requirements that can feel arbitrary and which seem to fluctuate daily. Others are not able to access the higher end specialty markets, and so end up selling very good coffee on the conventional market. In Costa Rica in particular the price is far too low for the efforts demanded by specialty buyers, so that many who would prefer to grow coffee have left the industry.

Consumers in Saskatchewan and northern England likewise feel excluded from, or overwhelmed by, the specialty industry’s idea of what coffee should be. In the majority of coffee shops in these areas, coffee is rarely even labelled by origin, and certainly not by SCAA cupping scale scores. Consumers are more heavily influenced by individual taste preference and by price, as well as the vendors’ marketing. With so many factors contributing to the consumers’ idea of ‘Quality’ coffee, it is difficult to determine whether  the demand for very high quality is driven by the consumers at all.

Importance and Interest:

The results of our work and of that of other social scientists indicate that the SCAA focuses only on quality at its peril. There is good reason to distinguish specialty from conventional, and of course there must be a way to indicate that distinction. To insist on only one idea of coffee is, however, to risk alienating both potential customers and current or future farmers. The SCAA does not need to embrace instant coffee to recognize that there is room to consider other factors in the determination of quality, nor are we arguing that a drive to improve growing, processing, shipping and preparation is unwarranted: rather the opposite. Indeed, the story of coffee as one of the humble, hardworking farmer who transmits love and care  through the coffee chain to the tattooed, bearded barista who then prepares your beverage with that same love and care is a compelling one. We suggest, however, that particularly in light of the coffee rust crisis and the success of ‘basic’ coffee brands using lower quality beans, there is room for more nuance and complexity in that story. This would benefit farmers who are marginalized by low prices and unrealistic expectations as well as shop owners who want their customers to love coffee as much as they do, if not in the same way.

Scientific posters are HUGE:

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Here is the full thing, if I can upload it:

SCAA_poster_2016

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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One year in…

Howard Schultz called his second biography of Starbucks, “Onward”. I wanted to borrow that, except mine would be Onwards and Upwards!

We have reached a significant but fairly arbitrary milestone – the cafe has been open for a whole year now. (although of course, I could have celebrated the ‘year since I quit my job’ in February, or the anniversary of incorporating the company in December, or a year since signing the lease in November, etc etc.)

BIRTHDAY CAKE

What a helluva year it’s been! Six baristas have been and gone already and number 7 still appears enthusiastic despite the 6.30am starts. BabyCoffee joined us and brings a whole new element of chaos to the place. We’ve had reviews in the paper, random interviews on the radio, a spot on early morning TV, paid advertising with Coffee Party competitions, a very strange podcast session in which I was pronounced an ‘Improvement Vector’ and even a TV crew appearing on our doorstep unannounced and getting our customers to recite poems. Novels have been written in here, books and other businesses launched, crafts have been sold, art has been auctioned and charity funds have been raised.  And this weekend we even hosted a wedding reception!

Coffee has been bought, sold, won, given out for free, exchanged, spilled, burnt, roasted, ground, brewed, poured over, filtered, tamped, pressed, decaffeinated, bagged, instagrammed, stepped on, sworn at, written about, accidentally consumed by BabyCoffee, studied academically, posted, supped, slurped, swigged, enjoyed, cupped, sampled, iced, flavoured, baked into cake, composted, scrubbed into bath salts, and cycled around the city.

My sleep-deprivation levels are at an all-time high, mainly due to BabyCoffee but also because my brain is in permanent business-mode and seemingly goes out of its way to find me things to worry about at 3am, even when they aren’t immediately obvious. It has not been easy. I was extremely relieved to find that the world/business didn’t totally implode while I took some time off as “maternity leave” – but I was answering my work email after 3 days of being home from hospital, and I showed off BabyCoffee at the cafe when she was just 6 days old. I couldn’t stay away.

entrepreneur-advantage-disadvantage

Of course, the major worry is Money, or at least, lack of it. I am sad to report I am not a millionaire yet.  The real reason we celebrate being one year in is because statistically, over 2/3rds of businesses fail in the first year. The first year is the hardest in terms of establishing cashflow and dealing with humungous start up costs, while still developing the business and the customer base. Well, we have been down, but we are not out. So obviously year 2 is going to be a breeze! Onwards and upwards, my friends!

P.S., We were nominated in 4 categories in the Prairie Dog Best of Food Awards. Pleeeeeease go vote for us. It would be a nice birthday present. Thanks!!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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