Posting these old ones, because a few Canadian coffee folk have been asking!
My first cafe, Darlington, UK, 2009-2011
Time for some pretty pictures.
It occurs to me that I’ve been messing around in the coffee industry for six years now. I’ve had a lot of adventures and learned a huge amount. Coffee has taken me all over the place, from the Voodoo Cafe in Darlington in 2006 (where it all began in earnest), Durham for Caffe Nero in 2007, to Sheffield for the PhD for the next four and a half years, London for Caffe Culture and other research gigs on numerous occasions, then Ohio, and Guatemala City for conferences in 2010, six months in Nicaragua and Costa Rica for fieldwork in 2008-9, back to Darlington for my coffee van in 2009, Afternoon Tease in 2010, my first ever North East Coffee Festival and Doctor Coffee’s Cafe in 2011, and finally to Regina, Saskatchewan for 13th Ave Coffee House in 2012. Oh and my book is being published by a German publisher. It’s been quite a journey!
Here’s some highlights! These are in no particular order and there are a lot of them!
Well, I survived!! There are still three charity collection cans floating around in Afternoon Tease cafe because I haven’t yet heard whether UK Coffee Week HQ want me to send back the whole cans, or just write them a cheque.
For a first attempt at organising something like this, I think it went really well. In the end, only five places in Darlington actually signed up with the UK coffee week, and of those, one completely ignored my attempts at getting them involved on a local level. But to be honest I am quite glad about that because I had plenty to deal with as it was. Plenty of places got involved without actually signing up officially though, which was great. I did a coffee ‘treasure map’ sending people to seven different coffee shops around town (including Caffe Nero and Clervaux) and finishing at Afternoon Tease, where I gave the first person back (Congrats to Robin Ellwood!) the “treasure” – a bag of organic single origin Costa Rican beans, the most enormous coffee mug I could find and a cafetiere. Because if you’ve managed to get round seven coffee shops in a week, obviously you must be in need of more coffee!!
The ever-enthusiastic Neil at Golden Brown cafe roasts coffee on site, and did some roasting workshops for interested customers – I met a few who had attended and said it was ‘fascinating’! I was a bit gutted I couldn’t make it to them myself. I don’t know how much Neil raised but hopefully the roasting workshops and the treasure map boosted his sales as well.
I did a poster for the Vitae Public Engagement competition, all about coffee quality (as usual) and hosted in Durham. The idea was the explain people’s academic work to members of the public, so I thought I’d do my bit since the event happened to coincide with coffee week. I didn’t win, but I didn’t really expect to, and I did get to talk to a lot of interesting people, including Kathryn from Allegra (organisers of UK Coffee Week) who had made it all the way up here from London for the day. Really nice of her to make the journey!
Annette at Sublime Coffee Corner, who sells a huge range of different coffee beans on the indoor market, did a coffee tasting session as well as being featured on the treasure map. She said it went well enough, and certainly got to enlighten people to the joys of Kopi Luwak coffee, ahem 🙂
I ran a short barista class at Afternoon Tease on the Friday, which was so much fun! Two who had provisionally booked couldn’t make it at the last minute, but the crowd I got in were brilliant, asking me loads of questions, really getting in to it and most significantly, not being afraid to have a go on my machine. One said she was blown away by the tiny margin of error, how the tiniest thing can make such a huge difference in how the espresso tastes. For my part, it was exhausting! I did get to drink A LOT of espresso, tasting all their attempts no matter how bad! However, as usual when I try and ‘teach’ something I am passionate about, I vastly over-ran and talked solidly for the best part of three hours.
Finally, on the Saturday, we held a few coffee themed stalls in the market square (the back-story for this deserves a blog post in its own right, but in simple terms, this was achieved *despite* the council, not exactly with their help!). My beloved coffee Ape van has now been sold (waaaaaaa!) and I sold it on the understanding that its new owners came to the coffee festival. They did, in fact, the festival actually became the launch of their new business. Apey boy is now called Little Coffee Van, and although nervous, they managed some pretty decent cappuccinos! On a less positive note, they also go a taster of the local open market – thus producing another one joining the campaign pressuring the council to invest in the market and breathe some life in to it, I hope!!
