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Ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges….

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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Pedalling Coffee Since 2014

Happy New Year Coffee Lovers!!

My new year’s resolution (pledged, 25th Jan… yeah, yeah…don’t judge me!) is to keep up with this blog a lot more this year. Last year was hectic and relatively uncoffee-filled, which was a sad state of affairs. It has been ten whole months since I last worked in a coffee shop, 8 months since I had my little PhD graduation ceremony, and over a year since my book came out. Unsurprisingly, this has meant fewer coffee related activities to write about on here!

Currently, I am existing as the inverse of most social science graduates – instead of being vastly over-qualified but having to work in a coffee shop through lack of jobs in their field of study, I am highly qualified to work in coffee shops, yet I have to work an entry level job in something completely unrelated to my field. It boils down to money. You cannot work in a coffee shop and pay for child care, it just doesn’t make sense. Sadly, that seems to be true the world over!

All this is about to change though, for me at least. I haven’t suddenly been able to make a living from coffee again, and I’m not about to give up the day job. But I have been dreaming up a coffee side project, and I am extremely excited about it!

What do you get if you give a coffee geek a tricycle?

wheeliefulllogoThe plan, in simple terms, is this:

Build a coffee cart on a trailer, attach it to my trike, and serve coffee outdoors in downtown Regina, on the Farmers’ Market and at all the manymany festivals here over the summer.

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Technical plans. Proof again that I really can’t draw.

 

I am hoping this can be fitted around my work: the market is on weekends, and the festivals tend to coincide with public holidays anyway. Given recent Extreme Temperatures, suddenly my warm office looks much more inviting than standing out in the park on a bike over the winter too!

I am applying for the appropriate licenses and permits for street vending at the moment, but assuming all goes well, I intend to position myself on Victoria plaza and Scarth Street, the pedestrian area where nearly all downtown office workers have to pass through to get to the Hill Towers, SGI, Government offices or the large banks, and also access to the Cornwall shopping mall, providing a steady stream of passersby.

Of course, there are other coffee shops downtown, but as yet, nothing outdoor or mobile. As I have found through being a downtown office worker for the past few months, it is virtually impossible to dash out and get NICE coffee from one of these coffee shops in your 20 minute coffee break from work – queues and barista-ing takes way too long unless you happen to work next door. Our office block is just that bit too far away. But if there was a coffee trike parked outside it…..

Recent, sad developments in the coffee world on my doorstep (better explained on my other blog) led to a long and involved conversation on Twitter, bemoaning the lack of good, convenient coffee downtown. When I ventured the idea of Wheelie Good Coffee on there, my twitter stream went completely mad and I got put in Twitter jail for the first time ever! (That is, it blocks you temporarily for sending over 100 tweets in an hour – I wish I’d got a screen shot!). There are a lot of local folk who would be very supportive of this venture I think.

It will take a while to get organised, but the market doesn’t go back outdoors until May, so May seems a reasonable start date to aim for. Until then, it’s permit applications, business plans, a mentorship with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (a wonderful organisation that includes me both as being an honourary Canadian, AND still “youth” – which made me feel great!), helping my lovely Carl actually build the thing, coffee blend designing… oh, and the day job.

Here’s Twyla the Trike – the engine of my new business!

DSCF4822

WATCH THIS SPACE!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Branching out and going solo

First up – the best news:
FINALLY, I really am Doctor Coffee, officially.
I got news from my PhD examiners that they’ve accepted all my revisions and corrections to the thesis, and they’re happy for it to be accepted for the PhD. Woohoo! So the Official Version will now gather dust in the University of Sheffield library, and I get to graduate – except I can’t afford to go back to the UK just to ponce around in a silly hat and get a piece of paper, so we shall have to arrange our own little ceremony over here! I am also reclaiming my Fanny logo from the cafe:

"Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee!" - Stephanie Piro

“Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee!” – Stephanie Piro

So, what do I do with a PhD in coffee?
Tried to open a coffee shop… loved it, found it very difficult with BabyCoffee, hated it being in Darlington. Moved on.
Next: “Those that can, teach” [sic] right?
To this end, I’ve gone self-employed again, and I have started Doctor Coffee Consulting. This is my new website: www.doctorcoffee-sk.com This really came about through unrelated circumstances giving me a boot up the backside to organise myself, but the idea is to use my knowledge of all things coffee to help other businesses set up; either adding or improving coffee in existing businesses (ie: restaurants who want to do a bit more than just old filter coffee on their desserts menu), or helping new start-ups. I’ve done plenty of barista training already, but I am also keen to do unique blend designs and so on. So far, I’ve worked with three businesses in Regina already and did a “home barista” workshop for a guy who just really, really liked coffee. It’s all good!

Finally:

A lot of people commented on my coffee-related, geeky t-shirts when I was barista-ing, asking where I got them. (I had numerous, all black of course, but my favourite one is “Instant Human, Just Add Coffee!”) My usual answer was “down the back of the internet.” Never one to pass up an entrepreneurial opportunity, I have since created a CafePress shop, devoted entirely to coffee geekery. T-shirts, mugs, bags, and loads of other paraphernalia, even baby clothes, all adorned with my coffee designs! Here’s a few. The rest of the shop can be found at http://www.cafepress.com/drcoffeescaffeinatedcollections

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Wipe your knob!!!!!

