Tag Archives: Doctor Coffee’s Cafe


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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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.)


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.


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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Always plan 15 seconds ahead…

I think that is good advice for life in general actually, but especially for my current project, coffee roasting!
I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but roasting is the part of the coffee process that I know least about. I have seen it done hundreds of times, attended pretty high level workshops on it and hung out in roasting companies for the PhD, but knowing what to do is definitely NOT the same as knowing how to do it. As with barista skills, it all comes with practice, but to learn properly, you have to Do, not just Watch. The reason I never got much hands on experience during my research was just that it is very difficult, and can go wrong so easily and when it does it is very expensive (in terms of wasted coffee beans) and potentially dangerous (fires).

Home roasting is possible with minimal equipment and some common sense (herein lies the rub). You can roast coffee badly and unevenly in a frying pan with a wooden spoon (except in addition to burnt beans, you also ruin the pan and fill the kitchen with smoke, fyi). The most effective way is using a air popcorn maker, but that restricts your roast capacity to about 50grams at a time. Roasting a standard sized bag of coffee with a popcorn machine takes nearly 2 hours and even if you acheive it, you might find you’ve burnt out the motor on the popcorn machine. I speak from experience on both these counts.


Now my cafe is up and running nicely and we have a lot of space in it, I bit the bullet and invested in a proper coffee roaster.  It is lovely. And complicated. And programmable. I am so in love with it, I even did the unthinkable and read the manual first! Despite this vague preparation and along with some tips from friends who roast and my notes from the roasting workshops at Cafe Culture, my first few attempts were so good the fire alarm started cheering me on!! Cinnamon/light roast is relatively easy, Charbucks style oily blackness is very easy, tasty medium to dark roast is pretty damn difficult, and a bit scary.

But practice makes perfect, and after playing with the machine for a month (and wasting a huge amount of green coffee beans, unfortunately) I have got to the point where the coffee I roast is good enough to go in the cafe (in bags for home use, I couldn’t keep up with the amount needed for drinks in the cafe). Here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Always plan 15 seconds ahead.
This is the length of time for the machine to go from heating to cooling. So even after you hit stop, it will carry on roasting for 15 seconds longer. 15 seconds is a long time for coffee. Not even Starbucks Bold roast (ie, black) goes beyond 10 seconds past the 2nd crack. I’ve found the difference between delicious and burnt is 3 seconds.

2. This. This is bollocks.

There is always smoke.

3. Roasting is an inexact science and a precise art.
As complex as my programming and roast profiles may be, no matter how precisely i set the time and temperatures, the vast majority of the time I am relying on what it looks like and what I can hear. Each type of coffee behaves differently (ie: coffee beans from Brazil are different from SHG Nicaraguan etc) and so you set the profile with an educated guess, listen out for the cracks, then watch it like a hawk until it looks right – or rather, until about 15 seconds before it looks right.

4. Unless you can compare, you turn towards the light.
Partly as a result of the Fear of Fire Alarm (for the record, there have been no actual fires, just enough smoke to trigger the alarm), my roasts have tended to get lighter and lighter the more I do. It’s strange, but it seems my version of what “looks right” is less and less brave every time. So, it’s best to have a sample of a good batch next to you to compare!

5. Consistency is king, but beans are variable.
Following on from the last points, I think to call yourself a good roaster, you must be able to produce the same results over and over. I am getting there, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Even after I carefully write down the exact formula and roast profile and repeat the roast to the exact second, I still occasionally get ‘anomalous’ results. Sometimes, the beans just misbehave. At the moment, I can’t figure out any reason for it, but this is something I hope to learn as I continue!

Experiments will continue, and I am now confident enough to try roasting blends too (a whole other kettle of fish). Watch this space! And of course, if you are local, pick up a bag of beans in Dr. Coffee’s Cafe and let me know what you think!

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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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In love with the Pour Over

Time for an actual COFFEE post!

I started playing around with pour over coffee when we were setting up my Wheelie Good Coffee cart – it is simple, it makes one cup at a time, and it’s about the freshest way to make a great coffee outside without much in the way of equipment. It proved extremely popular on the market, and so we introduced the pour over stand to Dr. Coffee’s Cafe as well. As far as we know, we are currently the only cafe in Regina to offer this brew style!

Pour Over coffee on the Wheelie Good Coffee cart.

Pour Over coffee on the Wheelie Good Coffee cart.