We also had beautiful cakies from Cupcake Kisses, Golden Brown cafe came out and sold freshly roasted coffee beans and gourmet chocolates, Tea Experience came all the way up from the other side of York to pacify the tea drinking half of the population, we even had a massage stall called Reinvigorate for when people had had too much caffeine! I tried to do a sort of information stall, using some of the posters and displays I’d done for uni and some coffee paraphenalia I’ve collected (of which I have A LOT nowadays!). However, Afternoon Tease was open at the same time, and I couldn’t leave Carl manning the place on his own. My parents came up for the weekend to help out with Miranda but I still ended up pedalling backwards and forwards between the stalls and the cafe on Betty the bike. I also did a short but live radio interview for BBC Radio Tees which was terrifying, but at least it wasn’t as awful as the mugshot in the local paper. Ugh.
Anyway, things have been learnt. Kathryn seems pretty keen for me to do this again next year (!!!) but that will depend a great deal on how cooperative Darlington council are feeling because there were parts of the initial setting up of the festival which I have no desire whatever to repeat! A budget would be lovely too… However, moans aside, I really do enjoy doing things like this, hopefully all involved benefitted from it, it was something very different for Darlington, we raised some money for a good cause, and we all got a lot of very very good coffee. Which is the main thing, for me at least!!
Here’s some pretty pics from the week:
North East Coffee Festival, a set on Flickr.
Some photos from the participating cafes and the main even, 4-10th April 2011.
A little project looking at how coffee shops market themselves. What goes on the shop front? How is coffee marketed actually on the building? More tellingly though, what do coffee customers notice about the shop fronts? How much of an effect does the shop decor have on people’s decision to go there?
This is a work in progress – I would love to get people to send me a picture of their favourite coffee shop and give me a short sentence about why they like it. I will update this page as I receive more pictures. If you’d like to contribute, I’d be eternally grateful. Please email your pics to firstname.lastname@example.org. I won’t publish anyone’s names if you don’t want me to, just say in your email if you want to stay anonymous.
Here’s a few I’ve received so far. Analysis will follow!
First of all, I hope my dear reader(s) had a good Christmas and happy new year to all!
Second, apologies for the state of this post. I am trying to type it on my phone, that is, my brand new nokia E90. I know that this phone is at least 3 years old now, but it is still the best phone Nokia have ever made and I love it, and darling hubby has bought me a new one for christmas to replace the one that died a nasty death last summer. We are currently driving back from Shrewsbury to Darlington, Miranda is wailing, i am bored but it is dark and I can barely see the keyboard to type, and WordPress Mobile in all its infinite wisdom has rendered the New Post screen a whole 4cm wide for no fathomable reason.
But i digress.
I had a nice message from Simon at Pollards coffee roasters, saying “2011 will be the year of Afternoon Tease”. It kinda has to be really, but also it should be the year I really become an actual doctor of coffee. This means finishing the thesis, which in turn, means a helluva lot of work over the next few months. Intense planning is required.
One possible plan for the thesis is to build up a reputation in Afternoon Tease for good coffee to the extent the Coffee Geeks or glitterati or whatever they should be named; the barista champions, and gourmets and so on start visiting from afar. I could run off a few copies of the thesis with a vanity publisher and try and flog them in the cafe – I’d just need some major geeks and/or academics to come in because I’m sure no one else would be remotely interested!
In this spirit of all good research, I have adapted Gwilym Davies’ (Flat-cap-wearing 2009 World Barista champion, part of the aforementioned coffee glitteratti) idea of the ‘Disloyalty card’ – encouraging people to try out other *good* coffee venues in London on his list, just to get people experiencing excellent coffee. Darlington, in my opinion, does not have enough good coffee venues for this to work here, so instead I am introducing a Coffee Adventurer card – to get people to try drinks they wouldn’t normally have. I am going to do a Tea one too. After the customer tries all the different drinks, they get their favourite free. A bit like Bingo!
I feel pretty strongly that the thesis should not be the be-all and end-all of this PhD. I have absorbed so much, often trivial, information about coffee that it seems a waste (geddit?) not to use this knowledge. Some is being employed in the day to day running of the cafe (embodied knowledge) but I want to expand on that. I think, with a bit more practice, I could do barista training in the cafe. (knowledge sharing?) I know a few people (who I’ve met through my research) who do very well out of teaching people how to make coffee… May need to improve my latte art though.
