Tag Archives: markets

Back in the business of Beans

Recently I have been hugely busy, as we finally have the Wheelie Good Coffee cart off the ground! Erm, not literally. Well, OK there was one incident… anyway, in case you missed my recent post, dear reader, Wheelie Good Coffee is my latest venture: a little cart from which I serve pour over coffees, hooked up to the back of my bike. Originally it was supposed to be attached to the trike, but the trike hitch is still a work-in-progress so for now I am wobbling along on just two wheels with Carl’s help. The aforementioned “off the ground” incident occurred when I overloaded the cart and hit a bump, and then managed to ping the back of wheel of the bike, and myself up in the air and into the curb. Oww.


But these minor teething issues aside, all is going phenomenally well. After a wild and windy launch at the Cathedral Village Arts Festival, I am now serving coffee on the Regina Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and as many Wednesdays as the day job will allow. Sadly the market is only on twice a week, and only during the summer, otherwise I’d be out there every day and would quit the day job, but sadly 8 hours a week cannot pay the bills. Fun, busy, successful, confidence boosting Saturdays make coming in to the office on Mondays even worse than usual though. I am not a corporate person. I felt this to be true even before I started this job, but 8 months there has proved it beyond all shadow of a doubt. I loved my university departments, but that is about as close to an office job as I ever want to get.

At risk of jinxing things though, the cart is going so well, it inspires me to believe that I am really on to something and could really turn it in to a full time business – given time and hard work. The hard work is not the issue – I am doing this because I enjoy it. Having done something similar before, I know my limits and I’ve learned from my mistakes and experiences with the coffee Ape van and Doctor Coffees Cafe. I am not perhaps approaching this so blindly. The time is an issue though, because I am so impatient!

The response to the coffee cart has been such a massive contrast to everything I experienced in Darlington – in the best possible way. Given the circumstances, I still believe I did bloody well in Darlington – but as I said at the time, the little I managed to achieve there, was done despite Darlington council, despite the unhelpfulness and disinterest of the local market officers, and despite the horrible location itself. This time round, the wonders of a new home on a new continent have provided me with amazing amount of support and encouragement and ideas and constructive feedback even before my lovely Carl had built the cart!

I cannot thank the Farmers Market crew enough – their support has been invaluable and the market is exceptionally well run and successful. It is also very well attended, and I am rushed off my feet every week, to the point where I don’t even get time to drink my own coffee!! Every week more people visit saying “hey, I follow you on Twitter” or “ooo yay! Coffee on the market!” Or compliment me on the set up (which I redirect to Carl) or the quality of the coffee. On top of that, I am even getting a lot of help from friends at other local businesses – from recommendations for events that could use coffee, to me borrowing a licensed kitchen area with big sinks to sterilize my water tanks in properly from a neighbouring business, to Roca Jacks roasting the coffee and Cuppa T’s selling me tea wholesale. It’s just wonderful, and encouraging enough to make the whole entrepreneurial start-up journey that much less precarious!


But this is not just a business blog! What of the coffee, I hear ye cry?
Well, most of it looks like this:

I make pourover coffee, that is, pouring hot water very slowly over a coffee dripper lined with filter paper and filled with the best freshly ground coffee, until it drips through a fills the cup underneath. It is far more elaborate and time consuming than making normal drip or percolated coffee, but it makes a much fresher, cleaner cup. Its single serve (though I have four drippers to do four drinks at a time), and because I make it in front of the customers, there’s no issue of keeping it stewing on a hot plate for ages. It’s about as fresh as you can get outside! Also, i get to wave a large, long spouted coffee pot around and make the coffee grounds ‘bloom’ and create steam so it all looks a bit like a mad chemistry experiment. For what is coffee without a bit of magic and theatre?

The beans themselves come from Roca Jacks. This makes me very happy indeed. I tried, but I couldn’t manage to rescue the Roca Jacks coffee shop. However, Bill now appears on our doorstep bearing coffee every few weeks, and our house smells deliciously of freshly roasted gooodness all the time. Better yet, I’m going to start retailing the beans in my online store as well, along with all the paraphenalia you need (drippers, coffee socks, mugs etc) to make Wheelie Good Coffee at home!

A lot of work awaits me yet, but my coffee-flavoured future looks like a bright happy one from here. Cheers!

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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Brain-ache and Tone Lowering

Lorena insisted on making me porridge with cinnamon this morning, as food for the Cheese since we had such a big day ahead of us. Taxi called for 8.30am to transport me to the 5* hotel for the Conference in Full. No presidents today, sadly, but it did make it much much easier to get in. If I had thought yesterday afternoon was heavy going, I was naive: that was nothing compared to today – sixteen talks, split in to two sections, from 9am to 6pm, some in Spanish, some in Portuguese (the Brazilian continguent, obviously) and one in French (African coffee talk.) 1429 participants. I had to use the little translation headset, and I swear mine was possessed – it had some very, very strange unearthly noises coming from it making it extremely hard to listen to!

The first section comprised of lots of talks from around the world on the coffee industry in different countries. Things still sound pretty desperate in Africa, and there were two nearly identitcal talks from Vietnam which I  summarised in the following way:

“Vietnam produces huge amount of coffee and sells it very cheaply because it’s mainly crap.”

They had vague notions of improving the quality and developing the infrastructure to help farmers… but never actually suggested the methods for doing this. It wasn’t entirely doom and gloom, India seems to be improving things a little, and the Brazillian rep basically ended up concluding that they would carry on as normal!