Pour over in our funky mugs at Dr. Coffee’s Cafe

But what is all the fuss about, really? This is not new technology. Several customers have commented that they/their Mums/Nans used to make coffee like this, usually with Melitta drippers. I found very similar pour over stands in Costa Rica, where that is the “traditional” brew method. Someone else told me it was an Indian custom. The appeal comes from its simplicity: If you have a kettle and some sort of filter, you can make it. Nowadays I use Hario drippers and paper filters, and we even have a very fancy goose neck kettle to ensure a slow, even pour, but in principle, you can use any boiling water receptacle and any filter – even a sock! (for the record, the Costa Rican one below isn’t actually a sock, it’s a tube of cheese cloth fabric!). These filters are a lot finer and more robust than the equivalent in a French press/cafetiere, and so you end up with a very smooth, clean cup with no sludge at the bottom.

Costa Rican pour over stand and grinder.

Costa Rican pour over stand and grinder.

I like to use distinctive, single origin coffees in the pour over, because the brew method can highlight subtleties in the coffee that other methods tend to hide. it is also particularly good for lighter roasts. My favourites are Indian Monsooned Malabar, or fruity Nicaraguan roasts. Due to the longer brewing time, pour over coffee does tend to come out much stronger than standard drip coffee or even French press, so very dark roasts or espresso blends tend to be ‘over kill!’

How to brew with a Pour Over or Chemex

The Pour Over Brewer is quick, simple, cheap and effective – perfect for home use. They are usually ceramic drippers that look like a little cup with holes in the bottom, with a saucer attached. This sits on top of your mug, and you pour the coffee straight through it. A Chemex (pronounced “Kemex”) is a glass pot with a neck allowing you to pour hot water through coffee in a filter paper held in the neck. Chemex pots are usually handblown glass and are very attractive, artistic objects, but the principle is the same.

Chemex and Pour Over brewers make very smooth, mild coffee, in between a percolator and a French Press. Besides the brewer itself, you will also need the correct size filter papers (usually conical or wedge-shaped ones, rather than round ones – Chemex even make their own) – and a kettle. You can buy specialist goose-neck kettles that are designed for pour over coffee – the long, thin neck gives you excellent control over how you pour it.

First, boil the kettle. The water needs to be just off the boil so it doesn’t scorch the coffee.

Grind up your coffee to a medium-fine level – coarser than for an Aeropress but finer than for normal drip. You need around a heaped tablespoon per 12oz cup (the Chemex holds about 6 cups, so you would need 6-7tbsp to fill it.)

Put the filter paper in the dripper, and dampen the paper with a splash of hot water (this allows coffee to pass through the paper more easily). Spoon in the coffee grounds, and make a small dent in the mound of coffee. If using a Chemex, stand it on a heat proof mat. It is not hot enough to damage your tabletop if you don’t, but marble or granite surfaces can cool the pot too quickly you end up with cold coffee! Pour over drippers either have their own stand, or can sit on top of your mug.

Gently pour the boiled water into the centre of the coffee grounds in a circular motion, very slowly, little and often. The trick is to get the water on to the coffee without spreading it up the sides of the filter paper, so the coffee shouldn’t float. The water then drips through the paper into either the glass dome of the Chemex, or straight into your mug if you’re using a standard Pour Over brewer.

The coffee should “bloom” – as in, the mound of grounds should swell up and bubble nicely into a thick “slurry”when water is poured on it. If the coffee isn’t fresh, you will get less of a bloom effect. Let it dribble through over the space of about 3 minutes, and voila! The smoothest, freshest coffee you can produce!

Our fancy goose neck kettle and glass Hario dripper.

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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Doctor Coffee’s Cafe, Darlington

Posting these old ones, because a few Canadian coffee folk have been asking!

My first cafe, Darlington, UK, 2009-2011

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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


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My Life in Coffee

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!

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Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Plans for 2011

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!

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Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized


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6 weeks AD – coffee and babies and fantasies

6 weeks AD (After Daughter) and most things are back to “normal”!

My normal coffee intake has resumed. Woohoo! I am a little concerned about how much caffeine actually makes its way into my breastmilk, but Miranda doesn’t seem to be complaining and there are no obvious ill-effects so I intend to ignore the issue. I did do some research into effects of coffee drinking on pregnancy (which can be summarised into “it just takes longer for the caffeine to break down in your body”) and most pregnancy magazines (those quality publications you get free from Boots, for example) tell you not to drink too much when breastfeeding either, but fail to tell you why. I assume it is because you get caffeine in milk – but there’s nothing to say that drinking diluted caffeine (natural lattes?) actually harms babies.