Oh wow, I think this is the longest its ever been between posts on here!!

Very sorry, dear reader(s). Well, I finally made it, I am in Regina, Canada, and now gainfully employed as Head Barista and front of house manager at 13th Avenue Coffee House. Most of these adventures are detailed over at my The Regina Monologue blog, but I am not quite sure where this one fits. It’s my coffee adventures!

I’ve mentioned in a previous post already about the Canadian love affair with filter coffee. Virtually every food place I’ve been in had great tanks of the stuff, their beloved Bunn machines, where “medium” or “dark” blends are kept hot (and stale) in the equivalent of giant thermos flasks all day every day. My new employers have three such tanks of coffee. They also do a lot of award winning, excellent vegetarian food, and wonder of wonders, they have an espresso machine!

It’s a Rancilio Epoca 2 group, and it has not been well used. The vast majority of the place’s trade comes from the restaurant side of the business, and the next largest proportion is the filter coffee. Espresso barely gets a look in, and their machine was not well loved or cared for. This is through no fault of the staff nor the new business owners – it was simply that no one had ever been shown how to use the machine, or more importantly, how to clean and maintain it, and because it accounted for so little of their trade, it was never a priority. But now I am here. And it is my priority! So, I had it sent away for a repair and a service, which cost a rather painful amount of dollars, but the improvement is stupendous!

I honestly found it difficult to believe it was the same coffee going in to the machine. Regina, unfortunately, has really, really hard water. Most of the repair work done on the espresso machine was just unclogging it and removing all the limescale inside it. It now has a shiny tank again, and new water filters! The difference in the taste of the espresso, made with clean, softened water, with the right amount of pressure, at the right termperature and with no leaks was incredible! I even got approval from The Boss’s Italian Dad, who requested a Doppio Espresso – presumably to test me! 🙂

Next week I am going to do a bit of Staff Training and make baristas of them all. I am encouraged by the fact that some of the team actually seem genuinely interested, admit to drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee, and do prefer espresso to the filter coffee they serve up to the customers. This is a great start as it means they will know when they make it badly. I’ve always found it harder to train up non-coffee-drinkers for that very reason – they can’t tell when it’s good! Hopefully, when I have a crew of skilled baristas, the customers will notice and we can start weaning them off the tanks of filter coffee in favour of the good stuff too!

Part of the training is going to have to include cleaning and maintaining the machine though. They can’t do much about the pH of the water here, but they can learn to detect problems with the machine. Everything from changing the filters to backwashing and checking the group head seals, to the simplest thing: getting in to the habit of wiping the milk wand after EVERY use. I usually tell people, “you have to wipe your knob otherwise it won’t squirt properly!!”. Strangely, this tends to stick in their heads quite well…

Updates on progress to follow!!

 

 
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Posted by on April 28, 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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The fishnets gets even more tangled…

This, ladies and gentlemen, is currently what my thesis plan looks like. This was a collaborative effort with my supervisors. I hope you all appreciate it for its abstract beauty…..

The Plan (Version 1.0)

The Plan (Version 1.0)

Ye gads people…. HELP ME.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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A plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a Weasel!!!

I have been charged with writing A Plan for this trip, for uni. My supervisors thinks it would be a good idea for me to really give some thought as to what I expect to find out there, and what I intend to do. This Plan may help reassure them, but it has the opposite effect on me. Thinking about what I actually hope to do makes me realise that I have No Idea of that. I just do not know what is going to happen. I’ve never done a trip like this where I actually have to *work* and produce something useful at the end of it. I am a great believer in this magical thing called “the luck of the traveller” and just trust that everything will always works out eventually – and it always has before.

There is added Worry on this trip because I am going via this conference in Ohio. It will be my first big international conference, the first time I’ve ever been to America, and I’m going on Halloween, and four days before the US election, in one of the few states that is still completely undecided in regards to the election. I’ve just looked it up today (15th) and the polls in Ohio put Obama at 48% and McCain at 46%….It could be really interesting, but I can’t trust myself to keep my big gob shut on my opinions!!

After Ohio, I get another two short flights to Nicaragua, which requires more preparation. Planning requires forethought and organisation. And maps. Maps are good, apparently.

This is, obviously, Nicaragua. I am heading towards the North west area, the El Porvenir coffee plantation is somewhere between Leon and Esteli; a “bone-jarring two hour drive uphill”. This is about as good as the directions get, but it certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of place that has paved roads and regular, punctual bus services!! I am flying in to Managua, and arrive at 9.30pm. I am going to have to stay in Managua the first night which I am not looking forward to, because Managua is an ugly, noisy, hot, smelly, often dangerous atrocity. But there we go. I have somewhere booked for the first night – an ecolodge place called Los Felipes, which sounds nice actually (“nice” being a code word for “has air conditioning”).