Outside of producing countries, there were a few talks from consuming countries – mainly facts and figures and pretty graphs of how much coffee Americans drink, and a terrifying statistic that the UK is one of the largest consumers of soluable/instant coffee in the world. Uuuurconferencegh, that’s embarrassing! There was a bizarre but fascinating presentation about the Russian coffee industry – such as it is. Up until 1998, there were two coffee shops in St. Peterburg, and that was it in the entire country. It’s growing, slowly, but it is fascinating, and very difficult to imagine!

The really interesting one for me was on Colombian coffee, specifically the Juan Valdez brand. They made a big fuss about how successful promoting the “100% Colombian” brand, making people aware of Colombia as a coffee producer. Making who aware? The sales and demand figures were very impressive, but Juan Valdez doesn’t exist in the UK, and I think the vast majority of this ‘brand awareness’ comes from the US, where Juan and his donkey are everywhere. This was the first mention of geographical indicators, however, and appellation for coffee.  Juan Valdez has started putting ‘Beantrack’ computers in their stores and on their website, allowing customers to see where the beans for that particular batch of coffee have actually come from. It’s a gimic, and the “Virtual Origin Tours” are very pretty but not the most informative. However, unlike every other large chain of coffee shops, they at least have some form of traceability. Furthermore, the idea behind the Beantrack is to promote the terroir of their different coffees. They are not just selling “Colombian” they are selling specific coffees from specific regions within Colombia – for instance, coffee from this particular area tastes like this, therefore its great for breakfast as a pick-me-up etc. etc. Simplistic, but still the beginnings of customer education and terroir.

I like this. I see absolutely no reason why the region variations and differences in batches of coffee can’t be emphasised rather than blended in to oblivion. Daniele Giovannucci did a good talk on differentiation and certification, of which geographical indicators is a big part. He even said he needed more research into quality and differentiation. Woohoo! (Gimme a job?) This sort of thing has been done in the wine industry for centuries and it seems to work, both from the customer’s perspective as it gives more choice (I’m sorry Anna, but I am still gonna drink my South African pinotage, I am really not a fan of your beloved Italian!) and the producers: differentiation leads to scarcity, which bunps the price up – look at Jamaican Blue Mountain. There are already some relatively well known regional varieties – Kona coffee from Hawaii, Java coffee, Ethiopian Sidamo, and so on. Ethiopia produces a lot of different coffees as well as Sidamo, so it is that particular varietal which is popular. Colombia are trying to show there is more to their produce than just generic ‘Colombian’, and I’m sure Brazil and other big producers should be able to do the same.

Over lunch, I met the Kaladi Brothers, who don’t appear to be brothers, but who run a roasting company and coffee shop in Denver. Really fun, down to earth blokes anyway: Andy and Mark. Mark is most definitely a coffee geek, and they roast and sell very high quality coffees which they source themselves. We got talking ‘geographical indicators’ and they said they used the region name in their packaging, because it makes a lot of marketing sense, even if they do make it a little more flamboyant. For example, they sell my beloved coffee from Cecocafen in Nicaragua, but instead of calling it “Matagalpan” (hardly catchy, admittedly) they borrow the name of the beneficio – Nicaraguan Solcafe coffee. Sounds good to me! Of course, a lot of what they do – and what I do with Doctor Coffee, is espresso based, and single origin coffees often aren’t suitable for espresso. Sometimes you need blends to make the espresso work. There wasn’t much talk of blending today, but plenty of varietals – and plenty of samples of varietals in the exhibition hall which I happily swigged. Mark was a bit sniffy about them.

Sniffyness soon vanished however, as after the conference sessions came the 50th Anniversary of ANACAFE Gala party. I followed Mark and Andy to their hotel since it was too much of a pain to get cabs all the way to Dos Lunas and then come back with me. We stupidly decided to get some food, thinking that the Gala would just involve nibbly things. I got this strange frijole soup thing served in a jug. It was good, but it took me a while to work out how to eat it! When we got to the Gala though, we found we’d not only underestimated the food, but also the whole nature of the thing. It was stunning – outdoor marquees all lit with chandeliers, beautifully laid tables with candles, a live Marimba band… And everyone with suits or evening dresses. I’d obviously come straight from the conference so I still had the maaaaaaahoooosiiiive ringbinder full of conference notes and all the freebies I’d blagged which had to accompany me. I was at least wearing my beloved coffee dress which got a few comments, particularly with the matching tattoo…  There was sooooo much food too! Classic situational comedy moment – Guatemalan waiter trying to explain what sushi is, in broken English, to the African delegates. But suuushi!! and nibbly things, and chocolate covered coffee beans, and that was only appetizers. The menu implied steak was on the cards later… Wine appeared – I had one little glass, and had to physically prevent the waiter topping it up every few minutes. Andy did not bother though, and had *quite a few* refils. Unsurprisingly, the conversation got sillier and sillier…..Andy demanded kareoke marimba, for instance…Definitely lowering the tone, although obviously they couldn’t throw me out, not in my condition…
I bowed out about 10pm. I am soooo old! But I had an excellent night, I honestly couldn’t have eaten steak, and cheese was kicking rather violently. I knew if I stayed any longer, I wouldn’t have the energy for the next day!

lowering the tone


Posted by on March 4, 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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