I am back to “testing” coffee shops too, and having too much of a coffee-based presence online, apparently. I got headhunted, of sorts! Very flattering. Someone google searched for coffee people in the north east, and with this blog, various links from the uni, my social network site addiction and my attempts at promoting Doctor Coffee’s Cafe, I take up a good proportion of the search results. It was about a Manager’s job going at Esquires coffee shop in Newcastle – nice salary, commutable from here, bloke sounded very genuine and friendly. It would have been great if I was able to work full time at the moment!! DOH. Managing coffee shops and 6 week old babies don’t mix, and no job is worth leaving her for at the moment.

Miranda in Esquires

Anyway, bloke said he’d “keep me in mind” if anything else came up in the future – which would be great given the inevitable dreaded post-uni unemployment is looming again. Just to make sure, I bundled Miri on a train up to Newcastle to approve the place. I’ve been to Esquires in Durham before, but apart from the nice penguins on the logo and the fact it has free wifi (unlike Neros!) I don’t remember it being anything special. I didn’t realise Esquires isn’t actually a chain though, it’s a franchise, and the franchisees get a lot more freedom so each Esquires is a bit different, again unlike the immutable Caffe Nero format. The shop in Newcastle is huge, right in the middle of the shopping centre and was pretty busy. I can see why the manager’s salary was so reasonable, that place must make a fortune!  (I did have a look at the Esquires franchises, and frankly, if I had that sort of money I’d set up on my own. Somewhere tropical. But obviously there are some success stories!). Nice enough place – bit cheaper than the other chains, iced Americano and filter coffee actually on the menu along with PROPER LOOSE LEAF GREEN TEA (my pregnancy-staple – woopedoo!). No one objected to me breastfeeding in there and the baby change was actually big enough to use comfortably. (two things I never used to check before!!). In some respects it was far less pretentious than most coffee shops – the staff were definitely “people who work in a coffee shop” rather than “baristas”. I was feeling cruel and asked for espresso, and it was actually a lot better than I thought it would be. It came in a tiny, but normal-shaped cup, just Miranda sized. She was not amused though. Esquires website tells me their coffee is a blend from Peru, Honduras and Sumatra (entirely Fairtrade… meh?) I tried some on filter and it was really really good, much better on filter than in espresso. So I was pleasantly surprised and sat there reading (about coffee – I had a slight book-buying accident again… groan…), absent-mindedly deflecting admiring comments about Miranda’s hair and fantasising for bit…

"Doctor Coffee and Daughter" has a certain ring to it!

My coffee shop fantasies are resurfacing again. (doesn’t take long!) Miranda has accompanied us out to do the Doctor Coffee van on the market already. I was dissuaded from putting up a sign with “Buy a coffee, get a free cuddle” on the pushchair… I am trying to get her used to the coffee shop environment, and I’ve been reading David Brandon’s “Life in a 17th Century Coffee Shop” to her so that she appreciates how good she’s got it now!! Esquires would have been a great ‘stepping stone’ to my own place – a chance to manage a coffee shop without the massive financial risks of opening up on my own, and hopefully that setup would have allowed me some autonomy. I don’t really want to admit it, but the Doctor Coffee van is not going to make my fortune – in fact, it is not really going to make a me living in the foreseeable future either. So, when Inevitable Post-Uni Unemployment does occur again, the most realistic option is to get a job that will allow me to save up for my own cafe, and run the van in any spare time I get. I haven’t yet figured out what happens to Miri in that situation though…..

What would be wonderful would be if a cafe just Arrived in my life somehow without major investment. The sort of thing that happens all the time…I was dreaming up a coffee shop expansion project – “Babyccinos”. A coffee shop for Mums and Dads combined with a sort of creche so that we can still get our caffeine fixes and relax for a bit, and small children can be amused at the same time, thus averting the incessant noisy crying of bored babies in Caffe Nero that Miranda has been contributing to recently. I fancied installing a ball-pool full of brown “coffee bean” balls for me and my friends babies to play in as well. It would be awesome. Sigh. Now where did I put my lottery ticket?
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Posted by on July 25, 2010 in Uncategorized


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“November -January Progress Report”

I have just had to write my latest little summary of what I’ve been up to for the past three months; this little task has to be completed for the sake of the ESRC and the rest of the Waste of the World program to keep up to date with our work, and also for me to occasionally justify my existence at the university!
I found it quite hard to write this time, mainly because all I’ve done for the past few months in relation to work is write – writewritewritewrite. I’ve not done much in the way of active research, I’ve not been anywhere, not attended any more conferences, nothing…. The summary was pretty short. This is Year Three after all: serious thesis writing time. So far I’ve done about 20000 words, and two and half chapters. Typically I opted to do the ‘easy’ chapters first – that is, the more empirical ones on ‘quality’ ‘ethics’ and currently working on ‘skill’. They are all rather lacking in references at the moment though, and read far too much like “this is what I did on my holidays”…. However, I know that this is only going to get harder as soon as I am stuck writing the dreaded literature review or worse – the actual conclusions….