A long term project is also to roast my own in there. Despite all my efforts, roasting is still the area of coffee I know least about. Off the top of my head, I’ve met and interviewed at least ten roasters, and I’ve seen it done all over the world. However, it is the sort of thing that can go wrong very easily and expensively, and no amount of sweet-talking “helpless-student” begging has resulted in me being let loose to play on the machines. This I see as a distinct deficiency; I need to learn. I was offered a very, very small shiny coffee roasting machine to borrow when we opened the cafe, just enough to fill the place with that fantastic aroma in the mornings. I had to turn it down at the time because we had no air vents to let smoke out of the back! But with a bit of forethought and the potential use of the empty rooms above the cafe, and some ducting, I reckon I could set it all up there eventually and roast my own Miranda blend!
Speaking of Miranda, the final plan, which is both long time and on-going is to set up her own little Penny University within Afternoon Tease. If all this goes well, Miri will effectively grow up in the place, and we were planning on home-schooling her for at least a year. In the cafe, she has Aunty Jo to teach her singing and writing, Aunty Tattoo.Jo to teach her to dance, me to teach her barista skills (needing a basic level of physics and chemistry to understand how the espresso machine works), cooking and baking, we can do coffee origin trips for geography and learning Spanish, she can learn IT through updating our website, her Daddy can teach her enough maths to do my accounts(!) and maybe even some physics and technology if we get the roasting machine up and running! Sorted. she’ll be fine. obviously.
Now all I’ve got to is get going with it all! Oh, and make some money in the process.
Happy 2011 peoples!
Dear Mike, Jenny and Edward (and any others who haven’t sent me leaflets yet – I confess I forget who our UKIP candidate is, since I only gave your leaflet space on my doorstep for a few seconds before moving it to the recycling bin.)
I am very interested in what you plan to do about supporting and maintaining jobs in Darlington, and creating new opportunities, given that the North-east remains an economically deprived area, and in my experience, graduate jobs in particular are especially hard to come by.
Jenny Chapman for Labour says she “will work with business to bring high quality jobs to Darlington so the town never again suffers the unemployment of the 1980s.” Very nice. How?
Mike Barker for the Lib Dems says very little other than that he will “fight to ensure future developments are in keeping with our traditional status as a thriving market town.” (Interesting use of the word “thriving” – but more on the market in a minute). Oh and the Lib Dems will “create jobs by making Britain greener.” Same question applies Mike, how?
Edward Legard for the Conservatives points out that he started Darlington Job Club, because “under Labour, high unemployment is back and manufacturing is in decline. The North-east deserves better.” Yes, we do, but even though I barely remember Thatcher’s government, I am pretty sure the Tory record on unemployment and industry decline would not count as “better,” especially in the North.
Let me explain a little about my situation. Whilst I appreciate that I am not exactly an average Darlington resident, I am sure my experiences and frustrations are not entirely unique.
At the moment, I am doing my Phd at Sheffield University. (Disclaimer: these are my thoughts, nothing to do with the views of the university). My husband and I bought a house and moved to Darlington in 2004. I am currently supported by a research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, and I also run my own business part time, my little coffee cart on Darlington market two days a week. I am unable to keep up the coffee cart over the summer, because I am now seven months pregnant. I am now very concerned about the future and particularly my job prospects, because I am due to finish my PhD in April 2011, leaving me unemployed, with no real form of income and with a nine-month-old child to care for. My husband’s salary could not support all of us, and I wouldn’t want it to anyway.
In terms of qualifications, the PhD is in Human Geography. Prior to that, I have achieved a BA in Anthropology and an MA in Social Science Research Methods both from the University of Durham, and hold a University Certificate in Professional Development in Marketing from Teesside University. Although I have the ESRC grant for the PhD and I self-funded my fees for my Masters (with help from my parents), I received a statement from the Student Loans Company this morning gently reminding me that I owe £11,300 from my undergraduate degree. ‘Fortunately’ since I graduated in 2004 I have never earned over the threshold that warrants me having to pay this back (£15000 per annum).
Outside of university, I have eighteen months experience working as a project coordinator for a community development group in the voluntary sector. I also worked as a chef and cafe manager for a year, and did small group tutoring in Anthropology at Durham University. However, my community development job ended in constructive dismissal in 2006. This was a horrible experience anyway, but confounded by the fact that I have never yet managed to find a decent job in the local area since. I have worked for various pubs and coffee shops and on Darlington market, but all on minimum wage. I was also forced to sign on for Job Seekers Allowance briefly in 2007, and when discussing my qualifications with the jobs advisor, was asked “how do you spell Anthropology?” I consider myself extremely lucky to have found the PhD placement not long after that, otherwise I am fairly sure I would still be signing on or working for £5.60 per hour.