After that, I am going to head to Granada for a few days, to acclimatise, meet up with Donna, see the kids and the clowns, and try out Cafe Chavalos (a wonderful project where Donna has got former street kids training as chefs and running a restaurant themselves.) Cafe Chavalos uses El Porvenir’s coffee after all, and Donna (I hope) will be able to give me a little more information about the plantation itself. I then have the offer of this internship with the Jubilee House Community, who are the administrators of a great many community and NGO projects, including the El Porvenir plantation. They also export the coffee to Pittsburg (Donna’s ‘Building New Hope’ NGO is based there). JHC are based in Managua, so if I go and work with them, it will mean spending the first month at least in the capital. Whereas I know there are more pleasant places to spend a month, I do think the JHC internship will be very useful indeed. I can interview the people there about coffee exporting – these are the people in charge of judging the ‘quality’ of the coffee, as well as making sure the plantation, and the coffee itself, adheres to the requirements and standards that its organic and fairtrade certifications require. I also hope that they can get me better access to the plantation itself since they work so closely with the El Porvenir community – which will be invaluable in both social and logistic terms! I am not sure exactly who I am going to meet at JHC, I have the name of one contact, and that is all. But I hope to do at least a few in depth, but individual interviews with the people who work there, particularly with regards to ideas of quality and about the certification. Finally, if I can do something useful – as in, practical work in the export office or something, I’d rather do that, try and give something back to the organisation in return, since they are helping me out so much!

After the first month, I am going to head up to El Porvenir on my own – I am hoping that I should know some people there well enough by that time to do my own thing without the JHC.  November -February is harvest season, so I expect things to be pretty manic. I don’t know yet how El Porvenir operates: I’m told it’s owned collectively by around 40 families, but I don’t know if anyone has specific roles. If so, I’d need to interview different people involved in different stages of production; coffee pickers, sorters, dryers, etc and also find out how it is de-pulped (as in, getting the cherry flesh off the bean) – is this done by machine? Who operates this? What happens to the leftovers? Is it done this way deliberately to improve the coffee quality? I’ll interview  the farm manager if there is one, and I’d also be interested to see if they hire any extra workers during the harvest, and where these come from and so on.

Then it’s gonna be Christmas and my Carl is coming out to visit and we’re going Volcano hiking from the black beaches of Ometepe island…. Yay!!

In January, I’ll head to Costa Rica overland on the lovely Ticabuses to San Jose, where I will attempt to do the same thing again, only at Doka Estate on the side of Volcan Poas, a massive commercial farm that supplies Starbucks – so their ideas of quality will be really important! (If the green coffee from this farm is as good quality as their website will have you believe, the fact that Starbucks coffee tastes so bad MUST be because of their roasters… right? Charbucks!!)  Again, this is entirely conjecture at the moment, but I imagine processes in this plantation to be a lot more automated; the sheer volume of coffee produced would seem to require it. Does this produce more waste or less? Perhaps less human labour involved then, so less “human waste” – of effort and skill? Also, I expect that labour to be rather less permanent; Doka Estate is not community owned, it is a private endeavour, so they might well just hire in seasonal workers. Actually, I hope I can join in and pick coffee! Whoever I interview in Nicaragua, I will try to interview the equivalent people in Costa Rica so I can make meaningful comparisons.

Costa Rica is potentially problematic, however, because Doka Estate is located so far out of the nearest town that transport would be difficult and expensive, and possibly not that safe – and I don’t have the equivalent of Jubilee House to pave the way for me in terms of making contacts there. There is a B&B actually on the farm which they suggested I stay at! Woohoo! But: Doka Estate also offer touristy Coffee Tours where a guide explains the workings of the farm to you, and you can then stay at this B&B/ecolodge as part of the ‘experience’. I do not really need to see the Coffee Tour because I am cynical enough to believe that would be a very airbrushed version of events, I want to see the real thing, which could be pretty difficult. Also, the B&B cost $85 a night!!!!

I’ve found a hostel in Alajuela (nearest town) for $15 a night which sounds far more reasonable, except I would then have to negotiate how I am going to get up the volcano every day – at 15km it’s not exactly walkable, and I don;t think there is a bus. So, hitch? Not a great plan. Taxi? Could prove more expensive than staying at the B&B… I have even been toying with the idea of doing my CBT and hiring a little motorbike out there… Given my driving skills though, this could be even more dangerous than hitch-hiking!!

Meh. This part of the plan, I honestly cannot do right now. There is no way of knowing what to do until I get there and see what the situation is. Something will turn up!!

But I do know where to head, at least, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want to do, who to interview, what info I need to collect etc. I just can’t be more specific than that at the moment! I am surrounded by guidebooks and travel insurance policy documents and Teach Yourself Spanish books and boxes of anti-malarial tablets… this is enough preparation for me!! Of course the other part of the plan is working out how to record all this data (I have a notebook with a picture of a cappuccino on it! yay!). I have a 4gb memory card for my uber-phone, and the guidebooks tell me where there are interweb cafes to send it all back to the uni! It will be Fiiiine. Trust me, I might be a Doctor (soon).

Tengo miedo, gente. Por favor, deseame mucho suerte – lo necessito! Adios!

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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