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Author Archives: Dr. Coffee

About Dr. Coffee

My name is Annabel Townsend, and I really am a doctor of coffee! I wrote my PhD. thesis about ideas of quality in the coffee industry, from the University of Sheffield, UK. When I'm not making coffee, I write a lot of creative non-fiction, ride my bikes everywhere and enjoy life in the flat bit of Canada.

Reevaluating Dr. Coffee.

I didn’t manage five blog posts last year.

2018 has arrived, and with it, the usual obligations to mark the arbitrary anniversary of the previous orbit by making fresh starts, resolutely state your goals for the next trip round the sun and reflecting on the time past since last time we did all this. Since I’m starting off on a cynical note (no change there, then), I should also add that 2018 brings us one year closer to the Extinction of Arabica Coffee, and thus, the end of the world as we know it. Scientists predict that coffee crops will fall victim to global warming as soon as 2080. I would be 97, but I would still be devastated if that’s true.

My new year’s resolutions probably won’t be to post more on this blog. I feel it may already be in its dying days. I do aim to write more and practice writing, but I might not be comfortable with posting the results of that practice.

What is with all this negativity you ask? It’s not really negative, I am just reevaluating my role in the world of coffee. For years (and years and years, as is evident from the decade of previous blog posts), coffee has been my mission in life. I studied it intensely all over the world and in all sections of the industry. I’ve started four coffee businesses: online, mobile and physical. I learnt my barista skills from the best and then taught others the same, I’ve taught myself to roast beans, I’ve campaigned for direct and ethical coffee trading and annoyed the Fair Trade movement. I learnt how to do minor repairs to espresso machines. I’ve been on an advisory panel for that rather large coffee company with the green aprons. I have coffee beans permanently edged into my skin. I quite literally wrote the book on coffee.

However, I just couldn’t get my coffee shop business to work: be that down to lack of capital, failures in marketing, unsuitable location, too many other commitments to juggle or, most likely, a combination of all of those – the unfortunate fact remains that I have to make a living somehow. I couldn’t do it from my own ventures, and I can’t do it from working at other people’s coffee ventures either, even if I wanted to. I am exceedingly lucky in that some of the ‘soft’ skills I learnt from years in coffee shop customer service and through business planning, as well as some of the most vocational research skills from the PhD., lent themselves well to my current role at the Science Centre, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

As always though, the dramatic change of becoming an employee again has been a wrench, even though my experiences so far have been completely positive. But it’s not coffee. Even after all the stress, heartbreak and financial disasters of business ownership, even with a great job to go to, even now, I still catch myself assessing the location potential of every ‘For Lease’ sign I see. I frantically scour social media to keep up with how other coffee businesses are doing and get unattractively jealous when new places open up.

Old habits die hard, and caffeine is very habit-forming.

The wonderful thing about education is that you can never lose it, and no one can take it away from you. In that sense alone, I will always be Dr. Coffee.

I’ve still got Wheelie Good Coffee as well. No more market stalls until March at the earliest, but I’m roasting away and you can buy my beans online or at various places around Regina.

My next book is coming out this year as well. That became a home for these last ten years of coffee adventures: all the business trials and tribulations, and all the fascinating coffee fieldwork expeditions eventually resulted in my first proper publishing deal! Which I think is fantastic thing to come out of it all.  The next six months or so are going to be business with Official Book Promotion, and I can’t wait!

‘The Science of Coffee’ may be feature as a topic in some of the future programming at work too! But until then, maybe it’s time to retire Dr. Coffee at least partially. I’ve got other plans to brew.

Stay caffeinated folks!

love,

drcoffee.jpg

 

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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Coffee. Just Coffee. Not a pumpkin in sight.

It’s Fall!  The most beautiful time of year, and I am embracing it as best I can.

This does NOT mean Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Really, just.. No. A colleague started singing the praises of the infamous PSL as early as August. To me, that is akin to playing Christmas music right after Labour day. The local Charbucks has pumpkin spice everything (in fact, they opened a new branch downtown, more’s the pity, just in time for pumpkin spice season). Even Bed Bath and Beyond has jumped on the bandwagon and is selling pumpkin spice candles and soaps and so on. You can drink your pumpkin and smell like one too! Amazeballs!

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against pumpkins themselves – in fact, I am a huge fan of Halloween and have multiple Jack O’Lanterns in front of the house right now. I made pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup for Thanksgiving recently. But I just can’t fathom the joy of adding pumpkin to your coffee. You are adding orange squash puree to your drink. And a huge amount of sugar. Just… why?

Of course, there is a lot of money to be made from the PSL crowd, and coffee shop owners would be mad not to get in on it. I reluctantly bought the syrup for Dr. Coffee’s Cafe and for Noni’s, and it was insanely popular. Around this time last year, I made my own pumpkin-spice creamer for Wheelie Good Coffee on the markets and the whole lot disappeared on the first day. 14468778_476214552548775_8732287735342301733_oSpeaking of which, the big news is that Wheelie is back on the market, ahem! I have a new helper/employee in the form of our friend James, who I met many years ago as a regular customer at the market. I still can’t be at the market on a regular basis, so James will be our new barista and can serve up our signature pour overs every Saturday at the Winter Markets, indoors at the Shriners Centre.

Next week I may make up some more Pumpkin Spice creamer for him to offer. Until then, I shall return to my favourite form of Halloween coffee – black and bitter. Like my soul.

 

Recipe for PS Creamer:

Can of pumpkin puree

Large can of sweetened condensed milk

pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger (or, sachets of pumpkin spice mix)

Soft brown sugar to taste.

Mix the lot in a saucepan and simmer for ten minutes to infuse. Stir constantly.  Strain the squash out, and voila! Autumnal crack!

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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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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