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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.

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Posted by on January 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

The small matter of integrity

Recently I was approached by a guy I met briefly several years ago when we were setting up Dr. Coffee’s Café – he (or at least, someone on his team) actually designed our logo and signage for us. I remembered him because he was very personable, seemed like the type who ought to be the patron of some amateur theatre troupe. And also because we had a meeting in Robin’s, where the coffee was so bad I threw up in the bathroom (mainly due to pregnancy, I should add). Anyway, that was early 2015. I am amazed he remembered me!

He is no longer making signs. Instead, he wanted to talk to me about an amazing business opportunity. Alarm bells rang. I am wary about that sort of sales pitch. However, he told me it was coffee related, so always worth checking out, I reckon.

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Coffee in the very loosest sense, apparently. The poor guy has got himself mixed up with Valentus. It’s one of those MLM schemes and he was trying to recruit me into the bottom of a strangely triangular type of business model, if you get my drift. The product that allows you “an opportunity for an extraordinary life” and a global business that you can run from home, with the chance to make 6-figure monthly incomes, is called Slim-Roast. This magical substance is part energy-drink, part weight-loss supplement and part soluble coffee.

Not one part of that last sentence enamors me to the product.

According to Valentus’ website, this drink powder is

Great for:

  • Controls appetite
  • Regulates sugar absorption
  • Regulates fat absorption
  • Promotes brain health and focus
  • Elevates mood
  • Antioxidant

Aside from the obvious grammar error, black coffee manages all of that on its own with neither the bizarre additives nor the hefty price tag.  Apparently though, this is coffee mixed with green tea extract, l-theanine (also a green tea extract) and cacoa (raw chocolate) AND added caffeine. This all produces a substance with 127mg of caffeine for every 8oz fluid ounces, which is roughly double the strength of a can of Red Bull, but without the sugar.

As I have said before, caffeine itself doesn’t actually give you an energy boost (you get that from the sugar in most energy drinks). Instead, you feel more alert after a caffeine boost because caffeine molecules inhibit adenosine receptors in the brain, which are the bit that makes you feel tired. You’re not actually any less tired if you drink coffee, you just don’t feel it until your body metabolises the caffeine. Caffiene already does all the other stuff to some extent: it’s a minor appetitie supressent, it boosts your mood and helps you focus, keeps your brain healthy and can boost your metabolism. But in excess it leads to anxiety, insomnia and hypertension. There is no good reason to add more caffeine to an already beneficial caffeinated drink.

The green tea, the cacao and then ‘green coffee bean extract’ AND extra chlorogenic acid (again with the overkill) are all supposed to increase your anti-oxident intake. It’s also, somehow, made soluable. I wrote about why this is bollocks here.

There is also ‘Garcinia Cambogia’ (tamarind, in other words) which is touted as another appetite suppressant, and Phaseolamin (derived from cannelli beans) that apparently stops your guts from digesting some starches so they pass through you without you taking in so many calories. The key bit there is ‘passing through you’. What is another thing coffee is well known for? Making you poop. The coffee and the raw coffee extract, the tamarind, the phaseolamin and the other superfluous additives come together to form one big … laxative. I guess that would help you lose weight then.

YUCK.

Inevitably though, the product is NOT the main focus of this enterprise. No, this guy was not looking to sell Slim Roast to me, he wanted to recruit me to sell it to other people. I’d have to agree to buy a certain amount from Valentus, and I’d only start getting commission on it if I sell a specific amount every month. The real money only starts when you recruit four people, as you then get commission off their sales too. Ignoring the way the products play in to the cult of being busy, fetishizing stress and the need for constant energy and alertness, or preying on people’s body insecurities (yeah, I really don’t like this stuff!) – someone, somewhere is going to get ripped off. The whole thing relies on people feeding money upwards, and not everyone is going to succeed.

As this guy correctly points out, coffee, weight loss products and energy drinks are all massive global industries right now. I am sure there is a huge market out there for this stuff, somewhere. But it’s not a market I want to step foot into. I am a coffee geek, that’s my passion. I don’t think I am capable of selling anything I don’t believe in, and putting my name to any sort of psuedoscience-hyped coffee derivitive would be the ultimate sell-out. I’ve accepted the fact that my business passion projects are never going to make me rich, and that is fine. I’d much rather be poor and drink real coffee!!

 
 

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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,

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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