I haven’t really been writing solidly for three months though, but everything else I’ve been up to is hardly academic.
Although, there is this:
from the PHD comics
(with thank yous to the PHD comics)
Not quite at the dirty nappies stage yet! But certainly a great deal of time has been spent recently preparing for the arrival of the occupant of those nappies. When I say “preparing” I mean, throwing up, lying on the sofa with no energy being kicked from the inside, rushing to the loo every five minutes and shopping for increasingly gigantic bras. Unsurprisingly, this does not a productive Bel make,

Fortunately for me, my taste for coffee has finally started to come back, Not to the obsessive, addicted extent that it was, but enough for me to enjoy the occasional cup again. And of course, I still have my regular supply! Doctor Coffee’s Cafe was extremely hectic before Christmas (not helped by aforementioned lack of energy) but has been severely hampered by the snow in the New Year, as I really didn’t think me standing out in blizzards with very little shelter was the best thing I could be doing with myself at the moment. Still, we are back on track: the snow has gone, cakes are being made every week, my source on the ground in Nicaragua (gracias Andie!) is shipping me huge slabs of 100% cacao for hot chocolate, and I got my final delivery of coffee from Cafe Cristina in Costa Rica. This is a sad landmark: the Costa Rican postal service decided to increase their overseas shipping rates by 107% as of December 09 – yes you did read that right, *one hundred and seven percent!!*, meaning that it is simply not worth Cafe Cristina sending the coffee to Europe any more. Craziness. I am savouring my last batch, but I’ve got to find a new supplier now!

This progress report also had to include, for the first time, what we are planning to do in the future. I resisted the urge to say “reproduce”; instead I have another cunning plan, brimful of academic worth. It is:
The International Coffee Organisation’s World Coffee Conference
Conveniently, at the end of February. And better still, IN GUATEMALA.
The conference is all about the future of coffee – in terms of the global market for the stuff, the economic and environmental sustainability of the industry (useful for my waste project), improvements in working conditions, and interestingly, about ‘differentiation’ – specificially, the speciality industry, certification and quality – all exactly what I am interested in! It’s a very full program, over three days, and also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the founding of ANACAFE, the Guatemalan coffee organisation. Lots and lots of industry big-wigs, as well as academics, and it is even being opened by the President of Guatemala! This is a biiiiiig deal. Eep.
My supervisors were not so keen on the idea, but I think, mainly because they are determined that I get my thesis done in draft form the time I go on maternity leave in June, and this is, and I quote, “a week out of writing.” I assured them that I’d have plenty of time on the 22hour-in-each-direction flights. It is also a blooming long way to go for a conference. However, by pure serendipity, I had exactly enough money left in my university pot of ‘conference money’ to afford a flight and the extortionate registration fee, (I have since learned that there are 13.61 Guatemalan quetzals to the pound. Knowing this didn’t make it seem any cheaper!). By the end of February, I will be 23 weeks pregnant, and still apparently safe to fly. I am not about to pop on the plane, anyway. I managed to get travel insurance with the optional extra of “uncomplicated pregnancy as pre-existing medical condition”. All is set!! I am determined to go – I honestly do think it will be really interesting and pretty useful for the project, I can see what the Guatemalan industry is like in comparison with neighbouring Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but it could also be good in terms of networking. I can’t shake the idea of imminent unemployment after this PhD, and with small sprog, this is equivalent to Impending Doom. Scary.
This is obviously going to be my last trip anywhere exotic for quite some time as well. I don’t like that idea much, but I assured for all sides that baby will be worth it! Maybe this opportunity has come along to pacify me? For the first time ever, I am getting a little paranoid about travelling. I will, at the request of darling husband, drink bottled water out there, No volcano climbing. No street food (waa!) I may even spend over ten dollars a night on accomodation (a mortal sin, in my book) and stay in a guesthouse not a hostel… gah. Responsibility does not come easily to me!
But, nevertheless… adventures in many forms no doubt await me and I am excited about love, life and coffee! Hasta la victoria siempre!
Guatemala map and coffee

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Posted by on January 21, 2010 in Uncategorized


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The Grand Launch

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!

Isn't is a cute little Ape?

Isn't is a cute little Ape?

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Posted by on September 23, 2009 in Uncategorized


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