Four years of frustrating underemployment in Darlington have led me to believe that there are virtually no graduate opportunities in this area. I have plenty of qualifications and I am not really lacking in actual work experience; more significantly, I actively want to work. However, I really really do NOT want to finish my PhD and have to go back to working for minimum wage in an unskilled job, especially with a child to support as well. I would love to leave Darlington entirely: I do think my coffee business would be more successful in another area as well. Essentially, I need reasons to stay in the town.
My questions to the political candidates are therefore:
Do you agree that this area needs some form of economic development, and if so, how is it going to be developed and in what way?
Specifically, how are you going to create jobs in the town, and what sort of jobs will they be?
How will you support local small businesses and people wanting to start their own business in the area?
What are your thoughts on Darlington market and do you have any plans to promote it, improve it or even just resuscitate it?
I would be very keen to hear your responses, but I am interested specifically in your own party’s policies rather than hearing a list of your rivals’ various failings.
Well, we finally got there!
I am more exhausted than I have ever been – well, than I have been since the last 48-hour-without-sleep trip to South America. It is mental exhaustion not just physical, although I had blissfully forgotten what standing on a market stall for nearly 9 hours in the cold does to your legs!
The last week in the run up to Launch Day could not really have been more hectic, and I honestly begun to believe things were conspiring against me. First I failed my bike test, meaning that Carl is in charge of driving the Ape still – I still have no license. Extra ‘practice’ on a borrowed bike resulted in further confidence-shattering disaster – bruised ankles and bent handlebars. Then I found out that the Ape STILL wasn’t finished – the generator was still overheating, and the fans intended to cool it all down had still not been put in. Friday was a very saddening memorial service for a much missed friend and a trip to Sheffield, and then we were into The Last Weekend.
Still no generator coolers.
Tom and Annie got married (YAY!) and I nearly ‘swooned’ dramatically during the speeches in what I can only imagine was an attack of nervous exhaustion. Sunday was spent with me feeling utterly terrible and unable to put my weight on my mysteriously swollen ankle (for once, nothing to do with drunken activities – swooning incident put paid to my drinking!) – BUT Jamie worked overtime and finally got our generator going at a temperature that didn’t make the fuel tank go pop. So we finally got the Ape home (Carl still describes the white-knuckle driving experience as a ‘learning curve’), practiced a few coffees for appreciative neighbours, discovered I’d completely lost the knack of foaming milk, Ape got stored in its own warm little nest of a garage, and we spent til 11.20pm frantically making sandwiches and baking cakes.
With an inhumanely early start, Launch Day finally dawned. The lovely Carl stayed around all day to look after me as well as drive the 200 yards from the garage to the market square, (memo to self: I can probably push it, if all else fails!). One very reassuring thing was how easy the Ape is to set up. I do love my Ape. Genny gets fired up, cools the fridge, heats the espresso machine and while it is doing all that, I can grind some coffee and get the filter machine a-dripping. Everything else sits in nice little jars on shiny new shelves, and even the cash register can be folded neatly away in its own drawer. The genny is also very clever in that if we don’t need it running at full power, it doesn’t run at full power, so it gets quieter if it’s not being used. The only slight caveat is that the espresso machine is on a thermostat, and it took me most of the day to get used to the generator powering up seemingly at random as the coffee machine warmed itself up again. But overall, a happy little Ape.
And we had a great day. My milk foaming skills returned, magically. It could have been better – it was Monday, and it was raining, and we would have done much much better if everyone who gave me/the ape strange looks actually bought coffee. But, as one Ape-admirer and coffee enthusiast pointed out that people need to get used to us being there. The Ape is distinctive, but if we keep going back week after week, hopefully we’ll get a following. Only one way to find out!
We did get lots and lots of positive comments; I sold an uber-coffee to a total stranger who didn’t really know what he was buying, and even he was impressed! A guy from Drury coffee appeared as if from nowhere and gave me lots of free samples and offered his espresso machine repair service, if ever required. He also complemented me on my neat dry little coffee pucks, which did much for my ego. As ever, the cake disappeared pretty quickly. And big thank yous to all the wonderful supportive people (cake eaters) who came to visit me,or who sent me lovely good-luck messages. Jo and Graeme even brought me a little ape to go on top my grinder!
So, having almost recovered from my tiredness, I am feeling good about Doctor Coffee’s. We finally got there! It feels like this has been such a long time coming, and it’s so exciting that its all finally happening! Worth all the stress, I think. 🙂 Now excuse me while I sleep until next Monday!